Namibia is a land of superlatives and contrasts. It is home to Africa’s largest canyon, its oldest desert and some of its highest dunes. It has a 1500km (932-mile) coastline and a network of languid waterways, yet it is one of Africa’s driest countries.

Sun-baked tracts of desert are nourished by fog rolling in from the icy Benguela current and seemingly empty expanses support a variety of mega- and microfauna.

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Exploring Namibia is a delight, thanks to its good infrastructure and well-developed tourism industry. Here are eight of the country’s best places to visit.

Two rhinos standing in grassland
Animal sightings are highly likely in Etosha National Park © David Lev. / Getty Images

1. Damaraland, Etosha National Park and the Skeleton Coast

Namibia’s Damaraland is one of the country’s wildlife hotspots. Hiding amid the region’s craggy rock formations and dry river beds are desert-adapted elephants and lions. On Damaraland’s northeastern edge is Etosha National Park, where lions and other animals gather in abundance around seasonal waterholes. Etosha is also notable for being home to one of Africa’s largest populations of the critically endangered black rhino, and these ungainly creatures are commonly spotted.

While exploring, don’t miss the rock engravings at Twyfelfontein, one of Africa’s most extensive collections of rock art with more than 2500 engravings.

Farther west, stretching 500km (310 miles) along the Atlantic, is Namibia’s famed Skeleton Coast National Park, with its history of shipwrecks and its sands that were once littered with the bones of whales, seals and hapless humans.

Permits are required for exploring the Skeleton Coast’s northern section, although you can get a good feel for the area’s desolation in the upper reaches of Dorob National Park, which begins at the Ugab River and extends south beyond Walvis Bay.

A sandboarder rides a board down a vast red-brown sand dune
Swakopmund is home to adventure sports, including sandboarding © Prisma by Dukas Presseagentur GmbH / Alamy

2. Swakopmund and the Atlantic Coast

Dune boarding, skydiving and surfing are just some of the many activities that are possible in Namibia’s adventure capital of Swakopmund. With its chilled vibe, German-influenced architecture and array of adventure sport operators, the town has become a favorite stop on the Namibian travel circuit.

It’s also an ideal base for visiting the Cape Cross seal reserve just up the coast. To the south is Walvis Bay, with flamingoes and wetlands, and the nearby 383m-high (1256ft) Dune 7, Namibia’s highest. Farther along, don’t miss Sandwich Harbor, with its bird-filled lagoon dramatically set against a backdrop of towering sand dunes.

Planning Tip: This central coastal region has the advantage that distances aren’t too great, and even if you have time for just a week here, you can get a good introduction.

3. Kaokoland

Namibia’s far northwestern corner is one of the country’s least-explored and most remote areas. At its heart is Kaokoland, with its isolated valleys, empty scrub lands, mountains and desert. This region is home to the semi-nomadic Himba people, known for their traditional lifestyle and red ochre skin cream.

In the far northwest, Kaokoland opens onto the sandbanks and waterways of the Kunene River delta. To the east, the winding Kunene River (which forms Namibia’s border with Angola) flows past pretty Epupa Falls, Ruacana Falls and some lovely riverside lodges.

Planning Tip: Fully equipped 4WD excursions and fly-in tours are the main ways of exploring this area’s remote expanses.

Three hikers sitting on a ridge in a mountainous arid area
Take an unforgettable multi-day hike through Fish River Canyon © wilpunt / Getty Images

4. Namibia's far south

The Orange River, Namibia’s border with South Africa, is all about multi-day canoe adventures where you paddle by day, camp under the stars and spend languid afternoons relaxing on the river bank. The vineyard-fringed border town of Noordoewer is a popular base. 

Combine four or five days on the river with a visit to Fish River Canyon, part of |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park. Several viewpoints offer glimpses over the canyon’s massive scale.

Planning Tip: Fancy a challenge? In the cooler months, put on your hiking boots for an unforgettable 85km (53-mile) hike through the canyon’s interior, finishing at the relaxing |Ai-|Ais hot springs.

5. Windhoek and the Khomas Hochland

No visit to Namibia is complete without at least a brief stop in the country’s lively capital. Perched atop an inland plateau at about 1700m (5577ft), Windhoek is one of the world’s highest capital cities. It is also Namibia’s only urban hub and the best place in the country to stock up before setting off to explore. 

The upmarket Stellenbosch Wine Bar and the down-to-earth Joe’s Beerhouse are just some of the city’s many dining options. The downtown area hosts several craft markets, and pleasant hotels abound.

Surrounding Windhoek between 1700m (5577ft) and 2000m (6562ft) in altitude are the Khomas Highlands, with brilliant blue, cloud-free skies, open grasslands and rolling peaks. Check out the local wildlife at tiny Daan Viljoen park on Windhoek’s western edge or Naankuse Wildlife Sanctuary to the east. 

A sand dune has formed inside an abandoned building in a ghost town in Namibia
Kolmanskop, near Lüderitz, is a ghost town being taken over by the desert © Marie Hickman / Getty Images

6. Lüderitz and the surrounding region

Lüderitz, the largest population center in southwestern Namibia, has a completely incongruous setting, sandwiched between sea and desert. Its busy port and single paved access road contrast with its early 20th-century German-style architecture giving the town a distinct time-warped, end-of-the-road feeling.

About 20km (12.5 miles) west of town around the bay is Diaz Point, a rocky, wind-buffeted outcrop known for its seabirds and seals. Southeast of Lüderitz is the old ghost town of Kolmanskop, a mining settlement that is slowly being taken over by the desert. 

South of Lüderitz are the empty expanses of Tsau //Khaeb (Sperrgebiet) National Park. This former diamond-mining zone is a biodiversity hot spot with a diverse array of succulents. Day excursions into the park can be organized in Lüderitz. On the park’s eastern edge, near the small town of Aus, you may see a few survivors of the area’s once-large population of wild horses.

7. The Zambezi Region (Caprivi Strip)

Namibia’s northeastern corner is miles away from Windhoek and much of the rest of the country, both in distance and in feel, its languid waterways offering a complete contrast to the arid desertscapes more prevalent in the south. Home to Bwabwata National Park, the far northeast is ideal for a detour if you’re combining travel in Namibia with visits to Zambia and Victoria Falls.

Enjoy the night-time symphonies of chirping and river noises and the area’s relaxed lodges and campgrounds while listening to hippos and watching elephants spraying water over themselves along the riverbanks.

Springbok passing in front of a red dune in Sossusvlei
Experience the contrasts of the Namib Desert © Tiago_Fernandez / Getty Images

8. The Namib Desert

The tiny enclave of Sesriem is the gateway to Sesriem Canyon and the many nearby highlights of Namib-Naukluft Park. These include Sossusvlei, a large, occasionally water-covered pan, and the alluring Deadvlei pan, spreading out in the shadow of Big Daddy dune. The contrasts, sharp lines and colors of the clear blue sky and ochre dunes make the area a photographer’s paradise, especially in the late evening and early morning light.

Planning Tip: Nearby are some lovely desert lodges. Overnighting in or near Sesriem allows you to climb Big Daddy or the nearby Dune 45 while the sun is low enough in the sky. Another way to get an aerial perspective over this otherworldly landscape is with a sunrise balloon safari.

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