Africa is the cradle of humanity and one of the most fascinating continents on Earth. Who hasn’t dreamed of travelling this continent and experiencing the special spirit of Africa?
Today I will take you on a journey through the southern part of this colourful and unique continent. I will show you the highlights, cultures and peculiarities of Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. I hope you end up as spellbound as I am!
Maybe first of all I’ll introduce myself. My name is Thilo Ungethüm and I have been working at SR Travel GmbH & Co. KG as head of the Tours & Groups department since 2013. Every day, I look forward to sharing my enthusiasm for traveling with you and our customers. I use every free time I have to explore near and far off destinations around the world and to travel off the beaten track to discover extraordinary places and experiences.
It is also important to know that Namibia has German history. At the beginning of the last century Namibia was a German colony and bore the name German South West Africa until the end of WWI. Even after nearly 100 years, traces of German occupancy can still be found everywhere. There is a German-speaking radio station (Antenne Namibia) and a German newspaper. Even today, there are about 20,000 inhabitants who speak German as their mother tongue, even before English or Afrikaans. Did you know that even the beer – Windhoek Lager – is brewed according to the German purity law?
There are different possibilities to get to Namibia from Germany.
I would recommend taking Air Namibia, which flies you from Frankfurt to the Namibian capital of Windhoek in about 10 hours. Due to the location of Namibia in the southern hemisphere, the time difference towards Germany is at most an hour. But be aware that the seasons are opposite to those on the northern hemisphere. The best time to travel is in the German summer: it’s winter in Namibia then and therefore it’s the driest season. The temperatures usually range from 23 to 28 degrees Celsius.
Particularly Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe are only sparsely populated and there are only a limited number of accommodations available at touristy places. Especially in peak season they are booked out very quickly or are very expensive. Good and early planning, as well as booking saves a lot of money and trouble. Book your rental car from Germany, as prices are much cheaper than on-site. Do not forget to book a four-wheel drive, as only a third of the roads in Namibia are tarred and the remaining ones are gravel roads.
Attention: In all of southern Africa, you will need an adapter for the sockets, as due to history British sockets (Botswana / Simbawe and partially in Namibia) as well as triple-pole sockets different from the British system are installed. The latter can’t be found in any conventional universal adapter, so must be bought extra locally or in advance.
After arriving at the airport, do a short city tour of Windhoek and then plan the first overnight stay at one of the surrounding lodges. A wonderful lodge for your first night in Africa is the Kalahari Anib Lodge, which is located near Marienthal.
Book dinner alongside your overnight stay and you’ll experience the Namibians joy for life. Usually the staff will perform a couple of songs after the meal. Goose bumps are guaranteed, when listening to them and enjoying the food by the bonfire.
You should get up early the next morning and enjoy your first sunrise in Africa. It will seem as though the world is glowing. The rising sun illuminates the red sand in a breath taking colour display of different reds.
You can’t travel to Namibia without visiting the famous Sossusvlei! The Sossusvlei is part of the Namib Naukluft National Park. It is a white-beige salt and clay pan enclosed by the largest sand dunes in the world. In the centre of the park – the so-called Deadvlei – you can find picturesque dead acacia trees that are up to 500 years old. This is a very surprising sight, in a seemingly unreal and hostile environment. The acacia trees still come from a time when the Tsauchab, an ephemeral dry river, flowed through the Vlei. The emerging sand dunes forced the river to change its course and thus the trees dried up.
A visit to the Deadvlei is a must for a Namibia trip. My recommendation: Drive directly to the park and to the Deadvlei early in the morning and watch the sunrise, as soon as the gates of the national park open. This way you avoid the largest run of tourists and can enjoy a magical moment at sunrise in peace and quiet. In addition, you should pack a nice breakfast, as there are picnic areas within a few hundred meters of the parking lot at Deadvlei. Here you can have breakfast in beautiful and unspoiled nature. Caution: The last leg of the drive to the Deadvlei can only be done with a 4×4 vehicle.
I highly recommend staying in one of the beautiful chalets of the Sossusvlei Lodge in the Namib Naukluft National Park. Don’t miss the opportunity to taste various antelope species such as Gnu and Oryx, as well as zebra, warthog and ostrich for dinner. The meat is prepared outside before your eyes and according to your wishes.
After visiting the desert, head back towards the Atlantic coast. An ideal refuelling stop between Sossusvlei and Swakopmund is the petrol station at Solitaire.
You can’t only refuel here but also eat the best bee sting cake on the southern hemisphere. There is a bakery located on the property, which still bakes a large number of different cakes and pastries according to German recipes.
Before you carry on to Swakopmund, stop off at Walvis Bay, where you have the unique opportunity to see a few seals as well as flamingos in the wild.
Swakopmund is the second largest city in Namibia with about 43,000 inhabitants and was founded in 1892 by the German occupation army. Even today, the city is distinguished by the largely preserved German colonial architecture of the beginning of the 20th century.
Here you can stay at Hotel Eberwein and explore the city on foot. You’ll be surprised how much German culture is still cherished here. There is a carnival club, for example! Visit the Café Anton in the afternoon and enjoy the best cheesecake or black forest gateau south of the equator. Perhaps you’ll also have the opportunity to chat with a German-Namibian and learn more about this colourful city. Beyond the flow of tourists, you will meet many young Namibians at the Village Café.
It’s worth taking a trip to Cape Cross from Swakopmund. One of the largest fur seal colonies of southern Africa lives here. But beware: as cute as these animals may seem at first sight, they are nonetheless wild predators which can bite and also spray a terribly smelling ammonia fluid.
