There are so many things I wish I had known before traveling to Namibia! Is it doable to do a road trip in Namibia? How are the road conditions in Namibia and why do some people say that you cannot do a self-drive tour? Should we start our trip with Etosha or should we end there? Do I need closed shoes in the Namibian desert – what I really wanted to know is if there are snakes or scorpions crawling around everywhere waiting to bite us (A: there might be, but we haven’t seen any)?
I strongly believe that you enjoy any trip more if you are well prepared and know what to expect. It is especially the case when you travel with children or when you visit remote areas where good preparation is vital. I spent lots of time looking for all kinds of information for our family trip to Namibia, but I never found all the answers to my questions in one place. Therefore I put this extensive guide with many practical tips to help you prepare your trip to Namibia.
All kinds of practical information I wish I had known before traveling to Namibia
Traveling to Namibia – book well in advance
Many places in Namibia are very remote and accommodation can be limited. Family rooms are very hard to find, so it’s really advisable to book well in advance if you are traveling with children or if your dates are not flexible.
This is especially the case in Etosha where travel agencies block lots of rooms a year in advance and so they can get practically inaccessible to individuals. It’s often easier to book this type of accommodation through a travel agent.
We booked our trip almost a year in advance and still had to look for alternative places/dates for some accommodations.
Preparing Namibia trip itinerary
There is a lot to see in Namibia and the distances are big, so you have to do some thorough research before booking your trip. If you are self-driving and covering a fair bit of the country, make sure you know exactly what you expect to see and do each day. Good planning is essential so that you don’t spend too many hours driving and have enough time to see all those incredible places. Make sure you always have some spare time for unforeseen circumstances or just to be able to stop and smell the roses along the way. This is figurative, of course, you will not see roses in the Namibian desert. But you will see plenty of wildlife and amazing landscapes, and you will regret having to pass on it because of the time pressure.
Sometimes long driving days are unavoidable if you want to see a lot of different places in one trip. Just make sure your whole trip is not spent sitting in the car.
Driving time in Namibia
Days are short and you cannot travel in the dark so plan your itinerary accordingly. 4-5 hours driving time is about the maximum you should plan in one day. Take into account that you cannot drive fast on gravel roads. 80km/h is about the maximum speed, often you will have to drive much slower than that. You can never know in advance as a lot depends on the condition of the gravel.
Also note that most lodges organise all kinds of activities like safari rides and sundowners in the late afternoon so make sure you reach your next lodge in time if you want to join. You can inform in advance if there is any special activity that you are interested in, but generally they will not leave for the evening safari before 3pm, and most sundowners start even later.
North- or South-bound itinerary in Namibia?
We were told that it’s best to plan your itinerary in such a way that you go to Etosha towards the end of the trip. I have to agree with it. You’ll appreciate all the other places much more if you haven’t first been spoiled by the Etosha safari experience.
Can you travel to Namibia with young children?
Absolutely, yes. We took our 4, 4, and 6 year old kids for a month to Namibia and had a great time there. I think it’s a perfect family destination with children of any age. You can read more about it in my previous post explaining why Namibia is the best African country for a family trip.
Namibian roads and driving in Namibia
Driving in Namibia is done on the left side of the road. Namibian roads are mainly gravel, but there are a few tar roads as well. Main gravel roads are regularly maintained and in good condition.
Is driving in Namibia dangerous?
You might have read that driving in Namibia can be dangerous. I wouldn’t say it’s any more dangerous than anywhere else in the world. It’s just different. There are two main rules: don’t drive too fast on gravel roads and don’t drive at night. Driving in the dark is dangerous, mainly because of wild animals. The roads are not marked well either, so driving in the dark is really out of the question outside the cities. You will see that most rental companies only allow driving during daytime hours.
You should rent a 4×4 in Namibia
Most rural roads in Namibia are gravel, but there are a few tar roads as well. If you travel from Windhoek to Swakopmund, or from Windhoek to Etosha National Park, you can do it with a regular car. Etosha roads are gravel, but you can – in principle – drive there with a regular vehicle (check with the car rental company first). You will be missing a lot of Namibia, however, if you decide to stay on tar roads only. Actually, you will be missing the most beautiful places, so don’t make this mistake. If you are serious about exploring Namibia, you will need a 4×4. Here are a few examples of the famous places you cannot get to without a 4×4 vehicle (or a plane, but I assume you are driving): Sossusvlei, Damaraland and UNESCO site of Twyfelfontein, Fish River Canyon,…
What you should know before you rent a car in Namibia
Renting a camper is not recommended in Namibia. It will take you a very very very long time to get to places. The roads are really meant for 4×4. If you want to camp, you should consider renting a 4×4 camper vehicle with a tent you can put up on the roof. It sleeps 2 to 4 people and can be a good choice for a couple or a smaller family.
You’ll need an international driver’s license in Namibia if your driver’s license is not in English or if you stay in the country longer than 90 days.
Take full coverage insurance. We got a crack in the windshield when a stone hit it and we were very glad we didn’t have to deal with any of the formalities as the car was insured.
