Damaraland

The unique Spitzkoppe rock formations in Damaraland.

Damaraland is home to many extraordinary sites of historical and cultural interest.

Founded:
1980
Country:
Namibia
Annual rainfall:
100mm
Famous Feature:
Twyfelfontein
Rock engravings:
2 000

Introduction

Damaraland covers more than 160 000 ha and lies close to the south-western border of Etosha National Park. Damaraland is best known for its spectacular desert scenery. Khorixas, in the middle of Damaraland, is populated by the Damara who, along with the San, are the oldest inhabitants in Namibia.

Twyfelfontein is found about 90km west of Khorixas. It boasts the most discoveries of rock engravings anywhere in the world. A couple of thousand petroglyphs have been counted. Twyfelfontein was proclaimed a national monument in 1952. The rock engravings on the smooth rock surfaces depict different animals and their specific tracks, and scientists reckon that they are between 1 000 and 10 000 years old. Not far from Twyfelfontein, there are more exciting attractions; one of them being the 'Petrified Forest' where you will see tree trunks that are around 300 million years old. Some 150km south of Khorixas lies the Brandberg Massif, Namibia's highest mountain.

Damaraland is not an area to visit if you expect to see teeming game herds, but you have a chance of seeing the legendary desert-dwelling elephants and black rhinoceros, as well as Hartmann's zebra, gemsbok, springbok and ostrich. Damaraland is one of the most picturesque areas in Namibia, with its open grasslands, granite koppies and ancient water courses.

Reasons to Visit

1

Stellar Views

Damaraland is a vast untamed expanse. Its inhabitants are limited to the native Damara people and the desert elephant, rhino and a minority of other animals that cross the barren region to find water sources. The air is free from pollution and unnatural lights, and almost all nights are clear, which makes it a perfect place to observe the constellations.

2

Rugged Beauty

The region has a harsh climate, and an even harsher terrain, but being one of the driest places on the continent has its perks – the landscapes that have been formed by hundreds of years of erosion make this mountainous area a must visit. Boulders the size of trees, gorges, crevices, and tufted plains can all be found in the region.

3

Fantastic Photography

The different qualities of the landscape and its inhabitants make this the ideal location for any photographer or cinematographer that wants to up their game. Capturing the essence of Damaraland is a challenge that will require determination and perseverance, but the results are guaranteed to be worth it.

Useful Info

Getting There
Plane

By Air

Guests traveling to Damaraland will need to fly to Namibia. Upon arrival at OR Tambo International Airport, guests will be welcomed and assisted in transferring to Windhoek’s Hosea Kutako International Airport. Guests traveling to the northern reaches of Damaraland will possibly be chartered via a light aircraft to one of the private landing strips.

Car

By Road

Most guests on safari in Namibia will travel from Windhoek north-west to the Skeleton Coast and continue further north to Damaraland. Travelers traveling with African Sky will be transported in a private, air-conditioned vehicle by an experienced guide on this journey.

Weather & Best Time To Visit

Damaraland is dry throughout the year and can be visited at any time, but it is during the extremely dry winter months that the animals converge around any available water sources. This makes May to September the best season for wildlife viewing. It is also much cooler in the winter than in the summer which makes daytime activities more enjoyable.

The summer can become hot and uncomfortable for some, but if the area received a good amount of rain, the grasslands becomes a hotspot for gemsbok and springbok. Elephants migrate through the area throughout the year and can be seen in both the dry and wet season. If you are planning a trip to a wildlife reserve or park in combination with Damaraland, the dry season is the best time to visit.  

History

Damaraland is named for the people that were found there - the Damara. The name literally means 'black people' in the Khoekhoe language. Very little is known about their origins, but it is thought that they are a remnant population of hunter-gatherers. Oral tradition has it that they came from the equatorial rain forest. Occupying the area for thousands of years alongside the San, the Damara had a similar lifestyle, but also cultivated crops and were even able to work iron into knives, ornaments and spearheads. The true historic value of Damaraland even predates the Damara people that lived there.

Thousands of Bushman paintings and engravings can shed some light onto the lifestyle of the San hunter-gatherers that occupied the area. At Brandberg, one can find one of the most famous Bushman paintings in all of Namibia - ‘the White Lady’ - which is most likely a man due to the fact that he is carrying a bow and arrow. Twyfelfontein in Damaraland is Namibia’s - and possibly the world's - best preserved Bushman rock engraving site, featuring more than 2 000 engravings, as well as a multitude of rock paintings. Twyfelfontein therefore became a World Heritage Site in 1952 to preserve this gem of anthropological history. It is a place where you can truly look back on your own history and imagine how people lived thousands of years ago.

