Text ©Sharri Whiting De Masi
Re-printed with permission of the author
Mature, senior, third Age – it’s the time of life when travel beckons. Namibia offers a wealth of opportunities for the more mature tourist, even those who are wheelchair bound.
Although it is a land of many mountains and dunes, you won’t have to climb either to enjoy the scenery or see the animals. By choosing accessible places to visit, the wonders of this spectacular country are open to you.
Namibians are friendly, and the facilities are high level. Cell-phone coverage extends to most of the country and with a Tango card, you’ll have Namibian pay-as-you-go service on your own phone. Driving yourself allows you to set your own pace and to pick and choose from the dozens of places to see along the main roads.
If you need special access, be certain to confirm beforehand that vehicles and rooms are wheelchair accessible and friendly.
Windhoek, Namibia’s capital, offers several accommodation choices that are wheelchair accessible and easy to navigate. Tour the capital city’s multi-ethnic suburbs in a mini-van with a guide, enjoy excellent wheelchair-accessible restaurants downtown, such as the Gourmet and Sardinia, and explore the ground floor of the Namibian Craft Centre or the sidewalk craft vendors.
Places to go
Then take the highway to Swakopmund, where you can enjoy the Atlantic beach, street-level shops and historic buildings, and Namibia’s excellent seafood. To find out where the wheelchair/handicapped accessible accommodation establishments are, visit the Information Centre in Independence Avenue, the main street. Stop off in Karibib along the way and visit the shops selling Namibia’s semi-precious stones and artisan crafts.
From Swakopmund, you can take one- or two-day guided tours to Sandwich Harbour, Sossusvlei, Cape Cross or into the desert. Or you could go south – with the colourful Namib dunes on your left and the tempestuous Atlantic on your right – to Walvis Bay and drive along the lagoon to watch birds and dolphins.
On an alternative itinerary, starting in Windhoek, you could head northwards on the main highway (B1), with a short stop at Okahandja, where the large open-air woodcarvers’ markets are right next to the road. You could spend the night at one of the lodges near Otjiwarongo, such as Mount Etjo, Okonjima or Waterberg Wilderness Lodge, but check first to be sure there are wheelchair-accessible rooms available. Some lodges will come and pick you up at the entrance gate. A morning or evening game drive is a wonderful way to see the wildlife in the surroundings.
Continue on your way to Etosha, where the state-run resorts inside the park (Namutoni, Halali and Okaukuejo) are comfortable and wheelchair accessible. Experience Etosha from your own car, parking at waterholes to watch the game, or taking a guided tour. There are numerous private lodges just outside the park, including Mokuti and the upmarket Mushara Lodge, which are easy to negotiate on foot or in a wheelchair, and which offer guided tours of the park. Again, always be sure your host knows you will need easy access.
If you are ready for adventure and enjoy driving, you can follow the tarred road all the way from Tsumeb (or even Walvis Bay) to the tip of the Caprivi Strip. Here, you will see a different Namibia, one of placid rivers, hippos and over 400 bird species.
Want to go south? From Windhoek there’s a tarred highway to Keetmanshoop, with the fascinating Quiver Tree Forest and Giant’s Playground close by. The Canyon Hotel offers wheelchair-friendly accommodation right in town. If you’d like to see the Fish River Canyon, you can arrange a ground or air tour leaving from Keetmanshoop.
After leaving Keetmanshoop, first have a look at the Naute Dam and then turn west, stopping in the small town of Aus at the new information centre where you can find out where the wild horses are. Continue further west to the intriguing coastal town of Lüderitz, where the first Portuguese explorer landed five centuries ago. Ask the Lüderitz Nest Hotel to reserve a wheelchair-accessible room if you need one. This is a good place to enjoy Namibia’s famous Lüderitz oysters.
Joining a tour
What are your options if you prefer not to drive yourself and want to explore more remote regions of Namibia?
• Small, private guided tours in car or van;
• Flying in light aircraft to a distant lodge, where you will be picked up in four-wheel drive vehicles and taken to the camp; and
• Larger bus tours, which travel to major tourist sites, some of which are reached only by gravel roads. In each case, you should make your accessibility needs clear before booking, and ask about the physical activity level required at the various stops.
Popular destinations for large buses in the south are the Fish River Canyon, Kalahari Desert and Sossusvlei. Visitors are taken to wheelchair-accessible lodges, mostly with flat walkways, such as the Kalahari Anib Lodge, Cañon Lodge and Sossusvlei Lodge. In the Caprivi, bus tours stop at Namushasha Lodge in Katima Mulilo. All of these are also available for private vehicles and small tours.
Some remote lodges are easier than others for more mature travellers to enjoy. Reachable only by private aircraft, Damaraland Camp and Serra Cafema are both located in flat areas, where the tents are spaced along walkways. Ask for one close to the dining and reception area. Each requires a long drive in a four-wheeled vehicles – if the bumpy ride doesn’t bother you, you’ll see some extraordinary scenery.
Namibia enjoys excellent medical care, with trained doctors and pharmacies even in small towns. There is helicopter evacuation from remote sites to hospitals from virtually everywhere in Namibia. Bring copies of your prescriptions with you, along with a list of their ingredients – sometimes the same drug has different names, depending on where it was bought. Bring enough medication to last you throughout your journey. If you have a particular condition, such as diabetes or heart disease, make sure your travelling companions are aware of it, and be sure you carry information with you about your diagnosis and the medicines you take.
It may not be necessary to take malaria drugs when visiting Namibia, unless you are going to Caprivi or other far northern areas. Some malaria medication might not be compatible with other medication you are taking. Ask your doctor beforehand. You may also find that the dry desert air will affect your sinuses. Bring a saline solution nose spray along; it often does the trick. And remember; the Namibian sun is very strong – be sure to wear sunscreen and a hat every day you are here.
This article appeared in the Feb/March ‘07 edition of Travel News Namibia.