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2017 Namibia & the Skeleton Coast: Africa's Last Wilderness

Windhoek • Sossusvlei Dunes • Swakopmund • Damaraland • Etosha National Park

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Courtesy Caspar Diederick
Meet South Africa

This exhilarating introduction to South Africa's vibrant landscapes, cultures, and people showcases this multifaceted nation—an optional extension on this trip.

Courtesy of Bjorn Rehder
The Namib Desert - A Journey Through Time

Explore the Namib Desert’s arid wonderland where centuries of history lie just beneath the surface.

©2014 The New York Times
ScienceTake: The Longest Migration

Learn about a newly discovered wildlife migration that is the longest in Africa

Courtesy Epiphany Morgan
365 Docobites - Lekgotla

An African man describes his close-knit village and how to peacefully coexist with wild animals.

Courtesy Eric Cheng
Aerial Cape Town, South Africa

Embark on a exhilerating aerial tour of Cape Town’s stunning vistas—from the mountain to the shore.

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Find the Adventure That’s Right for You

Our Activity Level rating system ranks adventures on a scale of 1 to 5 to help you determine if a trip is right for you. See the descriptions below for more information about the physical requirements associated with each rating.

Activity Level 1:

1 2 3 4 5

Easy

Travelers should be able to climb 25 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 1-2 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last at least 1-2 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.

Activity Level 2:

1 2 3 4 5

Moderately Easy

Travelers should be able to climb 40 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 2-3 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for at least 2-3 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.

Activity Level 3:

1 2 3 4 5

Moderate

Travelers should be able to climb 60 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 3 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 3 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 5,000 to 7,000 feet.

Activity Level 4:

1 2 3 4 5

Moderately Strenuous

Travelers should be able to climb 80 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 4 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 7,000 to 9,000 feet.

Activity Level 5:

1 2 3 4 5

Strenuous

Travelers should be able to climb 100 or more stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 8 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 10,000 feet or more.

Itinerary Overview

An endless sea of towering red dunes … ancient landscapes framed against an ink-black sky … waterholes that beckon rare black rhinos and some of Africa’s most magnificent wildlife. This is Namibia—a place unlike anywhere else on Earth. Join O.A.T. to discover the land and people of Namibia, one of the world’s last unspoiled wilderness destinations. Our small group will travel deep into the ancient Namib Desert—a vast and barren landscape where desert elephants and nomadic oryx dwell. Beyond the desert, we’ll take you to towns dating back to Africa’s colonial era where you might still spot a woman wearing a Victorian-era hoop skirt—and into a Swakopmund community. We’ll visit the Skeleton Coast, where the bones of whales wash up along its mist-shrouded shores. And we’ll enjoy safari game-viewing drives at Etosha, where Africa’s most elusive and magnificent wildlife can be seen. Travel to Namibia for all this, and much more.

Make It Your Adventure

Personalize your trip to meet your individual needs, from preferred flights and air routing, to “breaking away” to spend more time in a destination.

  • O.A.T’s team of Adventure Specialists makes every effort to provide you with non-stop flights and acceptable connection times to and from your destination. You also have several other options for personalizing your air itinerary, which include:

    • Choose your departure city and airline: We list the most popular gateway cities on our website, but not all of them. If you don’t see yours listed, or there’s one that better suits your needs, let us know. You can also tell us if you have an airline preference and we will try to accommodation your request.
    • Depart from one city and return from another: Just because your flight leaves from one city doesn’t mean you have to return there. Maybe you flew out of Boston and wish to visit friends in Los Angeles after your trip is over. Tell us where you want to go and we’ll do our best to get you there.
    • Fly the way you want to: We’ll gladly arrange a flight upgrade to business or premium economy class if it’s available. And when you fly economy class, we’ll do our best to see that you get your choice of seating preference or even add a special meal request if you have dietary restrictions or needs.
  • You can extend your time abroad and "break away" anywhere you'd like to do more exploring on your own. Stay for a day, a week, or even a month in a favorite locale. Or consider arriving a few days early in Johannesburg for a fresh start or staying overnight in a connecting city before or after your adventure to break up a lengthy flight. Our Adventure Specialists can provide you with information on the accommodations we will use at the beginning of your trip so that you can make your own arrangements. That way, you'll know that you will be exactly where you need to be to meet your group.

