Namibia is an awesome country full of sand with almost nobody. If you don’t mind the dust, are curious about “click language”, and dream of being alone surrounded by strange desert creatures, look no further: a road trip in Namibia is a great idea to visit Africa.
Ideas to plan a road trip in Namibia
Empty roads that stretch along scenic views, good infrastructures and English being one of the national languages, makes it a perfect place for a road trip even for complete beginners who have never traveled off the beaten tracks. We traveled by car in Namibia for a month in October on a tight budget, without any precise itinerary. I found it hard to plan anything in advance since I couldn’t find any information on the internet for a budget travel in Namibia. I just booked a car online prior to our arrival, packed a tent and a few camping equipment, and voila, we went on an adventure! It was my first time camping in the desert and even though it was a good experience, I will tell you in the following article some mistakes I made and that you can avoid while going on a road trip to Namibia.
To be honest, what caught my interest to visit Namibia was the incredible desert pictures featured by Google images. Wow! The sand seemed so smooth! Gold, orange, red… It almost looked like some kind of magic crumble sprinkled over an entire country.
Who needs good camping equipment in such a soft looking sand, I thought to myself while sitting on a comfortable sofa, sipping some iced coffee on a rainy day in Paris. Comfort, humidity, ice! How I missed those simple things there! But convinced by Google images, I immediately felt the urge to roll myself into the powdery dunes and I booked our flight ticket to Windhoek without any further preparation.
What kind of car to rent for a road trip in Namibia
When you arrive to Windhoek, first thing you should do is rent a car, as there are virtually no other ways to get around in this big desert patchwork. Now, the question is: what kind of car should you rent for a road trip in a big empty country like this? Does it really have to be big and expensive to be sure that you won’t get a flat tire in the middle of nowhere? We hesitated between a pricey 4X4, one with a tent on the roof, or a camping car (cost: an arm and a leg); if you travel to Namibia for a few days, it should be a good option, but if you stay for a month it is more realistic to go for an average car. So we rented a small Corolla, a tiny car compared to what other tourists rent to travel through this country. At first, I felt a bit of anxiety: we had the smallest car among all the other road trippers we met! I had this irrational fear of having a flat tire in the middle of nowhere, and walking for hours under the sun to find some help. I could almost hear the hyenas laughing at me, “Ahah! What a pity you didn’t rent a 4X4 like everybody else!” But the little Corolla did its job, and we actually never had any problem in a month of travel. Actually, I realized that only tourists and park rangers had 4X4, so even a small polo would have been good enough.
We didn’t rent a GPS either and used a small map that was in Etosha National Park’s booklet. With zero road trip experience, no map, and no planning, we headed to the Namibian desert. Whether you visit a National Park or cross the country’s empty roads, traveling through Namibia offers scenic views and a unique feeling of isolation: you can drive for hours without meeting a single soul (except for a few kudus). Surprisingly, we never got lost, nor starved to death in the middle of the desert. You just have to follow the road signals. And this is what I liked the most about this country: everything is easy and well maintained. The road, the endless road that brings you nowhere and shows you everything, will give you a unique feeling of loneliness.
How is Internet in Namibia: finding a Wi-Fi oasis
For us digital nomads, internet is our vital fuel while traveling. Sometimes you’ll find an oasis in the desert: a hotel or restaurant with Wi-Fi. I was counting on these oasis, but most of the times in Namibia we had to rely on a portable internet device that we purchased in a telecommunications shop. We did this road trip for a month while working online, so we had to stop often to work for a few hours a day, even in the middle of dunes and National Parks. Is Namibia a good place for digital nomads on a budget? In Africa, it is definitely one of the best destinations, as you can buy a USB modem and work in any place with signal (careful with the sand that gets into your computer!). But it’s not like you’re going to find a café or a restaurant where you can just stay for hours: if you are camping, you will probably end up working in the car in the middle of the night as it will be the only place with light and air conditioning around you.
