Namibia is a country of jaw-dropping beauty – I was particularly blown away by its extraordinary colours and by its size. It reminded me very much of my home country, Australia. This is unsurprising considering that after Australia, Namibia is the least populated country per square foot in the world!
Namibia has all the stunning beauty of Africa with excellent infrastructure and good roads. Namibia is a peaceful country that welcomes tourists. I traveled with a girlfriend and we always felt safe driving around Namibia. And we stayed at some fantastic boutique hotels in Namibia. Unique, charming hotels that were totally in keeping with the landscape but not shy about offering some luxury!
This beautiful African country has now become one of my favourite places to visit based on its incredible beauty, good food, and unique experiences. And the best way to see it is by car. Here is my Self Drive Namibia itinerary for a 10-night trip.
Self Drive Namibia – Getting There and Getting Around
The main point of entry into Namibia is its capital city of Windhoek.
Alas, no airlines fly directly from London to Windhoek at the time of updating this post. It is necessary to connect through another European city and flight times start at 15 hours due to this.
The best way to get around Namibia is to have your own car. There are some bus options but they are very limited and rail even more so. I found driving around Namibia extremely safe and very easy. It is a big country full of straight roads that don’t tend to have loads of traffic. Namibia is well signed and as it is quite sparse it is difficult to get lost!
Namibia Self Drive Packages
If you would like to be a bit more planned with your road trip and get a hand with booking your Namibia self-drive holiday there are several companies that offer self-drive packages. These include Audley Travel, Rainbow Tours or the wonderfully named Wild Dog Safaris.
Personally, I didn’t find it terribly hard to organise my own Namibia self-drive itinerary but if you are short on time then a self drive package can be a great idea.
Top Tips for a Namibia Self Drive Vacation
⇒ I would recommend hiring 4 Wheel Drive rather than a compact. It is viable to get around Namibia in a car that isn’t a 4WD. I actually did this and regretted it! Most self-drive visitors to Namibia will need to change at least one tire due to the roads. I did most of the driving on the trip that I took so I was always very aware of blowing a tire and having to drive extremely cautiously which got quite tiring. Not only will being in a 4 x 4 mean you are less likely to blow a tire it will also be a much more comfortable drive – particularly on the rougher roads.
⇒ Do not leave the car hire area without checking that you have a spare tire and that it is a proper spare tire. When we blew our tire it turned out we had a spare tire but it was only designed for short distances. It was a lot of hassle organising another tire to be brought from Windhoek to Sossusvlei when our time was limited.
⇒ Namibia’s long roads are not exactly dense with service stations and long spots! Whenever you see a service station pull over and fill up. Who knows when the next one may arrive. Also, plan out your lunch the night before. Due to the distances and the lack of options many hotels offer a lunch pack – but this generally needs to be ordered the night before.
Itinerary By Day:
Days One and Two: Windhoek & The Kalahari
Arrive at Windhoek Airport and pick up your hire car. Check that you have a spare tire and then hit the road to the Kalahari. This is a 3-hour drive over 256 kilometers so do try to make sure you have had a decent sleep on the plane. If you arrive in the morning I would suggest jumping the car and getting a move on.
If your flight is arriving later in the day I would recommend staying one night in Windhoek so you are fresh for the drive in the morning. I didn’t actually go to Windhoek as there really didn’t seem to be much to do there and 10 nights is not loads of time in Namibia so I wasn’t willing to waste any time. However, you may think differently so check out the Namibia Tourism guide to Windhoek and see what you think.
If you are going to stay the night in Windhoek there are a couple of boutique hotel options:
For a modern and stylish option relatively close to town and a spa check out Olive Grove
For an affordable yet still upmarket option close to town check out The Elegant Guesthouse
Namibia is lucky enough to have two deserts – the Namib Desert and then in the east and south the Kalahari Desert. The Kalahari receives more rain than a desert should so it has a more golden, grassy appearance. The word Kalahari means Wilderness.
