Commonly known as Fish River Canyon National Park – but officially called Ai-Ais National Park – the park makes up part of the larger Ai-Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park with South Africa. With a total area of 6,045 km sq, the park provides wilderness on an unimaginable scale. Despite being a large African desert area, the park takes in the “Succulent Karoo” biome and is thought to encompass one of the richest botanical hot spots in the world.
Fish River Canyon itself is unlike anything else found in the continent and is rightly regarded as Africa’s very own Grand Canyon. At 160 km long and up to 27 km wide the canyon reaches depths of over 500 meters.
The rugged, boulder-strewn landscape is home to 100 endemic succulents and over 1,600 other plant species (some quite bizarre), as well as a range of larger mammals – including the recently reintroduced rhinoceros. There’s a fantastic (and widely photographed) view of the Hell’s Corner river bend part of the canyon from the Main Viewpoint – 10 km on a gravel road from Hoabas – though in order to truly comprehend the scope of the canyon some time hiking in the park is highly recommended. This could be anything from the half-hour hike from Main Viewpoint to Hikers’ Viewpoint to the all-in five-day hike traversing half the length of the canyon.
Fish River Canyon entrance fee:
Day entry to Fish River Canyon cost $11 per 24 hour period, with an additional $1.50 fee per car.
Highlights & activities at Fish River Canyon National Park:
- Standing on the rim of Fish River Canyon – the world’s second-largest canyon, and simply taking in the awe-inspiring views.
- Some of the best 4X4 driving anywhere comes with your entrance, if you have the right vehicle, and want to take some of the smaller tracks.
- Guided drive & walking excursions are available from the Hobas office for $55.
- The Fish River Canyon Ultra Marathon. Unofficial running through the canyon has evolved into an annual event pitting runners and orienteers against each other as they plot their own course through the canyon.
Fish River Canyon hike:
The five-day hike through Fish River Canyon from Hobas to Ai-Ais is the big activity here at the park between May-Sept, and one of Southern Africa’s most popular hikes. There are no facilities, and no open fires allowed Permits must be applied for in advance to NWR and cost $35. Hot springs end the five-day hike (but can be visited by car without doing five days of walking!) Natural hot pools rich in minerals are piped into a series of baths, jacuzzis and an outdoor swimming pool below the towering peaks of the southern canyon walls.
Watch South African runner Ryan Sandes take on the five-day Fish River Canyon hiking trail – to complete it in a mind-bending 6 hours 57 minutes!
Getting to Fish River Canyon National Park:
There’s no public transport to anywhere near any of the Fish River Canyon National Park entry gates, so private transport is the order of the day. A 2WD is fine year-round, as long as you don’t mind a bumpy ride on gravel, rock and dirt roads – otherwise, a 4WD is recommended.
Fish River Canyon accommodation:
There’s a campsite with 12 spaces at Hobas, the start of the Fish River Canyon hiking trail), as well as further campsites along the Orange River section of the park. For a more luxury stay without blowing the budget, there’s a hotel complex built around the Ai-Ais hot springs. All bookings should be made in advance with NWR.
Search & book accommodation around Fish River Canyon:
Have you been to Fish River Canyon National Park, or completed the Fish River Canyon hiking trail? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!