  • Many of our travelers choose to take another trip directly after their first one ends. Think about it: If you’re already overseas, why not see more of the region and avoid the expense and length of another international flight? Many of our travelers have taken two or three consecutive trips before returning home. The most common adventure to combine with Namibia & the Skeleton Coast is Ultimate Africa. And now you’ll save an additional $250-$350 per person when you reserve two trips right after one another.

  • Many O.A.T. travelers simply don’t want their trips to end. With an array of pre- and post-trip extensions to choose from, you have the chance to experience more of the places you’ve traveled so far to see, including Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and Cape Town & the Cape of Good Hope. Plus, you lower your average per-day costs because you’re taking advantage of your already included international airfare.

Day-to-Day Itinerary

  • 4 nights from only $1395

    Before you travel to Nambia, discover Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls. Nearly twice as high as Niagara Falls, and one and a half times as wide, Victoria Falls rates as one of the world’s true natural wonders and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Experience its sheer power—as well as the rich culture of the Zimbabwean villages around its base, plus much more.

    View Extension Itinerary
Windhoek Etosha National Park Expand All
  • Depart the U.S. for Johannesburg, South Africa.

  • Depending on your city of origin, your international flight may involve a stop in a European city prior to your arrival in Johannesburg. Upon arrival, you'll be met at the airport and then transferred to your hotel. Here, you'll be joined by those who traveled on our optional Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe extension.

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    After breakfast we fly to Windhoek, where we’ll meet our Namibian O.A.T. Trip Leader and check into our hotel. The capital and cultural heart of Namibia, Windhoek offers an unexpected taste of Germany in remote southwest Africa. Originally inhabited by the Herero, a Bantu-speaking cattle-herding tribe, the city’s recorded history dates to the 19th century, with the discovery of its natural hot springs. By 1884, Namibia became a German protectorate called South West Africa, and then a German colony in 1890—a tenure that lasted until World War I. Strong influences of this brief colonial heritage remain in the city’s Bavarian architecture, orderly urban layout—and preponderance of sausages and beer!

    Perhaps you’ll sample some for lunch on your own today. The remainder of the afternoon is also yours to explore the city at your leisure or simply relax after your long flights. Be sure to gather with our small group this evening, however, as we enjoy an orientation briefing and a Welcome Dinner at our hotel.

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    This morning we tour Namibia's charming capital city, which is spread along a wide valley between the bush-covered hills of the Central Highlands. A highlight of our tour is the Christuskirche, a 500-seat Lutheran church that once served as both a church and a school. Today, it is a national monument and the icon of the city. Constructed of local orange sandstone with white trim, this strikingly unusual gingerbread house of worship was built to symbolize the triumph of European colonists over the native cultures.

    Nevertheless, a colorful blend of African cultures characterizes this interesting, multicultural city. As we explore Windhoek, you're apt to see women of the Herero tribe who walk about town in billowing Victorian-style dresses and brightly colored headgear.

    Our tour continues with a visit to Katutura (Herero for “we have no permanent place”), one of Windhoek's vibrant black townships, where we'll join the locals for lunch at an informal tavern known locally as a shebeen (traditional lunch).

    As you enjoy free time this afternoon, you're likely to hear German spoken as you wander the city streets. Perhaps you'll explore a few of Windhoek's open-air shops along Independence Avenue. You might also browse the National Gallery; visit the Tintenpalast, home of the National Assembly; or stroll the gardens of the National Botanical Research Institute.

    Dinner on your own also provides another great opportunity to experience the city's German heritage at one of its traditional Bavarian restaurants.

  • Explore Namibia's Namib Desert

    After breakfast this morning, we'll have an opportunity to do some last-minute shopping in the center of Windhoek before having an included lunch at a local restaurant downtown. Later this afternoon, we'll depart for our flight to the Sossusvlei region of the Namib Desert. Here we'll enjoy one of the highlights of the Namib-Naukluft Park—and, indeed, all of Namibia—where the tallest sand dunes in the world enclose an enormous flat, clay pan that fills with water from the Tsauchab River during exceptionally rainy seasons. Generally, this happens once every five to ten years. (Vlei literally means "shallow depression that fills with water" in Afrikaans.) Because the clay hardens when wet, the water can't penetrate the ground, and a beautiful lake remains for some time before the Sossusvlei reverts to desert.

