Serra Cafema Camp, Kaokoland
Greener than the Namib, Kaokoland, in Namibia’s northwest corner, is a tableau of dales framed by volcanic mountains. The region is home to many Himba, a nomadic people numbering 12,000 who are scattered throughout northwestern Namibia and southern Angola. The women are especially striking, with elaborately braided dreadlocks and glistening red skin (a special paste protects them from the sun). At the Serra Cafema Camp (doubles from $813, all-inclusive), the main lodge sits on stilts in an oasis of green albida trees above the Kunene River, which separates Namibia and Angola. The eight loftlike chalets are filled with carved Nguni furniture, and in the bathrooms, copper basins are mounted on log pedestals. The food is sophisticated—especially the candlelit dinners, which might include fish en papillote followed by a chocolate mousse. Take a hike with Franco Morao, one of the camp’s top guides. Morao will point out goliath herons and fresh sets of long, smooth crocodile tracks. He’s also good at spotting small creatures, such as pairs of toktokkie beetles, the males piggybacking on the females to shade them while they forage for food.
Wolwedans - NamibRand Nature Reserve, Namibia
Dunes Lodge, Namibrand Nature Reserve
About a half-hour’s flight south of the Sossusvlei dunes is the 444,000-acre NamibRand Nature Reserve, another private conservation project, begun in the 1980’s by Namibian environmentalist Albi Bruckner, who transformed this area of low rolling dunes and tall grass from sheep farms into a group of small lodges known as the Wolwedans Collection. The Dunes Lodge (doubles from $750, all-inclusive) is a string of 10 wood-and-canvas cottages linked by walkways set with large lanterns and potted cacti; the aboveground pool is shaded by a sailcloth awning. For minimal impact on the environment, the entire camp was designed using only wood and canvas.
Wolwedans - NamibRand Nature Reserve, Namibia
Boulders Safari Camp, Namibrand Nature ReserveWolwedans is known for the quality of its restaurants: the chefs are locals who have been trained at the company’s culinary school in the capital, Windhoek. The biggest news in this part of the desert is Wolwedans’s two-year-old Boulders Safari Camp (doubles from $950, all-inclusive), a remote compound of four luxury tents set between gigantic granite boulders. Days here are spent hiking or on scenic drives; at sunset, cocktails are served atop the highest ridge.
Little Ongava, Ongava Game Reserve
This 75,000-acre private enclave comprises the south-central edge of northern Namibia’s 9,000-square-mile Etosha National Park. Here, one of the country’s most luxurious compounds, the three-cottage Little Ongava (doubles from $1,996, all-inclusive), sits on a hillside of pockmarked boulders and giant cacti. The infinity pools almost make the property seem too glamorous for its setting. Interior designer Anne Christopher has made extensive use of African artists’ work: masks from Burkina Faso; wooden bowls from Zambia; Ethiopian trays; Congolese wall hangings; and Namibian paintings.
Courtesy of Wilderness Safaris
Ongava Lodge, Ongava Game Reserve
The ultimate prize of Little Ongava, however, lies out in the bush, where you are likely to see herds of zebra grazing peacefully and packs of surprisingly shy 8,000-pound white rhinos feeding on the foliage. If you’re lucky, your guide will be Rosie, a jocular Namibian who’s the country’s first female big-game guide. Little Ongava’s sister property, the nearby 14-room Ongava Lodge (doubles from $1,022, all-inclusive), is a recently redone, less expensive alternative.
Courtesy of Onguma Safari Camps
Fort at Fisher’s Pan, Onguma Reserve
In 2007, the Fort at Fisher’s Pan (doubles from $780, all-inclusive) opened on the southern edge of Etosha National Park. This exotic structure—tall, thick walls; massive studded doors; multiple patios; secret staircases—sits on the edge of a large watering hole. The Fort is the latest addition to the Onguma Safari Camps, a collection of lodges in the private 50,000-acre slice of Etosha known as the Onguma Game Reserve.
The rustic cottages at the Fort exude casbah-cool: North African chandeliers, tadlakt floors, and brass-tray bedside tables. The bathrooms are housed in octagonal towers with high ceilings, Philippe Starck and Oxo fixtures, and tall freestanding mirrors in distressed frames.
In addition to game drives in the private reserve, the Fort takes guests to the main Etosha game park. The toll-plaza entrance and numerous vans and private cars are a bit of a disappointment, but the game is another story. On a four-hour excursion, you can expect to see giraffes, elephants, wildebeests, steenbok, leopard tortoises, monitor lizards, and the occasional lion.
Evenings back at the Fort are especially magical, with the deck lit by Moroccan lanterns and sconces. Out at the floodlit watering hole, you can watch zebra assemble at sunset. Onguma, it turns out, means “the place you don’t want to leave.”