How To: Self-Drive Namibia

Namibia is a perfect self-drive destination. The roads are mainly good, there is very little traffic and, frankly, even the most clueless of navigators would struggle to get lost on the main tourist routes. In short: if you want an adventurous holiday, a safari without a tour guide and a chance to feel like you’re a real cutting edge explorer, then head for Namibia.

Vehicle Hire

Your choice of vehicle determines your trip. Do you want to camp? Or stay in hotels and lodges? If it’s the former, then consider a 4×4 with rooftop tent (not as weird as it sounds). If the latter, then a regular vehicle is probably fine. However, a few points to note:

Vehicle at Waterberg National Park

Waterberg National Park

Ground Clearance

Namibian roads are good, but most are unsurfaced. Add in a few bumps along the way, and you’ll see that a sports car (or even a saloon) isn’t ideal. Something with high ground clearance and a good suspension, which absorbs most of the bumps and holes, will make for a more comfortable drive.

2×4 or 4×4?

We had 4WD and engaged it once, for about 30 seconds, when turning around on a patch of sand. But knowing it was there was a huge comfort. If you’ll be going off-road, or driving during the wet season, then 4×4 is essential.

Single Cab or Twin Cab?

A single-cab vehicle seats 2 people only, whereas a twin-cab vehicle has back seats. The benefit of a twin-cab, even if there are only 2 of you, is that you can both photograph or film from the same side of the vehicle (one in front, one in back). We had to pass the camera around depending on who was sitting where, but then we’re not professionals.

Insurance

The fully-comprehensive insurance means you’re covered for a lot more, and probably won’t have to pay an excess. We took it, and were fully covered when we needed to get the diesel filter drained. That ended up costing us nothing more than a morning in Swakopmund and some early Christmas shopping…ahem.

Fuel

Most larger vehicles are diesel. Most have 2 fuel tanks. This is a good thing: it can be a long way between filling stations. One oddity: virtually everywhere in Namibia took credit cards BUT the exception was filling stations which were CASH ONLY. Fortunately, ATMs are plentiful.

Satellite Navigation/Satellite Phone

We didn’t have either in the car, nor did we feel that we needed them. We stuck to the main tourist routes, and mobile (cell) phone reception was always crystal clear.

If you’re going to more remote areas, or off the beaten track altogether, then obviously that’s a different matter.

Route Planning

On the Road in Damaraland
On the Road in Damaraland

Even if, like us, you’ve travelled extensively and have taken road trips before, Namibia may stump you. It stumped us initially. What are the roads like? How fast can you go? How far can you drive in a day?

I found a simple solution: plagiarise. I checked out a few Namibia tours on the internet and noted what their daily route was. If they could do Swakopmund to Sossusvlei in a day, then so could we, I figured. Then it was a case of putting it together, which brings me to…

What do you want to see? This is a tricky one: obviously the ideal answer is ‘everything’, but realistically you’ll have a time schedule, so you’ll need to chop some stuff out. My suggestion: make a list of EVERYWHERE you want to go. Highlight the must-dos, then look at the driving times and work out a potential route. The impossibilities will quickly become apparent.

For example: I had my eye on the Caprivi Strip; Simon fancied Fish River Canyon. We only had 2 weeks, so couldn’t do either without losing time in Etosha and Sossusvlei. So both Caprivi and Fish River were sadly moved to the ‘next time’ bucket.

Accommodation

Namibia has the full spectrum of accommodation, from basic campsites to B&Bs, Inns and sky’s-the-limit private lodges. You’ll probably want to mix it up a bit, so consider the following facts:

Okaukuejo Camp, Etosha National Park

Okaukuejo Camp, Etosha National Park

National Parks

The gates of the National Parks (e.g. Etosha & Sossusvlei) open at dawn and close at dusk. So if you want to be first at the Etosha waterhole, or view the dunes at sunset, then you’ll need to stay inside the parks.

Accommodation in the National Parks is organised by Namibia Wildlife Resorts . You can browse and book accommodation through their website. Other resorts may try to sound like they’re inside the National Park, but they probably aren’t. Not all Parks have campsites or budget options, so you’ll need to decide whether to pay for the privilege of having the Sossusvlei dunes to yourself before the outside tourists get there.

Lion Stretching

Early Morning Lion Stretch

Early Mornings

If you’re sleeping on top of your vehicle in a tent, you will need to pack it away before you go out. If this is too much at 5am (those game drives have early wake-up calls), then you can either join an organised park vehicle, or stay in a lodge for the night.

What To Bring

If you’ve got a camping-equipped vehicle, then much of what you need will be provided. Here are some tips for what else to bring. The quantities on sale in Namibian supermarkets were large, and nobody needs 1L of washing up liquid for a 2 week trip.

  • A tea towel
  • Washing up liquid
  • Tea/Coffee/Herbal Tea/Sugar
  • Some spices and herbs
  • A few little freezer bags
  • A Tupperware box or 2 for leftovers or snacks
  • A Swiss Army knife (or similar)
  • A small cool bag – the vehicle will have a fridge, but you may want to bring cold drinks into the front with you
  • A thermos flask – for morning coffee on game drives!
  • Some disposal cleaning wipes
  • Hand sanitizer – easier than getting water out of the tank
  • A waterproof, dust-proof stuff sac. You may want to put your camera, laptop, iPad, phone etc. in one to keep them free of dust.
Sossusvlei Dune

Sossusvlei Dune – the sand gets everywhere…

Good to Know

  • Dust gets everywhere. Live with it. See notes above about electronics and hand sanitizer
  • Check the speed limits on the roads. They’re there for a reason. It is easy to be lulled into a false sense of security
  • Be sensible. Your car hire company are unlikely to be amused if you have to get towed out of deep sand because you went dune-bashing.

Resources

These are some resources I found helpful when booking our trip. We did it all ourselves – booking car hire, accommodation and flights. You can take a less DIY approach if you like, as plenty of companies will take details of your preferences and budget and put together an itinerary for you.

Namibia Wildlife Resorts – Useful for browsing through the National Parks and booking accommodation

The Cardboard Box Travel Shop – Everything you’ll need to know about Namibia, in one handy place

Safari Drive – African self-drive specialists

Expert Africa – African Experts – they’ll put together an itinerary for you

Protea Hotels – A small mid-range hotel chain, with hotels in 6 Namibian locations. We stayed in their Swakopmund hotel.

And Finally…

Enjoy! Namibia is a fabulous country, that punches well above its weight in terms of once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Any other suggestions gratefully received.

Elephant, Etosha National Park

You’ll never forget Namibia

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