There are few more exhilarating ways to get around a country than by motorbike. Namibia, with its extensive and well-maintained road network, is the perfect place to go on a long and winding ride through its scenic and sweeping landscapes.
In this post we have collected the information of several tour operators in Namibia that offer bike riders a chance to explore our country in a unique way. So read on if you have a taste for adventure of the two-wheeled variety.
This company offers tours in Namibia and its neighbouring countries. Take a trip from South Africa to Namibia, or why not travel between Namibia and Botswana.
Riders heading toward Sossusvlei
(Image source Ride2Roam)
Ride2Roam limits its tour groups to ten bikers at a time so you will never be part of a swarm of tourists. Bike enthusiasts run the company so they know what they are doing and you can feel completely safe when striking out on the road with these guys.
Riders striking out on a desert road.
(Image source Ride2Roam)
Their website is comprehensive and easy to navigate, check it out here.
(Image source Ride2Roam)
This is a company that specialises in doing tours throughout Southern Africa. There are guided tours and there are self-guided tours. Either option you choose the folks at Dualsports Adventures will hire out all the gear you need to tour around Namibia including GPS equipment when needed.
Their Southern Namibia Adventure is highly recommended as it will give you a unique way to explore Namibia’s Southern regions (read more about Namibia’s south over here).
The ride will take you past Sossusvlei, rugged landscapes and the Fish River Canyon as you make your way through Namibia and into South Africa.
The Deadvlei, just outside Sossusvlei.
Motorcycle Tour South Africa
While based in South Africa this company does offer two tours through Namibia. The first is a ten-day tour that will take you along many of Namibia’s most scenic dirt roads. There won't be any camping on this tour and adventuers can choose betweenb a three or five star package.
Exploring Namibia with friends on motorbikes- perfect!
(Image source Motorcycle Tour South Africa)
The charming seaside town of Luderitz will be one of your many stops.
(Image source Motorcycle Tour South Africa)
The second tour begins in South Africa and heads up the West Coast into Namibia. Check it out here.
Africa Motorcycle Tours
This is the international agent for South Africa Motorcycle Tours, and you can read more about the man in charge, Tyler Hare, here.
(Image source Africa Motorcycle Tours)
This comapny offers perhaps one of the most interesting bike rides you can do in Southern Africa. Their Namibia/RSA tour is a must do for anyone who has 14 days and the urge to ride all around stunning Southern Africa. Starting in Cape Town your trip will take you north toward Namibia, and once in Namibia the real fun begins.
You never know what you'll find when you bike into Namibia.
(Image source Africa Motorcycle Tours)
On this tour you will visit Keetmanshoop, Windhoek, the Skeleton Coast and Etosha National Park before returning south back down to Cape Town. For a detailed tour description click here.
For those riders who are looking for a little bit more of a challenging ride through Namibia this is an operator that can cater for your needs. Enduro Namibia proudly takes riders, of varying degrees of skills, over Namibia’s 37000 km’s of untarred roads, showing them exactly what the country has to offer.
Off the main roads are some truly beautiful untouched landscapes.
(Image source Enduro Namibia)
Most of the tours are suitable for the average rider, with only two (the Wild West and the Kaokoveld rides) being singled by the folks at Enduro Namibia as needing more skilled and physically prepared riders.
The company has a page with need to know facts about biking through Namibia as well as detailed biographies of some of the riders who will be leading you on your group tour.
On many of these tours you will be camping out in the wild and this would make it the perfect tour for those bikers looking for a bit more adventure than usual.
One of the many camping spots you will visit on one of this company's tours.
(Image source Enduro Namibia)
Another company that specialises in off-the-beaten-path tours is Gravel Travel. Check out their site here.
Cut your own path with your group of riders.
(Image source Gravel Travel)
They also have several package options available for you to choose from just head to their website and begin planning your trip.
