We recently traveled with Natural Selection to Namibia to try its newest offering, an eight-night "Namibia Flying Safari," a first for the company and one of the few flying safaris in the country.

Unlike other African safari destinations where small bush plane transfers between camps is often the norm (think: Botswana, for example), Namibia has mostly operated as a self-driving destination, without much of a notable safari air circuit. This new option from Natural Selection is a welcome change, shaving multiple days from a driving itinerary while providing spectacular views of the endless desert landscapes that make the country a bucket-list destination for many travelers.

For clients who want an adventure trip, enjoy the freedom of flying and enjoy having wide open spaces all to themselves, this itinerary is sure to delight and thrill.

Natural Selection’s "Namibia Flying Safari," as well as all of the lodges in their portfolio, need to be reserved through a booking agent since the company doesn’t take direct bookings. We worked with Audley Travel, which has offices in both London and Boston to book our trip. Audley is a full-service tour operator and provides detailed itineraries and 24-hour trip support.

All meals and activities (unless otherwise noted) are included in the price of the flying safari. Guests of all ages are welcome, too; however, guests with limited mobility may encounter challenges with traversing some camp terrains, as noted below.

Important Note: Natural Selection’s "Namibia Flying Safari" group departures travel from south to north, beginning at Kwessi Dunes, then going to Hoanib Valley, Shipwreck Lodge and adding Etosha Heights as an optional last stop. Our itinerary traveled this route in reverse. For clients who would like to start with Etosha Heights and travel south, as we did, this itinerary is possible with a private charter instead of the group departure, according to Tom Wilkinson, the senior Africa specialist at Audley Travel.

How To Get There

Most Namibia itineraries begin with a pre-departure night in Windhoek, Namibia’s easy to navigate capital city. Audley coordinated our flights to get to Windhoek, routing us from our home airport in New York to Frankfurt. From there, a nonstop, overnight flight took us to Windhoek with EuroWings, a subsidiary of Lufthansa.

We tried an alternative route on the way home, flying two hours to Johannesburg from Windhoek, and then flying nonstop on United to New York, a 16-hour flight. For clients who are spending time in South Africa before or after a Namibian safari, this latter option is a good choice.

Arriving and departing international flights land in and depart from Hosea Kutako International Airport (WDH), about a 30-minute drive from the low-rise, low-key city. A Natural Selection’s driver picked us up in a safari vehicle and brought us to our first stop, The Weinberg, a luxury, boutique hotel with several high-end dining options, including Cape Town Fish Market, our recommendation for fresh seafood and sushi. Most of the 41 spacious and bright rooms at the Weinberg have balconies overlooking a central fountain-filled courtyard.

Early the next morning our Natural Selection driver returned to bring us to Eros Airport, where small and private planes arrive and depart, just a 10-minute ride from the hotel.

Here we met our pilot, Mikhail (Mikkie) Mannetti of Desert Air, who would accompany us on our eight-night journey around Namibia on a 12-passenger Cessna Caravan. Natural Selection uses Desert Air for all of their flying safaris. There are group departures as part of the flying safari itinerary, or you can book a private charter for your clients.

You can request Mikkie, whom we highly recommend for both his deep knowledge of Namibia and his easy handling of the aircraft in all conditions, through Natural Selection when making your bookings.

For these safari flights, all boarding and deplaning takes place directly on the runway.

Etosha Heights
Morning and afternoon drives in search of wildlife are the highlight of a stay at Etosha Heights. (Natural Selection)

First Stop: Safarihoek, Etosha Heights

It’s about a 90-minute flight from Eros to the first stop on our flying itinerary, Etosha Heights.

Our route floated over an increasingly verdant savannah after taking off, before landing at Etosha Heights private game reserve, neighboring Etosha National Park.

The reserve is a conservation success story. Used as a hunting farm until 2017, it’s now fully regenerated and focused on eco-tourism, with abundant wildlife roaming nearly 150,000 acres of protected savannah with only Natural Selection having rights to explore the property.

Safarihoek Lodge comprises 11 extremely comfortable, though not luxurious, free-standing rooms with air conditioning, small decks and indoor/outdoor showers all with views over the savannah and waterhole. Eight newer rooms that are all the same size are located to the right of the main lodge; two have bathtubs and, thus, slightly larger bathrooms, and are the premier rooms to request. Three rooms that were built as part of the original lodge are located to the left of the main building. One of these is a family option with two bedrooms, a living room and two bathrooms (one with bathtub); it is a good option for parents with small children.

Safarihoek Lodge
The Pool at Safarihoek Lodge is situated in the main lodge with views over the savannah and waterhole. (Natural Selection)

The main lodge is where excellently prepared meals are served (with careful attention to dietary restrictions) and the bar and pool are located; all of them offer elevated views over the savannah and waterhole.

