Unlike most countries in Africa, Namibia is best seen on a self-driving road trip. How to start planning, prepare a route and get everything you need is what this article is about.
After a quick Google search, I was intrigued to see how many articles with itineraries are on the internet about a road trip in Namibia. It seems to be one of the most popular topics in southern Africa and is not surprising at all. Namibia is one of the most interesting and safest countries in the region and some even call it “the perfect introduction to Africa”. However, while most of these guides are informative and provide a very nice description of the writer’s experience, they lacked on information about how to start planning a road trip and what are the basic rules to get around.
I traveled to Namibia to work remotely and spent 6 weeks living in its capital and largest city Windhoek. From there, I did several road trips to different parts of Namibia and explored its natural and cultural diversity.
From coastlines and vast deserts in the western side to grasslands and savanna full of wildlife in the central and northern part of Namibia, this is a place where every day can be a new adventure.
At the same time, with extremely long distances to cover and lack of facilities in certain parts of the country, a road trip in Namibia should be organized carefully and taking every aspect into consideration. These are the do’s and don’ts when planning a road trip in Namibia.
Planning and starting your trip
Having the largest amount of international flight connections and greatest urban life in the country, Windhoek is the gateway to Namibia for most travelers and the best spot to start planning a road trip. This is the most convenient place to arrive and get everything you need without doing much effort. Rent your vehicle, plan a route, get groceries and enjoy a last glimpse of city life before embarking into the wilderness.
Urban Camp in Eros district is a great place to get some inspiration and tips for your upcoming trip. This camping area in the heart of Windhoek is a common hotspot for travelers crossing southern Africa by land and one or another crazy traveler bringing his/her car from Europe.
Connectivity is key when planning a road trip – especially in Africa. Get a prepaid SIM card at one of the many MTC stores in Windhoek for just 10 NAD (6 EUR) and get credit for just 45 NAD. You can also get a MTC SIM card straight at the airport and ask the staff to help you add credit. Even though connectivity comes and goes outside of Windhoek, having internet everywhere can get you easily out of trouble.
INSIDER TIP: Prepaid internet plans in Namibia expire every 7 days. If you are planning to do a road trip for a longer period, you can either download the MTC app or get two codes with credit before your departure. Outside big cities, Namibia is quite desolated and it won’t be easy to find a place to get internet credit.
Large supermarkets can get also quite limited once you exit Windhoek. Try to get food and water supplies ahead (5 liters per day per person). If you are considering in going camping, don’t worry about the cooking. All camping spots have excellent cooking facilities, so preparing a proper meal shouldn’t be an issue.
Additionally, just like in most parts of Africa, the use of credit cards and ATMs outside Windhoek is almost inexistent. The chances of finding a ATM outside a big city are almost zero and cash is considered king. In order to easily get around and avoid any trouble with payments, carry most of your budget in cash.
INSIDER TIP: Namibians use either Namibian Dollar (NAD) and South African Rand (ZAR). Both have the same value and are accepted everywhere. If you are worried to get stuck with some Namibian Dollar at the end of your stay, simply go to a bank and exchange your NAD in ZAR. South African Rand are way more spread in southern Africa and if you are planning to keep traveling around the region, carrying already some rand can be quite useful.
Renting a car in Namibia
Namibia is a 4×4 land and renting a small vehicle in order to save some money is a big mistake. Even though the main highways are in excellent condition, all natural hotspots around the country are only accessible through dirt- and off- roads.
Of course, renting a larger vehicle means having a higher cost. However, with most 4×4 rentals including excellent camping equipment and rooftop tents, road tripping and camping is the preferred choice for most travelers in Namibia. Additionally, with camping spots starting at 5 EUR, getting a 4×4 with tents and doing a multiple day camping road trip is by far the cheapest and most convenient choice to easily move around and explore Namibia independently.
NOTE: Learn properly from your car rental company how to change a flat tire or deal with basic vehicle issues. These are problems that happen extremely regularly. The best way to not get stuck somewhere in the middle of nowhere is by learning how to fix it.
