Namibia is a country that we hadn’t heard much about until recently. Some friends visited Namibia a few years ago and came back raving about it but since then it’s also become quite popular on social media. The pictures we saw of Namibia’s incredible looking sand dunes, sprawling deserts and beautiful wildlife really made us think that we should pay it a visit.
So when we knew that we’d be in Africa for a while, we quickly started looking into how we could fit in a trip to Namibia. It turned out to be a great decision because Namibia was actually one of the easiest countries we have traveled in. So if you are looking to make your first trip to Africa, Namibia could be a great starting point for your holiday.
How to get around in Namibia?
There are two ways to see Namibia. The first is to take an organised tour. The second is to self-drive. Having read just how easy it is to drive in Namibia, we chose to self-drive. Namibia has much better roads than some of the other African countries and it is relatively safe to drive there.
After researching the self-drive options, we went with the Go-Big self-drive itinerary offered by Namibia2go. This circuit is all planned out for you. The cost includes accommodation, a 4WD hire car with sat-nav and a local SIM card. Namibia2go books all of the lodges for you, so all you need to do is drive to your next destination! All of the lodges are owned and managed by the Gondwana chain. Having accommodation included in the package saves all of the time spent researching lodges online, which can be a bit overwhelming with so many places on offer. We also found the Gondwana lodges to be of excellent quality.
We found this package to be super easy and the circuit included the best part of Namibia, starting in the South and then heading up North. Here is our two-week road trip itinerary:
Touch down in Windhoek (1 night)
Most people heading to Namibia will arrive at Windhoek Airport. Windhoek is Namibia’s capital. After going through immigration (which took a while), we were picked up and taken to the Cardboard Box Office in the centre of Windhoek. There we picked up our rental car and our welcome pack. The pack included a map of Namibia with our circuit clearly marked and a local SIM card. This SIM card became very helpful later in our trip. Read on to find out why.
Meet Dusty our car for the next two weeks!
Once all the paperwork was settled and Simon was 100% happy with the car, off we went! Dusty, as we decided to call our car, would be our most precious asset for the next two weeks. Or so we thought!
After checking in at our accommodation for the night, the Windhoek Gardens Guesthouse, we knew we needed to prepare for the next day. Since we’d be off into the desert, we wanted to pick up a few things before we left (a 5-litre bottle of water, some snacks), just in case we were stranded in the desert somewhere!).
We made our way to Windhoek’s main shopping centre. The traffic was terrible and what should have been a 5-minute drive quickly ended up being a 30-minute one! We were suddenly looking forward to getting out of the big city! Considering that it’s not a big city by Western standards, we were surprised just how busy Windhoek was at peak hour. Plus many of the taxi drivers seemed to have their own interpretation of the road laws!
Accommodation in Windhoek
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Off to the Kalahari Desert (1 night)
Distance/time: 285 kms / 3 hours
We woke up bright and early and made our way to our next stop, the Kalahari desert. Along the way, we were amazed by the scenery, a whole lot of emptiness and savanna. We saw a few Baboons and Springbok on the side of the road. We stopped a few times along the way for photos and every time it felt like we were the only ones around. Since we arrived too early to check in, we decided to do a self-drive game drive in the Hardap Game Reserve. We spent two hours driving around the park and saw a few local residents, Springbok, Ostriches, Oryx and even a Jackal.
After our game drive, we made our way to the Anib Lodge Kalahari Desert for our overnight stay. After a quick dip in the pool to cool down and relax, we joined in on the sundowner game drive organised by the lodge.
We saw many animals but the animal I was most excited about was the Zebra because we hadn’t seen any in the wild yet. We stopped on the top of a sand dune to watch the sunset over the desert with a couple of drinks. Our driver quickly set up a bar and voila! The colours were just fantastic and we had the pleasure of watching a pack of Zebras graze nearby as we sipped our drink.
Dinner time was also shared with the Elan, Oryx and Springbok who came to graze on the grass close to the restaurant. A perfect day in Namibia!
Cost to enter Hardap Game Park: 40 Namibian dollars per person, 10 Namibian dollars for the car.
Moving on to the Fish River Canyon (2 nights)
Distance/time: 395 kms / 4 hours
Our next stop was the Fish River Canyon which was a four-hour drive away through more desert. However, the view was a little different this time, especially as we approached the canyon. As we turned on to the gravel roads that formed the last stretch of road, it became so dusty! Whenever another car passed by the air would fill with dust and we could barely see in front of us!
We checked in at the pretty funky Canon Roadhouse for two nights. This hotel is pretty unique! The grounds are dotted with old car carcasses, the bar is covered with road signs and international number plates and the restaurant feels like an old American diner. It was very cool.
