Welcome to Travel Planning 101. Find country specific information about where you are going and what to do to prepare to get there!
- Travel highlights of the country.
- Fun facts and background information.
- History notes, facts on currency, health, holidays and transportation.
- Pre-departure tips, when to go, and visa information.
- Information on weather and electricity plugs.
- Suggestions on things to do if you have extra time to explore on your own.
Places To See
Etosha National Park
The 20,000 sq km (7722 sq mi) Etosha National Park is one of the world's greatest wildlife-viewing spots. For a few days each year, this immense, flat, saline desert is converted by the rains into a shallow lagoon teeming with flamingos and white pelicans. However, it's the surrounding bush and grasslands that provide habitat for Etosha's diverse wildlife.
It may look barren, but the landscape surrounding the pan is home to 114 mammal species as well as 340 bird species, 16 reptiles and amphibians, one fish species and countless insects.
The best way to see Etosha's animals is to hire a vehicle, park near a waterhole and wait for the lions, elephants and springboks to turn up for a drink.
Etosha's three main entry gates are Von Lindequist (Namutoni), west of Tsumeb; King Nehale, southeast of Ondangwa; and Andersson (Okaukuejo), north of Outjo.
Fish River Canyon
There's nowhere else in Africa like Fish River Canyon, which has been gouging this gorge for thousands of years with incredible results. It's huge - 160km (99mi) long and 27km (17mi) wide - and most of the canyon falls within Fish River Canyon National Park, where you can camp, walk, hike or relax in the bubbling hot springs.
At the northern end of the national park, there's the Hobas Information Centre, picnic sites, camp grounds, walking trails, and access to some of the best viewpoints in the canyon.
From Hobas, you can walk the five-day Fish River Hiking Trail to Ai-Ais, at the other end of the canyon. The 85km (53mi) walk follows the sandy bed of the river (it should contain water in May or June). There are also day walks at the northern end of the canyon.
At the southern end, Ai-Ais is a pleasant hot-spring oasis. The springs, which are piped into swimming pools and jacuzzis, apparently relieve rheumatism and nervous disorders. Ai-Ais has camping sites, bungalows and caravans.
Sossusvlei is a huge ephemeral pan set amid towering red dunes that reach up to 325m (1066ft). The dunes are part of the 32,000 sq km (12,355 sq mi) sand sea covering much of western Namibia, and belong to one of the oldest and driest ecosystems on earth. The landscape here is constantly changing as colours shift with the light and wind alters the dune shapes.
When to go?
The dry winter season (May to October) is the most pleasant time to visit Namibia. During this period you can expect warm, sunny days and cold nights, often with temperatures falling below freezing. It's best to avoid Namib-Naukluft Park and Etosha National Park in the extreme heat (December to March), and Fish River Canyon is closed to the public between December and April. The northeastern rivers may flood during this time too, making some roads either impassable or hard to negotiate. Resort areas are busiest during both Namibian and South African school holidays - usually from mid-December to mid-January, late-April to early June, and late-August to mid-September.
Travel Visa Overview
All visitors require a passport from their home country that is valid for at least six months after their intended departure date from Namibia. You may also be asked for an onward plane, bus or rail ticket, although checks are rarely made. Nationals of the following countries do not need visas to visit Namibia: Angola, Australia, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, EU countries, Iceland, Japan, Kenya, Mozambique, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, Tanzania, USA, Zambia, Zimbabwe and most Commonwealth countries. Citizens of most Eastern European countries do require visas. Tourists are granted an initial 90 days, which may be extended at the Ministry of Home Affairs in Windhoek.
South African/Indian-style plug with two circular metal pins above a large circular grounding pin
Bites and stings
Most hazardous insects are confined to the far northwest of the country in the watery environs of the Kunene, Okavango and Kwando river systems. Most nasty of all is the prevalence of tsetse flies in eastern Caprivi, which are especially active at dusk. Snake bites and scorpion stings are another potential hazard. Both snakes and scorpions love rocky hidy-holes. If you're camping or trekking through any canyons or rocky areas always pack away your sleeping bag when it's not in use and tap out your boots to ensure that nothing has crept inside them during the night. Don't walk around barefoot or stick your hand in holes in the ground or in rocks. Another sensible precaution is to shake out your clothes before you put them on. Remember, snakes don't bite unless threatened or stepped on.
HIV (Human Immuno-deficiency Virus) develops into AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), which is a fatal disease. 21% of Namibia's population is HIV positive. Any exposure to blood, blood products or body fluids may put the individual at risk. The disease is often transmitted through sexual contact or dirty needles - body piercing, acupuncture, tattooing and vaccinations can be potentially as dangerous as intravenous drug use. HIV and AIDS can also be spread via infected blood transfusions, but blood supplies in most reputable hospitals are now screened, so the risk from transfusions is low. If you do need an injection, ask to see the syringe unwrapped in front of you, or take a needle and syringe pack with you. Fear of HIV infection should not preclude treatment for any serious medical conditions. Most countries have organizations and services for HIV-positive folks and people with AIDS. For a list of organizations divided by country, plus descriptions of their services, see www.aidsmap.com.
Malaria is rife in the far northwest of the country in the Kunene, Okavango and Kwando river systems. The disease is caused by a parasite in the bloodstream spread via the bite of the female Anopheles mosquito. The early stages of malaria include headaches, fevers, generalised aches and pains, and malaise, which could be mistaken for flu. Other symptoms can include abdominal pain, diarrhoea and a cough. Several different drugs are used to prevent malaria, and new ones are in the pipeline - up-to-date advice is essential as some medication is more suitable for some travellers than others. There are antimalaria pills available and it is best to ask your doctor for further advice.
