Namibia Travel Information
Background and History of
A glorious country which has a diversity of natural habitats, the rugged coastline and haunting beauty of the Skeleton Coast, the endless stretch of undulating ochre-coloured sand dunes at Sossusvlei, the impressive gorge of the Fish River Canyon winding through the arid landscape of the great plateau, and the vast salt pan of Etosha National Park, one of the world’s greatest wildlife viewing venues.
These are the attractions that draw travellers to one of Africa’s more intriguing destinations, the unspoilt wilderness of Namibia. Since Namibia has one of the most uninviting and desolate coastlines in the world, it was neglected by European explorers like the Portuguese, who limited their activities to setting up navigational crosses along the desert shoreline. Today visitors have discovered the vast potential of a country rich in natural resources, with desert landscapes, sunshine, wildlife and a rugged, barren beauty.
It was only later, during the last half of the 19th century that the race for colonies among the world powers began, and so ensued the German control that became Namibia’s colonial reign of terror. The indigenous tribes tried vigorously to retain their independence, and in 1904 a major uprising by the Herero and Nama people resulted in massive genocide retaliation by the colonialists, with an estimated 60 percent of the native population in the south being wiped out. Today the population consists of 11 main ethnic groups, and the towns still reflect the influence of German colonisation evident in the architecture, food and language, particularly in the capital city of Windhoek.
People and Cultures
With a population density of 2.46 people per square kilometre, Namibia is the second most sparsely populated country in the world. The Namibian population of approximately 2,030,000 people, black Africans constitute as much as 84%. The majority of these are Bantu descendants of the Ovambo, a culture of eight tribes inhabiting Ovamboland in northern Namibia and stretching all the way to the Angolan border. Other constituents of the black Namibian population include the descendants of the original inhabitants of Southern Africa: the Khoisan (Nama and Bushmen) who are recognisably different in appearance from both Bantu and whites; the Tswana; and Caprivians (Lozis). The remaining 8% of Namibia`s population are whites of Dutch, German, Portuguese, French and British ancestry. Most of these are Afrikaans speakers, though around 20,000 individuals trace their origins back to German settlers and maintain a German culture.
A San legend about the formation of the Etosha Pan tells of how a village was raided and everyone but the women slaughtered. One woman was so upset about the death of her family she cried until her tears formed a massive lake. When the lake dried up nothing was left apart from a huge white pan!
Geography and Climate
Namibia essentially a desert country offering contrasting landscapes. The desolate Namib Desert is said to be the oldest in the world, with its high dunes and awe-inspiring sense of space. The central plateau, with its thorn bush savannah and rugged mountains, rising abruptly from the plains, gives way to the majestic Fish river Canyon in the south. In the north of the country, landscapes range from dense bush and open plains of the great Etosha Pan, to woodland savannah and lush vegetation.
The Etosha national park being the third largest in Africa owing its unique landscape to the Etosha Pan - a vast shallow depression of approximately 5 000km². With a series of waterholes along the southern edge of the pan guarantee rewarding game viewing. Germanic influence can still be found in the country`s good road infrastructure, well-equipped rest camps throughout the country and most cities architecture. Namibia a great destinations for nature lovers and photographers.
Rainfall occurs exclusively in the summer months, between November and February, when heavy thunderstorms can be expected. Summer is very hot and the Namib Desert should be avoided at this time as temperatures are often above 104ºF (40ºC). The coast is cooler and often foggy. The best time to visit is during the winter months from March to October (April and June are preferable) as days are warm and dry, and wildlife easier to spot as they tend to congregate at waterholes. Nights can be very cold with frost.
Language - English is the official language, but many people also speak Afrikaans and German. There are also several indigenous languages spoken, mainly in the rural areas.
Economy and Foreign Currencies
Today Namibia is a peaceful country which is economically prosperous as a result of its productive mining, fishing, tourism and agricultural industries.
- Mining generates about one third of the gross domestic product and the biggest portion of the income in foreign currency. Namibia is very rich in natural resources with some minerals occurring exclusively under Namibian soil. Out of a great variety of minerals, mainly diamonds, uranium, gold, silver, zinc, copper, lead, tin, marble and granite as well as semi-precious stones are being mined. Almost half of the revenue brought in from the export of mining products comes from diamonds alone.
