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Kaokoland (Kunene Region)

Size

Over 40,000 sq. km (over 15,444 sq. mi)

Created

1970 (Kaokoland) | 1992 (Kunene Region)

Best time to visit

All year

Kaokoland completely wild and untamed

For the adventurous souls out there, Kaokoland tours are what Namibia is all about. Widely considered as one of Africa’s last remaining true wilderness areas, the Kaokoland is harsh, wild, desolate, and dramatically beautiful.

Mountainous landscape Kaokoland Namibia

Kaokoland: The land of the Kunene and Himba

It is not included in most tourist itineraries, but that is a large part of its appeal. With its stunning landscapes, desert elephant population and cultural experiences with the iconic Himba people, Kaokoland (Kunene Region) tours have a lot to offer.

Wide open spaces across rugged terrain, with beautiful waterfalls at Epupa and Ruacana along the Kunene River. The Ruacana Falls count amongst the largest found in Africa and the Epupa Falls are probably one of the most beautiful. This alone could justify visiting the Kaokoland. Further inland, the Kaokoland is home to a variety flora and fauna despite the harsh environment found here. Scattered across the valleys and dry riverbeds are desert elephants which can sometimes walk up to 200 km to find water. Both they and black rhinos are free roaming and can be tracked and viewed in various parts of the region, as can the elusive desert lions. Easier and more frequent wildlife sightings found here are zebra, springbok, oryx and giraffe. To say their numbers in the Kaokoland are bountiful would be a lie, the region is sparsely populated and the main appeal here is the fantastic landscapes. But wildlife can be found in the Kaokoland, you just need to know where to look.

The term Kaokoland was given by the Apartheid government and after Independence was replaced by the name Kunene Region in 1992. However, in day-to-day life, the term Kaokoland is still commonly used. The name Kaokoveld strictly speaking refers to an ecosystem on a stretch of coastline; however, it is often used interchangeably with the name Kaokoland.

The Kaokoland is also great 4×4 territory that will challenge any vehicle as much as the driver. The treacherous Van Zyl’s Pass leading into the Marienfluss Valley is possibly the most famous of the passes. However, not all the roads in the Kaokoland consist of mountain passes. You will also encounter normal dirt and gravel roads, which you can sometimes drive for hours without encountering another living soul. What you are rewarded with for driving along the Kaokoland’s roads are amazing panoramic vistas, uninhabited and stretching out as far as the eye can see.

Accommodations are rather limited here, compared to other parts of the country. But those accommodations which are in the Kaokoland will provide you with all the comfort you need and are located in a stunning natural setting. Along the Kunene River, you have a choice of either staying at fantastic safari lodges or camping on one of the beautiful campsites. This part of the Kaokoland is green and lush, in stark contrast to the rest of the region and shade can be found under the baobab trees and makalani palms. The regional capital, Opuwo, is a popular and convenient stop and a good place to restock your supplies. If you are planning to stay for the night, keep in mind that the Opuwo Country Lodge’s infinity pool boasts one of the best views you will find anywhere in Namibia. Further south, in the settlement of Sesfontein, you will also find only a limited number of accommodations and campsites. Amongst the lodges is the Fort Sesfontein Lodge, rebuilt according to the original Fort Sesfontein, which was built by the German Schutztruppe in 1896 in an effort to curb poaching.

Travelling through the Kaokoland, you will encounter several Himba settlements along the way. These iconic and statuesque semi-nomadic people continue to largely resist the encroachment of the western world. The Himba are best known for the red ochre that they use to braid their hair and protect their skin from the harsh sun. Himba women wear ornate hairstyles, which along with jewellery made from iron, copper and shells makes them striking to look at and a popular motive for many photographers. On Kaokoland tours, you have the chance to witness the traditional Himba lifestyle at several cultural villages and living museums, many of which can be incorporated into our itineraries.

The Kaokoland is a region waiting to be discovered by those who are looking to explore a region that lies off the beaten track. By travelling through its desolate valleys and hills you can awaken the adventurer in you and soak in not only amazing and uniquely beautiful landscapes but appreciate the wildlife and the people who inhabit this fascinating land.

Namibia Kaokoland Epupa Falls
Waterfall

Waterfalls

You can gaze upon the Epupa and the Ruacana Falls, two of the many scenic highlights in the Kaokoland.

Valley landscapes

Marienfluss and Hartmann’s Valleys

You can explore these untouched valleys and get a sense of the tremendous amounts of open space and silence found in the region, impressive even by Namibian standards.

4x4 offroad

4x4 Off-Road Adventure

You can travel along the various mountain passes of the Kaokoland which can provide some exhilarating challenges even for a 4×4 off-road enthusiast.