Large companies like Hertz and Avis have offices in Namibia. However, to get the best price and value for your trip, get in contact with local 4×4 rentals. They might not offer the newest vehicles in the market, but they offer better conditions, pricing and by booking with them, you are supporting the local economy.
Some of the most reliable local companies for renting a 4×4 are:
- ORYX Off-Road Car Rental (I used this company twice for a long weekend trips)
- Africa on Wheels (I rented their vehicles once for a 6 day getaway from Windhoek)
- Namibia 4×4 Hire
- Okavango Car Hire
NOTE: The price for a 4X4 rental depends mostly on the season. However, the average price per day should be anything between 80-100 EUR. Most 4×4 camping vehicles are also equipped with pans, pots and everything you need for cooking a feast – cars companies also provide salt, pepper, oil and even an additional tank with water for cooking.
Planning a route
With an area twice as big as Germany, 12 completely unique national parks, dozens of private conservancies and several protected areas for game activities, doing a road trip in Namibia and expecting to see it all would require a lifetime. No matter if you go south, north, east or west from Windhoek, there is always something to see and explore.
While most road trip suggestions in Namibia take anything between 7 – 15 days, before you set up the places you want to see, take into consideration how much time you want to spend in a vehicle.
Distances are very long in Namibia and driving from A to B can take half a day or more. The more you pack on a road trip, the more tight your itinerary will be and the more stressful your trip will become.
Places like Etosha offer excellent safari experiences that would ideally require 3-4 nights to fully explore (6 hours from Windhoek), while a trip to the sand dunes of Sossusvlei is more a 1-2 day activity at maximum (8 hours from Windhoek).
INSIDER TIP: While self-driving is allowed in Etosha, local drivers with proper safari vehicles offer full day game drives at the entrance of the park for 25-35 EUR per person (for a group of 4 people). This can be a good option to have a relaxing day without being behind the wheel. Self-driving inside Etosha not only means driving for hours and hours in circles, but also not learning about animal behavior or understanding what makes Etosha so different than anywhere in Namibia.
Read more: Which are the most unique places in Namibia
These are in my opinion the best steps when planning a road trip route in Namibia
- Choose the places you want to visit.
- Find out which activities you can do there and how long you want to spend in each place.
- Check on Google Maps the distances between all these places and create a travel route.
- Select the order of your destinations while trying to avoid passing for the same area twice.
- Plan with 1 or 2 additional hours extra for each long drive you have to do.
Keep in mind while being on the road
With a subtropical desert climate, Namibia is known for its great differences in day and nighttime temperatures. Hot days can turn into freezing nights in just hours and climate drastically change from one region to the next.
Keep also in mind that Namibia experiences winter and summer at opposite times as Europe. Temperatures in Summer (November – December) can go up to 35 degrees in the day, while temperatures in Winter (June – July) can drop below zero in some desertic areas at night.
Additionally, with one of the least dense populations in the world, Namibia can feel extremely solitaire. You can drive through the Skeleton Coast National Park and cover 500 km without seeing any other single vehicle. With this information in mind, remember to tank your vehicle every time you can. You never know when is the next gas station and even though most (if not all) 4×4 rental cars have a double gas compartment that can cover up to 1000 km, it is better to be extra cautious and avoid discomfort. A very basic rule for a road trip in Namibia: Any time you see a gas station, fill up.
Self-drive or an organized tour?
Namibia is probably the best country in Africa for self-driving. Prices for rental vehicles are cheaper in comparison to other countries in the region, maps and signs are constantly updated, safety is not a concern at all and there is a huge culture for road-tripping among locals and visitors.
A self-driving trip in Namibia does not only mean more comfort, but also better value, more experiences and more independence.
If cooking and camping is not your cup of tea, don’t worry. A road trip in Namibia does not necessarily mean a camping trip in Namibia. Lodges at all price categories are available in almost every tourist hotspot offering the warm bed you might need after a full day of driving – just remember that you might have to book in advanced.
Read more: Visiting the Okavango Delta in Botswana
Read more: What are the best things to do in Windhoek