After arriving in Namibia from South Africa, we stayed one night in the capital of Windhoek where we would start our two-week journey through the country and back again. Windhoek is the center of commerce for the country, but doesn’t offer a lot by way of tourism, so it’s more a stopping over point than anything before you embark upon your Namibia safari.
Note: We used Go2Africa to plan our entire Namibia trip. They were wonderful, and I can’t recommend them more highly—it took all the responsibility off of me, which was nice for a change! However, if you decide you’d rather plan your own trip, I’ve linked to booking sites where you can book the properties where we stayed. It’s important to note that a lot of the lodges in Namibia are small, so they book up far in advance—we planned our trip a whole year before our departure!
First stop in Namibia: Okonjima Nature Reserve
A driver picked us up at Hosea Kutako International Airport and took us to The Elegant Guesthouse where half of us immediately crashed while the other half found a lovely outdoor dinner at a local lodge before joining them in slumber. The next morning, he returned to take us to our real first stop of our Namibia vacation: The Plains Camp at Okonjima Nature Reserve. Once we arrived at Okonjima Nature Reserve, we wasted no time dropping our bags off and hopping on our first game drive of the trip.
Note: We’d had a few nights to catch up on the time-zone change via our visit to Cape Town, but if you’re arriving straight from overseas, the U.S. in particular, I recommend planning a good three or four nights at Okonjima for your first stop in order to get acclimated.
Most safari lodges include a set amount of drives in your stay. At Okonjima, our room rate included brunch, dinner, park and environmental education fees, tourism levy and an Endangered Species drive. One thing I’ve learned in the few safaris I’ve done is never miss a game drive no matter how tired you are. Each one is different, and you’ll always see new animals.
Okonjima Nature Reserve is family-owned and -operated and popular for its regular sightings of leopard, brown hyena and the rare pangolin; it’s also home to the AfriCat Foundation, whose goal is to ensure the survival of Namibia’s predators in their natural habitat through research and environmental projects. Not to mention, the lodge is just stunning.
On our first safari drive at Okonjima, we saw rhino, jackals, giraffes and numerous African birds, including the silly and slightly stupid guinea fowl who the Namibians call “murder chickens” because of their consistently frantic way of running in front of the vehicle as if on a suicide mission, and the dik dik, a favorite among our group for obvious reasons.
Our rooms were large and comfortable, and I wish we had had more time here but it was just a night stop before we were onto our next stay, which would prove to be the crown jewel of our vacation in Namibia.
Second stop in Namibia: Camp Kala
Our driver, Nico, who we would come to spend the following 10 days with, picked us up the following morning and drove us the four hours from Okonjima Nature Reserve to Onguma on the edge of Etosha National Park. They call Onguma Camp Kala “an ultra-exclusive lodge,” and that barely grazes the surface of this magnificent lodge. Located within Namibia’s Onguma Nature Reserve, Camp Kala is a four-suite property with standalone houses perched on a boardwalk overlooking a watering hole.
As I mentioned in my Namibia intro post, the wildlife here are mostly desert adapted species so watering holes like this are clutch in attracting animals by the dozens.
Our stay at Camp Kala included daily breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, four-course dinner, all beverages in bar and our in-room mini bar (beers, local spirits, soft drinks, water, house wines), two activities per night—a Sundowner Drive on Onguma Reserve and Etosha morning game drive—plus all tax and tourism levy.
Not only is Camp Kala full of animals, but our lodges were the nicest we stayed in anywhere. We even had our own plunge pools that overlook the watering hole so we could hang out there while zebra and giraffe mosey past in search of a drink of water.
The staff at Camp Kala is what put the experience over the top for all of us. Since we were the only guests of the lodge being that we were a group of seven and they are only four individual houses, we had the run of show. Each meal they prepared was a five star experience with multiple courses, and the staff could not have been more hospitable and better trained for their roles.
My only regret about staying at Camp Kala is we didn’t have more nights. Go2Africa planned us an excellent itinerary, but we were covering a lot of ground in 12 days, so we had just two nights at Camp Kala before moving onto our next stop in the desert. If I were to go back again, I would want to spend at least four nights at this luxury property.
The game drives topped off an incredible experience. Our guide Johan was a native Namibian who is also a photographer so we had a lot in common, and he made sure to stop when there was a great photo op for our long lenses. We did four drives with Johan over a two-day period, and every one of them was to a different spot on the reserve, each one a different kind of magic.
Inquire here about visiting Onguma Camp Kala in Namibia for yourself.
Sundowners in Namibia
If you have not been to Africa, you might not know their tradition of the Sundowner, but it’s one our group of thirsty travelers drank up very quickly. In Namibian safari culture, every afternoon ends somewhere in the bush, usually on a ridge with a view, with a full bar set out for your consumption. Johan even brought Moët the final day of our visit that made our over-the-top experience even more unbeatable.
We loved the Sundowner concept so much that we’ve had a couple such group happy hours back in the US since that trip. Sundowners are typically gin and tonics, but Johan always made sure to pack a full bar including wine for my mom, with plenty of snacks like biltong, African beef jerky, wasabi peas and other local snacks. Of all the things I miss about Namibia, our daily Sundowner is right at the top of that list.
Camp Kala has many luxury offerings like a spa, and every one of us decided to forgo a post-lunch drive one day and take advantage of the massage offerings instead. That’s not to say we didn’t go on game drives—our Namibia safari experience included four drives at Onguma where we saw such a diversity of wildlife. For some, the big game were the highlights; for SVV, it was the bevy of African birds like the hornbill and the vulture.
For me, it was the cats. At the end of the first day, we tracked a leopard at sunset and we followed her lazy walk for a while. Namibia is home to free-roaming leopards, and the the reserve collars and tracks there whereabouts in an area where poaching is a big concern.
On the final afternoon, we drove around until well past dark, which was worth it when we came across a pride of lions, mostly females with a couple of cubs. It’s wild to think that you’re just feet away from LIONS with absolutely nothing separating you. Obviously the guides are trained for such experiences, but the danger aspect of being so close to these deadly predators definitely adds to the fun factor.
Our Namibia safari was definitely off to a racing start, and our next stop would prove to be something that very few people in the world get to do and see: trek the black rhino on foot and its native habitat. Coming soon on C&C…