Sustainable Travel

An Ecotraveler’s Delight: Namibia

Namibia's stunning landscapes offer red sand deserts, rugged mountains and breathtaking coastal views. That is just the beginning of the many treasures ecotravelers will find.
By Pamela Grant

In 1990, Namibia gained independence from South Africa and has never looked back. It is a country of geological extremes that make visitors gasp in awe and imagine the powerful natural forces that created places like the ancient Namib Desert, the Skeleton Coast and the Fish River Canyon, and that is just the beginning.

It is also one of the best places to see the wildlife that most people only see in zoos. The Etosha National Park and the Namib–Naukluft National Park are home to elephants, black rhinos, and cheetahs. Ecotravelers can go on safaris and camp under the stars or stay in "green" camps or lodges. This has to be one of the best places on earth for travelers looking for a place where the human's footprint is nowhere to be seen.

Conversation is Embedded in the Country’s Culture
Namibia is so serious about environmental protection that it was incorporated into the country's constitution. Namibians recognize they are protectors of natural treasures that are fragile and rugged at the same time. Approximately 40 percent of Namibia is under conservation management. The stunning and diverse scenery makes any selected itinerary a fascinating eco-adventure. However, there are also towns to visit where welcoming Namibians speak more than one language as they preserve their history. There are only 2.48 million people in the entire country, making it easy to find spots largely untouched by humans. The fees that visitors pay to visit parks and preserves go back into environmental and cultural protection.

Many visitors will self-drive, but some parks require a guide. Southern Namibia features the Fish River Canyon, the Naukluft Mountains and the dunes of Sossusvlei. This is typical of each section of the country. There are numerous natural sights to see no matter where a traveler chooses to go. The Fish River Canyon is the largest canyon in Africa and the second largest canyon in the world, with only the U.S. Grand Canyon being larger. It has lookouts, but the very hardy take five-day hikes. When they do, there is a good chance of spotting a leopard, baboon, mountain lion, black eagle and ostrich. The rust-red dunes of Sossusvlei in the Namib-Naukluft National Park are one of the most visited sites, and that is not surprising. Dunes are normally brown or white, but not red. Coming or going to the dunes, visit the Naukluft Mountains which also have a lot of wildlife that includes the steenbok, baboon, zebra, klipspringer and hundreds of bird species.

Ancient Cultures Preserved
If catching large mammals in the wild is the main goal, head north to Etosha National Park. The park is a wildlife sanctuary set around a large pan (depression). This is the place to see black and white rhinos and black–faced impala. In the north are a number of conservatories that manage protected areas for wildlife that include the hartebeest, elephants, springbok, kudu and hippo.

A change of pace is a visit to the Skeleton Coast National Park. Its name comes from its history as a place where ships and whales were frequently beached. In fact, there are still remains of ships rising out of the sand. The park has its share of wildlife, too, like the hyena, desert-adapted elephants, desert lions and giraffes. It is so rugged and hostile that only the southern section of the park is accessible by self-touring visitors. Visiting the northern section requires a tour guide.

Damaraland is between the Skeleton Coast and the Etosha National Park and features more than spectacular views of the landscape. Visitors can also arrange opportunities to mingle with the Himba people. They are the last of Namibia's semi-nomadic people and have maintained their tribal traditions. Go on a safari in the north and enjoy the breathtaking scenery of flat-topped mountains, grasslands, acacia woodland and rivers. Go on a safari to the south and see the Burnt Mountain, Petrified Forest and Doros Crater, the remains of ancient volcanic activity. Damaraland is also where rock art paintings and carvings, created 6,000-10,000 years ago, are still visible at Twyfelfontein.

Luxury Accommodations in the Wild Available
Many of the accommodations in Namibia are environmentally friendly in keeping with the country's focus on preserving its natural treasures. The word "safari" may evoke images of rough tent camping, but there are a number of luxury camps and lodges that mix comfort with spectacular views. For example, the Wolwedans has lodges and camps scattered around the NamibRand Nature Reserve. Everything is geared toward blending into the environment with the structures made out of wood or canvas and the employment of sustainable technology. The Wolwedans provides support to the Wolwedan Foundation which assists local communities in various ways, including offering vocational training.

Damaraland Camp is located in the Torra Conservancy. It has 10 elevated adobe-style, thatched units, blending with the environment while providing eco-friendly accommodations. The Damaraland Camp is owned and mostly operated by the local community. This is just another example of the places to stay that have adhered to sustainable practices and give visitors a truly Namibia experience. There are many other options, like the three camps of Okaukuejo, Halali, and Namutoni in Etosha National Park, offering everything from camps to chalets.

Namibia is one of the best places to see Africa in all of its natural splendor. It is filled with exotic animals, dramatic landscapes and friendly people. It also offers the exact kind of eco-visit desired, whether it is camping in the wild or staying in a luxury hotel. One of the advantages of going on a multi-day safari into the wilderness is the re-discovery of the startlingly beautiful night sky filled with twinkling stars, a sight nearly impossible to come by in cities. It is also a chance to see some of the most beautiful animals on the face of the earth in their natural habitats. Namibia is mostly wild, but it is also majestic and sets the standard for conservation efforts.