I just returned from a 10-day journey through Namibia during which I drove nearly 3.000 kilometers by car, which was quite an adventure.
When I booked this trip, I was looking for a country in Africa, which doesn’t get that many tourist, so a bit more off the beaten path, & where I could enjoy temperatures of +25°C. Namibia seemed like a perfect fit.
Note that I’ve added some links to posts with lots of photos from this trip, click on them to open a new tab and check how picture-perfect these places really are.
I flew from Brussels to Madrid on Iberia, continued to Johannesburg where I stayed a full day & night before heading to Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, on a British Airways flight operated by Comair. Similar flights for the return, without the long layover in South Africa.
You can also fly Air Namibia, Condor (Frankfurt), Qatar Airways, South African Airways and recently added KLM to Windhoek Hosea Kutako International Airport, which is 40km from the city center.
Visiting Namibia in January
January is always the perfect time for me to escape the cold winter in Europe: I visited Cape Town twice & New Zealand once in the past few years and already have an idea for 2018. January also means “rain season” in Namibia, which lasts from November through March.
I had read about Etosha National Park that the rainy season might not be an ideal time to visit as animals don’t necessarily come to the water holes for drinking thus your chances are ‘more limited’ to see them gather around that one big pool. While it’s true that I didn’t see many animals at the waterhole in Okaukuejo (Rest Camp), when driving around the Park, I spotted a (dehorned) Black Rhino, Elephants, giraffes, springbok, Oryx, lions, Kudu … so not to worry.
Do not let the rain season keep you from visiting Namibia! Less tourists, lower rates, more interesting experiences. And it’s not like it rained all day, it’s incomparable to Belgium for example, and I only had heavy rainfall once, with clear skies in other parts of the country.
Highlights & itinerary
On January 22nd, I arrived at Windhoek Airport (WDH) at 14:00, cleared immigration, picked up my rental car (more on that below) and drove to the Protea Fürstenhof Hotel. I also stopped at a local supermarket to pick up some ‘essentials’ such as bottles of water, cookies, some candy, billtong and a roll of toilet paper.
I was scheduled to leave Windhoek again on January 31st, with the first & last night in Windhoek, I had 8 nights (and days) to see as much as I possible could. Etosha National Park & Sossusvlei being my starting points for constructing the itinerary, they are 800 km apart.
After doing my research, I selected the following highlights:
- Waterberg Plateau
- Etosha National Park
Roads in Namibia are designated into B,C & D categories. B roads are mostly tar roads, with a speed limit of 120km/h. C roads are tar, gravel or salt roads which should be fine for 2WD. D roads are gravel, salt or even sand, let’s say 4WD is definitely recommended, and can include river crossings & mountain passes.
In my personal experience, C & especially D roads are more scenic, but there were roads where the speed limit was 100km/h, but at times I couldn’t even drive more than 70km/h. Perhaps something to keep in mind while driving on these or similar roads, reducing speed is done like this: release gas pedal, shift gear down, brake. Not the other way around and no sudden moves with the steering wheel.
So on January 23rd, I departed North on B1 to Waterberg Plateau National Park via C22 & D2512 which is a 305km drive that takes about 3h15 non-stop and is mostly on tar road, except for the final 40km. The Waterberg is a table mountain 50km long, 16km wide and a height up to 200 metres. The Lodge where I was spending the night, had an amazing view, absolutely stunning, but I wouldn’t recommend staying there, check out some other options nearby. But I do tell you not to skip this Park. I joined a game drive in the private nature reserve and it was spectacular, we got out of the car and approached white rhinos, saw totems of giraffes, … Interestingly, it seemed that not a lot of Namibians have heard of this place.
The next day I drove to Etosha National Park, B1 to Otjiwarongo & Outjo, C38 to Okaukuejo where I stayed two nights at the Okaukuejo Rest Camp, which is located IN the Park. Relatively basic accomodation (double room), not bad, but for a more luxurious experience try one of the lodges in the adjacent Ongava Private Game reserve (+€ 300 / night).
My original plan was to cross Etosha National Park from East to West, Namutoni to Halali/Okaukuejo to Dolomite camp but because my time in Namibia was relatively limited, I chose Okaukuejo as my base and drove approx. 130 km per day, a “self-drive” through the Park. To put Etosha in perspective, Belgium covers 30.258 square kilometers, Etosha… 22.270 sq km. Anyway, if you’re looking for elephants, lions and even a rhino, you will find them between Anderson’s gate & Okaukejo Camp, this is during ‘rain season’.
So after spending two days in the Park and taking +500 pictures, I drove towards Palmwag in Damaraland, where Grootberg is located. I exited the Park, took D2710 & D2694 where some parts of the road were flooded and I almost got stuck. Then C40 all the way to Grootberg Lodge, for one night. Perhaps you could stay two, amazing view, game drives, mountain hikes,… and the food was good, decent wifi, friendly staff, infinity pool. I’d recommend it. Don’t forget to check the pictures…
After that, I had a long drive ahead of me, more than 500 km to Walvis Bay. If I would have had one extra day, I would have spent the night near Mount Brandberg Nature Reserve which was somewhere in the middle. C40 to Palmwag, C43 and then C39, these three roads were the most scenic of my Namibia trip, so I would obviously advise you to include them as well.
