At first glance, Namibia might seem like one of Earth's most desolate places. With its ancient deserts, parched salt pans and a windblown shoreline littered with the weathered hulls of foundered ships, there would seem little potential for life and color—and little to interest the average traveler.

But there is a startling beauty in its vistas—from the multihued dunes of the Kalahari and Namib deserts to the foggy shores of the Skeleton Coast. The deep fissures of the Fish River Canyon make for steep but exhilarating walking. And surprisingly, Namibia is home to an incredible variety of plants and animals that have adapted to the extreme climate. Its national parks and wildlife refuges are among the finest in Africa.

Perhaps most surprising are the people who have adapted to this harsh environment: San Bushmen and the Herero women with their banana-shaped headdresses and bright Victorian-style dresses patterned after those of early German missionary women. Namibia is a thinly populated country, but it's still a great place for people-watching and experiencing another way of life. The German influence can also be seen in the colonial-era towns scattered along the coast and central highlands—there is something surreal about imperial-style German architecture poking up above desert sands.

Namibia has a lot to offer those looking for an unusual place a little off the beaten track. Although its terrain is harsh and demanding, it is actually one of the safer and more stable countries in Africa. For these reasons, the country is gaining popularity among travelers who have been to the continent before, or who are looking for a less-polished African adventure.

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