    This is a landscape that is continually, though gradually, shifting, as the wind reshapes the sands, moving the dunes further inland until eventually the river will no longer reach the pan. Now, though, it remains a fascinating mountainscape of towering sands whose colors shift with the light—particularly at sunset.

    Upon arrival, we'll transfer to our lodge, which is located in a tranquil, grassy oasis in the rocky desert adjacent to the towering red dunes that surround the Sossusvlei. After settling in, we set off on an awe-inspiring Namibian "sundowner" nature drive. This is when you'll witness for yourself the magnificence of the last rays of sun bathing the rugged landscapes in myriad pastel hues. We'll return to the lodge for dinner this evening.

  • Encounter Sossusvlei sand dune while touring Namibia

    We'll get up extra early to journey into the dunes of the Sossusvlei, magnificent ancient towers of shifting red-orange sand, some as high as 1,000 feet above the flat desert. Endlessly carved by the wind, the cascading sands of the Namib form a stunning moonscape of linear beauty covering thousands of square miles. We'll enjoy a picnic breakfast en route.

    Arriving here early allows us to watch as the morning light plays against the sand, changing colors and textures as if in a dream. As we venture out for a walk into the vast, surreal dunes, we'll make the climbing a bit easier by taking a tip from the nomadic gemsbok (or oryx), who regularly traverse the Namib: They stick to the firmer sand along the dunes' windswept ridges.

    We return to our camp for lunch and have time to relax before joining our expert guide for a nature walk. Dinner this evening is at the camp.

  • View antelope and other wildlife in the Namib Desert

    Rise extra early to join an optional hot-air balloon ride that journeys high above vast Sossusvlei, where you can witness the sun rising and soar with the winds for approximately one hour.

    Enjoy a morning at leisure in camp. In the afternoon, we take a nature walk to explore the breathtaking scenery in the vast wilderness of Namib-Naukluft, one of the world's largest national parks, including some on-the-ground exploration of Sesriem Canyon. Surprisingly, the parched sands of the ancient Namib Desert are home to a rich diversity of wildlife and flora, even though only between .2 and 3 inches of rain fall every year. Although the oryx embodies the spirit of the Namibian desert, there is a surprisingly diverse range of exotic animal life that thrives in this harsh environment. These amazing creatures—found nowhere else on Earth—have learned to adapt in this extremely inhospitable region. Fog rolling in from the Atlantic blankets the desert about one in every five days, and the plants and animals use what precious little moisture it provides to survive—and flourish.

    The Tenebrionid beetle (black beetle) stands on its head to allow droplets of water to run down its grooved body into its mouth. And the clever Lepidochora discoidalis, another beetle species, builds trenches in the sand to trap water. The Palmetto gecko licks its lidless eyes for the water that accumulates there. The geckos and lizards of the Namib boast the lowest water-loss rates of any desert organisms. Oryx, nomadic animals that resemble gazelles, have been known to walk miles to find just one small patch of grass that will eke out a few drops of water. Snakes have adapted, too, and bury themselves in the sand both for coolness and camouflage from their prey.

    We return to our camp for dinner and to enjoy the natural beauty of our surroundings with views of the distant Namib dunes.

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    Discover Walvis Bay on a cruise of the protected lagoon

    Today, we fly to Walvis Bay on Namibia's Atlantic Coast. This scenic flight passes over the Sossusvlei landscape, following the river's course and soaring over dunes, then continues west to the seacoast—passing over part of the Skeleton Coast as we approach Walvis Bay, with views of seal colonies, a shipwreck, granite outcrops, and old mines.

    We land at Walvis Bay in the late morning. Coveted for its natural deep-sea harbor, Walvis Bay fell under Dutch control in 1793 and was annexed by the British two years later. In 1910, Walvis Bay was ceded to the South African Union, where it remained until as recently as 1994. Once a center for the whaling industry, Walvis Bay is still an important fishing port, and the salt fields of this area produce 400,000 tons of high-quality salt annually.

    As important as its deep waters is Walvis Bay's reed-fringed, fresh-water lagoon—southern Africa's most important wetland for coastal birds. During much of the year, huge flocks of seabirds stroll along the lagoon—while hungry, fleet-footed jackals and other predators hide in the giant dunes skirting the shoreline. After arriving at Walvis Bay, we'll have a chance to explore the lagoon and walk to the salt works. After having lunch at a local restaurant, we explore this natural wonder before driving to our hotel in Swakopmund.