Accommodations in Namibia: camping, lodge, sleeping in the car, and Airbnb
Hotels are incredibly expensive in Namibia! One option you should consider if you are on a budget is camping. Given the fact that we had no previous experience in camping, Namibia was a bit rough. Long story short, the main problem was the sand. However clean and conscientious you are, you will always end up with sand everywhere. Sand in your tent, sand in your socks, sand in your hair, sand in your mouth… And it’s not really soft powdery sand like it looks on the postcard. “Mister Sandman, give me a dream” was definitely not my lullaby while camping in Namibia. Some rocks and thorns are likely to puncture your mattress, and trust me, no matter how hard you try to repair it with tape, it will never get fixed. So come well equipped (i.e. no inflatable mattress) or consider another option! Our brand new mattress got a series of holes after a few days using it, so we ended up sleeping on an improvised mat made with all our clothes. One day I even had to bribe a janitor to borrow a hotel’s sun longer. Also, being lazy and ignorant, I thought it would be smarter to pack a “2 seconds tent” that I bought in 2000. You know, the one that magically opens before your eyes! But without the user manual, not a single camper was able to close it properly. Some people told me that they found snakes or scorpions under their tent after a good night’s sleep. It never happened to me but I suppose you have to be careful when folding the tent back in the morning. But apart from this, camp sites are generally well equipped and give you a unique feeling of being on your own in the wild. Some places called “safari” lodges or camps even have some pet giraffe and zebra! One night, while sleeping in the tent in a safari lodge close to Etosha National Park (Etosha Safari Lodge, I will mention it later), I saw four moving sticks passing in front of my window. I poked my head cautiously out of the tent, and what did I see? A giraffe, a giraffe just in front of me, eating the top of a tree!
At one point, we couldn’t find any camp site (believe it or not, the desert can be crowded) so we had no other option than to sleep in the car. Actually, it was way more comfortable than in the tent! We ended up sleeping in our Corolla for a couple of nights in the desert. I was a bit scared to do wild camping (hello hyenas!) and sometimes at night I would hear some strange noises, which made me regret the decision to spend the night outside. But in the morning, there is nothing more beautiful than the sunrise on the desert!
Have you ever tried Airbnb?
Airbnb is a great way to make friends while traveling on a budget. We were very happy to share our lives with some Namibian people while visiting the country: you can either share a house or get your own private apartment.
We were hosted by local Namibian people, and it was a great experience. Our first airbnb host in Namibia was an engineer who rented us a room in Swakopmund. Another one was a girl from Zimbabwe in Windhoek. We met some really lovely people while staying in their house, and I don’t think that camping where you only meet other tourists, or being in a car all day long can make this kind of contact possible.
Food: supermarket, barbecues, and camping food
Well, I wouldn’t say that Namibia is a gourmet destination. Or maybe it is a great place for kudu and wildebeest barbecue or oryx sausages (what a pity, I’m a vegetarian). But at least it was like everything else: very clean and convenient. You’ll be able to find some Spar supermarkets all around Namibia, and you’ll find there exactly the same kind of food that you eat at home. To see such big supermarkets after the desert was a bit of a shock (Food! Food everywhere!) and I ate donuts nonstop for a week after we came back to civilization. Apart from Spar, where you can eat some delicious buffet style food, I don’t remember anything about the food in Namibia, except that I was generally very hungry while camping and dreaming of croissants all night long.
So, what should you bring as survival food for your road trip to Namibia? Well, I can tell you what not to bring first: eggs (not worth the pain to cook it) fruit, veggies (got rotten or all swollen because of the heat) cheese (except for Kiri cheese which sustains very well). Anything that requires to be cooked should be avoided. But here is another option: vegetarian soy nuggets. Those are life savers! You can bring them anywhere and they taste great with coconut powder and curry. Add it in your cup noodles, and voila! A delicious homemade dinner in the desert. Then, you can get ready to have dreams of croissants all night long.
I bought a small kettle that works with the car cigarette lighter: it looked convenient in extreme situations (like when there is nothing to eat and you’re alone in the middle of the night in the desert surrounded by laughing hyenas) but actually it is a pain to use. You have to plug it in and turn on the engine, and wait for 20mn to get 200mL of boiled water. The trick is that you actually have to drive while the water is heating, which can be a bit dangerous as it will get spilled over your laps. But it saved our dinner a couple of times (more than I wished!) If I had to do a road trip to Namibia again, I would gather a hundred packs of chocolate biscuits and water. Or go on a breatharian diet while traveling in the desert. But truth be told, I am sure some people can cook amazing meals; I didn’t see any apart from Instagram #campinggourmetfood, but I am sure it exists!
Itinerary and advice to visit Namibia
So, did I convince you to road trip Namibia? If so, here is my itinerary, hoping it will help you organize your trip! Here is a map of Namibia to help you plan your trip.
