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.
- 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.
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
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”.