Published: December 2009/January 2010
The Inside Job: Namibia
How to make the most of your trip? Tap the locals, of course.
Text by Costas Christ

Namibia’s himba people are among the last seminomadic clans on the African continent. They’ve spent, oh, the past 400 years getting to know every mopane tree and sand dune in the northwest Namib Desert. And here’s the news flash: They’d like to show you around. Ecolodges have come a long way in their efforts to connect with the Himba and other indigenous peoples. The best ones, like Serra Cafema Camp, don’t just befriend local tribes—they empower them. Perched on the banks of northern Namibia’s Kunene River (the only permanent waterway for miles), the plush eight-room outpost has 360-degree views of the region’s Mars-like dunes and rock-strewn valleys. It’s also smack in the middle of Himba territory. Serra Cafema’s owner, outfitter Wilderness Safaris, pays the tribe a fee to access their lands and, perhaps more important, trains community members to run the lodge so that one day they can own and operate the business themselves. Visitors spend their days trekking across one of the world’s harshest landscapes in search of rare wildlife (ever seen a Hartmann’s mountain zebra?) and, if they’re lucky, cooling off in the shade of a Himba hut or two along the way. vitals ›› $1,000 per person per night, all-inclusive;