Some of the most exhilarating travel experiences I’ve had have involved aerial sightseeing. I’ve taken a helicopter flight over the grand canyon in the USA and I’ve flown in a small plane over the Nazca lines in Peru. Both were amazing! But neither of these were as spectacular and breathtaking as taking a scenic flight over Namibia.
In my post on the 11 Ways to Explore the Namib Desert, I wrote about how I had become intrigued by Namibia after seeing photos of the desert that were taken from the International Space Station. Not only did this make me want to go to Namibia, but it also made me want to see it from the air. So when I was planning my bucket list road trip around Namibia, I set about finding a way to include an aerial tour or Namib Desert scenic flight.
How to take a Scenic Flight over Namibia
There are several scenic flights and fly-in safaris in Namibia, and I looked at a few of them. I considered a scenic flight around the Sossusvlei area, and I was very close to booking a hot air balloon ride. In the end, I booked a small plane scenic flight with Pleasure Flights & Safaris because they offered a really extensive route: I wanted to see as much of Namibia from the air as I possibly could, and their ‘Ultimate South’ route seemed to offer just that. I don’t have any kind of commission deal with them – but I am happy to recommend them because my scenic flight was amazing.
The flight starts in Swakopmund and heads south over the Namib sand sea, carries on all the way to Fish River Canyon, and then heads back up north over the Sperrgebiet, before stopping in Lüderitz. After exploring the ghost town of Kolmanskop, grabbing some lunch and refuelling the plane, the flight resumes up the ‘forbidden coast’.
In this post, I will share the amazing things I saw during this flight, in the order that I saw them.
A note on scenic flights pricing
The cost of scenic flights can depend on how many people are booked – ie the fewer seats sold, the more expensive those seats are. I guess this ensures the basic costs are going to be met, regardless of how many people book. If you end up being the only one booked and you are facing a hefty charge, you can cancel.
Incidentally, this is what happened to my husband and me, but we decided to bite the bullet to pay the full whack anyway. Let’s just say it’s the most expensive day I’ve ever had after paying the deposit for my flat and getting married.
But it was worth it! Hopefully these images will illustrate why…
Prepare for an early start
Our scenic flight over Namibia started with a pre-dawn pick up from our guesthouse in Swakopmund. We were driven out to Arandis airport, where we met Matthias, our pilot. The airport was empty – we pretty much just got in the tiny little Cessna plane and took off (there was a small part of me that wondered whether this was legit)!
Photos 1-2: Plains of the Namib-Nakluft National Park
South of Arandis, the sun rose over rocky plains. It’s a geologist’s dream: black seams of rock cross the landscape in ridges; rivers have cut channels into the rock over millions of years.
I was so keen to seen to see the Namib Desert, I was scanning the horizon for any sign of red sand! And after flying over rocky land for about 30 minutes, we saw it: the dunes stop pretty abruptly at the Kuiseb River, like an imposing orange border patrol.
Photos 3-6: The Glorious Sand Sea
After the border, as we flew deeper over the Namib-Nakluft sand sea, the sand got thicker and the dunes seemed to form more complex, curvy formations.
This inland area of red sand is the oldest part of the Namib sand sea: the red colour comes from iron oxidising in the sand over billions of years. However, in the light of the rising sun, the colours seemed to shift and sometimes the sand was golden orange, sometimes deep red and other times almost mauve and iridescent.
I loved the different shapes that had been formed by the elements over so many years – sometimes crisp edges and sometimes soft and fluid-looking.
For me, this was my favourite part of the flight: these huge dunes were what I’d been obsessing about, and I couldn’t quite believe I was seeing them with my own eyes.
I was torn between taking tonnes of photos so I could capture the spectacle – and just sitting back and enjoy the phenomenal view. Luckily I could do both because the desert is big, so we were flying over it for a while.
It did occur to me that if our plane crashed here, we’d have a tough time surviving in such a huge expanse of sand… But I didn’t dwell on that – there was too much scenery to enjoy!
Photos 7-10: Tsauchab Corridor & the Devil’s fork
After about an hour of flying, the red dunes gave way to pockets of bright white clay pans and we were over Sossusvlei, that iconic white playground in the middle of the desert that I wrote about previously.
