Driving through Damaraland
Namibia. This vast country situated on the south west coast of Africa is like nowhere else on earth. This incredible country is three times the size of the UK but has a population of only 2.5 million people, making it one of the most sparsely populated countries on the planet. As a result, it’s a largely untouched landscape and one of the few places left on earth where humans have not taken over.
I have visited Namibia twice now and am already thinking of visiting again. This amazing country never ceases to amaze me and every time I visit, I fall in love with it all over again. Namibia is a country which cannot be missed. It will change you and how you see the world. Once you’ve been to Namibia, you will leave part of your heart there.
So You Want to Visit Namibia? A Guide to Booking your Namibia Trip
- How long Should You Visit Namibia For?
- The Most Important Aspect of Your Namibia Trip: Hiring A Car
- Booking Your Flights to Namibia
- Booking Your Namibia Accommodation: Camping Vs Lodging
A Perfect Itinerary for a 2-Week Road-Trip in Namibia
- Stop 1: Windhoek
- Stop 2: Etosha
- Stop 3: Damaraland
- Stop 4: The Skeleton Coast
- Stop 5: The Namib Desert
- Stop 6: Sossusvlei
- An Overview of my Recommended 2-Week road-Trip Itinerary
Giraffe in Etosha National Park
Things to Consider Before Visiting Namibia
Before deciding whether or not to visit Namibia, it’s worth considering a few elements to determine if this destination fits your needs. I’m sure there’s thousands of questions circulating in your mind and so I’ve decided to address the most common questions that I know I thought about before visiting Namibia.
Is Namibia Safe to Visit?
I first felt inspired to explore Namibia when I learnt about the country’s safety. As a young traveller, who has limited experience with solo-travel, I was thrilled to discover an African country which came with limited risk of crime.
As a result of the sparse population of people, crime is low compared to many other countries. The severity of crime is also not bad with majority being petty thefts. You are advised to keep your car doors locked at all times, especially when travelling through towns and cities.
I experienced fist-hand what can happen if you’re not careful. When sitting in traffic lights, a man came up to our car and tried opening the back door. Fortunately, it was locked but if it hadn’t been, he would have undoubtedly taken the cameras from the back seats.
That leads me onto my next point about minimising the chances of encountering crime. Never leave anything on display in your car, especially not valuable items like cameras or mobile phones.
Be particularly wary of Namibia’s capital city, Windhoek and the large coastal town of Swakopmund as this is where most crimes take place.
Burnt-out vehicle in the Skeleton Coast
Do the Animals Pose a Risk to Your Safety?
Honestly, the chances of being eaten by a lion are practically non-existent. Most animals have no interest in humans and will make themselves scarce unless massively provoked or they are sick or starving.
To put your mind at ease, you may be interested to know that most campsites are protected, especially if they are in an area where predators are in abundance. Our campsite in Etosha for example was fenced and therefore free from large predators like lions and leopards. As you travel towards the south of Namibia, fences disappear but still, your chances of bumping into a predator are limited. Furthermore, lions don’t actually live in southern Namibia!
There are ways to limit your chances of unfortunate encounters with animals when out in the bush. If you want to read more about my best tips and tricks to stay safe, read my article here.
Useful Articles on Namibia
- How Not to Pack for Southern Africa
- The Sad Truth About Many Wildlife Selfies
- How to Survive Wild Camping in the African Bush
- How to Plan a 14-Day Road-Trip Round Namibia
- How to Avoid Getting Ripped-Off Buying Flights
- Guide to Choosing the Perfect Car for a Namibian Road-Trip
- Booking a Car Part II: A Tough Lesson - Why You Should Always Book in Advance
- Legalities of Flying Drones Abroad
- My Top 5 Tips for Staying Safe From Animals in the Bush
Wild Lioness in Etosha National Park
5 Key Facts About Namibia to Consider Before Visiting
Entry Requirements: It’s not super difficult to enter Namibia. Many countries including the United Kingdom do not require a visa unless you are doing any form of work including volunteering. The visa normally lasts for 90 days although according to GOV website, sometimes only smaller visas are granted.
