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Fish River Canyon

The gigantic second largest Canyon in the World

The Fish River Canyon (German: Fischfluss Canyon) is located in the south of Namibia. It is the largest canyon in Africa, the second largest canyon in the world and the second most visited tourist attraction in Namibia. There is a gigantic gorge, 160 km long in total, up to 27 km wide and in places almost 550 m deep.

The Fish River is the longest inland river in Namibia. It cuts deep into the plateau, which is now dry, stony and thinly covered with hardy plants. The river flows sporadically and usually floods in late summer. The rest of the year there will be a chain of long, narrow pools. At the bottom of the Fish River Canyon is the Ai-Ais thermal bath.

The Fish River Gorge consists of an upper gorge, in which the erosion of the river was inhibited by hard gneiss rock, and a lower gorge, which formed after the erosion finally penetrated the gneiss. Both parts were declared a national monument in 1962.

The river flows upstream through horizontal layers of dolomite. These metamorphic rocks formed part of the canyon. About 650 million years ago (Mya), the plate movement formed a north-south trench or a subsidence area along which the old fish river flowed and eventually eroded a flat plain, today’s upper gorge. The 300 Mya icing, part of the Dyka icing during the Karoo Ice Age, deepened the canyon. About 60 Mya, South America and Africa separated (due to the continental shift) and Africa rose significantly. The resulting increased gradient of the fish flow enabled him to eat the lower canyon into the hard gneisses and thus to form the currently deeply twisted, meandering system of the lower canyon.

The Fish River Canyon hiking trail is one of the most popular hiking trails in Southern Africa. The vast expanse and rugged terrain have drawn many visitors from around the world to see what hiking or running in the canyon has to offer.

Except for the 2 kilometer descent west of Hobas and some optional shortcuts, the trail generally follows 88 kilometers of the fish river to Ai Ais and is usually completed within 5 days. Although there are a number of footpaths through the gorge, the path is not fixed, so hikers can decide where and how long to hike. There are no amenities along the way and hikers must carry all their needs with them. Open fire is not allowed on the trail. In bad weather there is a shelter in a dilapidated building at the causeway, otherwise you can sleep outside. The weather is usually mild and the typical temperatures vary between 5 ° C and 30 ° C with low humidity. Extreme weather such as flash floods, stormy winds and rain occasionally cause devastation during the hiking season.

Due to flooding and extremely hot summer temperatures of 48 ° C during the day and 30 ° C at night, permits are only granted between May 1st and September 15th. Before arriving in Hobas, a hiking permit must be obtained from Namibia Wildlife Resorts for groups of no less than 3 and no more than 30 people. The doctor must be present in the offices of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism in Hobas. In recent years, the path has become increasingly popular, especially during school holidays and long weekends. Permits should be applied for early. Bookings for the following season open on May 1st.

Hobas houses the offices of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism as well as the offices of the Namibia Wildlife Resorts and a small shop for curiosities and basic needs. For hikers who want to spend the night in Hobas, there is the possibility to camp under camel-horn trees with wash blocks. The path ends in Ai Ais, where there is a resort with hotel rooms, chalets and campsites.

The trail starts at the car park 13 kilometers west of Hobas. The descent is steep and chains are provided to help hikers the first 100 meters. Then the unmarked path follows a gravel path to the lower beach. On the descent, some misleading game trails lead north and should be avoided.

The trail can be divided into three notable sections:

The descent to Sulfur Springs (also known as Palm Springs) leads the hiker through the narrowest section of the canyon, which is covered with large boulders, rocks and deep sand. This makes hiking slow and tedious, which leads to an average hiking speed of between 6 and 10 kilometers per day.
The route from Sulfur Springs to Three Sisters is mostly on solid ground with many boulders and frequent river crossings. Average hiking speed between 15 and 25 kilometers per day.
From Three Sisters to Ai Ais, the canyon widens with some sections that can be reached by four-wheel drive vehicles. Average hiking speed between 25 and 35 kilometers per day.
Optional abbreviations are available. They offer little beauty, but are a welcome change in landscape and terrain.

The river flows stronger at the beginning of the season and usually dries up in September to form a chain of standing pools. Water is drinkable, however the use of water purification tablets is recommended. River crossings are a notable feature with more than 20 crossings along the path, and crossings can play an important role at high water levels.