By Namibia specialist Laura
Namibia is a singular safari destination, with landscapes and wildlife unlike anywhere else in Africa — towering red-sand dunes, cartwheeling spiders, and lion and elephant adapted to the arid desert environment. A visit here offers a chance to have a more exclusive sort of safari — not only are there fewer crowds, you’ll also be able to choose from a wealth of luxury camps, indulgent lodges, and exceptional experiences. Here, I’ve selected the ones that I like best, from an opulent hotel on the Skeleton Coast to tracking rare leopard in the highlands.
Best luxury experiences in Namibia
Much of Namibia’s attraction is its scenery, but the country’s also home to some of Africa’s most interesting wildlife. I’ve chosen three exceptional experiences that will enrich your visit here with a new perspective.
Hot-air balloon ride over the Namib desert
I arrived before dawn to meet my fellow fliers and our pilot, Lenny, a tall man with the rugged good looks and well-worn khakis of a Golden Age Hollywood star. With a roar of the burner, we lifted off gently and soon I was high above the vast sea of sand, the motion of the balloon gentle and drifting. The sunrise spilled — warm, golden — across the dunes. The stretching shadows and changing light threw the peaks and valleys of the desert into high relief and I drank it all in.
After about an hour, we set down in the desert for an enormous breakfast and I toasted the new day with a glass of Champagne. After we ate and loaded back up into the chase vehicles, the staff carefully brushed away all traces of our footprints, leaving the desert as pristine as it had been from the air.
Leopard tracking with AfriCat
Okonjima Luxury Bush Camp is technically, well, a camp. However, I include it here as an experience because a stay here gives you the rare chance to get involved in the hands-on science that’s helping to conserve Namibia’s wildlife.
This is the home of AfriCat, a foundation that’s working hard to preserve the large carnivores of Africa, including leopard. You can join one of the researchers in tracking leopard on the reserve — follow the signal given by the big cats’ radio collars and help to collect data that scientists need in order to rescue, rehabilitate, and (if necessary) relocate these elusive creatures.
If you’re lucky — extraordinarily so — you might also get the chance to take a guided walk with one of the researchers to see a vanishingly rare pangolin. These comically awkward creatures are the most poached and trafficked animal in the world, and even the chance to see one is something most humans will never get. (Sadly, I’ve never been there at the right time.)
Take a scenic flight from Swakopmund
A balloon flight is one of the best ways to the see the desert, true, but a balloon goes where the wind takes it and can only cover a small distance. A scenic flight in a light aircraft, however, can offer the same sky-high perspective for a much greater swathe of the country.
Sandwiched between the Namib Desert and the cool blue Atlantic, Swakopmund is a great base from which to explore the coastal areas from the air, as well as being a destination in its own right. (The city’s German heritage gives it a distinctively Baltic accent and you can see great flocks of bright-pink flamingoes and seals at nearby Walvis Bay.)
The flight will let you take in the whole area, from the wind-tossed waves of the blue ocean to the rusty-red hills of the desert and even 240,000 seals at Cape Cross.
Best luxury camps in Namibia
I think Namibian safari camps are among the best in all of Africa, possibly because the immense landscapes of Namibia are gloriously empty. There are far fewer residents and visitors than you’ll find in more populous and popular countries, too. As a result, each lodge and camp is carefully and individually created by people who care deeply, both about the land and about the quality of your visit.
Onguma Camp Kala
Made of mudbrick, wood, and stone, Onguma Camp Kala is one of the most exclusive options in the whole country, with just four private chalet suites. Linked by elevated wooden walkways, the suites are spacious and airy, with decks where you can enjoy your own wood-fired hot tub, for cool nights, and a plunge pool, for hot, sunny days. You can also opt to sleep in the bush under the endless stars on the Dreamcruiser, a converted truck with a bed on top and bathroom below.
Game drives into the sprawling private Onguma Nature Preserve are limited to just six guests, giving it an intimate feel. The nearby waterhole is very popular and photographers might also want to book time at the Onkolo Hide, a concealed space at water level where you can relax and enjoy the parade of wildlife that comes to drink.
Deep in the heart of the deep-ochre NamibRand Nature Reserve, Kwessi Dunes is one of the best places to experience the yawning majesty of the Namibian desert. Surrounded by vast stretches of brick-red and orange sand, the quality of the light is rich, almost syrupy, and in the evenings you feel as if your skin has a burnished shine.
