Namibia is a land of extremes and a great place for adventure. Hot and dry desert, deep canyons, rough Atlantic shores, vast uncivilized spaces and a unique fauna and flora create many opportunities and dream-like backdrops for extreme sports and adventures out in nature.
Extreme Sports in Namibia
Namibia’s foot races offer some of the most difficult conditions. Runners can challenge themselves to run extreme distances though arid and beautiful landscapes. These races aren’t for anyone as they test the limits of the runner’s body and mind. Namibia has a variety of challenges for trail and marathon runners:
Community Run and Mountain Bike Challenge: This run and bike challenge takes participants around the beautiful Spitzkoppe mountain. The run is 21.1km and cycling categories range from 35 to 70km. The race is held annually in September.
100 km of Namib Desert: Runners endure strong winds, sand storms and the heat of the Namibian sun during this 100km desert race. The grand scenery and luxurious accommodation make this race an experience of extreme contrasts.
Namibian 24-hour Ultra Marathon: It takes an extraordinary amount of passion and determination to run along Namibia’s desert coastline for an entire day. The 24-hour Ultra Marathon covers an intimidating 126km between Brandberg and Jakkalsputz.
Old Mutual Victory Race Series: The race consists in four different legs in Oshakati, Swakopmund, Keetmanshoop and Windhoek. The race can be run in categories of t either 5 or 21 km and is popular with young and aspiring athletes.
Aussenkehr Desert Extreme Trail Run: The 100 km trail run takes participants from the Orange River through magical canyons into the mountainous terrain of the Aussenkehr Nature Park. The 3-day race is an annual event that takes place in June/July.
Fish River Marathon and Cycle: The running and cycling event offers challenges for serious athletes but gives less ambitious sports enthusiasts and kids a chance to participate as well. The 104 km and 54 km cycles and the footraces of 42.2 km, 21.1 km and 10 km are complemented by a 30 km fun horse ride and a 3 km parent and kiddie fun walk.
Fish River Challenge: The 100 km non-stop race through the iconic Fish River Canyon is not for the faint hearted. What is usually a 5-day hike is completed within 24 hours and athletes have to be self-supported. The reward is an unparalleled sense of achievement and the hot springs of Ai-Ais.
Namib Desert Challenge: The NDC is renowned as one of the toughest foot races in the world. The race covers 228 km in 5 days in the Sossusvlei area. Runners carry their own food and survival kit as they fight their physical and mental limits in the Namibian sun.
Spitzkoppe is a Mecca for climbers. On the way to the 1 728 m summit lie 44 sport-climbing routes ranging from South African grades 10-27. Standing isolated above the Namib plains Spitzkoppe offers epic views and a well maintained community campsite is just another bonus. Close by the Erongo Mountains offer a combination of traditional and sport-climbing routes. Aussenkehr in southern Namibia is a climbing destination that works best from April to September due to high summer temperatures.
While over 120 caves have been registered in Namibia only few of them are accessible. Arnhem Cave in the vicinity of Windhoek is one of the largest and most accessible caves. The 4 800 metres underground are famous for its bat and were once harvested for bat guano. Gaub Cave on a guest farm in the Otavi Mountains is 38 metres deep with 2.5 km of chambers and petrified waterfalls, rock curtains and crystal growths. Professional cave divers should head to Dragon’s Breath near Tsumeb, home to the world’s largest underground lake. Phillip’s Cave in the Erongo Mountains is famous for its rock paintings, one of them depicting a white elephant.
Those who like toys with loud machines and loads of space to play will love quad biking. A variety of tours start from the coastal towns of Swakopmund and Walvis Bay and takes you into the towering dunes. There is a debate about the environmental impact of the quad bikes to please book with reputable tour operators.
Another fun adventure in the dunes between Swakopmund and Walvis Bay is Sandboarding. Greased up sandboards allow you to slide down the soft sand at speed. The stand-up version is ideal for those experienced at board sports and the lie-down version is a great high-speed alternative for the less experienced.
