35+ Things to know before visiting Namibia
August 22, 2023
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I’ve put together a list of things to know before visiting Namibia, everything I wish I knew before I arrived, so you can plan the perfect trip.
Namibia was on my travel bucket list for so many years and when we finally made it it exceeded all of my expectations. It is really such an incredible and diverse country with so much to offer. But when I started my trip planning process I still had so many questions that I wasn’t easily finding the answer to. I didn’t know many people who had visited, and the information on the internet was a bit scattered. So here is my guide of things to know before visiting Namibia – especially if you’re planning a road trip!
Before you dive into the article, I’ve highlighted a few of the most popular tours in Namibia.
Popular tours in Namibia
Rent a 4×4 vehicle
If you’re planning to road trip through Namibia, then I highly highly recommend renting a car. It is by far the best way to explore Namibia. Even better if you rent a truck with a pop up tent on the roof.
Renting a car in Namibia is expensive, and that’s simply a fact. And it gets even more expensive if you are renting a truck with a camper. But I promise it is so so worth it.
If you are road tripping in Namibia then a truck with 4WD is recommended, even if you don’t plan to go off-road. Many of the roads aren’t in great condition, filled with rocks and potholes.
If you rent a low clearance car you’ll have to take a lot more precautions to ensure that the conditions are okay on any roads you plan to take.
Book everything in advance
Despite Namibia not being a super popular destination yet, things book up well in advance. I think this is likely because there simply aren’t that many tourist establishments in place.
Particularly, campsites in Namibia’s more popular destinations fill up fast so those are the ones that you want to make sure to book in advance. This can be as much as 6-9 months before for some popular destinations. We are typically last-minute travelers so we were shocked when we checked 4 months in advanced and there were only campsites in Sossusvlei available two nights out of the two weeks we were planning to be in Namibia.
If you’re visiting during the shoulder season or off-season this may not be the case, but with limited spots available I’d recommend getting ahead.
Get tire and front windshield insurance
If you are renting a car in Namibia then you want to make sure that your rental car insurance covers tire damage and repairs. You should also make sure that you are covered for any damage to your front windshield. It is super common to get cracks in the windshield from rocks along the endless gravel roads.
If you are using a car insurance provided by your credit card I would confirm all coverage. Many do not coverage any off-roading. Essentially, you want to make sure that you’re covered for any type of accidents, as they are super common in Namibia. In particular, it is common to destroy tires, as well as break the glass. It is also, unfortunately, common to have accidents related to wildlife.
Know how to change a tire (and get at least two spares)
And on the note of car damage, you’re going to want to know how to change a tire. Flat tires are extremely common in Namibia, you’ll see signs for repair shops everywhere.
Since Namibia is such a sparse and spread out country, it is super important that at least one of you knows how to change a tire. Yes, there are tons of people who can help you out across the country
Always keep your gas tank at least half full
Because populated areas are so spread out in Namibia, you will often have to drive over an hour, if not longer, between gas stations. Always make sure to keep your gas tank at least half full. This is especially the case when you’re in any of the parks.
Google Maps is a reliable resource for scoping out gas stations. But make sure to download the offline maps for the area.
Our rental had a double gas tank. This meant that the gauge only measured the second tank, and would show as full until the first tank is depleted. Typically we refilled our tank as soon as the first one was empty.
Make sure you have the proper license to drive in Namibia
If you’re planning to rent a car, you’ll need to get an International Driver’s Permit (or IDP). This is the legal requirement but we actually never asked for it. That said, it definitely doesn’t hurt to have one just in case. If you’re in the US you can apply at AAA. The process is cheap, easy and fast. We applied in person and it cost about $25 USD and took less than 30 minutes.
Avoid driving at night
It is not advisable to drive at night, and many car rental companies forbid it for their guests. This is mostly due to the prevalence of large wildlife, but also the frequency of flat tires on the poor roads. There aren’t that many cars on the road in Namibia so you don’t want to get stuck alone with an issue.
Make sure that you understand your route and ensure that you can make it to your destination before sunset.
Similarly, most parks including Etosha, Spitzkoppe, and Sossusvlei all close just before sunset. The exact closing time will depend on the time the sun sets that time of year. In the case of Etosha, this timing changes everyday. I recommend checking ahead for the most up-to-date information.
Understand the locations of different lodges and campsites
For most of Namibia’s popular destinations (Sossusvlei, Spitzkoppe, Etosha) you have the choice of booking inside or outside of the park. Booking lodging inside of the parks will almost always give you better opportunities to enjoy sunrises and sunsets and Namibia’s most popular locations.
