Q&A: Namibia's the ticket for fun and game

The Independent Parent: Your Questions Answered
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My wife and I have travelled around Kenya and South Africa, but we hear Namibia is stunning, and far less touristy. We're considering taking our two children (aged 13 and 15), but would like something different from the usual escorted safari. We would also like to find some other teen-friendly activities all of us can enjoy together.

Send your family travel questions to S F Robinson, The Independent Parent, Travel Desk, The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall,London E14 9RSOr crusoe@independent.co.uk

Q. My wife and I have travelled around Kenya and South Africa, but we hear Namibia is stunning, and far less touristy. We're considering taking our two children (aged 13 and 15), but would like something different from the usual escorted safari. We would also like to find some other teen-friendly activities all of us can enjoy together.

Andrew Roche, Hertfordshire

A.Namibia is one of Africa's best-kept secrets, a big sparsely populated country with dramatic scenery, abundant wildlife and plenty more besides. One of the best ways to explore the diverse landscape is on a fly-drive holiday. Namibia's road system is comprehensive, efficient and well-maintained, and it is unlikely that you will need to drive more than four hours a day. Several UK-based tour operators can arrange tailor-made itineraries. While most tour operators will have a suggested route, any places you particularly wish to see or activities you would like to include can easily be incorporated.

One of the most popular destinations is the Namib-Naukluft National Park, a narrow strip of moist coastal desert with unusual desert-adapted flora and fauna. Welwitschia, a huge, sprawling plant with a lifespan of up to 2,000 years, is best seen on the clearly marked Welwitschia Trail.

The Sossusvlei region, in the south of the Namib National Park, is a dry river-bed edged by some of the highest and most dramatic sand dunes in the world, some exceeding 1,000ft in height. One of the best ways to see these immense red dunes is in a hot-air balloon, a thrilling experience for the whole family that costs a lot less than in Europe – about £50 per person.

In the north lies the Etosha National Park, one of the largest game reserves in Africa, where you can view elephant, zebra, giraffe, lion, antelope, black rhino and black-face impala. The park consists of savannah, woodland and saline desert, and contains the Etosha Pan, a vast shallow depression of cracked mud. The windswept Skeleton Coast is another highlight, extending down the coast from the northernmost tip of the country for 500km to the Ugab river. The area is renowned for the eerie shipwrecks dotted along its treacherous coastline, and it is also home to the elusive desert elephant and black rhino. Dolphins and whales can be seen on boat excursions from the coast.

One of the best ways to see this part of the country is on a fly-in safari, although this will be expensive for four. Driving the seven hours from the quaint town of Swakopmund, Namibia's premier coastal resort, is cheaper. But you must get a day permit in advance to drive directly through the southern region of the park; these are obtainable from the MET Tourist office in Swakopmund and the Ugab and Springbokwasser gates to the park.

Namibia has a reputation for an exhausting array of adrenalin sports, such as canoeing, horse and camel-riding safaris, hiking, white-water rafting, kayaking, sand-boarding, quad-biking and dune-skiing. Should the charms of the landscape wane for your teenagers, the area around Swakopmund is good for sand-boarding and quad-biking on the dunes to the south of town. Okakambe Trails (00 264 64 402 799) offers horse-riding for beginners, experienced riders and children. One hour starts at about £7 for both adults and children.

For something more challenging, Felix Unite (00 27 21 683 6486, www.felixunite.co.za) offers four-day canoeing and camping tours on the Orange river in the south. Tours are led by qualified guides down safe sections of the river and follow a scenic route, but there's plenty of opportunity to shoot rapids and get wet. Game can be spotted at the river's edge. The trip costs £80 for adults and £64 for under 18s.

Windhoek, the capital, is not one of the most competitive destinations, so fares tend to be high – expect to pay close to £700 each for connecting flights via Johannesburg. It will be easier to arrange a trip through a UK tour operator. A full list can be obtained from Namibian Tourism (020-7636 2924, www.namibiatourism.co.uk). As an example, a 16-night fly-drive with Sunvil Africa (020-8232 9777, www.sunvil.co.uk) costs from £1,428 per person including flights from the UK.

Q. Our children are 16 and 15, and next year may be our last family holiday. We all love Italy, so where can we go for food and wine for us and beaches and nightlife for them?

D Park, via e-mail

A. I'll steer clear of the staple foodie and beach destinations (Florence, Rome and the west coast) and recommendless obvious options. For food, there's the Emilia-Romagna region; its capital, Bologna, is known as La Grassa – "the fat" – for its gastronomic attributes. A beautiful city, Bologna is within easy reach of Rimini and some of the Adriatic's most buzzing beaches.

Eating out is cheap and excellent, but hotels in Bologna are on the expensive side. One option is to stay in a nearby city: Modena (30 minutes up in the hills to the north-west), or Rimini and Ravenna on the coast. They have the added advantage of cooling hilltop and sea breezes – Bologna can get unpleasantly hot. A direct train connects Bologna with Modena and Rimini. Modena is a fabulous place to feed; this is the home of balsamic vinegar and "cicioli", an exquisite local variation of pork scratchings. Hotels tend to be cheaper here, although in summer it's wise to book ahead.

Rimini is an archetypal bucket-and-spade resort, as popular with Italian families as with Europe's dance-music lovers who come to the Paradiso and Cocorico nightclubs. Discos and bars stretch north and south of the city. You must be 16 and over to get into the bars and discos, and 18 for clubs, but this is rarely observed.

Ravenna is quieter, and eating options less plentiful, but it is an excellent base for exploring the cycling paths and routes in and around the region's coastal pine forests and lagoons. The local tourist office publishes maps and brochures and can advise on bike hire. For the brochure on the Adriatic Riviera, fax 020-7401 7472 or visit www.adriacoast.com.

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