Text and photos by ©Sharri Whiting De Masi – All photographs copyright of the author
Re-printed with permission of the author
Choosing Namibia as your safari destination is your first and most important decision.
The next step? Finding your own personal safari style.
From basic camping under the stars to accommodation luxurious enough to impress the most jaded celebrity, the style you choose for your travels will make your Namibian experience unforgettable.
Accommodation styles, from rustic to luxurious
You’re a luxury and comfort traveller. Do you need a feather pillow on a real bed, a ceiling fan blowing cool air, and crisp white sheets? A bubble bath and a glass of wine after a long day of tracking animals in the bush? Luxury lodges and camps in Namibia offer the highest level of hospitality, so you don’t have to give up cushy beds, fine wines and personal service to see wildlife or incredible vistas in remote places. Luxury is yours for the asking.
You’re a no-frills traveller. You’re yearning for that once-in-a-lifetime chance to sleep on Africa’s terra firma, under the bright stars of the southern hemisphere, with the campfire’s embers to chase away curious animals (you hope). For you, this isn’t a hardship; it’s the most glorious experience you can imagine. Whether you travel independently or with an experienced naturalist as guide, this trip is easy to arrange. After all, you’re only taking a sleeping bag, a canteen, your camera and some walking shoes.
You’re a semi freddo traveller (a little cold, a little warm; a little hard, a little soft). What’s in between luxury and no frills? Quite a lot. There are dozens of comfortable rest camps in Namibia, with tents or cabins stocked with the basics: clean fresh linens on standard cots, good traditional food cooked outside as a braai, cold beer, and the ambience of the old-style Africa. If a cabin isn’t your ideal, perhaps you want to pitch a tent or sleep atop an RV with all the essentials packed safely beneath you. This is a casual trip – everything you need can be stuffed into a backpack.
Modes of travel, from earth to sky
Now you’ll want to think about how you like to transit from place to place. Self-drive or guided safaris can be arranged at all levels, from the most luxurious to the most rustic, or a combination of both. Namibia is vast, with panoramas that seem to stretch on forever. Whether you’re at 5 000 feet or at sea level, travel will consume much of your trip, so you might as well enjoy it.
You want to leave the driving to someone else. Do you want to see the sights from the seat of a big, air-conditioned tour bus? Or do you prefer a small, comfortable van with a driver? Either way, all you have to do is sit back and relax, load your camera and watch nature unfold before you. On a large tour bus, you can visit the primary tourist attractions, stay at lodges with nature reserves, and save money through group pricing. A van with a driver will cost more, but you’ll have the flexibility of stopping when you want to, and driving into areas not accessible by big tour buses. Being at ground level gives you the opportunity to have a closer look at details, as well as a view of enormous panoramas.
You want to be the driver. Namibia is ideal for independent safaris. Saloon and four-wheel-drive vehicles, as well as campers and a full range of equipment, are available for rent. Roadmaps are easy to follow and, depending on your level of experience, stop-overs can range from lodges to camping in the bush. Be certain to take cognisance of the precautions concerning the rules of the road, tips for driving on gravel roads, what to do if you have car trouble, et cetera. And don’t forget your driver’s licence. Cellphone coverage is good across much of Namibia, which is a benefit for independent travellers.
You want to travel the long distances by air. Flying offers a fascinating perspective on the strangely twisting dry riverbeds, changing topography, and the patterns formed by mountains that emerge suddenly from flat plains. In Namibia, you have the choice between hiring a small plane and an excellent pilot, or organising hops between major towns on commercial airlines. Some of the more expensive safari packages include private flights, and some remote lodges may only be reached by plane.
You want transportation to be part of the adventure. Are you the type whose idea of a safari is seeing wildlife from the back of a motorcycle, bicycle, horse or all-terrain vehicle? Camel riding? Snowboarding down sand dunes? Trekking? Namibia offers it all, whether you want to spend the whole trip on horseback or motorcycle, or mix your modes of transport. Make a special point of bringing sun block, binocs, and a good hat.
Don’t miss Windhoek
If you’re looking for a taste of everything, plan your trip to include more than one type of accommodation and several different modes of travel. Now that you’ve seen the Namibian menu, you can discuss options with your travel agent.
Regardless of the way you choose to experience Namibia’s ecotourism, you’ll find a day or two in Windhoek a great way to finish off your trip. Cosmopolitan, yet friendly, Windhoek offers some of the best food, shopping and accommodations in Southern Africa. Whether you choose four-star luxury or a simple pension, there’s nothing like a hot shower and clean fluffy towels to chase away the dust of the veld and prepare you for cocktails at sunset, followed by a sumptuous dinner.
Windhoek’s restaurants include the sophisticated, the casual, and the ethnic. Salivating for a pizza or pasta after a week in the bush? It’s here. Wish you’d eaten more of the fresh oysters and crayfish Namibia is famous for? Wild game, from gemsbok to springbok to croc? You’ll find it in Windhoek. World-renowned South African wines and locally brewed lagers? They all await you.
During the day, far from the waterholes of Etosha, you can shop in Windhoek’s large outdoor markets with their incredible variety of hand-carved and hand-woven items. (Bargaining is expected). In the well-organised, Namibian Craft Centre you’ll find a wide array of handicrafts, representing every area of the country – linens, batik, baskets, ostrich-eggshell jewellery, carved wood and stone pieces, clothing and much more. Fill the leftover spaces in your suitcase with examples of work by Namibia’s best homegrown artisans.
Luxury shopping abounds in Windhoek, from the shops on Independence Avenue selling the highest quality items in ostrich skin, Swakara lamb, and exotic leathers, to the creative jewellery stores offering designs by talented gemologists and goldsmiths. Why not purchase these high-fashion items here, where the natural materials abound? On safari the colours may reflect the subtleties of nature; in Windhoek, however, the shop windows are filled with gorgeous colours, along with rich blacks and browns. Luscious skin jackets and karakul rugs, ostrich belts and purses, gold and silver jewellery sets fashioned with a rainbow of tourmalines and other semi-precious stones, brightly hand-painted wooden bowls, dramatic elephant hair and ostrich-eggshell earrings and bracelets. The list goes on and on.
Throughout the city you’ll find historic museums and art galleries that give the visitor an understanding of this fascinating country and its people.
Take a few minutes and answer our question: “What’s your safari style?” It’s guaranteed to enhance your experience and, besides, planning your trip is part of the fun.
This article appeared in the April ‘06 edition of Travel News Namibia.