2017: new year, new life, new challenges, new destinations. I certainly started 2017 with a great trip to Asia and with a new job, so when I had to choose the destination for my next trip I thought why not new continent as well? I had been travelling throughout Asia in the last couple of years, now it is time to start exploring a continent that is completely new to me…and who knows me well knows that if I say it I do it.
In the past, for a reason or another, I have always avoided the African continent, but now it was time to start the exploration of this beautiful and mysterious continent, with its uncontaminated nature and its generous people.
As my first trip to Africa I decided to avoid the cultural shock by choosing some countries that are famous for having developed infrastructure, easy to reach and to get around, with a stable and safe situation. After having checked out several travel websites, I finally opted for South Africa and Namibia. I spent 2 great weeks over there, and I must say it has been one of the best experiences ever!
For flight connections, time, and budget reasons, I decided to spend some days in Kruger National Park, and afterwards to fly to Namibia to spend around 10 days there. The itinerary has been various and full of great surprises, although I regretted not having explored the beautiful coasts of South Africa. If you have more time available, I would suggest you – after the Kruger National Park- to rent a car, and drive from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town, and enjoy the beautiful scenery of the South African coast. Hopefully one day I will be able to do it as well, for the time being I can just suggest it and go through the itinerary I did. Before, some suggestions before your departure:
- For European citizens, there is no visa needed for SA and Namibia. In SA there will be a visa on arrival, whereas for Namibia your passport is enough.
- As you know, those countries have difference currencies (ZAR and NAD), although in Namibia payments can be done with the ZAR as well. ATMs are available everywhere, therefore there is no need to bring a lot of cash with you.
- Hygienic conditions are pretty good. Common places are very clean (in the camping sites as well), water is drinkable, and there is no big danger of big disease. If you stay in the cities, there is no problem at all, whereas in Kruger and in North Namibia you might need to take anti-malaria pills (honestly I took them but in May the malaria mosquitoes and the mosquitoes in general were all gone).
- Watch out the temperatures before traveling, especially from May to October. Although at noon it can be very hot (25-30 degrees), in the night the temperatures drop down very fast to 5 degrees. Make sure you have the right clothes for all temperatures.
- Except for Johannesburg, I found the other places very safe. In the parks or in Windhoek, you can easily walk during the day without threat. I think the recommendation is the same for everywhere: do not wear anything “sparkling”! If you don’t show very precious belongings, then you are fine. During the night, the situation might be different. In general nothing happens, but everybody suggests tourists to be back to the hotel before the sunset, and to take taxis to go out during the night. I honestly do not know if this is required just for precautions or because it is really dangerous.
- Never take taxis in the street, most of the times they are scams or they will rob you. Whenever you need a taxi, ask your hotel to book one for you (also at your arrival at the airport), they have agreement with taxi companies who can give you a reasonable price.
- Don’t be afraid to talk to locals, leave your shyness home and approach them, they are all very kind and English is the main language, so very easy to create the connection!
DAY 1: JOHANNESBURG
The most connected city in South Africa is Johannesburg. In order to access the country, you may probably land there, so perhaps you could use your available day to visit the town. I think my “perhaps” says enough of what I think of the city. Coming from European cities, with its centres full of history, art, and people enjoying coffees outside, African cities I must say are not the best. Johannesburg is an example, with its big buildings, big roads, but with nothing special to visit, no people in the street, just a lot of cars, shopping malls, and luxurious villas next to big favelas. On top of that, safety might be a concern there, that is why it is recommended to go back to the hotel before sunset. I honestly didn’t like the social gaps, the lack of art, the coldness of the city. That being said, everybody is entitled of his own opinion and you might find something special in Johannesburg.
DAY 2-3-4: KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
For me, Johannesburg was simply the arrival place in South Africa, and the starting point for my trip to Kruger National Park. This unique park is located at around 4 hours driving from Johannesburg, and its visit can take average 3 days, therefore I would suggest to book an accommodation inside the park. You will find plenty of camping sites, where you can set up your tent or rent a bungalow. They are all very well equipped, with restaurants, shops, clean bathroom facilities. You can get to Kruger by renting a car and doing a drive-in safari (consider that roads in South Africa are in great conditions, so driving is not an hassle at all), or by joining one of the several safaris. Since I was travelling alone and I didn’t want to drive by myself, I have joined a safari group, which happened to be the best option! The service is great, they pick you up from your hotel, and drive you to the park with a guide taking you everywhere and explaining you everything. They take care of your accommodation and your food, and you have no extra surprise. For the accommodation I opted for the camping option 3 days, and it was largely enough. First of all, the tents were great, with beds, linen, heating, and electricity. Secondly, the company was great, it is a good opportunity to meet other people who are travelling as you and exchange good tips with them. Finally, since you cannot get off the jeep during the safari, I would not suggest to do more than 3 days safari, since you will spend all day inside a car travelling in the same areas, looking for animals. With the 3 days option, you leave Johannesburg in the morning and arrive late afternoon, just in time for a sunset safari. This gives you the first glimpse of the beauty of this huge park, with its enormous variety of trees, flowers, and wild animals. Everybody is there: elephants, giraffes, lions, cheetahs, hyenas, monkeys, zebras, antelopes, buffaloes, rhinos, hippos, etc etc.. It is impossible to see all of them in one time, that is why with the 3 days safari options you have 3 possible rounds: sunset safari, sunrise safari, and again sunset safari. Don’t waste any of them, it will be a unique experience.
