Ten amazing things you didn’t know about Namibia

Namibia is a vast, sublimely beautiful country that runs up the south-west Atlantic coast of Africa. It is home to a huge, ancient desert and great sand dunes, a battered coastline and an enormous canyon. For photographers, it’s a dream destination. If it’s not yet on your travel radar, here are some things about Namibia that might surprise you.

An oryx at the foot of a dune.

Namibia is home to the world’s oldest desert…

The Namib Desert is thought to be the oldest desert in the world at an estimated 55 to 80 million years old. It has been in its current form for the past two million years. The name ‘Namib’ means ‘vast place’, which is not surprising given that this desert is one of the largest in the world, stretching all the way from South Africa, through Namibia and into Angola.

Ancient sand. Credit: Keith Hardy, Unsplash.

…And some of the highest sand dunes

Up until recently, Namibia laid claim to the highest sand dune in the world, Dune 7, which is 383 metres (1,256 feet) high. Though the tallest is now thought to be in Oman, Dune 7 is still the second highest documented dune and is taller than London’s The Shard (310 metres) and the Empire State Building in New York (381 metres). Big Daddy is the highest dune in the popular Sossusvlei area, at 325 metres.

Sossusvlei is the most popular place to visit Namibia’s dunes.

It has a coastline of shipwrecks

The Skeleton Coast is a wild and beautiful place, eerily named after the shipwrecks and whale bones that litter the beaches. This was a perilous stretch for ships travelling down the coast of Africa, and many vessels didn’t survive. The Bushmen referred to it as ‘the land God made in anger’ and the Portuguese called the area the ‘Gates of Hell’.

Skeleton Coast
Shipwreck on the Skeleton Coast. Credit: Olwen Evans, Wilderness Safaris. 

There are still-standing dead trees dating back 900 years

Deadvlei means ‘dead marsh’ in Afrikaans. This site in Sossusvlei is one of the most photogenic in the world: a pan of dried up clay sits between the rust-orange dunes, peppered by a sinister-looking army of dead camel thorn trees, scorched black by the sun. They have not been able to biodegrade due to the super dry conditions of the desert.

Deadvlei, Namibia
Deadvlei. Credit: Parsing Eye, Unsplash.

It’s a popular film set

You’ve probably seen more of Namibia than you might think. Due to its striking landscape and vast amount of uninhabited land, it’s a popular Hollywood film set and has featured in films such as Mad Max: Fury Road, 2001: A Space Odyssey, 10,000 BC, and Flight of the Phoenix.

Namib Desert
A cinematic setting. 

The German influence is still very apparent

Namibia – or German South West Africa as it was then – was a German colony from 1884 until 1915. Cities such as Swakopmund and Windhoek still sport German architecture and beer houses, quite at odds with their desert surroundings. There are around 30,000 people of German descent who still live in Namibia and German is a common language to hear.

Swakopmund. Credit: jbdodane, Flickr.

It has some impressive conservation projects

Over 40% of Namibia is protected and it was the first country in Africa to include environmental protection in its constitution. There are lots of projects underway to conserve animals such as Namibia’s desert lions, elephants and giraffes, and the country boasts more cheetahs than anywhere else in the world. 

Giraffes in Etosha National Park.

A deserted mining town is a popular photography spot

Kolmanskop was a mining town, which was slowly abandoned after the diamond field depleted in the 1920s. Now, it is a ghost town into which the desert sands have swept, offering visitors great photographic opportunities.

Kolmanskop. Credit: Craig Marvil, Flickr.

It’s one of the least densely populated countries on Earth 

Namibia’s population is around 2.5 million and has the second lowest population density of any sovereign country (Mongolia is the least densely populated). The biggest city is Windhoek, which has a population of around 350,000 people.

Vast open spaces are plentiful in Namibia. Credit: Olwen Evans, Wilderness Safaris. 

The second largest canyon in the world is here

Fish River Canyon is the largest canyon in Africa and the second largest in the world after the Grand Canyon in the US. It is up to 17 miles or 27 kilometres wide and 1,800 feet or 550 metres deep.

Fish River Canyon
Fish River Canyon, the second largest canyon in the world.

Want some more Namibia travel inspiration? Check out our sample itineraries

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