Fish River Canyon

In June, I had the privilege of hiking through Fish River Canyon with some pretty neat people. So, yes, this post is coming about four months late. But better late than never. I thought I’d share some of our photos, experiences, and tips for hiking FRC!

Fish River Canyon is the second largest canyon in the world (after the Grand Canyon) and the largest on the African continent. It’s high on the list of tourists’ to-do lists, but most skip the hike and just enjoy the view from the top. This was my first multi-day hike and it was definitely challenging (at times more so than I expected) but an overall incredible experience. And for the most part, it was the people in my group that made it so awesome. I hiked with 5 Peace Corps Volunteers from my group, 3 friends from America (shoutout Mike for making the trip!) and 1 Namibian. We were pretty diverse in terms of our hiking experience and fitness levels but everyone was supportive of even the slowest hikers. Which, let’s be honest, was usually me.

My favorite part of the hike was on day two, when we realized the place we planned to set up camp for the night had a natural hot spring (called “Palm Springs”). The first two days of hiking are definitely the most challenging, with the descent into the canyon and lots of scrambling over boulders. It can also be a bit demoralizing because with the rough terrain you don’t cover much ground these days – which makes the rest of the hike seem daunting in terms of distance. I was also feeling personally betrayed by my body at this point because I had already hyper-extended my knee and developed blisters under my toenails (I’ll spare you the details, but will just say I lost two toenails afterward). But as I slid into the hot spring that evening and passed around some whiskey with friends, all was right in the world. No exaggeration, it was one of the best feelings I’ve ever experienced and much needed at the time. Following the hot spring dip, Mike and I made mac n cheese from scratch which just really put the cherry on top.

My other favorite moment of the trip was the first night at camp when we just layed around talking and star-gazing. That night happened to be the clearest of all the nights we hiked and the sky put on a serious show. Namibia has some beautiful night skies but I’ve never seen anything quite like the stars we saw in the middle of Fish River Canyon. We also used an app (Skyview) to identify different constellations and planets. It was pretty amazing.

Ending the hike is /Ai-/Ais is such a treat, too. Its facilities are built on a natural hot-spring and needless to say we spent a few hours just soaking in the pool. When we got there we immediately went for beers and burgers, both of which exceeded our (very low) expectations. We were dirty, tired, and sick of camp food. I’m glad we made the decision to camp there for the night and just relax.

My good friend Steph wrote superlatives for each person in our group, which I thought I’d share because I love a good superlative 🙂

  • Consumed the most Nutella: Ashley
  • Most likely to scare off a family of baboons with her laugh: Cybil
  • Attitude so positive, it’d put a herd of rainbow unicorns to shame: Zoe
  • Most likely to hike an entire day without saying a word: Josh
  • Most likely to forget important documents and miss the hike all-together: Spence
  • Most likely to purchase faulty camping gear: Mike
  • Most selfies taken: Brett
  • The unsung hero: David
  • Most likely to make it rich doing product demos: Lily
  • Most likely to miss giant, really important signs while hiking: Steph

Here are some pictures of us hiking 85km through the world’s second largest canyon. Epic.

PS – some of these photos were taken by me and some were taken by others in my group!

Here goes nothing.

Spence made it! Despite forgetting his medical form.

Rocking the knee brace on day one. Somehow I hyper-extended my knee on the descent into the canyon. Classic.
Camp. Day 1.
Nothing beats the night sky in the middle of the desert.
A civilized photo.
An uncivilized photo.
Just in case 🙂

Camp. Day 2.
Gearing up for day three. Hoping my feet hang in there.
There are three scooters along the trail called Veni, Vidi and Vici (I came, I saw, I conquered)
Halfway there
Camp. Day 3. Or was it 4?
Watch out for armored crickets! They’re harmless but they’re HUGE and very loud.
More night sky views.
We made it up a hill!

Four fingers.
Sometimes hiking actually meant rock hopping across the river for a few hours.

The smile says it all.
That feeling when you wake up in /Ai-/Ais and realize you don’t have to hike 15km.

If you’re inspired to hike Fish River Canyon (and you should be!), here are some tips to consider.

Tip #1: Book a year in advance. The actual hiking trail is only open from May to September, and only three groups of 10 people or less are permitted each day. With that said, the permit is pretty competitive and should be booked about a year in advance if you’re looking to hike specific dates. Luckily, I planned this trip with some of my fellow Peace Corps group members last June and we waited a full year in anticipation. And as a side-bar on this pro-tip, have one person pay the deposit and everyone can pay them back later. Dealing with individual deposit payments somehow turned into a 4-month process and headache.