You must have a valid passport with a minimum of 6 months left until expiry.
Currency: The official currency of Namibia is the Namibian Dollar (NAD). 1 Namibian Dollar equals exactly 1 South African Rand (ZAR) and so the two currencies are inter-changeable.
If you are planning on getting money out for your trip (and I thoroughly recommend you do to avoid sky-high currency fees and potential cash machine scams), I recommend getting out rand as opposed to Namibian dollars. The main reason for this is not only is it much easier to get rand (all major UK supermarkets such as M&S and Tesco sell rand), you can actually convert back whatever you didn’t spend when you get home. In contrast, you can only order Namibian dollars online and cannot change it back when you return home – in other words, what you don’t spend is now all wasted.
Unloading the car at a campsite
Vaccines and other Medication: If you are visiting Namibia from the UK, it’s recommended that you are up-to-date on all your standard vaccines (like tetanus, diphtheria, polio etc). As well as these, it’s also recommended to get Hepatitis A and Typhoid.
Other vaccines available include Rabies and Hepatitis B. Not every GP will recommend rabies and it’s one of the few vaccines not provided by the NHS so you will need to to dip into your wallet for this. I would always recommend having has much protection as possible, even if actually getting rabies seems unlikely. Rabies is a course of 3 vaccines and as far as I’m aware, this covers you for life. Unlike many other vaccines, rabies does not make you immune from getting rabies. All it does, is gives you more time to get to a hospital. Without the rabies vaccine, you’d need to get to hospital in under 24 hours in order to survive, with the vaccine, this time is extended to 48 hours. This is very handy if you are travelling somewhere remote, like Namibia, where the nearest hospital maybe several hours away.
Hepatitis B is an illness transmitted via bodily fluids. I’m actually vaccinated against this as around 10 years ago, I accidently trod on a drug syringe on a beach (yay!). I had a course of vaccines which should hopefully keep me immune for life or at least a long time. You perhaps will not need to get this vaccine unless you plan on getting intimate with anyone who lives there or you plan on stepping on a syringe.
Now onto tablets! Malaria is present in Namibia. From just north of Windhoek upwards, it is considered a ‘high risk’ area and is therefore recommended that you take anti-malarial tablets. Now, there’s a full host of anti-malarials available and I’m sure your GP or travel clinic will be able to recommend the right one for you.
In terms of anti-malarials, I personally use ‘Malarone’ or a non-official ‘Malarone’. By non-official, I only mean that Malarone is a brand which previously patented its formula. The patent has now run out and now un-branded versions are available. They’re still just as safe but you may find they are slightly cheaper.
Right, so the reason I selected Malarone was that this tablet has the smallest amount of side-effects. It’s by far the most expensive tablet with prices ranging from £1.20 per tablet all the way up to £2 per tablet. But I don’t think health should be compromised and if you read through the list of side effects associated with some of the other options, you may not be so hesitant to reach into your wallet more.
For best advice on the topic of vaccines and malaria pills, check out this website.
The vast wilderness of Namibia
Travel Insurance: I know – I can hear you sigh. Travel insurance is boring as hell and often feels like a waste of money. But, I’m sure it’s totally worth it as sometimes those worst-case scenarios can occur and you need to be prepared. Like, you might tread on a syringe on a beach and need turning into a pin cushion. Do you really want to pay for all that treatment and blood tests?
There are so many travel insurance options available and they all seem to cover Namibia. For my Namibia trip, I used Aviva although in the past I have used Hiscox who are also good. Hiscox are better at insuring frequent travellers who embark on multiple trips a year. If you are often tied-down by a 9-5 job, you may therefore only need single-trip cover which is why I opted for Aviva. They have good customer support and are reasonably priced.
Namibia Policies: Yeah, I know right – what a funny point? But before you skim over this section, let me go into why this is important.