Children’s car seat
While children’s car seats are not required in Namibia, they are highly recommended. Renting children’s car seat is not very expensive, but you have to reserve it in advance. Alternatively, you can take your own booster seat with you. We took our Trunki – as always – and it was especially helpful as the kids sat higher than in a regular booster seat, and they could see the animals better.
Spare tyres and fuel
If you do one of the most popular road trips in Namibia (Etosha, Damaraland, Sossusvlei, and/or Fish River Canyon), you should reserve a second spare tyre for your car as tyre puncture is very common in Namibia. Some people have two or even three in one day, some others – like us – spend weeks and drive thousands of kilometres without any problems whatsoever. But you better be prepared because you can be really stuck in the middle of nowhere otherwise.
If you travel through even more remote areas (e.g. North of Palmwag, or the coast between Luderitz and Waalvisbaai) you may want to take three spare tyres with you, and also a couple of extra fuel cans. Leaving regular tourist roads is probably not the best idea for individual travellers. I would advise traveling in a group of at least 2-3 vehicles or booking a guided tour if you want to visit truly remote places.
Fill up your car when you can. Most maps of Namibia indicate where the petrol stations are located, but sometimes information is not up-to-date, so don’t rely on it.
Namibia medical information
There is practically no malaria in Namibia (except the very North of the country) and you don’t need yellow fever vaccination either. If you travel to Namibia in the dry season (April-November) and don’t go further North than Etosha, you don’t really need to worry about malaria. Check before you travel in case the situation has changed and make sure you are ok with the regular immunizations (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, measles, polio, hepatitis…).
In Namibia you will often be at least half a day’s driving distance from the nearest doctor or pharmacy, so travel well prepared. Most lodges are foreseen to provide first aid if needed, but it’s wise to carry any medication you think you might need with you and take a basic first aid kit with you.
Good travel insurance (in case you need to be repatriated by plane) will give you peace of mind.
When is the best time to travel to Namibia
The best months to visit Namibia are probably September and October. It’s dry season, there are no mosquitoes, no malaria, and animal viewing is very good. It’s also the most popular and most expensive time. Summer school holidays – July and August – are also very good months, but it’s much colder. Don’t expect to go swimming if you are traveling in June, July, or August as swimming pools are not heated in Namibia and the water is really too cold to swim. Our kids went swimming on several occasions despite the cold, but it’s not something you should expect to do a lot.
May-June are also good months and there are significantly less tourists in that period.
Wet season (Nov-Apr) is not the best time to visit Namibia as it can get really hot and some roads might get flooded if it rains. On top of that, game viewing can be really limited in this period.
Is Namibia safe?
Namibia is one of the safest African countries. We never ever felt unsafe in Namibia – not in towns and not in the rural areas. You should worry more about driving safely or about wild animals than about crime. Of course, use common sense and be careful, lock up your car and don’t leave valuables unlocked in your hotel room, but that counts for anywhere you travel.
What to wear in Namibia in winter – July and August
It can get very cold at night in winter in Namibia so you definitely need a windproof jacket and a sweater. We had freezing temperatures at night in Southern Namibia in July. During the day shorts and t-shirts are sufficient, but you will need a sweater and long pants the moment the sun goes down (and before it rises). Don’t forget sun glasses, sun hat, and sun cream.
Dress even warmer if you are going camping in Namibia, and especially in the Southern part of the country. Pack a warm sleeping bag, a warm jacket, dress in layers, and don’t forget gloves, scarf, and a shawl.
You will need warm clothing (including cap and gloves) if you go on a whale watching tour as well.
What kind of shoes do you need in Namibia?
It’s best to wear closed shoes in Namibia, even if it’s warm. That way you don’t have to worry about stepping on some dangerous animals in the desert (the chances are pretty slim however), but that’s not the only reason. You’ll be walking on stones and sand all the time and your feet will suffer a lot if you don’t wear closed shoes.
You don’t really need hiking shoes, but sturdy walking shoes are advisable. We only wore sandals on a few occasions in Namibia in July, so if you want to travel really light you’ll be glad to hear you can do pretty well with just one pair of shoes.
If you plan to climb the dunes, you’ll quickly realise that it’s easiest without shoes. You may want to wear socks though as sand can get really hot in the desert. Take a pair of old socks with you.
Here you can find the complete packing list for Namibia trip.
How much time do you need to see Windhoek
You don’t need much time to visit Windhoek. Half a day is sufficient. Better spend the first and the last nights of your trip at one of the many lodges outside the city. You will be glad you did!
Should you stay in Walvis Bay or in Swakopmund?
The two places are just a short ride from each other, and so I would advice visiting Walvis Bay, but staying in Swakopmund.
Walvis Bay has a big colony of wild flamingos and the whale watching trips also depart from there, but it’s more a town to live in than to visit. How should I put it? Swakopmund is more touristic, has a nice downtown area, beautiful buildings, lots of restaurants and hotels, a nice beach… It just feels more like a vacation place. For me it’s by far the nicest town in Namibia. Most excursions and day trips also leave from Swakopmund.
How much time do you need in Swakopmund?