The Fish River Canyon is the largest canyon on the African continent. It feels like a smaller version of the Grand Canyon and equally impressive. At the time we visited, it was so hot that we were glad the viewpoints were all so easily accessible by car and we didn’t have to walk too far.
We checked out the viewpoints that were easily accessible by 4WD. But there was one part of the road that looked a little too crazy for us. We didn’t think either Simon or Dusty would be able to cope with it so we turned around and headed back to the hotel. On our way there, we met a group of Zebras drinking near a dam, along with a large group of Ostriches.
The next morning, we did a 4-kilometre hike starting from the campsite at the Canyon Roadhouse. We climbed up the nearby hill and followed a trail along the top of it which provided splendid views of the desert surrounding us. We saw many different types of critters and plants specific to the area. It was a great way to spend a couple of hours.
Cost to enter Fish River Canyon: 80 Namibian dollars per person, 10 Namibian dollars for the car.
Accommodation in Fish River Canyon
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The wild horses of Aus (2 nights)
Distance/time: 280 kms / 3 hours
The small town of Aus was the next stop and it took us three hours to reach it. We drove across another long stretch of road with desert-like scenery all around. Even with all of that emptiness around us and those long stretches of straight road, we somehow weren’t bored of it yet. The scenery seemed to constantly change.
Aus is a very small town in the middle of nowhere. Like many towns in Namibia, there wasn’t much to see. However, it’s a good place to base yourself to explore the area. Luderitz and Kolmanskop are only an hour away and the wild horses of Garub’s watering hole are only 20 kilometres away.
Our lodge for two nights, the Klein Aus Vista was decorated like the wild, wild west. It offered some great hiking trails which we really fancied doing. But it was so hot that the only one we could fit in was the sunset trail on our first evening. We had two days of 41 degrees while in Aus, so hiking was unfortunately not a great option.
From Aus, we drove to Luderitz and caught one of the catamaran trips to see the African penguins at Halifax island. We used Zeepard Boat Tours and with it being low season, we had the boat to ourselves! We saw fur seals, many African penguins and even some Benguela dolphins. It was a lovely two hours spent on the water.
After our boat trip, we visited the ghost town of Kolmanskop. Kolmanskop was the first mining town built after diamonds were discovered in the 1900s. It had its own hospital, shops, school, butchery, amusement hall, post office and train. After the mine closed in 1943, the town was abandoned to the elements. It quickly became a ghost town and many of its houses are half buried in sand and badly dilapidated. It’s a great place for photography and you can take their guided tour to find out more about its history.
The Garub watering hole
Aus is famous for its wild horses and if you visit the Garub watering hole you will very likely spot a small group of them enjoying a drink or a bath in the tiny basin. However, they are not the only visitors to the hole. Both times we visited we saw lots of Ostriches enjoying a drink as well.
Accommodation in Aus
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The sand dunes of Sossusvlei (2 nights)
Distance/time: 430 kms / 7+ hours
The long drive from Aus to the Namib desert was anything but boring with the most changeable scenery we’d seen so far. Who knew that the desert could look so different from one place to the next! The road was bumpy; very, very bumpy! Four hundred kilometres of gravel, sandy and potholed roads was, however, not the easiest on either the car or the driver! What Google Maps assumed would take five and a half hours took us nearly 8. We took many photo breaks but my guess is that Google Maps has no idea just how bad the roads are. Driving 80 kilometres an hour on most parts of the road was simply impossible.
Sundowner in the Namib
We were glad to check in at our hotel, the Namib Desert Lodge when we finally arrived. We signed up for their sundowner drive to let Simon take a break from driving and let someone else do the work. As we were taken around the Namib desert we saw many Oryx, a Snake, a Jackal and many different types of endemic birds and vegetation. We also had some pretty incredible views from the top of the solidified sand dunes. This was topped off with a gin and tonic and a beautiful sunset as a reward for such a long day.
We discovered that we couldn’t enter Sossusvlei before sunrise and the drive to the actual sand dunes took nearly an hour, so we knew there wasn’t a chance of us getting the early start we wanted. However, we left our lodge very early and were waiting at the front gate for sunrise when the gates opened. Driving to the dunes was an easy drive for the first 60 kilometres. The last 5 kilometres are 4WD only with patches of deep sand, rather tricky!
But we made it to Sossusvlei without trouble and started our hike of Big Mama around 8 am. Not too many people were attempting the hike, which surprised me. The lucky ones who stayed inside the park probably had already done it and had gone by the time we arrived. We didn’t find Big Mama that hard to climb and at this time the temperature was not too hot.
