All photos in this article about Namibia, Africa, are courtesy of Julian Walter Photography.
Namibia is the second least densely populated country in the world. Drive for a couple days outside of the capital city of Windhoek and you’ll quickly see this with your own eyes. There are population centers that make up vibrant towns with a strange segregation, but it’s fascinating to dive deeper and learn about what this country has to offer.
Windhoek itself is set in a valley among a series of small mountains reminiscent of the American southwest deserts. It was easy to find a place to stay, with choices ranging from typical hotels to backpacker hostels.
One big learning experience for me was meeting a few locals and having them take me to their township called Katutura. Those not familiar with southern African countries that were colonized would be surprised to see small cities with mostly white people, and black people as a distinct working class: Signs that law-enforced segregation has only recently ended. Most areas in the townships are quite poor, and crime is rampant. As a visitor, if you have someone to show you around, you’ll be fine, and you’ll meet some fantastic people and eat wonderful food. But when the sun goes down, it’s generally not recommended that a tourist with a camera in their backpack stick around, especially on weekends when the drinking starts. Use common sense and review travel safety precautions.
The Namib Desert
Oldest Desert in the World
Most visitors don’t come to Namibia, Africa, for its culture, however. The wildlife and the landscapes are the most unique aspects of the country that foreigners aim to experience. At over 60 million years old, the Namib Desert along its coast, is the oldest desert in the world. The famous orange dunes in the interior have been used for scenes in cinema when a depiction of a truly fantasy landscape is desired. The main valley called Sossusvlei, has a large flat expanse with ancient trees that have long been dead, all under the towering Big Daddy Dune that stands at over 1,000 ft (325m) tall, larger than the Eiffel Tower.
Two local aviation companies offer scenic flights over the Namib Desert all the way to Sossusvlei. If you’re lucky enough, ask around at the airport and you can connect with a pilot who will take you out on their plane with the door removed to witness truly breathtaking views.
If you can make your way to Swakopmund, you’ll find a quaint town that feels like Germany in the desert. Its quaint feel is familiar, but serves as a reminder of the country’s past under colonial occupation. The nearby township offers the same as in Windhoek: Many friendly people, with a small chance of danger.
The Himba Tribe
One last aspect to touch upon is in the northern regions from where the Himba people originate. The town of Opuwo can serve as a good jumping off point to get connected with someone who can take you to visit and experience their way of life. There is a range of modernization, where some have adapted to camping tents within the town, some live in their traditional huts, with the expectation that tourists will come to buy things off them, and some still live far away and only have a handful of Westerners visiting in ten years.