6 Reasons To Visit Namibia

By Viator.com
August 10, 2015
Namib sand dunes, Namibia Desert Park
Lonely Planet

This article was written by the Jill Nawrocki on behalf of Viator.com.

With only about two million people scattered across the expanses of its breathtaking savannahs, haunting deserts, and fertile deltas, Namibia is one of the least-densely populated countries in the world. Yet somehow this southern African nation that’s approximately the size of California still offers some of the greatest ecological and cultural diversity in the world.

With a modern capital city, comforting colonial-inspired coastline, and network of well-paved roads, accessing all that this beautiful country has to offer is incredibly easy—even for first timers. As a result, this coastal gem has quickly taken its place among the top spots to visit in Africa and become the perfect entry point into exploring this incredible continent. Here are some of our favorite reasons to visit Namibia.

The Language Barrier is Small

While about half of Namibia’s two million people speak Oshiwambo—one of the country’s 11 major languages—at home, English is actually the national language. When the country gained its independence back in 1990, the government hoped shifting to a more-widely spoken tongue would result in faster economic advancement. Whether this has been the case is still up for debate, but travelers to Namibia will find that even in some of its most remote regions at least a little English is often spoken. In larger cities like Windhoek and Swakopmund where German and Dutch influence was once great, visitors can easily get around speaking one of these languages instead. And while the presence of European languages makes navigating the villages a bit more manageable, the country has done well to preserve its own indigenous tongues. Travelers can still hear the clicking language across Damaraland and the far south, made famous by the Nama, Damara, and San people.

The History is Fascinating

Like South Africa, Namibia’s history is rich with stories of oppression and tales of triumph. From its early colonial days, when the Dutch and Germans ruled this nation formerly known as German South-West Africa and later, as only South-West Africa, its people have been tucked under a harsh and difficult rule. Whole tribes of people were collected and confined to specific regions of the country under German rule and historians have speculated that the model used by the Nazis in the Holocaust was tried and perfected on the people of Namibia during the Herero and Namaqua genocide. Later, when Namibia became a part of South Africa, the country fell under apartheid rule. As a result, white Namibians and German and Dutch residents were placed in wealthier “townships” and black Namibians were forced to live in areas known as “locations.”

Although this system of oppression no longer exists today, travelers to Namibia can still seem remnants of the nation’s difficult past. Monuments to German soldiers and bloody battles exist in many of the country’s larger cities, particularly in Namibia’s southern regions, and German and Dutch colonial architecture is the norm in places like Windhoek, Luderitz, and Swakopmund.

The Landscape is Beautiful

Namibia is home to some of the world’s most diverse landscapes. From the sweltering sands of the Namib and Kalahari Deserts to the unforgiving Skeleton Coast, fertile Okavango Delta and the rocky depths of Fish River Canyon, this is a country that has it all. The best part: its network of well-paved roads with practically zero traffic makes moving one extreme to another a breeze. Explore the vast savannahs of the south in Karas or Hardap. Or travel to the north, where lush green mango trees and tall grasses line the Okavango River. To the east, in Omaheke, travelers can cruise through the desert under the light of the blazing sun or head to Kunene where mountain passes lead to the land of the Himba people in the unique town of Opuwo.

Adventure Comes in Many Forms

All this diversity in landscape means there’s plenty for the outdoor adventurer seeking a new kind of thrill in Namibia. Avid hikers can pack up a bag and descend into the depths of Fish River Canyon, one of the nation’s most difficult multi-day hikes that dips across rivers and rocky passes with no escape from the blinding Namibian sun. Extreme sports enthusiasts can skydive from tiny private planes over the desert sands outside of Swakopmund or ride the sandy waves while boarding down the world-famous dunes near the coast of the Atlantic.

Travelers can take an evening game drive through the vast Etosha in hopes of spotting a lion pride in search of a kill, or head to one of the country’s well-kept lodges for the once-in-a-lifetime experience of hunting springbok in the bush. And while hiring a car, hopping a tour or traveling with a guide are easy ways to see this great nation, one of the most adventurous ways to get around is thumbing a ride from the side of the road, where friendly locals are often eager to offer a lift to visitors exploring the countryside.

The Animal Life Is Diverse

Namibia’s wildlife is as rich and diverse and its geography and its people. That’s because when the nation gained its independence back in 1990, it made conservation one of its top priorities. Etosha National Park, located in the northwestern part of the country, is one of Namibia’s most popular wildlife destinations. Its 22,000 square kilometers of protected land are home to hundreds of elephants, rhinos, giraffe, lions, kudu, and zebra that gather during rainy season at the park’s famous watering holes. Visitors can stay at one of the park’s incredible lodges, where western comforts meet life in the bush, or spend an afternoon driving through the grasslands of this reserve.

