Tips on travelling to Namibia from Phoebe Mottram

Phoebe is a farm girl from the UK who, armed with a Geography degree, set off a few years ago to develop a career and discover the world. She first visited Namibia to assist with a research project, and fell immediately in love with this beautiful country. She now lives in Johannesburg and works as a safari guide in Namibia, Botswana and South Africa.

What is your favourite thing about Namibia?

My favourite thing about Namibia has to be the diversity of the country. You can go from towering red sand dunes, to a bustling city, to massive salt pans and lush riverine forest. There's something for everyone in Namibia whether you are after landscapes, wildlife or culture.

Where would you send a first-time visitor in Namibia?

There are lots of options for a first-time visitor and of course the choices will vary depending on what you're looking to get out of the trip.

A circular route I recommend starts in Windhoek, travelling southwest to Sossusvlei to experience the incredible dune system Namibia is so famed for. It is definitely worth taking a stop at Deadvlei to marvel at the dead trees in the desert. Then I would move north towards Walvis Bay and Swakopmund, to understand more about Namibia's German history and also get a chance to see dolphins. Then I would recommend travelling inland, back towards Windhoek, to visit a game reserve called Erindi. Erindi is a magical place, packed full of wildlife to really give you that true African Bush experience.

Which activities would you recommend for visitors to Namibia?

I would recommend the hot air balloon sunrise ride over the dune system at Sossusvlei, which is definitely worth the early wake up.

Along the coast at Walvis Bay I would recommend the dolphin cruise and the Sandwich Harbour 4x4 experience, which can be done together with companies such as Mola Mola and Catamaran Charters based in Walvis Bay. The morning section gives you the opportunity to go out on a catamaran and observe bottlenose dolphins, the endemic Heaviside's (or Benguela) dolphins and maybe even some whales. The afternoon section allows you to experience what I believe is one of the most beautiful places in all of Namibia, Sandwich Harbour, where the dunes go straight into the ocean. You also get to experience proper 4x4 dune driving and learn more about the animals of the desert.

It is also worth taking a stop in the Damaraland region of Namibia, a place packed with history and wildlife. Visit Twyfelfontien to see the ancient rock engravings of Bushmen. Move on to see the 'organ pipes', a fascinating geological sight, and finish with a tour of the Honab River to try and spot some desert elephants.

Etosha National Park is of course worth a visit, but instead of spending the whole day driving round the park (where it is often too hot for the animals and your sighting will be reduced) rather wake up early, take a sunrise drive to see animals around the park, return to your lodge/campsite and rest for the day before getting a prime spot at the waterholes for sunset and the night time when you will get the most amazing animal sightings.

When is the best time to visit Namibia?

I think the best time to visit Namibia is between April and October. This is generally considered the high season but outside of this period it gets so incredibly hot that it would tarnish your experience. If possible I would suggest a trip in either April or October, as these shoulder seasons mean that places aren't crowded with tourists yet. You often find that in the height of the high season places such as Sossusvlei and Etosha are ruined slightly by the numbers of tourists visiting every day.

How long would you recommend people spend in Namibia on holiday?

I think 10 days to two weeks is a good amount of time to spend in Namibia. It can be done in a week but it would be quite exhausting and I think it's rather important to take a day or two during the holiday to just relax and contemplate what has been experienced.

Is there good infrastructure for tourists?

Generally yes. Windhoek airport and the city in general are very well equipped and offer a number of great hotels, restaurants and tourist amenities. As a whole Namibia has a great range of accommodation and the food is very good. The general infrastructure of the country is still very 'wild Africa' though - most roads are not paved and it is common to drive six hours without seeing a vehicle, shop or toilet, so tourists just need to be aware of this before they set off. Rather be prepared for the lack of infrastructure than not.

What is the best means of transport when exploring Namibia?

Having your own vehicle is the best option. This way you have the freedom to drive where you like and stop when you like. This does mean however that you have to be confident in navigating on your own, driving on gravel/dirt roads on your own, and changing a wheel on your own. It also requires a good knowledge of your vehicle and tyre pressures etc. It is a very rewarding experience.

Alternatively, there are a number of companies who offer guided tours with a driver in a 4x4 vehicle or bus, which takes the pressure of visitors. Flying is always an option too, especially if pressed for time. Most good lodges have airstrips and flying can prevent the long, hot journeys on dirt roads.

How safe is Namibia for tourists?

Namibia is safe for tourists. Like any other country there are always incidents and tourists should not become complacent about their safety, especially in cities such as Windhoek and Swakopmund. However, in all my time in Namibia I have felt very safe and comfortable. The general public is very kind and welcoming and they are always willing to help and keen to share their beautiful country.

Are there any parts of the country you would tell travellers to avoid?

There are no parts which come to mind. I would just suggest that travellers are aware of the difficulty of some regions if they are doing a self-drive. This is particularly true for the Damaraland and Caprivi regions, which require a solid knowledge of 4x4 driving. Preparation, organisation and communication are the keys to avoiding difficulty in Namibia.

Are there any health concerns visitors should be aware of in Namibia?

None that I am aware of. You should keep up to date on the national websites of health concerns before travelling. There are areas of Namibia which are malarial so doctors should be consulted for advice on this before travelling. Drinking water is usually okay, but it is always worth checking this before travel. Bottled water is very easily available. Sunburn and heat exhaustion are two very serious health concerns in Namibia. The first thing anyone said to me in Namibia was 'the sun is real here' and that is so true; often tourists coming from colder nations bask in the sun's rays without realising how powerful they are. A good sunscreen, a hat and plenty of water is essential.

What are the best souvenirs to buy in Namibia?

There are lots of great souvenirs to buy but as with most countries nowadays one must be careful that they are the real deal. Close to Twyfelfontein there are lots of ladies with stalls along the side of the road selling beaded creations and at each rest camp in Etosha there are lots of handmade items for sale which guests can enjoy. If you get back to Windhoek and still have nothing then there is the large craft market (ask at your hotel for a taxi there) where you can buy a number of wonderful items.

How expensive is Namibia as a travel destination?

Aside from flights to Namibia, the country is really not expensive (especially for tourists coming from Europe and North America). There is something to suit all budgets from very high end to a student traveller.

Anything else you would like visitors to Namibia to know?

Namibia is still a very undiscovered country and if you go with the right attitude you will have an unforgettable time. It is not the easiest country to visit, as it is hot, the roads are difficult and you can go hours without seeing another soul, but out of nowhere the most beautiful places you have ever laid your eyes on will appear. Magical sites like Sossusvlei, Sandwich Harbour and Etosha. If you embrace this country it will give you the most wonderful experiences. 

For more information on exploring Namibia or to enquire about tours contact Phoebe at mottramphoebe@gmail.com