Fish River Canyon Budget Travel Guide

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Fish River Canyon - Grand Natural Wonder

This is one of Namibia's top tourist attractions, right up there with Sossusvlei and Etosha National Park. The major allure of this austere natural wonder? It's grand scale.

Some experts claim that the Fish River Canyon is the second largest canyon in the world, in terms of overall size (after the Grand Canyon). Claims that the Fish River Canyon is "the second largest canyon in the world" and "the biggest canyon in Africa" are however contested, as measuring canyons is complicated given the variables of dimension on such a big scale. The Fish River Canyon is nevertheless widely agreed to be the biggest canyon in the southern hemisphere, if not Africa.

The sheer size of the Fish River Canyon: Staring down into the canyon at its deepest points you will see the river snaking along the canyon floor up to 550m below. Looking out across the canyon from side-to-side the fissure is as much as 27km wide. Following the course of the canyon will take you along a meandering path some 160km long.

Impressive scale aside, the canyon appeals to nature lovers because it remains free of human development (a wild place) - the formidable terrain of the canyon itself safeguarding it from becoming "tamed" and altered.

Top Things to Do at the Fish River Canyon:

  • Marvel and gape: Stand at one of the viewpoints along the edge of the gigantic canyon to appreciate the scale and beauty of this surreal and dramatic geological feature.
  • Take pictures: the otherworldly imagery, sheer cliffs and rocky faces of the deep canyon are ideal for landscape photography, especially at dawn and dusk.
  • Go hiking: the Fish River Canyon Hiking Trail is one of Africa's toughest, attracting intrepid hikers from across the globe to its rugged and challenging terrain.
  • Soak in hot springs: dip into the Ai-Ais mineral hot springs, a natural oasis located at the base of the peaks on the southern end of the Fish River Canyon.
  • Have a drink: sip on sundowners at one of the viewpoints along the rim of the canyon, taking in the spectacular views over the canyon as the sun sets.
  • Run a marathon: the Fish River Canyon Ultra Marathon runs along sections of the hiking trail, starting near Hobas and finishing at Ai-Ais at the southern end of the canyon.
  • Ride a mule: experience the canyon from the back of a mule instead of hiking or running.
  • Go remote: the canyon is far away from major cities (about 800km) allowing visitors to get away from the crowds and bustle.

Flora and Fauna of the Canyon

Despite inhospitable appearances the Fish River Canyon does harbor a variety of life forms - birds, reptiles, succulents and mammals.

The canyon is mostly bare of vegetation supporting a few euphorbias, aloes and quivertrees. There are a few pockets of vegetation along the canyon floor where hardy trees and shrubs grow. If you keep your eyes peeled you can spot black eagles, along with some of the 60 species of birds found here. In the canyon you might sight herons, kingfishers, fish eagles and other raptors, waterfowl and wading birds.

This is reptile territory so you're most likely to encounter the scaly and slithery kinds of animals - monitor lizards being a highlight. Then there are the other small creatures; rats, mice, rock hyrax (dassies), mongoose, tortoises and insects. Bigger animals inhabiting the canyon include antelopes of various shapes and sizes - klipspringer, kudu, steenbok, gemsbok and springbok, as well as Hartmann’s mountain zebra. The likelihood of seeing baboons is very high, whilst the chances of sighting a leopard are slim, albeit present. Then there are fish species, like yellowfish, catfish and barbel.

Geology of Fish River Canyon

When peering into such an enormous fissure from the flat plateau surrounding it, one wonders how it came to be?

The origins - about 500 million years ago the earth's crust did some shifting which caused the valley floor to collapse forming the beginnings of the canyon along the fault line. Then, about 300 million years ago in the Dwyka Ice Age, glaciers further carved out the canyon.

Next came the Fish River, flowing through the steep-sided gorge from about 50 million years ago, gradually eroding the canyon further.

Canyon Climate

It gets so hot in this part of Namibia that some lodges actually close and the hiking trail stops running, during the peak of summer (November to early March). Maximum average temperatures are in the range of 40°C (104°F) during the hot and humid summer season. The Fish River Canyon receives summer rainfall, averaging about 50-100mm per year, but rainfall is erratic and unpredictable.

In winter temperatures are milder, although nighttime lows can dip to nearly 0°C (32°F) and midday temperatures can rise over 30°C (86°F).

Where is the Fish River Canyon?

This massive canyon is situated in the far south of Namibia, with the Fish River flowing from the interior of Namibia down to the Gariep (Orange) River that forms the border with South Africa. The Fish River Canyon falls inside the 6045km² Ai-Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, a peace park that encompasses the Ai Ais National Park in Namibia and the Richtersveld National Park in South Africa.

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Southern Namibia Camping Safari

Duration 07 Days, Travel Style Camping Safaris
Priced from pps R15850 $1098 £843 €977 A$1558 C$1473 NZ$1613 Full pricing info
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