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As rumors swirl that royal newly weds Harry and Meghan could head off to Namibia for their honeymoon, you might be wondering what exactly there is to see and do in the southern African nation.  For one, it’s home to the world’s largest sand dunes and one of the world’s largest populations of big cats and other game, tribal populations who charm, and so much more. Simply put, it’s one of the most beautiful and interesting countries on the planet.

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The best time to visit is August and September, when it’s early spring in the Southern Hemisphere. Evenings and mornings are cool enough for a fleece jacket, and days are not yet blistering hot in this mostly desert nation. In Namibia, you should also expect to spend a lot of time on the road. As the fourth largest country in Africa, the distances between must-see spots can be several hours on roads that range from tarmac to packed gravel to off-road quality.

Impressive dunes

The country’s famous sand dunes are courtesy of the world’s driest desert, the Namib, which sprawls inland from the Atlantic Ocean across more than 30,000 square miles, including parts of South Africa and Angola.

The most accessible dunes are in Namib-Naukluft National Park, near Sossusvlei. Some dunes are beige, others, with a higher copper content, literally glow in the sunlight. All are huge. The one called Big Daddy is 1,000 feet high.

Get there early in the morning, when it’s still relatively cool, to climb Dune 45, for a picture-postcard view from the top to the horizon. Even grown-ups turn into giggly kids butt-surfing back down, either deliberately or because the soft sand gives way and it’s just too much effort to try to stand up again.

The striking Dead Viel

A few miles away is Dead Viel, probably the most photographed spot in Namibia, a dried lake dotted with petrified trees. It’s a one-mile slog across rocky terrain that turns into soft sand, but well worth the effort. The combination of creamy lake bed, black tree skeletons, copper-colored dunes and brilliant blue sky is what cameras were designed to capture.

Fascinating wildlife

Ditto the variety of wildlife in Namibia’s Etosha National Park, the world’s largest fenced park. The fence is not to keep the wildlife in, but to keep the cattle from the ranches surrounding the park out.

Namibia has the world’s largest population of wild cheetahs, the world’s smallest antelope (the puppy-sized dik dik) and the native Hartmann zebra, distinctive for its striping that goes from nose to hooves. Plus elephants, endangered black rhinos, lions, giraffes, warthogs and a sky full of birds.

They all seem to visit the Okaukuejo Watering Hole, a lake-sized destination that is party central at dawn and dusk. We sat on a protective platform for three hours one afternoon, binge watching.

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The animals arrive in groups—large herds of zebras, gazelles and antelopes, smaller families of elephants and giraffes. They are all very courteous, taking turns and making room for the next arrivals to share the precious water. There’s no jungle warfare at this watering hole, although everybody disappears when the hyenas arrive.

Lions tend to favor smaller watering holes, and guides keep in touch via old-fashioned walkie-talkie (there’s no Wi-Fi in the park) to share the locations, for tourists to see them. Sightings are usually a traffic jam of self-drive cars and safari tour 4x4s and vans.

Namibia has any number of wildlife refuges, with rescued cheetahs, leopards and lions. It’s a one-hour drive from capital city Windhoek to Dustenbrook Game Preserve and also to Na’ankuse Sanctuary, tasked with protecting big cats, and also the local San Tribe, better known as Bushmen.

Age old traditions

These peaceful people live the same way as they have for a dozen centuries, hunting game with bow and arrow, using desert plants for medicine, and managing to grow crops with mere drops of precious water. Don’t miss the chance to spend an afternoon or an overnight in their village.

The Himba are distinctive for the intricate patterns of women’s hair, each design identifying her status—teen ready for marriage, married but no children yet, married with children, grandma, widow. They are also artisans, creating intricate beadwork jewelry and wood carvings, which they sell at remote roadside stops.

Most of the Himba live in Damaraland, a vast territory which includes one of the largest concentrations of petroglyphs in Africa, dating back more than 6,000 years, near Twyfelfontein. It is Namibia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. Rock walls are carved with what is believed to be prehistoric maps, showing directions to water and game.

History and culture

Like much of Africa, Namibia has a tortured history. The National Museum, in a striking modern building in downtown Windhoek, documents the abuses of colonialism, the fight for independence from Germany in the 1920s, and from South Africa in the 1950s. It’s just off Independence Avenue, the city’s main shopping street, dotted with boutiques and cafes.

German influence remains present in the food, beer and architecture of both Windhoek and Swakopmond, Namibia’s second largest city, on the Skeleton Coast, named for the shipwrecks which dot its 1,000 miles of rugged shoreline.

Swakopmond also is also where you board a huge catamaran to cruise Walvis Bay Lagoon, home of one of the world’s largest seal populations at the well-named Seal Point, and to spot dolphins and large pink pelicans.

Tagged: Africa

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Evelyn Kanter

Evelyn Kanter

Evelyn is an NYC-based travel writer who would rather ride a chairlift, river raft or zipline than the subway. She's a regular contributor to major publications, including airline inflights, and has written more than a dozen travel guidebooks. Evelyn's website is www.ecoxplorer.com
Evelyn Kanter

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