Background: Fish River Canyon sits between the Namib and the Kalahari Deserts. It is claimed to be the 2nd largest canyon in the world, after the Grand Canyon in Arizona (USA) but, as there are other claimants to this title (most notably the one in Ethiopia and one in Mexico), I shall leave it at that. Claims notwithstanding, it definitely holds its own, rivaling even the Arizona one. There is evidence that it has been inhabited by people for thousands of years, dating back to the Early Stone Age, and stories from the Kalahari Bushmen explain how the canyon was formed... The great serpent-god Koutein Kooru, after preying on local livestock, was being chased by hunters across the dry wasteland. To try to escape its pursuers, the serpent slithered off into the desert, and, in doing so, its body gouged the great gash in the desert floor.
PROS: The canyon is so distant, remote and inhospitable that it is rarely visited and, hence, not crowded. The very few visitors we encountered that day were a handful of cars and perhaps an overland group (like us) twice a week. There is a covered observation platform at the eastern rim of the canyon, from which to view the breathtaking landscape and stunning sunset. The platform has toilet facilities on site.
CONS: Unfortunately, the road to the site is long, gravelly, dusty and unforgiving. Best to use a sturdy 4x4 truck with high ground clearance. Even our own overland truck broke down en route. Roadside assistance is non-existent and passing vehicles are sparse. We had to wait for 6 hours after our driver hitched a ride from a passing car to the nearest town hundreds of km away to get help.
Entrance permits are required and only issued between May to mid-September. Hiking trail permits are obtained separately, for which a medical certificate of physical fitness is required. The searing heat, too, can be torturous, with temperatures peaking at the low 40 deg C -- in the shade. The site has no cell phone reception, no available WiFi or emergency aid. The WC (toilets), though available, may sometimes be closed. If so, there are no toilets for hundreds of kilometers. Imagine that.
Tip: If you go for the hike, allot about 4-5 days, have a modicum of physical fitness, start very early in the day to avoid the searing sun, bring lots of water and take your time. Maybe get a guide.
Verdict: No doubt Fish River Canyon can easily vie for the next New 7th Natural Wonders of the World. You just need to be prepared. Bring food, gas, lots of drinking water and sun shade. Recommended. Grade A-minus.
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