I’m an avid photographer, just for leisure of course but there’s sometimes a minefield of regulations. I accidently stumbled upon the fact that you actually need a Drone License to fly a drone in Namibia. Totally crazy, right? Who’d have thought it. I won’t bore you with the ins and outs of the drone license as a small percentage of us actually own a drone and I did write a comprehensive article on it here.
So what I’m trying to say is don’t assume anything. Research, research, research. You may stumble across a random policy that affects you in some way like you can’t take photos for business purposes (including blogging) in some reserves. If you research beforehand, you can take relevant action into ensuring your trip runs smoothly. Lol, I only got granted my drone license 2 days into my Namibia trip. Don’t be like me! Be smart – be prepared!
Flying my drone in Namibia
So You Want to Visit Namibia? A Guide to Booking your Namibia Trip
I’m glad you’ve decided to visit Namibia! There’s certainly a lot to consider in terms of booking your trip. I know I always struggle with deciding what comes first, flights or accommodation? With Namibia we also have a third important factor that I severely under-estimated – a car. Namibia is a vast country with poor public transport. In order to get around, you’ll need to rent a car. This is arguably more important than flights, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
I think the first question we need to ask is how long you should book your trip for.
How long Should You Visit Namibia For?
Namibia is such a large country with so much to offer. It can be a little overwhelming to decide how long to visit for and what to see. From the vast array of wildlife in Etosha national park, to the rolling golden sand of the eerie Skeleton Coast. From the tall red sand dunes of the oldest desert in the world, to the abandoned mining town of Kolmanskop, Namibia really has it all. Due to the sheer size of the country, it can prove tricky to schedule everything in.
I can tell you now, you will not see the whole of Namibia in 2 weeks (the length of time I booked for). This is something I unfortunately had to find out the hard way and ended up rescheduling the whole second week of my trip and losing money on pre-booked accommodation.
Despite not being able to see everything, I found 2 weeks was a decent length of time, especially to camp. A girl just can’t go that long without washing her hair, am I right? Therefore, I would recommend 2 weeks as a starting point. I know you certainly wouldn’t want to visit for any less than that really.
If you really want the full shebang and want to see EVERYTHING, then you may want to consider 3 or 4 weeks.
Standing atop of Kuiseb pass
The Most Important Aspect of Your Namibia Trip: Hiring A Car
Normally I’d say that flights are the most important part of the trip. You always gotta check flights or what happens if there’s none available and you’ve got your accommodation booked? Well, ask yourself this. What happens if you’ve booked your flights but cannot get hold of a car? You won’t be able to leave Windhoek let alone see Etosha or Sossusvlei! Therefore, renting a car is the number 1 most important thing to check before booking your trip.
Surprisingly, cars get booked up way in advance. I thought I was super organised and went to inquire about cars 2 months before my trip. Well it turns out that 95% of all the cars in Namibia were booked up. I had to contact 50 different rental companies and only around 6 got back to me with cars available. They often then said I was very lucky as they only had 1 car left! So please, before you do anything, secure a vehicle.
To conclude, if you want to visit Namibia, find out what cars are available and if there are some, book your flights and then put the deposit on your car. Accommodation can then come as a final part of your trip.
Our Namibia rental-car splashing through a river in the Namib-Naukluft park
Booking Your Flights to Namibia
Namibia is a complex destination to fly to, mainly because it’s not a ‘key’ country and so you can never find a direct flight which can mean booking through multiple airlines. I know – total nightmare. I nearly had a panic attack booking my flights to Namibia. It was hard! Fortunately, I’ve been through it so I can best advise you on how to book your flights.
You can use an online travel agent to book flights. These will often give you the best deals but this comes at a price. They always try to scam you! I’m not even joking. I nearly got charged a £10 transaction fee for paying with a debit card. One company also sneakily doubled my price half way through and hoped I wouldn’t notice. It bloody nearly worked. I’d filled in my card details and everything before I suddenly noticed. Anyway, despite the traumas, you can book successfully through an online travel agent. You can read my article here on the best companies to book through and who to avoid.
