A self- drive road trip through Namibia was one of the greatest adventures we had in Africa.
The country is huge and is one of the least densely populated areas in the world. The epic Namibian landscape is constantly changing and looks like an undiscovered planet. One day we would be heading through canyons and deep into the Namibian desert and then the next morning we’d find ourselves driving along the Benguela coastline. Because the country is so sparsely populated, the majority of the places we stayed felt like being in the middle of nowhere...and its because you are actually in the middle of nowhere!
There are many ways to experience Namibia, however, there’s not much that compares to renting a car yourself and driving through the country. At the very least, you need 10 days dedicated to a Namibia road trip, but It all depends on what you want to do and see.
Namibia is MASSIVE..so its not exactly a road trip you can just plan spontaneously. The driving conditions can be tough and are definitely lengthy. Having a well thought out route while allowing yourself some flexibility is key.
Below is the route we suggest taking
📍Windhoek → Keetmanshoop → Fish River Canyon → Lüderitz →
Kolmanskop → Sesriem → Soussevlei → Walvis Bay →
Swakopmund → Skeleton Coast → Cape Cross →
Palmwag → Etosha → Spitzkoppe → Windhoek 📍
Starting and ending in Namibia’s capital, Windhoek, the route takes you through the valleys of Fish River Canyon, the red dunes of Sossuvlei, the moonscapes of Spitzkoppe, and the wildlife haven of Etosha National Park.
One of the most popular road trip destinations in the world, there are a surplus of car rental companies to choose from in Namibia. We rented from Africa 4x4 Rentals and they really set us up with everything we needed.
For an additional price, our camper came with all necessary camping equipment which saved us a trip to the store.
Windhoek mainly marked our gateway city in and out of Namibia. Most of our time here was spent immediately doing research for our road trip and making last minute campsite reservations...which by the way, Namibia has some of the greatest campsites we had ever seen. We highly recommend picking up all of your supplies for the next two weeks, including food, WATER, and a roadmap.
Where to Stay:
Once we finally finished filling out our paperwork with Africa 4x4 rentals, we took our new car and set out 5 hours to Keetmanshoop! Our campsite was located within the Quivertree Forest National Park. Ancient bushmen used to manufacture quivers from the bark of the trees to carry their arrows; hence the name Quivertree.
Also located within the park is the Giants Playground with a massive collection of Dolerite rock formations piled on top of each other.
At our campsite, we got the opportunity to pet two cheetahs roaming the property. The cheetahs were just three weeks old when they were found without a mother in the park. Hungry and alone, they had imprinted on the female farm dog that had found them and grew up drinking dog milk. Now over a year later, they still believe the dog is their mother and are actually house trained...although they are more like dogs than they are cats!
Where to Stay:
Fish River Canyon
The second biggest canyon in the world, visiting the Fish River Canyon was a must for us! We drove from Keetmanshoop early in the morning and got to see the canyon for all of its beauty. The roads are long and dusty and the path to the viewpoints can be treacherous, so be careful while driving around this area.
Fish River Canyon is 500 million years old, 160km long, 27km wide and 550 meters deep. You can take in the views of the canyon over Hell’s Corner by walking from either end of the lookout points. During the wet season, you can see a series of narrow interconnecting pools running through the canyons.
If you have the time, you can embark on a 5 day hike through the canyon which we highly recommend if you want you're seeking adventure..although try and avoid a 127 hours moment..
Where to Stay:
Coming straight from Fish River Canyon, the sudden drop in temperature from the desert to the Namibian southwest coastline was crazy! The Shark Island Campsite was right on the water so to say it was freezing, is a big understatement.
We drove to Lüderitz in the afternoon and were able to see the sun setting over Kolmanskoop, a cool abandoned ghost town, and then continue on to see the sun finally set over the waves of the shoreline. The first German settlement in Southwest Africa, Lüderitz was founded during the German colonial era and has a pure desert climate.
Where to Stay:
Kolmanskop is an eerie ghost town long abandoned by time and slowly sinking back into the sand of the Namib desert. Its only ten kilometers inland from the port town of Luderitz. Once a small but very rich mining village, it is now a popular tourist destination.
They have tours that run every two hours that take you around Kolmanskop. After the tour is over, you are free to explore the abandoned city for yourself and roam the empty hallways of the deserted homes and schools.
If you can, try to come here during the sun rise. Unfortunately the park is closed well before sunset, however, the colors captured within the abandoned homes are spectacular during the sun rise.
Definitely one of the main attractions in Namibia, Soussvlei has landscape worth boasting about. Standing on top of towering red sand dunes and walking amongst the vast white clay pan of Deadvlei against the shifting sands of the world’s oldest desert, Soussevlei is simply incredible.
One of the most iconic landmarks in Sossusvlei is Deadvlei. It’s an area that’s home to 900 year old dead camel thorn trees. Surrounded by tall red dunes you will find a cracked white clay ground with tons of these trees all around you.
Our first day we went straight into the national park and explored Deadvlei in the late morning…this was a mistake. The desert is so hot and it can get quite unbearable between the hours of 12pm-4pm.
From the park gates, its about a 60km drive along a tarred road to the parking area. If you are lucky enough to be driving a 4x4, you can continue on the bumpy sand roads which will take you to Deadvlei and the popular dunes. Take care though, on our way back from Deadvlei, our car of course got stuck in some unforgiving sand, and it took us half an hour of digging out the car with our hands to continue back to our rest stop!
