Fish River Canyon – A Namibia Must Do
The Fish River Canyon carves a dramatic gash through Southwestern Namibia and is one of the most breath-taking sights in a country that’s by no means short on dramatic scenery.
The canyon’s status as the second largest of its kind globally (second only to the Grand Canyon in the USA) is enough reason to add it to your itinerary, but size isn’t the only thing that counts in this fascinating destination.
Keep reading to find out what’s on offer.
The Fish River Canyon centers around Namibia’s largest interior river. Through the ages, this watercourse has carved a deep trench into the stony, dry Great Namaqualand plateau.
Around 650 million years ago, continental plate movement created a lowered area in this plateau. This allowed the Fish River to erode a 50km long, wide shallow path through an otherwise flat environment. The flow of the river formed between the Ai-/Ais hot springs and Farm Hobas, assisted by the Dwyka glaciation, 300 million years ago.
This wide, flat area forms the upper canyon of the Fish River.
Once it had worn its way through the hard gneiss upper layers of the Earth’s surface, the river made fast work of the softer layers beneath to form the deep lower portion of the canyon.
Continental shift increased the gradient of the Fish River, which further contributed to the formation of the lower canyon, which is 549 metres deep today.
For most of the year, the Fish River comprises a chain of narrow, long pools, but it floods to full capacity towards the end of summer.
As you gaze out over the canyon, you can easily distinguish between the flat-lying Nama sediments of the Huns Plateau and the gneisses of the Namaqua Complex.
Stunning Sunset Viewpoints and Photographic Hotspots
On the subject of gazing out over the canyon, the best time to view it in all of its glory is at sunset or sunrise. At this time of day, the golden rays of the sun reflect brilliantly off the walls of the canyon and the glimmering river below.
The best place to enjoy these vistas is the public viewpoint near Hobas, Hikers Viewpoint, just a few kilometers north of Main Viewpoint at the start of the Fish River Trail. The Sulphur Springs (also known as Palm Springs) viewing point is a two-hour round trip and there are various other viewpoints along its eastern edge, and Eagle Rock on the southern tip of the canyon.
You can access the viewpoints along the gravel roads surrounding the canyon.
Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a selfie enthusiast, you’ll find plenty of reasons to snap away while visiting this natural showcase.
Natural Hot Springs
At the lower end of the Fish River Canyon, you’ll find the hot springs resort of Ai-/Ais. Here you can bask in the glory and healing power of warm mineral water delivered straight from the Earth.
The resort also offers therapeutic spa treatments to further enhance your visit.
Amazing Fauna and Flora
The Fish River Canyon is part of the Ai-/Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park which showcases a variety of plants and animals native to the area. The name Ai-/Ais means ‘burning water’ in the local dialect which refers to the hot springs found within the park.
Apart from wonderful geology and dramatic, arid landscapes, you may come across some of the following during your visit here.
- grey rhebok
- common duiker
- vervet monkey
- chacma baboon
- Hartmann’s mountain zebra
- Nama padloper tortoise
Floral diversity is the most amazing natural feature of this area. It’s recognized as one of the world’s richest succulent environments, boasting almost a third of the genera contained in the Mesembryanthemaceae family.
What’s more, about 30% of the plants in this park occur nowhere else in the world. Some notable tree species include the bastard quiver tree and the halfmens tree.
The Fish River Hiking Trail
This is one of the most challenging hikes available in Southern Africa and requires a satisfactory level of fitness and endurance. It starts at Hiker’s Viewpoint near Hobas and the full hike traverses almost 90km of rocky, sometimes steep terrain to reach Ai-/Ais resort.
Hikers must bring everything they need to traverse these unbeaten paths as there are no amenities along the way and you need to book your spot at least a year in advance.
You can only head out on the Fish River Canyon Trail during the dry season (May to September).
If you prefer to travel on four legs instead of two, the 11-day Fish River Canyon Trail ride is a great option for you.
This outing suits riders of intermediate to advance ability and traverses two private game reserves close to the canyon, ending in the dry basin of the Orange River. Guests overnight at guest lodges or rustic campsites along the way.
Rooms With a View
Day visitors are welcome to enter the Ai-/Ais Transfrontier Park to enjoy the sights of the canyon, but it’s best to overnight inside the park or nearby to make the most of your visit.
The Ai-/Ais Hot Springs Resort boasts rooms with both mountain and river views, while the Hobas campsite boasts supreme tranquility and the best views of the canyon.
You can also opt for accommodations outside the park at Fish River Lodge, Canyon Lodge, and Canyon Village.
Easy and Affordable Access
You’ll find the Ai-/Ais Transfrontier Park entrance about 7 hours’ drive from Windhoek and 9 hours from Swakopmund. Park entry fees are affordable and you’ll pay around N$/ZAR 300 to join in the hike. Bookings for the hike can be made through Namibia Wildlife Resorts.
The start of every Namibian journey begins in Windhoek, so get your adventure off in the best way by booking overnight accommodation at Arebbusch Travel Lodge.
Please Note: The details shared herein were correct at the time of publishing. However, with time some of this information may change. We recommend confirming information with suppliers prior to making final travel arrangements. If you do happen to find an issue with any information we’ve shared here, please feel free to contact us so that we can make the relevant changes.