Namibia is one of the top destinations in the world for stargazing. Its dark and clear night skies are amongst some of the most pristine in the world and below are four reasons why we think you have to go stargazing while visiting Namibia.
The moon rises in the clear winter sky.
(Image via I Dream of Africa)
1. Dark Sky, Bright Stars
In 2012 the NamibRand Nature Reserve was selected by the International Dark Sky Association as an official dark sky reserve on account of its low light pollution and cloudless night skies. And indeed the whole of Namibia has some of the darkest skies measured on earth allowing stargazers to gaze deep into the night sky on just about every night of the year.
Many lodges around Namibia take advantage of the unusually dark skies in the country and have their own telescopes. All you need to do is enquire at the reception of wherever you are staying to find out if your lodge has such facilities.
Starry sky over the desert.
(Image via I Dream Africa)
2. Photographing the night sky
The night sky over the Land of the Brave lends itself incredibly well to photography. Countless photographers, amateur and professional, travel from all over the world to capture astonishing images of our universe.
Below is a particularly stirring video made from a collection of over 16,000 still images of the Namibian night sky.
The award winning Namibian Nights by Marsel van Oosten.
(Video ©Marsel van Oosten Squiver Photo Tours)
3. Guided tours
The great thing about visiting Namibia is that you can always find someone willing to take you on a guided tour of its attractions. The night sky is no different. There are several tour operators around the country that offer guided tours of the night sky.
Taking a guided tour of the night sky is perfect for the whole family.
(Image via I Dream Africa)
The local guides are knowledgeable and passionate about the stars that shine down on Namibia and they are always more than willing to share their stories with visitors from near and far. Below are a few tour operators who offer stargazing tours.
Solna’s stargazing experience.
Rob Johnstone has been an astrology enthusiast since 1986 and his company SOLNA (Space Observation Learning in Namibia) offers two guided tour options for visitors.
Guests at the SOLNA viewing site.
(Image via SOLNA)
The first is just 29km south of Windhoek at the Gocheganas Nature Reserve. If you wish to book a tour at the reserve then email email@example.com or telephone Gocheganas at +264 (0)61 224 909.
SOLNA also works in partnership with Wilderness Safaris with whom they organise stargazing tours throughout the whole of Namibia. It is best to get in contact with Wilderness Safaris if you want to organise a stargazing trip and you can email them on firstname.lastname@example.org.
A picture of Saturn taken from the SOLNA viewing site.
(Image via SOLNA)
Stargazing tours near Swakopmund
Stargazing Adventure Namibia is a company run by Dr Ansgar Gaedke and Lynette Gaedke that is based in Swakopmund. Dr Gaedke is a professional astronomer who graduated from the University of Hamburg in astrophysics and astronomy and now gives tours to visitors interested in astronomy.
Photographs of one the company's many star tours.
(Image via Stargazing Adventure Namibia)
They have several activities for would-be stargazers and you should check them out here to see which tour suits you. They also have a great gallery of photographs to whet your appetite ahead of your stargazing adventure.
Hakos guest farm
Just west of Windhoek on top of the Gamsberg is the Hakos guest farm. On this farm the German-based International Amateur Observatory maintains an impressive collection of telescopes and other equipment for stargazing enthusiasts. There are several tour options on the farm and you can view them here.
The guest farm is specifically geared towards giving guests a memorable astrological experience in an environment that is largely untouched and unspoiled by man.
One of the farm's many pieces of advanced equipment (L).
The isolated location of the farm (R).
(Images via Hakos guest farm)
4. Sossusvlei by night
If anyone needed another reason to visit Namibia’s iconic Sossusvlei, here it is: The stargazing opportunities at Sossusvlei are simply incredible. The sky is clear almost always and there is almost no light pollution out in the desert near the vlei.
A tree on the vlei against a slowly rotating starry sky.
(Image via Rhino Africa Safaris)
The Sossusvlei Lodge was in fact recently ranked amongst the top 12 stargazing hotels in the world by CNN Travel. But this is not the only lodge in the area and there are also several other lodges that offer stargazing opportunities.