Big Daddy Dune
Big Daddy is the tallest dune in Sossusvlei and is over 1,000 feet tall. For epic bragging rights, we woke up at 5:30am and climbed Big Daddy for the sunrise. The hike itself took about one and a half hours, but it depends on the time of day. If you make the mistake of beginning the hike later than 9:30am, then having to walk that great height against the beating sun will most likely take closer to three hours.
Seeing the sun rise above the dessert was one of the most fulfilling views we had seen in Namibia. We were very shockingly the only people there that day and got the whole view all to ourselves..at least for an hour until the next set of hikers arrived. The best part about the hike (other than the view) was the run down. Instead of going back the way you came, most people make a run down the sheer drop of the dune at full force. The sides of the dunes are steep, but if you fall...you will have the softest pile of sand to land on.
Where to Stay:
Halfway between Sossusvlei and Walvis Bay, you will pass the Tropic of Capricorn as well as a small settlement rest stop called Solitaire. Walvis Bay is famous for its flamingo lagoon, pelicans and migrations. If you have the time, try taking a scenic flight over Walvis Bay for a full view of its beauty.
Where to Stay:
Full of sand boarding, quadding, go-carting and skydiving, Swakopmund is THE adventure capital of Namibia.
With two days here, we tried to do as much as we could at this adventure hub. We sand boarded down the famous dunes of Swakopmund only to quad bike over them a few hours afterwards! There are tons of places where you can book activities. Go to your campsite/hotel main desk or book in advance online to reserve a day of adventure.
Swakopmund itself is a quaint little seaside town with beautiful beaches. A former German colonial town on the coast of Namibia, Swakopmund has tons of traditional German architecture and food. We spent a fair amount of time at the Swakopmund breweries, sport bars, and even a gin distillery.
Where to Stay:
On our route from Swakopmind to Palmwag, we drove along the Skeleton Coast, famous for its shipwrecks, pink salt sands, and foggy ominous coastal line. The Zeila, just south of Henties Bay is one of the most visible of the shipwrecks.
On the way, we stopped at Cape Cross for one main reason: seals. This is the world’s largest breeding colony of Cape Fur Seals. There are literally hundreds of thousands of them sunbathing in the sand and frolicking in the waves.
PSA: THIS IS THE WORST SMELL WE HAVE EVER ENCOUNTERED
Palmwag is a vast conservation area of 5,500km in the Kunene Region of north-western Namibia. With plenty of species who have adapted to the harsh desert environment, this area is perfect for small self game drives! You can see desert elephants, ,zebra, ostriches, oryx, and giraffes.
Side Note: Because these are desert animals and are otherwise not used to seeing humans, they can be considered relatively dangerous.
The area is most well known for supporting nearly 70% of the world’s largest free roaming population of black rhinos. Because we had done the game drive ourselves and relied heavily on our untrained eyes and lack of tracking skills..we of course didn’t see one. However, your lodge and campsite will most likely offer game drive tours where the likelihood of you seeing rare animals is more likely!
Where to Stay:
The wildlife of Etosha National Park is supposed to be one of the greatest safari destinations in Africa. The park promises some epic game viewing during a self-drive safari of endangered black rhinos, lions, elephants, giraffes, springbok, and zebra! Spend your mornings and evenings out on safari for the best viewing of wildlife. During midday, the sun can be ferocious and most animals will be desperate to find some shade so they will be in hiding.
Where to Stay:
Full of towering granite mountains, Spitzkoppe is all that remains of a 700 million year-old ancient volcano. This was one of our favorite camping spots. Situated within a rock alcove, we watched the sunset light up the landscape with streaks of red and orange, before sitting at the campfire under the starry Namibian sky.
Spitzkoppe is great for hiking and exploring the unique landscape and its massive boulders, ancient caves, and iconic rock bridges.
Where to Stay:
We learned a lot through trial and error and have a first hand experience of what you should and should not do:
1. Read the Reviews.
You want to make sure you are renting a car from a reliable company that won’t try and screw you over.
2. Buy the highest level of insurance that they offer
The roads in Namibia are nothing but sand, gravel, and mud. The truth of the matter is that cars and trucks are not made to endure those kind of conditions for very long. The chances of you getting a flat tire or having rocks scratch the paint off your car are unfortunately very high. The insurance isn’t a cost worth pulling your hair over and it is definitely better to be safe than sorry.
3. Go the speed limit
Most car rentals will have a tracker so that the company can keep tabs on your speed and whereabouts at all times. If you speed (according to Africa 4x4 Rentals, speeding is defined as going above the speed limit for an interval reaching over 11 minutes), you get fined.
4. Don’t drive at night
Roadkill? You get fined
5. Book your car well in advance
Especially if you can only drive automatic..like us! Like we mentioned, renting a car is very popular in Namibia and most car companies won’t have a car available for the dates you want unless you book in advance.
6. Download Maps.Me
You need to download the map while you have wifi!! It doesn’t matter what service provider you have or if you buy a temporary SIM card…google maps, apple maps and all that other stuff wont work. Reading a physical map is one thing, but it most likely wont have all of the campsites listed on there.
7. Book Campsites in Advance
Okay a trick here is that most campsites will have extra space even if they don’t say so online. Regardless if you book in advance, you will be able to rest easy since you are insured a spot and they will most likely give you a spot with a nice view!
8. Buy Water
We bought 47L of water and STILL ran out! Keep in mind that you will be driving through desert and you won’t exactly find too many convenience stores along the way.
9. Pre-Download Entertainment
We’re talking playlists and podcasts. These road trips get long..what else are you going to do for 7 hours??