If you have been following our adventures for a while, you will have noticed that we love a good road trip. Also, if you know us personally you know that we road tripped all over the USA for 4 years working as travel therapists in our former life. We. Love. Road Trips. Sometimes renting a car and driving ourselves is the most convenient and budget friendly way to see and do everything we want to. And when traveling long term, there is nothing sweeter than having your own set of wheels to transport you anywhere and everywhere you want to go. Africa was no exception.
When people find out we drove ourselves around southern Africa, their first reaction is “Wow, was it safe?” or “Seriously, you can rent a car there?” OK, in all honesty we were a little skeptical ourselves at first. But after reading other travel blogs and talking with people who were currently there, our fears flew out the window.
We arrived in Namibia with a vague plan of bucket list places we wanted to go: Etosha National Park and sand dunes at Sossusvlei. After tons of research, it just made sense for us to rent a car and some camping equipment for a week long, budget friendly, self-drive safari adventure around Namibia. We booked everything one day in advance while in Windhoek, Namibia: rental car, camping gear, campsites, etc. Unfortunately, we only had a little over a week in Namibia, and everything we wanted to see was far from each other, so we settled on 2 nights in Etosha National Park, 2 nights in Swakopmund, and 2 nights in Sossusvlei.
First Stop: Etosha National Park
We headed north for our first African safari and it did not disappoint. Lions, giraffes and rhinos were the highlights of our self-drive safari. We camped just outside the gate at Onguma’s Leadwood campsite and loved it. You can read all about our first safari in Etosha here.
Second Stop: Swakopmund
Swakopmund is the city where Namibians go on vacation. It is the most “westernized” city in the country with lots of German influence and its also known as the adventure capital of Namibia. You can go skydiving, sandboarding and quad-biking (four-wheeler riding) all in one day. We used it as a stopping point halfway between our two main attractions as it’s in the middle of the country. If you aren’t into extreme adventure sports, it’s nice to relax on the beach, check out the artisan market, or visit the local brewery. We also took a side trip 30 minutes south to Walvis Bay to check out the local pink flamingos. We stayed at Skeleton Beach Backpackers steps from the beach where they have campsites and nice private rooms.
Third Stop: Sossusvlei
Sossusvlei is one of those places we’ve seen pictures of on the internet and decided we were going there. It is literally out in the middle of nowhere, but totally worth the journey to get there. We pitched our tent at Sossus Oasis campsite just outside the gate. You can check out our adventure in the Namib desert here.
Need to Know:
If you are planning your own Namibian road trip (or southern African road trip) here are a few things you should know before you go.
- Stop for gas when you can– destinations are very spread out and there are even fewer gas stations. You can drive for 4 or 5 hours without seeing a single city or gas station. Don’t get stranded!
- Carry cash with you– there aren’t many ATMs and most places don’t take credit cards. And even if you do find an ATM, it may be empty. If you need to exchange for Namibian dollars, do it in Windhoek because most small towns don’t do foreign exchange.
- Stock up on food and water– Tsumeb is the closest town to get supplies on the way to eastern Etosha 1.5 hours away; Solitaire is a nice place to stop for gas on the way to Sossusvlei 2 hours way, but beware there is no grocery store. Inside the national parks we found small “tourist shops” with the essentials, but it was expensive and very selective.
- Don’t pay extra for a 4WD– if you want a gas guzzler, then go for it, but it’s not necessary for the roads of Namibia. Yes, it would have been nice to go faster in a truck on the 5 hour gravel road from Sossusvlei back to Windhoek, but it’s wasn’t worth the exorbitant extra costs.
- Always plan to arrive at your destination before dark– there are no street lights and it’s really dangerous to be driving through Africa in the dark–not because of people, but because of wildlife running out into the road.
- Don’t waste time in Windhoek– you will probably have to travel through Windhoek at some point, but there is really not much to see. We started and ended our road trip in this capital city because of the Intercape bus routes. Get your car and camping equipment and get out. Unfortunately, there are no one-way rentals in Namibia, so you have to return the car back where you started.
This blog really helped us in our planning and has tons of good info on traveling around southern Africa!
We’ve said it before, but I will say it again… This was the best camping trip we’ve ever been on! We had a blast sleeping underneath a blanket of stars while dreaming of wild African animals. We highly recommend a self-drive trip through Namibia (or southern Africa) if you like the freedom of the open road mixed with a bit of wild adventure.