Are you an adventurous traveler seeking to explore the mesmerizing landscapes and vibrant cultures of Namibia at your own pace? Self-driving through this captivating country is an excellent way to immerse yourself in its natural wonders and diverse experiences. From the sweeping dunes of the Namib Desert to the wildlife-rich Etosha National Park, Namibia offers a tapestry of experiences for intrepid explorers.
If you decided on self-drive or maybe still thinking, first you should answer this question to understand if self-drive in Namibia is for you: Are you comfortable driving on a left side of the road? Do you have experience and confidence driving in unfamiliar places? Are you comfortable driving off road and pay attention to wildlife? If you answered yes to all of them then you can go head and book your Namibian self-drive adventure! You can also read where and when to go to Namibia to decide on a season and places.
To ensure a seamless and enjoyable journey, here are 20 essential tips for self-driving in Namibia, from a seasoned travelers and small travel agency owners:
1. Plan Ahead: Research the routes, attractions, and accommodations well in advance. Namibia’s remote areas might lack cell signal, so offline maps and a detailed itinerary are invaluable. Decide what you want to see and pin in on a map. Google Maps now allows you to save preloaded map, so you will be able to use it whenever. Check your driver’s licence, most countries will be fine to drive, but you licence need to be in English, otherwise international driver’s licence will be needed. You also cannot drive big minibuses, unlike in the USA, you need special license for bigger passenger vehicles.
2. Choose the Right Vehicle: Opt for a 4×4 vehicle with high ground clearance. Many Namibian roads, especially in rural areas and national parks, can be rough and require sturdy vehicles. Overall roads are in very good shape, but if you’re going during the rain season, some flooding may be present, so it is nice to have high clearance. Also sometimes if road going too long without maintenance it can turn into washboard, but there are not many of them in such condition. Consider how many people are with you and choose appropriate size.
3. Consider Roof-top Tents: One of the reasons, probably, why you choose self-drive is the cost. Trip cost can be lowered even more significantly if you opt-in for a camping vehicle, this will allow you to save a lot of money, as difference between campsite and hotel is around 10x fold.
4. Pack Essentials: Carry spare tires, tire repair kits, extra fuel (highly recommended), water, first aid supplies, and necessary camping gear, if choosing to camp. Prepare for unexpected situations. You can also rent satellite phone in Namibia. And good news: Starlink will be in Namibia by the end of 2023.
5. Check Road Conditions: Road conditions can change due to weather. Inquire about the state of the roads with locals or watch videos. As it said above, roads are generally very good, with only some bad stretches.
6. Drive Cautiously: Animals might cross unexpectedly. Drive at a safe speed and be vigilant, especially during dawn and dusk. Many rental car companies actually prohibit driving at night. Many rentals are also equipped with special devices that track you speed, sort of GPS device. They will no be used to control you, but if you will attempt to take rental car in another country or you will get into accident and you were speeding at the moment, the rental company will know.
7. Is it Safe to Self-drive in Namibia?: Namibia is a very safe country. You can check travel advisories and just use basic precautions.
8. Fuel Up: Gas stations can be few and far between in rural areas. Always start your journey with a full tank and carry extra fuel if necessary. Most rentals comes with a double fuel tank, reaching whooping 160 litres!
9. Respect Wildlife: Namibia boasts incredible biodiversity. When encountering wildlife on the roads, slow down and maintain a safe distance to avoid collisions. There a lot of baboons on the side of the road, as well as warthogs and even elephant crossings!
10. Camp Safely: If camping, choose designated campsites for safety. Wildlife can be active at night, so proper precautions are essential. Most campsites are fenced, however, there are unfenced ones available too.
11. Embrace Slow Travel: Namibia’s beauty lies in its vastness. Don’t rush; savor the journey and allocate ample time for unexpected detours. You will not be making 1000 km a day, this is not Germany with autobahns. Recommended is no more than 300-400 kilometres depending on the road condition.
12. Cultural Sensitivity: Respect local customs and traditions. Always ask for permission before taking photos of people, villages, or their property. Read about local customs, for example, you have to pay someone to watch your car. Those people are an officially employed parking attendants, rather just “volunteers”. You can give them about 50c-1$, or more. Same goes to full-service gas pumps (and most pumps are full -service). Also, toilets require a little payment as well, though much cheaper, some places charge as little as 2 ZAR (1 $ = 18 ZAR), so you bathroom break is about 10c per person.
13. Stay Hydrated: Namibia’s climate can be arid. Carry enough water for both drinking and the vehicle’s cooling system. Or you can also purchase something like a travel filters and filter hotel water. It is also a great idea to carry reusable bottles, as many supermarkets will have water for sale by litre. And always, always keep more water and food than you think you may need. Again you may get stranded and not get help for hours.
14. Mind the Sun: Sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses are must-haves. The African sun can be intense, even on cloudy days. Even in the winter. Always.
15. Navigation Tools: Besides GPS, have physical maps, a compass, and a reliable guidebook. Technology can fail, so be prepared. If you get stranded, in certain parts there are barely 2-3 cars a day that are passing by, so you have to be prepared.
16. Cash is King: In rural areas, credit card facilities might be limited. Keep enough cash for fuel, food, and unexpected expenses.
17. Check Your Tires Often: Try to check your tires every times you stop or at least, every time you stop for gas. Ask your rental company question on what is covered and what roadside assistance they offer.
18. Health Precautions: Consult a travel clinic for vaccinations and medical advice before your trip. Carry a basic medical kit with necessary medications. Agaian , you may be very far from any medical help or a pharmacy. Also, make sure you have your prescriptions with you, as customs mayb strict.
19. Weather Readiness: Namibia’s weather can be unpredictable. Lots of wind is present, as desert cools off and heats up, in the summer torrential rain may be the problem. And of course, there is the Sun, merciless and strong.
20. Park Etiquette: When visiting national parks, adhere to park rules and regulations. Stay in designated areas and respect the environment. You can’t leave your car, which is very reasonable, given how many animals are in there. You also can’t bring your pets inside parks. Plastic bags are prohibited and you car will be inspected before and after park gates. Before to check for bags, pets, weapons, drones. And after to check if you catch any game, as they are very strict with poachers.
21. Disconnect Intentionally: Embrace the opportunity to disconnect from the digital world. Enjoy the serene landscapes without constant distractions. You can check cell coverage on MTC online and you will see that most of the country is covered very well, but there are still many truly wild places.
Embarking on a self-driving adventure in Namibia promises unforgettable experiences and boundless exploration. By following these 21 essential tips, you’ll be better equipped to navigate the rugged terrain, appreciate the vibrant culture, and create lasting memories in one of Africa’s most captivating countries. So, rev up your 4×4, hit the open road, and let the beauty of Namibia unfold before you. Safe travels!