There’s nothing like the sense of freedom that you feel when on a road trip, the car bounding through the constantly changing wilderness along a winding gravel path that looks like it could lead to nowhere. Small towns are few and far between, popping up every now and then to give you a taster of the diverse culture, so different to that back home. But what’s completely unrivalled about a road trip is the fact that you get to choose exactly where you go, a freedom that nothing I’ve experienced has yet to come close to beating.
When I decided to go on my first ever road trip, there was one continent that stood out to me. Africa. What has undoubtedly drawn me into this vast continent is the range of diverse wildlife that you can encounter. I had been to Africa a handful of times before but never on my own agenda. Normally I booked into a pre-planned schedule with a group which was good but I just had a sense that travelling to the exact places that I wanted to go to, in my own time, would be even better.
Every country in Africa has its own unique beauty. No two countries are the same, that’s for sure. I decided on Namibia as I had heard some snippets about it. I had heard about the towering, red dunes of Sossusvlei, the white salt pan of Etosha and the abandoned mining town of Kolmanskop. I had longed to visit the eerie Skeleton Coast, famed for its countless shipwrecks and travel through a country so sparsely populated that you have to fill up with fuel every time you pass a fuel station. Have I convinced you to road trip Namibia yet?
Let’s delve into the perfect 2-week itinerary for a Namibia road trip!
Suggested time – 2 days (3 nights)
Etosha National Park is normally at the top of everyone’s to-do list when visiting Namibia. Due to its location at the very north of Namibia, it makes sense to visit it first. Plus, why not jump straight into the juicy stuff?
Etosha National Park is Namibia’s main national park. You can visit on guided safaris or partake in your own self-drive safari, making it an ideal part of a road trip. The park is home to a vast array of animals including 4 of the big 5: lion, leopard, rhino and elephant. The park consists of numerous watering holes which make for perfect game viewing. You can see up to thousands of animals at a single waterhole.
One of my favourite aspects of Etosha was just how quiet it was. There are very few vehicles travelling through the national park which makes it a relaxing experience for both the animals and you. There are several rules in place such as, you are not allowed to get out your car (both for safety and to keep the animals relaxed) and not to drive off the designated paths (to preserve the landscape and not to distress the animals).
It’s important to note that Namibia is one huge country. Therefore it may take up to 2 days to drive from the capital of Windhoek up to Etosha. It actually took me 9 hours to get there spanning across 2 days. Given, I did get lost. But it’s a great idea to over-estimate driving time as the roads are not always in tip-top condition.
Now the real question is guided drive or self-drive safaris? I must admit, I did book myself on a guided safari. It was going to cost a whopping £70 per person. There are a few things that you can expect on safari, like a guide and very early starts, but I didn’t actually end up doing any of that.
In the end, I cancelled it to go on a self-drive safari instead. I am so happy I made that decision. I saw so much wildlife including: zebras, ostriches, kudu, wildebeest, giraffes and a lion! That’s just to name a few as well. My main concern with the self-drive option was if we would actually see any animals. I knew that guides have an intercom system where they can radio to other vehicles to let them know if there are any interesting sightings.
Mostly, I got lucky with my sightings and took various routes around the park out of sheer choice. This was often perfect as we’d be the only vehicle at a sighting. I remember just rounding a corner and suddenly there was a giraffe beside us, casually nibbling at the leaves at the top of a tree. The only exception was when we saw the lion. I noticed a couple of safari vehicles heading in one direction and decided to follow on the off-chance that they’d been informed of a sighting. Sure enough, they took me straight to a lion sighting! You can read more about my incredible self-drive safari here.
What I was most happy about was how relaxed the animals were in our company. All of these animals have grown up with vehicles driving round the park and as a result accepted the vehicles as a regular part of the scenery. All vehicles I encountered were respectful of the animals, sticking to the paths and driving very slowly when an animal was nearby, as not to startle them. The lion we saw was laying under a tree right by the gravel road. I was surprised that she didn’t even bat an eyelid to the four vehicles which were stationary on the road nearby. She yawned and groomed herself before resting her head on her paws to sleep, shaded from the afternoon sun. I was surprised that she’d selected a tree so close to the road but each to their own, I guess.
