The Ultimate Guide to Hiking the Fish River Canyon 2024

Looking down at the The Fish River Canyon in Namibia

Hiking the second-largest Canyon in the World is as challenging as it is exceptional and promises an unforgettable experience. The Fish River Canyon is in Southern Namibia’s Ai-Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park. Namibia’s Fish River Canyon hiking trail will take you to the bottom of the gigantic Ravine, where you will spend the next few days hiking through rugged terrain with spectacular cliffs formed by the meandering Fish River. Known as the best hike in Africa, it should be on any vivid hiker’s bucket list. At night, you’ll make yourself comfortable on the soft sand under a starry sky, admiring the Milky Way before falling asleep. Besides sharing our wonderful experience, I’ve compiled this Comprehensive Guide with all the information you need to Plan, Book, Prepare and Pack for Hiking the Fish River Canyon Trail.

Beautiful Sunset over The Fish River Canyon Namibia
Sunset Fish River Canyon Namibia

What to Expect on the Fish River Canyon Hike

Namibia’s Fish River Canyon is the largest Ravine in the southern hemisphere, and coming from the North is like crossing Mars. Hiking, one of the most popular trails in Southern Africa, is an extraordinary hiking trail and an experience you will treasure forever. Why is Fish River Canyon famous? It is the largest canyon on the continent and Namibia’s most incredible geological wonder, measuring 27km wide, 550m deep, and 160km long. It is also one of the best places in Namibia to stand in awe of the raw majesty of nature.

The Fish River Canyon has a sandy, rugged, rocky terrain and star-filled skies. The 4-5 day trail is generally 88 km from the shortcuts, starting at Hobas and finishing at Ai-Ais. Prepare yourself for a challenging start, which entails a steep descent and is the most difficult part of the 5-day hike. Besides the frequent river crossings, expect to walk between 6 to 7 hours daily. There are no amenities on the trail, so whatever you need, you must carry in and out of the Canyon, leaving only footprints. First, I share our experience hiking the Fish, followed by our best tips and other valuable information.

Our first day of the Fish River Canyon hike starts early. Besides fueling up on carbs by having a large breakfast, we report at Hobas offices. Here is a photo of our Group at the Fish River Canyon viewpoint, as well as the start of the trail.

Hikers with their backpacks and hiking gear at the start of the best Trail in Namibia
Our Group at the start of the Trail

Our Experience Hiking the Fish River Canyon Trail

Descending into the Canyon is no joke and the most challenging part of the Trail. I was glad I had one hiking pole to take some strain off my knees. On our way down, we went past 3 other hikers trying to assist the one hiker whose knees were shivering uncontrollably. We are still determining if she could ever continue hiking. One thing is sure: prepare for the hike, and don’t take on Namibia’s Fish River Canyon Trail if you have severe knee problems.

Descending into the Canyon is no joke and the most challenging part of the Trail. I was glad I had one hiking pole to take some strain off my knees. On our way down, we went past 3 other hikers trying to assist the one hiker whose knees were shivering uncontrollably. We are still determining if she could ever continue hiking. We hiked the Fish River Canyon trail before chains were installed on the problematic sections near the start of the hike. Take it slowly and watch your steps.

Group hikers descending down the canyon trail Namibia
Group hikers are descending the start of the Fish River Canyon

Day 1: Descending into the Canyon

Watch your step and descent slowly, using your hiking poles to prevent knee injuries. Reaching the bottom of the Ravine was a relief, and after a break, we continued. Down in the Canyon awaits Rocky landscapes with only drought-resistant plants. One could feel the tranquillity; the only sound was the high-pitched screeching sound of the cicadas. Besides the rugged terrain, prepare for boulder-hopping and be careful when trampling on the loose boulders, as a sprained ankle will end your hike. We filled our water bottles with water from the river inflow.

Camping on the Fish River Trail

After we found a perfect flat sandy spot to spend the night, we went to look for firewood. It was getting cool as the Canyon was completely shaded. We all dipped in the ice-cold murky water before making a fire, relaxing on the soft sand, and having a barbecue. Sleeping in the canyon is another extraordinary experience. We didn’t take tents, only our sleeping bags and -mats. The starry sky was spectacular, and sleeping under the stars was a privilege and an incredible experience. We camped only with our sleeping mats and sleeping bags without tents. Distance on the 1st day is about 11-12 km.

Hiker at Fish River Canyon Trail Overnight spot with bird sitting on his backpack
Johan at Fish River Canyon Trail Overnight spot with a bird sitting on his backpack

On Day 2: Boulder hopping and River Crossing

Early in the morning, we had good coffee and rusks and checked our hiking boots for scorpions before we put them on. There are many in the Canyon, but they won’t bother you if you don’t bother them. Another challenging day awaits hiking through rugged terrain, this time with hard sand and a few river crossings. Again, remember to watch out for loose and slippery rocks. The stench of sulfur caused by the hydrogen sulfide in the water indicated that we were close to the Hot Springs.