If you have extra budget for your trip or just want to have the most leisurely time possible, you can book some reasonably direct routes. For example, both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic fly from London Heathrow to Johannesburg, South Africa. Namibia is only then a short flight away via South African Airways or a similar alternative. Virgin Atlantic and South African Airways are part of an airline alliance so it’s possible to book the 2 flights together.
Flying from the UK to Namibia takes roughly 13 or 14 hours.
Drone footage of the barren Skeleton Coast
Booking Your Namibia Accommodation: Camping Vs Lodging
So you’ve booked your rental car and flights. The final step to booking your Namibia road-trip is accommodation. Now, like with the flights and cars, I thought it would be super hard to get accommodation. Well, it turns out, it’s surprisingly easy to book accommodation. There are just so many options available!
When considering places to stay, there are 2 main options available: camping and lodging. Let me first talk you through the advantages and disadvantages of each option.
Price: Camping is so affordable! On average a campsite will cost around £7 per person per night.
Experience: Sleeping in a tent with the windows open is an unrivalled experience. You can hear lions roaring just a few meters away and fall asleep to the sound of the crickets. It’s a true African experience.
Everything is always with you: You don’t need to worry about leaving anything in a hotel room as your accommodation is with you at all times.
Comfort: Although I did find camping quite comfortable, you’re never going to achieve the same amount of comfort as in a luxurious bed. Plus, the sunlight waking me up in the morning was a tad annoying, although some people may enjoy this.
Trips to the bathroom: To go to the loo, you have to climb down the ladders to your tent and trek in the dark to the bathroom, risking animal encounters and bracing the cold. Furthermore, this means you have to keep your smelly shoes in your tent with you and sleep in a presentable state so you can run to the toilet and risk being seen.
Extra Effort: You will have to set up the tent and make your bed every night and bring everything down from your tent in the morning. It all takes time and can be annoying, especially if you’re tired.
Chilling in my roof-top tent
Comfortable: Nothing beats sleeping in a cosy bed in your comfortable nightwear, far away from your smelly shoes. Trips to the bathroom are also comfortable (assuming you have an en-suite) and take a lot less time.
Air-Conditioning: You may have to ensure your lodge has air-con as I doubt everywhere has it but it’s at least an option. Namibia is a warm country and the nights can be sticky. Air-con would be a god-send.
You can Unpack: Until you’ve camped, you will never understand the pains of living out of a suitcase, unable to actually open it and see the items of clothing you’ve bought with you. With a lodge, you can put the suitcase on the bed and actually look at your selection. You’ll wear much more of a range of clothing than you would if you were camping.
Price: A double-room is around £70 per night which will cost you a hell of a lot more than camping. You have to ask yourself if the added comfort of lodging is worth the price hike.
Not Very Exciting: You can stay in a luxury lodge anywhere in the world and they are all reasonably similar. You don’t get anywhere near as much of an experience lodging as you do camping in the wild.
Reviews are very Important: With camping, the exact campsite that you stay at isn’t super important. At the end of the day, you’re sleeping in your tent on your car just with different scenery. With lodging, you really have to check the reviews to check for cleanliness (dirty bed sheets and cockroaches… yuck!), staff-friendliness and the rooms facilities. It’s much more of a mine-field than camping.
Those are the key differences between the 2 options. Both camping and lodging will overlap with facilities as often a place will accommodate for both. You should have access to restaurants, WiFi, swimming pools, bathrooms and showers with both options. Exact facilities obviously depend on where you choose to stay.
One of our campsites in the Namib Desert
A Perfect Itinerary for a 2-Week Road-Trip in Namibia
So you’ve now booked your trip to Namibia and want to plan your road-trip. There’s so much to see in this glorious country that it can be a littler overwhelming. Not to mention the fact that all the key sites are spaced out. Where do you begin?
