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Namibia is vast — as in bigger than California. The grandeur and seemingly incorruptible beauty of this land came strikingly into view as our 12-seat Cessna soared above one of the world’s oldest deserts, revealing dramatic vistas such as towering sand dunes, dry riverbeds and, just off to the west, the endless stretch of empty coastline known as the Skeleton Coast. Imagine a mash-up of Monument Valley, South Dakota’s Badlands and Mars, and you might come close. Of course, none of those places have a thriving population of desert-adapted wildlife — including elephant, lion and the prized black rhino — which is why I went. Namibia is now being dubbed the “Costa Rica of Africa” thanks to its highly successful conservation initiatives.
But while the country’s great expanse and isolated safari camps are wonderful for conserving habitat and game viewing, they make access a challenge. Enter the fly-in safari, in which small aircraft such as the Cessna flown by Air Wilderness make isolated, road-less camps easily accessible. As a bonus, they also offer spectacular scenic vistas perfect for that OMG social media update. Following are some of Namibia’s best options found in Damaraland, where excellent game viewing and cultural experiences with local tribes exemplify why the fly-in trend is taking off.
Okahirongo Elephant Camp
Desert chic is the best way to describe this eclectically designed lodge. Think shaded, open-air lounges decorated with tribal carvings and kudu horn lamps overlooking a shimmering infinity pool and you get the idea. Days here consist of two daily game drives, where clients have a good chance of seeing elephant coming to drink at the seasonal Hoarusib River. Then again, guests are just as likely to see wildlife around the camp such as giraffe gliding through the tall vegetation that borders the lodge. Accommodations include seven domed stone cottages in muted ochre and earth tones. They feature open-air showers and private gazebos providing epic desert views. And while it is possible to get here via four-wheel drive, a nearby airstrip serviced by the lodge is the best choice.
Desert Rhino Camp
Managed by Wilderness Safaris in conjunction with the Save The Rhino Trust, as the name implies, Desert Rhino Camp is the place to send clients if seeing a black rhino in the wild is on their bucket list. The plunge pool, eight Meru-style tents with oversize verandas and highly trained staff are big incentives as well. The camp also attracts repeat visitors for its supremely civil “sundowner” cocktail hours (the safari equivalent of a tailgater) held in outrageously photogenic settings. Morning and evening game drives through the rugged terrain of rocky plains and scrub-covered valleys provide the chance to see rhino, mountain zebra and elusive desert lion.
Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp
Opening this August, this new luxury tented camp will be the latest fly-in entree by Namibia experts Wilderness Safaris. Situated in one of the most remote areas of the Kaokoveld region bordering the Skeleton Coast National Park, the new camp features eight stylish en-suite tents and a common area that includes a lounge, bar area, dining room, fire pit, pool and an adjacent watering hole. Besides the opportunity to see elephants, giraffe, antelope and lion, one of the main attractions here will be flight-seeing tours to the nearby Skeleton Coast that depart from the camp’s airstrip.