Namibia is known for its wildlife parks where you can spot many different gazelles species and the Big 5. But the country has so much more natural beauty to offer! From 1500-year-old plants and the largest seal colony in Africa to endless sand dunes and a fossil forest. We made a list of 10 unique natural phenomena in Namibia that you should definitely not miss on your trip!
#1 Welwitschia Mirabilis
The most famous plant in Namibia is the Welwitschia Mirabilis, a plant that can survive in the desert under the most harsh conditions. It takes decades for the plant to grow, while it does not often produce young plants. The seeds of the Welwitschia germinate only under the perfect conditions with a lot of rain, so only once every few years or even decades. But if you are careful enough on the Welwitschia, it can grow over 1,500 years old! You can spot the Welwitschia in the coastal areas, mainly in Damaraland and around Swakopmund. The oldest and largest can be visited during a tour close to Swakopmund which is appropriately called the Welwitschia Drive.
Lichen is a unique combination of an alga and a fungus. They can not survive without each other. The ‘plant’ occurs in all kinds of colours, but the orange one is the most well known. It takes decades for lichen to grow, so damage to it will not quickly recover. That is also the reason that there are not many brightly coloured lichen fields in Namibia left.
You can spot lichen in smaller quantities on stones in coastal areas, as in the photo below. Beautiful lichen fields can still be found near the coastal town of Hentiesbaai, just north of Swakopmund.
#3 Petrified forest
In prehistoric times trees from Central Africa were brought to Namibia by a glacier, where they petrified under the pressure from the glacier and soil. Until they surfaced after several hundreds of years! Because of the weathering of the soil around it, numerous petrified trees in Damaraland – in the north-west of Namibia – surfaced.
Most trees are located along the C39, about 45 kilometers from the town of Khorixas. Everywhere along the road you’ll find signs indicating ‘petrified forest’. Don’t head to the unofficial parks at the farms, but go to the national park. You pay 100 Namibian dollars entree fees per person. That includes a guide, as you can not walk around here by yourself.
Also nice: there are many Welwitschia plants here as well, so with a bit of luck your guide will also tell you all about them!
#4 The sand dunes of the Sossusvlei
Endless sand dunes, mysterious dead acacia trees against an unearthly backdrop and magical sunsets make the Sossusvlei National Park one of the most visited places in Namibia. You can watch a beautiful sunset and sunrise from the enormous sand dunes. Also visit the ‘vleis’ between the dunes. There you have a spectacular sight of a white clay soil, red sand dunes and fossilized acacia trees. Especially the Deadvlei is a must!
Do you want to admire more sand dunes? There are many more around Swakopmund. Here you can also drive a squad or go sandboarding in the dunes!
#5 Organ pipes
The organ pipes are peculiar sharp angled rock formations. They would not look out of place in a museum of modern art. The pressure of an underground volcano that never erupted, pushed up these rocks with such force that this formation arose. Normally erosion creates round shapes in nature, so these walls with unearthly sharp edges. A unique sight!
Access to the organ pipes costs 50 Namibian dollars per person. You can also visit the ‘burnt mountain’ one kilometer further. The mountain has been blackened by the heat of lava. It is supposed to be most spectacular in the morning or late afternoon light, but in the full daylight you will probably not be impressed by the mountain.
#6 Cape Cross
There are many seal colonies in Namibia, but not one of them is as big as Cape Cross. With 100,000 seals this is the largest in whole of Africa. The penetrating smell and the immense noise certainly make an impression. We visited Cape Cross in January and saw hundreds of baby seals crawling along the coast. It is impressive how a wave against the coast could knock away dozens of baby seals, that then had to make another attempt to get on land.
Cape Cross is located about 130 kilometers north of Swakopmund. The entrance costs – as in all national parks – 80 Namibian dollars per person and 10 Namibian dollars for a vehicle. You can park you car close to the colony and then walk over wooden platforms with a fence over, through and between the seals.
#7 Fish River Canyon
One of the greatest sights in southern Namibia is the Fish River Canyon, an impressive snake-like canyon in the Namibian landscape. More than 150 kilometers long and 27 kilometers at its widest, it is one of the largest canyons in the world. It is said that only the American Grand Canyon is bigger.
You can go for a five-day hike in the canyon to fully take in the grandeur of this place. The alternative is to visit one or more of the many viewpoints along the canyon and to marvel at the cliffs and curves. It is unique that the Fish River Canyon is much visited, but not touristy at all. The most famous viewpoint is perhaps a bit crowded in high season, but in other places you will be able to sit on the edge of the canyon undisturbed to absorb the natural beauty in peace.
#8 Quiver trees
Is it a tree? Is it a plant? The quivertree – or kokerboom in Afrikaans – is related to the famous aloe vera. This is clearly visible from the spiked ‘leaves’ that stand out beautifully against a setting sun or bright blue sky. The tree can survive in the dry conditions of the Namibian desert and is therefore a typical natural phenomenon of this area. Fun fact: the ‘Afrikaanse’ name kokerboom comes from the use of the hollow branches for arrows by the Bushmen.
You can see the quivertree close to Keetmanshoop. Perhaps the highest concentration can be found in the ‘Quivertree Forest’ on a ranch near Keetmanshop, where there are tame cheetahs, lodges and a camping site as well. We camped here for one night and listed this one of the coolest sleeping spots in Namibia!
#9 Brukkaros volcano
The Brukkaros volcano is huge! You can clearly see its circle on every map and from the plane the volcano is hard to miss as well. The volcano is no longer active; the crater was created with one single explosion when lava came into contact with groundwater. This explosion about one kilometer below the surface of the earth, created a huge crater with ridges of about 650 meters high in the middle of the flat landscape.
Brukkaros is in the south of Namibia. It’s a 4,5 hour drive from Windhoek and more than one hour from Keetmanshop. With a solid 4WD you can drive up the volcano where you can camp under the most beautiful starry sky. You can also make a beautiful hike from the campsites to the crater. Do not expect a particularly volcanic sight there. You will not see any lava or get a look at the interior of the earth. During your walk through the crater, make sure you notice the white crystals lying everywhere on the ground. Many rocks also glistening in the sunlight because of the white and dark-colored crystals in it!
So just think: sleeping on a volcano. On a place where observatories have stood, because the stars are so bright. Without runing water or electricity, just you, the old volcano and the stars. Doesn’t that sound amazing?
#10 Giant’s Playground
Close to the Quiver Tree Forest you’ll find another unique natural phenomenon. The Giant’s Playground is a place where all laws of nature seem to have been pushed aside. Huge stone piles are scattered here. As if a giant has been playing with the stones and stacked them onto each other. It is more likely that the stones are shaped like this because the rocks around it have aroded while the stones were preserved. A playing giant does seem like a more logical explanation, when looking at the enourmous play box.