I’m going to briefly outline the key sites and where they could fit-in to your road-trip. For a more in-depth itinerary including exactly how long to stay at each stop, please see my article here.
Stop 1 – Windhoek: Windhoek is the capital of Namibia and home to the international airport. Therefore, this is where your road-trip will begin. You can make the most of being near the city by shopping and enjoying some of the delicious restaurants.
Alternatively, there are several wildlife sanctuaries dotted around Windhoek which are definitely worth a visit. I strongly recommend N/a'an ku sê wildlife sanctuary as it allows you to get close to some of Namibia’s iconic animals whilst also helping a worthy cause – the rescue and rehabilitation of wildlife throughout Namibia. If you want to know more about N/a'an ku sê, you can read my article here which contains everything you need to know about this wonderful sanctuary.
Cheetah at N/a'an ku sê wildlife sanctuary
Stop 2 – Etosha: Etosha is Namibia's largest national park and a wonderful place to visit if you truly want to immerse yourself amongst Namibia's wildlife. Etosha is filled with a vast array of wildlife including 4 of the big 5: lion, leopard, elephant and rhino. The only 1 of the big 5 it's missing is buffalo. As well as these 4 wonderful animals, you can expect to see cheetahs, hyenas, jackals and vast numbers of game. Game flock in their masses to the waterholes of Etosha which can make some incredible sights and photography.
The majority of Etosha national park is actually a vast salt pan called 'The Etosha Pan' which is visible from google earth (so I'm guessing visible from space?). The name Etosha actually means 'great white space' which fits in with the salt pan and the topography of the park.
There is one main road in Etosha which travelled to the south of the pan, sticking to it at all times. There are several smaller roads coming off the main one but due to the layout, it's tricky to get lost and also means that the wildlife can easily venture further away from the roads and not get bothered so much by people.
When I visited Etosha, I took part in a self-drive safari (so totally un-guided) and was incredibly lucky with my sightings. I saw the usual game: zebra, springbok, kudu and wildebeest. I also saw several giraffes, some ostriches and a lioness. You can read more about my experience in Etosha here.
There is so much to see! I would highly recommend Etosha.
A group of zebras near a watering hole in Etosha
Stop 3 – Damaraland: Damaraland is perhaps the most underrated place in Namibia. I had scarcely even heard of it before I visited Namibia and only happened to be spending a night hear by chance on my way to the Skeleton Coast from Etosha.
The landscape in Damaraland is unlike anything I have ever witnessed before. The terrain is rather roughed and rocky, with rocky outcrops in abundance. These hillocks consist of numerous smooth boulders which are perched precariously atop on another. One could only imagine how they came to be. It really feels like another planet - perhaps what you expect the surface of Mars to be like.
As well as having a unique landscape, Damaraland is oozing with culture. You will pass numerous tiny settlements here, some houses with shops in their yards. Few people have cars here and instead you will see the locals travelling either on horse-back or by donkey-driven wooden carts. It really is the simple life here and quite refreshing to witness.
There are no fences in Damaraland so animals can travel how they please which is wonderful for wildlife sightings. Desert elephants often travel through Damaraland. I didn't see any desert elephants whilst I was there but the road-signs showing the elephants were enough to get me excited! You can read my full experience of Damaraland here and view all my images of this wonderful part of Namibia.
At our campsite in Damaraland - look at those boulders!
Stop 4 – The Skeleton Coast: Ah, the Skeleton Coast. Not gonna lie, I've totally been wanting to visit this place purely based on its eerie name. Otherwise known as the 'gates of hell', the Skeleton Coast certainly draws you in. It earned it's name as a result of the numerous shipwrecks which have washed up along its shores. This stretch of coastline is treacherous! The combination of rough seas, strong winds and thick fog make it a black spot for ships and cause them to sink to their salty graves.
Sadly, most of the shipwrecks are not accessible today. Either they have become part of the sand or they are nowhere near a road. Therefore the Skeleton Coast didn't really live up to my expectations in terms of 'shipwreck spotting'. There is one wreck, just south of Hentiesbaai that is clearly accessible but the wreck is surrounded by hawkers which put me off visiting. If you can tolerate being pestered, it may not be too much of an issue for you, but sadly it ruined my trip.