Wildlife

Even though Damaraland is one of the driest places on the continent, it contains a remarkable variety of wildlife. Oddly enough, the world’s largest land mammal, the elephant, has adapted to survive here, and Damaraland boasts a healthy population of these desert adapted giants. There are even some extremely endangered black rhino present that have also adapted to this harsh desert environment. The areas with sub-surface water - which allows trees to grow - provide kudu and giraffe with adequate browsing, and the dazzling Hartmann’s mountain zebra can also be seen. Herds of desert 'experts' like the gemsbok (oryx) and springbok can also be found.

Gemsbok are water independent, meaning that they are not dependent on surface water, but rather obtain the water that they need from the plants that they eat. They even kick out the roots for extra moisture, while springbok have adapted to drink salty water. All these herbivores attract a surprising amount of carnivores that move in and around the area. These include lions, cheetah, spotted hyena and brown hyena. Many smaller creatures like bat-eared foxes, Damara ground squirrel and kaokoveld rock hyrax are present alongside a multitude of reptiles, particularly lizards. Birders can have a ball with more than 240 species that have been documented in the area.       

Vegetation & Terrain

Set in the one of the prehistoric river valleys of Namibia, Damaraland is a massive, untamed region that encompasses granite mountains and koppies, open plains, grasslands, ancient forests and endless sandy wastelands. The vastness and inimitability of the terrain makes it one of the most scenic areas in the country. It is best known for its distinctive geological attractions. The Brandberg Mountain, which translates roughly to ‘Burning’ or ‘Fire’ Mountain, is the highest in Namibia, and it towers dramatically over the region. It is not to be confused with Burnt Mountain in the Twyfelfontein area.

The area is one of the driest on the African continent and surface waters are virtually non-existent, and yet the area sustains a diverse range of lifeforms, including people, and has done so for hundreds of years. This is made possible through the adaptation of the remarkable desert vegetation, as sub-surface waters allow plants and trees to grow. Their roots are especially nutrient rich, and animals can be seen kicking the dusty ground to reveal them. Evidence of historical flooding however, can be seen in the Petrified Forest, a collection of enormous fossilized tree trunks.

Activities

Damaraland is a photographer's dream. The landscapes and rocky outcrops set the most entrancing scene, especially when you glimpse the free-ranging desert elephants and iconic gemsbok. It is also a place of rich cultural heritage, and the ancient rock art sites, such as the ‘White Lady’ bushman painting, appeal to visitors to the rugged landscape. Twyfelfontein has been listed as a World Heritage Site because of the abundance of rock art engravings that can be found in the various caves. Go to see the Vingerklip (which translates to 'Finger Rock' in Afrikaans), a limestone tower that stands 35m high, or the Spitzkoppe - another Namibian landmark.

The area is also home to many animals and game drives or guided walks through the region guarantee a unique safari experience. Birding is one of the much-loved activities for visitors to Damaraland, especially scouting for raptors and the flightless ostriches that roam the plains. A visit to the Petrified Forest is an out-of-this-world experience, and it is comparable to nothing you have ever witnessed. The fossilized tree trunks that belong to a family of trees commonly found in Europe today were washed down by one of the ancient rivers.

Experiences to be Savored

A pair of Ovambo women wander through their village in Damaraland.

Ancient Art Museum

With some of the highest densities, and also some of the most renowned bushman paintings in the world, the region, and especially the Twyfelfontein area, can best be described as an ancient art museum.

The Face of Namibia

The Ovambo tribe, which is the largest ethnic group in Namibia, calls the northern region home. Getting to know their culture, traditions and experiencing one of their dances is sure to evoke huge respect and admiration for the indigenous people.

Desert Highway

The area is known to be roamed by wild rhinos and the rather mystical desert elephant. Their tracks can be seen all across the dry earth as they move across the vast expanse to reach water, and tracking them is a thrilling pastime.

FAQ

What kind of game is there to see?
If you go on a wildlife safari, you can see elephants, mountain zebra, the endangered black rhino, and even lions.
When is the best time of year to visit?
The region can be visited any time of the year.
Is there rock art to view?
Yes, which includes the famous ‘White Lady’ Bushman painting, whilst Twyfelfontein contains around 2 000 rock engravings.
Are there any hiking trails?
Yes, they are mostly situated on the property of the different lodges in the area.
What else is there to do and see in Damaraland?
Damaraland is home to various scenic attractions such as the Petrified Forest, which is some 200 million years old.
What is the 'living museum'?
The Damaraland Living Museum is the only one of its kind, and is based on the live transfer of information related to traditional culture.
What type of landscape is it?
It is a desert landscape with many mountainous areas. It is also one of the driest on the African continent.

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