Namibia is a country of startling contrasts that straddles two great deserts: the Namib (after which it is named) is the oldest desert on the planet, and its sea of red sand lies along the Atlantic coastline, while in the eastern interior lies the Kalahari, a vast and sparsely vegetated savannah that sprawls across the border into neighbouring countries.
Over the years, there have been a number of cultural influences that have all added to the unique atmosphere of Namibia. At various times Germany, Great Britain and South Africa have all governed the territory, but it was with the eventual independence of Namibia in 1990 that the country was able to develop its multi-cultural character and reinvent itself. There is a rich and colourful uniquely African vigour that now freely blends in with the European influences on architecture, food, customs and art, all merging to create a distinctive Namibian character.
All this is in interesting juxtaposition with the expansive landscapes that surround the cities. The many national parks and game reserves boast a huge variety of wildlife in a kaleidoscope of differing environments: giraffes amble across the blinding white saltpans of Etosha National Park, gemsbok plunge headlong up impossibly steep red dunes at Sossusvlei, and seals in their many thousands colonise lonely beachheads along the Skeleton Coast. Astonishing contrasts are everywhere for the visitor to savour, enjoy and photograph.
Namibia has rapidly become a well-known safari destination with a difference, famed for its remote and intimate lodges, interaction with the indigenous people as well as the wildlife, and offering unique opportunities to become involved with the cultural heritage of all its peoples.
Namibia Ecology & Wildlife
The landscape is defined by an arid, harsh climate and a long geographical history. The western part of the country has a mixture of enormous sand dunes, open plains, rugged valleys, escarpments and mountains and it is here that the oldest desert on the planet, the Namib, is found. The eastern interior is a sand-covered, more uniform landscape and contains the country's second great desert - the Kalahari, a vast and sparsely vegetated savannah that sprawls across the border into South Africa and Botswana.
The flat vastness of Namibia's deserts is relieved by a belt of broken mountains and inselbergs (the highest is the Brandberg at 2 579m above sea level), deep dry river valleys that serve as linear oases, savannah and woodlands, and long stretches of sandy beaches along the dramatic Skeleton Coast.
All this is in contrast to the rich grasslands, and subtropical woodlands of the Caprivi area in the north-east, the mopane woodlands of Etosha National Park, and the rich coastal lagoons of the Atlantic Ocean on the western coastline.
The country's perennial rivers - the Zambezi, Kwando, Okavango and Kunene Rivers - also form its political boundaries. Of these, only the Orange is not situated in the higher rainfall area of the north-east of the country, with the wetter areas here gradually giving way to the arid regions further south and south-east: The Kalahari and Namib Deserts. The diversity of vegetation and wildlife mirrors this gradient, so that there is rich biodiversity and higher number of species in the north-east, and a comparatively lesser fauna and flora moving away from this area.
The arid regions are richest in endemism however; species like the Hartmann's mountain zebra, the Dune Lark and Péringuey's adder occur nowhere else on Earth and are spectacular examples of species that have adapted superbly to the harsh dry environment.
In the waterless west there is a web of ephemeral rivers, the guttural tones of names such as the Kuiseb, Swakop, Hoanib and Huab reflecting a changed ethnicity. These riverbeds can remain dry for years before turning into a rage of life-giving water in a matter of minutes after episodic rain falls in the catchment areas. Such sporadic events turn the brown, sandy landscape into swathes of green bursting with life. These river courses end their lives in the cold Atlantic Ocean, where upwelling centres create nutrient-rich waters filled with plankton and kelp that in turn feed a variety of fish species.
For a place that at first glance may seem lifeless, the reality is astonishing: approximately 4000 species of plants, 650 bird species and 80 large mammal species, of which 604 plants, 14 birds and 15 mammals are almost entirely endemic to the country, some extending marginally into southern Angola. Reptile species total 240 and, as is fitting for such a dry, hot place, sun-loving lizard species number 125, making this the richest lizard fauna in Africa.
Quick Namibia Facts
Republic of Namibia
Population: 2 million
Geographic coordinates: 22 00 S, 17 00 E
Area: 825,418 sq km
EnvironmentFirst country in the world to incorporate the protection of the environment into its constitution; some 14% of the land is protected, including virtually the entire Namib Desert coastal strip.
CurrencyThe currency in Namibia is the Namibian Dollar (NAM$), which is fixed to and therefore equivalent to the South African Rand (ZAR). The Namibian Dollar and South African Rand are the only legal tender in Namibia and can be used freely to purchase goods and services. The Namibian Dollar, however, is not legal tender in South Africa.
Travellers' cheques and foreign currency can be exchanged at any of the commercial banks, which are well represented throughout the country. Visitors may bring any amount of foreign currency into the country. Further information and assistance can be obtained from any commercial bank in Namibia.
Many safaris camps in Namibia also accept US dollars, Euro and British Pounds as payment for curios, drinks etc.
ShoppingIn the major centres, such as Windhoek and Swakopmund, many shops specialise in attractive local products such as diamonds, semi-precious stones, curios of all types including dolls dressed in the traditional Herero style (made by the local Herero woman), hand-carved wooden objects, beautifully fashioned jewellery, leather shoes, karosses rugs and popular woven swakara garments.
LanguageThe official language is English. German and Afrikaans are also widely used and there are numerous African languages and dialects which fall into two main groups, namely Bantu and Khoisan.
TimeNamibia operates on daylight savings time as follows:
Summer: From the first Sunday in September to the first Sunday in April - two hours ahead of GMT
Winter: From the first Sunday in April to the first Sunday in September - one hour ahead GMT.
ClimateThe climate is typically semi-desert with hot days and cool nights. Midsummer temperatures may rise to over 40 degrees Celsius. Winter days are warm, but dawn temperatures may drop to freezing. Along the coast it is cool with low rainfall and fog prevails from late afternoon until mid-morning.
The rainy season lasts from October to April. The rest of the year is dry and cloudless. Namibia averages 300 days of sunshine a year.
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