Fish River Canyon

The awe-inspiring Fish River Canyon at dawn.

Experience one of the most significant geographical sites on the continent at Fish River Canyon.

Location:
Southern Namibia
Area:
5,900 km2
Length:
160km
Width:
27km
Depth:
550m

In the harsh southern bowels of the Namib Desert, you will find the awe-inspiring Fish River Canyon. The canyon is second in size only to North America's Grand Canyon, and is therefore also the largest canyon on the African continent. It is one of the most popular tourism attractions in Namibia, drawing visitors from all across the globe to marvel at its geological majesty or test their physical limits hiking bare bones through the ravine.

Adventures in the area are largely based around exploring the canyon itself as well as the landscape surrounding it, part of which is incorporated into the privately-owned Gondwana Canyon Park. In addition to savoring the spectacular sights of the canyon at sunset and sunrise, nature drives will offer the opportunity to encounter desert-adapted wildlife, while guided morning hikes and walks provide the occasion to familiarize yourself with the smaller details of this area's unique ecology.

Hiking the Fish River Canyon is a bucket list venture for hiking enthusiasts all around the world. With no facilities in the canyon itself, hikers are expected to be entirely self-sufficient for the duration of the 89km trek - hence why many end up sleeping under a silvery canopy of stars, rather than lugging along a tent!

Reasons to Visit

1

The View

The area is a beautifully carved masterpiece that somewhat resembles an African cousin to the famous Grand Canyon, although more archaic and mysterious in its appearance. The panoramic views of the canyon offer an extraordinary insight into the great natural force that the simplest elements, like flowing water, possess.

2

Hiking & Trail running

The elegant curves and edges of the Fish River Canyon area make it ideal for outdoor activities like hiking, walking or trail running. There are many routes and many corners of the canyon to explore and enjoy, especially when the hot Namibian sun peeks over the horizon in the early morning or evening. If you were wondering what to pack after you saw the Fish River Canyon on your itinerary, the answer is a pair of walking shoes and binoculars to take in the natural beauty of the region.

3

Sulfur Springs

There are a handful of sulfur springs bunched together in the Fish River Canyon area that are a popular destination. From designated viewpoints, the seemingly unnatural pools can be viewed - another symbol of the hostility of life in the canyon and the odd beauty you could encounter if you dare to tolerate these harsh conditions. With the accommodation in the area, this harshness is luckily swept aside with ease.

Useful Info

Getting There
Plane

By Air

A flight to Windhoek Airport from either Cape Town or Johannesburg International Airport is the usual first step taken to reach this unique destination. The flight might take place earlier in your safari however, with the rest of the traveling time taking place by road.

Car

By Road

By road, one of our tour guides will gladly take you from point A to point B; point B being the Fish River Canyon in the south of Namibia, in this case. The air-conditioned ride will take place either from the airport or from another destination in the area on your safari itinerary.

Weather & Best Time To Visit

Like so many places in Namibia, the day temperatures reach maximums higher than some are used to, and the night temperatures are equally extreme in the other direction. Nevertheless, seasonal changes do occur, and when the river is flowing the surrounding camps are treated by a slight breeze from deep within the canyon. Sunscreen and a hat are essentials here year-round, but with the accommodation on offer here a good night’s sleep and comfortable and relaxing environment are guaranteed. The best time to visit then is late in the summer around February, when the river is in full flow and more can be seen, despite the temperature. In the winter, temperatures are more temperate, but the river subdivides into a narrow chain of pools.

History

The canyon, like most of Namibia, is one of the oldest in the world. The canyon itself was partly formed before the African and South American continents even separated around 60 million years ago. After that, the Fish River carved its way into the rock of the area to deepen and expand the canyon to its current state. In recent history the area has established itself as a fan-favorite in the world of hiking, especially in Southern Africa. The region is host to the annual Fish River Canyon Ultra Marathon, a 100km trail for men and women - one of the highlights of the year for hiking athletes in the region.