    Upon arrival in Swakopmund, you'll have some free time to discover Namibia's popular seaside resort on your own. Founded in 1892 as a main harbor during the German colonial era, Swakopmund resembles a romantic Bavarian village nestled between the desert and the misty sea. Infused with Old World charm, this enclave of picturesque, half-timbered homes is still home to the descendants of German settlers, together with an eclectic mix of fishermen, miners, and tribal Africans in traditional dress. There are plenty of charming cafés and restaurants for you to pop into at your whim for dinner on your own this evening.

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    This morning, we'll arrive at a resettlement camp for displaced persons where we'll gain an invaluable glimpse into the lives of these people by experiencing A Day in the Life of a Swakopmund community. There, we'll visit the community food bank where we will help to prepare meals for later in the day. Later in the morning, we'll head to the Hanganeni Primary School, where we'll be greeted by the young students and enjoy a welcome performance. We'll then meet with the headmaster and teachers, taking part in a discussion and tour of the school grounds. After, our group will have the opportunity to spend time in a classroom during a lesson, where we can interact with students, asking them questions about their school experience.

    We'll then head back to the resettlement camp where we'll assist in serving meals to the local community. We'll then arrive at the house of an herbalist, where we'll have a discussion and have the chance to see and smell the various herbs, learning their many benefits.

    For lunch, we'll arrive at the home of a local Herero family and have a Home-Hosted lunch. Later this afternoon, we'll arrive back at our hotel and have the remainder of the day at leisure.

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    After breakfast, we'll set out to explore the protected lagoon at Walvis Bay on a marine cruise. We depart after breakfast for Walvis Bay, the only natural deep-water harbor on the Skeleton Coast, where we embark on a three-hour cruise inside the protected lagoon. Enjoy Champagne, fresh oysters, and other snacks on board as we watch for the myriad animal life that lives in the lagoon, such as cormorants, low-flying pelicans, two types of dolphins, and a large seal colony. In fact, the seals have been known to swim up to the boat, offering a wonderful opportunity for a closer look at these playful animals.

    After lunch on your own, we'll embark on a coastal drive, where we'll have the opportunity to spot pelicans and other wildlife and explore the Zeila shipwreck.

    After the coastal tour, we return to our hotel. Dinner is on your own this evening.

  • View Namibia's dramatic landscape en route to Damaraland

    This morning, we fly to Damaraland in northwest Namibia, one of Africa’s last true wildernesses. It’s one of the most scenic regions of the country, with a dramatic landscape of wide-open sandy plains and rocky, red-hued mountains. Our flight takes us over a landscape of dramatic mesas, buttes, and other geological formations, and we arrive in time for a late lunch at our picturesque lodge, which is situated between the rugged Etendeka Mountains and the red sandstone cliffs of Twyfelfontein. This is prime elephant country, and the desert elephant that thrives here has adapted to the dry, sandy conditions. In fact, these creatures can go for several days without water.

    Late this afternoon, we’ll go out in search of the unique desert elephants, who have smaller bodies and longer legs than other elephants. We'll return to the lodge for dinner this evening.

  • After breakfast this morning, we'll discover one of the remarkable wonders nestled in Damaraland's wild landscape: Twyfelfontain, an open-air gallery of ancient rock engravings depicting African wildlife. Here on the red sandstone you can find more than 2,500 rock carvings, mostly of animals, some even pointing out how to find water. Sections of the vast series of petroglyphs date to the early Stone Age and are considered among the continent's greatest collections of prehistoric art.

    Following Twyfelfontein, we'll follow a path to a valley of dolerite columns (rock formations) called the Organ Pipes. These geometric basalt rocks were formed over 125 million years ago when molten rock cooled vertically into polygonal cross sections. We'll then continue to the Damara Living Museum, which provides an insightful glimpse into the Damara culture of yesterday and today. As we tour the open-air exhibits, we'll learn more about the traditional, sustainable lifestyle of these fascinating people.

    Later this afternoon, we'll enjoy a game-viewing drive and wildlife experience. We return to the lodge this evening for dinner.

