How to hike the Fish River Canyon in Namibia

The Fish River Canyon, southern Namibia.

The Fish River Canyon, unofficially the 2nd biggest canyon in the world and the largest in Africa is one of the must hike destinations in the world. It is amongst the most visited attractions in Namibia, but simply seeing it does not do it justice. You must if you have the time and are able to get a booking hike the canyon to truly experience all it has to offer. If you’re looking to go off grid and connect with nature, then this is the place.

The Admin

  • The hike is only open from 01 May to 15 Sept annually.
  • Bookings are done via the NWR office in Windhoek. Booking is required & essential.
  • A minimum group of three hikers are required.  
  • Cost for the hike N$500pp.
  • Medical certificate is required. To be completed 40days or less before the hike.

Getting There

From Windhoek it is almost a full day’s drive to complete the 650km’s to the Hobas campsite. Stop in Keetmanshoop for some final shopping and enjoy a final restaurant meal. From there it is a short and scenic drive on gravel to the Hobas campsite. Hobas is basic with 6 chalets and campsites. Most importantly they have a swimming pool, cold beer and hot showers.

The Night Before

You have two accommodation options for the night before the hike.  Either sleep at the NWR Hobas campsite (the starting point of the hike) which allows you to start the hike early the next morning or at the NWR Ai-Ais resort which is the end of the hike. From there you can book a seat in the NWR Land Cruiser which will take you to Hobas the next morning, but with the downside of  starting the hike later in the day. The advantage is having your vehicle at Ai-Ais when you finish the hike. Both options can be booked via the NWR website or by calling the office in Windhoek.

The Hike

The hike commences at the Hikers Viewpoint about 10km away from the campsite. There is no official shuttle to the starting point, so you’ll have to be inventive. We hitched and were lucky when a friend from Windhoek who completed the hike the previous day picked us up. Not only did they give us a lift but provided invaluable insight on what to expect and some motivational hugs form the ladies. Its once you reach the viewpoint that you fully comprehend the magnitude of the canyon and realize that it needs to be approached with the utmost respect.

From the viewpoint the 2km path steeply descends into the canyon dropping 500m in altitude along the way. This is best done in the early morning when the canyon wall provides shade.  Once you reach the sandy beach at the bottom the 85 km hike starts. Just follow the river from there in a southern direction and enjoy the views.

The first two days of the hike is quite tough and extremely challenging. Most likely, by the second day both your feet and spirit will be destroyed, but don’t despair. Ignore the first emergency exit and soldier on as the hike gets much easier from the 3rd day onward. Along the way you should see landmarks such as the Palm Sulphur springs, Three sisters and Lt. von Trotha’s grave. After the grave the canyon flattens out and the going gets much easier. On your last two days you’ll be able to cover considerable distances.

Our hiking strategy was to get up a 5 am, start hiking at 6 am until 11 am. Lounge in the shade next to the river until 3:30 pm and hike another hour or two to find a great overnight spot. Worked very well and we completed the hike in 4 days.

The hike ends at Ai-Ais, where I recommend you spend the night and relax in the hot springs enjoying ice cold Namibian beer. The canyon offers beautiful scenery, quite a bit of wildlife and loads of photo opportunities, so take a good camera. The hike was an amazing experience that I would recommend to everyone that is physically and mentally able to complete this. Remember to book well in advance due to popularity.

Enjoy the hike and please keep the canyon clean 🙂

Hiking Gear

  • Shoes: I completed the hike in a pair of well-worn trainers, with limited difficulty. Your best option is well-worn cross trainers that can handle lots of rocks. I’ve heard of people finishing the hike without problems in both flips or crocs. Heavy hiking boots are not necessary, you’ll face lots of loose sand and heat.
  • Good hiking socks.
  • Backpack: the only other necessity is a proper backpack. General rule for weight, no more than 20% your body weight, but preferably less.
  • Sleeping bag, preferable 0-5°C rated.
  • No tent, hiking poles or gaiters required.
  • The usual: hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, water bottle and torch.

Meals and Water

  • Gas stove and small pot to boil water.
  • Braai grid to cook or boil water over a fire. Or to braai if you are carrying steaks for the first night.
  • Tin opener.
  • Lighter.
  • The usual cutlery.
  • Food is ones own prerogative. Just remember snacks.
  • Water from the river. Purification tablets/drops if you feel you need them.
  • Powdered energy drink mix, for extra energy and to improve the taste of the water.

Bonus Tips

  • Call ahead +264 63 683 469 and ask if there is water in the canyon. Drinking water from the river is safe, if on your hike the river is flowing there is no need to carry many liters of water, simply take from the river.
  • Share the load, some items require one per group.
  • Take a pillow its worth it
  • Marshmallows over the fire at night with hot chocolate, highlight of the day
  • A small gas stove for quick coffee in the morning is a must
  • Don’t go overboard with hiking gear, invest in a good backpack and good cross trainers.
  • Remember sunscreen and a hat, beware the Namibian sun.
  • Get up early and hike in the morning cool, spend 11am-3pm in the shade resting, eating recovering and swimming. Hike a few more hours in the late afternoon.
  • Get a map that indicates the short cuts in case you want to use them.
  • We had a “scout” that wandered far ahead of us to choose optimal routes, this saved us a lot of time in unnecessary back tracking.

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