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Fish River Canyon

Size

5,900 sq. km (2,300 sq. mi)

Founded

1962 (National Monument)

Best time to visit

May until September

The second largest canyon in the world

Among Namibia’s many fascinating geological features, the Fish River Canyon is undoubtedly one of its grandest. Second in size only to the Grand Canyon, this mighty ravine was carved by the Fish River, with the process beginning about 650 million years ago.

Fish River Canyon at sunset

Fish River Canyon: more than just spectacular views

The largest canyon in Africa provides travellers with more than simply amazing views. Granted, the sunrises and the sunsets here are fantastic, but the canyon also has an interesting history, it could awaken an interest in geology in you which you didn’t know you had before and it provides you with some excellent hiking opportunities.

The Fish River Canyon has an interesting origin story. The local Nama believed that there was a giant snake which inhabited this area and caused untold misery upon their people. So, they assembled all the warriors from all the tribes and with spears, bows, and arrows they confronted the snake. The battle was fierce and many brave warriors died until finally, the Nama were able to tie the snake down with the ropes which they had thrown over it. The snake struggled to free itself and twisted and turned and in the process of doing so, dug deep rifts into the ground. It dug itself so deep into the ground that it created the canyon which we now refer to as the Fish River Canyon. Although undoubtably a great story, modern geologists tend to disagree…

The Fish River Canyon is actually two canyons, appearing at first as one. The upper canyon started forming approximately 650 million years ago when the original flow of the Fish River began eroding a broad, but not very deep riverbed. The erosion process simply followed the path of least resistance, as it encountered hard quartzite layers in its depths, thereby forming the flat upper plain you can see today. This changed however, approximately 150 million years ago. With the process of the giant continent Gondwana breaking up, today’s continents of South America and Ocean began to split off Africa. This shifting of landmasses went hand in hand with land uplifts, which made the gradient of the Fish River steeper and thereby increased the strength of its flow. With this increase in power, the river was able to break through the hard quartzite layers below and penetrate deeper into the earth. The extremely dry climate in the region exposes the bare rock formations of the Fish River Canyon with little or no vegetation to cover it. Each rocky layer can be seen as easily as wrinkles on a face. This makes the Fish River Canyon a dream for all (hobby) geologists who want to learn more about the unique history of the canyon and its origins.

For those who want to stretch their legs and get active, the canyon offers amazing hiking possibilities. Ranging from multiple day hikes in the canyon itself to day hikes in the canyon or on the canyon rim. The hike through the canyon riverbed stretches for 80 to 90 kilometre and takes around four to five days to complete. You will not only witness breath-taking scenery, but also experience the natural calmness and peacefulness that comes from spending time outdoors. Along the way, you will come across hot springs in places such as ‘Sulphur Springs’, a few kilometres south of the main lookout point. Eventually, this epic multiple day hiking trail ends at /Ai-/Ais, where the nearby resort of the same name offers pools of hot spring water, modern spa facilities as well as lodging and camping facilities.

There are several accommodation options available to travels who wish to spend some time exploring the Fish River Canyon. The Canyon Lodge on the eastern side of the canyon and the Fish River Lodge on the western side are both very good choices and allow you to be pampered or go on adventurous activities – all depending on what it is that you are after. The quirky Canyon Roadhouse is also worth a visit, even if you’re not staying there.

A visit of the Fish River Canyon is certainly worth it for any traveller. The grandeur of the canyon makes you want to soak in the sunrises and the sunsets and will motivate you to not only explore the canyon, but also to learn more about its creation. As is so often the case in life, reading about it is one thing, but experiencing it for yourself is something different entirely.

Namibia Fish River Canyon
Sunrise

Best sunrise and sunset spots

You will want to be on the eastern side of the canyon for the best sunrise photographs of the Fish River Canyon and for the best sunset photographs you want to be on the western side.

Size Fish River Canyon

The canyon is simply massive

You can gaze upon the enormity of the Fish River Canyon, which runs for 160 km, at its widest point is 27 km wide and has depths of up to 550 metres. No matter from where you look, the Fish River Canyon looks impressive.