The Sossusvlei Lodge by night.
(Image via Sossusvlei Lodge)
Below are three of the top-rated lodges that offer stargazing activities at or near Sossusvlei.
Sossusvlei Desert Lodge
No matter where you are in Namibia the night sky is simply beautiful, and if you are visiting Africa from the Northern hemisphere then you should not miss out on this opportunity to see a totally different set of stars on the other end of the world.
Quiver Trees by Night - Florian Breuer
(via Florian's Photographs)
Life on safari can be chaotic - the 5am wake-up calls; being held up by an elephant plodding in front of your vehicle; travelling to the rhythm of wildlife and weather, rather than the hands of your watch. But there is one thing that remains constant: the welcome, refreshing cocktail every day at dusk. Have a drink as the sun goes down and celebrate all that you have achieved during your day in paradise.
The sundowner can take many forms: a poolside glass of Champagne, gin from a makeshift folding table bar in the middle of the desert, a cold Windhoek Lager popped from an ice chest on the dunes. All are memorable and magical. Here we share some of our favourite sundowner experiences across the country - six places we'd love to be at 6pm each day!
Feel like a Flintstone! Sit atop a huge rock and gaze across a boulder-strewn valley as the sun stains the stones a vivid red. Mowani Lodge, located conveniently close to the rock art of Twyfelfontein, offers one of Namibia's most dramatic spots for a sundowner. Lounge on the logs and floor cushions facing the valley, while staff from the boulder-top bar serve you your tipple of choice, and gaze out across the scarlet scenery as the sun sinks behind the distant mountains.
Etosha National Park
Wildlife congregates around Etosha's many waterholes as the sun dips and the temperature follows. As the animals quench their thirst after a hot day by the Etosha pan - so can you, from the comfort of your own private deck or lodge bar. Accommodations within the park overlook the waterholes for a truly immersive Africa experience - abundant in elephant, giraffe and various antelope species - but also rhino, lion and jackal. Sit back and watch the wildlife documentary play out in front of you in 3D!
Swakopmund sunset. Photo by coda
The sound of the sea is always soothing - and never more so than after a day spent in some of the world's driest dunes! Fortunately, Swakopmund offers various sea-view locations for your sundowner. Oyster fans will love the Jetty 1905 Restaurant at the end of the pier, or have a sunset dinner at 22 Degrees South, at the foot of the lighthouse. Tiger Reef Bar is right on the beach, and will appeal to party animals. Alternatively, just buy a couple of cold beers and sit yourself down on the sand. Blanket recommended!
Watching the Namib Desert at dusk is like stepping into the sunset itself. The sand glows red, the sun-singed grass a luminous blue, the sky is washed with pink and the fairy circles are golden as they catch the dying rays. Mountains loom purple as the moon rises. Sip Namibian wine or South African Amarula and soak up the silence of the rainbow-coloured desert. Once the sun has vanished, don't rush back to your cabin - as that the Namib is one of the best places in the world for stargazing!
Damaraland is one of Namibia's bleakest and most haunting regions. Trek out with your guide into the barren, rock-strewn desert, learning about the fauna and flora that miraculously survives in this vast wilderness. As the sun begins to sink, forms appear on the horizon - lodge staff, with chilled drinks and biltong to revive the happy hikers before the trek back to the lodge for dinner. This is one of Namibia's most isolated sundowner spots.
Hilton Skybar, Windhoek
Windhoek at sunset
All this talk of desert, rocks and emptiness may not appeal to everyone - so when in Windhoek, be sure to stop by its tallest building for a drink on the rooftop bar. The Windhoek Hilton is located downtown and served cocktails every day at dusk - surrounded by a lively crowd, swimming pool and views across Namibia's capital city.
More great sunset photos from our friends
Sunrise over the Zambezi, Katima Mulilo from Robert @Rob_JB
Sundowner view, Avis Dam, Windhoek from Swa Safaris
Chobe River sunset from Matt @Landlopers
Etosha skies from Vicki @LaNomadita
Have you got a great sunset photo? Find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter and share your best Namibian sunset!
