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Namibia

Photo © Utrecht

Travel Guide Africa Namibia

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Introduction

Impala at Etosha

Impala at Etosha

© All Rights Reserved T-A Travel

The second youngest country in Africa after gaining independence from South Africa in 1990, Namibia is a vast and sparsely populated land of desert, savannah scrubland and more desert. For the adventurous, this is prime road-trip territory with mostly gravel roads and stunning natural attractions that are often empty (and rarely busy).

The German connection, for the Western world, is perhaps the most distinguishable cultural current in Namibia; the dozen or so African ethnic groups, however, each add to what is a surprisingly diverse culture. Surprising, because the country doesn't exactly boast the world's most liveable landscape. The Namib Desert occupies the western coastline, while the Kalahari dips its dry hands into Namibian territory - hardly the recipe for popular living. But in terms of travel destinations, Namibia's arid landscape rewards the traveller with stunning scenery and abundant wildlife.

Lüderitz is a fine testament to Germany's bearings in Namibia's past. The Lutheran church in its centre gives the village its most distinctive icon. The delicatessens, coffee shops and century-old German style architecture give this town that perfect Bavarian quality. That is, except for one matter - the mighty Namib desert stretching to the horizon at the town's edge.

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Brief History

The dry lands of Namibia were inhabited since early times by Bushmen, Damara, Namaqua, and since about the 14th century, by immigrating Bantu. Although there are signs of inhabitants as long as 10.000 years ago.

The first time Europeans saw the country was in the 15th century when Portuguese explorers landed on the shores. But most of the territory of Namibia was not explored until the 19th century. Around this time Germans started to house themselves into the region, as well as Boeren from South-Africa. Namibia became a German colony, excluded Walvis Bay which was British. At the start of the 20th Century the Herero and the Namaqua started wars to get rid of the Germans, but these failed and even leading to a mass genocide after the battle of Waterburg.

South Africa occupied Namibia during World War I and kept control over it, even after it was summoned by the United Nations to give up the occupation. Although the intentions were to incorporate Namibia into the territory of South Africa it was never done in an official way.

In the 1960’s the SWAPO launched a war of independence, fighting a guerilla was, but it was not very successful. In 1988 South-Africa agreed to leave Namibia, as part of a United Nations peace plan. Independence was officially declared on March 21, 1990. In 1994 Walvis Bay was returned to Namibia.

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Geography

Namibia can be divided into 4 main geographical zones. The first one is the Namib desert and the coastal zone, which is one of the driest areas in the world with only several showers a year. In the south there is the area of the Kalahari near the borders with Botswana and South Africa. A vast area of Namibia's surface is spread out over a big central plateau, with dry mountainous areas. The 4th and last area is the upper north and north-east, being the Kavango and Caprivi areas. The landscape is much greener and sometimes very lush here and apart from the capital Windhoek and a few smaller towns along the coast, the majority of people live here.

The Namib desert is home to the highest sand dunes in the world, up to 300 metres. Along the coast, the cold Benguela Current brings cold air with it, being heavier than dry air and containing very little moisture. Meeting the warm air on land, it condenses and therefore the coastal zones has relatively many days of fog.

Instead of having the typical yellow desert colours of the dunes in the Namib, the Kalahari desert is known by its red colour and its low rolling hills, covered with low bushes. In between is a mountainous rugged area with canyons like the mighty Fish River Canyon. Although on some days there are some small rivers running in these 3 areas, it's the north along the border with Angola that boasts rivers, waterfalls and fertile land. The Kunene, Chobe, Okavango and Zambezi river systems are the most important ones.

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Regions

Namibia contains 13 political regions, roughly in the following areas.