Whilst in the Kalahari I stayed at the fantastic Bagatelle Kalahari Game Ranch. What a wonderful place! It is very far from the rest of the world but a stunning location. The rooms at Bagatelle are lovely and the food is great but the highlight is some of the tame animals who frequent the ranch. Several of the animals are just hanging around the ranch like the meerkats, several are behind fences and then of course when it is feeding time out come the Cheetahs!
My accommodation at Bagatelle Kalahari Game Ranch Namibia was a fantastic stilt chalet that offered wonderful views across the desert. The room featured all the modern comforts I needed. The highlight of a stay at Bagatelle is the late afternoon game drive to see the cheetahs along with a sundowner and a stunning sunset.
It is also possible to take a game drive at night – and afterward look up at the amazing views of the stars on offer. Or perhaps go walking with Bushmen or take advantage of a horseback safari? Whatever you do don’t forget your camera as the Kalahari is incredibly photogenic.
The main house at Bagatelle is just wonderful – deep comfy couches, fireplaces, fantastic photography books of the area – so relaxing!
Days 3 and 4: Fish River Canyon
Fish River Canyon is the second biggest canyon in the world – second to the Grand Canyon of course. But I believe it’s visitor numbers are a lot lower as it takes some effort to get there. I haven’t seen Fish River Canyon appear on many Namibia itineraries because of this – but as it is not visited as often I think it makes it extra special and something different!
Fish River Canyon is nearly 400km south of Bagatelle so it is a big drive! Once you arrive at Fish River Cayon I recommend checking in to the gorgeous
I would highly recommend you stay at the Gondwana Canyon Lodge. This place is fantastic. Many of the rooms at Gondwana Canyon Lodge Namibia are built into the rocks around the canyons and keep some of the features in areas like the shower. And importantly the food at Canyon Lodge Fish River is fantastic!
As this is quite a remote area Canyon Lodge will help you to plan your activities. First up was their advice on the optimal place around the lodge to watch the amazing sunsets that come over Fish River Canyon. Which are of course even better experienced with a gin and tonic in hand!
The hotel will also help guide you as to where to go to watch the sunset. The sunsets over Fish River Canyon are amazing so I highly recommend getting yourself in place with a gin and tonic to enjoy one each night!
There are loads of activities to do in and around Fish River Canyon which can be organised through the hotel:
⇒ Join a walking tour to different points of Fish River Canyon (it is also possible to drive to several of the key scenic points along the canyon) and morning and afternoon hikes are offered most days
⇒ Go horse riding
⇒ Relax by the pool
⇒ Fly over Fish River Canyon in a small plane. This was an amazing experience which I highly recommend! The views were just extraordinary and it is hard to get a sense of the scale of Fish River Canyon without experiencing it from above.
⇒ Head to Ai-Ais Hot Springs. The springs are located at the southern end of Fish River Canyon so its a decent drive but a scenic one. The Ai-Ais Hot Springs were discovered in 1850. The best place to experience the springs is at the Ai-Ais Hot Springs Spa & Resort. There is accommodation available (Canyon Lodge is much better) but they cater to day visitors who only want to enjoy the Hot Springs.
Days 5-8 Sossusvlei
Sossusvlei Namibia is one of the most extraordinary places I have ever been to. It is like being on another planet. Sand dunes for as far as the eye can see. The colours of Sossusvlei are extraordinary at any time of the day and out of control amazing at sunrise and sunset.
It is a slightly odd and remote location. There isn’t really one main town in Sossusvlei – just various hotels dotted around. Expect to eat in your hotel each evening as it is the easiest option and the roads are best avoided at night.
Things to do in Sossusvlei:
Whilst you can explore Sossusvlei solo most of the hotels in the region offer activities as part of staying with them and also offer paid activities such as taking a hot air balloon flight. The dune area is big so I chose to take part in the organised activities through my hotels on the first couple of days and then explored in the car solo once I had a better sense of where things where – and the best times to take photos!
