Our nine-day honeymoon exploring Namibia’s otherworldly landscapes and desert-adapted wildlife.
9 Day Namibia Honeymoon
Choose Namibia for:
- Seeing other-worldly landscapes unlike anywhere else on earth
- Spending time in the great outdoors and wildlife rather than cities
- A longer trip (have at least 8 days)
- An off-the-beaten path adventure in a safe country
- A trip that is either 5-star luxury or nomadic camping/road-trip
Images of vast desert captured my imagination several years ago when a friend posted photos of her Namibian roadtrip. Namibia is vast and sparsely populated. It’s 1.5x the size of France. Namibia is the 2nd least populated country in the world – only after Mongolia. Namibia stayed on the wait list. Given the sheer size and lack of roads, we knew we would need a good chunk of time if we ever wanted to visit this off-the-beaten path Southern African destination. So, after a two ‘grueling weeks’ in South Africa for our wedding (aka an amazing week in Cape Town, a very fun Kruger Safari with family and friends, and a beautiful wedding in Franschhoek), we chose Namibia for the start of our Honeymoon.
Namibia’s Windhoek International Airport is a quick 1.5 hour flight from both Cape Town and Johannesburg. The country’s history is fascinating – a mix of ethnolinguistic groups (Koi, San, Nama, Himba, Herero, German, British, etc.) Namibia regained it’s independence, from the South African Apartheid regime, in 1991. Namibia’s official language is English, but Afrikaans is widely spoken. Namibia boasts incredible natural landscapes and very sophisticated tourism – both for adventuresome luxury travelers and for backpackers. We chose the former and are excited to share the details of this Southern African gem.
- Serra Cafema (which became Etosha National Park) – 2 nights
- Hoanib Skeleton Coast – 3 nights
- Sossusvlei Desert Lodge – 3 nights
Originally, we planned to start our trip at Wilderness Safaris’ remote Serra Cafema camp, set on the Angola border on the Kunene River. Heavy rains two weeks prior to our arrival caused massive regional flooding and closed Serra Cafema. We made a game-time decision to start our trip in Etosha National Park.
Etosha National Park
As we mentioned, the roads in Namibia, where existent, aren’t great. We’ll share logistical info at the end of the post. To get to Etosha from Windhoek International Airport, we boarded a verysmallpropeller plane which; for one of us (read my new husband), was a trip-defining experience in and of itself.
Etosha National Park is oft-called the crown jewel of Namibia’s wildlife viewing. Etosha is reputed to teem with wildlife leading to amazing safari sightings against the backdrop of its famed clay-and-salt pans. Despite our recent safari in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, we were pretty excited about time in Etosha and this extra, unplanned safari. We stayed at the beautiful Ongava Private Game Reserve – a giant, luxury wildlife reserve attached to Etosha. Ongava has lodges onsite. We stayed at Little Ongava, which has only three luxurious suites with private plunge pools and sweeping views of the reserve. Little Ongava was picturesque. A roomy lodge with first rate amenities and an all inclusive package including two game drives per day.
The Ongava guides are very knowledgeable and the food in the lodge was quite good. Ongava is home to many rhinos (and elephants and lions!). Our first game drive in the private game reserve did not disappoint – granting us multiple animal sightings. Since Ongava is a private game reserve, we could stay out past sunset for nocturnal viewings, drive off-piste in search of animals – and even get out of the jeep and track rhino by foot!
Disappointment in Etosha
The plan for our second morning was to drive into the national park itself, Etosha. Unfortunately for us, after 7 years of drought, Etosha had received nearly unprecedented amounts of rain and the “greatest wildlife sanctuary in Namibia,” appeared void of wildlife. Instead of the geological salt pan surrounded by barren land we expected, we found ourselves in lush green plains. Animals that usually gathered by watering holes had no need to search for hydration and were nowhere to be found, hidden in the 20,000 sq. km park now covered in grasses. This led to a very disappointing drive in Etosha with virtually no animal sightings but nearly 4hours of bumpy road.
Hoanib Skeleton Coast
Rising out of the desert like a mirage, Hoanib Skeleton Coast camp is a sight for sore eyes. The eco-friendly suites spare no luxury while still respecting the desert-location and remaining conscientious of the natural resources and environment. The main guest area boasts a plunge pool, bar, lounge area, and dining room. The food was spectacular and the service was professional and attentive. With only 12 suites, HSC is an intimate experience in the middle of the wilderness. The only other accmmodation on the skeleton coast is the more budget-friendly ShipWreck Lodge which is a few hours away, on the beach.
How HSC manages to have decently strong wifi in the middle of the desert remains a mystery. HSC is on an all-inclusive basis, which also pertains to the two daily game drives. Just as in Etosha, the desert is unbearably hot midday, making for terrible game viewing and human movement in general. Sheltering us from the heat, the daily game drives were just after sunrise and just before sunset. We took daily excursions to the Hoanib River, a dry, ephemeral riverbed; the river only runs a few days a year during flash floods. After flash-floods,the ground absorbs the water. The result is a dry riverbed with vegetation and trees springing up from the underground life-source – in the midst of the harsh desert.