The plane flew over Sossusvlei and the Tsauchab corridor several times to give us plenty of chances to take in the spectacle of it. It is stunning in the early morning light, and there are lots of fascinating dune formations in the area.
I wasn’t aware of this dune formation until we flew over it. From the ground, it doesn’t stand out because the dunes are relatively small. But from the air, you see these delicate curved shapes. I’ve seen it called ‘The Devil’s Fork’, but I think it’s quite heavenly.
Photo 11: Dramatic Mountains
South of the sand sea, we flew over lots of mountains and canyons on the way to Fish River Canyon. I loved how the plains seemed to glow in the morning light.
From the air, these mountains look like pebbles dropped in piles on the desert. But, having stayed in a lodge near this spot a few days before, I know just how huge they really are.
Photos 12-13: Canyons & Mesas
Although I’d been drawn to Namibia for the sand dune, I was thrilled to see interesting rock formations. These sand-filled canyons are south of Goageb. Can you see the horse’s head shape?
These black mesas also caught my eye. They look like they could be another planet! They’re about 20-30km north of the Fish River Canyon, and close to the D463 road. I wondered if they’re as dark and desolate from the ground…
Photos 14-15: Fish River Canyon
The largest canyon in Africa, the Fish River has cut a deep intricate pattern into the rocks. It really is dramatic and spectacular. I didn’t make it that far south by road, so I was really pleased to see it from the air.
Photos 16-18: Sperrgebiet & Bogenfels
Sperrgebiet means ‘hidden territory’ and most of it is closed to tourists – because this is where the diamonds are! There are sand dunes here, but a lot of this area is relatively rocky and barren-looking.
There is a natural archway on the coastline called Bogenfels, which the plane can fly right over. You can also visit on the ground with a permit.
In the Sperrgebiet, we saw evidence of the diamond rush in Namibia in the early 20th Century. We flew over deserted diamond mines along the coast, rusty reminders of the past. Nowadays the diamond mining is done offshore, I’m told.
Not long after this, we landed near the ghost town of Kolmanskop and had lunch in Lüderitz.
Photo 19: Craggy Coastline
As we started our second leg of the flight, heading north, we saw lots of craggy and formidable coastline. I love this small but perfectly formed dune somewhere north of Lüderitz.
Photos 20-21: Shipwrecks!
We saw several shipwrecks from the air, sad reminders of the harshness of this stretch of coastline with its shifting sands, rough seas and foggy climate. It wasn’t easy to find the name of this one, but a couple of sources say it’s the Frotamerica, a Brazilian cargo ship-wrecked in 2013.
I think you’re supposed to avoid capturing the plane when doing aerial photography – but I like this shot, wing and everything. It makes me feel a little of the exhilaration and awe I felt in that tiny plane, dipping and weaving above such epic scenery.
If I ever make it back to Namibia, I’d love to explore more of these wrecks overland, in particular, the Eduard Bohlen, which can be reached by an expedition over the sand dunes from Swakopmund.
Photos 22-25: Fluid Coastal Dunes
We flew over hundreds of kilometres of sandy coastline, seemingly untouched by civilisation, where the Namib sand dunes meet the Atlantic Ocean.
Near the sea, the young dunes are softer and faster-moving than further inland, where they’re older and more stable. They’re also this golden colour, paler than the apricot tones you see near Sossusvlei. Flying over them, they looked like silk. They were so calming to look at as they passed.
Looking inland, all we could see for miles was golden folds of sand; so soft and fluid, they looked almost like Cornish ice cream. It didn’t feel real.
At times the dunes form a towering cliff at the edge of the water – a stand-off between two natural superpowers: the desert and the ocean. Having climbed dunes like these at Sandwich Harbour the day before, it was really cool to see them from the air.
As the plane got closer to Swakopmund and this amazing flight came to an end, I was sad it was ending and absolutely elated that I’d seen so many beautiful things in one day. My phone was also dead – I’d used up my battery taking over 1600 photos (all of the photos here were taken with my iPhone)!
I hope you enjoyed this photo tour!
Does it make you want to take a scenic flight over Namibia? For me, it is worth saving on other things in order to indulge in amazing experiences like this one. Read more about my approach to budgeting for travel, which I call smart indulgence.
Also, I’m keen to know, have you ever done any pleasure flights or scenic sightseeing flights? Where would you recommend I go flight-seeing next? I’d love some recommendations…