Morning and afternoon drives to look for wildlife are the highlight of a stay here. Thanks to our specialist safari guide Michael (Mike) Haindongo, our group encountered an endangered white rhino walking past our safari car a few minutes after we arrived; a pride of a dozen lions crossing the porous border with the national park; herds of multi-generational elephants; technicolor bird life; and large groups of zebra, giraffe, and antelope.

Insider Secret: Mike is available for private guiding, and can be requested to accompany groups for the entirety of their flying safari at an additional fee. His deep knowledge of Namibia, his home, makes him an especially good choice for clients. He’s even guided Sir David Attenborough.

In addition to being able to search for game on traditional early morning and evening drives, there’s a two-story hide next to a man-made waterhole where we watched zebras, eland and giraffes while being treated to a surprise lunch inside the spacious hidden viewing area.

Etosha Heights - White Rhino
An endangered white rhino seen at Etosha Heights (Natural Selection)

Second Stop: Shipwreck Lodge, Skeleton Coast

Next, it’s wings up at Etosha, and we’re off on our privately chartered Desert Air to one of the most notable destinations in Namibia: Shipwreck Lodge on the Skeleton Coast.

During the 45-minute flight, the scenery shifts from savannah to jagged canyons to coastal desert, with custard scoops of sand dunes rolling to the sea until we land near the rugged, misty coast at Mowe Bay.

“You will want to take pictures. You cannot capture it though,” warns our effusive guide Imanuel (Imms) Mbuale who meets us at the sand-covered airstrip. “You really have to see it to understand the vastness,” he adds as he revs our 4x4 along the cascading sands past thousands of sea lions on the 90-minute drive to the lodge.

There’s a wonderful bit of fantasy to this camp that sits on the precipice of one of the most inhospitable coasts in the world, the site of more than a dozen shipwrecks. Each of the 10 suites looks like a tempest-tossed ship upended into the white sand like an ice cream cone set askew on a vanilla sundae.

Inside is a Robinson Crusoe daydream, where every item in the plush rooms seems as though it was plucked from the wreck of a particularly luxurious ship: Double brass sinks and a plush bed and settee offering incomparable views through floor-to-ceiling windows of the stark dunes cascading down to the whitecap crested sea. There are two slightly larger family suites that can hold two adults and two children with a single bed that pulls out from under the settee.

Shipwreck lodge
At Shipwreck Lodge on the Skeleton Coast, every item seems as though it was plucked from the wreck of a luxurious ship. (Natural Selection)

For the most privacy and seclusion, book Suites 1 and 10, the two rooms furthest from the main lodge area. The romantic atmosphere here would be especially good for honeymooners. Note, though, that clients with limited mobility may have trouble navigating the shifting sand you need to cross to get to the entrance to the rooms.

Even for visitors who may not identify as adventure travelers, it’s impossible to resist the allure of quad bikes to ride the unmarked dunes and valleys. From here there’s no view of the water, just endless sand, where the wind sweeps away tracks and footprints almost as soon as they are formed. It’s an experience akin to feeling like the first person to set foot on a new planet, every moment a thrill. Our guide Imms specially tailored “fast” and “slow” itineraries so experienced drivers and newbies alike could enjoy the activity.

Even though all ages are welcome at the camp, quad bikes are limited to those ages 16 and up.

Other activities include beach walks and sea dune hikes. Walking through the beach dunes to the shore one afternoon, we were greeted with a waterside barbecue for lunch, another time our guided walks ended with drinks on the sand watching the sunset.

Back in the lodge, multi-course lunches and dinners feature everything from South African kingklip fish to thick Namibian beef filet elegantly presented in a cozy dining room.

Third Stop: Hoanib Valley Camp

Just when we thought it was impossible to be in a more remote location, we headed to Hoanib Valley, where a secluded six-tent camp tucked into towering rock outcrops. It felt like visiting prehistoric Pangea.

Transfers between Hoanib and Shipwreck are a little different than the rest of the itinerary. Although this is a flying safari, Natural Selection has exclusive rights to drive one of the dramatic dry riverbeds between Shipwreck and Hoanib Valley camps to view “clay castles,” about a six-hour expedition where rangers drive clients in safari vehicles; this option is highly recommended by both Audley and Natural Selection.

When we visited in early April, however, the river bed wasn’t dry enough for this drive. Some members of the group took a longer, nearly eight-hour drive, overland. We, however, chose a flying option. This still involved the 90-minute drive from Shipwreck Camp to the Mowe Bay airstrip. A quick 20-minute flight followed that offered gorgeous views of the change from coastal white sand to deeper-hued canyons and rock walls. After landing on a dirt airstrip, Hoanib camp was then a rocky, although stunning, two-hour drive from the airstrip to the camp.

Bumping along past metamorphic rock formations that seem to be pushing up from the earth’s core, it’s hard to imagine there’s a camp here. But then a slot in a rock canyon is revealed and the entrance to Hoanib Valley comes into view, and with it, the joyous singing welcome of the camp’s gregarious and wonderful staff.