Great African Outdoors
With over 20 years of experience and a brand new fleet that has just been bought, GAO are one of the more established companies offering motorbike tours throughout southern Africa.
GAO have a “Windhoek to Windhoek” tour and on this ride you will visit Etosha, Epupa Falls, Swakopmund and Sesriem. It is a 12 day tour and will take you through some of Namibia’s top attractions.
The “Ocean to Desert” tour is another tour that starts in Cape Town, South Africa and makes it way up to Windhoek Namibia. On this tour you will go through Sesriem, the Fish River Canyon, Etosha, Swakopmund and Windhoek. It is a 14 day tour finishing in Windhoek.
Stunning views abound in the Fish River Canyon.
The “Big Five” tour will take you on a circular route between Zimbabwe and Namibia and as you can guess the focus will be on visiting safari parks and seeing big game. The Okavango delta, Etosha National Park, Mdumu Game Reserve and Chobe National Park are some of the highlights on this 13 day tour.
Elephants in Etosha National Park.
Overlanding Africa's Bike/Car Tour
Now many riders have families. And many riders’ families are not necessarily able, or willing to ride a motorbike through a foreign country. So if you have family members or significant others who are not too keen on riding around Namibia then fear not. The people at Overlanding Africa have a solution for you.
While you are riding along the dirt roads, tearing up a dust storm on your motorbike your companions, if they choose to not join you on two wheels, will be right behind you in the Overland Safari Truck. Not only will you all be able to share in the same views and experiences but you everyone gets to do it in the manner that they’d prefer to.
Their website is a bit light on information but they respond to any queries you might have about doing a motorcycle tour with you via email.
Live to Ride- Windhoek
Live to ride is the oldest motorcycle club in Namibia. If you are looking for like-minded riders and advice on the best routes to travel on throughout Namibia and Windhoek then be sure to visit their official page and drop them a line.
Cynthia in Namibia
Cynthia, a Dutch motorcycle enthusiast talks about her time biking through Namibia. Read all about it here.
Cynthia on her way through Namibia.
(Image source Motoress)
Hiking in the Fish River Canyon
Words and pictures by Roderick MacLeod
I woke up after spending a night in the Fish River Lodge knowing that my day would be a busy one. I had signed up for a full day hike into the second largest canyon in the world: the Fish River canyon. The hike would be a ten-hour affair; five hours into the canyon and five hours to get out of the canyon before dark settled on the land.
As you can expect the day started early. Breakfast was served at 5:30am and despite the hour everyone was in high spirits.
Dube, one of the guides at the lodge.
The night before the hike I had had a chance to chat to some of the Fish River Lodge’s staff about the hike and what I should expect. The response was always along the same lines: It is a tough hike and should not be attempted by the frail or lazy. A good pair of shoes is an absolute must and a healthy pair of lungs will, of course, help. The Fish River Lodge, as part of the full-day hike package you can purchase, provided me with water and food for the duration of the hike.
Into the Canyon
Once our guides for the day (Ben and Desmond) had introduced themselves to us we set out for the point at which we would begin our descent down into the canyon.
Our vehicle was left perched on the canyon's rim.
We would see it as a dot, many hours later, looking up from the canyon floor.
An hour after beginning our descent I noticed how spectacular the formations in this canyon are. The dried up river beds, the gullies, the outcrops of strangely sculpted cliffs are all a treat for anyone with an interest in natural beauty. It is incredibly interesting to witness the changes to your surroundings as you descend into the canyon for the first time.
Rain-sculpted and sand-blasted, a face emerges from the cliff...
A long dried-up river bed
A gully in the morning sun.
On account of the many different landscapes in and around the Fish River canyon there is a varied collection of wildlife. The chances of sighting a few of these creatures increases when you are on foot. The park is home to many mountain zebra, various antelope, eagles and even a few rhino. Unfortunately I did not see any of the rhinos. I did however find traces of their activities on the path we were using.
Rhino dung on the hiking trail.