- The second-most important economic sector is agriculture. Due to the arid conditions in most parts of the country, crop-farming is found mainly in the Otavi/Tsumeb region, near Mariental at the Hardap Dam and - as subsistence farming - in the former Ovamboland region around Oshakati, where mainly millet and maize are being cultivated.
- The Namibian waters are teeming in fish. In the seventies they were illegally overfished however in 1990, Namibia proclaimed a 200-seamile-zone where only Namibian companies are allowed to fish. Since then the Namibian fishing industry - fish-processing and canneries included - has developed into an important economic contributor with good growth rates. It employs more than 15000 people, mainly in Walvis Bay and Luederitz. The largest portion of the catch is exported, mainly to Spain and Japan.
- The tourism sector also registers a considerable growth rate since the Namibian independence. The annual number of visitors is nearing the one-million mark. A third of the visitors come from South Africa. The Germans hold the second place, followed by the British, Italians and French. Part of the state revenue from tourism flows into nature conservation.
Money - The official currency is the Namibia Dollar (N$) divided into 100 cents. Its value is linked to the South African Rand, which is also accepted as legal currency in Namibia. Major credit cards are accepted. Travellers cheques and foreign currency can be exchanged at any bank or bureau de change office. ATMs are available in larger towns only.
Health and Vaccinations
There has been an outbreak of anthrax in the Caprivi Strip and Omaheke region; travellers should avoid eating meat from unknown sources and avoid direct contact with animals as several cases of skin anthrax in humans has been reported. A yellow fever certificate is required for all travellers arriving from infected areas. Vaccinations for Hepatitis A, typhoid fever and polio are also recommended. There is a malaria risk in the northern region during the rainy season, from January to April. HIV/AIDS is prevalent and cautions are essential. There has been an increase in the incidence of rabies among dogs in Windhoek. Drinking water outside the main towns and cities may be contaminated. There are good medical facilities in Windhoek, but medical insurance is essential as treatment is expensive. Travellers to Namibia should take medical advice at least four weeks prior to departure.
South Africans, British (UK) and USA passport holders do not require a visa for tourist visits shorter than 3 months.
Air transportation - Namibia’s International airport is Windhoek`s International Airport, about 40km west of the city. Shuttle buses run between the airport and the bus terminal on Independence Avenue, connecting with all major flights. There is a taxi rank at the airport, but it is much cheaper to use a small company in the city which can be arranged by African Chapter.
Domestic flights and flights from other southern African countries arrive at Eros Airport, about 10km south of town. Buses and taxis connect the airport with the main taxi rank and bus station knows about shuttles to Eros airport.
Namibia`s internal air links are good and reasonably priced, and internal flights can be a practical way to hop huge distances swiftly. The scheduled internals are sufficiently infrequent that you need to plan your trip around them, and not vice versa.
Driving in Namibia
Driving yourself around Namibia is, for most visitors, by far the best way to see the country, roads are excellent, traffic is light and all is very well sign posted. Almost all of Namibia`s major highways are tarred.. Less important roads are often gravel, but even so these tend to be well maintained and easily passable. Driving is on the left and an international drivers licence will be required.
Many places are accessible with sedan cars for most of the year during the raining season many areas require a four wheel drive. When renting a car consider renting a vehicle with higher clearance, a 2x4 pick-up truck is a popular choice amongst the locals in Namibia, and although not widely available as rental vehicles are suitable for most conditions. During summer daytime temperatures throughout Namibia can be extreme so a rental vehicle with air conditioning is desirable..
Petrol and diesel are available in all the major towns, and many more rural corners too. For most trips, you just need to remember to fill up when you have the opportunity.
Never drive at night unless you have to. Both wild and domestic animals frequently spend the night by the side of busy roads, and will actually sleep on quieter ones. Tar roads are especially bad as the surface absorbs all the sun`s heat by dayand then radiates it at night, making a warm bed for passing animals.
TransNamib operates a luxury train from Windhoek to the coast and a regular service to Tsumeb in the north, and Upington, just across the border in South Africa. However, there are no onward trains from Upington to other South African destinations.
Each Namibia Accommodation category has a minimum standard that must be complied with, and accommodation establishments are subject to Inspection by the National Tourist Accommodation Star Grading Scheme.
