Namib-Naukluft National Park: Ultimate Travel Guide
Even if you haven’t heard of Namib-Naukluft National Park, you’ve certainly seen it in images. Massive rolling sand dunes, dried-out trees, and rugged coastlines make it an incredible destination worth a thousand pictures, providing some of the world’s most extreme landscapes. In the heart of Namibia in southern Africa, this remote park is one of a kind.
In this ultimate guide to visiting and exploring Namib-Nauluft National Park, you’ll discover how to visit this unique and remote location and its most fascinating destinations. A visit to Namib-Naukluft National Park means you’re in for some of Namibia’s most famous vistas; here’s how to make the most of your trip.
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Namib-Naukluft National Park
The Namib-Naukluft National Park is a protected area in Namibia, found in the Namib Desert, and is home to a variety of activities, including hiking, wildlife viewing, and hunting. Some of the wildlife you can see here includes elephants, lions, and cheetahs.
Located in western Namibia, Namib-Naukluft Park lies between the Atlantic Ocean’s shore and the Great Escarpment’s edge, abutting Dorob National Park to the north. It includes sections of the Namib Desert (the world’s oldest desert), the Naukluft mountain range, and the Sandwich Harbour lagoon near Walvis Bay.
Most visitors to Namib-Naukluft National Park come to view the Sossusvlei region of the park. This is around 360 km/ 223 miles from Namibia’s capital city of Windhoek. It can best be reached via the Sesriem Gate entrance point. Hosea Kutako International Airport (WDH), located 40 km/ 25 miles east of Windhoek, is the principal point of entry into Namibia itself.
When Is the Best Time to Visit Namib-Naukluft National Park?
The Namib-Naukluft National Park is a beautiful place to visit, recognized for its spectacular desert environment rather than just its animals. As a result, the park is open all year. However, the best time to come is from May through October when the weather is milder.
Highlights of Namib-Naukluft National Park
When you visit Namib-Naukluft National Park, there are a few places that you definitely won’t want to miss. The major attractions in the park are Sesriem Canyon and the Sossusvlei dunes. These two areas offer some of the most beautiful scenery in the entire park, and they’re definitely worth seeing.
With its dune fields, mountains, and the salt pan known as Sossusvlei, the area north of the Kuiseb River is a highlight, though quite remote and inaccessible This part of the park is truly unique, and it’s well worth exploring if you have time.
The National Park stretches midway up the Atlantic coast of Namibia. So if you’re looking for some great coastal views, be sure to check out this park!
Things To See in Namib-Naukluft National Park
The Namib Desert and Its Wildlife
The Namib Desert is a hot-spot for wildlife, and the Namib-Naukluft National Park offers a diverse range of animals. The wildlife spotting in the park is amazing, with superb animals including lions, leopards, cheetahs and rhinos. There are plenty of oryxes and jackals, and herds of gemsbok as well. In addition, there are Hartmann’s mountain zebra, springbok, ostrich and giraffe to be found in the park.
Driving through the national park is a fantastic wildlife experience. It has a desert landscape that’s stunningly beautiful, with endless space for exploring.
The Naukluft Mountains are a stack of boulders moved southeast on a basal thrust fault. German geologists Henno Martin and Hermann Korn created the first geological maps and cross-sections of the mountain range in the 1930s.
The rocks are interbedded sediments, characterized by dolomites, quartzites, and shales. They were deposited in a shallow marine environment in the Damara orogeny’s hinterland between 700 and 500 million years ago. The strata are actually equal in age to the Otavi Mountainland deposits. This is where Paul F. Hoffman described evidence for Snowball Earth temperatures.
Sesriem Canyon is one of the major highlights of Namib-Naukluft National Park. It’s only 1 km long and reaches a height of just 100 feet, but it’s well worth a visit. The canyon is a spectacular example of how a river can sculpt the terrain. The Tsauchab River carved its way through the landscape and created a gorge with rock layers of different sizes.
The layers of the larger rocks in the canyon were formed during periods of powerful water flow. Those formed with smaller pebbles and higher concentrations of sand were established when the current was less fierce. The canyon flattens out as it nears the end of its journey towards Sossusvlei.
The canyon has seasonal water, which attracts wildlife during the rainy period. During this time, pools of water collect in the canyon’s deep hollows, making it an ideal place to see and photograph wildlife such as oryx, springbok and baboons.
Deadvlei was the terminus of the Tsauchab River until the climate changed. This is when the stream became obstructed by dunes, causing the camel thorn trees to wither and die.
But because of the aridity of the region and the lack of wood-boring insects, the sun-scorched skeleton trunks have remained intact. Jutting from the parched, white clay-pan bottom, they form a dramatic contrast to the surrounding golden dunes and cerulean sky.