  • See elephants while on safari in Namibia

    This morning we head out for a game-viewing drive and wildlife experience, where we'll be on the lookout for elephants and stop for a visit at De Riet and Riemvasmaak local houses. After lunch by the river, we'll return to our camp where we'll have sundowners on the roof before enjoying dinner.

  • See antelopes while on safari in Namibia

    After breakfast this morning, we'll embark on a nature walk, delighting in Damaraland's breathtaking scenery and unique wildlife once more. We'll return to our lodge for lunch before departing for the airport for our flight to Etosha.

    Rare desert-adapted plants propagate within this important sanctuary, including the extraordinary Welwitschia mirabilis. One of the oldest plants in the world, this true botanic oddity is unique to the Namib Desert. This bizarre plant has two giant leaves, three feet wide, which are withered by the wind and may absorb water from the thick fog that settles here. It is believed that the Welwitschia plant may live upwards of 2,000 years.

    We visit a 70,000-acre private reserve on the border of Etosha National Park. With its own staff of expert guides, it offers activities such as nature walks that are not permitted in Etosha National Park itself. We have dinner in camp this evening.

  • We devote the next two days to discovering the wildlife in Etosha National Park, an enormous game park with relatively few visitors. Namibia's premier game reserve, Etosha remains an important bulwark against the continual threat of extinction to Africa's exotic wildlife. The park was established in 1907, when Namibia was still a German colony, and it held the distinction of being the world's largest game park for 60 years. Although its size was slashed in 1967 to just 25% of its original acreage, it nevertheless is roughly the size of Switzerland and serves as the third-largest animal sanctuary in the world.

    Loosely translated as “great white place of dry water,” Etosha consists of a vast shallow bowl of silvery sand surrounded by savannah plains that would seem to forbid life. But Etosha was aptly named, because along with shimmering mirages there are dozens of underground springs. And where there's water—even in a harsh desert—wildlife will seek it out.

    We're likely to see plenty during today's full-day game-viewing drive. The park is a haven to a diversity of wildlife—an untamed wilderness of some 114 mammal and 340 bird species. Scattered through the park's vast grassland and savannah are natural springs and permanent waterholes where the wildlife congregates at various times of day—often several species at the same time. Every safari is different, of course, but over the next two days we will search for wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, rhino, jackal, and kudu. And with a little luck, we may see lion, leopard, and cheetah, too. Even if you've been to Africa before, a visit to Namibia's Etosha promises to be a unique experience. Enjoy a picnic lunch during our game-viewing drive, and dinner at the camp.

  • View diverse wildlife on a safari tour in Namibia

    American trader G. McKeirnan exclaimed, “All the menageries in the world turned loose would not compare to the sight I saw that day” when he first laid eyes on the Etosha region in 1876. You may well agree with that sentiment as we explore Etosha today.

    Today we'll enjoy an early morning game-viewing drive within the Ongava concession—an exclusive area within the confines of Etosha National Park. If you are a bird enthusiast, keep watch for Yellow-billed hornbills, flamingos, pelicans, ostrich, and many other species.

    We'll return to our camp for lunch before a late afternoon and early evening game-viewing drive in Ongava. Just as fascinating as the wildlife is the landscape of this starkly evocative region. The salty central pan rolls away toward grassy savannahs, and surrounding it are starkly beautiful stands of acacia, mopani, and moringa trees. Admire their spiky thorns, gnarled trunks, and outstretched branches silhouetted against the vast African sky.

    This evening, we'll gather at camp for a final briefing and a Farewell Dinner.

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    After breakfast and some time to pack this morning, we’ll depart for our flight to Windhoek. We’ll arrive in Windhoek in the afternoon before continuing to Johannesburg and embarking on our return trip to the U.S. which will arrive the following day. Or, if you're extending your adventure, you'll begin your post-trip extension to Cape Town & the Cape of Good Hope.

  • POST-TRIP EXTENSION:
    Cape Town & The Cape of Good Hope

    4 nights from only $1195

    After you travel in Nambia, continue your explorations in Africa. With Table Mountain as its backdrop, a bevy of bays at its feet, and the lushest foliage this side of paradise, Cape Town arguably occupies one of the most spectacular natural settings on Earth. Here is your chance to revel in it—and to witness the amazing social transformation of the “Rainbow Nation.”

    View Extension Itinerary

Click below to read our Travel Planning Guide on Namibia & the Skeleton Coast: Africa's Last Wilderness

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