  • The northern regions are along the borders of Angola: Omusati, Oshana, Ohangwena, Otjikoto, Okavango and Caprivi
  • Central north: Kunene and Otjozondjupa
  • Centre: Erongo, Omaheke and Khomas (where Windhoek is located)
  • The south: Hardap and Karas

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Cities

  • Windhoek - The nation's capital, located in the centre of the country
  • Keetmanshoop - more a large town than a city, this is the main settlement between Windhoek and South Africa.
  • Lüderitz - located along the southwest coast of the country, German atmosphere.
  • Walvis Bay - central coast, major industry and port city.
  • Swakopmund - central coast, German atmosphere.
  • Grootfontein - main settlement in the central north.
  • Rundu - main city along the northern border.

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Sights and Activities

Sossusvlei

Sossusvlei is the showpiece of the Namib desert: a magnificent place surrounded by one of the highest dunes in the world. Dead Vlei (vlei meaning 'lake' or 'marsh') is covered with death trees on a flat and white area in between beautiful yellow dunes, everything covered under a clear blue sky on most days of the year. And after the rare shower, there are some beautiful small pools where animals like oryx come for a refreshing drink. Dune 45 along the potholed road to Sossusvlei is one of the most impressive dunes of the area.

Fish River Canyon

After the Grand Canyon in the USA, the Fish River Canyon is said to be the second biggest canyon in the world, being over 150 kilometres long and about 500 metres deep. It is one of the best places for hiking in Namibia, but you can also relax in the hotsprings of Ai Ais. For those looking to hike, day hikes into the Canyon are now closed, but the 5 day hike is still available between the 1st of May and the 30th September.

Etosha National Park

Etosha National Park is the place for a safari in Namibia. Apart from buffalo, the big five (leopard, rhino, elephant, buffalo and lion) can be seen here, among other smaller animals like cheetah, antilopes and zebra. Also, many birds have their breeding spots in the park. One of the best places to base yourself during the evening is the rest camp of Okaukuejo, where you are likely to see elephants and black rhino at the waterhole.

Lüderitz

Lüderitz and surroundings are not from this earth. It's a long drive to get there and back along the same (very good) route. Watch for wild horses on the plains several dozens of kilometres before the town. Although Luderitz itself is just a small places, it has its charms. A drive over the gravelled roads of the peninsula is very nice - you can see seals, so bring your binoculars! Don't forget a visit to deserted Kolmanskop, a ghost town and forbidden area in the time when diamonds were found here. Now, diamonds can not be found here in a wide area, but there are some good tours here and it feels a bit strange actually being here.

Kaokoveld and Damaraland

Kaokoveld and Damaraland are two very rugged and beautiful places in the northwestern region of the country. It includes part of the Skeleton coast, the Twyfelfontein region and the remarkable Vingerklip. Some of the area is only accessible by a 4wd and if you want to go out in the desert to spot elephants and lions, it is best to go out camping and be fully selfsufficient. The north of this area is still home to some elusive desert elephants and desert rhinos. Damarland is the southern area, between Kaokoveld and Swakopmund and has better gravel roads to travel along. Coming from Swakopmund, this is one of the best routes to enjoy before heading for Etosha.

Caprivi strip

For something much greener, a visit to the Caprivi strip is a must see. There are many national parks here along the borders with Angola and Botswana like Mudumu and Mamili national parks. The area used to be a bit dangerous back in the 90's of the 20th century, when a couple of French tourists where killed. But now that problems have been solved totally, the area is becoming more and more popular as a detour or in combination with the parks in Botswana and the Victoria Falls.

Swakopmund

The adventure capital of the country, and a frequent stop-off for African overland trips. From Swakopmund you can book a plethora of activities, from quad biking on the dunes, to sky-diving and Skeleton Coast flights. This windswept town retains a strong German influence which gives it the feeling of an outpost, surrounded by desert and the Atlantic. Don't expect to spend too much time in the water however as frequent sea fogs and cold waters put off all but the local fishermen.

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Events and Festivals

Independence Day

Namibia celebrates Independence Day on the 21st of March, to mark the day in 1990 when it gained full independence from South Africa. It is a national holiday with many shops and businesses closing for the day as well as all governmental offices.

