There’s a certain timelessness to Namibia – a country where ancient rocks cast long shadows, and the wind sweeps away sandy footprints. Where shipwrecks gracefully rust into obscurity, and desert-adapted elephant seek secret springs. That said, climatic variations can have a bearing on the best time to visit Namibia on safari.
Although the extended Southern African winter, from April to October, is regarded as Namibia’s best time, its roads-less-gravelled and immense wilderness areas easily absorb the visitors it receives, and you’re unlikely ever to be part of a throng (unless it’s of seal or springbok!).
As you’d expect, the red sands and rugged rocks are rarely troubled by rain, but keep an eye on that thermometer. Bracingly fresh mornings followed by deliciously warm days are the winter norm; expect consistent weather, and beckoning-campfire evenings.
The absence of cloud cover explains the crisp nights, and means that the stargazing is out of this world. While you’re sleeping, satellites and celestial bodies will pirouette above you, and if you’re prone to wishing on falling stars, you may need a longer list of things you’d really like.
Climb the towering Sossusvlei dunes at dawn to watch light, shadow and colours compete for mastery of the landscape. Namibia is a photographer’s dream, with the saturated blue of the winter skies forming the perfect backdrop to curvaceous red dunes and portraits of Dead Vlei (where there’s still life).
As the dry season tightens its grip on the landscape, the wildlife of Etosha is unerringly drawn to the spring-fed waterholes which ring the pan. Lion lie in wait – and you can too, making the most of the unique photographic opportunities that sunken hides offer.
Damaraland’s otherworldly terrain is best explored during the cooler winter, when longer-range excursions bring the Skeleton Coast (with its seal colonies and history of navigational errors) within range. The coastal strip itself is cooler year round, thanks to the maritime mists which support its unique ecosystem.
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The classic desert experience of cooler nights (as the day’s heat is radiated back into the sky) applies equally during the extended summer, although the contrast may be more marked.
The main factor to consider when planning a safari in Namibia from November to May is the temperature, which (during the day at least) will likely be rather higher than you’re used to – especially if you’re escaping from the Northern Hemisphere winter.
Luxury lodges take a dynamic approach to all things thermal, and judicious use of air conditioning and plunge pools can definitely take the edge off. As in the winter, rainfall is scant at most, and clear night skies mean superb star viewing. After glancing at the rising mercury during the day, you can watch its planetary namesake by night.
Experienced Namibian guides will show you how to use a kikoi as a headscarf, letting you channel a cool Lawrence of Arabia vibe as you use horsepower (rather than camels) to conquer the desert.
While Namibia is never busy, during the summer you’ll probably have your pick of luxury lodge accommodation, and you can also benefit from prices that move in inverse proportion to the temperatures.
Namibia feels wonderfully secluded and remote even during the winter peak season; with even fewer visitors in-country, you can truly picture yourself at the ends of the Earth, with only your most favourite people for company.
For a little respite from the heat without leaving Namibia, head to the Skeleton Coast, where it’s cooler year round.
Inland, the game in Etosha also feel the heat, and the activity around the waterholes can be intense. You’ll also have the slightly surreal experience of watching animals appear to float towards you in the shimmering heat haze across the pans.
With summer rains producing prolific new life in green-season safari destinations like Botswana, adding an extra country to your itinerary will also make your holiday that little bit cooler.