The Fish River Canyon (Afrikaans: Visrivier Afgronde) in Namibia's South is one of the world's largest canyons and one of Namibia's most recognised natural wonders. For more than 160 km the Fish River, Namibia's longest river, washed into the ground up to 550 meters deep and up to 27 km wide.
The Fish River has its source in the Eastern Naukluft Mountains and in Richtersfeld flows into the Orange River, after travelling for more 650 km through the desert of Southern Namibia. In its lower part (between Seeheim and Ai-Ais) it crosses a mountain range and thereby forms the Fish River Canyon. Today nearly all of the Canyon is preserved by nature reserves: in the south where the deepest part is located by the Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, in the north by private nature reserves such as the Canyon Nature Park or Vogelstrausskluft.
- Southern part (National Park): (Hobas Viewpoint) From Karasburg and B1, take C12 to C37 to the main Fish River Canyon Viewpoint. From Keetmanshoop, take B4 to C12, then to C37. (Ai-Ais) To go directly to Ai-Ais Hot Springs from B1, take C10 to Ai-Ais. The hiking trail, begins near Hobas on D601 and ends at Ai-Ais Hot Springs at the C10.
- Northern part (Private Nature Reserves): From Keetmanshoop or Lüderitz take B4 and turn on D463.
The Fish River Canyon Area supplies several airstips for private and charter flights:
- at Ai-Ais
- at Fish River Lodge and Vogelstrausskluft
- at Seeheim
- in the vicinity at Grunau, Keetmanshoop and Bethanie
- The Fish River Canyon, of course. The nicest places to watch are near Hobas at the northern end of the canyon, reachable via ordinary car but horrible dirt road. You must pay a small entrance fee at Hobas (about 40 N$ pp for foreigners, plus 10 N$ per car, February 2018) because the canyon is part of the Ai-Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park. There is also a spot about 10 km south of the main view point, for which you will need a rugged car (It says '4x4' but that's not strictly necessary). The view is not better but at a different angle.
- Fish River Canyon Trail: Though a very tough trail, the Fish River Canyon Trail is one of the most popular hikes in Southern Africa. It is an 85-km hike (90 km if you don't find the shortcuts—bring a GPS or a good map) from Hobas to Ai-Ais. Hiking is only allowed from 15 March to 15 September, in groups of minimum 3, maximum 20 people. Be aware of the following:
- Everyone needs a doctor's permit on a form that cannot be downloaded. Hobas office, where you can get a paper copy, has no doctor. Make a plan.
- You have to carry everything except the water. A tent is not necessary, as there are suitable places along the track, including shelter from wind and sun. Unless you are an athlete, plan for five days.
- At about km 16 there is an emergency exit near the Sulphur Springs. It is not possible to get out of the canyon by climbing the mountains after this, for about 50 km. If anything happened, one person stays with the injured, and another climbs out to get help, that's why the minimum group size is 3.
- Don't forget a small cooker; you don't want to drink this water without boiling it first, and if the river didn't recently flow you will not find a single piece of firewood. It is also not allowed to collect it, or to make a wood fire. Water from the puddles in the river can be very salty to the point of being essentially undrinkable. You can try different pools of water, sometimes there is a good one among them. A nice trick is to bring instant soup where a bit of additional salt is not a problem, and quench your thirst with that.
- Do not attempt this hike on your own, or in summer. Even in Winter temperatures of 40 °C are not uncommon on the trail, and if you have to sneak into the canyon then nobody will know that you're there. There have been people dying in the canyon for that reason.
- Do not jump from one rock to another. Your body is likely not used to the additional weight on your shoulders; injuries are likely.
- There is quicksand throughout the first third of the hike. Watch and follow the animal spoor rather than invent your own shortcut.
- Sulphur Springs hike: Between March and September you may climb down into the Fish from the 4x4 viewpoint near Hobas. It is pretty much a full-day hike and not comparable to a Sunday stroll: 500 m down into the canyon, a break and a voluntary bath in the sulphur springs, and then up again. You need a permit from the office at Hobas to do that, with the same conditions (and at the same price) as the full hike.
- Scenic flights from several vantage points
- Most lodges offer hikes into the canyon at other spots than the very steep and long descent of the full hike.
A stick (or trekking pole) and hardy sandals. Both of these are invaluable during the many river crossings sometimes over slippery boulders - the stick to aid with balance and the shoes to save your boots from getting wet! Ziplock bags to keep your food and other goods dry and a larger plastic bag to keep your sleeping bag dry.
When doing the hiking trail, water is mostly available in large pools in the river, but in dry years the quality can deteriorate drastically. Always use water purification tablets and if possible boil the water before use. Larger pools generally have cleaner water than smaller stagnant pools. The turbidity of the water gives a rough indication of the quality. Always carry at least 2 liters of water with you at all times, especially when making use of shortcuts as no water is available there.
Camping in the park
Lodging outside the park
- Cañon Lodge.
- Cañon Roadhouse.
- Fish River Lodge - the only lodge on the rim of the canyon, (off D463), ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Vogelstrausskluft Lodge, (on D463), ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. Also offers a campground.