Our Top 10 Tips to Road Trip Namibia

So you’re thinking about heading north? Great idea! We love Namibia and have done 2 x 5000 km road trips over the past 5 years. Namibia is vast and beautiful country with one of the lowest population densities in the world, 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 Paper 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. B roads are the best, C roads are ok, D roads are terrible. Choose wisely!

2. Don’t Drive Too Early or Too Late

It’s extremely dangerous to drive at night in Namibia due to the narrow highways, dirt roads and animal numbers. The skies are incredibly black and dark due to the lack of light (infrastructure). This makes for excellent star gazing, but it’s extremely difficult to see what’s on either side of the road.

Leaving just before sunrise means you can leave early, with a reasonable amount of light. It also means if you do have car trouble, you have a reasonable amount of hours for someone to come past you and assist (there’s not a lot of mobile reception so calling for help, once you’re off a national highway, is difficult to do).

3. Quality Camera Bags/Sealable Cases

The dust in Namibia is unbelievably fine and it gets EVERYWHERE. Honestly, it has a talent in accessing everything – including your technology. The roads are also very bumpy so investing in a good laptop bag or camera bag will keep your technology as safe as possible.

4. There’s No Apple Pay, Cash is King

Internet and mobile reception is incredibly poor in Namibia, which makes services like Apple Pay or tapping your card redundant. During our trip in June 2023, we had to physically insert our cards everywhere we went in order to ensure payments were processed.

I personally paid for any large expenses via international banking before I left, to ensure my major bills were covered. This costs about R30 per transaction, but will give you peace of mind.

While there are ATMs in major towns, remember Namibian Dollars can not be used in South Africa so you may not want to acquire too many of them. Also, tapping elicits some hefty charges (FNB is more affordable than Discovery Bank, which saw me spent R180 on 6 transactions!) so paying ahead of time will regulate your banking fees a bit more.

Internet data is way more affordable than South Africa, however, there’s no 4G or 5G either (only LTE) so bringing cash into Namibia can be helpful.

5. Fill Up Inside the Border for Cheap Petrol

Namibia’s petrol is currently around R20 to the litre (June 2023) while South Africa’s is R24 per litre. So fill up as soon as you cross the border into Namibia to save costs on petrol. You can either do so at the Shell or Engen just on the other side of Noordoewer or you can drive into Oranjemund and enjoy their brand new petrol station.

Fill up whenever you can as the distances are vast and even though you may have enough petrol to get there, if you have an issue you may not have enough petrol to get back to civilisation.

6. 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 an EpiPen (if you have allergic reactions), Myprodol, plasters, asthma pump or general antihistamines. Anything that you’d need for a serious condition that will allow you to buy time. Remember – with EpiPen’s, it’s “blue to the sky, orange to the thigh!”

While staying at Etosha in 2018, Al-John had a severe allergic reaction and there was no one at receptiont to assist so we just had to ride it out and hope for the best – NEVER AGAIN!

7. Don’t Be Shy to Ask Local’s For Help

Local knowledge is very important in Namibia. The locals know the roads and can advise you about the best routes for your, so ask. While Namibians are reserved, they are very willing to help where they can.

It may also be useful to have the telephone numbers for your accommodation on hand. You can ring them when you’re within a reception area so they know where you were last seen in case you break down and run late. Reception isn’t good, but it’s best to be over-prepared in Namibia.

8. Carry a Spare Tyre

I can’t stress how important this is. Ensure that you always have a spare tyre…or two…or cash for three! The non-tarred roads of 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.

We broke down on our first day in 2018 around 5pm (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.

9. Beat the Glare when Driving North

Driving from South Africa to Namibia requires a lot of north facing driving. The glare can be very intense and can cause eye strain and headaches. Ensure you have UV lenses on your sunglasses as it will really assist on the long stretches.

If possible, try to get north in as short, reasonable time as possible. We took a slow drive north, which starts to take its toll after a few days. Our recommendation would be to try get as north as soon as possible, in a reasonable amount of time, so that you can make your way south in a more leisurely way – and with the glare behind you.

10. City Slicker’s Guide to Exploring Namibia

If you enjoyed this post, check out our City Slicker’s Guide to Self Driving Namibia 2023 with LOTS more details on how to have the best trip!

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 from 2018.

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