Lonely Planet Writer

Just back from: Namibia

Matt Matt Phillips looking rather pleased with himself after summiting Big Daddy in 22 minutes © Matt Phillips

Matt Phillips, Destination Editor for Sub Saharan Africa at Lonely Planet, recently returned from a trip to one of his all-time favourite destinations, Namibia.

Tell us more… Much like the Namib dunes at sunrise, my heart glows whenever I think of Namibia. I first visited the country in 2002 as part of a year-long solo overland trip from South Africa to Morocco, and its wonders have lured me back several times since. Memorable trips include a low-altitude flying safari along the Skeleton Coast and a self-drive safari in a rather handsome Land Rover Defender called Darwin. When the opportunity came to travel there again, to say I leapt at the chance would be an understatement.

In a nutshell… To me, there is no country in Africa that inspires such a sense of excitement and peace at the same time. Open and empty roads, most of them gravel, meander beautifully through epic landscapes and iconic wildlife. The mountainous dunes of the Namib – the world’s oldest desert – look more like finely sculpted works of art than towers of sand, and the rocky canyons hidden within the isolated ranges of mountains hold not only desert-adapted lions, elephants and rhinos, but ancient rock art too. The south is marked by the Fish River Canyon (one of the world’s largest canyons) and the north hosts the great salt pan of Etosha National park, one of the continent’s most rewarding safari destinations. Flanking this desert landscape are the cold waters of the South Atlantic – the meeting of these two opposing worlds is as dramatic as you’d expect.

flight Flying over an ocean of rolling dunes © Matt Phillips

Defining moment… Taking to the sky and flying over the Namib Desert and Skeleton Coast in a small aircraft. As you climb in elevation the scale of the individual dunes is lost and the linear structures almost take on the appearance of waves flowing out to the Atlantic. When you do reach the coast, where the dramatic dunes meet their aquatic equivalent, you’ll see seal colonies, fog and several shipwrecks – the latter two are very much related, and gave the Skeleton Coast its name.

If you do one thing… Climb a dune at Sossusvlei within Namib-Naukluft National Park. There is simply no better way to appreciate the mammoth scale of the Namib’s dunes than by trudging up one, one sandy step at a time. Take on Big Daddy, which rises some 325m above the pan of Deadvlei, where the ghost-like skeletons of an ancient forest still stand. The view from the summit stretches to the distant horizon without a break in the desert landscape.

scorpian Watch out for unexpected guests in Namibia © Matt Phillips

Bizarre encounter… After a late evening session of stargazing – the night sky in Namibia is truly spellbinding – I bumped into a fellow guest as I was walking back to my cottage. She had a little problem… a scorpion in her bedroom. I’ve removed many a spider in my day, but extricating this aggressive fellow from the curtain in her doorway required a little more concentration. I released it safely outside.

Fridge magnet or better? I usually come back from Namibia with an ostrich shell or two. Somehow they are both familiar and novel at the same time – I love the beauty in their simplicity and shape, while overwhelmed by their size and strength. But this time I brought back a lovely little wood carving by a local artist – it sits proudly in the entrance hall of my flat.

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Matt Phillips travelled to Namibia with Explore (explore.co.uk). With thanks to the Namibia Tourism Board (namibiatourism.com.na) and South African Airlines (flysaa.com). Lonely Planet contributors do not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.