This is a favorite Namib-Naukluft National Park photo to go home with!
Hidden Vlei is a ghostly clay pan filled with dead acacia trees tucked away among rust-colored dunes. It is the least well-known of the vleis, but is no less attractive than Deadvlei, and just as eerie. Although there are fewer trees and the adjacent dunes are shorter, the perk is that it is virtually always vacant.
So before approaching Deadvlei, have a glance to your right. Look to see if there is anything for you to photograph in this peaceful environment. While shooting and enjoying the calm, appreciate the serenity and quiet of Hidden Vlei.
The weather can be rather hot throughout the day, though, so bring plenty of water and sun protection
Namib-Naukluft National Park Sand Dunes
The sand dunes of Namibia are a sight to behold, with the red dunes, in particular, evidence of nature’s masterpieces. These dunes are some of the oldest, tallest, and most beautiful in the world.
Namibia’s dunes are also some of the most authentic and pristine in the world. The area is perfect for nature lovers and photographers.
Sossusvlei Sand Dunes
Sossusvlei’s crimson dunes are a work of art created by nature. The desert exudes simplicity and a feeling of eternal peace. You can encounter many types of Namib-Naukluft National Park animals, including leopard, zebra, blue wildebeest, buffalo, jackal buzzard eagles, and more!
The dunes of Sossusvlei are located on the outskirts of the park in the Namib Desert, roughly 100 kilometers from Deadvlei. Both locations have breathtaking views of the desert. However, it’s much more fun to visit them at different times to watch how they vary throughout the day or year!
If you visit at night when it’s almost dark, everything will be illuminated by your headlights. Each particle of sand will gleam like diamonds. If you visit during the day, everything will alter depending on how hot it is outdoors! With each ripple, certain areas become pink or yellow, while others remain golden brown.
Sossusvlei is a beautiful place. It is known for its large, red sand dunes. These dunes are quite unique, as they are caused by the wind blowing from all directions. This unusual wind pattern also means that the dunes continually move – making them a popular tourist destination. So if you’re looking for an amazing and unique place to visit, be sure to check out Sossusvlei in Namibia!
The dune known as “Big Daddy” is located between Sossusvlei and Deadvlei. A breathtaking panoramic view of the dune sea flowing away into the distance awaits you at the top. It’s followed by a five-minute adrenaline rush as you speed down the dune slide face into the pan.
The Elim Dune is a popular spot for watching the sunset. It offers dramatic views of the surrounding area, as well as a cool view of the grasses at dawn. Keep your eyes peeled for the aggressive and territorial Namib dune ant. With its black and white stripes and hairy abdomen, they’re hard to miss!
Dune 45 is one of the most popular sand dunes in Namib-Naukluft National Park. It’s a quick and easy hike to the top, and the views are amazing. Make sure to bring a camera and plenty of water!
Dune 45 gets its name from the fact that it is 45 kilometers from the Sesriem Gate. It is 5-million-year-old sand that nature has blown into a gigantic pile approximately 170 meters high.
The super-soft, warm sand that slides from beneath their feet with every stride is something most people overlook. It doesn’t take away from the pleasure, though, as many people make it to the summit. The view from the top is breathtaking, and the slide back down makes everyone feel like a kid again.
The dune is frequently photographed because of its proximity to the road. This is especially true early and late in the day, when one side of the dune is in shade.
The Namib Sand Sea
The Namib Sand Sea is the only marine desert in the world with large fog-affected dunes. It comprises two dune systems. One is old and semi-consolidated, the other newly active. Together they span over three million hectares with an 899,500 hectare buffer zone.
The desert dunes are formed by materials brought hundreds of kilometers from the hinterland by stream, water currents, and wind. Gravel plains, coastal flats, rocky hills, inselbergs inside the sand sea, a coastal lagoon, and ephemeral rivers all make for breathtaking scenery.
What makes the Namib sand sea so special is its ever-changing landscape. The dunes can be red, orange, or yellow, depending on how much iron oxide is present in the soil. And since the wind direction determines a dune’s shape, they’re always changing their appearance.
Another interesting feature of this area is that it’s one of the few deserts where grasses can take root. This allows some desert-adapted creatures to live here, such as spiders, scorpions, and beetles. Plus, windblown detritus collects here and provides food for these animals. There are 8 main formations of dunes in this area!
Things To Do in Namib-Naukluft National Park
Soaring in a Balloon over the Dunes
Namib-Naukluft National Park is a unique place in the world and should be seen from all angles. While driving through the park, it’s easy to miss some of the best sights the area has to offer. One of those viewpoints is from high in the sky while on a hot-air balloon ride.
