Imagine a country so large that it has a land mass the size of Germany and Spain combined, but contains only 2 million people and has the largest number of cheetahs in the world (almost 3,000!)...
The place you're imagining is Namibia. Ok, so maybe it wasn't top of your travel list for 2016. That's OK!
And it's also about to change. With the launch of our new gap year 6-week program in Namibia, I’ve taken some time out to discover what Namibia has to offer.
Introducing: The Gem of Africa
I’m here to tell you that after a little research it has scaled the heights to top of my list. With some truly beautiful landscapes and a low population density, it's one of the most scenic and dramatic trips to be had. I’d go as far as to say that whilst there are hidden gems lurking inside Namibia waiting to be discovered, Namibia itself is the hidden gem of the continent of Africa.
It'll offer you something so completely different to your home surroundings, you'll be filled with jaw-to-the-floor awe of the natural world. So if you’re struggling to decide where to jet off to this year, look no further. These magical and eerie sights await...
Fossilized Tress in a Desert Lake
Nestled in the midst of the highest dunes of the Namib Nauklift National Park, the largest conservation area of Africa, lies a white limestone clay floor spattered with fossilized trees over 900 years old.
As you clamber over dunes and lay your eyes on this expanse there is an eerie but peaceful sense of calmness. Locally known as Deadvlei, it was once an oasis that has become the dead lake. In the stifling heat of the Namib desert the mirage effect created across this natural wonder will have you believing that the lake is no longer “dead”.
I recommend heading over to Deadvlei for sunrise, yes this will mean an early start but trust me it’s worth it. At this time of day the colours are strong and constantly changing. You’ll also be glad of the cooler climes to allow you to revel in the beauty without worrying that you might shrivel into a crisp.
A Desert That Isn’t a Desert
What an earth is a desert that isn’t a desert? Enter the Kalahari Desert. Whilst its name translates to 'the great thirst' this is not your traditional savannah-esque desert. Instead, it's a mysterious wonder with lush vegetation growing in some parts of the 350,000 square mile desert – that’s about 200 times the size of London.
Whilst the Kalahari is called a desert it receives 5-10 inches of rain a year and thus cannot be classified a desert. The precipitation filters rapidly through the expanses of sand yet it manages to retain water better than other deserts causing lush vegetation in certain areas.
Alongside this natural wonder, this desert is a must-visit for any Disney or Mario-Kart fanatics. The Kalahari is the inspiration for the Kalimari Desert game and it also features in the Lion King Disney classic.
Jump into a four-by-four and head across to see this beauty and whilst the sunsets be sure to burst into a song, you never know you may have the animals flock to you.
Explore this awesome desert easily in a weekend from our 6-week Namibia programme.
Bwabwata National Park
National parks are certainly abundant in Africa and Namibia is no exception. I’ve chosen to include this one in my hidden gem list as it offers tranquility, isolation whilst contributing to conservation.
Etosha gets all the lime-light when you research parks to explore. However, Bwabwata is less busy and was set up to allow for people and animals to live side-by-side without conflict and to restore species badly affect by poaching.
If you’re after great animal viewing spots, don’t miss Horseshoe Lake. The oxbow lake is surrounded by woodland making it an ideal spot to catch all the beautiful wildlife the park has to offer.
Watch herds of elephants’ bathe in the lake or turn your eyes to the sky and try and spot the well camouflaged leopards who hide out in the tree branches over head.
You’ve ogled at the beauty of nature but now you’re craving something a little more man-made, don’t worry Namibia doesn’t disappoint.
Why not go explore Namibia on our latest gap year program 6 Weeks in Namibia: Wildlife + Adventure + Teaching?
Take Me There!
The Legacy of the Diamond Trade: Kolmanskop
Once a thriving hub for the diamond trade, Kolmanskop now stands desolate and deserted. As you wander around the misty ghost town, you’ll have the chance to explore the abandoned buildings now filled with sand. Many of them adorned with brightly coloured walls of flaking paint.
This town offers a contrast between the turn-of-the-century German architecture and the power of nature that has now taken over this town. You’ll wander through buildings knee-high in sand and it’s easy to imagine the life that once filled this now derelict settlement.
