You may not know exactly where it is, but you’ve probably heard whispers about Namibia recently. The relatively young country—it gained hard-won independence from South Africa in 1990—is quickly becoming one of the buzziest travel destinations in Africa, and for many indisputable reasons. Situated on the west coast of the continent, just above South Africa, it’s about twice the size of California with just half the population of Los Angeles. What it lacks in people it more than makes up for in surreal landscapes, endlessly diverse. And though it’s not a place to go seeking massive herds of buffalo or bloats of hippos, there are plenty of opportunities to admire wildlife in its natural habitats, dry and unforgiving as they may be.
There’s also the fact that high-profile people like Prince William of Cambridge have recently traveled there, which is only helping to raise Namibia’s reputation on the world stage. The luxury travel operator and Africa experts Scott Dunn have noticed serious growth—especially in the five-star lodge scene—and increased interest from Americans, especially, curious to get a bit off the beaten safari path. Another exciting aspect is Namibia offers a bit of a choose-your-own-adventure approach to planning. The likes of Scott Dunn can arrange everything for a couple, from luxury airport pickups with native Namibian drivers who double as excellent conversationalists and tour guides to small scenic charter flights to get around the large country efficiently. There are also options for those who love a good road trip, since some independent, adventurous newlyweds choose to drive from place to place in their own rented vehicle. Here, a few compelling arguments for making Namibia the offbeat, endlessly scenic African honeymoon of your dreams.
1. Unreal environments.
Some of the world’s most impressive sand dunes, others dusted in pinkish garnet sand; a seemingly never-ending desert so bare it invites mind-boggling mirages, fiery sunset skies made moody by subtle trails of dust obscuring zebras or giraffes just enough to make it even more magical, and a long, unforgiving coastline of sometimes angry, sometimes sparkling blue icy Atlantic waves. It’s landscapes like these that are the truest signature of Namibia, as a place contrasts where beauty can be realized in the tiniest of details or the vastness of a wide swath of nothingness. It’s pretty common to feel as if you’re on another planet, so make sure you bring a camera. This place is epic.
2. Spectacular wildlife.
Travel experts like those at Scott Dunn oftentimes warn people that a Namibian safari is more about the flora than the fauna, but especially for those who have never been to Africa or on safari, it’s safe to expect more than your fair share of wildlife, especially if you know where to go. It’s much more rare to spot anything major around the seeming sky-scraping red sand dunes of Sossusvlei, for example (though these panoramas are some of the most amazing and otherworldly), than it is at the comparably lush and water hole–dotted Etosha National Park further north. Similarly, the Hoanib Valley is home to plenty of elephants, rhinoceros, oryx, springbok, zebras, giraffes, ostrich and more. Even in the incredibly sparse desert and dry riverbeds of the Skeleton Coast one can find even deeper appreciation for animals spotted individually or in smaller groups—say an elephant walking across sand to audibly drink water from a small wet patch, or a pair of regal oryx superimposed against a wall of red rock.
3. Luxurious new digs.
In the last year Namibia has experienced a mini explosion of luxury lodges opening throughout the country. Omaanda, Zannier Hotels’ first African property, is arguably the only place to start a Namibian journey, positioned conveniently on a private conservancy reserve just a short drive from Windhoek’s international airport and beside the inspiring N/a’ankusê Wildlife Sanctuary. Design-wise it’s a breathtaking place to get into the spirit of the place—individual rounded huts are made using traditional methods with hand-finished thatched roofs, in a color palette that’s evocative of the surroundings and with artifacts and decor that highlights locally made handicrafts and celebrates indigenous tribes. The food is also some of the best in Namibia—with as many ingredients as possible sourced locally—and unlike many safari camps there are plenty of luxurious leisurely ways to spend down time, like at the pool, fire pit, or indoor-outdoor spa.
A couple brand-new Natural Selection lodges make for a perfect pairing, giving the opportunity to experience two starkly different sides of Namibia. One is the Skeleton Coast, dotted with whale bones and shipwrecks and representing one of the harshest yet most beautiful environs anywhere. It’s there that Shipwreck Lodge springs from the sand with its intimate collection of environmentally friendly, sustainable cabins that look like miniature ships askew, and are outfitted with wood-burning ovens that will heat up any romance. From there you can be driven to Hoanib Valley Camp—or in the rainier time when the river is full, flown—where Prince William slept in the family tent, one of a small handful that are beautifully outfitted in the most serene of settings, under the shelter of a solidly built mountain of stone beside expansive protected parkland where it’s quite possible to spot a dozen mammal species in one drive. Evenings are spent storytelling around the bonfire with local Namibian gin G&Ts, being regaled with tales in click languages and gazing at the canopy of stars above.