The road that drives through Etosha only drives through a mere fraction of the national park, near the southern border. Therefore, the animals have the option to stay as far away as possible from humans unless they want to drink from one of the many watering holes which are close to viewing spots.
In terms of accomodation, there are several options within the park itself. However, I opted to stay at a campsite just outside the park as it was half the price and I didn’t have to pay a permit to the park to stay the night. There are many accommodation options to choose from including Onguma which I highly recommend.
Suggested time – 1 day
Oh, Damaraland. I must admit, I fell in love with this part of the world. The scary part is I only visited this area by chance because it’s an area that doesn’t seem to get talked about that much. Damaraland is located south-west of Etosha, on the way to the Skeleton Coast.
If you are looking for a splash of Namibian culture – you have to visit Damaraland as you really get a sense of how Namibians live in very remote regions. Cute, small shops are often visible from the road, located beside shopkeeper’s home. In these remote areas, few people have cars and so the two main forms of transport or on horseback or by donkey-driven cart. Whilst driving through Damaraland, you will likely encounter both.
My favourite aspect of the culture was seeing the bushmen villages. These villages consist of several small huts made of material like straw. One village we saw had set-up a stall at the side of the road selling handmade crafts. I regret not stopping off here on my trip. I did however see a couple of tourists there, talking to the bushmen dressed in traditional tribal gear.
As well as culture, the landscape blew me away. Damaraland is to the north of the Namib desert so the terrain is rather sandy. The most incredible aspect of the landscape is the frequent rock formations made out of numerous red boulders, perched precariously atop one another. It honestly felt like I’d found myself on another planet!
I booked to stay at the Madisa Desert Campsite in Damaraland for 1 night. I would highly recommend this accomodation for its breathtaking scenery and location. If you don’t want to camp, they also have lodging accommodation. There are several exciting walks which you can take including one where you climb to the top of a rock formation. Damaraland is known for its desert elephants so if you’re lucky, you might even see some as this campsite is located along their route.
The Skeleton Coast
Suggested time – 2-3 days
The Skeleton Coast was one of the items at the top of my Namibian bucket-list. It’s around a 3 hour drive south-west of Damaraland. The main attraction of the Skeleton Coast to me was its name. A place known as ‘the gates of hell’ has a sense of mystery around it and I love anything mysterious. Its name comes from the numerous shipwrecks which have washed long its shores. A combination of rough seas, strong winds and thick fog have caused these ships to become encased in the sands of the Skeleton Coast.
The drive from Damaraland to the Skeleton Coast is incredible. Watching the little greenery and settlements there were fade away into nothing but golden sand is breathtaking and eerie. The quantity of abandoned rusting cars at the side of the road is also something to gawp at. It’s also a creepy reminder of why you don’t want to run out of petrol in Namibia. I started to regret not stopping off for petrol at the most recent town we passed! You can read more about what this incredible drive has to offer at my blog here.
The towns which line the Skeleton Coast are beautiful. The buildings come in an array of colour. Red, pink blue and green buildings all stood boldly in the sand. Swakopmund is the largest town on the Skeleton Coast, in fact it’s the largest the whole of Namibia (after the city of Windhoek).
The key activity that I wanted to take part in was searching for shipwrecks. Sadly, most of the shipwrecks along the Skeleton Coast are inaccessible or have disappeared altogether. The same conditions that cause the wrecks force them to fade into the sand after a few decades. One wreck called the ‘Zeila’ is easy to access. It is 17 km south of the town Hentiesbaai and clearly signposted off the main road between Hentiesbaai and Swakopmund. However, there are many, many hawkers here which put me off. As I tried to turn towards the shipwreck, I suddenly found myself surrounded by people leaping and waving at my car.
Aside from the shipwrecks, there is a lot to do in the Skeleton Coast. Swakopmund is an adventure town filled with activities including quad biking and sandboarding. You may also wish to take a boat tour to the the seals of the Skeleton Coast.
