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Meet the friendliest country in Africa face to face.
A fantastic country to travel at your own pace, with your own vehicle, and to choose your own unique route.
Traveling to a remote and exciting destination is a big decision and it is not always easy to determine which one is the best option and how to embark on the journey. Fortunately for the discerning international traveler looking for that special memorable trip for their hard-earned vacation, Namibia offers all the adventure of a wild African country, the spectacular and diverse scenery of deserts, bush and forests, but also the safety and convenience that makes it a suitable option for the whole family.
Served by direct flights from Europe to its capital Windhoek, or just a short flight from the nearest international gateway of Johannesburg and Cape Town in neighboring South Africa, Namibia is a relatively cheap and safe destination ideal for self-driving enthusiasts, or those who want to try a self-drive holiday for the first time.
A self-drive holiday is the perfect way to make your holiday special in terms of your own unique preferences and schedule. An organized tour is great if you only have a short period of time, can’t drive yourself for some reason, or if you don’t feel like going off the usual tourist routes. However, self-driving is the ultimate adventure to taste that special unique experience that only the self-driving tourist ever encounters and best of all, in Namibia it is also a safe option.
Background on Namibia
Namibia is a country in the south-west corner of Africa, with its neighbors Angola to the north, Botswana to the east and South Africa to the south. The Atlantic Ocean laps its shores in the west. Namibia also shares a small portion of its border with Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The country has just over 2 million inhabitants made up of 13 different tribes, spread over its 824,269 square kilometers, and its capital is the city of Windhoek. The climate is fairly mild during winter to hot during summer, with mainly summer rainfall, a green African forest in its northeast, savanna grasslands with thorny shrubs and trees in its central areas, a semi-desert in the south, and two deserts namely the Namib Desert along the Atlantic Ocean in the west and the Kalahari Desert in the east bordering southern Botswana and South Africa.
The country gained its independence from South Africa in 1991 after a 20-year liberation struggle, and was also a former British and German colony. Of the colonial past, the German impact is most visible in the architecture and language, while the South African influence is evident in its economic and cultural ties with its neighbour. The official language is English, but many more local languages are spoken by the various tribes, including Oshiwambo, Otjiherero, Afrikaans, Nama, Damara, German, Rukwangali, Khoi San, Setswana, and others.
The people of Namibia are very friendly, earning the country its nickname of “The Smile on the Face of Africa”, and tourists leave with mostly positive memories from every personal interaction.
Namibia’s road infrastructure is well developed, but some areas require experienced drivers. The country has 5,450 km of tarmac and 37,000 km of well-maintained dirt roads.
Some requirements for self-management
Before coming to Namibia, it is important to find out what the requirements are for your country regarding visas, entry and obtaining an international driver’s license. If you are bringing a foreign registered vehicle, you must be in possession of proof of ownership of the vehicle, license and police clearance certificate. The police will check the engine number, chassis number, trailer number and license details. A border fee is payable when entering Namibia for vehicle and trailer, so please check with the Namibian Embassy or High Commissioner in your country, or ask your local travel agent to confirm.
Sufficient insurance cover is also important when planning your epic self-drive adventure through Namibia. Make sure you have coverage for your vehicle, loss or theft of your belongings, and medical insurance.
Vehicle options for self-drive safaris in Namibia
The country offers fantastic scenery, but also great distances between the highlights, so your choice of vehicle should take into account that you will spend a lot of time driving. Sedan vehicles are cheaper than 4×4 vehicles, but keep in mind that large distances will be on dirt roads, and the more remote locations may only be accessible with a four-wheel drive vehicle (4×4).
Your budget and preferred route will of course also be important factors in choosing a vehicle, but the advantage of a four-wheel drive vehicle is the access to more remote areas, a smoother and safer ride due to the larger diameter tires that absorb the vibration on corrugated dirt roads and ensuring more stability, the availability of camping equipment and more luggage space on the larger vehicles, and the improved tire safety. During the rainy season, some of the good dirt roads can become impossible to drive with a sedan vehicle. However, keep in mind that it comes at a higher price, and the decision on the type of vehicle should therefore take all aspects into account. In the summer air conditioning is a must, but most reputable rental companies now offer air conditioning as standard, even on most of the smaller rental vehicles.