Naturally created hiking trails
Many visitors at the lodge spoke of their encounters with the mountain zebras of the region. The reason why people have encountered so many of these animals is because the trails that I and everyone else hikes on are in fact the selfsame paths created and used by the animals. There is a distinct effort on the part of the park officials and lodge owners to keep the hike as natural as possible.
When hiking the Fish River Canyon you will literally walk on the paths the local animals use...
There has been no clearing of boulders or cutting of trails. This means that when scaling up or down the mountain you have to figure what the best route will be. Since the rocks in the canyon are frequently breaking off the cliff faces and rolling down the slopes no two hikes into the canyon are identical.
The Half-day hike viewpoint
After three or so hours of hiking we came to a type of plateau which was about half the way down into the canyon.
We had reached the halfway point of the half-day hike, which meant we were one quarter through the full-day hike. We could see the river and the canyon floor below us. We were then told by Ben (our guide) that we would be heading further down the canyon and further along the river toward our destination: A natural rock pool in which we could have a refreshing dip before turning around and heading back out of the canyon.
View from the half-day hike turnaround point.
Below to the left is the Fish River.
Between the half-day hike turnaround point and the rock pool was the part of the hike I found to be the most treacherous. The landscape suddenly flattened out and i found myself walking on cracked rock and around small thorny shrubs. Constant attention was needed to avoid spraining an ankle or twisting a knee.
Ben surveys the harsh beauty of the canyon surrounds.
Your prize for making it through these trials is an hour of relaxation at the rock pool. After 4-5 hours of non-stop hiking this rock pool becomes more than just a pool, it becomes an oasis. Water cooled rocks and shade from the surrounding cliffs will give you all the comfort you need after having spent hours in the arid heat.
The seemingly bottomless rock pool at the floor of the canyon.
Onward and Upward
After we had relaxed sufficiently at the rock pool we picked up our bags once more and headed back along the path we came down on.
My hiking companion preparing to leave the rock pool behind.
The hike was nothing short of glorious. I was constantly struck by the massive beauty of the canyon. From the moment I stood atop the canyon to when I was seated on its floor, to when I once again stood atop its cliffs I was filled with a sense of wanderlust and excitement. The hikes and hiking options offered by the Fish River Lodge make it easy to say this is the perfect spot for just about anyone who wants to go hiking in the Fish River canyon.
Even our guide, Ben, had to take a few breathers on the way up.
How to get there - Where to stay
The Fish River canyon is one of the largest canyons in the world and it can be found in Namibia’s Southern Karas region near the South African/Namibia border.
As with most places in the South of Namibia the best way to get there is via the small town of Luderitz. The drive from Luderitz to Fish River canyon is a lengthy, but relatively straight-forward drive. A car capable of dealing with rocky dirt roads is strongly advised.
Almost the entirety of the canyon is now a protected nature reserve and there are several lodges one can stay at around the canyon. It should be mentioned that the Fish River Lodge is the only lodge that is perched directly on the rim of the canyon, the other lodges are a little bit removed from the canyon.
If you wish to hike in the canyon you will need a guide as private hikes are no longer allowed since numerous tragedies have befallen ill-prepared private non-sanctioned groups of hikers.
Most of the lodges offer guests a variety of activities to choose from. So if there are people unwilling or unable to hike, do not fear. Activities in the Fish River canyon range from scenic drives to horse back safaris so check each lodge out and decide what is best for you and your traveling companions.
Here is a list of some of the places you can stay at near the Fish River Canyon:
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.
"Namib" is the Nama word for "vast" - and this desert, stretching for 1,600km along Namibia's coast, is certainly the embodiment of vastness. The most arid parts of this sandy expanse receive an average of just 2-5mm of rainfall a year, which would manke you think that this is 1,600km of nothing - yet even here, in one of the planet's most extreme wildernesses, life perseveres.