The Namib-Naukluft National Park
Suggested time – 2 days
The Namib desert is one of the best places to visit in Namibia. It’s the oldest desert in the entire world and home to some of the world’s tallest sand dunes. You’ll be awed at the dramatic landscape when driving through the Namib Naukluft National Park.
Not only that, but it has a unique range of wildlife including oryx which are incredibly rare elsewhere in the world. Here, you will pass numerous oryx and other animals such as springbok, mountain zebra and jackals. What I loved the most about this region of Namibia was the lack of fences. This area truly was wild with animals roaming as they pleased. They do frequently cross the road in front of you, so you have to constantly be on the look-out whilst driving through.
There are several incredible canyons that you have to pass through when driving from the Skeleton Coast. I highly recommend stopping off at the various look-out points as the views are incredible. Standing atop the canyon it truly looked like the pointed mountains stretched forever.
Once you have driven through the two canyons, Kuiseb canyon and Gaub canyon, the next stop that you can’t miss out on is the Tropic of Capricorn sign. Taking a photo with the Tropic of Capricorn sign is normally on everyone’s to-do list.
The Town of Solitaire
The town of Solitaire is situated in the middle of the Namib desert. It’s labelled as a town but this town is by far the smallest I have ever seen! It consists of little more than a petrol station and cafe. It’s fabulous! You can easily identify the town because it has several rusted cars at the entrance, perfect for Instagram photos! The apple pie at the bakery within the cafe is a must-try. I didn’t try it myself as I’m not a fan of apples but I’ve been told it’s the best apple pie in the world!
The Dunes of Sossusvlei
Suggested time – 2 days
The red dunes of Sossusvlei are by far one of the best places in your Namibia itinerary to visit. I was practically squealing with excitement as we drove into the national park. It’s recommended that you enter Sossusvlei at either sunset or sunrise. I went at midday (against everyone’s warnings that it would be too hot) and was actually thrilled with my choice. It takes a lot longer than you think to drive to the dunes, at least an hour. Once you reach them you then have to either drop off your 2×4 at the designated car-park (as 2x4s are not permitted to go any further), or let some air out of your tyres if you have a 4×4 and are prepared to drive through the desert.
I had a 4×4 and so deflated my tyres which I really enjoyed. We were then ready to explore the dunes and my, it was a fun drive! Based on this experience alone, I would thoroughly recommend renting a 4×4 as opposed to a 2×4 as my drive through the desert was easily one of my favourite parts to my Namibia road trip.
Once we’d actually reached the foot of the dunes, 2 hours must have passed from entering the park. There are 2 main activities that you can’t miss out on. First of all, climbing ‘Big Daddy’, the highest sand dune in Sossusvlei. The second must-do activity is finding the iconic Deadvlei.
Deadvlei translates to ‘dead marsh’. It’s a clay pan in the desert, surrounded by towering dunes. It is famous for its dead camel-thorn trees which are estimated have died between 600 and 700 years ago. They died as a result of becoming encased by sand dunes. The dunes blocked off the river that used to flow to the trees and give them life. Without any water, the trees soon perished. The only reason that these trees are still standing today is also down to the sand dunes. They stop any wind from reaching the pan which prevents weathering. Thus the trees are continually preserved.
I sadly didn’t make it to Deadvlei. It’s not clearly signposted and not visible from the 4×4 car park. As a result I actually got lost and spent hours looking for it. As a result of my tight schedule for my road trip, I didn’t have chance to come back to the next day to continue my search. But at least this gives me a reason to come back!
For accommodation, I highly recommend staying at the ‘Sesriem’ campsite as it’s the only campsite situated within the gates to Sossusvlei national park. Not only is it a shorter drive to the dunes but campers are given exclusive access to them an hour before the rest of the public and an hour after.
The Perfect 2-Week Road-Trip
That wraps up my perfect itinerary for a 2-week long Namibia road trip! Namibia is such a vast country with so much to offer. You’ll notice that all those nights added together doesn’t equal 2 weeks and that’s because Namibia is so large that it will sometimes take you a couple of days to get to each stop on our itinerary. It is possible to zoom through these stops quicker than suggested but unless you want to spend the entire day driving, with no time to stop, I strongly recommend taking the road-trip in your stride. Namibia has so much to offer that it would be a real waste to race through it and not notice the small details. Plus, I always find the best places are the ones that you are not expecting to find.