The staff here is notable for their extraordinary warmth. Almost the entire crew, from the rangers to the servers, come from the same village near Sesfontein. They sing together in a staff choir the songs they learned as children, serenading guests and inviting them to join in. They remember every name, every food and drink preference, and every friendly conversation detail.

Hoanib Valley
The Hoanib Valley Camp has an outdoor "boma" fire pit. (Natural Selection)

The convivial atmosphere and small size make the camp ideal for family or friend groups, and is a good option for a full buy-out.

The six spacious tents with king beds, large bathrooms, and lovely lounge decks form a semicircle around the central lodge area and the outdoor boma fire pit. All have uninterrupted views across the dry river bed and Kaokoveld Desert and feel very luxurious, although there is no air conditioning, just standing fans. Room 6 is the largest “family” tent suite with a spacious sitting area and a couch that unfolds into a bed. A refreshing pool is located on an elevated outcrop with fantastic views. (This camp is not suitable for those with mobility issues.)

Daytime activities include tracking desert-adapted lions, rhino and elephants. There are also authentic cultural interactions with Herrero and Himba tribes in the area. And we thoroughly enjoyed memorable “surprise” meals in stunning natural settings, including a sunrise breakfast on a monumental cliff.

An Extraordinary Flight

It’s a two-hour drive back to the airstrip from Hoanib and then back up into the sky on a 90-minute flight to the beachside city of Swakopmund. After an outdoor packed lunch and a refueling stop, we take to the air once again for what is a highlight of this itinerary. Although this is a flying itinerary and the Namibian desert scenery is stunning throughout, the flight down the coast to our next lodge, Kwessi Dunes, is a highlight of a trip filled with special moments and incredible scenery.

Our 90-minute journey took off along the coast and was filled with eye-popping sights unfurling below our plane, including multihued iridescent salt pans, flocks of neon flamingos, shipwreck skeletons, sea lion colonies, shifting sand dunes and shimmering waves.

Heading inland after our coastal “flip” we passed over the legendary red sand dunes of Sossusvlei and then the mysterious crop circles that dot the desert here that create the path towards our final stop.

Kwessi Dunes Camp
Guests staying at the Kwessi Dunes Camp can watch long-horned oryx drinking at the waterhole right in front of the pool. (Natural Selection)

Fourth Stop: Kwessi Dunes Camp

Whether an itinerary starts or ends at this luxury camp in the coppery red NamibRand desert, it’s bound to be a memorable stay for clients. There are 12 spacious tents with air conditioning, vintage-style beds and roll-top desks, and indoor and outdoor showers. All the tents boast one unique feature we’ve never seen before: Outdoor beds in enclosed, open-air, sleeping areas, allowing guests to spend a night gazing up at the glowing stars in one of the only Dark Sky reserves on the African continent.

(When booking for clients, note that Room 7 offers the best access to the pool, spa and water hole; Rooms 8 and 9 are “family” suites with extra living space and couches that open into beds; and rooms with the lowest and highest numbers offer the most privacy, but are furthest from the main lodge.)

Kwessi Dunes - Private pool dinner
Star-gazing is one of the highlights at the Kwessi Dunes Camp. (Natural Selection)

The camp has extensive activities on offer beyond star gazing. Included in a stay is the opportunity to explore the craggy mountains and desert with quad biking along dune trails in the afternoon (ages 16 and up). Clients can also bump along on guided drives to look for desert adapted life, or stay in camp to watch long-horned oryx drinking at the waterhole right in front the pool while taking a dip or from the adjacent spa. (The spa offers sessions of African massage and facials and nail services at an additional, although reasonable, cost). For an additional fee, clients can also float on a hot air balloon ride with Namib Sky Balloon Safaris to experience the sunrise reflected on the red sand below and enjoy a champagne breakfast after landing. This additional view from the sky of Namibia’s red desert scenery was a true highlight of our stay when we experienced it.

Finally, we returned to Windhoek, just a 45-minute flight to Eros, where we bid goodbye to our trusty Cessna and pilot Mikkie and the airborne wonders of the Natural Selection Flying Safari.

Kwessi Dunes
The Kwessi Dunes Camp has 12 spacious tents with vintage-style beds and roll-top desks, and indoor and outdoor showers. (Natural Selection)


Natural Selection Flying Safari set schedule: Audley Travel offers an eight-night Natural Selection set schedule flying safari from $12,500 per person (based on two people traveling). The price includes transfers, light aircraft flights, accommodation on a fully inclusive basis and safari activities. Advisors can contact Audley at 855-435-1768.

Natural Selection Flying Safari private charter flights: Audley Travel offers an eight-night Natural Selection flying safari with private charter flights from $20,500 per person (based on two people traveling). The price includes transfers, private charter flights, accommodation on a fully inclusive basis and safari activities.

Private guiding can be added from $2,000 per day.

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