If you’ve successfully checked off your entry level adventure trips, Namibia might be for you. Namibia sits in the southwest corner of Africa and is home to the world’s oldest desert, some of the highest sand dunes in the world, and Etosha National Park with safari animals in abundance. While there are tours to Namibia, in my opinion, the only true way to experience the country’s many highlights is via a self drive tour. There are many itineraries to follow depending on the length of your stay and with a little planning, you can easily coordinate a killer journey into the sparsely populated wilderness and beauty of Namibia.
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From the United States, there is no avoiding a lengthy flight to arrive in Namibia. Many flight itineraries will get you to Johannesburg, South Africa followed by a quick flight to neighboring Namibia. As we utilized airline miles on the One World Alliance for our trip, we took the slightly less direct route with a layover in Doha, Qatar. Interestingly, the airport was a glitzy spectacle with a gorgeous new ‘orchard’ of greenery markedly different than our visit to Doha 2 years ago thanks to the upgraded airport in advance of hosting the World Cup. Lounge access in Doha is key as some of the best airport lounges of the world reside here. We visited in September, the tail end of the winter season when dusty arid conditions can help with wildlife viewing, mosquitoes/malaria is much less of a threat, and the desert daytime heat is slightly less scorching. You will pay a bit more to visit in the winter, however. We planned a clockwise journey from our touchdown in the capital, Windhoek, to Sossusvlei, Swakopmund, up the Skeleton Coast, Spitzkoppen and Etosha National Park. This trip was bustling with some long driving days but given we only had 9 nights in the country, we wanted to make each day an experience. If you have a longer period of time, you can also venture further to the south of Namibia to see one of the largest canyons in the world, Fish River Canyon, and a ghost town named Kolmansop, or further to the north to see the Caprivi Strip. If you travel to these farther destinations, you’d likely need to add quite a few extra days to your adventure.
Once you’ve booked your flights and decided on the must stop places along your itinerary, you can start planning where to stay and what car will get you there. You can certainly take the most adventurous plan which is to rent a car with a rooftop tent and go from campground to campground. We opted for a combination of more affordable lodging (including the basic government run lodging in Etosha National Park) to some truly splurge worthy lodges. Many rates in Namibia do include breakfast and dinner at the accommodation as it might be the only option in some of the more remote locales so factor that into your budgeting.
One of the most crucial pieces of planning though is that all important vehicle to get you there. While some Namibian road are paved, many are gravel roads that are infrequently traveled. You’ll need a dependable vehicle with a few safety basics. We chose Melbic Car Rentals given their overall positive reviews and the option for zero excess insurance. In addition, they offered extras that we felt were necessary including a satellite phone, cooler, and 2 spare tires. Flat tires are notoriously common in Namibia so you need to come prepared with the ability to change a tire as help will likely not be nearby should you get a flat. We paid approximately $1200 for our 9 day rental. You can certainly get a far better bargain but for this particular itinerary, the zero excess and 4 wheel drive were musts for us. While you don’t need 4 wheel drive, I think you’d likely feel more comfortable with it. Drive times are sometimes long and you can nearly always plan on longer than google maps estimates thanks to the gravel roads. Plan your driving times carefully as most rental companies do not allow driving once it’s dark. Animals love to get warm in the desert night on those roads. We can highly recommend Melbic and had no issues during our rental including a timely airport pick up and drop off.
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Our above itinerary is a whirlwind tour of the highlights of this remote country. We did 2,929 km in total on this adventure! Many travelers we met had the luxury of much longer routes. No matter how many days you have, you will be mesmerized by the wild beauty of Namibia.
Accommodations in Namibia are wide ranging from camping/budget to moderate, luxury and super luxury. Lodging can be very affordable. We did opt for a few more luxurious accommodations including Spitzkoppen Lodge, The Strand, and Etosha King Nehale. Though a bit more costly, you are still getting much more comparatively vs a similar accommodation in the United States.
You can do a self drive safari in Etosha National Park! Need we say more? If you stumble upon a herd of elephants at a watering hole, stay as long as you’d like with no guide ushering you to the next stop. Don’t care for observing a bird for an hour? Drive on. We absolutely loved the freedom of a self drive safari. As a bonus, every guided safari we saw was open air meaning no air conditioning and every tourist we saw was choking on dust when another vehicle passed by. Not so in our cool car with snacks at the ready.
Open Rhode Insider Tips
- Driving. Don’t underestimate driving times. Travel on gravel roads can be slow. Be prepared with the ability to change a flat and have water and provisions in the car should you get stuck. Also note that headlights are required to be on at all times. Consider bringing a tire gauge from home. It was quite handy for refilling tires after Sossusvlei.
- There is SO MUCH DUST. it covers everything. We brought trash bags for our luggage (very handy when our cab’s hatch opened unexpectedly and we found our cab covered in sand). I also found wet wipes helpful for wiping down gear or the dashboard so you have some semblance of a clean space while driving.
- Consider staying in the park at Sossusvlei. It affords the ability to enter and exit a bit before or after the majority of tourists. We found the ability to have an hour pre-sunrise and post-sunset amazing for photos.
- Do a Sandwich Harbour tour in Walvis Bay. This was an unexpected highlight of our trip. The dunes were massive and mesmerizing.
- We found the restaurant in Swakopmund at the end of the jetty, Jetty 1905 Restaurant, to be really delicious and quite an adventure to walk out in the dark with huge waves crashing below.
- Spend as many days as you can in Etosha National Park. Someone had told us to end the trip with Etosha and I am grateful we did as it was the absolute best part of our trip. Don’t be afraid to self drive. It is amazing.
- Food is very limited in Etosha. For lunch, you only have the ability to do a sit down lunch in one of the government camps. We opted not to do that as we wanted as much time with the animals as possible. Thus, make sure you come into the park with drinks, snacks and a packed lunch. Personally, I’d rather eat a simple sandwich at a watering hole watching elephants vs taking 1-2 hours in a camp with no view.
- Consider staying at the Okaukuejo Resort. The park gates open at sunrise and Etosha King Nehale is literally right outside the gate so I don’t think you should stay for that reason. However, their floodlit watering hole is really worth the hype. Six rhinos!
- Carry some local currency. Not all locations accept credit cards and most service workers really preferred your tips in cash. (Plus you’ll need a bit of cash for tips for the gas station attendants, etc).
- Namibia is a gorgeous country. We will be back!