The Struggle for Survival in the Namib
Bizarre plants, innovative insect, and mammals with their own "cooling systems" all manage to eke out an existence in the Namib; read on to find out about some of nature's most extreme adaptations!
Camelthorn trees are a characteristic sight in the Namib - most notably the fossilized remains of those in Deadvlei, which date back over 900 years, but have not rotted thanks to the extreme dryness. The tree's huge thorns deter overgrazing, and its deep roots can tap water sources located up to 50m underground. Because competition for the water is so tough, they have also developed a way to avoid growing too close together: their seeds, which grow in large, crescent-shaped pods, will only germinate once they have passed through the digestive tract of an animal. The animals then wander and disperse the seeds, far from the source. Clever!
Desert-adapted elephants are not a distinct species of elephant, but their behavior is quite unlike that of savannah elephants. They walk up to 60km a day between water sources, and have learned to dig waterholes with their tusks. If this fails, they can go up to four days without drinking. Their home range can be an astonishing 2-3,000 square kilometers, and their feet are wide to facilitate walking across these great distances on the soft desert sand. Desert elephants they walk carefully to avoid knocking down trees, breaking branches or scraping bark - unlike their savannah cousins, which are known for being highly destructive.
A very old welwitschia, standing around the height of a man. Its two leaves have shredded, making it look like there are many more. Image from the Wikimedia Commons.
The welwitschia is one of the world's oldest - and oddest - plants. It is the only species in its family, and throughout its lifetime - which can be up to 1,500 years - it will only grow two leaves, which can each measure up to 4 meters long. The welwitschia only grows in this region of Namibia and Angola, and given the arid nature of the Namib, it is believed to survive on the dew caused by the frequent fog. Welwitschias are truly prehistoric-looking, and are believed to date back to the Jurassic period.
The oryx, also known as a gemsbok, is a common sight in the Namib desert, thanks to its incredible adaptations to the intense heat and lack of water. The oryx has an effective "cooling system" - blood is pumped through cooler vessels around its nose while it breathes rapidly - which means that while its body temperature can reach over 40 degrees celcius, their brain remains much cooler. The high body temperature means it loses very little water through sweating - which is good news, as they can rarely drink, and have to obtain most of their liquid from food. Additional adaptations include efficient kidneys to produce highly concentrated urine, a white belly to reflect the heat back onto the sand, and the ability to breate up to 210 times a minute - wow!
Namib Desert Facts
The Namib, at 55 million years old, is the world's most ancient desert, as well as being one of the driest. Much of it is protected as part of the Namib-Naukluft National Park which covers almost 50,000 square kilometers, making it larger than Switzerland.
Rainfall varies from 85mm in the westm to just 2mm in the east - but the area is often covered by a thick fog, which allows plants and animals to survive thanks to the dew it creates.
Another souce of water are the rivers. Although the beds seem to be almost always parched, there is permanent waterflow underground which creates linear "oases" on the surface.
Watch a fascinating video about some of Namibia's most extreme desert-adapted wildlife - including rolling spiders and invisible snakes - here.
Sossusvlei is one of the most visited destinations in the Namib-Naukluft National Park, but visitors can also enjoy hot air balloon rides, quad biking, desert hikes, paragliding and sand boarding. Download our Adventure Travel Planning Guide to find out more!
True adrenaline junkies might prefer something a little more challenging - 100km of Namib Desert is a tortuous race which takes place near Sossusvlei in extreme weather conditions. Alternatively, one of the toughest foot races on earth is the Namib Desert Challenge which covers 228 km of inhospitable, desert terrainover five stages of high-endurance ultra-running. Read more about these events in our Endurance guide.
If you want to get up closer to some of the species that have learned to survive in the desert without venturing to the Namib, visit Swakopmund's Living Desert Snake Park - it houses a variety of snakes, scorpions, geckos and monitor lizards with information about each.
