Namib Desert

The Sossusvlei region of the Namib Desert.

The immense Namib Desert is one of the most ancient deserts on earth.

Size:
81 000km2
Famous Feature:
2nd largest sand dunes in the world
Country:
Namibia
Claim to fame:
Oldest desert in the world
Rainfall:
Less than 1mm per year

Introduction

The Namib Desert consists of massive mountains of sand, dunes that ‘walk around', fossilized driftwood, skeletons, ancient granite mountains, doleritic plains, San cave art, shipwrecks, the marvelous Welwitschia, desert elephants, and gemsbok. These are a few of the spectacular phenomena one can find in the Namib Desert. The Namib, the world's oldest desert, lies on the southwest coast of Africa, mainly in Namibia. The barren coastal area is also known as the Skeleton Coast.

The desert has no permanent inhabitants, and only a few villages along the coast were built around major industries. The sea of the Namib teems with fish and the desert itself has a wealth of minerals such as diamonds at Oranjemund and Alexander Bay. The plants of the Namib Desert have adapted to this barren area. Coastal succulents survive by absorbing vapor from the mist drifting in from the ocean, while the plains in the interior are covered with short tufts of grass, especially in the rainy season. The dunes have an abundance of tall grasses and bushes, although some areas are completely without any plants.

A variety of animals such as gemsbok, springbok, zebra, ostrich and jackals are found on the plains and dunes of the Namib Desert. Hyena, elephant, rhino, lion and jackal are found in the northern areas. The outer parts of the Namib's dunes have an abundance of geckos, insects and snakes, but almost no mammals.

Reasons to Visit

1

Best Ballooning

The Namib Desert is one of the most stunning places to go hot air ballooning. The vastness of the expanse can only be fully comprehended when you see it from the skies. Take an early morning trip, as the sun rises over the sandy dunes of the desert, and see the landscape transform in front of your eyes.

2

Grab a board

The Namib Desert has some of the world’s highest sand dunes, with several peaks exceeding 300m. Various operators in the area offer adventure activities on the dunes, of which the most renowned is sand boarding. Strap in and enjoy the ride as you kick up sprays of sand. Remember, however, sand boarding is not snowboarding, so take care to follow the instructions.

3

Shoot for the Stars

The largely uninhabited, untouched landscape of the Namib Desert, combined with an annual rainfall of between 2mm to 0.079mm, means that the clear sky is also one of the darkest in the world. It is therefore one of the best places to view the shimmering brilliance of the night sky and glimpse fleeting shooting stars.

Useful Info

Getting There
Plane

By Air

Guests traveling to the Namib Desert will be welcomed at OR Tambo International in Johannesburg where they will be assisted in transferring to Hosea Kutako International Airport in Windhoek. Upon arrival, guests will board a light charter flight to Swakopmund or commercial flight to Walvis Bay, depending on your first destination within the Namib Desert.

Car

By Road

Traveling through the Namib can be a daunting experience, but not when traveling with African Sky. Guests will be transported in a private, air-conditioned 4x4 vehicle by an expert guide. If you are visiting various destinations in the Namib expanse, you will be chartered on a light aircraft over longer distances to ensure your comfort.

Weather & Best Time To Visit

The Namib Desert covers a vast expanse with varying climates. The coastal climate is relatively mild throughout the year, whilst inland temperatures vary drastically at times. The coastal regions are characterized by rolling fogs and are a regular phenomenon. The fog is further pressed inward by strong winds from the Atlantic.

The inland areas are characterized by very hot summers, mild winter days and freezing winter nights. It is better to go the Namib during the winter. Although this is the dry season, the temperatures are more comfortable when compared to the summer daytime temperatures that easily exceed 45C. The pans are exceptional during both winter and summer, depending on what you wish to see.

History

The Namib Desert is the oldest desert in the world. It has been an arid environment for the last 55 million years. These conditions were brought about by the continental split of west Gondwana 130 to 145 million years ago, and the area that is now the Namib Desert moved north toward the Tropic of Capricorn. Because the region's climate kept stable for such a long period of time, it allowed for an evolutionary environment specific to arid environment species found nowhere else on earth. Fog constantly forms, as cold air brought about by the Benguela Current and warm air form the Hadley Cell collide. As a result, the coastal region experiences 180 days of fog a year.

The constant coastal fog has been disastrous for ships, and has caused more than a thousand ships to meet their end here. The Skeleton Coast gets its name from these wrecks that litter the landscape. This unforgiving, arid environment has seen very little human habituation over time. Stone tools and some rock art do indicate that the Stone Age Bushmen that followed a hunter-gatherer lifestyle once occupied the area. Even today, very few people live here. There are only some small scattered settlements of pastoral groups like the Topnaar Nama in the central region, and Ovahimba and Obatjimba Herero in the north.

