Namibia, without a doubt, is my favourite country I've ever visited. The people are incredible, the natural landscapes feel other worldly and the opportunity for adventure is ripe for the picking. Finding accurate information was tough. I'm a big believer in the lonely planet books; buying one is usually the first thing I do when I decide to go somewhere. However the third edition of the Botswana and Namibia book was printed in 2013 and the information felt like it was from 2003. The fourth edition has since been released, and I would strongly recommend getting the new version. Here's some tips that should make for an awesome trip:
- Greet locals with a smile and ask how they're doing - This should really be common sense for travellers. However, I can't stress this enough because of how few people would actual do it and how different your interaction will be. With a simple "How are you?" people's faces with completely light up and a fantastic conversation would almost always ensue.
- Renting a vehicle - You absolutely need one unless you plan on doing organized tours. I'll summarize what you should get in another point below. Here are some thoughts on renting and travelling roads in Namibia
- Read the terms and conditions. Take the time with agent awkwardly watching you wondering what you're doing. It's better than later finding out you weren't covered to drive on gravel roads so you have to pay a giant fee.
- You'll probably be the slowest car. In our terms and conditions for the rental (did I mention you should read those?), we found out that our vehicle was GPS tracked and if we exceeded 120 km/hr on tarred roads our insurance would be void. Being from Canada, our maximum speed limit is 110 km/hr so this seemed very reasonable. However, setting cruise for 119 km/hr on the highways, other vehicles would swerve around me cause I was going so much slower than them.
- Get a good map. One that depicts the tarred roads and services within each town/city. The company you rent from should have these for purchase at the very least.
- Infrastructure in Namibia is actually quite good - We were expecting lousy road conditions crossing into Namibia. However we found some fantastic, tarred (paved) highways and even the majority of gravel roads were smooth.
We had read "never pass a gas station without filling up" because they're apparently sparse and often completely run out of gas. This was never even close to being a problem to us. Every city/town had a nice, clean gas station with an attendant waiting to fill up your tank (make sure you follow point #1).
There were some rough roads and some areas that were tough to get into, which brings me to...
- You're gonna want a 4x4 - You might even want two. This isn't to say you can't do it in something smaller, I just really wouldn't want to. It's not even about the actual 4x4 capabilities, I put it in 4 wheel drive only a handful of times - though they were in some of the most awesome places I've ever been.
Clearance was probably the most important aspect of the larger rental. Additionally, sitting higher for self-drive safaris is very nice. I would strongly recommend against renting something without a full sized spare tire. We got two flats and I'm not sure a donut will get you all the way to a repair shop. 4x4 rentals will likely give you a little more leeway with wear and tear on the vehicle compared to something that Budget or Enterprise will give you.
We rented from Britz. I have some pretty mixed feelings about them. Their staff were incredibly kind and helpful, even putting us up in one of their staff rooms for a night. On the other hand, the corporate side of Britz tries to milk every dollar from their customers possible. After having rented the vehicle for a month, we returned it with a little mud splashed on one side, it really wasn't much. The staff member was too embarrassed to tell us how much he would have to charge us (would've been $100 USD), so he drove it with us to a nearby carwash instead ($5 USD).
- Camp - Renting a vehicle with a rooftop tent is probably the way to go. We did fine in our own ground tent and camping supplies. One downside with the rooftop tent is you have to pack it up whenever you need your vehicle, even if you're returning to the same campsite that night (i.e. game drives in the reserves). Campgrounds will be so much cheaper and typically have more available spots. Also, the experience feels so much more authentic when you awaken to lions roaring or a hypo grunting as he stumbles past you.
Most campgrounds we stayed at were fenced off from the wildlife. In areas where there was no barrier, as long as your tent is all zipped up at night, the animals should leave you alone. This is what everyone told us and what we experienced.
- Go in the dry season (May to October) - We were there in April, at the end of the rainy season. While the weather was fine, the vegetation was tall and thick. Even elephants disappeared into the bushes after walking just past us. We took a night tour and the guide said "If you see something tonight, consider yourself lucky. If you don't see anything, come back in the dry season".
- A couple notes on the attractions themselves:
- Sossusvlei - Do not miss. The camp outside the gate is a little nicer, but people camping inside the park (for twice the cost) get an hour head start in the morning. If you stay outside the park you won't be able to get to the Sossuslvei dunes for sunrise, which is an absolute must. You'll need a 4x4 to get all the way to the parking lot at the very end. You'll be driving in soft sand, so deflate your tires where the pavement ends and keep your momentum going (don't stop in the sand!!). When you get there, everyone climbs one big dune but you will be surrounded by sand dunes and theres no reason you can't climb your own to have it all to yourself.
- Fish River Canyon - Really awesome and relatively on the way if you're making your way up from Cape Town. There aren't a whole lot of activities if you're just viewing it from the top. If you have the time, a multi-night white water rafting trip down the river would be incredible.
- Etosha - Go in the dry season. We had a hard time finding animals due to the brush and tall grass. During the dry season, you'll probably see more in a hour than we did in three days.
- Remote Areas - During researching our trip, I read about some incredible potential adventures (see: Skeleton Coast). In order to enter these areas, you need to be prepared. You'll need to convey at least two 4x4 vehicles with two spare tires each, spare fuel, and enough supplies to last your entire trip. I can't wait to return to Namibia and explore some of these areas.