Desert Rhino Camp

Desert Rhino Camp: Our full report

Rooms
8 tents
Traveller's rating
Excellent (96%) From 64 reviews
Children
Best for 16+
Open
All year

Remote, exclusive and specialised, Desert Rhino Camp is located in the vast Palmwag Concession, a semi-desert reserve of about 5,000km2 between Etosha National Park and the Skeleton Coast that is one of the best places to see desert-dwelling black rhino and elephants. The camp has been operating for over 20 years and its activities – run by a reliably superb and committed team – centre on tracking black rhino.

A joint venture between Namibia's Save the Rhino Trust and Wilderness Safaris, Desert Rhino Camp was formerly known as Palmwag Rhino Camp. Few camps are so remote, and have such a large area that they can call their own. The Palmwag Concession (or Palmwag Reserve) has a number of tree-lined, fresh water springs that support good populations of the rare Hartmann's mountain zebra, giraffe, oryx, springbok and kudu. It is also one of the best places to see desert-dwelling black rhino and elephants, as well as predators including lions, cheetah, leopard, and brown and spotted hyena.

Desert Rhino Camp has eight tents accommodating a maximum of 16 guests. These large walk-in Meru-style tents are raised up on wooden decks, each with a veranda at the front where you can relax in one of the directors' chairs. Double wooden doors lead into the tent, where the beds are made up with crisp, white linen, and the wooden headboard is wide enough for a couple of reading lamps. As well as a luggage rack at the foot of the bed, a small writing desk and a leather director’s chair, there’s a tea and coffee station on a low table, with a flask of hot water and a coffee plunger to make your own coffee. An electronic safe, an air-horn for emergencies, insect spray and some mosquito repellent are also provided. Tent flaps open to reveal mesh on the windows, which lets the breeze through – but not the insects. Conversely, extra duvets and blankets are available, too; it can get very cold here at night.

Behind the headboard are twin copper basins on top of a wooden cabinet, with a large mirror above that creates a screen between the bedroom and the bathroom area. To one side, behind a cream-coloured curtain, is the shower, and opposite, behind another curtain, is a flushing toilet. Dressing gowns and complimentary toiletries are provided.

Sandy pathways lead from the tents to the V-shaped main area, which has a lounge on one side, a dining area on the other, and a small bar tucked into a corner. Raised up on a low wooden deck, it’s an open-plan, tented structure that is completely open at the front offering views of the nearby waterhole – which is floodlit at night – and the mountains beyond. On the first evening of our most recent visit, in December 2015, while enjoying our pre-dinner drink, we saw a hyena and jackal coming to the waterhole for a drink.

In the lounge, a large leather sofa and two soft, comfortable armchairs dotted with colourful cushions are complemented by a big wooden chest supporting an array of interesting books on Namibia, and an easel where you can scan maps of the area showing the work done by the Save the Rhino Trust. A tall wooden glass-fronted cabinet houses a selection of curios and safari clothing for sale. The dining area is furnished with modern pale-wood tables and chairs that can be pushed together for communal dining, or separated for those who would prefer to dine on their own. Tea and coffee are in constant supply here, and freshly baked cakes and snacks are laid out in the afternoon for tea.

Outside, facing the waterhole, a few directors’ chairs are set in a clearing where a fire is lit in the evening. This is a great spot for a pre-dinner drink and to watch the sun setting behind the mountains. Then tucked around the corner is a small plunge pool set into a timber deck. A few sunloungers are placed under a reed-covered area – it can get very hot here in the middle of the day!

The Palmwag Reserve is a particularly rich area for wildlife, despite its relatively low rainfall, and sightings of general game here have improved steadily over recent years.

On our last visit here in December 2015 we stayed at Desert Rhino Camp for two nights, and were lucky enough to see a female black rhino with her baby calf, as well as a large herd of elephant congregating at the springs for a drink.

For more than 30 years, the Save The Rhino Trust has been solely responsible for helping to protect the rare, desert-adapted black rhino. There are now reported to be about 120 individuals in Namibia, up from about 40 in the early 1980s, and the Palmwag Concession boasts the largest concentration of black rhino anywhere outside of a national park. A portion of the revenue from every guest at Desert Rhino Camp goes to the Trust, which has trained local people to patrol and monitor the rhino. It is with these trackers, some of whom are seconded to the camp, that you go out tracking.

Activities at Desert Rhino Camp concentrate mainly on rhino tracking. Each evening, guests taking part in the morning’s rhino activity meet at camp for a chat with the trackers. They will explain their work and what you can expect during your activity. The following morning, you start out early in a 4WD vehicle, driving around the reserve and enjoying any wildlife you see. Meanwhile, the trackers are out and about, looking for the rhino. When they find one, they radio your guide and arrange to meet somewhere. You then go in closer on foot, with your guide, at a slow and steady pace. The trackers will always ensure that you stay a safe distance away, but the sheer exhilaration of being within a couple of hundred metres of a rhino whilst on foot more than makes up for the fact that you do not get right up to it. Note that given the open terrain and the rarity of the rhinos, the trackers are not armed – but they are well-trained.

Although the walking isn't very strenuous, the terrain is very uneven as the landscape is strewn with small rocks and boulders. Sure-footedness and sturdy walking shoes are therefore recommended.

On our most recent trip we met up with the trackers, who had spotted a female rhino and her calf. After we had been walking for about 30 minutes, they decided to return to the vehicle as she was heading quickly in the opposite direction. We then drove in that direction and were very fortunate to spot both mother and calf from the vehicle. We then returned to camp in the early afternoon, and then headed out later in the day for a sundowner drive.

