Namibia is one of least densely populated nations in the world. Its territory stretches over 318,000 square miles, yet its population is only about 1.8 million, or less than six people per square mile. (By contrast, the U.S. state of Texas, known for its wide open spaces, covers 267,300 square miles and holds more than 20.6 million inhabitants, about 21 people per square mile.)
The reason for this sparseness is not surprising. With the exception of the north, near the Angolan border, and the Caprivi Strip (areas I did not visit), Namibia receives very little rain and has almost no regular surface water. The country is home to two world-class deserts: the Namib, said to be the oldest desert in the world, that stretches along the entire western coast of Namibia and reaches 60 to 100 miles inland; and the Kalahari desert, which makes up most of the eastern part of the country (and reaches into Botswana and South Africa as well). The high escarpment that makes up the center of Namibia receives only about six inches of rain per year.
Namibia's harsh environment made it one of the last areas of Africa to be claimed as a colony during the European rush to divide up and control the continent. Although Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Diaz landed on the shores of what is now Namibia and planted a cross at present-day Cape Cross in 1485, the lack of natural harbors and the treacherous seas discouraged European settlement attempts. Nevertheless, Namibia could not avoid the land grab forever. In the late eighteenth century, the area was claimed by Germany and named "German Southwest Africa." Today, German influence remains strong in the capital of Windhoek and the seaside town of Swakopmund (and other areas as well). Germany, however, lost its colony during World War I, when control was seized by South Africa, then a member of the British commonwealth. South Africa tightened its grip on Namibia (known as South-West Africa) throughout the twentieth century and brought its racist policies and pass laws to the country. Finally, after a long struggle, Namibia gained its independence in 1990. The influence of South Africa, however, remains strong in the country. Many people, especially the older generation, speak Afrikaans and the Namibian dollar is pegged one-to-one to the South African Rand (the two currencies are used interchangeably throughout Namibia, though only the Rand is used in South Africa).
Namibia today is a country with much promise. It is at peace with its neighbors and among the various ethnic groups and tribes within the country. It has rich mineral deposits and it is the world's largest source of diamonds. In addition, it is developing a thriving tourism industry.
During my visit in June and July, 2002 (in the southern winter), I traveled to the Skeleton Coast and the Kunene Region in the northwestern part of the country, where I saw the giant seal colony at Cape Frio, the vast dunes along the coast, the desert elephants and other animals that have adapted to the arid conditions of the region, and visited a Himba village where the people have maintained their traditional pastoralist lifestyle throughout the centuries. Photographs and information about these areas appear on separate pages: Skeleton Coast & Kunene Region and Himba & Herero People
After the Skeleton Coast, I joined a driving safari that covered portions of the central escarpment, as well as the southern part of the Skeleton Coast and Swakopmund. This itinerary included the Waterberg plateau, a dramatic mesa and the scene of a bloody battle between German colonial troops and the Herero; Etosha National Park, Namibia's premier wildlife park; Damaraland, an area of vast landscapes and plants that have adapted in peculiar ways to the arid conditions; Twyfelfontein, the location of mysterious rock paintings and etchings; Sossusvlei, home to the highest sand dunes in the world; and the region near the Namib-Naukluft Park, where we hiked through the beautiful Quiver Tree Gorge. The photographs above provide an overview of this portion of the trip. For greater detail, click on one of the slide shows below.
People of Namibia: The people of Namibia were very welcoming. The children, especially, almost insisted that their photographs be taken. You will also catch a glimpse here of the Himba and Herero people of Namibia, but for more photos and information, see the separate Himba & Herero People page. (13 Photos) [Preview This Slide Show]
Windhoek & Swakopmund: Just a few photos from two of the more densely populated areas in central Namibia: Windhoek, the capital of the country, and the seaside resort town of Swakopmund, at the southern end of the Skeleton Coast. Both cities still have many buildings dating from the German colonial days. (7 Photos) [Preview This Slide Show]