Self drive vacations in Namibia

From the towering sand dunes of Sossusvlei to the dusty, wildlife-ridden plains of Etosha National Park, epic landscapes cry out for epic road trips and Namibia is one of the few African countries that lends itself to self drive vacations. Well maintained, paved roads link most of the country’s highlights; any gravel roads tend to be easy to manage and off road driving is entirely unnecessary.
Driving in Namibia is not just about the destination either; the roads here travel through miles of otherworldly desert landscapes, dotted with gemsbok (or oryx), Namibia’s national animal, sheltering in the shade of acacia trees. Head south and you’ll pass quiver trees and bizarre boulder-strewn landscapes, head north into the Caprivi Strip towards Botswana and you may find your journey punctuated by giant baobabs.

What does a self drive vacation in Namibia entail?

Namibia’s vast landscapes do take some time to traverse, but while distances can be lengthy a tour operator will plan your itinerary to allow you to travel at a relaxed pace, making sure you spend more time out exploring than sitting behind the wheel.

Windhoek, Namibia’s sleepy, German-influenced capital is the typical starting point for self drive vacations. Forget the chaotic, traffic-choked streets of other African cities; Windhoek is a pleasantly clean and orderly place to get your adventure underway. Most vacations will give you a chance to unwind after your international flight and arrange for you to pick up your hire car at your hotel, rather than enforce a frazzled drive from the airport. You’ll be provided with a quality sat nav and detailed instructions, and will have a chance to discuss the route, and your car, with a local representative before you set off. Additionally, many hire companies in Namibia equip their cars with a system that allows them to track your journey – so while this epic road trip is all yours, you’re never really on your own.

You won’t need technical 4x4 skills to negotiate a safari in Etosha National Park either, so most self drive vacations will leave you free to seek out its enormous bull elephants, lions, rhinos and cheetahs independently. Roads through the park are in good condition and are well mapped out meaning self drive safaris are a popular option here. However, guided game drives in the company of an expert naturalist can be arranged at your lodge (typically at extra cost) if you prefer, leaving you free to relax and give your full attention to the spectacular wildlife around you.

What is it like driving in Namibia?

Don’t be scared off by the thought of driving in Africa; this isn’t a country where the roads are more pothole than tarmac, or indeed not tarmac at all. Namibia’s highways are well maintained, smooth and enjoyable. And if you stick to the main routes from Windhoek to Swakopmund, Sossusvlei and Etosha you don’t necessarily even need a 4x4 vehicle – although the higher clearance can make wildlife viewing easier during game drives.
Towns are few and far between, and while you may pass through a few small roadside markets on the way to Etosha, or on the main highway north towards Botswana, most journeys will encompass unbroken desert wilderness. An adventure, yes; but it means planning and preparation is an important part of your trip. You’ll be advised to always carry extra fuel – both for the car and for you – and toilet breaks will often be au naturel; there’s no waiting until the next town in Namibia. When you finally come across them, the towns you do reach, like Swakopmund, Luderitz or Windhoek, happily hark back to their German colonial roots, with orderly, quiet streets making for stress-free journeys.
This is not a country of winding lanes and tricky navigation. Namibia does vast desert landscapes on a grand scale and you’ll follow the same well, maintained road for miles, often in a straight line, before arriving at your destination. You’ll need to be aware of your speed though; the long straight drives through unchanging desert scenery make it easy to travel faster than you think. Ease off on the accelerator and you’ll avoid any unwanted on-the-spot fines.

Our top trip

Namibia self drive safari

Namibia self drive safari

An iconic self-drive safari through north and south Namibia

From £2250 14 days ex flights
Tailor made:
We offer a complete tailor made service allowing you to decide when to travel, where you stay and what to do.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Self drive & fly drive or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Can I take the family?

Unlimited (natural) loo stops and frequent snack breaks – there’s no doubt that self drive adventures give families much needed freedom. However, the romance of Namibia’s endless deserts, which will captivate parents, may be a little lost on younger minds. To stave off boredom and “are we nearly there yets?” families need to plan routes carefully to minimise driving time and maximise fun. Teenagers are going to find more to appreciate in Namibia than tiny tots; however, kids of all ages will be enchanted by Etosha’s wildlife, and all the family will have a ball in the towering sand dunes at Sossusvlei and with the wealth of adventurous activities around Swakopmund.

How long are the journeys?

The following times give you a rough idea of the driving times between the main attractions in Namibia. Driving after dark is not recommended on most routes because of the risk of colliding with wildlife; there are no street lights in the desert.
Etosha-Damaraland: 4 hours Windhoek-Swakopmund: 4.5 hours Windhoek-Sossusvlei: 5 hours Swakopmund-Sossusvlei: 5 hours Swakopmund-Damaraland: 6 hours Windhoek-Etosha: 6 hours Windhoek-Fish River Canyon: 8 hours Windhoek-Luderitz: 13 hours
Written by Sarah Faith
Photo credits: [Page banner: Vitor Esteves] [Topbox: Mario Micklisch] [Giraffes on the road: Vtr Esteves /photos/vitor_esteves/] [Journey times: Sonse]