The benchmarking exercise’s on best practices in other tourism destinations (including some of the Namibia’s main tourist market sources as well as some leading tourism destinations) together with consultations with industry representatives have been used to develop the primary framework and the grading criteria for the New National Tourists Accommodation Star Grading Scheme for Namibia.
and Attractions Major Cities
Namibia offers its visitors a number of unforgettable tourist attractions . Some of these highlights include the highest dunes of the world, the largest canyon in Africa, the Fish River Canyon, second in size to the Great Canyon. There is also historical sights of interest, like the Alte Feste Fort or the Christus Kirch in Windhoek or the number of Museums and Art Galleries found in the towns around Namibia.
Namibian Coastal Regions
Luderitz – began its life as a trading post and when diamonds were found nearby in 1909 Ludertz enjoyed a sudden urge of prosperity however it has since reverted back to its former state and what makes it unique is the fact that little has change in this town since the early 20th Century!
Swakopmund a premier holiday resort town a popular holiday destinations for the locals. The architecture and feel off Swakopmund resembles that of a small german village stuck in time!.The area of Namib Desert around Swakopmund is named the West Coast Recreational Area. The area ofers adventure activities , highlihts beeing sandboarding, quad biking, dune carting, parachuting, hot air ballooning,shark fishing and deep sea fishing. Swakopmund is also a haven of restuarants,caes, art galleries, museum as well as a snake park and aquarium.
Walvis Bay is the main harbour town in Namibia and is visited by many fishing boats,cargo vessels and and increasing number of passenger cruise liners. Walvis Bay’s main attraction is the lagoon with its prolific bird life and variety of recreational activities, desert golf course, a choice of restaurants and as well as sea kayaking and dolphin cruises.
Etosha National Park - is one of Southern Africa`s finest and most important Game Reserves and declared a National Park in 1907 and covering an area of 22 270 square km. It is home to 114 mammal species, 340 bird species, 110 reptile species, 16 amphibian species and, surprisingly, one species of fish. Etosha, meaning "Great White Place", is dominated by a massive mineral pan. The pan is part of the Kalahari Basin, the floor of which was formed around 1000 million years ago. The Etosha Pan covers around 25% of the National Park. The pan was originally a lake fed by the Kunene River however the course of the river changed thousands of years ago and the lake dried up. The pan now is a large dusty depression of salt and dusty clay which fills only if the rains are heavy and even then only holds water for a short time. This temporary water in the Etosha Pan attracts thousands of wading birds including impressive flocks of flamingos. The perennial springs along the edges of the Etosha Pan draw large concentrations of wildlife and birds. Game Viewing is excellent best time being from May to September - the cooler months in Namibia. Visitors to Etosha Game Reserve can expect to see many buck species, elephant, giraffe, rhino and lions.
Other areas of interest in the northern region includes Brandberg, Caprivi, Damaraland Fischers Pan Nature Reserve, Huab Nature Reserve , Katimo Mulilo, Kavango, Otjikoto Lake and Uis.
Fish River Canyon - one of the largest canyons in the world, situated on the lower parts of the Fish River near the southern border of Namibia., offering spectacular scenery. Temperatures in the (African) summer can reach some 50° Centigrade, resulting in the canyon being closed to the public during that time.
Ai Ais and Richtersveld Transfrontier Park – offers some of the most spectacular scenery of the arid and desert environments in southern Africa. Bisected by the Orange River, which forms the border between South Africa and Namibia, it comprises the Ai-Ais Hot Springs Game Park in Namibia and the Richtersveld National Park in South Africa.
Keetmanshoop - is the main town in southern Namibia and home to the Keetmanshoop museum and serves as an economic and transportation hub for the entire south of the country.
Namib Naukluft - is one of the largest and most varied national parks in Africa, covering much of the central Namib Desert and the Naukluft Mountains. It is home to some of the rarest and weirdest plant and animal species in the world, including the Welwitschia Mirabilis, large lichen fields and Hartmann`s Mountain Zebra. The park`s main attractions are Sossusvlei and the Naukluft Mountains.