For the photographers among you, Kolmanskop offers the picture-perfect setting to capture those eerie photographs that captivate our imaginations.
Vintage Cars at Solitaire
Ghost towns are not the only legacy of the diamond trade that are visible on a trip across Namibia. If you’re a fan of vintage cars or have watched a number of westerns that involve car chases, then a trip to Solitaire is not to be missed.
Set amongst the desert, a number of rusty vintage car wrecks give a nostalgic feel to the otherwise arid and strange surroundings. These Chevy’s and Ford’s offer a surreal site as they are half buried in sand many with bullet holes scattered across the exterior. A visual reminder of the diamond era, where police chases were not uncommon as they sped through the wilderness after diamond thieves.
Head out to Canon Road House to see a stunning collection of these vintage cars and I recommend picking up their road house burger, once of the best burgers going!
Getting Off the Beaten Track in Kaokoveld
Arguably all these hidden gems aim to get you off that tourist trail, but this one is by far the remotest and requires fully equipped expedition vehicles to head out to the Kaokoveld.
Home to the Himba tribe Kaokoveld offers a remote pristine region guaranteed to be the best cultural trip thus far. Alongside these friendly and welcoming people live species that are almost entirely unique to the area.
Whilst not large in numbers the species are wide-ranging, from the rare desert-adapted elephants and lions to black rhino and the more common giraffe.
This gem offers the traveler a stunning mix of culture, landscapes and animals. However, it is not for the light-hearted. It’s rugged, harsh, untamed and practically devoid of commercial tourism so be prepared to rough it, a small price to pay for the experience of Kaokoveld.
Fish River Canyon Rivals the Grand Canyon
We’ve all heard of the Grand Canyon, maybe you’ve been lucky enough to head out beyond the dazzling lights of Las Vegas to explore this natural wonder. My breath was taken away as I approached this beauty.
However, I think I have found a contender to challenge the Grand Canyon. Fish River Canyon in Namibia is the largest canyon in the Southern Hemisphere and is the second largest in the world.
It’s stunning 550 metre depth and 160 kilometre length offers an experience comparable to driving across Mars. The large boulders and spectacular cliffs makes this a true natural wonder.
What’s more it does not have the fame that comes with the Grand Canyon. This means there aren’t as many people flocking to the canyon allowing for you to have a quieter more peaceful visit to ogle at the power of nature.
I’ve mentioned deserts but are you thinking I’ve missed the key beauty to Namibia…I’ve saved the best for last.
Sand Dune 45 and Beyond
With deserts come sand dunes. Whilst sand dune 45 is by no means a hidden gem, being the most photographed sand dune in the world, Namibia has so much more to offer than this one beautifully shaped dune.
Developed over millions of years, it’s well worth getting up early to catch these magnificent structures as they change from inky purple to salmon to bright red. The play of light and shadow at this time of day makes everything much more spectacular.
For those ski enthusiasts among you, Namibia offers some of the best dune skiing in the world. Using specially modified sand equipment you are able to reach speeds that are extremely similar to if you were on the snow. Worried that this will spoil the beauty? Don’t panic the local guides ensure to produce ski areas where the wind naturally covers the tracks.
Not a skilled skier? The dunes can still provide you with a day’s entertainment through the sport of dune boarding. Probably, the most fun I’ve had in the sand. You lie on a board at the top of a dune and then one, two, three you push yourself down and if you’re a lover of adrenaline can reach up to 60 miles an hour!
The Inner Beauties of Namibia
From diamond trade legacies, to fossilized trees to sandboarding - these are just some of the gems that Namibia has to offer. If you like the sound of all this, why not book on to our 6-week program to Namibia that leaves in May?
Have you visited Namibia? Or maybe you’ve found some hidden gems on your travels. We’d love to hear about what you’ve found on your travels in the comments below.
Like the sound of what you’ve read but unsure where to go from here? Then download our comprehensive gap year advice guide: The Gap Adventure Blueprint, which contains several chapters that will help you get your head around all the options and offer advice on how to raise funds, plus much more.
on 02 / 02 / 2016