Bordering South Africa, Namibia’s southern region has a lot to offer in terms of wild desert landscapes and outdoor activities, ranging from canoeing on the Orange River through the other-worldly desert scenery of the |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park to hiking the jaw-dropping majesty of the Fish River Canyon, Africa’s largest canyon.
Southern Namibia may not be a prime safari destination, but what it lacks in famous wildlife, it makes up for in sublime desert scenery. Imagine sandy plains dotted with quiver trees, jagged granite mountains, and imposing rock formations.
The standout highlight of southern Namibia is the Fish River Canyon, but the rest of the |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park is also full of desert wonders, including the richest diversity of succulent flora in the world.
On the coast, Lüderitz is an intriguing colonial town, while nearby Kolmanskop, a ghost town, is one of Namibia’s most photographed places and lies on the edge of the Sperrgebiet National Park, Namibia’s newest national park.
Most of the park, a diamond mining area closed to the public for a century, remains inaccessible, but travelers can now visit on guided expeditions to explore a rich, succulent biome, a colossal rock arch, and two mysterious ghost towns.
At Namibia’s border with South Africa, the Orange River meanders its way through wild desert landscapes. Taking a paddle down the river in a canoe for a few hours or days is the perfect way to take in this southern beauty at a slow pace.
Further north, the NamibRand Nature Reserve is a vast concession on the edge of the Namib-Naukluft National Park, where you see desert wildlife such as oryx and springbok against a backdrop of apricot-colored dunes and silvery plains.
Highlights of a Southern Namibia Safari
Crossing over the border of South Africa, the |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park has some wildlife such as oryx, springbok, zebra, and baboons, but with its low density of animals and lack of big game, it’s not usually known as a prime safari destination.
Instead, travelers visit the park for its out-of-this-world Mars-like landscapes of looming mountains, boulder-strewn plains, striking quiver trees, and its incredible diversity of plant life (try to visit in August and September when wildflowers are blooming).
The park is the world’s only arid biodiversity hotspot, conserving the richest diversity of succulents on the planet. Another highlight of the park is the |Ai-|Ais thermal hot springs, where you can soak in outdoor baths under the shadow of mountains in a photogenic setting.
The ancient water-carved Fish River Canyon, Africa’s largest canyon at 550m/1804ft deep and 160km/99mi wide, is a truly humbling sight to take in and the star attraction of the |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park.
Standing on the edge of the gorge and peering down into the abyss makes you realize how small and insignificant you are compared to the mighty forces of nature.
There are easy hikes around the canyon, but if you’re up for a challenge, the 85km/52mi multi-day Fish River Canyon Hike, which traverses half the gorge’s length, is the best way to get to grips with this geological wonder.
Canoeing trips on the Orange River, which forms a natural boundary with South Africa, are a must-do when traveling southern Namibia. Whether you have a few hours or days, paddling down the river at a gentle pace is the perfect way of taking in the desert scenery.
A few different outfitters offer guided trips that include all your meals and camp setup, so all you have to do is spend your days paddling and swimming and enjoying magical nights sleeping under a sky thick with stars.
The colonial coastal town of Lüderitz is an interesting place to visit, with its historic mansions and restaurants serving tasty fresh seafood (don’t miss the local oysters). Activities not to be missed are boat tours to a Cape fur seal sanctuary and penguin colony.
Close by, the abandoned diamond mining town of Kolmanskop is now a ghost town and one of Namibia’s most photogenic places. It’s an eerie experience to wander around the town’s crumbling buildings, slowly being swallowed by the desert sands.
When you’re driving between Lüderitz and Aus, keep an eye out for the herd of wild horses (the world’s only wild desert horses) that roam this area of this desert and can often be seen near the road.
Another worthy roadside stop is the beautiful Quiver Tree Forest near Keetmanshoop, where 250 of the unusual and striking-looking quiver trees (or kokerboom) stand sentinel over grass and boulders.
Practical Information for a Southern Namibia Safari
It’s easy to drive to southern Namibia from South Africa, so if you’re thinking of traveling to South Africa on your holiday, you might want to consider flying to Cape Town and renting a car to drive up to Namibia.
If you’d like to hike the Fish River Canyon, you need to go during the cooler months from May to September and be sure to book a year in advance.
While the |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park is extremely hot during the summer months from November to March, it’s a good time to do a canoeing trip down the Orange River as you spend a lot of the day in the water and can sleep under clear night skies.
Don’t attempt to enter the Sperrgebiet (Forbidden Area) unless you’re on a guided tour – it’s a diamond mining area, and you will be prosecuted for trespassing without a permit.