Swakopmund is the perfect base for various day trips and excursions. If you don’t mind the budget, you can stay in town for a week or two and see half of Namibia just by doing day trips (by plane) from Swakopmund.
As a part of a road trip, I would plan at least 3 nights in Swakopmund. That gives you time to do a couple of day trips in the area. Also, staying in a town with all kind of facilities is a welcome break from traveling in the desert for days and days. There are plenty of dining options, many shops, banks, doctors… For us it felt a bit like an oasis in the desert.
More Practical Information for Namibia travellers
Food in Namibia
Most hotels in Namibia have half board included, so you only have to worry about lunch. As you can imagine, there are not many places where you can eat during the day when traveling in remote areas.
It’s wise to always carry drinking water and some food with you.
Most lodges offer to prepare a lunchpack for you upon request, but often you have to ask for it in the evening, so don’t forget. Alternatively, stop at the supermarket before you leave the town and stock up on water and some food that stays good for a couple of days. Taking a travel cooler (12V) with you will give you lots of flexibility on the road.
As for the safety and quality of the food in hotels and restaurants, you really don’t have anything to worry about. Every single meal in Namibia was absolutely delicious. It’s European-influenced cuisine with an African touch and it’s amazing that you can find such a fine cuisine in such remote areas.
Every single place where we stayed made an effort to prepare special meals for the children and there was usually many more options than the usual spaghetti or fries.
Namibia money matters
Namibia uses the same currency as South Africa so you can pay in S-A rand or in Namibian rand. 200 Rand (+-12 EUR) is considered a lot of money, so make sure you have smaller banknotes with you as well. You can use credit cards in most lodges and restaurants, but you do need some cash as well.
Tipping is expected everywhere so make sure you always have some small notes on you. When you park your car in the city, also in the campings, and some other areas, often you will see men asking for some change in order to guard your car. It’s a normal practice in Namibia (and in South Africa) so don’t be greedy.
Food and activities are relatively cheap in Namibia and especially now because the Rand is very weak and so you get more value for your money.
There are many poor people in Africa and often you will make them very happy if you buy something small from them. Do you have some old clothing or shoes that you plan to throw away after the trip? Don’t. Give it away instead! I know some friends of mine who buy cheap t-shirts and other clothing to take on their trips to Africa so that they can give it away at the end of the trip. You will be amazed how grateful people can be for something which seemingly has no value to us.
What kind of electrical adaptor do you need in Namibia?
Namibia uses type D/M electrical plugs. You can probably borrow one in the hotel, but it’s easier if you take a few adaptors with you. Note that some lodges switch off their electricity generators at night, so it’s wise to charge your appliances the moment you get to the lodge.
Wi-Fi and cell phone coverage in Namibia
One of the nicest things about vacation in truly remote areas is that you can disconnect from the rest of the world. No emails distracting your attention, no Facebook feeds, no tweets… Namibia is not that remote and you will find enough opportunities to check your email, but don’t expect to have Internet connection every day. About 50% of the hotels will probably have Wi-Fi available, but you shouldn’t count on it. Wi-Fi connection is often pretty slow and unreliable. You will be able to send an email once in a while, but don’t expect to download or upload lots of data like pictures or videos. Most state NRW hotels (in Etosha or Sossusvlei) don’t have Wi-Fi, and even where they do, it usually doesn’t work.
If you go camping, you will probably be offline during the whole trip, except during your stay in Swakopmund.
Cell phone coverage is good in some places and nonexistent in the others, so you cannot count on it.
Doing laundry in Namibia
If you go on a longer trip and want to travel light you will need to do your laundry. Most lodges in Namibia offer laundry service, but it might take some time, so don’t do it if you only stay somewhere for one night. Also, it can be cheap or quite expensive, depending on the lodge you are staying at. Some people recommend asking one of the maids at the hotel as they usually agree to do your laundry for a minimal fee, but we never tried this.
We didn’t feel like doing much laundry on our vacation, but it’s inevitable on a 4-week road trip. We packed enough clothes for two weeks and did the laundry only once in our hotel in Swakopmund which was just about in the middle of our trip. We booked a self-catering apartment (owned and operated by Cornerstone Guesthouse) with all the facilities and it was really convenient when traveling with the family.
All the baggage stowed in the trunk of your car will quickly be covered by sand when you drive on gravel roads. Don’t take your newest suitcases on this trip! You can place your luggage in a big disposable plastic bag (think plastic trash bags) or at least cover it up a bit. Alternatively, carry a brush to dust off the bags.
Your shoes will be covered with red sand as well, so it’s probably not the best idea to wear that new pair of white sneakers you just bought.
You will need two types of photo lenses in Namibia – wide for the landscapes and tele lenses for the wildlife. I took my 24-70mm and 70-300mm with me and it was sufficient, but if you are really serious about photography and don’t mind the extra weight, you should probably take lenses that cover 10-400mm range.
Don’t forget the extra batteries and a battery charger, sufficient memory cards, and a tripod. Buying batteries outside the cities seems to be a big issue in Namibia, so make sure you stock up on batteries in advance.
For more information read the complete guide – the best camera equipment for an African safari.
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