Namib-Naukluft National Park
At 19,215 mi², Namib-Naukluft is one of the largest parks in the entire world. This Namibian national park is named after the Namib Desert, the world’s oldest desert, but also contains savannah grasslands, gypsum and quartz plains, granite mountains, an estuarine lagoon and wetlands, a canyon, and of course, enormous sand dunes. The most famous sand dunes are located at Sossusvlei, including “Big Daddy” at an incredible 1,100 ft. Reaching the top affords a photogenic, eerie view of the “Dead Vlei” – a white pan containing scattered skeletons of acacias that perished over 800 years ago. Make sure to arrive early: the sunrise paints the dunes with beautiful hues of red and orange.
Though very arid and seemingly inhospitable, the park is actually a viable biome of desert-adapted flora and fauna. This is thanks to the condensation from Atlantic Ocean sea mists. Such unique creatures include the Plamato gecko, shovel-nosed lizard, Namib golden mole, gemsbok (oryx), springbok, mountain zebra, and ostrich. Arguably the best way to experience this incredible landscape of endless dunes is on a hot-air balloon flight.
Formed by the consolidation of old livestock farms in the 1980s, NamibRand is a private reserve bordering the national park. With only 4 lodges on the entire reserve, this is an excellent place to experience true solitude.