The mountainous area separating the Namib Desert from Windhoek and the Khomas Hochland provides the perfect location for mountain biking of all levels. Commercial combination tours pair mountain biking with safaris and other sports many races and fundraising rides offer serious challenges for competitive adventurers:
FNB Desert Dash: The most extreme mountain bike race in Namibia takes riders from Windhoek to Swakopmund in a day. The distance can be done in relay, but the most hard-core cyclists do the 340 km solo. Participants have to negotiate heat, strong wind, mist and cold at night as well as the challenge of the Us Pass.
Otjihavera Xpereince: The taxing 2-day race follows jeep tracks past the Otjihase Mine and continues through farmland towards the Otjihavera Mountains.
Nedbank Cycle Challenge: The Cycle Challenge is a cycling event that features competitive road and mountain bike races. Mountain bikes can compete over distances of 15 km and 30 km, while road cyclists have a choice of 20 km, 35km and 75 km.
Namibgrens Marathon: A scenic area with many natural obstacles is home to the challenging 73 km mountain bike marathon. Less competitive riders can opt for the 13 km or 38 km races.
Namibia National Cross Country Championships: Every July riders complete several rounds on the 6.5 km circular course, depending on which race category they entered.
Windhoek Lager Namib Quest Challenge: The 500 km race takes competitors on a scenic ride from Windhoek through the Khomas Hochland and the Namib Desert into Walvis Bay. The race is done in six stages over six days.
Klein-Aus Vista Mountain Bike Challenge: The 2-day event is hosted in the Aus Mountains and offers a marathon of 55 km of a half-marathon of 30 km on challenging single track.
Those who love mountain biking in a less competitive environment can sign up for one of the many fundraising rides. The fundraisers are a great way to have fun, meet new people and give an incentive to your training schedule.
Davin Desert Cycle Relay: The Janine and Suzelle Davin Sports Trust established this race from Windhoek to Hentjies Bay to raise fund and support for Namibia’s young athletes. The event gets Namibia’s top business men on their bikes for the good cause.
Desert Rhino Cycle: The 330 km cycle from Palmwag past the Doros Crater raises money for Namibia’s Save the Rhino Trust during this weeklong event.
Mike Hearn Memorial Cycle: This extreme cycling race funds the Save the Rhino Trust in Namibia and tracks black rhinos during a 7 day cycle over rugged terrain.
Oothiqwa Bicycle Fun Ride: The 60 km cycle is organised by the TOV Multipurpose Centre in Tsumeb to help AIDS orphans and children infected with HIV. The distance can be done by individuals, teams or in relay.
The Namibian Pick ‘n Pay Cycle Classic: The large scale cycling event is the only qualifier for the Cape Argus Cycling Race outside of South Africa. Participants can do distances of 20, 30, 65 or 100km to support various community projects. A mountain bike race of 20 km is now also part of the event.
The less extreme but ever popular sport of golf can be played at the Windhoek Golf and Country Club or the Rossmund Golf Club that features free-roaming springbok. Other golf courses are in Walvis Bay, Gobabis, Okahandja, Oshakati, Lüderitz, Tsumeb, Otjiwarongo, Keetmanshoop, Mariental, Oranjemund and Henties Bay. Golfing safaris combine Namibian golf courses with a visit to Cape Town or the Victoria Falls.
Out in Nature
Namibia’s diverse range of habitats is home to 676 of Southern Africa’s 887 bird species. Particularly rewarding birding destinations are the lagoons at Walvis Bay and Sandwich Harbour and the great rivers of the north east. The 15 endemic species are of particular interest including Rüppell’s korhaan, Hartlaub’s spurfowl, Rüppell’s parrot, violet wood-hooppoe, Carp’s tit, Monteiro’s hornbill, Herero chat, Damara hornbill and the white-tailed shrike. Birding hotspots are Bwabwata National Park, Impalila Island, the Zambezi River, Katima Mulilo, Mudumu National Park, Mamili National Park, Sandwich Harbour lagoon, Etosha National Park, Waterberg Plateau Park and the banks of the Kunene River.
