About the Namib Desert
Timeless, Fascinating, and Surprisingly Diverse
The Namib Desert is Namibia’s most iconic feature, spanning 81 000 km2.
It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the world’s oldest desert, and an important conservation area for an array of unique creatures. The extensive fog-bathed dune fields are considered exceptional due to ongoing geological and ecological processes.
This vast expanse of sand stretches along the entire coastline of Namibia, up to the Carunjamba River in Angola, and south to the Olifants River in South Africa.
The Namib is between 50 and 160km wide, reaching to the Namib Escarpment, and incorporates the Namib-Naukluft as well as several interesting tourist areas, including:
- The Sossusvlei
- Sesriem Canyon
- Fish River Canyon
- Kolmanskop Ghost Town
- Lüderitz and Swakopmund
- Skeleton Coast
- Sandwich Harbour
The Namib is between 35 and 55 million years old and has been in its current form for the last 2 million years or so. It came about as a result of natural erosion by the ocean after Gondwanaland split as well as the withdrawal of the ocean during the formation of Antarctica.
In addition, sand from the Orange River continues to be dragged upwards by ocean currents and deposited on the Namibian shore by southerly winds to accumulate in the Namib.
The cold Benguela current and the Namib escarpment combine to produce exceptionally low rainfall and arid conditions across the Namib. For centuries, the area remained uninhabited and undisturbed until 1908, when the first diamonds were discovered.
After that, much of the Namib remained a no-go area for the public until 1979, when the first conservation areas were set up.
Today, almost the entire area is protected by national parks and other restricted areas set up to preserve this unique environment.
The most popular place to stay if you want to explore the Namib is the seaside town of Swakopmund. Here you’ll find an array of guest houses, bed and breakfasts, and hotels catering to tourists.
Inland, on the fringes of the desert, luxurious glamping sites and lodges rub shoulders with motels, campgrounds, and guest houses dotted along the most popular routes.
You’ll even find some accommodation at the foot of the fossilized dunes, but the interior of the desert remains largely protected from all types of development.
Despite its barrenness, the Namib Desert offers a wealth of activities for visitors to Namibia. These include:
- Wildlife tracking
- Dune boarding
- Fat biking
- Quad biking
- Scenic flights
- Camel Rides
- Horse riding
- Hiking and walking
- Hot air ballooning
You can also enjoy a wide range of guided tours among the sands to visit the ghost town of Kolmanskop or explore the fauna and flora of the area.
Fauna and Flora
While areas of the Namib Desert receive less than 2mm of rain every year, the moisture that drifts in from offshore in the form of fog is enough to sustain a variety of plant and animal life.
Plant life includes perennial grasses, succulents, and the fascinating Quiver trees and welwitschia plants. You may also come across the dollar bush and pencil plant along the coastal belt, while shrubs dominate the Swakop River area.
Large ungulates are scarce in this part of the world, but gemsbok and springbok thrive in the Namib desert which is also home to arid-adapted elephants, rhinos, and lions. Smaller species include the golden mole, hairy-footed gerbil, wedge-snouted sand lizard, and barking gecko.
In the transition belt between the desert and the escarpment, you could come across Hartmann’s mountain zebra, cheetah, brown and spotted hyena, black-backed jackal, Cape and bat-eared foxes.
Cape Cross is home to southern Africa’s largest colony of Cape Fur seals, and Sandwich Harbour is a RAMSAR birding site with large populations of seabirds.
You can access the Namib Desert from Swakopmund, Sesriem, Lüderitz, and Walvis Bay and can reach any of these entry points from Windhoek as follows:
- Sesriem – via the B1 and C19
- Swakopmund – via the B2 or C28
- Walvis Bay – via the C26 and C14
- Lüderitz – via the B1 and C4
Once there, it’s best to arrange a guided tour to explore the reaches of the desert to your best advantage.
Make the Most of Namibia’s Unique Destinations
Many of the best activities in Namibia centre around this Namib Desert. Explore our travel guide for more information on how to make the most of your trip to this amazing country.
Please Note: The details shared herein were correct at the time of publishing. However, with time some of this information may change. We recommend confirming information with suppliers prior to making final travel arrangements. If you do happen to find an issue with any information we’ve shared here, please feel free to contact us so that we can make the relevant changes.