Northwest Namibia holds some of the country’s most-visited and least-explored landscapes. In the former category, count the vast expanse of ETOSHA NATIONAL PARK, which receives over two hundred thousand visitors annually, drawn by almost guaranteed sightings of large numbers of big mammals, as well as abundant birdlife.
Centring on a vast salt pan, Etosha’s predominantly flat, sandy scenery extends northwards to the urban and rural developments in the so-called “four Os” – the small, but densely populated, regions of Oshikoto, Omusati, Ohangwena and Oshana, home predominantly to the Owambo people. Oshakati is the main commercial hub of the chaotic conurbation, a useful pitstop to stock up on supplies, and to witness life outside the tourist bubble.
Heading west into the sparsely populated northern Kunene region, still referred to as Kaokoland, the landscape alters dramatically, as does the population density – only 1.7 people per square kilometre. From the dramatic waterfalls at Ruacana and Epupa on the Kunene River, striking, reddish-brown earth gives way to rugged, mountainous areas to the west into the Wilderness Area of the Skeleton Coast National Park – only accessible by fly-in safari – eventually melting into rippling dune fields and gravel plains before hitting the Atlantic coast. This remote, starkly beautiful region is home to desert-adapted elephants and black rhino, and to the semi-nomadic Himba, one of Namibia’s most recognisable and resilient indigenous peoples. The small, underdeveloped and isolated regional capital of Opuwo is the place for independent travellers to start their explorations.