World → Africa → Namibia
One of the best hikes in the world is
Fish River Canyon
Fish River Canyon trek is one of the most popular in southern Africa. The immense scale and rugged terrain draws visitors from all over the world.
AT A GLANCE
- located in the south of Namibia
- 85km the standard route (many take a short cut walking only about 71km)
- 4-5 days hiking
- sections are rugged and challenging
- many river crossings
- canyon is 27km wide, 160km long, the largest in Africa
- May 1 to September 15 only. It’s either too hot or too rainy (flash flood risk) the rest of the year.
- up to 8 hours of walking / day
- should reserve a year in advance
- minimum 3 hikers in your group
- must carry everything: food, shelter, medical kits, etc.
- permits are difficult to get as a maximum of 30 hikers start each day. Recommended to book 12 months in advance.
Why We Like This Hike
- one of the worlds largest Canyons
- towering rock faces and deep ravines
- nearly all of the Canyon is preserved by Nature Reserves
- rich variety of bird and animal life
- malaria free
- Sulphur Springs hot pools en route
- plenty of unknown paths and remote bends to explore
- wild horses
- Namibia has many beautiful campsites en route to the trailhead. It’s the best nation in Africa for foreign visitors, in our opinion. 🙂
Fish River is one of the toughest treks in the world to get a reservation. 😕
- should reserve a year in advance
- no more than 30 people allowed to start daily
- children under 12 are not allowed to register
- hikes sometimes cancelled if the river is too high
- if injured on the Trail, the only evacuation is by helicopter. Or limping out on foot.
- river shoes are essential
- to save weight, many do not carry a tent. They sleep under the stars.
- many river crossings. Poles recommended. If water is high, some bring inflatables to help with crossing.
- days can be very hot, nights very cold. Bring a warm enough sleeping bag.
- boots may be too hot. Two different light pairs of shoes might be better.
- wear long pants and long sleeve shirt to protect yourself from sun
- poisonous snakes and scorpions
- mosquitoes and midges 😕
- start of the trek the most difficult section, a steep 1-2 hour descent into the canyon
- some hikers lose toenails, from impact on descent
- you must scramble giant boulders with full pack, more difficult when water levels are high
- treat all water. Carry water at all times, just in case. Filter and treat.
- there are day hikes nearby in Canyon Nature Park and Gondwana Canyon Park
- nearby Ai-Ais Hotsprings Spa gets mixed reviews
- nearby Canyon Roadhouse gets good reviews
To hike the Fish River Trail you need to reserve a spot through Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR), the Windhoek-based company that administers access to the canyon. They are not particularly friendly in our experience.
Hobas campsite, if needed, is also booked through NWR.
In 2017 cost / hiker for the Fish River Canyon trek:
- hike itself NAD330/US$25 per person.
- Park entrance fee NAD60/US$4,5 for South Africans and NAD80/US$6 for foreigners.
- Shuttle Ai Ais – Hobas NAD270/US$20,5 pp.
Total: NAD660 (NAD680)/US$50.
To drive to the view point (start of the hike) you pay NAD60/US$ 4,5 per person, plus NAD10/$0,7 per car.
The traditional route has you drop straight down into the canyon at the beginning.
Night 0 = most tent at Hobas Camp Site, about 10km from the main viewpoints
Night 1 = Palm Springs sulphur pools
Night 2 = Three Sisters
Night 3 = Von Trotha’s grave
Night 4 = Ai-Ais
Total Distance = 85km
That sample itinerary was recommended by Lonely Planet. You can camp where you want, in reality.
At the end of your trek, consider a soak in the /Ai /Ais Hot Springs Spa . Even more luxurious accommodation is available at Cañon Lodge, located 20km from Ai-Ais which also offers mule trekking in the canyon.
Purchase a map at Ai Ais or Hobas.
Transport is available at Ai-Ais back to the start of the trail, if you’ve left a vehicle.
- Fish River Lodge 5 days N$ 13000 pp
Cardboard Box in Windhoek organizes guided Fish River Canyon treks some years. (It was cancelled in 2014.)
Booking is compulsory.
First phone to ask about available dates. In Windhoek (+264 61) 285 7333 email@example.com. In Capetown (+27 21) 422 3761 firstname.lastname@example.org.
You book over the phone. After that you have 48 hours to pay a deposit (10%) to confirm your booking. Then you send an email with a confirmation of the payment. The total amount must be paid 30 days prior the hike.
According to the rules you have to be minimum 3 persons to make a reservations but in fact you can always book for three and show up only two with some excuses that your hiking buddy got sick and try to hook up with another group to get to the start after you can walk on your own.
With questions you could try emailing reservations(a)nwr.com.na.
If you find an opening even a year in advance, book it quickly. It won’t last long.
Many are able to find SOME availability 3 months in advance.
Medical certificate for the hike
Required. The certificate must not be older than 40 days. A form will be sent to you after you make a payment for the hike or you can download it HERE. This form must be filled in by a doctor.