Soussuslvei – known as the highest dunes in the world. The best time to view Sossusvlei is at sunrise; the colours are strong and constantly changing, allowing for wonderful photographic opportunities. The midday heat is intense and best spent in the shade while sunset also offers excellent photo opportunities at Sossusvlei. `Vlei` is the Afrikaans word for a shallow depression filled with water (sometimes!) and the name `Sossusvlei` should strictly only be applied to the pan that lies at the place where the dunes close in, preventing the waters of the Tsauchab River from flowing any further - that is, on the rare occasions that the river does flow as far as this. During exceptional rainy seasons, Sossusvlei may fill with water, causing Namibians to flock there to witness the grand sight, but normally it is bone dry. This particular `vlei` is actually a more-or-less circular, hard-surfaced depression that is almost entirely surrounded by sharp-edged dunes, beyond which lies a formidable sea of rolling sand, stretching in unbroken immensity all the way to the coast. However, the name `Sossusvlei` nowdays applies to the whole area - an area that encompasses the great plain of the Tsauchab River together with the red dunes that march along like giant sentinels to south and north of the plain.
The second attraction of the area is Sesriem Canyon, which is only a few kilometres from the main Nature Conservation office. The canyon derives its name from the fact that early Afrikaner trekkers had to use six (`ses`) leather thongs (a thong is a `riem`) so that their buckets could reach the water far below. The canyon begins as an almost imperceptible but nevertheless deep cleft in level, stony ground, and then widens until it finally flattens out onto the plain. Because it is so deep and sheltered, it often holds water well into the dry season - an invigorating sight in such a barren and stark environment.
Namib Desert - one of the oldest deserts in the world . Its trademark red dunes and features some of the most bizarre life forms and tallest dunes at Sossusvlei
Skeleton Coast Park is the least accessible area with its landscapes of sand dunes, canyons and mountain ranges.
Windhoek is the capital city of Namibia, and is located in a basin between the Khomas Highland and the Auas and Eros mountains. It features a strange blend of European colonial and modern African architecture.
Preparation for short list
- Money - The official currency is the Namibia Dollar (N$) divided into 100 cents. Its value is linked to the South African Rand, which is also accepted as legal currency in Namibia. Major credit cards are accepted. Travellers cheques and foreign currency can be exchanged at any bank or bureau de change office. ATMs are available in larger towns only.
- Time - Local time is GMT +1 (GMT +2 between the first Sunday in April and the first Sunday in September).
- Communications - The international access code for Namibia is +264. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0027 for South Africa). Most towns are covered by a GSM 900/1800 mobile network. Internet access is available from some hotels and Internet cafes are available in Windhoek and Walvis Bay.
- Tipping - Tips of 10% are expected by tourist-orientated establishments where a service charge has not been included in the bill. Tour guides, game rangers and trackers rely on tips for their income, but are discretionary and depending on good service.
- Safety - The majority of visits to Namibia are trouble-free, but beware of street crime and pickpockets in the town centres. Theft from vehicles, especially from service stations, is common and valuables should be kept out of sight and the car locked. Avoid using taxis if possible and never take one alone. Care should be taken when travelling in the Caprivi Strip; travel in daylight hours only and stay on the main tarred highway, as there is a risk of landmines remaining from the Angolan civil war.
- Customs - It is best to check before taking pictures of State House or properties where the President is residing, as well as any buildings guarded by the army or police.
Electricity - Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. Round three-pin plugs are standard.
- Shopping - Windhoek offers a selection of fashionable shops,local crafts and visit the Windhoek Street Market, held every second Saturday. Good buys include diamonds and semi-precious stones, Herero dolls, hand-carved wooden objects, jewellery, karosse rugs, liqueur and chocolates made in Windhoek and Swakara garments. Shopping hours: Mon-Fri 0900-1700, Sat 0900-1300. Some bigger supermarkets are also open Sun 1100-1300 and 1600-1900.
- Weather - ass Namibia has a typical semi-dessert climate with hot days and cool nights, it is recommended that you pack both summer clothing as well something warm for the evenings. It is advisable to pack a sweater and/or jacket as it becomes quite cool in the evenings and early mornings
- First-aid kit containing, amongst others, insect repellent, possibly a malaria prophylaxis, bandages, diarrhoea medication and painkillers; sufficient supplies of your regular medicines.
- Sunglasses, sun protection and a hat (year-round sunshine).
Namibia welcomes the rugged, with vast and barren beauty this is a country which provides an array of experiences and bold enought to tempt any adventurer.
Travel safe and welcome to immaculate service and facility!
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