Wildlife

Due to the unmatched age of the Namib Desert, it is the home of more endemic species of animal than any other desert in the world. An example of this is the endemic darkling beetle species. The Namib Desert beetle is one of these species, and survive by capturing morning fog with bumpy elytrons that consist of hydrophilic bumps and hydrophobic troughs. The elytrons then condense the fog into droplets that roll down the beetle's back to its mouth. Collectively, these beetles are known as 'fog beetles'. Another endemic specie of darkling beetle that is only known by the scientific name 'Lepidochora discoidalis' builds webs to trap the fog.

The coastline seasonally produces large amounts of prey in the form of Cape fur seal pups. Predators here include leopard, lion, black-backed jackal, brown hyena and some spotted hyena in the east. The Cape fur seals provide abundant prey, but only during the breeding season. Other prey species include springbok, steenbok, klipspringer, Chacma baboon, feral horses and gemsbok. The predators here have adapted to also eat insects and fruit to survive. Desert bird species attract birders from far and wide. Birds one might find here include Herero chat, Karoo lark, lesser honeyguide and Karoo eremomela.

Vegetation & Terrain

The Namib Desert, which can be described as the only true desert in Southern Africa, is understandably not particularly famous for its diversity in terms of vegetative species. It is, however, known for its unusual flora and enchanting terrain. One of the prominent features of the area's geology are the sand seas on the coast. With dunes that reach 300m in height and span 32km, these are some of the largest dunes in the world. Moving away from the Atlantic Coast, the desert transforms into dry, cracked plains and stone mountains. It covers an area of more than 80 000 km2, which is larger than some countries, including Ireland, and is almost twice the size of Switzerland.

After the rainy season, on the inland mountains, several temporary rivers can be found in the Namib. They do not last long, however, and most never make it to the coast. Upon exploring the Namib, you are sure to find some plants whose sheer will to survive, and method of survival, will surprise you. The Welwitschia mirabilis, or tree tumbo, for example, only ever produce two leaves that grow endlessly along the ground and can become thousands of years old. The Camelthorn tree also plays a vital role, not only in providing shade for other plants and animals - especially nesting birds during the spring - but for seed distribution.  It is truly remarkable to see how the vegetation has adapted to survive.

Activities

When visiting the oldest desert in the world, you will find a surprisingly large amount of things to do and places to see. It is almost impossible to comprehend the immense vastness of the Namib, and the closest you will get to understanding its enormity is by taking a hot air balloon ride. Believe me, you will not regret a single second. If this doesn’t make you feel small, looking up at the night sky on one of the many cloudless evenings is a sure cure. Sossusvlei has been certified as a 'Dark Sky Reserve', which means that the night skies viewed here are amongst the darkest in the world because of the absence of pollution. Go on - breathe in the stars.

If you’re attracted to the coastline or you have an interest in seafaring, you absolutely must make your way to the Skeleton Coast, named after the multitude of ships that met their end here due to the fog-riddled climate. Wherever you travel along the Namib, be sure to take your camera, as the various landscapes are absolutely mesmerizing. There are also many types of safaris offered in the region, such as 4x4, boat or walking safaris. For the more adventurous spirits, quad biking, horse riding, dune boarding, sky diving and surfing are available and are sure to get the heart racing. 

Experiences to be Savored

A desert-adapted gecko encountered in the Namib Desert.

Open spaces

The Namib Desert is largely uninhabited. Here you can get lost in the boundlessness of an expanse so vast it stretches like the ocean before you from one point of the horizon to another. It is daunting, and yet, there is an inherent sense of freedom.

Extraordinary adapters

Although there aren’t many who call the Namib Desert home, those who live here have adapted to the harsh climate by adopting peculiar habits. Learning from the locals about their way of live is an honor and a treasure to cherish forever.

Desert Sky

Throughout the day, the scorching sun brings no relief to those visiting the Namib Desert, and the hope of rain is non-existent. It is at night, however, when you look to the stars, that the sky seems to smile down upon you with the brightest smile it can possibly give.

FAQ

Is the Namib Desert the oldest desert?
Yes, it is said to be the oldest in the world.
How high are the dunes?
The dunes can reach heights of over 230 meters, and are amongst the highest in the world.
What color is the sand in the desert?
The sand is an array of orange, buttermilk, pumpkin and sierra hues.
Why is it also known as “The Living Desert”?
It is known as that because of all the tell-tale tracks left behind in the sand by desert-adapted beetles, spiders, gerbils, golden moles and other creatures.
What currency is used?
The currency is Namibian Dollar (NAD) which is linked to the South African Rand (ZAR). US Dollars (USD) are also widely accepted when it comes to tipping.
Is it safe there?
Namibia is a very safe country, but petty crime does occasionally occur in major cities and towns. When roaming the desert, be sure to have a hat, sunblock and enough water on hand.
Are there any swimming facilities?
Many of the lodges in the Namib Desert do have swimming pools.

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