National parks and other reserves comprise almost a fifth of Namibia’s vast terrain, managed predominantly by the Ministry of the Environment and Tourism (MET). While only Etosha National Park in the north can claim to host really large quantities of “big game”, Namibia’s parks and reserves are famous for their extraordinary wilderness landscapes, such as the spectacular sand dunes round Sossusvlei in what is currently the country’s largest protected area, the Namib-Naukluft National Park, and the inaccessible, eerie coastline of the Skeleton Coast National Park (see Skeleton Coast Fly-in Safaris), in the northwest. At the time of writing, the two parks were on the verge of being merged to form the Namib-Skeleton Coast National Park, extending the 1500km length of Namibia’s entire coastline. One of the more recent national parks, created in 2009, is the Tsau ||Khaeb – better known as the Sperrgebiet; located in the southwest of the country, it was formerly an out-of-bounds diamond-mining area and can currently only be visited on a guided tour from Lüderitz.
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Other major reserves include the dramatic sandstone cliffs of the Waterberg Plateau Park, on the road north from Windhoek, and the |Ai-| Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, which extends into South Africa on Namibia’s southern border and includes the awe-inspiring Fish River Canyon.
In addition to the state-managed national parks and reserves, Namibia boasts a wealth of private reserves – often called guest farms – and community-managed conservancies, aimed at combining nature conservation with poverty alleviation initiatives, including many associated with tourism.
Accommodation and permits
Almost all national park accommodation must be booked through Namibia Wildlife Resorts (w www.nwr.com.na), either online or in person at one of their offices located in Windhoek, Swakopmund or in Cape Town, South Africa. Lodgings range from campgrounds (from N$110/person) to chalets that vary in levels of comfort, sophistication and location, with prices to match: N$950 – N$5600, including breakfast. The camp/resort restaurants usually serve a-la-carte during the day and a fixed-price buffet in the evening (N$185).
Chalet prices are significantly cheaper in low season (Nov–June), though camping rates remain the same. Children aged 6–12 sharing chalet accommodation with a full fee-paying adult get a 50 percent discount, and children under 6 stay free. There are reductions for Namibians and residents of countries from the Southern African Development Community (SADC). These prices do not include the park/reserve entry fees, which are usually payable on entry and valid for 24hours. They currently stand at N$80 per person per day for the more popular parks of Etosha, the |Ai-| Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, the Skeleton Coast, Namib-Naukluft and Waterberg, and N$40 per person per day for other reserves, plus N$10 per day for each vehicle. However, to visit some places, such as parts of the Skeleton Coast and the restricted areas of Namib-Naukluft, you will also need to obtain in advance a special permit from the MET permit office in Windhoek or Swakopmund. If you are going as part of an organized tour, the tour operator will arrange the permit, which is usually included in the price.
Park activities such as wildlife-viewing drives or fishing trips can also be booked through the NWR office, usually for around N$500 per person.