The serenity of camping.
(Photo source: African Exlporations)
Aaah, the great outdoors! There aren’t many things that beat the feeling of unzipping your tent at the first cry of a guinea fowl and stepping out to the sight of pink-tinged skies and trees full of twittering birds. Of course, dozing off next to the camp-fire while counting shooting stars comes pretty close.
For the eternal photographers and the adventurous at heart, Namibia is a camping paradise. The terrain varies from the harsh, barren, stony plains around the Fish River Canyon, past the vast red dunes of Sossusvlei; along the windswept shores of the cold Atlantic Ocean to the seemingly endless plains and rocky mountains of Damaraland; and to the humid forests on the banks of the Zambezi River in Caprivi. Each option holds a secret treasure of its own.
There’s a wide choice of sites all over Namibia for seasoned campers, as well as for nervous novices on their first camping holiday, from luxury campsites under shady trees and grassy lawns, to wild places under a camelthorn tree.
And what could be better than camping under the Milky Way? One of the spectacular features of the southern night sky, best viewed under some of the world's darkest skies in Namibia.
What to pack for your Africa camping adventure:
The usual gear – tents, sleeping bags, cooking utensils, food, emergency supplies and a firstaid kit
Binoculars - for tracking down those untamed creatures
Toilet paper – always handy, in allsorts of emergencies
Hand sanitizer - it can be difficult to find clean water or facilities in some places
Something for campsite fun – like balls, kites, frisbees etc. especially when travelling with kids
Insect repellent - for those buzzing and flying annoyances. Remember, in some parts of northern Namibia, malaria is endemic, so check before you go
Books and magazines - for when relaxing under a tree
Water, water, water – rather too much than too little. Remember, Namibia is a desert country
Rope – use it to pull your car out of a patch of thick sand or even as an emergency washing line
Sunscreen – with Namibia’s ample sunshine, it’s always a good move to cover up
Locks and protective covering for your valuables - holiday stories are just not the same when the camera disappears halfway down the line
Two spare tyres – you can never be too careful
A relaxed mood - The wild open spaces of Namibia are best enjoyed with by unwinding and allowing the awe-inspiring views to sink in properly
Remember to drive slowly and keep an eye out for the smaller treasures of the land – a beautiful desert succulent, a curious chameleon, or a colony of meerkats. There is invariably more than meets the eye.
Here are some useful links to get you happy campers going:
This text is an adaptation of an article originally posted in Namibia Holiday & Travel. Download the iPhone and iPad app for free. Or contact Travel News Namibia to purchase a hard copy.
As the sun sets over Namibia's endless horizons, the stars light the way across the grasslands, wetlands and deserts. Creatures that lie sleeping in the scorching heat of the day awaken, and a new world emerges...
Spellbinding video of the Namibian Nights by Marsel van Oosten, from Squiver on Vimeo
Night falls on the barren deserts
And with it, the temperature drops dramatically. The cool breeze brings a taste of fog to the air. The sound of a thousand barking geckos echoes through the dunes. The noise is intoxicating, as they use the crevices between rocks as trumpets to amplify the calls. The dancing white lady spider tap-dances across the sand, while the scorpions begin a dance of their own, as the male lures the female out of her burrow. The dunes are shifting under the feet many insects, arachnids and reptiles looking for food. There are larger carnivores out and about too. Among them is the ratel, or honey badger. He is bathing in the cool sand under the stars. When he’s done, he’ll begin the night hunt. A deadly snake for dinner, perhaps? The brown hyena is roaming the west coast where the desert meets the ocean, giving him the name strandwolf or “wolf of the beach”. Travelling 25-35 kms in a single night, he trawls the coastline by the light of the moon for scraps of seals and seabirds thrown back to land by the sea.
National Geographic archive video, tracking the night adventures of Kleinman the reckless honey badger
There's a rustle in the floodplains
In the Kavango, along the ever-changing Okavango river, you can hear the snorts and grunts of hippos on the move. They have left the river for the evening to forage for food. A hippo fight under the moonlight is a common night sight. But that odd smell is not the hippos, it is the flowers of the terminalia sericea or vaalboom. The night has brought a feast of moths and insects. Nightjars follow suit, letting out a beautiful lilting whistle, flying amidst the Lapwings and other birds of the night.