Windhoek Karneval (Carnival)

A very important event in the capital, with celebrations beginning on the first Friday of April. There is the Prinzenball, Büttenabende, the Maskenball (the masked ball) and the Kehraus, which marks the end of the carnival. Festivities also include a ladies night, a youth carnival and a childrens carnival.

Kuste Karneval (Carnival)

August sees Swakopmund come alive with street parades, all-night parties, and large amounts of drinking.

Oktoberfest

A smaller cousin of the original event held in Germany, many Namibians of German heritage (or those who just enjoy a beer!) keep the tradition alive in Windhoek.

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Weather

Most of Namibia has a desert climate. The Namib desert and the coastal zone have about 50 mm of rain a year. Although temperatures in the Namib can get to over 40 °C, these temperatures are rare directly along the coast, where temperatures are much more temperate and fairly constant throughout the year, averaging 20 °C - 25 °C during most days in for example Lüderitz, Walvisbaai and Swakopmund. These places can have cold days when the fog lasts for a whole day. Further inland, temperatures are generally higher during the day and colder at night. Frost is not uncommon on the central plateau including Windhoek. Frost also occurs in the eastern Kalahari desert, where temperatures can get close to 50 °C in the summer months of December until March!

Generally, these months are also the wettest, especially in the north along the border of Angola. For example, Rundu has about 150 mm a month in January and February. Also, the north has a more tropical climate, with temperatures being around 30 °C or more. Only the winter months are a bit cooler. Because of this, the cooler and dry and sunny winter months of May until September are more pleasant for a visit. It is still nice and warm (20 °C - 25 °C) but nights can get cold.

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Getting There

By Plane

Windhoek Hosea Kutako International Airport (WDH) is the country's primary international airport.

There are few direct connections from Europe, the USA or Australia. From Europe, best direct connections are with Air Namibia or Lufthansa from Frankfurt or Munich.

There are more flights to and from neighbouring countries though, and it is most likely that you have to switch planes in Cape Town or Johannesburg before heading towards Windhoek. South African Airlines flies to these two South African cities, while Air Namibia flies to other cities as well, like Harare and Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe or Maun (gateway for Chobe and Okavango Delta) in Botswana.

By Train

There is a regular overnight train service with TransNamib, the national railway company of Namibia, from Upington in South Africa to Windhoek in Namibia via Keetmanshoop. The total trip takes about 26 hours. Although the domestic service from Keetmanshoop to Windhoek rides every day except Saturdays, the train between Upington and Keetmanshoop only rides on two days: from Upington on Sundays and Thursdays at 5am arriving 11 and a half hours later in Keetmanshoop and from the latter on Wednesdays and Saturdays around 9 am, taking well over 12 hours to reach Upington in South Africa's Northern Cape Province.

By Car

It is straightforward to enter or leave Namibia from or to Botswana and South Africa. Renting a car in South Africa is cheaper and many traveller choose this option, although you have to ask for a permit at your rental agency first and some local fees might apply for this or crossing borders. It still works out to be cheaper though. The main border crossing with South Africa is in the south, at Noordoewer/Vioolsdrif, which is along the main Windhoek to Cape Town road. Other crossings are Nakop between Upington and Karasburg, Noenieput between Upington and Aroab, Onseepkans between Pofadder and Karasburg and Rietfontein between Askam and Araob. Currently it is not possible to cross from the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park directly into Namibia, you have to go back and cross at Rietfontein. Also the border between Alexander Bay and Oranjemund in Namibia is only open if you have special permits.

With Botswana there are border crossings in the east at Gobabis and several in the north act as a gateway to the national parks in the north of Botswana and further on to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, although for the falls, you need to leave your car in Botswana and take a bus.

Also, there are crossings into Angola and a ferry into Zambia, but it is not allowed for rental cars to enter these countries and few travellers will drive their own car into Angola.