Spend a thrilling day tracking desert-adapted elephants - contact a Namibia tour operator to plan your tracking experience. You can also find your ideal accommodation near the Namib Desert in our Accommodation Guide.
Namibia is a country of almost-superlatives. The second-least densely populated country in the world is also one of the newest, and is home to some of: the largest dunes, the darkest skies, the oldest cultures, the biggest conservation areas in Africa, the world's last rhinos and the most complex languages on the planet - to name but a few!
In this weekly blog series we explore some of Namibia's extremes, and share with you practical information on how you can come and discover them for yourself.
Taking on Big Daddy
Sossusvlei is surely Namibia's most iconic landscape. The rust-red dunes, bleached white pans and deep blue sky are instantly recognisable, and symbolise the country's vast, dry, uninhabited expanses. The dunes here are some of the highest in the world, and the tallest in this area - at a whopping 325m (1,066ft) - is the appropriately named Big Daddy.
The more popular - and widely photographed - Dune 45 is just 80m high, but people still like to climb the monster Big Daddy for two main reasons: firstly, because it overlooks the surreal landscape of Dead Vlei, a white pan filled with the dark fossils of camelthorn trees, and secondly because climbing Big Daddy gives you ultimate bragging rights.
Two adventurers climb a massive dune.
Embarking on your climbing expedition
It's not for the faint-hearted. Climbers need to start early - and round here, early means waking at 4:30am. This allows time to reach the park gate when it opens at sunrise, and then make the 65km drive to Sossusvlei in a 4x4 over the soft sand. An early start also displays the dunes as their most picturesque. The rising sun causes one side to glow a fiery red, while the other is entirely in the shadows. It truly is a paradise for even the most amateur photographer. As the sun soars higher in the sky, the landscape appears to flatten as the shadows disappear.
If the early wake-up call has left you feeling dizzy, ascending Big Daddy's crest will really make your head spin! It takes an average of 50 minutes to reach the first plateau - which rewards adventurers with awesome dune panoramas, a peek down into Dead Vlei, and gorgeous photo opportunities.
Climbers take on Big Daddy
Continuting to the second peak requires stamina, bravery and an extremely large bottle of water. It takes at least another hour with the sun now high in the sky and not a spot of shade in sight! But of course, the views from the top are astounding, and if you reach the summit, you have truly conquered one of nature's harshest giants.
Now comes the reward - running down the soft sand of the slipface. Two hours of endurance to the top - five mintes of sheer pleasure bouncing down to the the bottom! The adrenaline rush will give you enough energy to take a stroll around Dead Vlei for some photos, before a well-earned lunch at a shady picnic spot.
Running down Big Daddy (left); Climbing Big Daddy offers an unusual view of Dead Vlei (right)
Big Daddy is the tallest dune in Sossusvlei but not in the Namib Desert - that honor belongs to the giant 383m Dune 7.
In the Nama language, "Sossus" means "a gathering place for water". "Vlei" is Afrikaans for "a shallow lake".
The dunes of the Namib were created by sand being carried on the wind from the coast. The wind in Sossusvlei itself blows from all directions meaning the dunes are known as "star" dunes - as they cause the sand to form a star shape with multiple "arms". This wind pattern also means that the dunes hardly move.
The sand here is five million years old. It is comprised mostly of tiny grains of coated in a thin layer of iron oxide, giving the Namib its distinctive red color.
An aerial view of the dunes at Sossusvlei gives a sense of scale
The park gate is just past Sesriem, and is open between sunrise and sunset. From here, the 65km drive to Sossusvlei takes about an hour.
At the base of Dune 45 - 45km from the gate - there is a small parking area and a dry toilet. Sossusvlei has a larger parking area with more toilets and a picnic area. There is no water here, so bring plenty.
The route beyond this parking area (another 4km to Sossusvlei) can only be covered in a 4WD vehicle. Alernatively, there is a 4WD transfer service, or you can walk.