A 4×4 vehicle gives you the opportunity to explore the beautiful untouched wilderness of Namibia. In a country that is largely untouched by civilization there is much to discover for the adventurous 4×4 driver. From the Kalahari to the dunes of the Namib, from the moon landscape of the Kaokoveld to the thick bush of the Caprivi Strip and the rugged Skeleton Coast – Namibia is the true adventurer’s dream. Many trails such as the notorious Van Zyl’s Pass require experience and skill. Driving into Namibia’s desolate area also require a convoy of at least two vehicle and sufficient supplies of petrol, food and water.
The main challenge for hikers in Namibia is the heat. Many hikes will be easier to complete in the winter months from April to September. Namibia’s most renowned hike is the 5-day Fish River Canyon Trail. Traditionally a self-sufficient camping trail the Fish River is now available as luxury version with luggage transport and accommodation on the first and last night. The most stylish way to handle your luggage is to join a mule tour in the Fish River Canyon. The animals carry the heavy load while you can fully enjoy the unique scenery. The mountainous area between the Namib Desert and the Khomas Region are another great venue for hikers. The Naukluft Mountains offer a variety of trails offering 200 bird species in a rugged and untouched environment. The 8-day Namib-Naukluft Trail is considered one of the toughest in Africa and takes experienced hikers through 120 km of varied terrain. Other Hiking destinations are the Ugab Hiking Trail on the Skeleton Coast, the surroundings of Aus, the Waterberg Plateau Park and the NamibRand Nature Reserve.
The areas around the Namib Desert, the Khomas Hochland and the Fish River Canyon offer many epic adventures for experienced horse riders. Horse trail in Namibia can take several days covering 20-50 km per day. You will come across some of the world’s most breath taking scenery and experience the freedom of Namibia’s wide open spaces. Of particular interest are horseback trail in the Damaraland, where you can see elephant, giraffe and rhino in a desert environment. For the less experienced riders many guest farms and lodges offer day rides and horseback rides for beginners.
If you are looking for a riding experience with a difference try riding a camel in the Damaraland. Even though camels are not indigenous to Namibia they are well suited to the arid conditions and patiently transport visitors on multiday camel rides.
Namibia is a renowned hunting destination for its healthy wildlife and strong ethics. Namibia has strict game laws and all hunting farms are registered with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) and meet the strict requirements. The Namibia Professional Hunters Association (NAPHA) supports the MET’s regulations and publishes the annual Huntinamibia magazine in English and German. Hunting can be done on specialized guest farm or in some concession areas in the east and northeast of Namibia. Huntable game species include gemsbok, kudu, springbok, warthog and bush pig. Most other species are specially protected and can only be hunted with a permit from the MET. Huntable game birds are red-billed, crested and Orange River francolins, Burchell’s and Namaqua sandgrouse, crested guinea fowl and Cape and red-billed teal.
Rock and surf angling along Namibia’s rugged coast is rewarding due to the nutrient-rich Benguela Current. The months from November to March are particularly popular when anglers from inland and overseas come to fish for kob, blacktail and West Coast steenbras. During winter galjoen is a popular species. Shark angling is popular and the coppershark, also known as bronzy, is a popular species that reaches between 15-190 kg. However, due to conservation regulations all sharks have to be returned to the sea live and unharmed. The newly proclaimed Dorob National Park north of Swakopmund is an excellent angling area and the Skeleton coast further north offers a selection of fishing spots with basic but scenic campsites.
The Zambezi River offers about 40 angling species. The toothy tigerfish that weighs up to 6.5 kg is by far the most popular catch as it puts up a tough fight. Other freshwater species include redbreast, greenhead and three-spot tilapia, nembwe, pink happy and humpback largemouth. On the Zambezi River a catch-and-release policy is practised to secure the regeneration and conservation of its fish population.
Little to no light pollution and clear skies make Namibia one of the best places to view the stars of the Southern Hemisphere. The Gamsberg area west of Windhoek has the third clearest and least light-polluted sky in the world. The International Amateur Observatory maintains a selection of telescopes and other astronomical equipment at Hakos guest farm on the top of the Gamsberg Pass. The Gamsberg area was also chosen as the venue for the Max Planck High Energy Stereoscopic System (H.E.S.S.) experiment on Farm Göllschau. Namibia’s space observation learning centre SOLNA offers education, telescopes, astrophotography and stargazing tours.
