Before there was Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt and their union known as Brangelina, there was the beautiful African country of Namibia (technically the country has only been independent since 1989). This nation was cast into the media spotlight a few weeks ago when Brangelina decided to take refuge here awaiting the birth of their first child together. Then over the weekend, in the Erongo region, the spawn of this great Hollywood union was born, amid fanfare and secrecy with local people in Namibia calling for a public holiday.
Perhaps now that all the hoopla is over, Namibia can return to being a south western African nation known for its natural beauty and superlative wildlife rather than a paparazzi circus. On the plus side, and perhaps intentionally chosen by the couple to do so, this media event has brought Namibia to the attention of people throughout the world.
Although South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania are perhaps best known for their safari and wildlife viewing opportunities, Namibia offers abundant fauna and is particularly known for its elephant, rhinoceros, lion, giraffe, zebra, and hartebeest. Although largely covered in desert (both the Namib and Kalahari deserts), the rugged Atlantic Ocean coastline lies in the western part of the country, woodland savannah covers the central plateau and forests are found in the north-east. Sightseeing highlights include numerous caves, waterfalls and hot springs, stunning Fish River Canyon (Namibia's Grand Canyon), Etosha National Park, the main Game Reserves (West Caprivi, Khaudom and Mahango), Sesriem Canyon, and Skeleton Coast Park.
English, Afrikaans, and German are the official languages so language shouldn't be a barrier to a wonderful Namibian vacation experience. The Namibian dollar (approximately 6.5 to the US dollar) is the local currency and can only be purchased inside the country. Strangely you can also use the South African Rand here (but you cannot use Namibian dollars in South Africa) -- in fact the Namibian dollar is pegged to it.
Flying to Namibia and its capital Windhoek isn't always easy from the U.S. It can be both costly and difficult to find websites that offer discounted airfares. An option is to fly via the U.K. Air Namibia (tel. +44/2079-606-016; www.airnamibia.com.na) has up to four flights a day (direct or via Johannesburg) from London Gatwick. Their online booking capability has not been finalized yet. Apart from London, Air Namibia also flies to Windhoek from the following European cities - Amsterdam, Barcelona, Brussels, Frankfurt, Paris, Rome, Stockholm, Vienna and Zurich. See the contact us section on the website (www.airnamibia.com.na/contact.htm) for specific telephone numbers and emails. UK based airfare search website Cheapflights (www.cheapflights.co.uk) lists numerous destination specialists that offer round-trip airfares to Windhoek from London for priced ranging from $750 to approximately $1,000. Many of these agencies do not have websites so telephone numbers are provided. It's one of those destinations that if you do your research, the time spent will be well worthwhile. Round-trip airfares from the U.S. tend to range from approximately $2,000 to $2,500 with only a small amount of seasonal variation.
Namibia Reservations (tel. +264/6730-4716; www.e-tourism.com.na) is a locally based company specializing in safaris, accommodations and car rental. Their most economical tours they offer are self drive trips. The six day "Steenbok Tour" starts in Windhoek and visits Kalahari, Fish River Canyon, Sossusvlei and Sesriem. The price includes five nights' accommodations (one at Maison Ambre Guesthouse in Windhoek, one at Anib Lodge in Kalahari, one at Canon Lodge in Fish River Canyon and two at Betesda Rest Camp in Sossusvlei/Sesriem), breakfast daily, three dinners, and car rental. Prices start at $790 per person based on double occupancy with a VW Polo or $867 in a Toyota Condor or $1,148 in a Nissan 4x4.
Its "Hartebeest Tour" is a 16 day expedition visiting Keetmanshoop, Fish River Canyon, Luderitz, Maltahohe, Sossusvlei, Sesriem, Swakopmund, Khorixas and Etosha. Accommodations for 15 nights are at hotels, lodges and guesthouses with three nights at Etosha National Park. Enjoy 12 breakfasts and three dinners plus the following car rental options: A VW Polo from $1,747, a Toyota Condor from $2,029 or a Nissan 4x4 from $2,775.