Fish River Canyon Sulphur Springs

When we finally reached the springs, I couldn’t wait to remove my boots. All my toes had blisters on them, which caused a lot of laughter. The piping hot water from the rock spring flows into the surrounding pools with cool water. We sat in the surrounding pools, soothing our tired muscles as the rock spring pool’s water was too hot. One gets used to the stench after a while, but no matter the foul smell, it relieves tired feet and aching muscles. After that, we sat around the fire, enjoying dinner. Very tired, we fell asleep while admiring the Starry skies. Distance: about 17-18 km.

2 Hikers cross the River in Canyon
Johan and I cross the River in Canyon
Hikers has a pitstop after crossing the Fish river
Pitstop after crossing the River.

Day 3: More Boulder hopping and River Crossing

Expect thick sand and boulders on what was one of the longest days. The trail is rocky and sandy from Zebra Pools until Bushy Corner. I’m so thankful for gaiters, as I couldn’t imagine myself walking in the thick sand without them. Today, the monotony of the desert got to us. Every day we could fill up our water from the River. The worst was to remove my hiking boots during a river crossing because of all the open sores of burst blisters.

We overnighted at Dassie Ridge on the wide-open sand with another spectacular star galaxy. After supper, we went to the River to wash our plates when we saw Fish swimming towards us. Putting the dishes in the water, they started eating crumbs from our plates. How cool is that? The highlight of the day was, besides the fish, our pit stopped beside the river. The distance on day 3 is about 18 km.

Hikers having a pitstop on the Fish River
Ernst and Michelle having a pitstop
A Hiker sitting on a rock Johan makes tea and snacks during our Pitstop boil water for tea in a tiny kettle on his small gas stove during a pitstop on the Fish River Canyon hiking trail.
Johan makes tea and snacks during a Pitstop

Day 4: Feral Horses & German Soldiers’ Grave

At about lunchtime, look out for the Grave of a German soldier. Day 4 was our longest stretch, with steep climbs and heat that made it more challenging. Moreover, the midges were very annoying. After hiking the Fish River Canyon Trail, I bought myself a Nethat for trails and expeditions like these.   

We’ve spotted the Fish River Canyon’s horses again today. These feral horses are independent and adapted to their lives in infinite freedom.

We were exhausted before sunset, and without talking much, we kept on moving. We arrived at a decent spot after sunset and noticed the headlights of the other hiking group in the far dark. What a relief when we eventually reached our camping spot. Today, we walked between 18 and 19 km, which felt like 30 km.

Our supper consisted of a tin of bully beef mixed with Tomato and onion on 2-minute noodles. After supper, Johan took a rock and hammered the tins completely flat because, remember, what you carry in, you must carry out.

The Grave of a German soldier in the Fish River Canyon
The Grave of a German Soldier on the Fish River Canyon Hiking Trail

Birdlife & Wildlife in the Fish River Canyon

Birdlife in the Fish River Canyon is scarce except for martins, mountain wheatear, Cormorants, and Herons. Also, African Fish Eagles, and Kingfishers along the Riverbank.

Animals in the canyon include Mountain Zebra, Oryx, Springbok, Antelope, Kudu, as well as Leopard.

Along with troops of baboons, Farel Horses, small mammals, rodents, squirrels, and hyraxes.
Hiker with his backpack on the Fish River trail
Johan with his backpack on the Fish River trail

Day 5 – Finishing the Fish River Canyon Hike

The last day could be more exciting, hiking on nearly flat terrain. We were all eager to reach the end at Ai-Ais and looking forward to having a tasty, juicy Big Chunky Hamburger with golden brown chips and an ice-cold beer to quench our thirst. On the last day, you’ll walk about 7-8 km.

So we arrived at Ai-Ais and enjoyed those super Chunky Burgers with something cold. What an experience. So now that you’re convinced, read further and get all the information to plan and book your Namibia Fish River Canyon Hike. And please, if you have any questions, let me know.

Group hikers celebrate the finish of Namibia's trail at Ai-Ais
Our Group celebrate the finish at Ai-Ais

Formalities when travelling to Namibia

How to Reach the Fish River Canyon in Namibia

  • Want to fly? Unfortunately, the closest Airport is Upington International Airport, about 4,5 hours away.
  • Driving from Johannesburg to Hobas, the 1187 km via the N14, will take about 13-14 hours. Map with Directions Johannesburg to Hobas Namibia. 
  • The 800 km drive to Hobas from Cape Town will take about 9 hours.

South Africa to Namibia Border Crossings 

The border crossing from South Africa into Namibia is Vioolsdrift/Noordoewer border control, which is open 24 hours. Contact no. +27(0) 761 8760, GPS Coordinates: 28.7656°S 17.6262°E.

