Namibia is a country of startling contrasts that straddles two great deserts: the Namib (after which it is named) is the oldest desert on the planet, and its sea of red sand lies along the Atlantic coastline, while in the eastern interior lies the Kalahari, a vast and sparsely vegetated savannah that sprawls across the border into neighbouring countries.
Over the years, there have been a number of cultural influences that have all added to the unique atmosphere of Namibia. At various times Germany, Great Britain and South Africa have all governed the territory, but it was with the eventual independence of Namibia in 1990 that the country was able to develop its multi-cultural character and reinvent itself. There is a rich and colourful uniquely African vigour that now freely blends in with the European influences on architecture, food, customs and art, all merging to create a distinctive Namibian character.
All this is in interesting juxtaposition with the expansive landscapes that surround the cities. The many national parks and game reserves boast a huge variety of wildlife in a kaleidoscope of differing environments: giraffes amble across the blinding white saltpans of Etosha National Park, gemsbok plunge headlong up impossibly steep red dunes at Sossusvlei, and seals in their many thousands colonise lonely beachheads along the Skeleton Coast. Astonishing contrasts are everywhere for the visitor to savour, enjoy and photograph.
Namibia has rapidly become a well-known safari destination with a difference, famed for its remote and intimate lodges, interaction with the indigenous people as well as the wildlife, and offering unique opportunities to become involved with the cultural heritage of all its peoples.
The landscape is defined by an arid, harsh climate and a long geographical history. The western part of the country has a mixture of enormous sand dunes, open plains, rugged valleys, escarpments and mountains and it is here that the oldest desert on the planet, the Namib, is found. The eastern interior is a sand-covered, more uniform landscape and contains the country's second great desert - the Kalahari, a vast and sparsely vegetated savannah that sprawls across the border into South Africa and Botswana.
The flat vastness of Namibia's deserts is relieved by a belt of broken mountains and inselbergs (the highest is the Brandberg at 2 579m above sea level), deep dry river valleys that serve as linear oases, savannah and woodlands, and long stretches of sandy beaches along the dramatic Skeleton Coast.
All this is in contrast to the rich grasslands, and subtropical woodlands of the Caprivi area in the north-east, the mopane woodlands of Etosha National Park, and the rich coastal lagoons of the Atlantic Ocean on the western coastline.
The country's perennial rivers - the Zambezi, Kwando, Okavango and Kunene Rivers - also form its political boundaries. Of these, only the Orange is not situated in the higher rainfall area of the north-east of the country, with the wetter areas here gradually giving way to the arid regions further south and south-east: The Kalahari and Namib Deserts. The diversity of vegetation and wildlife mirrors this gradient, so that there is rich biodiversity and higher number of species in the north-east, and a comparatively lesser fauna and flora moving away from this area.
The arid regions are richest in endemism however; species like the Hartmann's mountain zebra, the Dune Lark and Péringuey's adder occur nowhere else on Earth and are spectacular examples of species that have adapted superbly to the harsh dry environment.
In the waterless west there is a web of ephemeral rivers, the guttural tones of names such as the Kuiseb, Swakop, Hoanib and Huab reflecting a changed ethnicity. These riverbeds can remain dry for years before turning into a rage of life-giving water in a matter of minutes after episodic rain falls in the catchment areas. Such sporadic events turn the brown, sandy landscape into swathes of green bursting with life. These river courses end their lives in the cold Atlantic Ocean, where upwelling centres create nutrient-rich waters filled with plankton and kelp that in turn feed a variety of fish species.
For a place that at first glance may seem lifeless, the reality is astonishing: approximately 4000 species of plants, 650 bird species and 80 large mammal species, of which 604 plants, 14 birds and 15 mammals are almost entirely endemic to the country, some extending marginally into southern Angola. Reptile species total 240 and, as is fitting for such a dry, hot place, sun-loving lizard species number 125, making this the richest lizard fauna in Africa.
The weather in southern Africa is generally pleasant throughout the year – warm to hot days, and cool to warm nights. During the winter months however (May to September), it can get really cold at night and in the early morning, particularly when on safari, so we would like to suggest that you pack accordingly – very warm clothing including an anorak/winter jacket, a beanie, scarf and gloves are recommended.
The climate is typically semi-desert with hot days and cool nights. The cold Benguela Current keeps the coast cool and free of rain most of the year – Namibia averages about 300 days of sunshine annually. The rainy season lasts from October to April, while the rest of the year is dry and cloudless.
Humidity is generally very low in most parts, however, can reach as high as 80% in the extreme north during summer. The average rainfall is 50 millimetres (1.97 inches) along the coast to 350 millimetres (13.78 inches) in the central interior and 700 millimetres (27.56 inches) in the Caprivi. If you are travelling on a self-drive basis, you must exercise caution when crossing riverbeds and camping during the summer months as flash floods can occur from the sporadic rains. It is perfectly safe to travel by road at this time, although a 4x4 or vehicle with high ground clearance is recommended.
Mid-summer temperatures may rise to over 40°C (104°F). Winter days are warm, however, dawn temperatures may drop to freezing. Along the coast it is cool with low rainfall and fog prevails from late afternoon until mid-morning.
Spring starts in September with all the vegetation coming into leaf and days are much warmer with the occasional cool evening and morning. From October we experience very warm sunny days with warm evenings. Some rains are experienced sporadically, though larger showers can be expected usually only around December.
Wildlife sightings can vary depending how early the rains have started. December can be among the hottest months of the year, often averaging 35°C to 40°C in the shade. Along the coastline, it can be cool with low rainfall and fog prevailing from late afternoon until mid-morning.