If you're staying for three nights or more, you might want to think about requesting a full-day game drive, with a picnic lunch, to explore the further reaches of this beautiful reserve.

Our view

Desert Rhino Camp is one of our favourite camps in Namibia. It's very remote, and feels it; it's got tremendous character, as have the managers here when we’ve visited; and it offers the chance to track black rhinos – which is something that's possible in very few places indeed. The camp does work as a two-night stop, but to make the most of it, you need three nights here. This may appear to be a big chunk of time, and it's not an inexpensive camp – but we think that the Rhino Camp is well worth it.

Geographics

Location: Damaraland, Namibia

Ideal length of stay: Ideal length of stay is 3 nights

Directions: Desert Rhino Camp is a 15-minute transfer from the nearest airstrip. If you are arriving by road on a self-drive trip, you need to be at the camp’s private parking area, only 2km from Palmwag Lodge, by about 2.30pm in time to leave at 3.00pm. It is then a further three–four-hour 4WD game drive to the Rhino Camp.

Accessible by: Self-drive or Fly-and-Transfer

Key personnel

Owner: Lodge Management Company in conjunction with The Save The Rhino Trust

Food & drink

Usual board basis: Full Board

Food quality: On our last visit in December 2015, we found the food at Desert Rhino Camp to be very good.

Breakfast is served in the early morning, before you set our for the rhino-tracking activity. As well as a small buffet of cereal, yoghurt, freshly baked bread and muffins, a cooked breakfast is available for those who want something a bit more substantial to keep them going for the morning’s activity.

Lunch is invariably a picnic out in the bush. We had a good selection of dishes, including a green bean salad, a green salad, breaded chicken pieces, quiche, pasta salad and a variety of cheeses and fresh bread. This was accompanied by a selection of soft drinks, beer and wine.

Back in camp, afternoon tea of homemade cake or a savoury snack are available at around 4.00pm, with tea and coffee.

Dinner is a sociable affair, usually enjoyed around one large table, and consists of three set courses – although vegetarians are also catered for. It would be hard to pick out anything as memorable, as all of the dishes were wonderful! During our visit we were offered a starter of tomato and feta filo tart, followed by a choice of either roast chicken or beef stew served in a ‘potjie’ – a small cast-iron pot with three legs. Both were served with courgettes and lentils. Dessert was a tasty chocolate tart with chocolate sauce.

Dining style: Group Meals

Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining

Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included

Drinks included: All drinks are included, except for imported and premium brand wines and spirits. The borehole water is purified for drinking.

Special interests

Photography holidays: For a photographic safari in Namibia, Desert Rhino Camp offers exceptional opportunities to capture the black rhino that wander this semi-desert region, along with desert-adapted elephant and lion, while dramatic scenery of landscape photography, but also great landscape photography. Tthe ancient Etendeka lava flows of northern Damaraland make for great landscape photography.

See more ideas for Photography holidays in Namibia

Walking safaris: Desert Rhino Camp concentrates on tracking desert-dwelling black rhino. Typically you’ll start in a vehicle, then after finding the animals, well-trained (and unarmed!) guides will lead you on foot as close as possible to these giants – it's a thrilling experience for a walking safari in Namibia!

See more ideas for Walking safaris in Namibia

Wildlife safaris: Desert Rhino Camp is one of the best places in Africa to see black rhino roaming free, and to track them on foot, so it’s a great place for a wildlife safari in Namibia. There are also good populations of desert-adapted elephant, Hartmann's mountain zebra, giraffe and plains game, including oryx and springbok, with lion, cheetah, leopard, and brown and spotted hyena also sighted here.

See more ideas for Wildlife safaris in Namibia

Children

Attitude towards children: Desert Rhino Camp does not accept children under the age of 12. It is important to note, too, that children must be 16 yours of age or older to track rhino on foot.

Property’s age restrictions: Children need to be over 12 years of age. Families visiting with children aged 12–16 years must pay for a private vehicle.

Special activities & services: None

Equipment: None

Notes: Children are very much the responsibility of their parents. If children misbehave on activities, the camp reserves the right to ask them to remain back in camp. Parents should also be aware that this camp is not fenced and wildlife can pass through, and there is obviously an inherent risk while tracking rhino on foot.

Infrastructure

Power supply: Generator

Power supply notes: The generator is on in the morning at 8.00am–1.00pm and in the afternoon around 3.00–7.00pm. An inverter is used in the evenings. Solar electricity is used for hot water only. It is possible to charge batteries in the tents.

Communications: There is no cellphone signal and no WiFi. The camp has a satellite phone for emergencies only.

TV & radio: None

Water supply: Borehole

Water supply notes: The borehole water is purified for drinking

Health & safety

Malarial protection recommended: Yes

Medical care: Desert Rhino Camp has a medical kit on site. The nearest doctor is in Outjo, but in an emergency guests would be airlifted to Windhoek.

Dangerous animals: High Risk

Security measures: Guests are escorted to their tents after dark by a member of staff. There is an air-horn in each tent to attract attention in case of emergency.

Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers in each room and in central areas.

Extras

Disabled access: On Request

Laundry facilities: Included

Money: There is an electronic safe in each tent, but currency exchange is not offered here.

Accepted payment on location: The camp accepts payment by Visa or MasterCard as well as cash in Namibian dollars and South African rand.