Desolate Sands, Astonishing Life: Backpacking in Namibia

Namibia tells an ancient, desolate story. It’s a country of forgotten natural wonder, where huge horizon-stretching vistas evoke wild, eerie silences, all the while encouraged by unblemished wilderness and miles and miles of rolling sand dunes. As a fact, Namibia holds claim to the 2nd most sparsely populated country in the world, with the wide Gobi stretched expanse of Mongolia just clinching it in the top spot.

Alongside the age crusted and fossil strewn sentiments of the Namibian sand, there’s fresh life in the countries roots. Urbanisation has arrived, and none more exemplified by the wonderfully dynamic, charismatic and ever-expanding capital city of Windhoek, Namibia (pronounced ‘Vind-hook’).  Most of the tourist outfits have bases here, and it is the rise in global awareness in Africa that make excursions into this countries most ancient secrets a real possibility.

Safari in Etosha National Park

Etosha is reachable by excursion from Windhoek, or if you want to stay in the centre of the action, there are 3 safari camps that offer accommodation in the National Park itself. Don’t think lush greenery or thick bushland (which you are more likely to find in East Africa), think more sand beaten, raw and rocky grounds that seems too harsh for animal habitation. This makes way for one of the most special species in all of Africa – the desert elephant. Rumoured here to be the tallest in Africa, they are a peculiar species. It’s quite remarkable really; most of the animals appear to be some of the healthiest in Africa, with fat zebra often found grazing in their hundreds.

The water basin at Etosha Pan is the key. The basin provides many waterholes, and consequently is where the desert elephants are at their fiercest. For game viewers, it’s a real treat, with so little water available, species’ of every size and shape flock to the waterholes, seeking that all important hydration to sustain migration patterns in the devastatingly dry Namibian summer months.

Skeleton Coast

To be comfortable you can fly out here; to be uncomfortable, dusty and bruised you can take a bus. If you can part with the cash, the scenic flight over some of the most inhospitable and desolate, but hauntingly beautiful places in Namibia, is an awesome experience in itself.

On arrival it is immediately clear that life on the Skeleton Coast is an ongoing struggle for survival. A fierce Antarctic wind blows tirelessly onshore, the coastline is littered with mammal skeletons, shipwreck sites, roaring dunes and windswept plains. The area is extremely dry, and water is never found in excess – so don’t expect washing facilities. But as with the desert elephants, nature has a way of providing life, even in the harshest of climates. The sea air from Antarctica is unusually high in oxygen content, making the micro-bacteria levels on the shoreline surge. As a result marine life is abundant in the waters off the Skeleton coast, and there is one seal colony in particular that has over 5000 members in one place. An awesome sight, an awesome smell!

5 things not to miss in Namibia:

  • Windhoek
  • Etosha National Park
  • Skeleton Coast
  • Sossusvlei (for some of the tallest sand dunes on the plant)
  • Windhoek Animal Sanctuary (owned by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie)

For more information on this relatively untouched part of Africa, visit or check out more travel destinations in Africa here.