By Bus

Buses connect the capital Windhoek with most neighbouring countries, but frequencies are low and travel time high. It takes about 24 hours to and from Johannesburg and even more to Lusaka in Zambia. There are also direct buses between Windhoek and Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, stopping in Katima Mulilo in the eastern Caprivi. These buses travel through Botswana, but you are not allowed to get out of the buses. From Windhoek there are also irregular minibuses travelling directly to Maun, the gateway for the Okavango Delta in Botswana.

By Boat

There are boat connections between Namibia and Zambia, across the Zambezi River, to and from the Caprivi Strip in the far northeast.

The Royal Mail Ship "Saint Helena" travels regularly between Saint Helena and Ascension Island, Walvis Bay and Cape Town. The schedule is primarily designed to meet the needs of locals and cargo for St. Helena, and thus follows a timetable but not a consistent routing. In general terms, the ship leaves Cape Town once a month, before heading to St. Helena, sometimes via Walvis Bay. From St. Helena it will then run 1 or 2 shuttles to Ascension Island, before returning to Cape Town, again sometimes via Walvis Bay. Occasionally, Cape Town is omitted, and the ship returns to St. Helena directly from Walvis Bay.

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Getting Around

By Plane

Air Namibia is the national airline of Namibia but there are few domestic flights that are of any use to travellers and most flights are chartered. There are however a few dozen of airports in Namibia, mostly catering to smaller planes with originate from Windhoek. Often these flights are part of a package deal. You might find this List of airport in Namibia interesting if you want to joing such a tour.

By Train

Although there are some expensive tourist trains, the regular train system is not much use to the traveller. While it's cheap, it is also very slow, runs infrequently and services usually run only between major towns, so you still have to rent a car or book a tour to see something of the landscape. Of course, it can be a very nice experience if you are a train enthusiast. And for more details about services and schedules you can check the TransNamib website.

By Car

The best way to get around Namibia is by renting a car, either in Namibia or at a cheaper rate in South Africa. Although there are just a few main roads which are paved, the gravel roads are of a very good quality and driving a normal car won't be any problem on the main roads. The roads which are paved are those towards Luderitz and the south-north corridor, from the border with South Africa, via Windhoek, Rundu until the Caprivi strip.

You can have a cheap car (usually a Volkswagen Chico) for as little as $30 (USD) a day, but renting a 4WD will set you back at least $130 when booking the car from your home country. If you go out camping, it is a good idea to rent a fully equipped 4WD. The higher rental costs are compensated for by the fact that you can sleep cheaply in the car.

Many major international agencies, like Budget, Hertz, Avis, Alamo and Thrifty have offices in Namibia or South Africa and you are allowed to take the car to most neighbouring countries as well, excluding Zambia and Mozambique. You have to ask this when you book though, because you need documents, permission and pay some fees for this services. Minimum age is 23 but sometimes 25 and you need a creditcard as well.

By Bus

Intercape has connections as far as Cape Town and Zambia but also originate and terminate in Walvis Bay and Windhoek and several other major towns on the route, mainly between Walvis Bay and Windhoek and along the north-south axe and Caprivi Strip as well. Towns where buses stop include Mariental, Karasburg, Rundu and Grootfontein.

By Boat

In such a dry country, there really are no useful options to get around by boat as a means of public transport. The only times you will be on a boat are probably on the rivers that border Zambia and Angola, if at all.

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Red Tape

Nationals from the countries listed below don't need a visa to travel to Namibia:

Angola, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Cuba, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Lesotho, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Macau, Malaysia, Malawi, Mozambique, New Zealand, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, Singapore, Spain, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, United Kingdom, United States, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Your passport needs to be valid for 6 months after arrival in the country. Visas are valid for 90 days and all other people need to apply for a visa.

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Money

See also: Money Matters

Namibian dollar is the national currency, but South African Rands can also be used as they connected 1:1. Namibian dollars are not accepted in South Africa though.

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Study

Namibia has many high institutions of education and the top two are the University of Namibia and the Polytechnic of Namibia.