Wide open landscape in Namibia's Kaokoland

The Kunene Region is known for its wide and vast landscapes. Only few tourists travel this far north – an experience off the beaten track.

Ruacana waterfalls Kunene Region Namibia

The Kunene River feeds the Eupa Falls as well as the pictured Ruacana Falls, well-known waterfalls in the Kaokoland region.

Elephant tracking Kaokoland

Together with a guide you can go on a desert elephant tracking adventure, looking for the gentle giants.

Kunene River in Namibia's Kunene Region

Some lodges are located directly at the Kunene River where you can spend peaceful days in nature.

WHEN TO GO

Best time to go to the Kaokoland (Kunene Region)

Both seasons have their advantages in the Kaokoland. With regards to wildlife viewing, the region is sparsely populated, so the time of year doesn’t make a great difference. One of the main reasons for going on Kaokoland tours is the beautiful landscapes and this is arguably at its most stunning during the green season. Some people rather prefer the arid and desolate conditions of the dry season however, which is also beautiful in its own way. It’s a close call, but what might tip the scales a bit towards the dry season being the best time to go, is the fact that it can get uncomfortably hot in the green season.

Dry season

Dry Season

May to October

Dry conditions and pleasant temperatures

Rainy season

Green Season

November to April

Odd rain shower and very warm to hot temperatures

Why to go

Landscapes of wide open plains, mountains, and waterfalls

Although the Kaokoland is home to fascinating wildlife, it is the incredible landscapes which makes most intrepid travellers fall in love with it. Wide, expansive plains which are arid during the dry season and can transform into a sea of green grass during the wet season, all of which is framed by rugged mountains and no one else around but you, to soak it all in.

Riverbed landscape Kaokoland
Kunene River Omarunga Epupa Falls Camp
After a long day on the road, we sip a cold drink at the bar of the Omarunga Epupa Falls Camp, under shady Makalani palm trees rustling in the wind, on the banks of the gurgling Kunene River. It’s a beautifully green oasis in this harsh and unforgiving corner of the world.
Marlene | Namibia Travel Expert
Close up of a Himba woman in Kaokoland
Visit a Himba Village

Learn about the traditional, semi-nomadic Himba lifestyle at authentic cultural villages.

Desert elephants in dry river bed
Track Desert Elephants

With the help of an expert guide, you can track these elusive desert-adapted elephants.

Rainbow at the Epupa Waterfalls in Namibia's Kaokoland
Have a Sundowner at the Epupa Falls

Enjoy a cold beverage and end an exciting day by admiring the sunset at the beautiful Epupa Falls.

Things to do

Discover the culture, wildlife, and scenery of the Kaokoland

Fascinating cultural encounters with the local Himba peoples, amazing desert adapted wildlife and dramatic scenery awaits those who explore the Kaokoland.

  • Visit a Himba Village
  • Track the Desert Elephants
  • Have a Sundowner at the Epupa Falls
Crocodile close-up Kunene River Namibia
Crocodile

Nile crocodiles can often be seen on the banks of the Kunene, unmoving and statuesque.

Desert elephant walking Kaokoland Namibia
Desert Elephant

Adapted to survive in arid conditions, desert elephants can cover great distances to find water.

Closeup of a desert chameleon
Desert Chameleon

Capable of surviving in extreme conditions, the desert chameleon can grow large in size.

Springbok Namibia
Springbok

Springbok, although present, are not as plentiful here as in other parts of Namibia, making a sighting even more special.

Makalani palm trees Kaokoland
Makalani Palm

These towering palm trees are not only picturesque, but they also are useful to the indigenous communities.

WILDLIFE & PLANT LIFE IN THE KAOKOLAND

Life in the desert

The contrast between the lush riverbanks of the Kunene, the ancient rock formations and sparse vegetation of the Kaokoland, creates an intriguing ecosystem waiting to be explored. Wildlife is scarce in the Kaokoland, but with a bit of know-how, you can discover a region that is home a variety wildlife and plant life, both big and small.

Where to stay in Namibia's Kaokoland

Kunene River Lodge northern Namibia

Kunene River Lodge

Omarunga Epupa Falls Lodge northern Namibia

Omarunga Epupa Falls Camp

Location

The former Kaokoland is found in the far northeast of Namibia. It lies south of the Kunene River, which serves as the natural border between Namibia and Angola. It has been renamed as the Kunene Region, a region now also encompassing the former Damaraland to its south and the Skeleton Coast to the west. The region contains few dirt and gravel roads, almost all of which are wonderfully free of traffic.

Experience the Kaokoland

Zebra closeup Namibia
Namibia travel expert
Sand dunes Namibia

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