Windhoek – Waterberg Plateau National Park
We arrived at Windhoek airport very late at night and decided to stay in a lodge not too far from the airport. Some little warthogs (hello pumba!) came to welcome us and the camp site was very beautiful. The following day, as we decided to take our time to reach Etosha National Park, we stopped at Waterberg Plateau National Park, which is a small reserve. It was really beautiful and we enjoyed a view of the canyon during sunset. We stayed at Waterberg Valley Lodge, the camping was very nice.
Waterberg Plateau National Park – Etosha National Park (Anderson Gate)
Before we reached Anderson Gate (to Okaukuejo), we found that camping in a loge outside the park was much cheaper and comfortable than staying in the park. I absolutely recommend Etosha Safari Lodge: it was clean, had good Wi-Fi, there was a very nice atmosphere with some music. And most of all there were some giraffe and zebra inside the lodge! They would come to visit at night, so it makes the camping experience unforgettable.
In Etosha National Park: Okaukuejo – Halali – Namutoni
When you enter the National park, you’ll have to pay a daily fee and declare how many days you intend to stay. We had not booked any camp site, so it was a good idea to arrive early to book a place. What was not a good idea on the other hand was not to check the campsite before paying. Well, that was tough! The camp site was full of rocks, jackals, and people. Definitely not worth it, better to spend the night outside the camp, a few kilometers away from the Park’s gate. The good point was that we could wake up early to visit the water holes where all the animals come to drink: you will see elephants covered in dust, giraffes drinking water, hundreds of antelopes, zebras, kudus, orixes and different kinds of birds including ostrich. I didn’t see any lion but I guess they must have been somewhere watching all of us.
We visited Etosha National Park for a few days, including Halali and Namutoni. It was really beautiful to drive along the white snow looking road, and we saw many wild animals. It was like being in the Lion King! Be prepared to take some nice pictures and sing “Hakuna matata” during the whole trip! We woke up every day quite early around 6:00 to be able to see the animals.
But be careful: there was no public Wi-Fi in Etosha, and food in the restaurant was generally overpriced for very cheap quality. I guess there is nothing to do about it, except to bring your own internet portable device and bring along your own food.
Etosha National Park (Von Lindequist Gate) – Tsumeb
After Etosha, I felt the urge to see more green, and sleep in a real bed. By chance we found a German oasis in Tsumeb: Kupferquelle Resort. It was like heaven on earth! Green everywhere, flowers, swimming pool, beer, nice food! We slept nonstop for about two days in huge comfy beds and enjoyed a nice German restaurant all the time. There was also an Olympic size swimming pool without anybody and I could finally enjoy using my monofin for the first time in Africa!
Tsumeb – Swakopmund
I booked a private room with airbnb and we drove until Swakopmund for 5 hours. The journey was not particularly beautiful but what was funny was to see some mini tornadoes crossing the road! When you arrive to Swakopmund, which is situated on the Atlantic Ocean, you’ll immediately feel better: sea, palm trees, humidity! To feel the ocean breeze after such a long time in the desert made me want to jump in the waves: unfortunately, it was really cold, so instead I decided to clean the car from the dust. What can you do in Swakopmund? Well, you can eat! Relax! Sleep in a real bed, what else do you want to do?
It is also close to a seal colony, a giant dune, and a lake full of flamingos in the desert. I was very excited to see the seal colony (our airbnb host who is Namibian was like: “Why would you want to go there??). While walking towards the colony and reading a pamphlet illustrated with some cute baby seals, I even contemplated the idea of becoming a seal specialist, living wild adventures in Antarctica.
That was until I actually saw what a seal colony was: hell on earth. If you plan to visit, be prepared, it smells like garbage essential oil, it sounds like a bunch of drunk people in agony, and it will haunt your dreams for the rest of your stay: you’ll find many baby seals dry dead, crushed under the adult’s bodies, and being eaten by seagulls on the way. And then you’ll learn that some people actually buy “seal oil” (maybe to remember this unforgettable memory?) So, no, I won’t become a seal specialist. I like to draw them though, because in picture, they actually look cute. But definitely not the kind of pet you’d like to have home. I think in my worst nightmare, I would be a castaway forced to live in a seal colony for months.
Swakopmund – Walvis Bay
Dune 7 was very beautiful but it was challenging to climb! Be sure to bring some good sport shoes, (flip flap are a big non non), otherwise the hot sand will burn your little foot. Also, bring some water, because after the climb, you’ll want lots of it. I also had the idea of bringing my Afrizac, which is an inflatable sofa, to experience the unique feeling of being a couch potato in the desert. It was scenic!