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Language

English is the official language of Namibia, but many other local languages are spoken and as a consequence of the German colonisation, Afrikaans and German are spoken as well, but only by white people. The local languages are either a Bantu language or a Khoisan language.

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Eat

A meat-eaters paradise, vegetarians might find themselves surviving solely on cereal bars as the veggie options are a little thin on the ground in Namibia. Game meat is very popular and varied. Oryx, Kudu, Springbok, Wildebeest (Gnoe), and Ostrich are available on many restaurant menus. While sometimes being a little tougher (except for Springbok) than your traditional beef sirloin steak, eating wild game is a great alternative and supposedly good for the environment (less land is used as farmland as a result).

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Drink

In major towns water is clean enough to drink from the tap. Bottled water is readily available and you should always carry water with you and drink it frequently. This is a desert country and you will dehydrate far sooner than you realise.

Fruit juices and cool drinks are readily available as is good coffee and tea in cafes - try a rock shandy for a long cool drink. This is lemonade and angostura bitters - a local favourite.

Namibian beer is of excellent quality and has won many prizes across the world, the most popular being Windhoek and Tafel. These are bottled beers but "draught" beer can also be bought. Local "home brewed" beer can be found on a visit to a shebeen, a local, unlicensed bar. For more information about Namibians and beer visit Barefoot Namibia.

Wine and spirits are also easily available. South African wines are found everywhere and of good quality. Namibia has one winery, the Krystal Kellerei in Omaruru which is worth a visit.

Jägermeister is a popular shot taken for any and all celebrations and ask the barman for a Springbok if you're feeling adventurous!

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Health

You should visit your general practitioner (GP) several weeks prior to your visit to Namibia, as some of the vaccinations require administration well in advance. Inform your GP of the country/countries to which you are travelling and they will advise you on which vaccinations are required. The immunisations required will vary depending on the length of your visit and the activities that you intend to carry out during your stay.

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Namibia. There is one exception though: you need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Namibia) where that disease is widely prevalent.

In addition to the vaccination courses and boosters that are usually advised for life within your home country (usually DTP), the following vaccinations are often recommended for a visit to Namibia.

Hepatitis A

Caused by the Hepatitis A virus, this infectious disease results in acute inflammation of the liver. The fecal-oral route is the most common route of Hepatitis A transmission, therefore in areas where hygiene is poor immunisation/a booster may be recommended in order to avoid infection through food or water comtamination.

Typhoid

A person may become infected with Typhoid upon transmission of the bacterium Salmonella enterica enterica via the fecal-oral route. Gastroenteritis and septicaemia are among the symptoms. In areas where hygiene is poor immunisation/a booster may be recommended in order to avoid infection through food or water comtamination.

Tetanus

Tetanus, sometimes referred to as lockjaw, is contracted through the contamination of a wound such as a cut or scratch. Tetanus manifests itself as muscles spasms throughout the body. Immunisation and post-exposure prophylaxis are used to prevent infection, and therefore a booster may be recommended prior to travel.

Rabies

The rabies virus is most commonly transmitted via the bite of an infected animal but can also be transmitted if the saliva of a rabid animal comes into contact with broken skin (i.e. licking). Initial symptoms include fever and malaise before progressing to symptoms such as hydrophobia, coma and respiratory arrest. Rabies is invariably fatal upon the onset of symptoms. Pre-exposure prophlaxis is often advised for those travelling to remote destinations or for an extended period of time. If bitten by a suspected rabid animal, the wound should be immediately washed thoroughly with soap and water before applying iodine solution if available. You should seek urgent medical attention and receive post-exposure prophylaxis, regardless of whether you received the intial pre-exposure vaccinations.

Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is a deadly disease, most commonly transmitted through the air as a result of the cough or sneeze of an infected person. Symptoms include fever, a chronic cough and weight loss. When left untreated, tuberculosis claims the lives over 50% of it's victims. Vaccination is often recommended for travellers under the age of 16 who intend to live alongside locals for an extended time period, as well as for adults under the age of 35 who may be at risk as a result of their occupation abroad.