DAY 5: WINDHOEK
After having come back from Kruger National Park, I got a long sleeping night in Johannesburg and took a morning flight to Windhoek.
Windhoek is absolutely different from the big Johannesburg. The big buildings here disappear and are replaced by nice 1-floor houses with beautiful gardens, the big roads are replaced by small streets (pedestrian in the center), and the anonymous city center is replaced by a tiny colonial-style city center, with German and Dutch influences, with people enjoying a nice walk. The big fast food chains are replaced by small bakeries and restaurants. Windhoek city center is nice to walk and not so huge. You can start your tour from the Parliament House, which hosts the museum of the independence. From there you can walk in the several streets forming the city center and enjoy some food.
In the night you can ask for a taxi driver and go to one of the several pubs in town where you can enjoy a tasty Namibian beer while eating some local animals.
DAY 6-7-8: ETOSHA NATIONAL PARK
On the 6th day you can start one of the several safaris Namibia can offer. As in South Africa, also in Namibia you can opt for self-drive or group safaris, except that this time the self-driving will require an average time of 6hrs per day. Also this time I went with an amazing group for a camping safari. According to the time you have, you have several options. Since I had short time and I wanted to explore several parts of the country, I decided to take the 6 days safari, covering 3 days of Etosha National Park and 3 days of Namib desert.
The tour operator picks you up at around 8am from your accommodation in Windhoek, and from there you should expect around 6h driving to get to Etosha. Although the journey is long, the trip to Etosha is definitely worth. Apart for the beautiful landscapes, but surely for the unique destination. Etosha National Park is surely one of the most beautiful national parks in Africa, due to its huge diversity of flora and fauna. While Kruger is a park with a “forest style” (with high trees and green vegetation), Etosha is more “savanna” style, with yellow grass, and small and dry trees which give a special charm to the place. Furthermore the absence of high vegetation facilitates the view of wild animals. In Kruger sometimes we had to struggle to spot a single animal, whereas in Etosha huge groups of all animals appear in front of you. You can admire all of them in a very easy way. Of course you cannot get off the jeep, but there is so much to see that you don’t even realize that you have been in a vehicle for longtime.
From a planning perspective, there is a first safari on day 1 at the sunset, and 2 others the day after at sunrise and sunset. You will never get bored of it! Plus, the camp sites in Namibia are very well furnished but in a simpler way than South Africa, and the fact that they are smaller and cozier facilitates the networking with the other travelers. I loved for instance having dinner outside, next to a fire, while talking to the others and admiring the starts in the sky. I think one of the most beautiful things in Namibia is certainly the sky, from day to night it changes continuously of colors and sometimes you have the impression it is a real painting.
After wonderful nights and days in Etosha, day 8 is dedicated to the return trip to Windhoek, other 6 hours driving with some stops on the way.
DAY 9-10-11: NAMIB DESERT
On my last days in Namibia I absolutely wanted to experience the famous Namib desert. So I joined another group, and, after a long 6hrs drive, I reached the central-southern area of the country, Sossusvlei. The first day is basically dedicated to the journey and some stops on the way to admire the beautiful landscapes.
The busiest and best day is certainly day 2, when, after an early wake up, we climbed one of the dunes to admire the sunrise. I don’t know if you have any experience in climbing dunes, if not get ready to a tough sport, in which your legs will hurt a lot at the end, and your shoes and your body will be full of sand. However it is worth the pain, the experience is fantastic! Seeing hundreds and hundreds of soft dunes with different colors and heights, in an infinite landscape, with a stunning view. Most of the day will be spent climbing dunes and walking in the desert, until arriving to the popular death valley (deadvlei). This valley was formed after a river flood, which created temporary shallow pools where the abundance of water allowed camel thorn trees to grow. When the climate changed, drought hit the area, and sand dunes encroached on the pan, which blocked the river from the area. The trees died, as there no longer was enough water to survive. There are some species of plants remaining, otherwise there are black skeletons of the trees. The name of this area is not accidental indeed, being in that place gives you a sense of silence and death, almost scary I would say.
After a tour in the deadvlei, you can visit the Sesriem Canyon, a 1km natural gorge, and end up your day by hiking a last dune to admire the sunset. The sunset in the desert is probably one of the most beautiful activities to do, since you can see the color of sand changing very quickly according to the sun position.
The last day will be also dedicated to the trip back to Windhoek.
Namibia is certainly a wonderful country to explore, so different from north to south. If you have more time, I would suggest to go completely south and travel through the coast, in order to enjoy the beautiful seaside scenario, and several historical colonial cities.