Fish River Canyon, Namibia

On our 2009 Africa adventure, our first big stop in Namibia was at Fish River Canyon. Namibia is a very dry country, giving it a barren, almost other-worldly appearance.

Namibia roads

You can see for miles here!

Fish River Canyon is located in Southern Namibia, and it’s the largest canyon in Africa. The canyon was created over 500 million years ago from a combination of water erosion and the collapse of the valley bottom due to shifts in the earth’s crust.

The hiking trail through the canyon is one of the most popular trails in Southern Africa. At 85 kilometers total across some rough terrain, it’s also considered very challenging. But it’s easy to see why the area is so popular. The landscape is spectacular, though you really wouldn’t want to get lost here:

It's like being on the moon, only really really warm!

It’s like being on the moon, only really really warm!

The full hike through the canyon can be completed in four or five days, and reservations can be made through Namibia Wildlife Resorts. (You will also require a doctor’s note giving you approval to attempt the hike!) Keep in mind that Namibia Wildlife Resorts only take reservations for groups of 3 to 30 hikers. Also, the hike is only allowed between April-September due to the extreme temperatures in summer. The temperature can vary anywhere from 5 degrees Celsius to 30 degrees Celsius during hiking season, but summer temperatures of up to 48 degrees Celsius are not unheard of in this region.

Fish River Canyon cactus

Only the hardiest, drought tolerant succulents survive here

As for the terrain in and around the canyon, it’s rocky, sandy and dry. But there is the odd tree here and there, making their presence even more striking against the backdrop because of their rarity. For example, this lone quiver tree:

Quiver tree at Fish River Canyon

Quiver trees are actually part of the aloe family, but are named quiver trees because the local bushmen tribes hollow out the branches to make their quivers.

Fish River Canyon is as deep as 550 meters in some places, and the Fish River which cuts through it is the longest interior river in Namibia (650 km). By September though, the river often dries up and creates a long string of pools.

Fish River Canyon view

The river water is relatively safe to drink, but purification tablets are still strongly recommended. There are natural thermal hot springs at the southern end of the canyon at Ai-Ais, which would be a relaxing and restorative way to end a five-day hike! For more information about the hot springs and resort, check out the Namibia Wildlife Resorts Ai Ais hot springs page.

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