But Etosha isn’t the only place where the health and safety of Namibia’s wild animals reigns supreme. At the Cheetah Conservation Fund located just outside Otjiwarango, a team of expert staff led by American Laurie Marker, keep close watch over some of the country’s most beautiful felines. The center, which is a hub for research, education, conservation and habitat restoration, is also home to a number of cheetahs.

Namibia is also home to one of the largest seal colonies in the world. Located in Cape Cross, along the country’s Atlantic coast, the Cape Fur Seals have become one of the nation’s most popular—and unexpected—wildlife attractions. Travelers can tour by boat or kayak up close to these playful sea creatures while on a visit to Swakopmund.

The People Are Welcoming

Despite its history of apartheid and oppression, Namibia is full of diverse people who are warm and welcoming to foreign travelers. Whether it’s hitching a ride with a local from the side of the road, hunting alongside an expert game guide, or visiting a traditional Himba village in the northern region of Kunene, travelers will find Namibia to be a country with a big heart, a warm embrace, and a whole lot of hospitality.

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Great Getaways: Detroit & Western Michigan

Detroit may be called America's Comeback City, but there are other words to describe its recent revitalization: cultural, culinary, and community. The Motor City has welcomed in some new additions alongside long-time favorites to further bring back its vitality. Here's how to make the most of your trip. Learn from the locals Detroit natives know their city best, so of course they should show you around. Started by a long-time resident to give visitors an insider's perspective, The Detroit Experience Factory holds guided walking and bus tours to areas from downtown to midtown that cover everything from architecture to food tastings. View colorful murals on each floor of "The Z" City parking garages are usually not very visually appealing, but "The Z" certainly has a lot of color. Opened in early 2014, this 10-floor garage near the corner of Library and Gratiot actually doubles as a gallery space—walls on each level have been turned into canvases featuring murals or street art that have been designed by 27 artists from around the world. Discover Michigan's great outdoors Opened in the summer of 2015 near the Detroit Riverfront, the DNR Outdoor Nature Center features replicas of natural settings, hands-on exhibits, and educational displays designed to show local families all that Michigan's outdoor recreation scene has to offer. Visitors will encounter everything from a giant oak tree to a waterfall area and even a yurt where youngsters can play while their parents learn where to go camping. See what's made in Michigan By turning a foreclosed warehouse in Detroit's Corktown into an inexpensive rental property, Ponyride has become a co-working space for a mix of organizations, businesses, and entrepreneurs—it's open to the public Wednesday afternoons at 2 p.m. and you can quietly observe the tenants at work. In the Midtown area, the Cass Corridor Design District has stores with localyl or regionally handcrafted merchandise that any shopper would crave. City Bird, a brother and sister owned shop, also carries their own line of Detroit and Great Lakes-themed pieces. And though Shinola is more on the high end, you'll marvel at watches, bikes, and leather goods—plus moderately priced journals. Eat your way around Detroit's culinary scene As with manufacturing, I'm happy to report that Detroit's restaurants are also thriving. Newcomer Chartreuse Kitchen & Cocktails supports local farmers with seasonal menus and serves its namesake botanical liquor straight or in cocktails. Fellow newbie Selden Standard is a hot spot with its small plates and craft cocktails. Long-timer Traffic Jam and Snug has an onsite dairy and a rooftop garden with fun interior décor made up of antique shop treasures and other pieces donated by customers. At the historic Eastern Market, find vegetable, fruit, and specialty vendors and grab breakfast or lunch at Russell Street Deli. Back Downtown, try a Coney Island dog, a local favorite, and weigh in on which place serves it up better: American Coney Island or Lafayette Coney Island. Go for a stroll in Belle Isle Park Designed by Frederick Olmstead, known for his work with NYC's Central Park, Belle Isle Park is a 985-acred island park with a number of attractions along the Detroit River. It contains the oldest aquarium in the United States, a conservatory, a fountain, athletic fields, and Dossin Great Lakes Museum, where you can learn all about the area's nautical history. You'll also find nice views of neighboring Ontario. Do a day trip to Dearborn About 15 minutes from Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Dearborn is home to a number of sites linked to the Detroit's motor legacy. The Henry Ford Museum and accompanying Greenfield Village offer insights into the man who modernized the auto industry. The museum contains significant objects symbolizing American innovation and history, like Abraham Lincoln's chair from Ford's Theatre. Greenfield Village takes you back in time with places from Ford's youth mixed in with structures belonging to fellow innovators like Thomas Edison. Along with seeing Ford's past, learn more about his company at the nearby Ford Rouge Factory Tour—visitors can watch the assembly line for the Ford F-150 truck plus two videos on the plant's legacy. If you're seeking some time by the lake, head to Ludington and Grand Haven in Western Michigan for outdoor exploration and small-town finds. Visit the lighthouses in Ludington Once home to a major lumber industry, Ludington keeps vacationers coming back with natural attractions. Take a ride on the Silver Lakes Sand Dunes—let Mac Wood's Dune Rides do the driving and take a spin on one of their 40-minute excursions. Do your own exploring in the massive Ludington State Park by boating, hiking, or relazing on the beach. Michigan has the most lighthouses in the U.S. Pay a visit to Big Sable Point Lighthouse within the park and nearby Little Sable Point Lighthouse, which opened to the public in 2006. For a small admission fee, you can climb up the staircase and spend some time on the lookout area. At House of Flavors, expect a line out the door at this diner and ice cream institution with classic flavors and in-house creations like the Blue Moon. The Jamesport Brewing Company offers good meal options with beer choices extending to German lagers and American ales. Go to Grand Haven, Coast Guard City USA Called Coast Guard City USA due to lengthy ties to this military branch, Grand Haven is based at the mouth of the Grand River and graced with beaches, bike trails, and a boardwalk. Though summertime brings out attractions like a majestic Musical Fountain, Grand Haven offers activities year-round. Plus, there's more to do beyond the water. For a nice nature walk, head to Rosy Mound, a system of dunes with wooded hiking trails and a beach area. Shoppers will find a lot of choices in the downtown area and you can hop on a historic trolley tours to see more of Grand Haven. Don't miss the annual Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival, a 10-day celebration that honors these U.S. servicemen and women with various family-friendly events. Get a meal at Kirby Grill, an American restaurant with nice deck views and a selection of salads, sandwiches, and pizzas. Beer connoisseurs should head to Odd Side Ales, a brewery inside a former piano factory with an inventive list ranging from light Citra Pale Ale to dark Mayan Mocha Stout.  This article was written by Michele Herrmann, a travel and lifestyle writer/editor who contributes destination features and travel advice pieces to various media outlets. To date, the farthest she's ventured to is Fiji, along with much of Europe and a good deal within the U.S. For more travel stories, check out her blog, She Is Going Places.