The climate here is extreme, even in winter. Visitors should bring at least two litres of water, sunscreen, a sunhat, sunglasses and long-sleeved shirt. Be aware that the sun is also reflected upwards from the sand!
Read a local painter's perspective on Sossusvlei and see a photo gallery of the region.
Don't fancy scaling one of the world's highest dunes? Take a look at Gondwana Collection's 360 degree panorama of Sossusvlei instead!
"More than an endurance mountain bike race, the FNB Desert Dash is a wild beast that lures you, challenges you and allows only a few to stay on its back. It's a 369km, 24 hour fight between human and nature, body and mind." - www.desertdashnamibia.com
Photo from Desert Dash
Tomorrow, 14th December, around 450 hardcore cyclists will be strapping on helmets, stretching calves and pumping up tires in preapration for Namibia's eighth annual Desert Dash - one of Namibia's most intense mountain biking events.
Desert Dash covers 369km on a mainly gravel road between Windhoek and Swakopmund, and must be completed within 24 hours. It starts at 3pm on Friday, and the cut-off time is at 3pm on Saturday. The race is covered in six stages, and riders can participate in teams of two or four. The first and final stages must be cycled by all team members, while the teams take it in turns to cycle the middle four stages. There is also a tandem category. But all eyes are on another, much tougher category - the individuals. These reckless racers cover all six stages alone, and astonishingly the current record across all categories is held by a solo cyclist, Namibian Mannie Heymans, who completed the race in just 12 hours 13 minutes!
Photo from Desert Dash
So whose crazy idea was it? Some years ago, a group of friends including founder Aidan Delange decided to cycle from Windhoek to Swakopmund for fun. They made the journey over a couple of days, camping along the way, and on their return had the idea of turning it into a 24 hour race to be completed in teams. When the idea of solo racers was initially proposed, they were told it was impossible - but there is nothing that Namibians like more than an endurance challenge - and Desert Dash was born. There were so many applications from solo cyclists that the number had to be limited to 100, and this year's online bookings sold out in just 38 seconds!
Money raised by Desert Dash participants goes to support Children in the Wilderness, a Wilderness Safaris initiative that sends rural children to Wilderness Safaris camps for the week, to teach them about the bush, the environment and wildlife; as well as health and sanitation issues. The children are able to play, learn and discover the possibilities of life outside their villages. The experience has been described as life-changing.
Children in the Wilderness takes over Andersson's Camp, near Etosha National Park
One of Namibia's most iconic desitnations, the Fish River Canyon, is more than just a must-see travel destination. It is an adventure and a challenge. For years, the 84km trail that descends through the canyon has served as a race course for elite runners.
The Fish River Challenge Race invites athletes from all over the world to tackle extreme conditions and terrains. In 2003, Namibians Russell Paschke, Charlie du Toit and Coenraad Pool set a record time of 10 hours 54 minutes to complete the run.
Today, that record has been shattered by ultra trail runner Ryan Sandes who finished in 6 hours and 57 minutes. Read more about Ryan's accomplishment here.
Fish River Canyon is the second largest natural gorge in the world, and the largest in Africa. Set in a harsh, stony plain dotted with drought resistant succulents, such as the distinctive quiver tree or kokerboom, the canyon is a spectacular natural phenomenon.
Formed over 500 million years ago, Fish River Canyon was created by the collapse of the valley bottom due to movements in the earth’s crust. It drops vertically by half a kilometer without any warning. As with most rivers in Namibia, Fish River is generally dry except during the rainy season, from January to April.
Unlike Ryan, you may choose to explore Fish River Canyon at a more leisurely pace. The Fish River Canyon Hiking Trail is generally a four-day, 86km expedition open from May to September. Even if you're not planning on racing through, hiking the trail still requires a doctor’s approval. With no services except for at the beginning and end, it’s obviously not for the faint of heart.
To book a trip to the Fish River Canyon, contact Namibia Wildlife Resorts.