The Fish River Canyon is the largest canyon in Africa and the second most visited attraction in Namibia. The giant ravine, the second biggest canyon in the world, is in total about 160 km long, up to 27 km wide and almost 550 meters deep. The Fish River itself is the longest interior river in Namibia. The river flows intermittently, and floods in the late summer. The rest of the year it is a chain of long narrow pools. The hot springs resort of Ai-Ais is at the lower end of the Fish River Canyon. You can access a public view point near Hobas, a campsite situated 70 km north of Ai-Ais which is part of the Ai-Ais or Richtersveld Transfrontier Park. The rest of the canyon is privately owned.
The river runs through dolomite strata upstream, which formed part of the canyon millions of years ago when the plate movement occurred, which was the first process in Fish River Canyon’s formation. Lower down, the characteristic riverbed is formed from a complex granite system and you see forms like Fingerspitze. The water is safe to drink but water purifying tablets are still recommended by park officials.
The main attractions in this area are the Ai-Ais National Park, hiking in the Fish River Canyon,
The Fish River Canyon hiking trail is quite unique and one of the most popular hiking trails in Southern Africa with immense scale and rugged terrain. The whole 85 km trail all the way through to Ai-Ais can usually be completed in 5 days.
West of Hobas, at the viewpoint, the trail begins. There is a 2 km descent, which takes roughly 2 hours and is probably the toughest part of the trail. While the first stretch to reach Palm Springs is only 13 km, you can split this section up into two days. This is the most rugged part of the trail and there is plenty of boulder hopping and pools of water to navigate through so it will take some time. Palm Springs has a sulphur spring which is a constant temperature of 57 degrees. While it’s a great place to rest, camping isn’t great due to the smell.
From Palm Springs, the walk becomes easier and the canyon widens with fewer obstacles to overcome. Once you reach the causeway and the last 30 km of the trail, you’re on the home stretch and it is flat and easy going all the way to Ai-Ais springs. There is transport from Ai-Ais back to the beginning of the trail, so you can get back to your vehicle.
There are no amenities on the trail and open fires are not allowed. There is no mobile phone reception and only two emergency exits are available. While there are no shelters or camp sites, tents are not necessary as the area is desert and it rarely rains in the winter months. As there is flooding and extremely hot summer temperatures, permits are only issued between 1 May and 15 September. Your permit must be obtained from Namibia Wildlife Resorts (and you need to reserve a spot) for groups no smaller than 3 and no larger than 30. All hikers need to be older than 12 and have a certificate of fitness before a permit will be issued.
You should be prepared for a gruelling trail and fitness is essential. You’ll be looking at between 7 and 8 hours of walking per day. Less experienced hikers are advised to book a seven day guided hike. If you are looking for an easier time of it, hikes are offered bordering the private “Canyon Nature Park” as well as “Gondwana Canyon Park”. There is also accommodation offered.