As well as the wrecks, the Skeleton Coast offers some incredible landscapes. Golden sand stretches on for as far as the eye can see. The coastal towns of the Skeleton Coast are cute and colourful and Swakopmund in particular, has a lot to offer. It offers adventure sports and an array of activities within the town. Whilst I didn't spend time in this town, I've heard nothing but good things about it.
Chilling in the sands of the Skeleton Coast after flying my drone
Stop 5 – The Namib Desert: As you travel south east from the Skeleton Coast, you reach the depths of the Namib desert. The Namib desert is the oldest desert in the world and is home to the planet's highest dunes. As well as having an abundance of sand dunes, this desert is home to vast quantities of wildlife including the iconic oryx, renounced for their long straight horns. Harmann's mountain zebra, desert lions and cheetahs can also be found here.
The most iconic town within the Namib is the small town of Solitaire which consists of little more than a petrol station and cafe. It's a lovely place to stop and refuel! I've been told that the apple pie from the cafe is arguably the best in the world although I didn't try it myself as I'm not a fan of apples. You cannot miss Solitaire as a fleet of rusty old bangers lie at the entrance. These make some interesting photos!
The desert town of Solitaire!
Stop 6 – Sossusvlei: When you think of Namibia, it's highly likely that an image of soaring dunes come to mind. That is Sossusvlei, an undeniable highlight of anyone's trip to Namibia. Sossusvlei is a national park. You can actually camp within the national park in a site called 'Sesriem'. I highly recommend doing this as it gives you easy access to the dunes at prime time: either early in the morning or later in the evening.
You can access the dunes via car. A tarred road will take you into the heart of the dunes where you can then either park your car if you have a 2x4 and take the shuttle the rest of the way, or if you have a 4x4 you can drive right to the base of Big Daddy, the tallest dune in Sossusvlei. This drive to the dunes was an experience in itself and you have to deflate your car's tyres in order to drive through the thick sand.
In Sossusvlei you can climb sand dunes and try to find the elusive Deadvlei, an eerie pan filled with dead camel-thorn trees. I sadly never found Deadvlei *sobs* as it's not clearly signposted. However, if you do enough research, this wonderful vlei is there waiting for you to visit! I mean, it can't be that difficult as I seem to be the only person in history who has got lost trying to find it.
Off-roading through Sossusvlei
Ideal Packing List for A Namibia Road-Trip
I've visited Africa 4 times and somehow managed to mess up with my packing almost every time! You can read my 'how not to pack for southern Africa' article here which explains some of the crucial mistakes you can make when packing to visit Africa.
On my most recent visit where I embarked in a 2-week road-trip round the country, I did the best I've ever done in terms of packing but man, I still managed to over-pack! I can't believe I actually thought I'd under-packed for this trip but when you're camping, it's hard to access all your clothes so you do recycle the same thing over and over. Yep, my boots really do smell after wearing them every single friggin' day for 2 weeks. So rule 1 of packing is always pack less than you think you need. This is also great for picking up souvenirs. Hey, anyone else love buying clothes abroad?
In terms of camping, the car rental companies tend to provide everything you could possibly need for camping like cooking equipment, chairs, tables, the tent etc. Do double-check before hand as I'm sure the exact list of what comes with your car will vary from company to company. I remember when researching different rental companies, one car didn't come with a spade. Like bisch, how am I supposed to dig my car out of trouble in the sand? Yep, I sure used that spade.
Driving through Namibia
My Experiences in Namibia
So there you have my ultimate guide to Namibia. If, like me, you like to read about personal experiences, learning all those ins and outs of a country, then you may wish to check out my blog posts of each day I spent in Namibia. There you can find all my honest thoughts and fears and in-depth information on what I liked and what I didn't like. Check it out!