There’s a lot of buzz about Namibia lately. From the world’s oldest sand dunes at Sossusvlei and the mist-shrouded Skeleton Coast, to the epic wildlife viewing at Etosha National Park, Namibia has captured the imagination of travelers. The best part? Established luxury lodges are showing off impressive renovations, while new properties are opening in different corners of the country.
Good to know: Namibia is a country of enormous geographic contrasts and fly-in safaris are a convenient way of exploring vastly diverse terrain. You could easily spend weeks discovering Namibia’s extraordinary landscapes; or consider itinerary add-ons to Victoria Falls, Botswana or Cape Town.
Founded in Botswana in 1983, Wilderness Safaris first arrived in Namibia with the Damaraland Camp in 1996. Today, the renowned ecotourism company has seven camps in the country, including the renovated Serra Cafema in the remote north, and the Damaraland lodge serves as an example of a successful joint venture with the local community from the Torra Conservancy. Eighty percent of the staff comes from the surrounding area, and the community partnership showcases the profound positive impact of conservation-minded ecotourism.
Desert Rhino Camp’s tented main area has a bar, fire pit and dining area, where guests can enjoy a lantern-lit dinner. //Photography: Mike Myers
A remote territory inland from the Skeleton Coast in northwest Namibia, Damaraland is considered one of southern Africa’s last wildlife areas, marked with striking geological formations rising from the desert. The region is also known for the ancient rock art of the San people, known as Bushmen. An advantage of exploring Damaraland is that it’s less frequented than Etosha National Park, while still offering opportunities to observe desert-adapted elephants, giraffes and endangered black rhinos. In addition to scenic game drives (complete with bush breakfasts or mountaintop sundowners), guests at the Damaraland Camp can hike trails with an expert guide pointing out the flora and fauna that thrive in this surreal scenery. Birders will appreciate the variety of endemic species.
The camp was completely rebuilt in 2009, and offers 10 thatched accommodations, including a family-style unit with two adjacent rooms. Despite the remote location, there are abundant creature comforts: Beds draped in mosquito netting, spacious bathrooms with twin sinks, purified water and a coffee / tea-making station. Here’s a representative entry in the guest book: “The staff are so helpful and always have a smile on their faces. This is the best place we have stayed so far in Namibia.”
The main area has a lounge and pool from where you can take in the surrounding landscape. Meals are served family-style, creating a convivial and fun ambiance as you swap stories with fellow safari-goers. A highlight here are the cultural evenings held at the nearby “boma,” reminiscent of the fenced enclosures used by local tribes to protect livestock, lit by lanterns and large, blazing fires. Delicious traditional food (like oryx steak) is prepared over an open-flame grill. It’s here where Wilderness Safaris’ raison d’être is fully manifest: A sustainable approach to tourism by engaging and educating the local community as stakeholders in long-term conservation efforts.
The Olive Exclusive has seven spacious suites, all individually themed around a region of Namibia. Shown here is the Etosha Suite.// Photography: Scott N Ramsay
Pair a stay at Damaraland Camp with an adventure at the nearby Desert Rhino Camp, just a short hop away by bush plane. From here, you can take part in a thrilling rhino-tracking experience. The camp works with Save the Rhino Trust, donating a portion of guest revenue toward the organization, which is responsible for the preservation of the rare desert-adapted black rhino. Indeed this region is home to Africa’s largest free-ranging population of the critically endangered species. Fun Fact: Prince William and Prince Harry of the British royal family are passionately involved with this organization. Accompany conservationists on a day-long excursion as they track rhinos across gorgeous moonscapes — these vast, open spaces of the Palmwag Concession are only accessible to guests of the camp.
Desert Rhino Camp comprises eight canvas tents built on elevated platforms with furnished verandas. The hardwood floors are covered with woven rugs and hardwood furniture, while the en-suite bathroom has copper sinks and large dispensers of luxury bath products.
In the tented main area, there’s a bar, fire pit, dining area, small pool and lounge. On returning from a rhino tracking expedition with your guide, the staff will welcome you warmly with crystal glasses of sherry. The camp’s food is a focal point; dinner might start with butternut and sage soup, followed by barbecue ribs, Dijon chicken or a vegetarian option. Breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea are just as copious. We loved the camp’s soulful soundtrack as staff are constantly singing, particularly at the bonfire-lit “bush dinner.” A short drive away from camp, this special setting is lit by flaming torches lining the pathway. For bookings, travel advisors may e-mail [email protected], or call 011-27-112-575-000.
The Erongo Suite
Wilderness Safaris has a dedicated lounge at the Windhoek international airport, from which the light aircraft operated by Wilderness Air connect you with camps across the country. Note that there are luggage restrictions, but any overweight bags can be stored at the lounge, and laundry is included in your rates.
