From desert elephants to colonial towns which suggest a piece of Bavaria in the sands, in Namibia there is a richness of life in even the sparsest setting, and its remote wonders are more accessible than you think. So, hungry to explore this intriguing part of Africa but not sure where to start?
1. Begin and end your trip in the small, German-influenced capital Windhoek, with its scattering of historic buildings. The Rivendell Guest House is quiet, affordable and homely and has a swimming pool. Hotel Heinitzburg is a former castle built in 1914, with upmarket rooms.
2. Drive the Skeleton Coast, which stretches more than 400 miles from Swakopmund to the Angolan border. Its southern half is served by the C34 coastal salt road from Swakopmund. From Möwe Bay northwards is the Skeleton Coast Wilderness, with public access only by charter flight.
3. The remote Skeleton Coast Camp enjoys exclusive access to the wilderness zone - with an exclusive price tag to match. Outside this zone but still on the Skeleton Coast, Namibia Wildlife Resorts runs more affordable Terrace Bay Camp, 30 miles north of Torra Bay on the C34 coastal road.
4. Swakopmund feels like a German Baltic beach resort, apart from the palm trees and desert sand, and is a useful stop on the road between Windhoek and the Skeleton Coast. Alte Brücke's 23 chalets sleep from one to six. The Hansa Hotel is an upmarket hotel in a building which dates from 1905.
5. The shifting dunes and flat pans around Sossusvlei lie in the Namib-Naukluft Park, beyond the park entrance at Sesriem. A road runs from there to Sossusvlei, but the last three miles are 4WD only. If you don't have a suitable car, a shuttle covers the last bit from the main car park, or you can do the 1½ hour walk if you carry plenty of water.
6. Reaching Sossusvlei in time for sunrise can be tricky with park opening times. The Kuala Desert Lodge makes this easier with its own park entrance. The lodge comprises thatched or canvas en suite tents with verandas, and the full rate also covers nature drives and guided visits.
7. Two miles west of Aus, Klein-Aus Vista is a 10,000-hectare ranch with a guest lodge. There are several trekking routes, each taking in fabulous landscapes. The lodge is also well positioned for day trips to Kolmanskop and Lüderitz, and staff can arrange trips to see the wild horses which live in the Namib Desert.
8. The diamond mining town of Kolmanskop was abandoned by 1956 and is slowly being reclaimed by the sands. It's a short drive from Lüderitz, but you'll need to ask for a permit before you visit from Namibia Wildlife Resorts or through a local tour operator such as Lüderitzbucht Tours (00 264 63 202719; Bismarck St).
9. The surreal colonial town of Lüderitz lies just north of the Sperrgebiet – the diamond mining area where entry is strictly prohibited. Check out the town's museum, and stay at he modern Sea-View Hotel Zum Sperrgebiet, which has a glassed-in indoor pool, sweeping terraces and harbour views.
Frequently asked questions about travelling in Namibia
How safe is the country?
The UK Foreign Office does not advise against travel to any part of the country, although travellers in the Caprivi Strip and other remote areas in the far north should stick to well-travelled routes because of ordnance left over from Namibia's war of independence. Windhoek has seen an increase in violent street crime, so keep car doors locked and windows shut, especially in heavy traffic, and keep valuables out of sight.
Be alert to your surroundings, especially after dark and when walking with your luggage. Ask your hotel or tour operator for a reliable taxi company. Security precautions also apply to a lesser extent in other towns in Namibia. That said, the country remains one of the safest places to travel in Africa. If you're camping or trekking, keep the risk of snake bites and scorpion stings low by tapping out your boots, shaking out your clothes and packing away your sleeping bag during the day. Remember snakes don't bite unless threatened or stepped on.
Is there a malaria risk?
The locations covered in this article are considered low risk, and anti-malarials are not usually advised for the central, western and southern parts of Namibia. However, the northernmost third of the country (minus the drier Skeleton Coast) is a high-risk area. If in doubt, consult your GP.
What wildlife can I see?
The wetter north (Etosha National Park in particular) is classic safari territory, with lions, giraffes, elephants and rare rhino. Many of these animals also live in areas inland from the Skeleton Coast. Drier environments to the south and along the coast do not support as many big game animals, but you can find springbok, gemsbok, zebra and many other species in these areas.
Is it easy to drive in Namibia?
Regular hire cars are suitable for the main roads, but 4WD vehicles may be necessary in more remote areas. Alongside the brilliant network of sealed roads are a number of gravel roads. Most C-numbered roads are well-maintained and passable to all vehicles; D-numbered roads are slightly rougher. There is a good network of petrol stations across the country, though as a general rule you should never pass a service station without filling up, and it is advisable to carry an additional 100 litres of fuel if you're going to drive in more remote areas. Carry plenty of extra water in case of a breakdown. Avoid driving at night, and watch out for sand on the road, particularly around Swakopmund and Lüderitz. International car companies such as Budget have offices in Windhoek as well as the city's international and domestic airports.
This article was updated in February 2012.