The Namib desert is rightfully known as the oldest desert in the world, its presence dating back for over 55 million years as a vast, sandy expanse. But its ancient age does not mean that it has remained unchanging, nor is it, as a desert simply a big, empty barren space. In fact the Namib desert is one of the most dynamic places on the earth, constantly at the mercy of environmental shifts and changes, with flora, fauna and humans all fighting to find their place amongst the desert’s enormous landscape.
Over 55 million years old, the Namib desert is composed of over 31 thousand square miles of desert expanse, criss-crossed by dried, long-forgotten riverbeds. For the past 2 million years, it has remained as it is today, with enormous expanses of gravel plains and sand dunes stretching to the furthest reaches of the horizon. Its vastness is characterised not by stillness, as might be expected in such an ancient landscape – but a powerful and merciless torrent of wind and storms that whip the landscape even drier. Some of the highest wind speeds on earth rush through the desert’s valleys, transforming the visual landscape.
Rain is a rare and valuable occurrence in the desert, but despite the starkly arid atmosphere, the Namib is home to a wealth of plant life, particularly succulents of many shapes and forms. While rain only falls when warm moist air is blown across, with massive variation in rainfall between the years, coastal fog governs much of the desert’s precious moisture. Cool air, condensing to fog, regularly provides a stable and predictable blanket of moisture across the desert, and is a valuable life source to the wide variety of flora and wildlife that have adapted to thrive in the tough region. Shrubs, succulents, lichens and annuals all grow across the desert, with occasional exotic trees scattered across the river beds. The desert is also home to many species of reptiles and rodents, who survive upon the vegetation emerging from the gravel plains, while in the eastern regions of the desert, cheetahs, foxes and hyenas have also thrived.
Alongside its resilient wildlife, the Namib also attracts many human visitors, drawn by its surreal and expansively dramatic landscape. Off-road driving, climbing and horse-riding are just some of the ways in which visitors can explore the diverse region. For those who truly want to immerse themselves in the breath-taking expanse of the Namib desert, a scenic bird’s eye view by air gives you an incredible vision of the enormous desert, and a rare opportunity to see the stunning, shimmering landscape of the desert. Or for a true spiritual experience, visitors can spend a few isolated nights in one of the desert’s campsites. Equipped with only the barest of amenities, the Namib desert is soon revealed in all its wonder and expansiveness.
For visitors keen to explore the desert, the best times to arrive are between June to September, where temperatures are most amenable. A flight to Windhoek or drive to Sossusvlei can let you stay at a comfortable residence, in close reach of the desert’s many wonders.