A thriller in the grasslands
The sound of the jackal haunts the night sky. You can’t always see him, but knowing he is on the hunt and listening to his blood-curdling cry will make your spine tingle. A kudu barks. Is he looking for a mate or is he just scared? The snakes have slithered onto the open roads to soak up the last heat of the day. As if on cue, an owl swoops past and lets out a mighty screech.
The big game is on the move. Sitting around a waterhole at night, you can watch as elephants, giraffe, rhino, zebras and all types of buck emerge from the darkness for an evening drink. Or take a night drive to catch a glimpse of the smaller creatures invisible by day – porcupines, pangolins, aardvark and genets.
On a full moon, the landscapes are lit up as clear as day. The usual night predators – like the caracal, leopards and hyenas - have lost their cloak of darkness. With the element of surprise gone, smaller creatures pluck up the courage to come out to forage. And on such a full moon you may be lucky enough to see the wild dogs of Africa make a rare appearance.
In the early summer months you can feel the shudder of thunder in the pit of your stomach as the clouds roll across the plains. The lightning bolts light up all four corners of the night sky. The first rains fill the evening with the smell of dust and grass and fresh damp – a glorious smell you will never want to forget. The crickets crrick-crrick in the distance as a symphony of giant African bull frogs chime in. In the winter months, when the frolicking and hubbub of mating season has died down, the silence of the bush is just as deafening.
Lightning illuminates the Namibian skies
Game creeps to the waterholes
Wherever you find yourself in Namibia, sit back in your chair or lie on the grass, watch the stars, breathe in deeply and listen to the world around you. You can almost feel the eyes of a thousand wild souls watching you in the dead of the night. And it feels magical.
Ideas for Namibian nights in the wild
- Many of the private reserves, such as Ongava Lodges and Okonjima, offer night-drives and ‘flood-lit’ water holes. Ask your lodge for more details when making the booking.
- For the bird lovers, why not try night bird watching to see some of the 430 species of birds at Shamvura camp in the Kavango region.
- Join astronomer, Dr. Gaedke, surrounded by desert, peering through his state-of-the-art telescopes to experience the tranquility and share in the wonders of the night sky. Stargazing Adventures operates tours from Swakopmund and Sossusvlei.
- Visit the Namib Rand Nature Reserve, Africa’s first official Gold Tier International Dark Sky Reserve as another outstanding stargazing destination with little or no impact from light pollution.
- Have dinner in the Namib desert before going on a guided night-walk.
- Take a self-drive 4x4 safari trip and camp under the night skies. For tips on camping read this post about camping in Namibia
- Or just sit quietly wherever you may find yourself, keeping and ear and an eye out for the wonders of the night.
Find out more about Namibia's wildlife by downloading our Namibia Wildlife Experiences Planning Guide and get more activity ideas by downloading our Namibia Adventure Planning Guide
Special thanks to Mark Paxton, conservationist and lover of the wild, for his time and contributions to this post.
In this weekly EXTREME NAMIBIA blog series we explore some of our country's extremes, and share with you practical information on how you can come and discover them for yourself.
Something once abundant across the globe is becoming rarer and rarer. Once common enough to be revered as deities, guides or spirits by our ancestors, these things are now disappearing so fast that many city-dwellers will likely see only one or two in a night. Even in rural areas, sightings are becoming more and more difficult, necessitating special equipment.
Only in the world’s most remote regions are these things still abundant. Those lucky enough to experience an encounter are still as awe-inspired as their ancestors were centuries ago, captivated by the wonder of nature.
Namibia is well-known for its conservation efforts – and fortunately its commitment to preservation has extended to these things – which have been sadly neglected in much of the world, their value unappreciated.
These things are stars and planets. And Namibia’s NamibRand Nature Reserve is Africa’s first International Dark Sky Reserve – meaning that at night, they fill the sky in abundance. Asteroid belts, orbiting moons, nebula and red dwarfs populate the heavens, while the Milky Way cuts a path through the cosmos, creating a sparkling spectacle for all those lucky enough to experience it.
