Desert Rhino Camp: Our full report
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 more than 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 up to 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 March 2017, we saw a spotted hyena coming to the waterhole to drink while we were enjoying dinner.
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 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 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 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!
On our last visit we stayed at Desert Rhino Camp for two nights, and were lucky enough to see a female black rhino with her calf on our rhino tracking excursion, as well as a variety of plains game including oryx and zebra. We had a very enthusiastic, knowledgeable and personable guide who really brought the desert to life, despite the relatively low densities of wildlife. We also spotted a variety of interesting birdlife including a hawk eagle, ostriches, black-chested snake eagle, the near-endemic Benguela long-billed lark, lanner falcon, Rüppell’s korhaan and kori bustard. We also understand in the drier months (April to October) desert lion and elephant can sometimes be seen on the Concession.
For more than 30 years, the Save The Rhino Trust has been solely responsible for helping to protect the rare, desert-adapted black rhino. The majority of this species are found in north-west Namibia, where populations have increased steadily from about 40 in the early 1980s, and the Palmwag Concession boasts the largest concentration of black rhino 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 following day’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 next 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. Note, too, that the days can be long, and you’ll sometimes be out from 6.00am to 6.00pm. This can include bouncing around on uneven roads in an open-sided game vehicle, with potentially long periods when there’s not a lot to see. This is especially likely in the rainy season (around November to March), when much of the wildlife in the area heads further north, out of the concession.
During our most recent rhino tracking activity we met up mid morning with the trackers, who had spotted a female rhino and her calf among some bushes. The wind was in our favour and it was only a short walk before we were around 100m from the pair. After five minutes or so taking photos, we retreated to our vehicle, leaving the animals in peace. On a previous visit in December 2015 it took slightly more work to spot the rhinos. We followed the tracks of a mother and her calf on foot for about 30 minutes, until the trackers decided that we should return to the vehicle as the rhinos were heading in the opposite direction. Then, having driven in that direction, we were fortunate to spot both mother and calf from the vehicle.
In both instances we were provided with a picnic lunch and then headed back to the lodge in the early afternoon, with a couple of hours to relax before heading out on a sundowner drive.
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.
Country manager: Namibia
- Damaraland, Namibia
- Ideal length of stay
- Ideal length of stay is three nights
- Desert Rhino Camp is a 15-minute transfer from the nearest airstrip. If you’re arriving by road on a self-drive trip, it’s a 2-3 hour scenic 4WD drive from the pick-up point near Palmwag, where you leave your car. The area is best accessed after a stay in southern Damaraland or western Etosha.
- Accessible by
- Self-drive or Fly-and-Transfer
Food & drink
- Usual board basis
- Full Board & Activities
- Food quality
- On our last visit in March 2017, we found the food at Desert Rhino Camp to be good. Vegetarians are catered for on request.
Breakfast is served in the early morning, before you set out 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.
Lunch is invariably a picnic out in the bush. We had a good selection of dishes, including a vegetable and a meat lasagne, bean salad, a greek salad, 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 cakes or savoury snacks is available at around 4.00pm, with tea and coffee.
Dinner is a sociable occasion, usually enjoyed around one large table, and consists of three set courses. We were offered a starter of lentil soup, followed by a choice of either game cordon bleu or lamb shoulder, Both were served with beetroot, green peas and a potato rosti. Dessert was sponge pudding with custard.
- 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 other desert adapted wildlife, while the dramatic scenery of the ancient Etendeka lava flows make for great landscape photography.
- See ideas for Photography holidays
- Walking safaris
- Desert Rhino Camp concentrates on tracking Namibia's desert-dwelling black rhino. Typically you'll start in a vehicle, then after finding the animals, will approach them on foot led by well-trained (and unarmed) guides. It's a thrilling experience!
- See ideas for Walking safaris
- 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 if your particular focus is on rhino.
- See ideas for Wildlife safaris
- 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 years 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. Children under 16 may not track rhino on foot, in line with Save the Rhino Trust regulations.
- Special activities & services
- Generally recommended for children
- We consider that Desert Rhino Camp is suitable for mature children over the age of 16.
- 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.
Our travellers’ wildlife sightings from Desert Rhino Camp
Since mid-2018, many of our travellers who stayed at Desert Rhino Camp have kindly recorded their wildlife sightings and shared them with us. The results are below. Click an animal to see more, and here to see more on our methodology.
- 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.
- There is no cellphone signal and no WiFi.
The camp has a satellite phone for emergencies only.
- TV & radio
- There is no cellphone signal and no WiFi.
- Water supply
- Water supply notes
- The toilets and showers are fully plumbed and hot water is available via a solar-powered water heater.
Health & safety
- Malarial protection recommended
- 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
- Because the area is unfenced and because of the potentially dangerous wildlife, guests are escorted to and from their tents after dark by a guide.
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.
Guided walking safari
- Disabled access
- On Request
- Laundry facilities
- 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.
Room types at Desert Rhino Camp
Save the Rhino Trust
Based in the Kunene Region in Namibia's northwest, Save the Rhino Trust Namibia (SRT) is a non-governmental organisation working to protect the area's population of desert-adapted black rhino (Diceros bicornis bicornis) – the only truly free-ranging population in the world. It was founded in 1982 by a group of local conservationists concerned about the decreasing number of rhino due to poaching.
Save the Rhino Trust Namibia (SRT) works closely with Save the Rhino International in the UK, which supports a number of rhino conservation programmes in both Africa and Asia.
Living outside of a fenced protected area, the Kunene's rhinos are considered to be the largest truly free-ranging black rhino population left in the world. These rhino are protected and monitored by staff from SRT, in conjunction with Namibia's Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) and local communities. A number of dedicated SRT patrolling and monitoring teams cover the core rhino range area of over 25,000 km22 (6.7 million acres). These teams deter poaching and record valuable data on individual rhino, such as age, sex, rhino horn size and shape, ear notches and condition. This information is shared with MET who maintain the Kunene Black Rhino database – one of the longest-running and most comprehensive databases on black rhino in the world. This data helps to inform biological management decisions on Namibia's black rhino population.
Other SRT activities include assistance to MET during translocation operations of desert-adapted black rhino into their former habitat to establish meta-populations, and to ensure the survival and growth of the species. Collaboration is fundamental to SRT success and part of their effort focuses on building up knowledge, understanding and skills within partner organizations – including communities, tour operators, government and the international community. An incentive-based training programme in certain conservancies provides community game guards with theoretical and practical training as well as field equipment, uniforms and transport – as well as incentive bonuses. A further activity involves presentation of scene-of-the-crime training courses to rhino stakeholders in the area.
Guests at Desert Rhino Camp can enjoy a unique rhino-tracking experience with SRT trackers, leaving camp in a 4x4 vehicle to search for the rhinos, before getting closer on foot – although not too close!
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