The flamingos in Walvis Bay was much better than the seal colony. Actually, it was like a dream. We were driving in the middle of the desert, and suddenly, a hundred flamingos landed on a fairytale like pond.
It was so beautiful! So we parked the car, ran after them, and they flew away! We looked after them for a while. But the good news is, you can see flamingos in Walvis Bay, they stay on the sea shore all day long.
Walvis Bay – Namib-Naukluft National Park (Sesriem)
After Walvis Bay, I recommend spending some time in the stunning Namib-Naukluft National Park. This is where Sossusvlei is, a very strange place where you’ll see skeleton like trees and giant dunes.
This park was my favorite spot in Namibia: sometimes you feel like you just landed on the Moon as you are surrounded by huge white craters; or when you walk in the orange dunes, it feels like you are stepping foot on Mars… You are definitely not on Earth anymore! The heat contributed to this hallucination probably.
When we arrived in Dune 45, we set up our Afrizac, made some cup noodles and watched the scenary as if it was a real life documentary. An inflatable sofa can really make any desert comfy! Some people also book hot air balloon tours to see Sossluvei, it must be quite scenic! We walked in a forest of skeleton trees (not for long as it was way too hot). The best time to visit the park is at sunset, so you can see different contrasts in the dunes.
Namib-Naukluft National Park – Maltahohe
After Namib-Naukluft National Park, we drove for five hours in the mountains without any plan or precise idea where we were going to spend the night. We left Sesriem with half full tank, thinking that we would find a gas station on the way to Maltahohe, but actually there was nothing for the next five hours drive. We didn’t even meet another car! It was an incredibly scenic drive, the landscape changed dramatically every ten minutes: savanna, mountains, canyons… and absolutely nobody! Unfortunately, we had not much gasoline in the tank and were scared to stop too many times to take pictures, so we drove for hundreds of kilometers to Maltahohe looking for a gas station.
In Maltahohe, we ended up in a German restaurant where I could finally hear a group of people speaking “click language” for the first time (it was on my bucket list in Africa). We couldn’t find any available room so we ended up sleeping in the car.
Maltahohe – Mariental – Windhoek
After a few days staying in complete nowhere enjoying the desert, we decided to go back to Windhoek. We had some work to do and needed a good internet connection, so we booked an airbnb and spent our final days coming back to civilization. After getting back to Windhoek, we gave up on camping and sold our camping equipment to a shop and enjoyed good Wi-Fi in coffee shops!
Summary of the Road Trip in Namibia
So far, Namibia has been one of the most expensive place we visited as digital nomads. It was also the least comfortable. Nevertheless, I think it is still worth it as it has the most beautiful sceneries I have ever seen in my life.
Here is our budget for a month for two people:
Accommodation: 500 Euros (including the tent and camping equipment)
Car: 600 Euros (Toyota Corolla)
Food: 400 Euros
Internet (USB modem for a laptop): 50 Euros
Visits: 100 Euros (Mainly permission fees for National Parks)
My final advice to visit Namibia
Immigration in Namibia
I found this country to be very secured, but something put me off at the immigration when I arrived: even though I wrote that I was going to stay for a month on the immigration form, the officer allowed me only 20 days on my passport. I noticed it immediately and asked the reason why, since I was supposed to be allowed 90 days. The officer told me to go away, but I insisted politely and after a long wait she finally changed it to 30 days. She seemed very unhappy that I noticed it, I heard later that it was a common scam for tourists. Always check your visa stamp on your passport, because it can be very pricey if you overstay!
Don’t improvise too much
If you plan to visit Namibia, I would recommend that you don’t do like me and plan what to do before your arrival, unless you have your own camping car (or don’t mind sleeping in the car). Why? Because the desert can be crowded, crappy hotels can be expensive, and empty camping can be full for some unknown reasons. But if you still decide not to plan anything, my advice would be to always visit a campsite before paying for it, or at least try to arrive early in the day to be sure to have some place to stay.
Avoid crocodile skin!
In the desert your skin is going to become very dry, so buy some Vaseline and drink lots of water! I recommend to always bring loads of bottled water in the car with you.
After Namibia, we decided it was time to see the sea again! So we booked a flight to Zanzibar Island… to be continued ;)fsu