One of Namibia’s major contributors to GDP is tourism (14.5%) and in turn, it accounts for 18.2% of all employment through serving over one-million tourists a year. As one of Africa’s prime destinations, Namibia is renowned for its ecotourism and extensive wildlife.
There are a number of lodges and reserves which accommodate eco-tourists; while the sport of hunting is a growing part of the economy. Extreme sports have gained popularity, such as sand boarding and 4×4 trails. The most popular tourist destinations include the Caprivi Strip, Fish River Canyon, Sossusvlei, the Skeleton Coast Park, Sesriem, Etosha Pan and the coastal towns of Swakopmund, Walvis Bay and Lüderitz.
Wildlife and Conservation
Namibia is at the forefront of conservation and specifically protects its natural resources in its constitution, which is aimed at: “maintenance of ecosystems, essential ecological processes, and biological diversity of Namibia, and utilisation of living natural resources on a sustainable basis for the benefit of all Namibians, both present and future.”
Directly after independence, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) granted funds to the newly formed government of Namibia through the Living in a Finite Environment (LIFE) Project. The Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Endangered Wildlife Trust, WWF, and Canadian Ambassador’s Fund, together form a Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) support structure, whose goal is to promote sustainable natural resource management through empowering local communities with wildlife management and tourism.
The Skeleton Coast
Even the name of the Namibian desert coastline stirs feelings of adventure – it’s an extremely remote and formidable place. The Namib Desert is one of the world’s most arid and inhospitable places. What makes the Skeleton Coast unique is the vast sand dunes which at times engulf the coastline, wreaking havoc with the shipping lanes.
The shifting dunes advance to the ocean and to the human eye, they appear to find their resting place at the edge of the sea. This however, is not the case, as the dunes continue underwater. This undersea topography is the cause of the numerous ship wrecks which litter the coastline. The dunes form hidden shallow sand-banks which prove deadly to ships – the haunting reminder is seen in their corpses. The surrealism of this vast graveyard is also noted in the wrecks of ships that would once have settled in shallow water, only to now be surrounded by an ocean of sand far from shore. Many more remain unseen indefinitely
There was very seldom light at the end of the tunnel for wrecked ships, as even after surviving the wreck, crews would be met with the ominous image of the endless desert. This coastline has been given many names over the centuries. Some locals refer to it as “the land God made in anger”, while Portuguese sailors called it “As Areias do Inferno” which means Sands of Hell.
The best way for visitors to explore the Skeleton Coast is by air. Not only is the birds’-eye-view the only way to get the entire picture of this vast expanse, but there are also very few roads. There are small planes available to do the job and a number of isolated landing strips dotted all the way down the coastline.
The sand dunes of Namibia are one of its greatest attractions, and Sossusvlei is the place to view them. Their endless colour seems unreal. Namibia is one of the most ancient and dry ecosystems on the planet. Its remote appeal gives one the feeling of being the only person on earth – the first and final frontier.
The ‘bizarre’ factor is enhanced by the mysterious song of the dunes, which seem to whistle in the wind. When climbing dunes, the view can be breathtaking – a landscape of curving sand from horizon-to-horizon. The mesmerising fluidity of the dunes in the wind gives the impression that the desert is alive.
Fish River Canyon
The Fish River carves a magnificent canyon through the Namibian landscape and is in actual fact the second largest canyon in the world and the largest in Africa, at 160km long, 550m deep and up to 27km wide. It has a lunar-like appearance which cannot be witnessed anywhere else in Africa and as a result, is the second most visited attraction in Namibia. Formed around 500-million years ago, the canyon lies on a fault line which has added to its formation (along with the erosion of the winding waters of the Fish River) through movements in the earth’s crust causing the collapse of the bottom of the valley.
Luderitz is one of the main towns in Namibia but is isolated on the southern coastline – with a vast expanse of the skeleton coast on either side. German colonial architecture dominates the town creating a curious contrast as the charming and quaint German houses seem as if they have been misplaced along the seemingly inhabitable coastline.
Kolmanskop is a few kilometres outside of Luderitz on the remote coast. This ghost town was once home to a small diamondmining community of Germans. As a result, it was built in 1908 to resemble a German village. After the diamond bust of the 1950s, the town was abandoned. The town is slowly being swallowed up by the encroaching sand and will someday disappear altogether – for that reason alone, it is well worth the visit.
Etosha National Park
Etosha National Park is one of the largest and greatest savannah conservation areas in Africa. It covers a massive area and currently protects 114 mammal species and over 340 bird species. The vast majority of Etosha is one large saltpan that forms a shallow lake during the rainy season. As a result, it becomes a haven for animals that travel from far and wide to quench their thirst after the long dry months.
Mesosaurus tenuidens fossils
These fossils, discovered at the Spitzkoppe Farm in Namibia in 1988, cemented the theory of continental drift and highlighted the fact that Namibia was once joined to Brazil as part of the ‘super continent’. This collection of fossils of the shore-dwelling ancient lizards is the most beautifully preserved in the world. However, their shoreline was not that of the South Atlantic Ocean as it is today, but rather an ancient super lake known as Lake Gai-As. As part of Gondwana land, this great lake was an inland lake separating today’s Namibia from what would become Brazil; signifying that the sea of sand of the Namib Desert was once a massive body of water surrounded by sub-tropical climate species. Similarly fascinating fossils can be found throughout Namibia at various locations, and together with its bounty of gemstones, semi-precious stones, and intriguing rock formations – Namibia is truly a geologist’s paradise.
Fast facts Namibia
- ‘The White Lady’ is Namibia’s, and possibly Africa’s, most famous rock art painting. Found at Brandberg Mountain, it actually depicts a male hunter-gatherer wearing the white paint of a San Shaman or ‘medicine man’. Guided walks are offered to visit the site, as well as the Schlangenhöle site which houses the impressive ancient painting of a seven metre long snake.
- Keetmanshoop, in the Karas region of Namibia, is officially the sunniest town in the world and is home to the popular Quiver Tree forests.
- The mysterious Wild Horses of the eastern fringe of the Namib Desert have long been the subject of debate and intrigue. Although it is agreed that these feral horses have domesticated ancestors, it is unclear how they broke free and where they came from. Theories include the wrecking of a ship of cargo horses on the Skeleton Coast in the late 1800s, horse studs neglected in the war, horses abandoned during the depression or during the increase of the automobile industry, and retreating Germans forced to abandon their cavalry. The large number of the horses indicates that it was likely a combination of several theories. Whatever the case these fascinating creatures have managed to adapt and survive extremely harsh terrain and are a beautiful sight.
- The unique desert elephants of Namibia are a conservation priority. Found in the Kunene Region in the north-west which encompasses 115,154km² of semi-arid sandy desert, rocky mountains and gravel plains. They have a smaller body mass, longer legs and larger feet than the savannah elephants, which has helped them adapt to their dry environment. These smaller physical attributes help them cross the miles of sand in search of water. There is only one other population of desert elephants in the world.
- The ‘Forbidden Zone’ along the Skeleton Coast was once blocked to visitors as a result of the numerous diamonds scattered across the sand. The hidden treasure under the sand has been rigorously protected since early 1908, when a railway worker picked up the first diamond. Known as Diamond Zone 1, or Sperrgebiet – German for ‘Forbidden Zone’, this 26,000 square kilometre mining zone has only had around 10% of the area sufficiently mined and 1.3-million carats are mined annually – with the rest roped off to any civilian. However in 2008, the Sperrgebiet was declared a national park by the Namibian government with its terrain covering 17 offshore ‘islands’. As a result of the immense preservation, the unique and endemic flora and fauna has remained untouched.