Located about 250 mi/400 km north of Windhoek, Etosha Park is Namibia's best-known tourist attraction and one of the most interesting game reserves in the world because of its unusual terrain. Etosha is a combination of dried lake (salt pan) in the north and grasslands, dense brush and open plains in the south.
Etosha means “great white place,” so named because 25% of the country is covered by a huge salt basin that was an inland lake 12 million years ago.
The sun glints off the 6,500-sq-mi/16,835-sq-km salt pan—a dry, flat, shallow, silvery-white depression—providing an eerie backdrop for wild animals moving through the shimmering haze. Dust in the air adds to the mystery: Everything is slightly indistinct, and since mirages are common, we occasionally found ourselves questioning what we'd really seen. It's widely regarded to be a photographer's paradise, especially during the dry winter months, when wildlife congregates around the artificial waterholes that line the pan, allowing for excellent close-up sightings.
Etosha is home to around 100 large mammal species, among them the elephant, giraffe, zebra, leopard, cheetah, lion, kudu, spotted hyena and black-backed jackal. It is the only reserve where you are likely to see the range-restricted black-faced impala (distinguished from the normal impala by the black blaze on its face) and is also an important stronghold for black rhino.
A checklist of 340 bird species found in Etosha includes local specialties such as white-tailed shrike, and an impressive selection of raptors and ground birds such as bustards.
The prime watering holes are on the southern side of the park, but they're only full after the rainy season (December-March). The Kuvelai River, which feeds Etosha, either floods or dries up completely, vanishing into the sand.
The park is open year-round, but the best time to visit, for both climate and the best photos, is August and September. There are three camping/self-catering rest camps with facilities inside the park (Halali, Namutoni and Okaukuejo) and several private lodges just outside. Okaukuejo has a floodlit water hole for nocturnal viewing.
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