But if you’ve traveled a long distance to reach Namibia, why not spend a day getting over jetlag in the capital of Windhoek? The Olive Exclusive (not to be confused with the Olive Guest House next door) is a luxurious boutique hotel with an attention to design that wouldn’t be out of place in a European city. In fact, this is the first ultra-luxury, all-suite property in Windhoek. Step into the lobby and you’ll notice vivid photography by Micky Hoyle splashed across the walls, and a coffee table made from a sculpted block of granite. The seven spacious suites, all individually decorated with objets d’art, come with a fireplace, standalone soaking tub and dining area. Large sliding glass doors open onto decks with day beds. Premier suites even have plunge pools overlooking the hillside dotted with olive trees. Nice Touches: Crystal carafes filled with sherry, Nespresso machines, pool bags with fluffy towels, and a stocked minibar. Refuel at the excellent restaurant, where you can marvel at the morning light while indulging in a hot breakfast dish like eggs, avocado, salmon and honey cake. For bookings, reach out to general manager Tobias Hein ([email protected]). Note: The hotel has high occupancy, so they are considering expanding in the future.
While in Windhoek, Wilderness Safaris can arrange a city tour with stops taking in German colonial architecture and national museums. The tour also includes a visit to the local market in the Katutura township, a legacy of apartheid under the South African government. Tasty Tip: A short walk away from The Olive Exclusive is Joe’s Beer House, a popular restaurant stuffed with collected curios, which is an attraction in its own right.
Damaraland Camp’s main area has a lounge and pool, and offers views of the surrounding landscape.// Photography: Dana Allen
Not far from the international airport, the new Omaanda Lodge by Zannier Hotels made a splash when it opened in summer 2018. Its goal? To bring a new level of luxury to Namibia. Omaanda is linked to Angelina Jolie, as the award-winning actress and human rights advocate played a critical role in saving the land from development. Jolie’s friends, popular conservationists Marlice van Vuuren and husband Rudie, manage an important wildlife sanctuary called N/a’an Ku Se. The adjacent property was on the brink of becoming a suburban development, until Jolie’s intervention — as she convinced hotelier Arnaud Zannier to visit Namibia. (During a months-long film shoot, Jolie had stayed at Zannier’s Cambodia resort, Phum Baitang outside Siem Reap.) The resulting lodge by Zannier is both a triumphant hospitality concept and conservation project, as the Zannier Reserve — bordering the N/a’an Ku Se Sanctuary — has preserved the land as a wild space.
Perched on a rise with sweeping views to the distant mountains, Omaanda has a gorgeous infinity pool, spa and restaurant. Careful attention is paid to the F&B experience, which kicks off with a decadent breakfast (charcuterie plate, fresh breads, sliced fruit, hot dishes to order), continues with a mezzes-style lunch (fresh salads galore), and concludes with a three-course gourmet dinner.
Who says you need to rough it just because you’re enjoying a Namibian adventure? Relax in luxury and enjoy the scenery — especially from the spa. Treatments start with a salt-scrub foot ritual, and showcase locally made oils like Marula and Ximenia. The talented spa therapist, Gideon, trained in Bali.
Omaanda Lodge has 10 air-conditioned huts, built in traditional Namibian style, with rounded corners and hand-finished thatched roof.
The lodge’s 10 air-conditioned accommodations are housed in thatched huts with enormous walk-in closets, bathrooms stocked with plush robes, and a soaking tub in front of the window. The thoughtful design is manifest in the tiniest details — all the way down to the covetable ceramic espresso cups next to the Nespresso machine. Booking Tips: Two of the units (No. 3 and No. 7) are family-style with two bedrooms and bathrooms. No. 4 has the best views.
General manager Steven Jacob ([email protected]) lives and breathes Omaanda, graciously attending to guests’ needs. Jacob will also oversee the opening of Zannier’s second Namibian property, a 10-tent desert lodge called Sonop, which is slated to open in spring 2019 in the Karas region. In addition to game drives, Omaanda creates exclusive experiences for guests, like cultural visits with the San people and a behind-the-scenes tour with Marlice van Vuuren to learn about the rehabilitation of orphaned animals at the hospital funded by the Jolie-Pitt Foundation.
The capital city of Windhoek is easier for Americans to access with new flight routes. In addition to South African Airways via Johannesburg (South Africa’s largest airport and the busiest in Africa), there are new routes with Qatar Airways, KLM and Ethiopian Airlines. Traveling from Europe? Because Namibia was a former German colony, there are direct flights on Lufthansa / Condor from Frankfurt. British Airways flies to Windhoek via Johannesburg.