In the Sky
Hot-air balloons are by far the calmest and most quiet way to take on the sky. As you travel with the wind the balloon is perfectly still giving you excellent view and photographic opportunities. Balloon rides take you over the ancient sand of the Namib Desert, the contrast Atlantic blue in Swakopmund or the stark Damaraland.
The dunes of Swakopmund are one of the best and safes places to learn how to paraglide. South-westerly winds allow you to lift off the ground with ease. Once airborne the views are incredible as the waves of the Atlantic Ocean seem so merge with the patterns of the desert sand. Beginners can book introductory courses or do a tandem glide with an experienced instructor. Experienced gliders can take on the harsher conditions in Namibia’s interior.
Swakopmund is the place to find your adrenaline rush and skydiving is the most daunting of all the extreme activities in the desert town. The aircrafts ascend 10 000 feet above the desert from where you will freefall for 30 seconds before your chute opens. Beginners can either do a tandem jump or take a one day training course to qualify for a static line jump. The desert scenery and the Atlantic Ocean in the background make Swakopmund a completely unique place to tick this off your bucket list.
Canoeing and rafting are great ways to combat the heat of the Namibian sun. The Orange, the Kunene and the Okavango Rivers provide excellent opportunities to go for a paddle or to steer through tumultuous rapids. The Orange River on Namibia’s southern border is renowned for peaceful 4 or 6 day paddles. With no crocodiles, hippos or mosquitos to worry about you gently paddle downstream, stopping for a swim whenever you get too hot. Camping under the stars and delicious dinners from the campfire complete the natural luxuries these trips have to offer. The Kunene River forms Namibia’s border with Angola and cuts a sharp contrast into the stark and arid landscape. The birding on the Kunene is excellent and crocodiles and some speedy rapid keep you on your toes. Lodges in the Kunene Region offer rafting trips and there is a 10-day rafting trip to the Epupa Falls. Rafting of canoeing on the Okavango River will give you a different perspective of the area. Most lodges in the area offer canoes of different sizes. The paddling in shallow water is easy as you pass small crocodiles, lazy hippos and the locals going about their daily chores.
The diving in Namibia is challenging. Altitudes of more 1 450 metres and depths of 30 to 130 metres make Namibia’s caves and lakes a territory for experts only. The most popular diving site is Lake Otjikoto in the Tsumeb environs. During their retreat from South African troop in the first World War German troops dumped their guns and ammunition into the lake making it a large underwater museum. Lake Otjikoto is also home to the indigenous Otjikoto tilapia. April to October is the most pleasant time in this area when there are low chances of rain and night temperatures allow camping. The Dragon’s Breath Cave near Grootfontein contains the world’s largest underground lake and the diving record here is at a depth of 105 metres. The Harasib Cave has a depth of 80 metres and is situated on the same farm as Dragon’s Breath. Accessing these caves requires abseiling experience and preparing these caves for diving is at least a week’s process, so make arrangement in advance if you plan on diving here.
Cold water and bad visibility make Namibia’s coastline challenging to dive. The best diving is between Lüderitz and Spencer Bay between December and May when visibility can reach up to 10 metres.
The icy Atlantic waters off Namibia’s coast are excellent for spotting marine life. Dolphin cruises from Walvis Bay give you the chance to see Heaviside’s dolphin, Atlantic bottlenose and ducky dolphins. Seasonal visitors such as southern right and humpback whales are always a fascinating sight and on rare occasions even orcas can be spotted. Extremely lucky visitors can see the curious mola mola or sunfish and leatherback turtles. Cape fur seals on the other hand are a guaranteed sighting as the marine mammals frolic around the colony at Pelican Point.
Walvis Bay is also a prime destination for kite and windsurfing. Powered by south-westerly winds, the kites and sails race across the Walvis Bay Lagoon.