Namibia is on the rise as one of the world’s foremost tourist destinations.  With a multitude of wildlife habitats, including the exceptional Etosha National Park, an impeccable conservation record, abundant upmarket accommodation available in Windhoek and other cities as well as wildlife areas, great photographic opportunities, and a wealth of adrenaline-pumping activities, Namibia has much to offer travellers of every persuasion.

In 2013, international adventure seekers were wowed by the country’s potential as an extreme sports destination, when Namibia hosted the first annual Adventure Travel World Summit to be held on African soil.  This year will see hardened athletes arrive for the testing 4 Deserts Sahara Race, taking place during May. 

Carrying the pack

This challenge involves traversing 250 kilometres of hostile desert terrain on foot and unassisted for six stages over seven days. Each night, competitors are hosted in a campsite with tents, hot water, a campfire and a medical station.  Otherwise, little assistance is provided to the athletes, who must carry all their food, equipment and supplies with them. Water and medical personnel are stationed at a series of checkpoints along the daily route, which is marked out with flags on the preceding day.

The 4-Deserts-Race is the brainchild of American Mary K Gadams, and was initiated in the Gobi Desert of western China in 2003. For three years after that, an additional challenge was added to the series to make up the existing format –

  • The Gobi March (founding race in 2003)
  • The Atacama Crossing in Chile
  • The Sahara Race in Egypt
  • The Last Desert in Antarctica.

A series of Roving Races is held from time to time, which take place once-off in new locations each year. While these events are not always desert marathons, they traverse equally challenging environments that are suitable for a race of this nature.  Namibia was selected as a Roving Race destination in 2009, making this country the obvious choice as an alternative to the Sahara in 2016, due to the political instability in North Africa.

This year over 200 competitors will take to the burning sands and soaring dunes of the Skeleton Coast near Swakopmund, aiming for a finisher’s medal. The winner is the competitor with the quickest time overall, calculated by adding their times from checkpoint to checkpoint.

While completing one of the 4-Desert races is a massive challenge in itself, completing all four races is an outstanding achievement, and earns the competitor admission to the elite 4-Desert Club, which currently has only 171 members. Those who attempt the Grand Slam, which involves tackling all of these events in the same year, stand a chance of being crowned 4-Deserts-champions by accumulating the lowest aggregate time for all the events. This has only been achieved 6 times in the history of the race.  Only 3 competitors have ever completed the Grand Slam as well as the Roving Race in the same year.

Apart from the Last Desert Race, which is by invitation only, anyone can enter these challenging events. Entries are on a first-come-first-serve basis and all you need is medical clearance and an endurance racing CV, there are no qualifying races.

Are you up for the challenge?  If not, you can still enjoy all the drama of the desert on a holiday to Namibia, Africa’s hottest adventure destination.