Water in the Fish River Canyon

Water in the Fish River Canyon

The Fish River rises in the eastern Naukluft Mountains, but only carries water below its damming at the Hardap Dam during times of heavy rainfall. Nevertheless, a series of individual ponds can be found in the riverbed, even in times of low rainfall.

Sunset at the Fish River Canyon lodge

Sunset and sunrise are the most special times of the day at the Fish River Canyon.

Fat bike tour organised by the Fish River Canyon Lodge

You can go on hikes or fat bike tours around the canyon rim, organised by your accommodation, like the Fish River Lodge.

Closeup of geological formations at Fish River Canyon

Geologist, photographers, and nature lovers are sure to be impressed by the stunning Fish River Canyon.

WHEN TO GO

Best time to visit the Fish River Canyon

The area around the Africa’s largest canyon is arid and this is reflected by its climate. The winter months between May and September are the best times to visit the canyon, particularly if you are keen to do some hiking. Daytime temperatures are pleasant but you should also pack some warm clothes because the nights can get brutally cold. The summer months from October to April bring a small chance of rain but also scorching hot temperatures. Due to the chances of flooding and the very hot temperatures, hiking within the canyon is not possible during the summer months.

Dry season

Dry Season

May to September

Dry conditions and pleasant temperatures

Rainy season

Green Season

October to April

Rare chance of rain and very hot temperatures

Why to go

Wander around the largest canyon in Africa

There are several hiking options available for those who want to explore the area on foot. Most famous is the 80 to 90-kilometre route through the canyon which takes 4-5 days to complete and provides an intense and unadulterated experience of this geological wonder. Some consider it one of the most challenging hiking trails in Africa. But there are also plenty of shorter hikes available, including hikes simply along the canyon rim which will still provide you with magnificent views.

People walking at Fish River Canyon rim
Mia Hald Travel Expert
I'm a passionate photographer and the blue and golden hours at the Fish River Canyon are truly spectacular. But even during day time, you can capture stunning images of the intricate details of the rock formations.
Mia | Namibia Travel Expert
Sunset overlooking the Fish River Canyon
Blue & Golden hour

Both the sunrise and the sunset at the Fish River Canyon are breath-taking – you should try to witness both.

Quiver tree forest near Fish River Canyon
The Quiver Tree forest

Quiver trees are not commonly found concentrated in one specific area, but here they are.

Things to do

Epic views and curious plant life

The Fish River Canyon is one of the best places in Namibia to witness a magical sunrise or to soak in an enchanting sunset. You should also take some time to examine one of the region’s most iconic type of tree at the Quiver Tree Forest.

  • Admire the sunrise or the sunset
  • Explore the Quiver Tree forest
Dassie rock hyrax at Fish River Canyon
Rock Hyrax

More commonly referred to as a Dassie in Namibia, this animal is the closest living relative to the elephant.

Hoodia plant close up
Hoodia

The local San/Bushmen people traditionally used this plant as an appetite suppressant.

Namibian Klipspringer
Klipspringer

These small antelopes are capable climbers and are ideally suited to the terrain found at the Fish River Canyon.

Quiver tree around Fish River Canyon
Quiver Tree

Named after the fact that its hollowed branches were used by the San/Bushman as quivers for their arrows.

WILDLIFE & PLANT LIFE AT THE FISH RIVER CANYON

A tough place to survive

The Fish River Canyon is a harsh environment to eke out an existence and yet, many different animals and plants thrive in it. Not only small mammals, reptiles, and arachnids, but even larger species such baboon, kudu and leopard inhabit the area. The plant life is also fascinating, particularly if you have an interest in succulents.

Where to stay at the Fish River Canyon

Fish River Lodge Namibia

Fish River Lodge

Quiver Inn Guesthouse guest room

Quiver Inn Guesthouse

Location

The Fish River Canyon is located in the south of Namibia, with the nearest larger town being Keetmanshoop. The canyon winds its way south and ends at the /Ai-/Ais Hot Springs Resort. To the west lies the small town of Aus and then further along the road, the town of Lüderitz. If you are travelling north from the Fish River Canyon, then the D707 road will provide you with one of the most scenic drives in all of Namibia.

Experience the Fish River Canyon

Zebra closeup Namibia
Namibia travel expert
Sand dunes Namibia

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