The Namib Menagerie
Namibia is home to the only desert in the world where the diversity of big game remains unchanged. The wildland is surprisingly DIY friendly and canvassed by some of the best guides in Africa.
>Getting There: Air Namibia flies to Windhoek, the Namibian capital, from London or Frankfurt ($1,275; airnamibia.com.na). You can also fly South African Air through Johannesburg and on to Windhoek, the starting point for most trips, both DIY and guided ($2,631; flysaa.com).
>Guided Safaris: To follow in the author’s footsteps—and those of the rare black rhino—contact Wilderness Safaris, which launched camel-supported treks across the Namib in 2006 in conjunction with Rudi Loutit’s Save the Rhino Trust ($2,970; wilderness-safaris.com). The eight-day journey is a rare glimpse into the lives of trackers, who survey the rhino population by day and regale you with tales of Rhinoceros africanus by night. For those who prefer a two-wheel approach to game-watching, Wilderness offers camp-to-camp bike trips across northwestern Namibia, starting at Palmwag Lodge on the Ugab riverbed. The six-day tour traverses the Palmwag and Damaraland concessions, where you’ll see springbok, kudu, and spotted hyenas ($3,465). You can also come up with your own itinerary with guide Gary Booth, Rudi’s longtime co-worker and owner of Tatekuru Safaris. Booth customizes his trips (including airborne safaris and mountain ascents) for groups of eight or less ($300 per person per day; firstname.lastname@example.org).
>DIY + Guided: CC Africa Safaris’ Gems of Namibia tour blends the intel of a guided trip with the freedom of a DIY adventure. The outfitter arranges lodging and big-ticket activities throughout the 13-day expedition, but the side trips and driving are left up to you. The highlight: A tour of Okonjima, where the AfriCat Foundation’s researchers lead you on a threatened-cat safari to spot lions and leopards ($2,562; ccafricasafaris.com).
>DIY: The highways may be rocky, but Namibia’s collection of drive-by parks makes it one of the best DIY safari destinations in Africa. Fly into Windhoek, rent a 4x4 from Asco ($215 a day; ascocarhire.com), and head west toward the seaside town of Swakopmund. Few highways are as free of traffic as the road through Skeleton Coast Park, which spans about one-third of the country’s shoreline. Multiday permits, however, are hard to come by. Contact the Ministry of Tourism prior to departure to arrange for a pass (met.gov.na). More accessible is Fish River Canyon Nature Reserve, in southern Namibia, where the gorge—arguably second in size only to the Grand—and the 55-mile Fish River Canyon Trail make for some of the country’s best hiking. Winter, from May to September, when daytime temperatures can dip into the 60s, is the best time to go.
Text by Mindy Zacharjasz