Stay At These 7 Luxury Inns Under $150

Typically, B&Bs are a better luxury option than their chain-hotel counterparts. Posh perks like wine hours, homemade breakfasts featuring local ingredients, personalized service, and complimentary Wi-Fi mean guests get way more for their travel dollars. Here are seven of our favorite luxurious B&Bs with rates less than $150 per night. Fort Conde Inn, Mobile, Alabama Fort Conde Inn is Alabama's only four-star, AAA four-diamond-rated boutique hotel and bed and breakfast—and it’s housed in one of the city’s most historic structures. Originally constructed in 1836, Fort Conde Inn opened in 2011 following a major restoration effort that included installing heating and plumbing, repurposing floors taken from an old home in Mississippi, and rebuilding the columns out front. Luxury rooms and suites feature L'Occitane bath amenities and antique furnishings. Rates start at $119 per night. The inn also offers accommodations with kitchenettes in its carriage house and private cottages. Inn on the Creek, Fredericksburg, Texas Inn on the Creek is a great jumping-off point for those visiting Texas Hill Country. The inn has six private suites with rates starting at $99 a night, and is close to numerous wineries. With top-notch amenities such as private hot tubs, fireplaces, a full gourmet breakfast served daily, and an on-site spa facility, the 1800's home is one of Fredericksburg’s most luxurious bed and breakfasts. The property is located just a stone’s throw from the town’s charming Main Street, too. Craftsman Inn, Calistoga, California Napa Valley's Craftsman Inn provides an affordable way to explore Calistoga and the surrounding region without sacrificing amenities. Outfitted with touches like L’Occitane bath products and sleek subway-tile backed waterfall showers or Jacuzzi tubs, the eight guestrooms feature English and American antiques, yet still exude a modern and comfortable feel. The icing on the cake: Craftsman Inn’s lavish daily Champagne breakfast is lauded by guests near and far. Rates start at $149 per night. The Madeleine Bed & Breakfast Inn, Santa Fe, New Mexico The Madeleine Bed & Breakfast Inn offers more than your typical Southwestern B&B. Built in 1886 by a railroad tycoon, this eco-friendly frontier home features a seamless blend of Victorian architecture and Asian decor. For a special treat, book a hot-stone massage or a rose-petal bath in the Indonesian-style Absolute Nirvana Spa. The property is enveloped by colorful gardens and boasts seven unique rooms with nightly rates starting at $110. Breakfast follows New Mexico culinary traditions with an ever-changing Southwestern-style spread featuring dishes such as breakfast burritos and blue corn pinon waffles. Pinehurst Inn, Bayfield, Wisconsin Pinehurst Inn has eight rooms with rates starting at just $99 per night. The rooms are divided between the main house and the detached garden house, which was added in 2003 as a green building that mirrors the historical style of the main house (constructed in 1885). Luxurious touches include gas fireplaces, jetted tubs, and private decks in select rooms. Property grounds are covered with woods, perennial gardens and hiking trails, and there’s an outdoor sauna and shower on site. The inn provides easy access to water sports like kayaking and sailing in the summer, dog sledding in the winter, and is located near the Mainland Ice Caves, one of Lake Superior’s more spectacular natural formations. The hearty breakfast served every morning features organic, local ingredients such as vegetables and herbs grown in the Pinehurst gardens. Abbey's Lantern Hill Inn, Ledyard, Connecticut Abbey’s Lantern Hill Inn is the perfect choice for nature lovers seeking a well-appointed stay at the end of an adventure-packed day. With wide-plank pine flooring and a color palette heavy on earth tones, the eco-friendly inn reflects its lush, green Mystic-area location. Guests have their pick of seven themed guestrooms with rates starting at $139 a night. Stay in the Native American-inspired Southwest Room or the Cadillac Suite, outfitted with California redwood and Spanish tile. Abbey’s Lantern Hill Inn even has a nautical-themed, pet-friendly cottage for those who don’t want to leave their pups behind. Marshall Slocum Inn, Newport, Rhode Island Marshall Slocum Inn channels the opulence of Newport without the luxe price tag: Nightly rates start at just $89. Built in 1855, the historical home has five rooms with antiques furnishings—rooms feature original 150-year-old pine plank flooring—and amenities such as iPads pre-loaded with entertainment. The inn is not far from the Cliff Walk and Newport's famed mansions, as well as many beaches and the Newport Harbor. This article was written by Kristin Luna and originally appeared on BedandBreakfast.com.