The hike up Big Mama was a lot of fun and the views from the top were nothing short of spectacular. As we stared across at Big Daddy in the distance, we couldn’t help but think that maybe we could have tackled it instead?
On our drive back to Deadvlei, Simon took a wrong turn and got the car stuck in the sand! He managed to get it out fairly easily thanks to a local who pulled the car out.
The walk to Deadvlei was 1.1 kilometres which seemed easy enough. That is until we actually started walking it. To reach Deadvlei you must walk over some smaller sand dunes and by the time we started, just after 9 am, it was already incredibly hot.
As I walked around Deadvlei taking photos, I started feeling faint. I struggled to find shade and eventually had to rest for a while behind one of the old dead trees. The trees of Deadvlei have been dead for hundreds of years, so they don’t provide a great amount of shade!
I decided to head back and cut my time at Deadvlei short. I just couldn’t deal with the heat anymore and I certainly didn’t want to get sunstroke. It was past 10 am by the time we returned to the car. We had planned on doing the two-kilometre walk to Hiddenvlei as well but called it a day instead and returned to our hotel to enjoy the pool. It was just way too hot in the peak of the day.
Cost to enter Sossuvlei: 80 Namibian dollars per person, 10 Namibian dollars for the car.
Accommodation near Sossuvlei
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The town of Swakupmond (2 night)
Distance/time: 300 kms / 4 hours
Well, our drive to Swakupmond was an eventful one too, and not in a good way. Our car broke down half way there, two hours away from Walvis Bay, the nearest town! Thankfully we had some mobile phone signal and managed to call our rental agency for help.
Our rental agency sent a tow truck to come and get us from Walvis Bay. We had to part with Dusty, which was quite sad! But we were lucky that we managed to make it to our hotel the Delight Swakopmund without spending a night in the desert, so no complaints from us! We were also provided with a replacement car which looked just like Dusty!
Since we had no car on the morning of our first day in Swakupmond, we spent the morning walking around this small town. It certainly did not feel like Africa or Namibia anymore. It felt more like we’d arrived in Holland! The style of houses and the type of food being served both screamed Holland or Germany.
In the afternoon we took a half day tour to Sandwich Harbour with Sands Waves Adventures and that was so much fun. We were picked up from Swakupmond and taken to Walvis Bay. There we met our 4WD driver Juan who would take us around the Harbour and its sand dunes.
We headed first to a lookout point where we looked down on the bay’s huge salt factory. Then we went back down to drive along the beach, where the tide was quickly rising. Some parts of driving along the beach were quite intense and thrilling. But Juan was in complete control and we had a lot of fun dodging the waves as we drove between the water and the steep sand dunes on our left.
We then drove up on to the sand dunes where we stopped for some snacks and sparkling wine, enjoying the best views of the lagoon and sandy landscape around us. We drove back to Walvis Bay over more huge sand dunes and followed that up with some wildlife sightings. On the way back we saw Black Back Jackals, Oryx, Sand Geckos, Seals and Flamingos. It was such an enjoyable afternoon.
If you are a bit more adventurous there is so much more to do in Swakupmond such as skydiving, sand boarding, paragliding and more.
Accommodation in Swakupmond
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Stinky seals and the Damaraland (1 night)
Distance/time: 415 kms / 5 hours
On our way to Damaraland, we drove up to the Skeleton Coast to Cape Cross, the biggest Cape Fur Seal colony in the world. It was amazing to see the size of the colony and the number of seal pups that were there. I actually found it quite sad though because way too many of the pups were either dead or seemed to be looking for their mum. It broke my heart!
It’s a loud place; who knew that seals sound just like sheep? It’s also a rather stinky place, so if you don’t like strong smells you might want to stay in your car and observe the seals from a distance!
After visiting the seals, we made our way to Damaraland, looking for the desert-adapted elephants, which we sadly did not see.
After checking in to our hotel at the Damara Mopane Lodge, we soaked in their lovely pool and made our way up the path for sundowners at their viewing platform high up on a hill. We had some lovely sunset drinks; life was good!
Cost to enter the Seal reserve: 80 Namibian dollars per person, 10 Namibian dollars for the car.
Accommodation in Damaraland
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Etosha National Park (2 nights)
Distance/time: 200 kms / 2 hours
I was really looking forward to Etosha National Park. With its 114 large and small mammal species and more than 400 recorded bird species, I couldn’t wait to do some game drives in the park. As soon as we checked in at the Etosha Safari Camp, we booked ourselves on our first game drive.
Our first game drive in Etosha
Off we went with a tour guide for our first drive. After five minutes in the park, we had already seen Zebras, Giraffes, lots of Springboks, Gemsboks, Impalas and more. By the end of the 4-hour drive, we had also seen two big herds of Elephants, Hyenas and one very hungry looking male Lion. It was just amazing! The best part of Etosha is its waterholes where thirsty animals congregate for a drink.