Wildlife

As is the case worldwide, it takes a lot for no single animal or organism to adapt to an area, no matter the survival difficulties that appear so evident. There are shrubs and other small plants in the area that are the basis of the ecosystems here. These plants then sustain a number of antelope and small herbivores, including a subspecies of mountain zebra endemic to Namibia and scattered regions of the Northern Cape in South Africa. Klipspringers are another edition to the area perfectly adapted to the rocky cliffs and edges of the canyon, with evolutionary adaptations that allow them to agilely and nimbly move between cliff faces in search of food.

Vegetation & Terrain

As expected, the Fish River Canyon – the second largest of its kind in the world - is a rather rocky and barren sculpture carved out over the last few hundred million years in different stages, highlighting the essence of Namibian life; water is the most valuable resource. The rocky outer slopes of the canyon mirror the flowing water that shaped them creating a tantalizing mirage of water at the bottom of the canyon in the dry season, when the canyon’s sculptor vanishes for the most part. The vegetation can hardly be seen by aerial views and takes the form of small, well-adapted plants that grow close to the ground so as to minimize transpiration. Cacti and succulent trees do appear, although they are few and far between.

Activities

As mentioned before, hiking is a real and widely practiced activity in this rocky world. If the physical battle of hiking is not for you, walking, sight-seeing, stargazing and game viewing are all on the list of activities you might enjoy here. Upon arriving, the magnitude and extremist nature of the world in this part of Namibia will surely fill you with awe, and help you rediscover a child-like wanderlust that will drive you around each corner in pursuit of curiosity and the curious world the canyon harbors. 

Experiences to be Savored

The Fish River Canyon's experiences are largely terrestrial. Whether you're tackling the infamous hiking trail, strolling in the natural surroundings or soaking up the bounties of the earth in a sulfurous spring, you'll undoubtedly savor the canyon's spoils.

The Fish River has carved out the canyon over the millennia.

The ultimate hike

The Fish River Canyon is one of Africa's top hiking destinations, offering a challenging trek of 4 to 5 days, depending on your group size and fitness level. Relish sleep under the stars, spectacular views of the canyon's cliff faces from the interior of the canyon, and pushing your body to its limits.

Sunrise over the canyon

The colors that spill across the canyon when the first light hits it in the morning makes sunrise at the Fish River Canyon a near-religious experience. Get to a viewpoint early, take a deep breath and savor the deafening silence and tranquility of the moment.

Soak in a spring

Ai-/Ais, which means "burning water" in one of the local languages, refers to the sulfurous hot springs in the area. Experience the natural curative effects of these springs - which is especially therapeutic for people suffering from rheumatism - at the Ai-Ais Resort & Spa, which is based around one of the eyes.

FAQ

How long is the Fish River Canyon hike?
The hike is 85km, starting in Hobas and ending in Ai-Ais. It is ideal to unwind in the hot springs after your strenuous but rewarding hiking experience.
Does any wildlife occur in the canyon?
Desert-adapted wildlife that you might encounter include mountain zebra, kudu, steenbok, gemsbok, springbok, leopard, jackal, brown hyena and bat-eared fox.
Are there shorter hikes available?
Yes. Opt to enjoy a 6km guided morning hike in Gondwana Canyon Park. This hike does not visit the Fish River Canyon itself, but rather the surrounding area.
What other kind of leisure activities are available?
Short sunrise and sundowner walks are ideal for visitors after a more relaxed experience, and typically include refreshments to enjoy while watching the sun rise (or set) over the majestic canyon.
What is the trail running record for the Fish River Canyon Hike?
South Africa's AJ Calitz set a new record of completing the 90km trail within 6 hours, 39 minutes and 52 seconds in 2016.
How long is the Fish River?
The Fish River runs for 650km - the longest interior river in Namibia.
How old is the Fish River Canyon?
The canyon is over 500 million years old, with part of the strata formed as far back as 650 million years ago.

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