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DARRELL GULIN / GETTY Travel Namibia

Namibia is a land of superlative scenery and tremendous variety, from sinuous ridges atop the world’s highest dunes to windswept beaches where the icy Atlantic crashes into the seemingly endless Namib Desert. Lush papyrus swamps, craggy mountain ranges, lichen plains and rolling ranchland complete the picture: the scale and drama of the wilderness alone is enchanting. Visitors can witness huge concentrations of big game in Etosha, follow in the footsteps of dinosaurs (literally), walk around a petrified forest, sip champagne at sunrise in a soaring hot-air balloon, track endangered black rhino in Damaraland, giggle at meerkat family antics in the Kalahari, be enlightened by the bushmen’s environmental knowledge and gaze at glittering starlit skies. Most of the country’s scenic highlights and cultural attractions are easily accessed on good roads in a 2WD hire car; this freedom to travel independently is a real pleasure. Stopping to stay at homely guest farms or exclusive lodges you will benefit from well-informed local guides and genuine hospitality, while camping allows for complete escapism. Why visit Highlights Travel Namibia Namibia? Few have returned from a trip to Namibia with anything other than supreme praise. Its serene deserts and wild, rugged landscapes have inspired many an intrepid traveller, but, for all its accessibility, even the most popular of its tourist hotspots rarely feel crowded – for now. Chris McIntyre highlights its most compelling attractions. Skeleton Coast Treacherous swirling fogs and strong Atlantic currents wrecked the many ships that earned this coastline its inauspicious name. It’s a remote wilderness where pounding, icy seas meet one of the world’s oldest deserts, the Namib, as it stretches into an endlessly forbidding, stark interior. Enter from the south, through the park gates adorned with a large skull and crossbones, to journey into a harsh but captivating and fragile landscape: lichen-encrusted gravel fields, dune belts, rugged canyons, natural clay castles, and desolate sandy beaches, home to Cape fur seals, black-backed jackals, the rare, endemic Heaviside dolphin and the unusual coastal lion. Swakopmund Sandwiched between waves and dunes, Swakopmund is a quaint Germanic town and Namibia’s original holiday resort. Its many delightful and relaxed guesthouses and restaurants make it a pleasant stop. It’s also an adventure sports capital, with surfing, skydiving, sand boarding, dune biking and dune thunderball attracting a young crowd. Walvis Bay Twenty miles south of Swakopmund, at the end of the Trans-Kalahari Highway, Walvis Bay’s lagoon is a magnet for birdwatchers, with large flocks of pink flamingos, fishing parties of Cape pelicans and countless migrant water birds. Gentle kayaking allows for close up encounters with playful seals. In season, sightings of humpback, southern right, minke and killer whales are possible. Namib-Naukluft National Park Covering 50,000km2, the Namib-Naukluft is one of Africa’s largest conservation areas. The breathtaking landscapes are every photographer and hiker’s dream: towering apricot dunes and acacia-dotted pans at Sossusvlei; Sesriem’s smooth sandstone canyons, and the rocky ranges, tumbling waterfalls and lush ravines of the Naukluft Mountains. Hike the knife-edge at the top of a dune, take to the skies for a blissful pre-dawn balloon trip, spot gemsbok in river oases, discover ancient welwitschia plants and marvel at simply stunning scenery. Bordering the park, the great guides in the large, private Namib Rand Nature Reserve bring to life a spectacular area of rolling red dunes and expansive gravel plains. Lüderitz Lüderitz is steeped in history: the discovery of Stone Age tools tells of early Khoisan presence; nearby, in 1487, Bartolomeu Diaz became the first European to set foot in southern Africa; German traders followed, and in 1908 the diamond rush took hold. Today Lüderitz is a sleepy harbour town with well-preserved German architecture surrounded by desolate beaches and shifting dunes. Visitors can relax, enjoy inexpensive seafood, and visit the jackass penguin colony on Halifax Island. n Chris McIntyre is the author of Namibia: the Bradt Travel Guide and MD of Expert Africa It’s behind you. Wildlife spotting in Etosha PAUL SPRINGETT / ALAMY Peering over the edge of Fish River Canyon CHRIS MARAIS