Each of the dozen thatched-roof villas has vintage four-poster beds, canvas walls, air conditioning, and a private shaded porch for watching the animals that flock to the waterhole. However, I think that the most exciting feature is the attached star-gazer room. This is the only Dark Sky Reserve on the continent, and the nightly show of stars is a dazzling display that you can enjoy in the privacy of your own tent.
This is a land of enigmatic fairy rings in the sharp-edged grass, towering dunes, starkly skeletal trees, and mountains that shift from mauve to scarlet to lavender in the changing light of sunset, making the drives here more about scenery than wildlife. However, you’ll likely see animals like gemsbock, a local gazelle with a white belly that reflects the heat away from their heads, or bat-eared foxes, with their comically oversized ears. You can also opt for nature walks to see the smaller creatures in this huge ecosystem, or go quad-biking up and down the tall dunes.
Anderssons at Ongava
Tucked into the private Ongava Game Reserve just south of the larger Etosha National Park, Anderssons at Ongava is the most indulgent option for a stay in the bush. There’s a waterhole in the heart of the camp and last time I visited, an entire elephant herd trooped in just as I arrived — the massive animals wallowed in the mud, playfully sprayed water on each other, and generally cavorted as if I wasn’t there at all.
There are just eight airy suites, each with all the frills, including air conditioning, indoor and outdoor showers, and a sleek, contemporary decor. There’s also a family suite, with interconnecting rooms, if you’re visiting with younger safari-goers.
You can take advantage of daily game drives and walking safaris, dedicated birdwatching tours, and the photographer’s hide near the waterhole, which has a live stream that plays in your tent. For me, however, the crowning jewel of this camp is the chance to track the hundreds of black rhino that are thriving here — Namibia boasts the largest population in the world.
Zannier Hotels Sonop
Recalling the golden age of expedition travel, the Sonop is a series of opulent canvas tents built atop granite boulders amid a vast private desert reserve. Dawn breaks beautifully in the Namib Desert, painting the vault of the sky with an ever-changing palette of pink, red, orange, and gold, and the view from your tent’s platform porch is one of the best in the country.
The ten tents’ interiors reflect the camp’s vintage 1920s inspiration, decorated with period antiques (though wholly modern mattresses and bathing facilities). I love the unabashed indulgence of the camp, from the spa to the infinity pool by the waterhole to the silver-service meals, complete with gleaming candelabras, in the spacious mess tent.
There’s a wealth of activities, too. You can go on game drives, of course, but also 4x4 tours of the surrounding desert or the nearby Sossusvlei dunes. You can also take guided tours by foot, bicycle, or on horseback — the camp has its own well-appointed stables. In the evenings, opt for stargazing, an open-air cinema, or the Cocktail & Cigar Lounge, where the billiards, parlour games, and cocktails all capture the bonhomie of a gentleman’s club of yesteryear.
At the western edge of Africa, the rolling red dunes of the desert crash into the cool blue waters of the Atlantic. The area is known as the Skeleton Coast, a haunting name that comes from the many ships and whale bones that you can still find strewn on the sandy beaches.
The architecture of Shipwreck Lodge plays on that local history — the ten guest chalets look as if they’ve been built with the ribs of a galleon that washed ashore centuries ago. A stay here means you’ll wake up to both desert views and the sound of crashing surf, while in the evening you can watch the sun sink into the ocean. The decor seamlessly blends the camp’s concept with comfortable, modern furnishings, and the whole camp is solar powered.
The menu of activities is as expansive as the view. You can explore the desert on a quad bike, take a sunset drive through the dunes, or skid down the dunes’ slopes on a sandboard. Get to know the local waterway with a lunch on the beach or a trip up the Hoarusib River, when you might spot desert-adapted lion, elephant, or hyena.
Read more about trips to Namibia
Northern Namibia self-drive safari to Victoria FallsNamibia, Zambia and BotswanaView this tour
Luxury Namibia flying safariNamibiaView this tour
Skeleton Coast flying safariNamibiaView this tour
Start thinking about your experience. These itineraries are simply suggestions for how you could enjoy some of the same experiences as our specialists. They’re just for inspiration, because your trip will be created around your particular tastes.View All Tours in Namibia