The entire event lasts several hours, with a pickup around an hour before dawn. This is followed by a safety briefing, inflating of the balloon envelope, and lift off. As you ascend into the air, you’ll quickly see just how expansive this part of Namibia is. The sand sea can be seen from above as well as other interesting landmarks like Sossusvlei and Deadvlei.
Upon landing, enjoy a champagne breakfast before being driven back to your lodgings. This is definitely one experience you won’t want to miss while visiting Namibia.
Hike Namib-Naukluft National Park Trails
Namib-Naukluft National Park is a great place to explore the natural beauty of Namibia. With many different trails available, hikers of all levels can find something suitable.
No matter what trail you choose, the park is sure to amaze you with its natural wonders. So get out there and explore!
The Tok Tokkie Trail
Tok Tokkie Trail gets you close to the desert’s breathtaking scenery. What better way to experience nature than with a two day hike? You will see many mysteries of the Tok Tokkie Trail you cannot see when driving. You will also experience several parts of the desert, from rocky terrain to sand dunes.
The Tok Tokkie Trail is a 20km hike that takes two days plus to complete. The trail gets you close to nature and the desert ecology. This can be an excellent hike for those who are looking for a physical challenge, as the trail covers rocky terrain and sand dunes.
You’ll also need to carry your camera gear and a light day back. Your luggage is transported from camp to camp while you walk. However, don’t worry, this hike provides opportunities to photograph the desert and stunning night skies!
Visit the Naukluft Mountains
The Naukluft Mountains are often overlooked by first-time visitors to the area because of their proximity to Sossusvlei. However, if you make it there, take the time to explore this vast escarpment of near-vertical cliffs. They rise over 1000 meters from the surrounding plains, and it is worth the effort!
This interesting landscape consists predominantly of porous dolomite and limestone rock, with caves and ravines on a solid granite base. In fact, the name ‘Naukluft’ comes from an Afrikaans corruption, meaning a narrow gorge or ravine.
Hiking in the Naukluft Mountains
There are also a handful of difficult day hikes, and a gruelling multi-day journey. The two day-trails require no reservations and can be walked all year. However, the multi-day trek must be reserved in advance. All three climbs involve rough terrain and require hiking boots. You’ll also need to bring plenty of water with you.
The “Olive Trail” in the Naukluft Mountains is highly recommended for all hikers who are not afraid of heights. A memorable experience is guaranteed with breathtaking vistas, magnificent scenery, and a particular type of surprise at the conclusion of the walk.
This hike combines with other trails to create an 11km loop, lasting 4-5 hours. On a difficulty scale it’s medium to hard. So be prepared for some physical exertion.
The trail is perfect for the hiker who loves to experience the full variety of the mountains’ rocky terrain.
This 17-kilometer (6–7-hour) climb leads you up a small ravine that’s littered with pools during the wet season. Then it heads over an open, exposed plateau, and finally onto a summit with spectacular panoramic views. After that, the route declines sharply through several pools and waterfalls (after rains). Finally you’ll encounter the dry Naukluft River and a 4WD track that leads back to the start.
Multi-Day Hikes in the Naukluft Mountains
If you’re looking for an adventure, consider a multi-day hike in the Naukluft Mountains. The Naukluft Trail is a grueling hike, requiring an average of 6 hours of hiking per day. Some sections are more difficult than others – but that’s part of the fun!
There are no showers in the park, and you will need to carry a stove. Also be prepared to stay in basic shelters without a fire where it’s not allowed. Permits to hike the Naukluft Mountains are required in order to leave a vehicle at Tsams Osts.
The trail is only open between March 1 and October 3rd. Permits cost N$135 per person, and park entrance fees are included. A minimum of three people are needed to hike the trail. Twelve hikers can be on a trail at the same time.
Visit Namib Naukluft
If you’re looking for a unique place to visit in Africa, look no further than Namib-Naukluft National Park. This beautiful park is home to the world’s oldest desert and boasts some of the most incredible scenery in all of Southern Africa.
Whether you’re interested in exploring its salt flats or watching elephants roam through its forests, this park has something for everyone. Start planning your trip today!
Frequently Asked Questions
Why Was the Namib Desert Formed?
The Namib Desert was formed over 500-600 million years ago and is composed of porous dolomite and limestone. The area has been through a lot of changes. These include the uplift of the Naukluft Mountains, which began about 60 million years ago. The desert is huge, measuring over 1,200 miles (2,000 km) long!
What Is the Namib-Naukluft National Park Entrance Fee?
Including conservations fees, current prices are:
International Adults: N$150 Children 8 – 16 yrs: N$100
SADC Adult Nationals: N$100 Children 8 – yrs: N$50
Namibian Adult Nationals: N$50 Children 0 -16 yrs: Free
All Children under 8 yrs: Free
Vehicles with 10 seats or less are charged an additional gate fee of N$50 per 24 hours.