What is most interesting about the desert at the Skeleton Coast is the rare desert-adapted wildlife. Wilderness Safaris is one of the premier conservation groups in Southern Africa and the host and biggest funder of Dr. Flip Stander and the Desert Lion Project. (If you’re as lion obsessed as I am, watch this amazingNat Geo documentary Vanishing Kings: Desert-Lions of the Namib. We loved visiting HSC’s research center and, needless to say, our main objective was to see the desert-adapted lions – which was a real highlight of our Namibia trip.
Our last day, we took a day trip to the coast itself. The drive, through the sand dunes, is not for the faint of stomach. The drive gave us incredible dune views – and we saw real-life desert oases. We reached the skeleton coast, the hostile stretch along the Atlantic, littered with whale bones and shipwrecks. Native Namibian tribes called this area “The Land God Made in Anger.” Portuguese sailors once referred to as “The Gates of Hell.” Colonies of thousands of seals stretch for miles…a feast for the local hyena and the desert-adapted lions that come by. The smell of the seals is terrible. After sitting in the car for so many hours, we were delighted to hop in a plane for the 15 minute scenic flight back to camp. Viewing the same landscape by air was spectacular.
Sossusvlei Desert Lodge
Saving the best for last, we flew to the magnificent &Beyond property: Sossusvlei Desert Lodge. Unlike the barren Skeleton Coast, Sossusvlei is the most popular in Namibia. There are a number of places to stay near the dunes. Sossusvlei Desert Lodge was, perhaps, one of the most luxurious places we’ve ever stayed. Set on its own private nature reserve, it’s the only private hotel with access to its own star dunes. The individual villas, which were entirely renovated in 2019, boast private plunge pools with epic views. All-inclusive, the food and cocktails were excellent (as were the wine selections) – and we loved the activities.
Our favorite Sossusvlei Activities:
- Climbing the Big Daddy sand dune in Sossusvlei (1. not for the faint of heart 2. lots of water and sunscreen 3. ask for the “short cut”)
- Walking through the petrified forest of Deadvlei below Big Daddy
- Gazing at the stars professional astronomer (it borders Africa’s only International Dark Sky Reserve)
- ATV’ing across the sand dunes
- Marveling at the sunrise over the desert from a hot air balloon.
We could’ve easily spent another day or two and not run out of activities. The luxury of the property was on another level – it was certainly the absolutely highlight of our Namibia trip!
Budget-Friendly Tip: for beautiful inexpensive accommodations, check out the Sesriem Dead Valley Lodge. Bonus, the lodge is located within the gates of Sesriem. This means you get access to Sossusvlei and Deadvlei one hour before the general population – amazing for hiking before it gets too hot. Also great for spectacular photos (see above!). You must check-in before the Sesriem gates close at 6pm. It doesn’t have the range of activities that the all-inclusive lodges have, but great option for two nights.
We were sad to end our Namibia trip, but looking forward to a few days of rest & relaxation on the beaches of Mauritius after such an active start to our honeymoon. For adventurers and nature lovers, we couldn’t recommend Namibia more highly!
What to know
- Logistics: getting around Namibia is difficult. Lack of roads + giant swaths of land = two options. Your first option is private flights – we took both Wilderness Air and Scenic Air – most of the high-end lodges have their own air fields on-site (all of the above recommended ones do.). This will certainly raise the cost of your trip. Often, it will save you hours of time, but if the weather is bad or there’s an issue with the plane – you could be waiting/sitting around for a while. Your other option is to do it as a road trip. You must rent a 4WD off-road vehicle – as very few of the roads are paved…some are mostly sand tracks. Be very prepared with water + make sure your phone works in Namibia – there will be hours and hours where you won’t pass any people or towns – and you don’t want to get stuck! Driving will take you hours between destinations, but friends who have had 2+ weeks have loved their road trips.
- Lodging: Most of what we saw was either geared towards backpackers/campers (very budget friendly) or 5-star luxury. Because the locations are so remote – and most of what you want to see is in the wilderness, there aren’t “airbnb” or other mid-range options outside of the cities.
- Choose north or south: even with a week and a half, it was barely enough time to scratch the surface – and there were many places we wanted to explore, but didn’t have enough time. Things we would’ve loved to see/do: the ghost town of Kolmanskop, Fish River Canyon (largest Canyon in Africa), the ancient rock engravings at Twyfelfontein, AfricaCat Foundation, etc. If you have a few extra days and want to add in food, culture, and city, tack on some time in Cape Town!
- Brides Magazine “8 Reasons to Honeymoon in Namibia“
- Jetsetter’s “7 Best Places to Visit in Namibia“
- Africa Twist Travel, which took care of our bookings (Camilla is amazing!)