Are you going to Namibia? Perfect choice! Namibia is incredible - it is all one could wish for in terms of wildlife, gorgeous nature and culture and much much more. In fact Namibia was a mind blowing experience for me, the one that still keeps me excited and longing for coming back.
Let me share with you 9 things to know before traveling to Namibia to help you planning your trip and to feed your growing excitement!
when to go
Namibia is brilliant at any time of the year - the main difference between the seasons being dry and wet. The fact that Namibia is widely covered by desert makes the climate dry and easy to deal with. The wet season with rainy days and humid air is usually from December to March. The coolest months are June to August and than it goes in circle.
There is no good or bad time for visiting Namibia, unlike many other countries there are no certain fluctuations on visiting times. It depends on your wishes and preferences.
For wildlife watching dry season - June to August is the best. The country receives no rain and water holes become limited thus attracting wildlife. All you need is a pair of binoculars, comfortable seat at a viewpoint and the whole animal parade will be marching infront of you.
Wet season is also great time for a visit - in dry regions rain is a blessing and nature blossoms up. Normally brown sun burnt areas start showing signs of life and African rainbows and thunder clouds are a piece of art on it's own. Rainy season makes it more difficult for wildlife spotting, because the grass is tall and there is plenty of water, so wildlife doesn't need to concentrate on a particular water hole.
From my own experience I can tell you that we have visitied Namibia in March and I wouldn't want to change it! There was more that enough wildlife (exept for elephants, they were on their move to Botswana). On the rainy days (which were very limited and usually the rain stopped after an hour or so) we were lucky to observe animals rolling in mud pools and enjoying the water - the experience you won't have during the dry season.
There are two ways of traveling in Namibia - you either go with an organised tour and don't have to take care of anything or you rent your own car and board on a road trip of your dream.
This post is for adventurers who choose the second option.
Traveling by car in Namibia is easy - most of the destinations are connected - let it be just one road, but still. The traffic is also very limited making it easy to find your way, especially outside Namibias larger cities Windhoek and Swakopmund.
But there are still issues to take care of when traveling by car:
- Choose the right company. There are enough renting car agencies offering their services including international brands like Europcar, Avis or Hertz. When choosing a company look for reviews and their support offers. I found it helpful to rent an international brand rather than a local one, because I simply had more experience with those and they have 24 hrs support. Since our whole trip depended on the state of the car we didn't want to take the risk and be stuck in the middle of the prairie because of its failure.
- Pick up at the aiport. When picking up your car always check it's conditions! Check whether the aircon is working, whether the tank is full/empty as in the agreement, check for wheels pressure and for functioning of all the buttons. Rental car offices are only in the bigger cities and as I mentioned above you don't want to have your trip ruined by car failure.
- Always check for spare tire and the jack. This is important, believe me! We have seen quite some fellow travelers standing along the roads asking for help because they forgot to ask for the jack. In the best case scenario ask for 2 spares if you have enough storage space.
- 4x4 vehicle is a must. Namibian roads are mostly gravel roads, except for parts around Swakopmund and Windhoek. These are not the kind of roads Western World is used to, so you need to be well prepared. Sand, big pools and poor roads conditions - sedan will simply fail or flip. You will especially need the 4x4 vehicle if you are planning on visiting the Sossusvlei region.
- Gas stations. You should use an advantage of every gas station you come along. Or even better - plan your gas station visit in advance. There are gas stations next to every settlement, but the distance between settlements could be 300 km or even more.
- Manual vs Automatic. Most of the cars in Namibia are running on manual shift stick.
- Driving is on the left hand side in Namibia.
- Emergency calls. Be sure to organise a SIM card with a good coverage, otherwise it would be difficult to ask for help. There were times when during 5 hours of driving we met only 1 or 2 cars.
Namibia is a vast country which is sparsely populated. The main cities being Windhoek and Swakompund. All the other other areas consist more of towns, villages or separate lodges standing widely apart from each other.
Saying this, you might spend the whole day driving from one village to the other without meeting anyone or seeing any houses.
Road conditions also play an important role in conquering Namibian distances. Driving 300 km on gravel road is not the same as speeding on the German Autobahn.
Keeping this in mind it is usually best to plan your stops in advance.
This also relates to camping grounds and lodges. Always check for correct coordinates and on availability in advance.
Most of the places accept international credit cards, but still cash is king. ATM's are located in major cities and settlements so be sure to follow the same rule as with fueling up - as soon as you see an ATM charge some cash.
Note that in Namibia there are two official currencies - NAD (Namibian Dollar) and SAR (South African Rand). Don't be surprised when ATM gives you South African Money. The currencies are equal, so you are not loosing anything. It's actually quite convinient if you want to continue your travels to South Africa afterwards.
safety & health
Even though Namibia is a safe country to travel there are still some areas and neighbourhoods you need to avoid - usually these are in the residential areas with low income population.
The most of the crime occurs in terms of pick-pocketing, purse-snatching, vehicle theft, or vehicle break-ins. Windhoes leads the crime scene. As long as you keep your car locked at all times and don't leave any valuables laying around you are fine.
On another note, keeping yourself hydrated is very important, so be sure to store enough water whenever you go (desert especially). As with gas stations and ATM's, as soon as you see a supermarket or a shop get your water supply refilled! Same goes for food!
Make sure you are up-to-date on routine vaccines before every trip. These vaccines include measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and your yearly flu shot. Please check this page for more information about other vaccinations.
Please note, that Namibia belongs to one of the countries with Malaria. Consult your doctor before traveling for all the necessary precautions and try to book accomodation with mosquito nets.
From my personal experience, I haven't done any vaccinations before traveling to Namibia, but I had a package of Malarone with me just in case. Haven't used it though.
In terms of costs Namibia is not a bargain. If you want to stay on a budget choose the self-catering option, purchasing your food from supermarkets or grocery shops and renting a camping car with a tent on top. This is the most affordable option.
Sleeping in lodges and eating out is pricey with the costs being similar to Western ones. Have a look at this page to have a more detailed overview on what things and services cost.
There are all sorts of accomodations in Namibia, from fancy lodges to self-catering camping cars. Everything depends on your budget and wishes. When booking lodges consider that the amount of places is usually limited, so it is advisable to book in advance.
Camping tents and sites are available throughout Namibia, but it is wisely to always choose in advance where you are going to spend the night (see the part about Distances).
Even though there are plenty of dialects, English is an official language and there is no trouble in getting along with locals. During our travels we haven't met anyone who had troubles talking English.
Another popular international languages are German and Afrikaans. Namibia history of being in German Southwest Africa reminds itself in German settlements, people names and German language. German is also recognised as official language. From what we experienced German language is spoken by elderly generations and is used in an outdated terms.
the pace of life
Life goes slow in Namibia. Noone is in a rush. That said, be prepared to wait. Car rental services might take longer, your room might not be ready on time, your order may arrive only in half - but this is how it is.
Keep this in mind when planning and booking your trip - you might wait longer with an email response or your booking confirmation might need to be reminded of, but eventually it all turns out well.
Safe travels as always!
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