Here is a map showing the exact route I took round Namibia during my 2-week road-trip.
Namibia Car Rental and Driving Tips
I rented a car from ‘Savanna Car Hire’. Finding a car was no where near as easy as I thought it would be. I booked my trip 2 months in advance but was dismayed to find that my first-choice car rental companies were completely booked up. In fact, out of the near 40 companies I must have contacted, only a small percentage had any cars available and they often responded with “You are very lucky – we have only 1 left.” I also wouldn’t say that I was visiting Namibia at peak-time either. The most important lesson therefore is to book your car in advance. I’d go as far to say hold off booking the flights until you’ve found out what car availability is like.
Would I recommend ‘Savanna Car Hire’? Honestly, I wouldn’t leap to recommend them as they were a little incompetent. The first car they gave us wasn’t really fit for use as the anti-breaking-assist, hand-brake and air-con were not working. Plus it had nearly done 200,000 miles! Needless to say, we took it back almost immediately and they gave us a replacement which was perfect and had done a fraction of the milage. The other slight down-side to this company was that they were located in Windhoek which was 30 minutes from the airport. Therefore picking up and dropping off the car took a lot of time. It took us around 4 hours from landing in Namibia to getting to our campsite which was only 15 minutes from the airport! However, the companies at the airport were more expensive so when weighing up the pros and cons, this may not be such a bad option after all.
Each rental company has completely different requirements for car rentals. Some companies I had to walk away from as they only accepted drivers who were over 25 years of age and with some you had to be over 30! Most were happy if you had a valid driving license in your possession, whereas some would state you had to have had it for at least 5 years. Savanna accepted anyone who was over 23 and had a valid driving license (it was lucky as I literally just turned 23 a couple of days before!). Basically, each company is different so it’s very important you have a thorough read of their terms and conditions before contacting them.
Ideal Packing List for A Namibia Road Trip
As usual with adventures, I overpacked way too much, and there was me thinking I’d packed too little! With a road-trip, you are essentially living out of a suitcase, never unpacking as you are constantly on the move. Therefore, you’ll really need to pack light and only take what you’ll really use and wear.
Rental companies are very much geared-up to camping road-trips and if you opt to camp, they provide you with a tent, fridge, table, chairs and more cooking equipment than you need. You can also request bedding if you wish but extra items come at a cost.
So here’s my packing list for my Namibia road trip.
1. A couple of T-shirts: I seriously mean a couple. I didn’t wear more than 4 throughout my 2-week period. Anything more than this is unnecessary as, trust me, you’ll just be wearing what’s easily accessible in your case.
I recommend T-shirts as opposed to crop-tops and other fancy tops as Namibia is very much a conservative country and you wouldn’t want to offend any locals. Furthermore, your clothing will likely get scuffed about by the relentless sands and wind so you wouldn’t want anything too pretty getting damaged.
T-shirts also cover your shoulders to help prevent you get burnt which can easily happen, especially whilst on safari or whilst driving for a couple of hours each day.
2. 3 Pairs of shorts: As with the T-shirts, keep these at a minimum. Honestly, I wore the same pair of shorts every day! You may want to bring 3 in total as not everyone is as lazy as me.
3. 1 Pair of long pants such as leggings: Whilst it is generally hot in Namibia, sometimes there can be high winds or a slight chill to the air and you will want to wear something slightly warmer. I brought 1 pair of leggings with me for these moments. Plus they were also super comfy for travel days to and from Namibia.
4. 1 Pair of walking boots: There are several exciting hikes you can take in Namibia so you’ll want something comfortable on your feet. I brought Timberlands and lived in them the entire time. However, walking boots aren’t always the coolest footwear for your feet so for days where you’ll not be walking around too much you’ll need something else.
5. 1 Pair of comfortable footwear such as Converse: I lived in my Timberlands but I did bring my Converse as well, for those more relaxing days as these are slightly more comfortable. Plus, if you wear the same shoes every day, they will start to smell bad!