⇒ Explore the Dunes
Unsurprisingly exploring the dunes of Sossusvlei is the best thing to do whilst in town. The landscapes are quite other-worldly. The grass often looks like a carpet. Even the roads and the fences are photogenic in Sossusvlei! The colours are stunning and change throughout the day. As always sunrise and sunset are the best times for the best shots.
The most famous Dune in Sossusvlei is Dune 45. Its name comes from the fact that it is at the 45km mark on the road that connects one of the gates and Sossusvlei. Apparently, it contains 5 million-year-old sand blown in from the Kalahari! Dune 45 Sossusvlei is probably the most photographed of all the dunes as its star shape has one half disappearing at both sunrise and sun. This is also the most popular Dune to climb. Try to get there early in the morning to take it on and avoid the crowds.
Perhaps the highlight of the trip to Sossusvlei for me was climbing up the Big Daddy Dune. It was hard going – and I don’t recommend wearing light sneakers as mine kept filling with sand and I had to stop and empty them! However, getting to the top of Big Daddy was fantastic! And the view! wow wow wow!
But the best part of climbing Big Daddy is getting down! After the difficult rise to the top, you literally slide down the dune to Dead Vlei. It is so much fun. Well, I did end up with sand in interesting places for several days but it was still loads of fun!
⇒ Dead Vlei
The top of the Big Daddy Dune looks over the amazing Dead Vlei. Dead Vlei is like nature’s art gallery. It is a sort of forest of dead trees in the middle of the dunes but they are stunning. Dead Vlei is quite a large area to wander around but there is so much to see. Each tree feels like a unique piece of art and the colours of course change depending on the direction you are facing. This is photography heaven! And so Instagrammable!
⇒ See the Dunes from above
Perhaps the best way to see the dunes of Sossusvlei is from above. If you’re up for an early start a hot air balloon is a great option. Otherwise, there are small plane options. The best place to get information on these types of tours is through your hotel.
⇒ Go on a game drive
Most upmarket hotels will offer morning and sunset game drives. Of course, there aren’t loads of wildlife in and around Sossusvlei but there are springbok, oryx etc and they make for some fantastic photos against the landscape. Sunset is the best time for a game drive as the drivers know the best places to watch the sun drop – and of course, drinks are served!
⇒Take a Quad Bike Ride
I got up early one morning in order to go 4 wheel driving across the dunes. I would highly recommend some sand based adventure activities. The sunrise start time meant cooler weather and great light for photos. It was actually worth getting up that early!
I can’t say enough good things about Sossusvlei and its dunes. I have travelled a lot and I have never been anywhere like Sossusvlei. It is literally like being on another planet and such a unique experience. It is also so fabulous for photographers – and perfect for Instagram!
Where to stay in Sossusvlei
I stayed at two stunning boutique hotels in Sossusvlei
The lovely Little Kulala has an amazing remote location and is beautifully done – very much a boutique experience. The food at Little Kulala is fantastic. The menus at Little Kulala do feature the opportunity to try many of the animals you will have seen whilst driving around – which isn’t to everyone’s taste. It was to mine and I really enjoyed having such a unique eating experience.
The rooms are absolutely stunning – very much African safari chic and huge – and I particularly loved the lovely large communal area in the centre of LIttle Kulala.
The second hotel was Le Mirage. Le Mirage looks more like a fort or a tourist attraction rather than a boutique hotel! Le Mirage has a lovely spa and the rooms are huge with a sufficiently high thread count on its sheets. Dinner was also excellent and there is often music or different types of entertainment.
⇒ Another fantastic place to go in Namibia is the Skeleton Coast. Check out everything you need to know in this great post on Skeleton Coast National Park.
Days 9-10 Swakopmund
Swakopmund is a coastal city that was settled by the Dutch. It is a rather unique blend of colonial buildings and adventure experiences! It is quite the holiday town with a long boardwalk and a casual air.
⇒ Adventure Activities
⇒ Visit Cape Cross to see the seal colony (bring something to help with the smell!)
