As a photographer, I couldn’t wait to get to Namibia. I’ve dreamt about going on an African safari for years, and I was told this was a great alternative to the far more popular Tanzania. What I didn’t realize is that Namibia has so much more to offer than just elephants and zebras. If you’re debating a trip to this beautiful country, here are some photos that should tip the scales.
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Let’s touch on the obvious, first. When people picture Africa, one of the first things they think about is the incredibly diverse wildlife – animals that are most often only ever seen in zoos. Africa is home to all of the well-known favorites – elephants, giraffes, zebras, lions – and there’s nothing that compares to seeing these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.
We saw all of these and more during our six-day, self-drive safari through Etosha National Park. What an experience! It was a photographer’s dream from dawn until dusk. We saw thousands of animals, and we checked off almost everything on our Lion King bucket list. If wildlife is on the top of your list for your trip to Africa, you won’t be disappointed choosing Namibia for your fauna fix. Check out our in-depth article on where to find each of the African animals in Etosha, including where to stay in the park, the best time to go, and how much it all costs.
New Animal Discoveries
While we’re on the topic of wildlife, Namibia is great not only for all the exotic favorites, but it introduced us to many we had never seen before – or even heard of! Have you ever seen a hornbill? They look rather different from colorful Zazu.. yet oddly familiar.
And have you seen a kudu? How about an oryx? We had never heard of either one before we went to Etosha. By the time we left, however, we were well acquainted. We even had the opportunity to sample an oryx steak during our visit to the Okonjima Nature Reserve! Verdict: it’s quite delicious – a bit like beef, but somehow… smoother.. and without the marbling of fat often found in beef steaks.
Surprise! Africa also has coasts and beaches! Though mostly desert, oceanic animals also make their home on the continent. We were delighted to find penguins in Cape Town, and we happily visited the Swakopmund area to seek out the fur seals (actually sea lions).
When we first pulled up, we were greeted by pups hobbling across the parking lot. This drew our eyes to the massive pile of seals surrounded by a walkway. Once we entered the boardwalk, we were shocked to find this was only a mere fraction of the population at the Cape Cross beach. There had to be thousands of them sprawled out on the beach, dancing into the water, and screaming like dying goats. It really was a fascinating place, and we just couldn’t get over simply how many were there.
Wildlife really is a major draw of most visiting Africa, so we have one more section, dedicated to my favorite animal. Big cats can certainly be found in Namibia as on safaris in other countries, but we had a difficult time finding them on our own. While they are in Etosha, they’re really good at hiding, and encounters are more based on luck.
We took matters into our own hands and visited the large predator and cat reserve at Okonjima. We were almost guaranteed to see at least the cheetahs, and we were fortunate enough to also see a leopard. It was expensive, but worth every penny. You can read all about our visit with the cats here.
Like many countries in Africa, Namibia also has its indigenous tribes. We visited both the Himba and the Damara, and they each have very different traditions, histories, and cultures. If you like portraiture, they both make wonderful subjects. And if you are a fan of ancient cultures, you will love a visit to one of these villages.
Just because Namibia is mostly desert doesn’t mean there aren’t beautiful landscapes to photograph! We stopped the car periodically to just take in the sights around us, and some stunning vistas were visible right off the side of the road.
However, one of our favorite spots was Spitzkoppe. Not really on the route to other locations, we made a deliberate detour to visit this park. It boasts several unique rock formations and bush walks that could easily eat up a few hours. We chose to camp a night there so we could take in the nightscapes and early morning light, and it definitely deserves to be on any photographer’s bucket list. Check out our recent Namibia camping post for our experience here along with several other campsites across the country.
Speaking of nightscapes, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the stunning stars in Namibia. I’ve only seen stars like this once before, and it was also in a desert – the Australian outback. Without the glare of urban light pollution, nothing interferes with the brilliance of the night sky.
We couldn’t always shoot the Milky Way, however, due to the lunar phases, but we took advantage even of the full moon by shooting moonscapes in Spitzkoppe. These eerie scenes almost look like daylight drizzled in stars, and it’s one of my favorite types of photography.
Believe it or not, deserts do have some water! Sprinkled throughout the area are various springs, watering holes, waterfalls, and ponds. We skipped the famous Epupa Falls near Opuwo because it was out of our way and we chose to prioritize tribes instead. But we did venture down the barely-road to Ongongo (where also could have camped) to cool off in its crystal-clear green pond. It even came with some colorful dragonflies and friendly goats; what more could we want?
Movies love to feature these epic journeys across vast deserts of sand, camels traversing the sharp ridges of massive sand dunes. Well, though we didn’t see any camels, we could hike the soft ridges of several giant dunes in Sossusvlei.
Dune 45 is the most famous and probably the most photographed. It’s the easiest to reach in time for sunrise, and it quickly becomes crowded. But if you can run up the soft sand ahead of the crowds as we did, you’ll see this untainted view.
The other dunes in Sossusvlei are just as picturesque – all times of the day. They’re a challenge to hike, but the views are worth it!
An interesting thing happens when an area doesn’t receive rain for years on end. Tree skeletons left from a long-gone wetter era simply never rot. Instead, they remain as twisted sentinels of the desert.
Deadvlei is the most famous of these sites, located at the far end of the Sossusvlei park. We had such a field day photographing the spot both during the evening light and first thing in the morning when a rare fog settled in. It’s by far one of the coolest places we’ve been, though it did take us two tries before we learned how to not get stuck in the sand on our way out there!
The African sun is also iconic, and Namibia is no exception. We saw magnificent sunsets in Etosha, from the lofty hill in Opuwo, and all throughout our three-week journey. The stagnant, dry air of the desert makes for some vibrant colors, and we looked forward to every one.
And since we weren’t supposed to drive at night, we were well settled into our campgrounds come dusk, with a cheap wine in-hand and nothing better to do than to sit back and enjoy it!
A Reason to Return
Even three weeks weren’t quite long enough to see everything we wanted to in Namibia. Still on our list are the quiver trees, the Lunar Landscape, and the sandy ruins of Kolmanskop. We’ll hit those on our next visit, and then we’ll have even more photographs to convince you to check out this amazing country!
What do you want to see most in Namibia?
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