In the following days, the journey continues north, and the landscape begins to change from a sparse, partly moon-like surface to a more and more green surrounding. The rock formations – especially large monoliths – are clearly increasing in numbers too. You must visit the Spitzkoppe and the only world cultural heritage site of Namibia “Twyfelfontein”. The Spitzkoppe is an inselberg, which is also called the Matterhorn of Namibia due to its form. At the Spitzkoppe and especially at Twyfelfontein you can see several thousand year old rock drawings and scratches of the tribe of the San. They were one of the aboriginal people of Namibia and used these drawings to pass on all their hunting experiences, as well as the locations of water holes to the next generations.
I highly recommend staying outdoors on one of the campsites here at the Spitzkoppe for one or two nights depending on the weather. Nowhere else in the world does the starry sky seem so close and so clear. It is a real night time spectacle and it is so fascinating that hardly anyone can fall asleep immediately, even after a long day.
A visit to Africa without trying to spot the Big Five is impossible. In Namibia, the Etosha National Park is the right place to look, apart from all the private farms. Here you will find just about all species of plants and animals that Southern Africa has to offer.
You should definitely plan in at least two nights for a visit to the National Park. Stay at least one night in each of the following state run camps. One of them is the Camp Halali and the other is Camp Okaukuejo. They offer the advantage of both being situated by a water hole, which attracts large mammals especially at night. Through large floodlights you can observe the local animal world very well at night.
At night, sit by the water hole with a glass of wine for a few hours and listen to the sounds of nature. There are only a few places in Africa where you can get so close to these majestically large animals. Fingers crossed, you’ll get to see one of the big cats as well.
Hardly any tourists continue up north along the Caprivi Strip to Botswana. Unfortunately it is still the case that this strip of land is marked by poverty, a large number of refugees and poaching, due to the former civil war in the neighbouring country of Angola. And it is only slowly recovering from it.
Nevertheless, this spot is well worth a visit. While the rest of Namibia’s territory is characterized by severe droughts and deserts, it is quite different here. Due to the Okavango River, the landscape is characterized by all sorts of flora. The inhabitants are farmers and cattle breeders. Especially the latter can quickly become a problem, since a large part of the cattle walks around freely and can cause quite an obstacle on the roads.
A wonderful place to stay is the Divava Okavango Lodge. The lodge is located right on the banks of the Okavango River. An absolute insider’s tip is a boat trip down the Okavango with a visit to the Popa Falls. There is a small island in front of the waterfalls. Here, a sundowner with a small snack can be arranged by the Lodge if requested. It will be hard to find a better and lovelier place to experience an African sunset than here!
Continue along the Caprivi Strip across the border to Botswana. Crossing the border with a rental car is easy, but always remember: you are in Africa and everything happens here in “African time”. Especially for us Germans this takes some getting used to, as all times are only an “estimate”. And most things might just take half an hour longer than planned, because the customs officer has to exchange the latest news and events with his colleagues before stamping your passport.
Kasane is close to the border and offers a good starting point for various excursions to the surrounding area. Take another boat trip down the Okavango River, which is adjacent to the Chobe National Park here. This national park has the largest density of elephants in southern Africa and a sighting is basically guaranteed. If a trip down the river is not enough for you, I’d recommend a game drive in the evening or early in the morning through the National Park.
An absolute must is a day trip to the Victoria Falls, which lie on the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia. The Victoria Falls are the largest waterfalls in Africa and the second largest waterfalls in the world. Almost all lodges offer guided tours at often very high and overpriced rates. Therefore my tip: Plan the trip on your own. Take a taxi from Kasane to the border to Zimbabwe and cross the border on foot. Please note: You will need a visa to enter Zimbabwe which will be stuck in your passport after paying in US dollars (Beware: only cash payments accepted!). On the other side of the border you can take another taxi to the town of Victoria Falls. And please do not forget to borrow one of the offered rain capes, as you will most definitely need it!
Continue to Maun after Kasane. Maun is not considered the gateway to the famous Okavango Delta for nothing. The delta is one of the largest and most famous natural attractions of southern Africa. There are different ways to discover the delta. For example, boat tours and scenic flights are offered.
If you are a little too tight on money for a flight with a helicopter or a plane, you can explore the delta in the simplest and, in my opinion, most beautiful way: Mokoros! Together with other fellow travellers, you can rent some mokoros, dugout canoes of the locals, including a guide and carriers. You will be taken by boat to an island in the delta and will have the opportunity to spend a few nights here.
You have to bring all you’ll need for the following days in the delta yourself. Of course, it goes without saying that all items brought along will have to be taken back from the Delta to Maun after the trip. This is a truly adventurous experience and there is no better way of getting to know the flora and fauna of the Delta. The guide will take you on a variety of tours. Perhaps you will also experience a hippo walking through the camp at night!
After a few very exiting days in the Delta, make your way on the long journey through the Kalahari Desert back across the border from Botswana to Namibia. For an overnight stop, I highly recommend the Sandune Lodge at Gobabis. Gobabis is at an excellent location on the way from Botswana back to Windhoek.
The lodge is situated beautifully. The houses are located in the middle of a fenced-in site. The owner has set himself the goal of settling some antelope species and other mammals as well as ostriches on the farm. So on your last evening you can watch the animals once more while sitting by the bonfire and looking back at the experiences and adventures of the past few weeks.
Return to Windhoek on the last day. As the return flights to Germany usually take off in the evening, you still have a large part of the day available. I recommend going on another short city tour and letting the afternoon fade away in a very special place.
Drive from the centre of Windhoek up to Heinitzburg. Enjoy a magnificent view over the roofs of Windhoek. Strengthen yourself with an apple strudel with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream before returning your rental car at the airport and making your way home.
Anybody who’s been to Africa once will always want to come back. Nobody can escape the charm of the combination of the people’s joy of life, the mixture of the many different cultures and the breath taking and varying flora and fauna. I’ll definitely come back. And when are you booking your flights?