Namibia is vast and beautiful country neighbouring South Africa to the north. With one of the lowest population densities in the world, it is an expansive and sparse land filled with unique flora, fauna and the greatest blue skies. If you’re planning to travel to Namibia from South Africa (or abroad), here are our 10 top tips to self drive Namibia.
1. Buy a Hard Copy Road Map
While Maps.Me proved to be incredibly useful for our Namibian road trip, nothing beats the latest, hard copy map of Namibia. Namibia has TERRIBLE roads. So while it may show “road” on a map, the QUALITY of the road is super important as not all cars can go on all roads.
Ensure you pick out a map with colour graded roads so that you can see whether they’re suitable for 4x4s, regular cars or government/permit holder drivers only.
2. Leave Early Every Day
As mentioned, Namibia is a sparsely populated country. This means that if you break down, there’s the potential for no one to come by if you need assistance. Our top tip is to leave early in the morning. This way, should you breakdown, you will have the greatest chance of someone coming past and assisting you. (Another reason why cash is king – you may want to tip people if they help you!)
We broke down on our first day (unknowingly) and gleefully waved as 2 cars passed. Only once we’d gotten back into our vehicle did we realise that we had a flat tyre and a spanner that didn’t fit.
3. Quality Camera Bags/Sealable Cases
The dust in Namibia is unbelievably fine. It gets in EVERYWHERE including INSIDE your camera lenses. The roads are also incredibly bumpy so it’s very important to either bring a tub that you can seal with your precious equipment inside OR buy a good quality camera bag where you can easily put your camera away as you travel along.
4. Cash Is King
Internet and mobile reception is incredibly poor in Namibia. While major cities and towns like Windhoek, Swakopmund and Walvis Bay offer suitable internet (hence online banking) and ATMs, the country as a whole has very few towns and ATMs along the way.
Withdrawing enough money in South Africa will ensure that you’re able to pay as you go for meals, petrol and accommodation, should the need arise. (Even hotels with sale points can struggle to connect if they’re located in the middle of nowhere!) Keep cash on you as a safety net. Side note: you are able to withdraw in Namibia but the banking charges are extremely high.
5. Fill Up at Every Stop for Cheap Petrol
One great thing about Namibia is that the petrol is MUCH cheaper than South Africa! Almost 40% cheaper, yes. However, just because there’s a town on the map in Namibia does not mean there will be a hospital, police station nor petrol station!
Fill up whenever you can as the distances are vast and help can be hard to find. If you need to turn around, for some reason, and you have not filled up, you can end up running out of petrol on the way back. Always fill your tank for safe keeping and to stretch the old legs.
6. Don’t Be Shy to Ask
Local knowledge is very important in Namibia. The locals know the roads and can advise you accordingly about the best route for your tour, so ask. While Namibians are reserved, they are very willing to help where they can. Look up the telephone numbers for the hotel you’re leaving and the hotel you’re heading to so that you can ring for help or guidance should you need it. Reception isn’t good, but it’s best to be over-prepared in Namibia.
This lady bought airtime for me, a sim and used her earring to open my phone to insert the sim! Talk about going above and beyond! Legend!
7. Carry a Spare
I can’t stress how important this is. Ensure that you always have a spare tyre…or two…or cash for three! The roads in Namibia are incredibly poor and there are not many people who manage to make a trip without, at least, one flat type. ALWAYS have a spare with you, considering having two and always ensure you have enough cash on you to buy a third one when you get to the next, nearest big town.
We bought a can of Slime Quick Spair for N$130 (R130) in Windhoek just for safekeeping. This could assist in getting you to your next, nearest destination.
8. Beat the Glare when Driving North
Namibia is a really bright and long country. You will spend a lot of time travelling north, which means you will be travelling directly into the sun for most days. Wearing sunglasses can help curb headaches from the glare.
If possible, try to get north in as short, reasonable time, as possible. We took our time to drive up the long, verticle country which meant a LOT of facing the sun. I recommend driving north first and then taking a slow mission back down south to enjoy all the spots. That way you won’t spend every day glaring at the sun.
9. Pack a Decent Medical Bag
While Namibia does have hospitals in its major cities you may often find yourself a good 300kms away from the nearest centre. For example, Etosha is 3 hours away from Windhoek and Fish River Canyon is 2 hours away from Keetmanshoop. Pack a decent medical case including GenPain, plasters and antihistamines. If you’re considering buying an epipen, this would be the trip to include that.
While staying at Etosha Mr John had a violent allergic reaction. Reception was not manned overnight and there was no doctor on site. We had to “ride it out” and prayed for Allergex to work (our only medicine). He was ok, but it was a huge stress on the trip.
10. Bring a Tuck Box Full of Snacks (Okahandja Biltong Shop)
We always travel with a cooler box on our backseat for long road trips. It gives you the freedom to stop anywhere, have a break and take in the beautiful views around.
Our biltong pitstop at Okahandja was a life saver as it meant we had permanent snacks! It may take you up to 4 hours to reach your next destination in Namibia so keeping snacks and having a lovely cup of Coke a Cola on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere is a right of Namibian passage!
Namibia is an incredible country but it’s a challenge in a sedan vehicle. Make sure you’re as prepared as possible and you will have an incredible journey.
Want to know more? Check out our self-drive itinerary for Namibia.