Border Crossing Requirements

  • Passports, valid for at least six months after your return date and at least 3 empty pages. 
  • SA passport holders do not require visas for tourism purposes unless they travel to Namibia for business. The good news is that tourists visiting Namibia for less than 90 days can obtain a free Visa.
  • A certified copy of vehicle registration papers, and if financed, accompanied with a letter from the Financial institution and your Insurer as authorisation to take the vehicle across the border.
  • Rental vehicle: The rental Company will provide you with the letter of authority and other required documentation. 
  • Valid driver’s license
  • Vehicles should bear a ZA sticker available at any AA office or Safari Outdoor store. 
  • Currently, the fee is (ZAR) R220 for a standard car and R140 for a trailer or a camper, payable in ZAR, NAD$ or by Credit card. However, I recommend you take cash in case the machines are offline.
  • After their formal procedures, they search your vehicle and allow you through.

Best Tips for Hiking the Fish River Canyon Namibia

Requirements for Hiking Namibia Fish River Canyon Trail

  • The minimum age is 12 Years.
  • Group size: between 3 and 30 persons.
  • Medical certificate confirming your fitness signed by a Medical doctor.
  • Without the required documentation, you won’t be allowed on the trail.
  • You’ll be required to complete and sign an Indemnity form.
  • Life happens, so please make sure you have Medical Insurance.

Travel insurance for hiking Fish River Canyon

If you don’t have Medical aid or Travel Insurance yet, consider travel insurance seriously. Safety Wing Travel Insurance covers more than 150 adventure activities, emergency medical, lost luggage, trip cancellation, and curtailment. Since 2002, World Nomads have been protecting, connecting and inspiring independent travellers with their simple, flexible travel insurance .

The Closest hospital to the Canyon is 2 hours drive to Keetmanshoop after they get you out of the Canyon. In an emergency, the right Travel Insurance will arrange for a helicopter to fly you out. They will fly you out of the Canyon if you have the right cover.

Why Do I Need a Medical Certificate for Hiking the Fish River Trail?

The rough terrain is quite challenging to hike the Fish River Canyon in Namibia. Once descending into the Canyon, a person can’t get out. In an emergency, they will airlift a person out of the Canyon. For this reason, hikers need to present a medical certificate confirming they are physically healthy.

How to Get to the Fish River Canyon Starting Point

The Hiking Trail starts at Hobas, located at the north end of the Fish River Canyon. A shuttle service runs approximately every three hours between Ai-Ais and Hobas, but you’ll need to book with Namibia Wildlife Resorts in advance: R350 pp (ZAR).

The Fish River Trail finishes at the Ai-Ais, situated at the lower end of the Fish River Canyon, home to the famous Ai-Ais Hot Springs Resort. We left our vehicle at Ais-Ais after we spent the night and took the shuttle to Hobas. That way, our car was already at the finishing point.

Frequently Asked Question

Here are the most popular Questions and answers from people about the Fish River Canyon Trail

The Fish River Canyon hike price is R535 ZAR / 535 NAD (Booking is Compulsory.)

  • The National Park entrance fee varies:
    • For Namibian citizens, it costs 50 NAD.
    • For SADC citizens, it costs 100 NAD.
    • For all others, it costs 150 NAD.

The Fish River Canyon hike must be booked in advance through Namibia Wildlife Resorts

A total of 30 persons can hike the Fish River Trail at a time.

The minimum group size is 3 persons.

Yes, it is possible. On our way into the Canyon, we passed hikers and saw another group from a distance on the third day.

June and July are best due to the high temperatures in summer. We went in July, and it was perfect. The days were sweltering with cool nights. Due to extreme weather conditions, the trail is only open from 1 May to 15 September.

No, the Trail has no amenities; you must take everything along.

f you’re flying in from another Country, you’ll probably fly to Windhoek or Cape Town International Airport. Rent-a-car will make things easier because you will need a set of wheels to travel around.

How to Prepare for the Fish River Canyon Hike in Namibia

Fitness Level for Fish River Canyon 5-day Hike: Difficulty is moderate to strenuous, and I strongly suggest you prepare to take on the hike. Not only because it is difficult but also because you want an enjoyable experience. One of the most challenging parts of the route is a long, steep descent to the bottom of the Canyon, which is strenuous on your knees, especially with a backpack.

Training for the Hike

Start training for the Fish River Trail a couple of months in advance. The Fish shouldn’t be your first multi-day hike, so I suggest you take at least two short hikes before hiking the Fish River Canyon. Get used to walking a few kilometres with a similar backpack not heavier than 20% of your body weight. Besides some hill training, training on the stepper in the gym. Also, exercise your core muscles, which will help strengthen your back.