6. Flip-flops: Hear me out with this one – you will not want to walk around in flip-flops as snakes and scorpions are in abundance. However, flip-flops are perfect for showering in, especially if you are camping. Communal showers are likely riddled with germs and if you’ve ever had a verruca before, you’ll know how easy they are to pick-up. Therefore, always shower in flip-flops.
7. Lots of underwear: You’ll likely have to hand-wash your clothes, especially if you are camping so take plenty of underwear so you don’t have to engage in this activity often. I brought at least a week’s worth of socks and underwear and cleaned them a couple of times throughout my 2-week trip.
8. 1 Jacket You just never know when it will get really cold, especially in the winter.
9. A couple of jumpers: I brought 2 jumpers with me as it can sometimes get chilly. If you are visiting in Namibia’s winter (May – September), the night’s will be awfully cold so bring several jumpers to keep you snug. You may also need to wear them in the mornings and evenings.
10. Sunglasses: Namibia is a sunny country and so sunglasses are an absolute must, especially as you will be doing a lot of driving.
11. Cap: Caps are great at protecting your head from getting too hot or burnt. I always bring one of these with me when heading to warm climates such as Namibia. They also help prevent mosquito or midge bites on your head, where you can’t normally put repellant. As well as being practical, they also add to that awesome safari-look too!
Other Essential items
1. Cameras and chargers: Without a doubt, the most important thing you can take to Namibia with you is cameras, and as many as you own! There is so much to photograph, you’d be kicking yourself if you forget them.
Whilst there are charging ports at some campsites, there are a few that don’t have any spots for charging and elsewhere in the day there is nowhere to charge your camera or phone so bring spare batteries and spare cameras. By spare cameras I mean your phone, a GoPro if you have one and your usual camera.
Don’t forget your chargers and adapters! Namibia uses the same plug-socket as South Africa so don’t forget to buy a couple of South African plug adapters – grab one on Amazon through this link.
2. A zoom lens: If you are keen into your photography, bring a zoom lens, especially if you plan on going on safari. You are never super close to any animals so you’ll want a lens that can zoom right into them from a distance. I have a 70-300mm Canon lens which I love. Check out a great zoom lens here.
3. An updated map: My car rental company actually gave me one of these but that doesn’t mean all will, so I recommend purchasing a map of Namibia. I opted to have a sat-nav as well which was a terrible idea! The sat-navs do not know where several roads are so are practically useless. Do not get a sat-nav! I had to use the old trusty paper maps instead which were very useful and reliable. Here’s a great Namibia road atlas. If you’re travelling in other southern African countries, check out Lonely Planet’s Southern Africa guidebook.
4. Mosquito repellant: This is a must-bring! I’m actually not a fan of DEET as it’s so strong and toxic. It can melt plastic, for goodness sakes! Instead, I opted for a natural insect repellent which did the trick perfectly. I didn’t get a single bite on this trip so one could say this was a success. However, do not forget that parts of Namibia are high-risk malaria zones so you may not want to chance using an all-natural option as they are claimed to be not as effective as high DEET products.
5. Anti-malarial tablets: Like I just touched upon, parts of Namibia are high-risk malaria zones. The areas of risk are the very north of Namibia from just above Windhoek upwards. If you are visiting Etosha or Damaraland, you will be travelling to a malaria zone. There are several antimalarials on the market so do visit your travel clinic for best advice. I was recommended malarone (or a non-branded alternative) as these supposedly have the least side-effects of all options. There are other options available as well which may work better for you. Please see your travel clinic or doctor for the best advice.
Other than those items, I just recommend bringing your usuals such as your wash bags, shampoos, medicines etc.
I hope you enjoyed this article and have learnt a lot about road tripping Namibia. If you’ve been on a Namibia road trip and you have something you’d like to add, please leave a comment or drop a message over on Facebook!
Hi, I’m Ella from the blog Ella in Wanderlust. I love food, wildlife and travelling. I especially have a passion for Africa, a continent that never ceases to amaze and inspire me with wanderlust.
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