A coastal African safari

Off the coast of Namibia, a boat trip offers a special opportunity to get up close with some special marine wildlife.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


Walvis Bay boat cruise, Namibia

Think of a safari in Africa and you tend to think of the usual things:

Hot dry plains or arid landscapes…

Animals like elephants and giraffes, maybe rhinos and lions…

Bumping along tracks in a jeep, in search of something elusive.

Here in Namibia, there are some wonderful safari experiences like this. I think the best ones are in Etosha National Park and I’ve written previously about my days on safari at Etosha.

So that’s what makes the African safari I want to tell you about today quite unusual.

The biggest difference? It’s on the water!

Walvis Bay boat cruise, Namibia

Walvis Bay and Swakopmund, Namibia

Namibia is a country with distinct landscapes. Aside from the traditional safari plains, there are the iconic orange sand dunes of the Namib Sand Sea that are one of the main reasons people visit the country.

There’s the vast Fish River Canyon – one of the biggest canyons in the world.

And then there’s the coastline, which is one of the most dramatic in Africa.

The brutal Skeleton Coast is a true adventure but, for those who don’t have the time, the more comfortable coastal options also have plenty to offer.

The most popular spot on the Namibian coast is at Swakopmund – and its neighbouring city of Walvis Bay. They are just 20 minutes drive from each other and tourists who choose to stay at one can easily do activities in the other.

Walvis Bay boat cruise, Namibia

For example, although I’m staying in Swakopmund as part of a G Adventures tour through South Africa and Namibia, the water safari I’m going to tell you about leaves from Walvis Bay.

Dolphin cruise, Walvis Bay

I’m calling it a water safari, they call it a dolphin cruise. It’s all the same thing, really.

But calling it a Walvis Bay dolphin cruise is actually selling it a bit short because there’s a lot more than just dolphins to see.

Walvis Bay boat cruise, Namibia

It doesn’t take too long after we’ve pulled out from Walvis Bay until we met our first animal. It’s a pelican who has landed on the boat to be fed. There are a few of these friendly guys who will land on boats, hoping there might be some extra fish from a catch that will be offered up for breakfast.

Walvis Bay boat cruise, Namibia

A little while later, we get another visitor on the boat. This time, it’s a seal who has jumped on the back to see if there is any food left after the pelican’s visit. He sits around for a while and even seems happy to pose for a few photos.

Walvis Bay boat cruise, Namibia

It’s when we are a bit further out and travelling quite quickly that I spot the first of the dolphins. Their dorsal fins pop out of the water a little bit off to the starboard of the boat and then disappear again.

South Africa and Namibia, G Adventures

Within a minute they are closer – much closer. Suddenly there are about four of them swimming alongside and in front of the water, keeping time with us and playing with each other.

Walvis Bay boat cruise, Namibia

The water is clear and I can look down and see them perfectly as they glide through the water. They peel off the sides, come back, do some jumps. It’s almost as if they are putting on a show for us.

Walvis Bay animals

This particular type of dolphin is the Heaviside’s dolphin, which is common around Walvis Bay and Swakopmund and fairly easy to spot.

Another type, the bottlenose dolphin, can also be spotted around here but we don’t see any on our safari.

The dominant animal here, at least in terms of numbers, is the seal. As we get closer to the peninsula on the edge of Walvis Bay, I see them playing in the water.

Walvis Bay boat cruise, Namibia

There are dozens of them together, jumping in and out of the water. They seem young, acting like little kindergarten children.

It’s only when I look towards the beach on the coast of the peninsula that I see the rest of them. Thousands upon thousands, filling the sand. They’re sleeping, waddling, fighting.

Walvis Bay boat cruise, Namibia

This area is one of the main breeding grounds of the Cape fur seal and the population here is estimated to be about 100,000. There are so many of them, as far as you look, and it’s a glorious site.

I must confess that I had been slightly unnerved when the seal had jumped on the boat earlier looking for food, because I thought maybe tourism was affecting their natural lifestyle. I can see now that one seal looking for a cruise boat is having absolutely no impact on the ecosystem of a colony of 100,000!

Walvis Bay boat cruise, Namibia

As we continue on our boat cruise – or water safari – I keep looking at the magnificent seals and the way they glimmer in the water. But the boat’s captain is looking for different animals.

There are leatherback turtles here sometimes but we don’t see any of them on this trip.

Walvis Bay boat cruise, Namibia

The other big attraction is the whales. Two species of whales pass through Walvis Bay – the humpback whale and the southern right whale.

Unfortunately, the season for whales has just finished and although one was seen yesterday, apparently, we don’t spot any. Still, I’m not too disappointed. It would have been a bonus but the cruise has already been full of quite spectacular sightings.

Walvis Bay boat cruise, Namibia

Swakopmund activities

I think a boat cruise from Swakopmund or Walvis Bay is one of the best things you can do here. But there are lots of other activities in the region.

I’m on a G Adventures tour through South Africa and Namibia and this is one of the stops.

One of the things I like about this kind of tour is that there’s a level of independence and so, in Swakopmund, we’re given a day or so to do our own things. Going on the dolphin cruise is an optional activity – and there are plenty of alternatives.

Walvis Bay boat cruise, Namibia

There are adventure activities that you can do like dune biking, sand boarding, mountain biking or even – for the most adventurous – skydiving!

There are cultural tours where you can learn more about the local communities, you can go kayaking in the sea, or you could even potentially arrange a trip that will take you right up to some of the shipwrecks and other coastal sights.

It’s all up to you and Swakopmund is somewhere where it’s easy to find things to go off and do.

Walvis Bay boat cruise, Namibia

Within the city of Swakopmund itself, things are relatively quiet. It’s a nice place to look around but there’s not too much to do here other than relax – which for some people, is a good enough reason to come.

There are nice restaurants, some cool cafes, and bars where you can meet other travellers. Don’t be surprised if many of those travellers are German, though.

Walvis Bay boat cruise, Namibia

Swakopmund was founded by the Germans in 1892 during their colonial period and it’s popular with those trying to escape cold and wet European winters. The architecture and food still has a little touch of German, which appeals to some people as well.

South Africa and Namibia, G Adventures

But, for me, the real reason to come to Swakopmund is for the access to the water and the wildlife that calls it home. It’s quite incredible to see all the seals, to get so close to the dolphins, and know that it would be easy to spot whales at the right time of year.

It’s an African safari you don’t immediately think of but just adds another layer to my time here in Namibia.

I travelled to Namibia with the support of G Adventures in my position as a G Wanderer. All the opinions expressed are my own – I truly believe G Adventures is one of the best tour companies that you can use for a trip to Namibia.

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