Best Place to Overnight Before and After the Trail

First, decide on what you prefer and can afford. To assist you in choosing, here are some options:

Camping Fish River Canyon

  • Canyon Roadhouse Campsite features camping near the Fish River Canyon. There is a restaurant, swimming pool, and activities. Each campsite is next to a dry riverbed with a barbecue and shared ablution facilities.
  • The Fish River Canyon Camping sites at Hobas are inside the park, and each of these Hobas Campsites offers shade, a power supply and BBQ facilities.
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What hiking gear do I need for the Fish River hike?

How do I find the right backpack for me?

First, measure your body’s torso length. To measure your torso length, stand up straight with your shoulders back. Locate the vertebra at the base of your neck. Take a measuring tape from the bottom of your neck to where your hips and spine meet (the top of your hip bones, also called love handles). Then, compare with a Torso measurement chart.

Try on different backpacks. For the best fit, the shoulder strap should be broad, padded, and conform to the back of your shoulders. The backpack should fit comfortably and mustn’t hang too low and away from your body, as you will lean forward to compensate for the load, which is terrible for your posture.

Loosen the shoulder straps when putting the backpack on, and you should adjust the straps so it sits high on your back. Backpacking weight calculator: the average backpack weight for hiking should not be more than 20% of your body weight—the Right Backpack and Hiking Gear.

Hikers hiking in the Fish River Canyon, surrounded by Rocky landscapes and beautiful flowers.

What to Pack for the Fish River Canyon Hike

Packing for the Fish River Hike is quite a challenge. I’ve compiled a list of all the essentials to consider.

The Perfect Hiking Boots

Buy shoes or boots designed for the kind of hiking you do. Fitness shoes are a no-no as you’ll be hiking through rough terrain and must support your ankles. The right hiking boot size is the one that fits snugly. Try different brands with hiking socks, walk around with them in the shop, and ensure there are no hot spots. Wearing good, snug-fit hiking boots is essential to prevent chaffing that causes blisters. If your heel slips out or is loose when walking, it will cause blisters. After years of backpacking and hiking different terrains, I’ve assembled the Ultimate Hiking Checklist and Camping gear.

Hiking Clothes

  • 1-2 Hiking Pants
  • 3x Hiking shirts: The best hiking shirts for hot weather are lightweight, breathable tops that don’t rub against your skin.
  • Three pairs of hiking socks.
  • Hiking sandals and flip-flops, especially to bring relief to your toes should you have blisters.
  • Underwear
  • Costume

Hiking Gear

  • Tracking Poles is highly recommended, even if only one.
  • Headlamp and Navigation equipment.
  • First Aid Kit, including moleskin, plasters, betadine, and burn shield.
  • Needle, cotton tread, and spirits to put through your blisters so they heal faster.
  • Pack enough food and snacks like Trailmix, biltong, and energy bars.
  • Take lightweight Cooking equipment, Gas canisters, and waterproof matches.
  • Your Toiletries and hiking Towel.
  • We recommend a Net-hat as there are a lot of Midges that are a nuisance.
  • Hat, bandana and don’t forget the sunscreen.
  • A sleeping bag and mat.
  • Remember to Pack light!

Water on the Fish River Canyon Hiking Trail

Take water from the River where it is clear and flowing. We had no problem with drinking water from the Fish River during July. However, if water is a problem, the NWR provides water at Bushy Corner, at the top of the pass, the shortcut at Four Finger Rock, the Pink Palace, and the Three Sisters.

What food should I pack for the Fish?

When you hike the Fish River Canyon, you will surely need stamina and energy; therefore, pack enough nutrition. Early morning we like Coffee, rusks, and perhaps Quick-mix-oats or oatmeal. We always pack a small milk box and Condensed milk as a treat with our Coffee. After opening the tin of condensed milk, we pour the contents into a small Tupperware. Then, smush the tin with a rock and pack it in your backpack to throw away later.

Food on the fish river Canyon hike

  • Rusks & Oatso-Easy or Muesli
  • Vacuum-packed meat for your barbeque the first two to three evenings.
  • Buns, bread, cheese, tomatoes, and onions make toasties on the fire.
  • Oven-dried mince, mix with a can of Tomato and onion, mix with Pasta (2min noodles),
  • Tin of Bully Beef mixed with Tomato and Onion Mix on ‘Two-minute noodles’,
  • Packet or tin of Tuna mixed with two-minute noodles or Mash.
  • Remember Coffee, tea, Milo or Hot chocolate.
  • Powder Milk or Condensed milk
  • Orange juice powder mixed with hot water is delicious.

Fish River Canyon Activities

Namibian Wildlife Resorts is home to various accommodations, camping sites, national parks and game reserves. Their contact +264 81 180 0016

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  1. I was transported …… one day my day will come