Our self game drive in Etosha
So for our second day, we decided to do a self game drive. We bought a map of the park and off we went. Paired with a map and a 4WD SUV, it was actually fairly easy to do it alone. In fact, many people do it with only a 2WD car. The roads were rather bumpy and dusty but after almost two weeks in Namibia, this was nothing new for us! Our car had seen it all already!
Our second drive certainly did not disappoint with so much more sightings, including a group of three Lions resting near a waterhole. Mid-afternoon, we decided to take a break in one of the safe resting areas in the park. That’s when we noticed that we had a flat tyre on our car! We were not sure how long it had been flat, as we hadn’t felt anything. But we were very glad that we discovered it there in that fenced off area, away from the Leopards and Lions! It could have been a very different adventure otherwise. It was certainly a Namibian safari to remember!
Cost to enter Etosha National Park: 80 Namibian dollars per person, 10 Namibian dollars for the car.
Accommodation in Etosha National Park
Use the search box below to find your accommodation in and around Etosha National Park:
Back to Windhoek (1 night)
Distance/time: 405 kms / 4 hours
Unfortunately, this was the end of our trip to Namibia and we were very sad to be back in the capital. We were already missing the desert with its beautiful sunsets and scenery.
Namibia had given us the most incredible adventure. There was so much emptiness, so much tranquillity. We loved its night skies full of stars, its diverse scenery and most of all its amazing wildlife. It certainly was an adventure to remember, breaking down in the desert and climbing huge sand dunes in the sweltering heat! As we said goodbye, we made a pact, we’ll be back here someday and we can hardly wait.
Some tips for your Namibian road trip
The Namibian Dollar is basically 1 to 1 with the South African Rand. If you come from South Africa, don’t bother exchanging money, the Rand is legal tender in Namibia. You might even get South African Rand from cash machines! However, the Namibian dollar is not accepted in South Africa. Most places accept credit cards in Namibia but in some instances, we had issues with the credit card facilities not working. So it’s always best to carry some cash with you. In particular, some smaller petrol stations only accept cash. ATM’s are available in most large towns but I would suggest drawing out a larger amount whenever you can, just in case the ATM’s are not working in the smaller towns you visit.
Internet in Namibia
In the bigger cities, we had 4G access with no issues. Most of the country has 3G otherwise unless you are in a remote area. In the desert, it was a lot more difficult with mainly E and sometimes 3G. Fortunately, Wifi was available in all the lodges we stayed at.
Phone signal was normally quite good, except out in the desert when we would often have no signal at all. We used a SIM card from MTC.
Wherever you go in the world, you should get travel insurance, this includes Namibia. You never know what could happen. The distances are huge, you can break down (we did!), accidents can happen (that crazy wildlife!) and injuries can happen. Namibia is mainly desert, you know what that means!
Tips for your self drive Namibian road trip
To find out more about self-driving in Namibia, Simon’s put a post up with everything you need to know. Just click here.
Unfortunately for all you vegetarians out there, Namibians eat a lot of meat, especially game meat. It’s great if you’re a meat eater though because the meat is tasty and very fresh.
If like me, you prefer your veggies, it’s never going to be the best meal on the planet. But then again I never came to Namibia for the food. It was a bit hard for me to marvel at Springbok, Ostriches, Oryx and Zebras during the day, only to find them on the menu at night. But as I said, that’s me, the German tourists seemed to love it!
English and German are widely spoken In Namibia, as is Afrikaan.
What is the best time to visit Namibia?
We visited in March which is the low season. The major benefit was that it was incredibly quiet, which we loved. The downside was that it was incredibly hot, which we liked a lot less! But the prices were a lot cheaper, so it was still the right move for us. November to February seems to be the hottest months.
The best time to visit is from June to October but the prices and crowds will be worse during that period. The weather will, however, be a lot more bearable and there will be more animals to see in Etosha.
Visa for Namibia
For most countries, you can get a free one month visa on arrival. But always check before going.
Last but not least, is Namibia safe to travel?
To be perfectly honest, we were always a little on edge in South Africa but in Namibia, we felt a lot safer. We never had any issues and the locals seemed super friendly. We broke down right next to some Namibians in the middle of nowhere and they very kindly helped us out.
But like everywhere else on the planet, there are always risks. Don’t flash your wealth, don’t leave anything in your car in plain sight and be careful when walking at night. Namibia does have a high level of unemployment and people do get mugged, especially in big cities such as Windhoek. It’s another good reason to purchase travel insurance.
Our Tips for Stress-free Self-driving in Namibia