Head to the Pelican Point Peninsula which has the Atlantic Ocean at one end and the Walvis Bay Lagoon at the other. In addition to the seals, there is also a cute lighthouse. Or if you’re a bird lover combine this with Sandwich Harbour and the Walvis Bay Wetlands where up to 250,000 birds can be seen. It is relatively easy to drive yourself to both destinations or take a half-day or full-day guided tour.
⇒ Take a walk along the Swakopmund Jetty and enjoy some seafood at the popular Jetty 1905 restaurant
⇒ Explore the photogenic streets of Swakopmund with its mix of colonial architecture, African street art, and European style restaurants and coffee shops. There is also some quite good shopping in Swakopmund.
Swakopmund Hotel is a little bigger than my normal choice of boutique hotel but it is the most luxurious hotel in Swakopmund and after being a bit more in the wild it was nice to relax with some European style hotel comforts! They have an amazing pool, three restaurants and lovely big rooms.
If you are heading to Etosha then I would highly recommend staying at least one night at the unique Okonijima Nature Reserve. Okonijima is halfway between Windhoek and Etosha National Park. The nature reserve is known for frequent sightings of cheetahs and leopards due to its Africat project.
Okonijima can also be visited as a day trip on your way to Etosha.
What about Etosha National Park?
If you have 10 days and are keen to visit Etosha National Park then I would ditch the two days in Fish River Canyon and potentially Bagatelle and the Kalahari. Instead have a big cat experience at Okonijima and then head straight to Etosha.
I had been on safari several times before when I visited Namibia so I wanted to focus on things that can only be done in Namibia eg visiting Fish River Canyon rather than going on another safari.
When to visit Namibia
Namibia has a subtropical desert climate. This means the difference between the Namibia temperature during the day and in the evening can be quite extreme. Namibia has only two seasons – wet and dry. Winter or the dry season is between May and October when temperatures range between 21 and 28 degrees celsius. The wet season is November through April with temperatures rising to 32 degrees.
In my opinion, it is best to visit Namibia in the dry season. The wet season can get extremely hot and quite suffocating with the rain. Winter is the best time to see wildlife. And the beginning of the winter season eg May/June tends to be the most colourful as the wet season has recently finished.
Things to know before you go to Namibia
⇒ Namibia uses what is called a point D plug. I had never seen this type of power plug before travelling to Namibia and South Africa. It is a three-point triangular-shaped plug but the top hole is much larger than the other two.
⇒ I can’t say it enough times – Namibia is one place where you want to go over your hire car with a fine-tooth comb – particularly to make sure that you have a fit for purpose spare tire of high quality and a jack etc to change a tire. You don’t want to find out that you don’t have the gear you need when you blow a tire in the middle of one of Namibia’s very long roads.
⇒ Wifi is strong in cities like Windhoek and Swakopmund. Most lodges/hotels listed in this post will offer free wifi. However, wifi can be patchier when you are driving longer distances like down to Fish River Canyon. Make sure your hire car has a GPS and this is also one time I would encourage you to also bring a good old fashioned hard copy map just in case.
Namibia’s official legal tender is the Namibian dollar which is fixed to the South African Rand. South African Rand is accepted everywhere in Namibia but Namibian dollars are not accepted in South Africa. There are ATMs in Windhoek and Swakopmund but they will become more scarce as you leave these cities, as will the number of places that will accept credit cards.
On the road, service stations are a mix in terms of accepting cards or cash. Without question do make sure to have cash with you when you leave the major cities – at least USD$100 per day I would say in case of problems eg having to buy a new tire! If you don’t want to get Namibian dollars US dollars are accepted most places.
Solo tour options
Read this post and then realized no one fits the bill as a self-drive partner for you? Personally, I wouldn’t do a self-drive trip to Namibia on my own. I am sure it would be safe but it would be much more stressful. If you’re keen to head to Namibia but don’t know anyone else who feels the same way I would look at joining an organised tour such as:
Who Paid for What in this Post
I covered all of the costs associated with my trip to Namibia. However, this post does contain affiliate links. That means if you click through on the links and end up making a purchase I will receive a small commission. I just wanted to make sure you knew this.
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Also published on Medium.