The surest place to be surrounded with wildlife is at Safarihoek, still on the new side and quite accessible price wise. A bit larger than the others, it’s still very easy to feel removed from the rest of the world yet connected to the animals outside your windows, thanks in part to the dreamy and spacious outdoor showers perched above the water hole where you can watch elephants, giraffe and oryx drink as you bathe. At all of these, guides are incredibly knowledgeable and excited to put on full display the beauty of their country—it’s hard to describe the excitement of seeing all these wonders so close up in the wild. Also coming soon are Habitas Namibia and Omaanda’s tented sister property, Sonop, further south, while the beloved Wilderness Safaris camp Serra Cafema in the far northwest recently reopened after a total revamp, with even more idyllic design and amenities.
4. A sense of peace and privacy.
Perhaps it’s the small population, or the dramatic landscapes that are so empty, but Namibia is one of the most peaceful places in Africa, let alone the world. It’s quiet in a way that’s almost impossible to find in this day and age, with a soulful energy reflected by its beautiful denizens, both human and not. On the Skeleton Coast, especially, you might realize you can hear your own breath clearly, maybe even your heartbeat, making it the kind of destination perfect for reflection, or alone time with your true love where you actually feel like the only two people on the planet.
5. Friendly locals.
English is the official language of Namibia, and the super sweet locals love to speak with travelers in it. It’s hard to find a warmer, more hospitable and genuinely curious collection of people representing diverse tribes and native languages—make sure to chat with someone who speaks a click language, it’s fascinating to hear!
From tiny planes soaring over plateaus, sand dunes, desert and riverbeds to driving into the unknown on oftentimes dirt or gravel roads (there are very few paved tar roads) the saying “the journey is the destination” definitely applies here. If you’re not navigating these snaking roads between camps you’re hopping on minuscule airplanes for scenic, stunning flights. Those who want to immerse as much as possible in wildlife conservation can also consider a little voluntourism as part of their honeymoon, if they have the time. Organizations like N/a’ankusê Wildlife Sanctuary and AfriCat are leaders in minimizing negative human-wildlife interactions by engaging in initiatives to tag or collar carnivores—lions, leopard, cheetah, wild dogs—and do use some volunteers to assist. For the right passionate animal lovers, N/a’ankusê also offers opportunities to feed baby baboons and stroll with others, hang out with meerkats, and walk beside a pair of gorgeous cheetahs. And if you really want to spike the excitement, slide down a massive sand dune like it’s a snow-covered hill in winter, head out surfing or try surf fishing with a 15-foot rod on the Skeleton Coast (at Shipwreck Lodge).
American should be thrilled to know their dollars will go quite far in the country whose currency, the Namibian dollar, is tied to the South African Rand, which is notoriously weak of late. That fact, added to the reality that stays at luxury lodges, experiences and meals are already well priced, means only good things for newlyweds trying to stretch their money post-wedding. One example: It’s not uncommon to find a mouthwatering primo cut of Namibian–raised beef filet for less than $20, like at the al fresco Olive Restaurant at the all-suite boutique hotel design mecca that is The Olive Exclusive, in a tony neighborhood of Windhoek.
Those elusive, endangered creatures, so ancient in looks and skittish in the wild, are actually quite well protected in Namibia. The country has the world’s largest free-roaming black rhinoceros population, fiercely guarded by armed rangers and anti-poaching units. At Hoanib Valley Camp these diligent rhino-saving warriors lead guests on seeming wild goose chases to track the massive beasts, usually ending triumphantly with adrenaline-boosting sightings on foot. At the Shiloh Wildlife Sanctuary, funded by Angelina Jolie on behalf of her daughter, Shiloh, through the Jolie-Pitt Foundation, at N/a’ankusê Wildlife Sanctuary, beside Omaanda, experts care for injured or orphaned rhinos (and elephants), and including recently an adorable infant white rhino who was being fed horse milk and socializing with goats.