Tip #2: Choose your hiking group wisely. People of various speeds and experience are fine, if you don’t mind waiting up here and there. But definitely consider who you are able to spend five days in a harsh and sometimes exhausting environment. Some people are good sports and some people aren’t. I’ll just leave it at that.

Tip #3: Every ounce counts. Meal-planning for a hike in Namibia can a be a bit challenging but if you do your shopping in Windhoek or at a SuperSpar you can find some nice dehydrated items that will help cut some weight. One of my favorite meals were cous cous with grilled chicken (grilled the night before we left) and cranberries with instant mashed potatoes – which was a pretty light meal for the dietary content. One night we went all in and made mac and cheese (with real cheese) and salami. IT WAS SO GOOD after one of our toughest hiking days but probably not the best meal to bring in terms of weight. Whatever, worth it.

When it came to packing I was so clearly a novice. Our elected group leader, David, helped provide meal planning ideas and packing lists. He was pretty much our saint when it came to preparing for this trip. Even so, I proceeded to overpack in typical fashion and ended up having the heaviest pack of anyone in our group. Now I know I don’t need a full block of cheese and an entire bag of powdered milk. Live and learn.

David had us split up into food pods of 2-3 people to make planning and food distribution easier, which worked really well. Cooking for a smaller group is easier than planning for 10. Sometimes I was envious of other people’s meals but ours were pretty good too 🙂

I also packed too many clothing items. I honestly thought I was being frugal, but most people only brought 1 hiking outfit. Luckily, this is totally do-able because you can wash clothes in the river each night. The only thing I would advise it pack layers for night time. We hiked in mid-June (winter) and it was freezing some nights, even when I layered in multiple pants, shirts, a fleece, and my down jacket. For this reason…

Tip #4: Stay warm (winter in the desert is COLD) Make sure you bring an insulated sleeping bag and ideally a good sleeping pad. A tent is really optional, but I think it kept me a little warmer than sleeping without one. Although… the stargazing is absolutely incredible at night. But most importantly, bring layers!

Tip #5: Print a hiking map for everyone. This one is basic but will do the trick (and tells you the shortcuts + some cool species to look out for). Also, always hike in groups. Sometimes the trail is ambiguous with shortcuts and it’s easy for a person to get lost.

Tip #6: Take some shortcuts. Some are very much worth it and can cut many hours off of your hiking time. Others are too steep and not worth the hassle. It’s up to your group to decide 🙂

Tip #7: Bring along extra medical forms. Or copies – anything. Someone in our group forgot his (SPENCE) and they almost sent him packing. You can find the form here, and it must be filled out within 40 days prior to the hike.

Tip #8: If you’re doing self-drive, leave one car at Hobas and hire someone at the lodge to drive it to Ais-Ais where you’ll end up. That way, at the end of the hike, you at least have access to one car and can go get the other. There are also shuttle options, but we found this to be the easiest.

Tip #9: Bring band-aids. And when you think you have enough, pack more. Also a first aid kit is vital. My feet suffered more than I expected.

Tip #10: Pack two pairs of shoes. This goes along with pro-tip #9. My feet swelled a lot during the hike and caused my hiking boots to give me some pretty gnarly blisters. In this case, it was nice to have my Chacos to give my feet a break.

Tip #11: Iodine tablets and rehydration packets are your friends. There are no taps to get water from on the hike, so you’ll be filling up in the river. While the water is relatively clean, you’ll need to purify it with iodine tablets (yum, iodine). It’s best to bring some Crystal Light or flavored juice powder to cut the iodine taste if it’s a bit harsh. Also, despite drinking 4L of water a day there were definitely times when I felt fatigued and dehydrated, so having rehydration salts readily available was a life saver.

Anyways, enough with the pro-tips. If you plan on hiking FRC and have questions, drop it in the comments.

Stay tuned for our next adventure: hiking 8 days through the Namib-Naukluft, the oldest desert in the world!

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Becurrzzz Pritchett says:

    “Rugged” is an understatement! I like the uncivilized photo best, and the night sky. Thank you for sharing your experiences. Take care


    1. Zoe Robinson says:

      Thanks for reading! I’m saving some of the snacks you sent me for my next big hiking trip in March 🙂


  2. Evan Richards says:

    You rock, Zoe! The pictures are amazing, so I can only imagine how gorgeous it was in real life. Good tips, too.


  3. Sheila Kok says:

    Really enjoyed your blog. What a great adventure. Your accomplishments are astounding! Have fun and be safe. You are getting to be “short-timer” now. 🤗👏


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