The Fish River Canyon hike in Namibia is one of the most famous and popular multi-day hiking trips in all of southern Africa, and it’s really worth the trip out to the desert. The canyon itself is breathtaking, and it’s the largest in Africa. It stretches 160 km long and is 550 meters deep in places. The canyon is part of the Ai-Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park that spans the borders of Namibia and South Africa.
The standard route is 85km long, and most hikers take five days to complete the trail. There are no facilities or accommodation along the way, so hikers are free to divide the hike as they please, making camp when it suits them. As temperatures are often dangerously high in the summer, the trail is closed from October to April.
The trail is amazing and allows visitors to experience a true wilderness area with little chance of seeing other humans. Most hikers don’t even bring tents because sleeping out under the stars is so much fun! …And because if you want to sleep in a tent, you have to carry it for 85 km.
I hiked with a group of ten friends. We spent the night prior to the hike at the Ai Ais Hot Springs campsite and caught a lift to the trail head near Hobas camp the next morning. The beginning of the epic hike starts with a very steep descent down to the canyon floor. After the intense sweaty and dusty climb down, we stopped to relax and enjoy a quick swim in the Fish River that winds through the canyon. Unluckily for me, a baboon managed to steal a day’s worth of food from my unguarded backpack. It was a tough lesson to learn, but it could have been much worse. Luckily everyone chipped in to share a few extra snacks with me.
We split up the remaining four days on the trail relatively evenly, judging our progress by some of the major landmarks. Palm Springs has hot sulphur pools for a quick bath. Then the hike passes the Three Sisters rock formations, a “Table Mountain” lookalike, Four Finger Rock, von Trotha’s grave, and finally, the Causeway before reaching Ai Ais Hot Springs camp once again. There’s no specific path to follow on the Fish River trail, you just generally follow the river. There are several short cuts up and over the hills to cut out some oxbows in the river. It’s not easy to get lost on the trail, but it can and has happened. We did find that it was easy for our large group to get separated and not know which route to take to find each other again.
Preparing for the hike
Though relatively popular, the Fish River Canyon trail is very challenging and the conditions can be extreme and dangerous. One of the biggest problems is that once you’re in the canyon, getting out without completing the trail is very difficult. Much of the trail is very inaccessible to the outside world, and a rescue would constitute a major operation. Hikers need to be sure that they are physically and mentally prepared and have all the necessary equipment.
Hikers should book the trail ahead of time through the Namibia Wildlife Resorts to make sure their spot is reserved. It’s also necessary to present a medical certificate from a doctor to prove that hikers are physically up to the task.
Make sure you get plenty of exercise and break in your shoes prior to setting out on the trip.
What to pack:
Smart packing for the Fish River Canyon trail is absolutely essential. It’s important to keep the weight to a minimum while ensuring you have everything necessary plus emergency supplies.
4. The trail requires river crossings, sometimes several per day, which can be tough on bare feet, so some hiking sandals (men, women) can also be useful. A trekking pole is really great for navigating boulders and rivers.
5. Water purification treatment will definitely be needed as you collect water directly from the river, which can be stagnant at times. You’ll need bottles or a reservoir to carry several liters at a time.
10. And of course, don’t forget a camera!
Photos by Morgan Trimble.