This can be contracted in the east of the country, and is usually present in stagnant or slow-moving water. This disease is carried by tiny worms that enter through the skin and attach themselves to the intestines or bladder. The first symptom may be tingling and sometimes a light rash around the area where the worm entered. Weeks later, a high fever may develop. A general unwell feeling may be the first symptom, or there may be no symptoms. Once the disease is established, abdominal pain and blood in the urine are other signs. The infection often causes no symptoms until the disease is well established (several months to years after exposure), and damage to internal organs is irreversible.
Avoid swimming or bathing in freshwater where bilharzia is present. Even deep water can be infected. If you do get wet, dry off quickly and dry your clothes as well. A blood test is the most reliable test, but it will not show positive until a number of weeks after exposure.
Although it's predominantly desert, Namibia enjoys regional climatic variations. The whole country sees a minimum of 300 days of sunshine each year, but temperatures and rainfall vary considerably both seasonally and geographically. The most arid climate is found in the centre of the Namib Desert, where summer daytime temperatures climb to over 40°C (105°F) and can fall to below freezing at night. Daytime temperatures in the mountainous and semi-arid Central Plateau (including Windhoek) are generally lower than in the rest of the country. Fog is common on the coast.
December is the hottest month everywhere, bringing average temperatures of 30°C (86°F). There are two rainy seasons: the 'little rains' from October to December, and the main rainy period from January to April. The latter is characterised by brief showers and occasional thunderstorms that clear the air. Low-lying areas in the eastern part of the country are generally much hotter than the Central Plateau and, except for Kavango and Caprivi in the northeast, receive little rain.
History and Culture
Pre-20th Centure History
Southern Africa's earliest inhabitants were the San, a nomadic people organised in extended family groups who could adapt to even the severest terrain. San communities later came under pressure from Khoi-Khoi groups. The Khoi-Khoi were a tribal people who raised livestock rather than hunted, and who were among the first pottery makers in the archaeological record books. They came from the south, gradually displacing the San, and remained in control of Namibia until around AD 1500. Descendants of the Khoi-Khoi and San people still live in the country, but few have retained their original lifestyles. Between 2300 and 2400 years ago, the first Bantus appeared on the plateaus of south-central Namibia. Their arrival marked the first tribal structures in southern African societies. Other tribes either retreated to the desert or the swamps of the Okavango Delta, or were enslaved into Bantu society.
Because Namibia has one of the world's most barren and inhospitable coastlines, it was largely ignored by European explorers. The first European visitors were Portuguese mariners seeking a way to the Indies in the late 15th century. However, they confined their activities in Namibia to erecting stone crosses at certain points along the coast as navigational guides. It wasn't until the end of the 19th century that Namibia was annexed by Germany, with the exception of the enclave of Walvis Bay, which was taken in 1878 by the British for the Cape Colony.
In 1904, the Herero people launched a rebellion against German colonists, but it was brutally put down with 60,000 Herero's killed. Meanwhile, diamonds had been discovered east of Lüderitz - German authorities branded the area between Lüderitz and the Orange River a sperrgebiet, or 'forbidden area'.
Following WWI, South Africa was given a mandate by the League of Nations to rule the territory (aka South-West Africa). After WWII, the UN renewed the mandate but refused to sanction the outright annexation of Namibia by South Africa. Tightening its grip on the territory, the South African government granted parliamentary representation to the white population in 1949. Namibia's viable farmland was parcelled into farms owned by white settlers, while black workers were confined by law to 'reserves'.
This led to the development of nationalism in the late 50s. During this time, political parties formed and later merged into the South West Africa People's Organisation (Swapo). They took the issue of South African occupation to the International Court of Justice in 1966.
The outcome was inconclusive, but the UN General Assembly voted to terminate South Africa's mandate and set up the Council for South West Africa to administer the territory. The council's failure to establish an internal government made it easy for South Africa to assert control, refusing to cooperate unless Cuban troops were withdrawn from Angola. Swapo intensified its guerrilla activities, restricting movement in the north.
In 1988, a UN-sponsored deal ensured Cuban troops left Angola if South African troops left Namibia. The 1989 elections saw a clear Swapo victory. A constitution was adopted and independence granted under the presidency of Swapo leader, Sam Nujoma.
In 1998, Nujoma tied Namibia's currency to the South African rand. In 1999, Namibia agreed to let Angola attack UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) rebels from its land, thrusting Namibia into an enduring civil war.
In 2001, the President declared homosexuals to be immoral, and the Prime Minister asserted that black Africans accept that whites were a part of the continent. It was also revealed that members of the armed forces owned interests in diamond mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where Namibian forces were fighting rebel forces.
Although President Nujoma supported Robert Mugabe's forcible possessions of white farms in Zimbabwe, he adopted a more concilatory approach to land reform, condemning illegal land seizures. By 2003, 15 farm invasions were averted when a black farmhands' union came to an agreement with white farmers.
In 2004, President Sam Nujoma finally stepped down as president after 15 years in office. His successor is Hifikepunye Pohamba - another Swapo veteran - who won 77% of the vote.
In 2006, expropriation of farms became compulsory and 18 orders were filed against white farmers, although the government still maintains that the rule of law will be obeyed.
© 2007 Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd. All rights reserved.