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Fish River Canyon

What can I expect from the Fish River Canyon?

The Fish River Canyon is a massive hole in southern Namibia. We love to boast that this is the second-largest Canyon in the world, but there seems to be some debate regarding the best way to measure a canyon’s size.

According to a local Nama legend, a giant snake (or dragon or serpent) had been eating domestic livestock. Hunters chased it into the desert where it began to burrow to escape. The hole left behind became the Fish River Canyon.

The facts are that the Canyon is around 160km long, up to 27km wide and in some places 549.765 meters deep. The eponymous Fish River flows through the Canyon, frequently flooding during the Namibian rainy season (late summer) and then drying up during the winter, leaving a string of rock pools.

The scenery around the Canyon is stark and dominated by unusual succulent plants. The landscape covers two biomes: the Nama Karoo and the Succulent Karoo.  The most prominent plant is the Quiver Tree (Kokerboom) which stands proudly amongst the rocky outcrops.

The best viewpoint for the Canyon is at Hobas, towards the northern end.  Hobas is also where the renowned Fish River Hike starts. Non-hikers are not allowed to descend into the Canyon but can visit the viewpoint and marvel at the splendour before them.

Hikers will spend the four (or five) days scrambling along the river bed, wondering what possessed them to do this foolish thing. However, upon arrival at Ai-Ais a cold Windhoek Lager will help you forget the blisters and bruises.  The hike needs to pre-book with Namibia Wildlife resorts (and remember the walk is trendy so book early).

The south of Namibia is scorching during summer.  And winter nights can be freezing.  The Fish River Canyon is also one of the only regions of Namibia that receives winter rain. So be prepared for extreme weather.

View from the west-side of the canyon

Fish River Lodge day trip

Things to See and Do at the Fish River Canyon

Visit viewpoint at Hobas
Hike the Canyon (if you have a booking and a doctors certificate)
Have a cold beer at the old wheeler themed bar at the Canyon Roadhouse
Enjoy the rugged scenery and imagine that you have landed on Mars

The Basics

Accommodation – Most accommodation is located on the eastern side of the Canyon. These include Ai-Ais (hot springs are the southern end of the Canyon) and a few private lodges. However, the best lodge in the area, Fish River Lodge, is situated on the Canyon’s western rim.

Food – This is another place where most meals will be at your lodge. You can stop in at the Canyon Roadhouse for a burger and beer.

Drink – Drink a lot; hydration is essential.

Transportation – The closest public transport goes to Keetmanshoop, about 150km from Hobas.  Unless you are an adventurous hitchhiker (I once spent 2 days on the main road trying to get to the Canyon) you will need a rental vehicle or a guided safari.

Aerial view

Fish River view from Hobas

Local Tips

1
Avoid Ai-Ais Don’t stay at Ai-Ais, the lure of the hot springs may be compelling but the accommodation is disappointing and the hot pools are generally in a state of some disrepair. Do stay at Fish River Lodge.
2
A one night stop Unless you are a big fan of canyons, make this is a one night stop on your Namibian holiday. Once you’ve visited the viewpoint, there is little left to do.
3
Don't fall in One of the best things about Namibia is how wild it is. The edge of the Canyon doesn’t have a handrail or protection, so stay sober and don’t fall in. No one will rescue you!

Books & Maps

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