NamibRand – Home to the Celestial Safari
Namibia's deserts are the place for a different type of safari. With some of the world's darkest skies, you could find yourself trying to spot storms on Jupiter, a shooting star or the Southern Cross through a powerful telescope.
Moonrise over the Namib-Naukluft National Park
This month, CNN voted Sossusvlei Lodge, on the edge of the Namib-Naukluft National Park, amongst the world's top 12 hotels for stargazing.
"This award-winning resort prides itself on giving back to the community and environment, whether by recycling, producing solar power or raising funds for local charities. Even the individual, adobe-style units in shades of sand and peach complement the yellow grasses and sun-burnt mountains of the desert. At night, guests can immerse themselves in the Milky Way with telescope and stargazing help from the staff."
&Beyond's Sossusvlei Desert Lodge is located within the Dark Sky Reserve itself, and an observation platform houses another enormous telescope. Picking out the faintest constellations is possible here, as oryx gather on the plains below by the light of the stars.
If you prefer a more intimate astronomical adventure, the rooms at the Desert Lodge have skylights above the beds. Tuck yourself beneath the sheets and gaze upwards, enjoying one of the darkest nights you'll ever experience. The only drawback is that the full moon is a virtual floodlight - bring an eye mask!
A skylight over the bed offers an intimate stargazing opportunity at &Beyond's Sossusvlei Desert Lodge
The truth is, this region's skies are so unspoilt by light pollution that whether you have a telescope and a skylightlight or not, booking a room at any of the lodges here will mean you are in for a truly magical night. It's also a timely reminder that it's not just the things we can touch that need preserving.
Retired physics professor Dr. George Tucker, who identified the NamibRand as a potential Dark Sky Reserve and led the certification effort, says “Viewing the pristine night sky over the NamibRand is an unforgettable experience. Being recognized as a Gold Tier International Dark Sky Reserve will serve to promote and protect this valuable resource. Achieving this status is a significant accomplishment not just for the NamibRand, but also for Namibia and all of Africa.”
The NamibRand Nature Reserve, just before the stars come out
Dark Sky Facts
NamibRand Reserveʼs nearest communities are small and lie almost 100 km away, so the sky here is one of the darkest yet measured.
“Gold Tier” is the term used to describe reserves with nighttime environments that have little to no impact from light pollution and artificial light.
There are currently only four certified International Dark Sky Reserves in the world, and only two of these are Gold Tier – NamibRand Nature Reserve, and Aoraki Mackenzie, in New Zealand.
Check out accommodation in this region on our accommodations listing page.
Why not try camping under the Milky Way for the ultimate adventure? Read more here
There are flights to Sossusvlei and the Namib Rand Nature Reserve from Windhoek and Swakopmund. The journey time is 1hr 15 mins.
You can also drive to Sossusvlei in around five hours from both Windhoek (375km)and Swakopmund (390km). The journey can be carried out on good gravel roads in a two wheel drive vehicle.
Namibia’s NamibRand Nature Reserve (NRNR), pioneered by conservation hero J.A. Albi Brückner, is one of Africa’s largest private nature reserves. Recently NRNR has expanded its conservation role to include preserving the star-filled nighttime skies that shine above its dunes and mountains. These efforts in night sky conservation have earned the reserve high honors as the International Dark-Sky Association newest International Dark Sky Reserve.
The NRNR is a “Gold” tier reserve, which places the Reserve’s night sky in the IDA’s darkest and strictest available category. IDA Executive Director Bob Parks explains, “The night sky over the NamibRand Nature Reserve is exceptional, as are the efforts the reserve has taken in modifying its lighting for the sake of its wildlife and visitors.”
Game viewing is replaced by stargazing at night, as visitors to the Namib Desert can see the Milky Way, the Southern Cross and Scorpio, amongst other spectacular starry sights, that much more clearly!
Check out some exceptional photography on Dr. George Tucker's flickr page