Accommodations need not be as expensive or as glamorous as the Burning Shore Hotel in Walvis Bay (where Brangelina spent several luxurious prenatal weeks). More modest lodging options are available in hotels, farm houses, guesthouses and country lodges. At the moderate to higher end of the scale, one of the most visually unique properties in Canon Lodge is the town of Hobas near Fish River Canyon. This historic property built almost 100 years ago consists of 30 bungalows built from the area's natural rock with thatched roofs and commanding views. Tall weather-beaten granite boulders mark the location of the lodge and form an integral part of the overall design. Stays here are approximately $80 per person in double share rooms. The rate is valid until October 31, 2006 and includes breakfast but dinners at their famous restaurant are extra. They also offer activities like horse riding from $24, sunrise walks for $15 and a Canyon drive for $36.
Also visually spectacular with a rustic style is the Eningu Clay House Namibia in Kalahari. This four-star property is built in the adobe style, made entirely from home-made clay bricks found on the farm. The clay bricks contrast with the surrounding red sand of the Kalahari Desert. The lodge can accommodate 16 guests in eight rooms and is located in the midst of the Namibian bush savannah. It also features a swimming pool. Prices start at approximately $85 per person per night which includes accommodations, breakfast and dinner daily. For sheer romance and a truly African style experience you can't go past the Eagle Tented Lodge and Spa, situated in the Epacha Private Game Reserve. It features breathtaking views over the surrounding mountains and valley and individual luxurious tents built on 12 foot high platforms that will make you feel like you've stepped on to an exotic movie set. Guests are accommodated in eight tents with twin or double beds, each with their own splash pool. Facilities and treatments include a swimming pool, Jacuzzi, sauna, rejuvenating mud baths and massages, manicure, pedicures, thalasso and facial therapy. Rates are approximately $125 per person per night including accommodations, breakfast and dinner. All these accommodation options are available through South Travels (www.southtravels.com).
South Africa based Southern Eagle Travel and Tours (tel. + 27/12-807-4868; www.southern-eagle.com) has 17 individual Namibia tours ranging from more budget options to what it calls its Platinum class high end expeditions. Visit the red sands of the Kalahari Desert, the majestic Fish River Canyon and the world's highest sand dunes in the Namib Desert at Sossusvlei on their six-day "Canyons and Deserts Tour". The trip begins in Windhoek and includes transportation, professional tour guide, five nights' accommodations (Kalahari Anib Lodge, Canon Village in Fish River Canyon, Hotel Zum Sperrgebiet in Luderitz, Hammerstein Lodge in the Central Namib Desert, and the Namib Desert Lodge in Sesriem), breakfast daily and one dinner. Highlights include Fish River Canyon, Luderitz tour, Diaz Point, Kolmanskop and Duwiseb Castle, Sossusvlei and Sesriem Canyon, Welwitschia Plains and the Moon Landscape. This tour can take place with one to 13 participants and departs regularly (on Saturdays) from June to October, 2006. It is priced from $1,314 per person based on double occupancy. A single supplement of $143 applies.
The five-day "Classic Kaleidoscope Tour" includes visits to the coastal areas of Swakopmund, the attractions of scenic Damaraland and the wildlife of Etosha National Park. Accommodation (four-nights) is at I'Gowati Lodge in Damaraland, Etosha Garten Hotel, Etosha National Park Rest Camp and Mokuti Lodge. Breakfast in included daily and one lunch and four dinners are also provided. Highlights include Twyfelfontein, Organ Pipes, Burnt Mountain, the Petrified Forest, a night drive wildlife viewing, game viewing in Etosha National Park, morning nature walk and afternoon drive, Lake Otjikoto, Tsumeb Museum and Okahandja Woodcarvers mark. The tour departs on June 10 & 24; July 8 & 22; August 5, 12, 19 & 26; September 2, 9, 16, 23 & 30; and October 7, 14, 21 & 28, 2006. This tour is priced at $1,026 per person based on double occupancy and a single supplement of $143 applies.
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