Types of vehicles available for hire include sedan car, 2×4 single cab bakkie with canopy, and 4×4 single or double cab bakkie with canopy, or station wagon.
When renting a vehicle, please keep in mind that there are related insurance costs to consider, such as collision damage waiver, theft loss, excess, etc. Be sure to ask your rental company or travel agent to include everything in the quote for your rental.
Road safety and rules
Namibia is a left-hand drive country, so if possible try to include some practice before your trip to get used to driving on a different side of the road if you come from a country where you drive across the road. If you also bring your own left-hand drive vehicle, it will make it even more important to practice.
The speed limit on the open road in Namibia is 120 km per hour. In the town the speed limit is 60-80km per hour. Some roads with more challenging conditions will have lower speed limits. Seat belts are mandatory, for all passengers in a vehicle drivers must be in possession of a valid driver’s license at all times, and the use of mobile phones while driving is prohibited. Between sunset and sunrise, your vehicle’s headlights must be switched on, but it is also advisable to use headlights on the open road during the day as it increases visibility and safety.
Many tourists who drive on Namibian roads are not familiar with dirt road conditions, and are therefore at greater risk of accidents. It is important to reduce speed on dirt roads, and instead allow more time to complete your journey. Be careful of rocks that can blow a tire, passing vehicles that throw rocks at your windshield, and also be prepared for possible flash floods during the rainy season when crossing rivers. Another danger that many tourists are not aware of is the risk of a vehicle fire when driving in dry grass due to the accumulation of grass around the exhaust system or near the engine.
Be aware of animals – domestic and wild – on the roads, especially at night.
Another important factor to remember is that it is not allowed to drive anywhere off the main roads, as you may be in a National Park, and may cause damage to ecologically sensitive areas such as the lichen fields in the desert.
If you do intend to go to more remote areas, it’s important to let someone know your planned route and your expected arrival time, and keep regular contact along the way where you can. Also ask for extra spare wheels from your rental company, or bring your own car, and make sure you have enough emergency supplies in your vehicle in case you do get stuck somewhere. Include enough water and food, as well as extra fuel and first aid/medical supplies in your supplies.
Travel plan ideas
The different areas of Namibia each offer a unique attraction for the self-drive tourist, so your choice of itinerary will depend on your preference and interest. From the wide views and unique natural attractions in the south such as the majestic Fish River Canyon, the specialized fauna and flora of the Namib Desert and its unforgettable attractions such as the Sossusvlei dunes, to the central highlands with its mountain ranges and camping and hiking opportunities, the barren and remote Skeleton Coast in the northwest corner, to the northeast river systems and African forest, Namibia offers so much choice. Of course, wild animals roam freely in many of these areas, making your Namibian experience even more special.
You can either choose to take just one more special itinerary if you are on a shorter trip, or else combine all the highlights into one magnificent trip if you have more time available. Options for adventure travel, photography tours or other specialized tours are also available.
In planning your own trip, take advantage of the wealth of information available online, particularly by using the national websites for the Namibia Tourism Board, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism and the Hotel Association of Namibia. These sites will give you more ideas and show you the top must-see attractions and offer accommodation options to fit any budget or preference.
Using a travel agent can help because your itinerary can be streamlined to suit your needs, and it can take the guesswork out of car hire, accommodation bookings and documentary requirements for your trip, but you can also do most of your planning and bookings online too.
Most establishments that offer accommodation in Namibia are open all year round, but the best time to visit is up to the individual. Summers are generally very hot, and early spring and summer rainfall can interfere with the best self-driving plans. The winters are fairly mild, although cold nights are often a reality for self-drive campers.
Whichever season you choose, regardless of the vehicle and travel route options you prefer, you are sure to have a vacation to remember. The land of wide open spaces – Namibia – is ready to welcome you on your journey. When you sit by that campfire at night, after an exciting day filled with the most amazing sights and sounds, you will realize that Namibia is a country that will always call you back. And of course you are welcome to return as many times as you like.
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