Diphtheria

Diphtheria is a disease of the upper respiratory tract transmitted via droplet infection following direct physical contact. Immunisation may be advised if travelling in high risk areas where direct physical contact with locals is likely.

Hepatitis B

Common routes of Hepatitis B transmission include sexual intercourse, infected blood transfusion and needle contamination. Symptoms include loss of appetite, vomiting and the development of jaundice. Vaccinations may be advised for those travelling frequently or for prolonged periods of time to high risk areas.

Malaria

Malaria is usually only a risk in the northern part of Namibia, and in some areas only during the wet season (October to April). The central and southern parts of the country, including Fish River Canyon and Sossuvlei are considered malaria free. Don't underestimate this tropical disease and take precautions. Buy repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net.

Other Health Issues

Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS. Also note that Southern Africa and thus Namibia as well has a high percentage of people with AIDS.

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Safety

See also: Travel Safety

Namibia is reputedly one of the safest countries in Africa, and the most dangerous things you are likely to encounter are wild animals crossing the roads at night. Therefore it is highly advisable to do all your driving during daylight hours.

The only place in the country which reputedly poses a bit of a safety risk is the capital Windhoek. While in the city make sure you don't walk the streets displaying your wealth (keep your cameras, mobile phones, ipods hidden from view). If you choose to rent a vehicle, make sure you do not leave any valuables in view (and preferably not in it at all). Also make sure to park it in a safe location at all times, as break-ins can occur during daylight hours.

Although some years ago the Caprivi Strip used to be unsafe and French tourists were killed travelling there, it is now considered to be just as safe as the rest of the country.

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Keep Connected

Internet

Internet cafes are available in the bigger towns and cities, but dont expect there to be a provision for it in smaller towns and truck stops.

Phone

See also: International Telephone Calls

Check with your mobile provider whether your network will be supported by a local Namibian network. Be aware that when you get off the beaten track signal can be erratic.

Post

Nampost is the national postal service of Namibia. It has post offices in most major cities and towns or postal services are incorporated within small shops in the smallest settlements. As for many countries in Southern Africa, services are actually fairly reliable but not very fast. Count on 2 weeks or more for postcards or letters to be send to countries in Europe or North America. Most post offices are open from 8:00 or 9:00am to around 4:30pm, with shorter hours (mornings) on Saturdays. Note that local variations may apply. For parcels, you might choose more expensive but faster companies like DHL, UPS or TNT.

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Quick Facts

Namibia flag

Map of Namibia

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Capital
Windhoek
Government
Republic
Nationality
Namibian
Population
2,031,000
Languages
English
Religions
Christianity (Protestant), Indigenous beliefs
Currency
Namibian Dollar (NAD)
Calling Code
+264
Time Zone
UTC+1
Daylight Saving
UTC+2

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Namibia Travel Helpers

  • Utrecht

    I travelled by car independently in Namibia and know the top places, like the Fish River Canyon, the coastal areas, Namib and Kalahari deserts, Etosha NP and places in between.

    Ask Utrecht a question about Namibia
  • Travel100

    Hi, I spent 2 weeks in Namibia around this time last year. I rented a car and drove throughout most of the country so I can offer some insight, not only about the main destinations but also about traveling around the country. Its a Wonderful country, feel free to send me a message and I'd be glad to help if I can.

    Ask Travel100 a question about Namibia
  • vaninnam

    all levels of travelling by road or air

    Ask vaninnam a question about Namibia
  • luisracast

    visit some remote parts of the country in 2003

    Ask luisracast a question about Namibia
  • EddieW

    I have worked on lodges in Botswana and namibia for the last ten years, and as a local know my way around both countries extensively. With my tourism trade back ground i can answer most questions from where to go to vehicle hire, the do's and don'ts, what to pack etc

    Ask EddieW a question about Namibia

Accommodation in Namibia

This is version 71. Last edited at 19:08 on Jun 21, 13 by Utrecht. 45 articles link to this page.

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