Continuing D2612 to C35 until you reach Uis, do NOT take D2319 unless you have a Pick Up, you need to do a river crossing, the current was quite strong and I nearly flooded the car before deciding to put in reverse and take a 100km detour. Uis is also ideal to stop for gas & other supplies, as there isn’t much around otherwise.
I was driving a Renault Duster 4WD, running on Diesel which cost about 10-11 NAD per liter (0,77 EUR). You should also be interested to know that the Namibian Dollar (NAD) and South African Rand (ZAR) are linked and you can pay anywhere in Namibia with ZAR. Just make sure you always have cash on you, as not all filling stations accept credit cards. Perhaps also a good idea to never have less than half a tank of fuel as it might be 250 km until the next station… and it could be that the filling station has run out of petrol or diesel.
From Uis, it’s C35 all the way to the coast, Hentiesbaai and Walvis Bay down South. Not much to see or do there, a few pink Flamingo’s & a cheap B&B, but it was ‘conveniently’ located on my way to Sossusvlei.
From Walvis Bay, I took the C14 for 230 km to Solitaire, where the local (& only) petrol station has some nice cars parked in the driveway, the highlight during the 3h drive was the Kuiseb pass. I had booked a two-night stay in the Moon Mountain Lodge (friendly staff, superb views for sunset and tasty food) which served as my ‘base camp’ for the visit to Sossusvlei the next day.
I departed at 5.30 in the morning, the lodge provides ‘breakfast to go’, and it took about an hour (55km) to get to the entrance in Sesriem where the gates open at sunrise, from that point it’s another 60 km to Sossusvlei, 55 km on tar road, the last 5 km through the sand. That last part is only allowed for 4WD vehicles, you can opt to go by shuttle, something I declined and eventually got stuck.. which was entirely my own fault. After about one hour the park rangers helped me out, so remember to deflate your tires, drive in 2nd gear (>3.500 RPM) and stay on the left side where there’s less loose sand.
Near Sossusvlei, the main attractions are Big Daddy (350m high on average) and Deadvlei. In Namibia, there were times when I drove for 2 hours and didn’t see a single person or car (population Namibia: 2,3 million), but Sossusvlei seemed to be one of the most popular spots, together with Etosha National Park of course. And for good reason, the climb was very rewarding & the view simply spectacular. Check some of the photos.
In the park, near the entrance, is also the Sesriem Canyon where apparently water used to run through up until a few years ago, but unfortunately it’s all gone now…
Returning to Windhoek, the next day after having had a good night’s rest, you should take D1275 which is “Spreetshoogte Pass” and offers a phenomenal view of the region. Some parts of the Pass have a slope of ‘up to 22%’, but the road is paved with cobblestones so there’s basically no need to worry or make a detour. Unless you’re driving a bus or truck, because those aren’t allowed.
Should you rent a 4WD (4×4) for driving around NAMIBIA?
As I genuinely enjoying driving around, I’ve learned the uncomfortable way that it’s not always the brightest idea to go for the cheapest type of car (Fiat 500, Peugeot 1007).
There have been occasions where the door had literally fallen off because of strong winds (Cape Town), I couldn’t get up a hill after visiting a Monastery (Lebanon), drove all day ‘pedal to the metal’ and not being able to exceed 75km/h (also Lebanon), … I wasn’t taking any chances this time and rented a 4WD car via Sunny Cars which I’ve used before in Malta & Johannesburg.
The best thing is that all cars come with an all-inclusive package, CDW, insurances for theft, damages to tyres, windshield, roof, … basically pretty much everything. And even better, because they work with different car rental companies (it’s a car rental broker), they are able to offer some very attractive rates. So you don’t need to take an extra insurance at the desk where you pick up your car (Sunny Cars has everything covered) and you know when you book what the final price will be.
Furthermore, 54% (!) of all rental cars in Namibia are damaged during their rental period due to the bad roads, so it’s a smart move to make. I had a flat tire which was repaired in a local shop and I’m getting that reimbursed as well.
I had selected a Renault/Dacia Duster 4WD, incl. GPS and the rental rate was 658 EUR for 9 full days, note that there were also cheaper options (and of course more expensive ones), but if you compare it to some other companies, I was getting a great deal! All I then needed to do was pick it up at the local rental car company at the airport.
Overall, I’m sure you could see many great things with a 2WD car as well, but you would have to give up on some comfort, greater risk of getting stuck, take detours, avoid at least some D roads (meaning less scenic drives), … etc. My advice to you would be to stick with a 4WD regardless and perhaps even consider a pick up.
Why should you visit Namibia?
As I slowly discover more of Africa, I can say that visiting Namibia was definitely a fantastic adventure & would recommend it. The most compelling arguments are its scenic landscapes & wildlife, well-documented in my photos.
While my itinerary was quite packed and I spent a lot of time in the car, I wouldn’t do it any differently. Ideally, you should plan on driving 200-250 km per day – leaving after breakfast & arriving by lunch time. Perhaps add one more day in Etosha to go from East to West, relax at Grootberg, also add something in the middle on your way down South and even drive down all the way to Fish River Canyon which is the 2nd largest canyon in the world (after the Grand Canyon).
Come to think of it, the perfect roadtrip would be to start in Windhoek & end up in Cape Town…