Attention Millennials: Who Wants To Go To Australia?

Great news for millennials who have always wanted to go to Australia: If you're under the age of 30 and have a few months free, we've got the inside scoop on how you can study, intern, volunteer, take a gap year, or work your way around Australia. The secret: Australia's Working Holiday Visa. Officially known as the Work and Holiday (Temporary) visa (subclass 462), this magical document allows American citizens between the ages of 18 and "not yet 31" to stay in Australia for up to 12 months, study abroad for up to four months, pick up random jobs for up to six months per employer, and leave and re-enter the country as much as you want within that year. In other words, you could work and save up a bit for the first 3-6 months, travel around Australia for another 3-6 months, and even hop over to check out New Zealand in between gigs if you want to. Um, yes please! And now for the fine print: you need to do your homework and apply for this visa while you're home, before you get to Australia. You'll also need a valid U.S. passport and about $325 USD for application fees, and you're not allowed to bring along any dependents for the ride. Want to get started? Check out GoOverseas.com to browse through their extensive lists of programs, perfect for anyone who wants to teach, volunteer, study, take a gap year, or spruce up your resumé with an international internship. They've got a ton of options to choose from, from jobs in restaurants and hotels to PR internships—you can even become a scuba diving instructor, wildlife conservationist, or work outdoors on a farm, ranch, or winery. The best part: If you spend at least three months working in the agriculture industry (ie. picking berries or helping out in rural areas), you're eligible to apply for an additional 12 months and stay even longer. This has always been a lifelong dream of mine, to head to the land down under and backpack my way around the continent visiting friends and working odd jobs if I ever needed more money to keep going. Most of my friends in their 30s talk about how "the clock is ticking..." as they worry about meeting men and starting families—I always respond with, "So is mine. I've only got two more years before it's too late to do the Working Holiday Visa in Australia." It seems I've got an entirely different ticking clock. The good news is Americans over the age of 30 can still technically visit Australia for up to three months, so at least there's that if the long-term idea doesn't end up panning out. Still, fingers crossed! Everybody knows Aussies speak English, but a totally different kind of English. Here's a cute video to help you remember how to speak Australian. Hint: the secret is to abbreviate everything.


Get 'Em While They're Hot! Greyhound Is Offering $1 Tickets to Mexico

Mexican vacation for a buck, anyone? Greyhound recently launched international bus service from Texas to Mexico, and for a limited time, you can hop aboard for $1 a ticket. (Or 25 pesos.)  The new route connects Monterrey and Nuevo Laredo in Mexico to Laredo, San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas in Texas, with 23-plus departures per day. The two private Mexican terminals are brand-new, and the accompanying new fleet of buses sounds pretty swank: free Wi-Fi, outlets, leather seats, extra legroom, onboard restrooms, and guaranteed seats. As easy-breezy as going down south sounds, though, Greyhound says its security checks are rigorous, and it is working with the U.S. and Mexican governments on the border-crossing process. When passengers reach the border, they and their baggage are checked, and everyone must have a passport to enter either country. The dollar-ticket promotion runs online at Greyhound.com and Greyhound.com.mx through Wednesday, July 29 (seating is limited). After that deal ends, keep an eye on the Greyhound websites to score web-only fare discounts. Olé!