Serra Cafema: Luxury Along the Kunene River

In our experience, a safari camp located along a permanent river in Namibia is unusual. We’ve enjoyed a stay on the rim of the Fish River Canyon, but the river was dry in most places. Our stay along the ephemeral Hoanib River provided endless wildlife viewing opportunities along its dry riverbed. We’ve stayed adjacent to the red dunes of Sossesvlei and in the dry, rolling hills of Damaraland. Then there was the memorable Desert Rhino Camp.

Only five of the many rivers in Namibia flow year round: the Orange, Kunene, Okavango, Zambezi and Chobe. The Orange River forms Namibia’s southern border with South Africa. The Okavango, Chobe (called Cuando and Linyanti in various locations) and Zambezi Rivers course along or through the Zambezi Region of northeastern Namibia. The Kunene River flows along the border between Namibia and Angola to the north. 

Map of northwest Namibia

This trip we felt the lure of the Kunene River and the (really, really) isolated Serra Cafema camp located on its southern bank. The location provided a stark contrast between the strip of lush vegetation along the river and the dry, desert sands of Hartmann’s Valley. We met a group of unforgettable women from a local Himba village, walked along the Kunene River, enjoyed a river cruise and long drives through scenic Hartmann’s Valley. It was a relaxing end to a perfect tour of Namibia.

A Sparkling Reception

We were met at the landing strip near (a 45-minute drive away) Serra Cafema camp by our guide Limbo. We were thrilled to meet Limbo and have him as our guide at Serra Cafema. He came highly recommended by Anton, our guide at Hoanib Skeleton Camp. Limbo and Anton both come from the Zambezi Region of Namibia. Beyond sharing a common language, they share a wide knowledge of the geology, flora and fauna of Namibia and an enthusiasm for guiding.

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Lush views Along the Kunene River

Our first views of the Kunene River, and Serra Cafema along its banks, were very dramatic. As the river and camp came into view between sandy dunes and jagged mountains the calm of the smoothly flowing water and lush greenery along the river was a sight uncommon to us in Namibia. 

Our first view of Serra Cafema

Luxury Along the Kunene River

Serra Cafema camp had only re-opened after a complete rebuild about three weeks before our stay. The camp closed and was temporarily located upriver for a time. The rebuild started and then the camp was destroyed by a flood. The site had to be cleared and building had to begin again. 

Serra Cafema consists of eight guest rooms connected to a central area by elevated walkways. The central area included indoor seating and dining areas, a bar and outdoor seating down along the Kunene River. The calm waters of the Kunene, the shade of enormous trees and the constant song of countless birds make this camp about as relaxing a spot as you could imagine. 

Our guest room was located on the edge of camp near a rapids in the Kunene River. The only sounds we heard were the river, the birds and braying donkeys as they wandered through camp. Music to my ears!

This luxurious and spacious camp is supported entirely by solar power to minimize its impact on the environment. All the rooms are decorated in a Himba style that pays homage to these semi-nomadic people that inhabit the region. 

As is the practice with other Wilderness Safaris camps, Serra Cafema is a joint venture with a local conservancy. The 300,000-hectare Marienfluss Conservancy is largely owned by the Himba people who benefit financially from the operation of the camp.

We arrived at Serra Cafema with another couple we met at Hoanib Skeleton Coast. Two other groups were in camp that day and we had met them at Hoanib as well. We had a fun time tasting Gin and concocting Gin cocktails that evening. One afternoon we were the only guests in camp. Serra Cafema was a unique experience for us in so many wonderful ways.

Views for Miles

Hartmann’s Valley is a long, broad valley ringed by charcoal-colored mountains. Sandy soil varies in color from beige to red depending on the iron content and the light. It is covered by lush Bushman grass in many areas. Other areas are sparsely covered. 

The Lush Kunene River

Limbo told us severe drought in 2011 and 2012 killed many wild animals and drove others away. Rains in 2017 brought the grasses back and along with it have come more animals, but they are still very few in number.

We were thrilled to see several groups of Hartmann’s mountain zebra and a few oryx. Birds are less common in the valley than along the river and we saw small geckos in both locations.

Meeting Local Himba Women

The Himba people are a semi-nomadic group that are related to the Herero people. They number perhaps 50,000 and live in the isolated northwest of Namibia.

Namibia’s Himba women are among the most distinctive in the country. The women we met in their village were dressed in their traditional style that included colorful skirts of cloth and animal skin. They adorn themselves with woven and beaded necklaces, bracelets, anklets and hair ornaments. Many had their hair braided and adorned with the distinctive rusty-colored paste called otjize, a combination of butterfat and ochre, that they spread on their skin as well. The pigment protects them from the sun and insects.

The men and boys tend the cattle and goats, so all were out with the herds when we visited. The women cook, build and maintain the huts and gather water. They spend time with each other, watching the children and making jewelry and other artwork, which they sell to support the village. Meeting these able women was a highlight of our time spent in Serra Cafema.

Scenes Along the Kunene River

A float along the Kunene River is the ultimate luxury in this arid country. It is a luxury for the animals along the river as well, I imagine.

Serra Cafema from the water

Goodbye to Namibia. For Now?

Serra Cafema was the perfect place to end our time in Namibia. The pace here is slow, allowing for time to reflect on all that we had seen in Namibia and the wonderful people we met. And, of course, our good fortune to be able experience so much of this beautiful country.

We highly recommend travel to Namibia. We made our travel arrangements through Expert Africa, who took care of every detail of our trip. We highly recommend them as well.

We never tire of the Namibian landscape


One Comment

  1. I always enjoy these posts, Nancy. Not sure if I’ll ever make it to Namibia but I feel lucky to have shared your adventures via the blog! So much to see and wonder about – the animals, the rivers, and the wonderful people who welcomed you. Thank you for sharing with us.