Free at either at Ai Ais (hot springs) or at Hobas (starting point).
Where to stay before the hike?
Basically you have the same options as for parking; Hobas (NAD170/US$13 pp camping) or Ai Ais (NAD190/US$14,5 pp camping).
Most people stay at Ai Ais for a good reason Ai Ais is just nicer; green grassy camping area with trees for shadow, many toilets and showers, electric stoves for cooking and of course the highlight the hot springs!
There is a shuttle Ai Ais to Hobas any time after 6am.
- none aside from Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR)
Best Trekking Guidebooks
There are no dedicated Fish River hiking guidebooks as of 2014.
Best Travel Guidebooks
- Lonely Planet Botswana & Namibia
- Namibia, 4th: The Bradt Travel Guide 2011
Other Recommended Books
- Insight Guide South Africa
Best Web Pages
- No Speed Limit – COMPLETE GUIDE TO THE FISH RIVER CANYON
- Facebook group – I hiked the Fish River Canyon
- Lonely Planet – Hiking Namibia’s Fish River Canyon
- Hiking in the Fish River Canyon 2009
- Wikipedia – hiking Fish River Canyon
Best Trip Reports
- Stingy Nomads – Fish River 2017
- Astonished Eyes – Fish River Canyon 2008
- Ralph Pina – Fish River Canyon Trail
- Ian Belcher – The hottest walk on earth 2005
- RB – July 2014
Click PLAY or watch a 2019 hike on YouTube. Some drone footage.
Click PLAY or watch more drone footage on YouTube.
Click PLAY or watch Ruth’s Tips on YouTube. (2016)
Click PLAY or watch it Ralph Pina’s trek on YouTube.
- nomadawhatudo – Fish River Canyon Hike – May 2014 – GoPro Selfie Edition
- go-southernafrica: Fish River Canyon hike 2014
Check our blog for posts tagged “Fish River Canyon Namibia”.
Questions? Suggestions? Leave a comment on this page. Our editors will reply.
15 Replies to “Fish River Canyon, Namibia”
A bit of advice about when to go. The article mentions that the trail is open from 1 May to 15 September because it’s too hot the rest of the year. The other reason is because the rest of the year is the ‘rainy’ season (it’s desert so I use the word ‘rainy’ very loosely) and the canyon is prone to getting flash floods.
The good thing about the flash floods is that it scatters driftwood everywhere, which is useful considering that hikers have to collect their own firewood as they go along. We started our hike on 10 May, 10 days after the season opened, and we were spoilt for wood, it was everywhere. The days are long and the last thing a hiker needs at the end of it is to spend another hour searching far and wide for wood so the closer to the start of the season, the nearer the wood.
How did you get from the Hobas campsite to the Canyon starting point (10km)? Did you have to hike it or was there transport available?
Lastly, what time is the recommended time to start the hike on day 1?
Your help will be much appreciated
Beth, we arranged our own transport to the start, but I think you can also arrange it from Hobas.
We started our hike the afternoon before our official start date. The walk down into the canyon is steep and tough and the rest of the day 1 walk is quite uneven so it can be a long day and we decided to split it in two. We climbed down into the canyon the afternoon before and then camped at the bottom for the night. In this way we split Day 1 in two and it made it a lot easier.
If you can’t do that then I would recommend you start as early as possible on Day 1, it’s the hardest of them all, the rest of the hike is very flat and easy.
Thanks Stingy Nomads. Wonderful part of the world for a honeymoon. 🙂
Hi, we’re heading up for or the hike in may this year, Is there any information available/info website about current conditions and water availability on the hike?
We don’t have up-to-date information. And it’s not all that easy to get it.
Keep trying contacts in Namibia for that.
Hi we intend leaving our car at AIs Ais. Is there a transfer from from Ais Ais to Hobas to start the trail?
Hello! Thank you Best hike for the information on Fish River canyon it helped us a lot! We just did the hike in May 2017 and have all up to dat info on it; accommodation, how to get from Ai Ais to Hobas, prices, booking etc. http://stingynomads.com/fish-river-canyon-hike-namibia/
We spent 2 months in Namibia and wrote a compltet guide on the whole country maybe you find it useful! http://stingynomads.com/namibia-travel-itinerary/
Wow. Great work. I’m loving your posts.
There is a lot of pricing on this site. How much is it, per person, for the hike? Is the different routes?
How can I make a reservation for this trail for 2019?
Hey Johan. To hike the Fish River Trail you need to reserve a spot through Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR), the Windhoek-based company that administers access to the canyon.
The link is on our information page … https://besthike.com/where-is-the-best-hike-in-africa/fish-river-canyon/
We are a group of 7 planning to hike the Fish river canyon from 27 to 31 May 2020. We could only purchase 6 permits from Wildlife Namibia. We are looking for contact details of groups we could approach or groups who will also be hiking in that time – hopeful that a member might have decided to pull out for some reason and that we will be able to buy the permit from that group.
Pretoria, South Africa
Tel 076 410 9006