For example, campsites in Sesriem are literally across the street from one another. However, one is inside the first gate for Sossusvlei and one is not. The campsite inside the gate will be able to enter the park an hour earlier, and stay and hour longer. This makes a huge difference for sunrise and sunset.
Most of the country isn’t that busy
Despite a recent rise in tourism, Namibia still does not receive the attention of many other countries in Africa. Because of this you will find that there aren’t too many tourists throughout the country yet.
If you’re planning a road trip in Namibia then you can expect lots (and lots) of long flat gravel roads with not much to see. There were times that we drove a full hour without seeing even one other car.
Understand the visa requirements for your country
Check the visa requirements for your country before traveling to Namibia. As of July 2023, US citizens can enter Namibia as a tourist visa-free. But it is important to make sure that your passport is valid for at least six months after your planned return date.
Familiarize yourself with local currency
Namibia’s official currency is Namibian dollars, which is approximately 20 to 1 USD as of July 2023. Namibian Dollars and South African Rand are 1 to 1, and you will find that many ATMs in Namibia will even dispense South African Rand.
Always carry cash
WiFi connection in Namibia is spotty, and that applies to credit card readers as well. Just about every time we tried to use a credit card the server or host would be waving the machine in the air, trying to snag a tiny bar of reception. And if we were lucky, that worked. Many times it didn’t.
ATMs are also few and far between, mostly located in the larger cities like Windhoek and Walvis Bay. Therefore, I recommend always carrying ample cash on you, just in case.
Understand the tipping culture
Coming from New York, one of the first questions that we always ask when we eat out is about the tipping culture. Namibia does not have a robust tipping culture, however because of tourism it is being more common. While not mandatory, it is not uncommon to leave up to 10% at a restaurant, especially if the service is good.
It is also common to see parked car attendants. These attendants watch your parked car while you are shopping in the cities, to avoid any car break-ins or petty threat. Again, while it is not required, it is common to give these attendants a small tip. 10 NAD will suffice!
Research your route
Because Namibia is a large and sparsely populated country, often with subpar roads, it is important to research and understand your route ahead of time. This is not only to understand distances, gas stations, and food along the way, but also to understand what the condition of the road you’ll be driving will be based on the naming convention of the road.
Typically ‘A’ roads are paved. Any other letter road is most likely not paved.
Know how to drive on sand
If you’re renting a car for your trip to Namibia, then I highly recommend knowing how to drive in sand, or even practicing at home if possible.
This will particularly come in handy when visiting Sossusvlei and Deadvlei. There is a paved road through most of the park, but the stretch between Sossusvlei and Deadvlei is deep sand. If you have a 4×4 vehicle then you have the option to deflate your tires and drive yourself, if you know how to drive on stand.
Otherwise, you’ll need to hop out here and take the safari jeep shuttle for $12 for the rest of the journey.
Visit Etosha last
This piece of advice is a bit more subjective, but I highly recommend that you visit Etosha last. This will help you from “spoiling” your other animal experiences, especially if you’re new to safaris.
What I mean by that is that when we saw a herd of wild zebras on the side of the road on one of our first days, I just about lost it! It was just an incredible experience, I literally almost cried.
Fast forward to the end of our trip, I had probably seen about 3,000 zebras as we drove through Etosha National Park on our self-drive safari. While this didn’t take away from my experience of the first sighting, I think it definitely would have if the itinerary was reversed.
We stayed on the Onguma reserve for a few nights and absolutely loved it!
Pack camping sandals
I think the one item I wore the most when traveling in Namibia was my camping sandals, specially my Tevas. Much of the country is super sandy – think tall sandy dunes or beaches – so walking or hiking in open, but sturdy, sandals was perfect.
I used Tevas for all of my hikes in Namibia, especially when climbing the sand dunes of Sossusvlei.
If you’re camping while in Namibia, these are also great to wear around your campsite, or to slip on in the middle of the night if you need to use the restroom.
Purchase good travel insurance
We’ve already discussed car insurance, but for any road trip in Namibia, good travel insurance is just as important! As a full time traveler I use Safety Wing, since it is the most affordable option that I’ve found. Rates start at $45 a month, with the option to elect for just a few days of insurance as well.
This is a small price to pay in order to protect yourself from inevitable travel issues during any trip.
Much of Namibia is located in the desert, which means that weather and temperatures can fluctuate a ton throughout a single day. The temperature when the sun is up and once it goes down can be pretty drastic. So make sure to pack lots of layers so you are ready for any climate.
There were mornings when I was bundled up in a jacket and hat, and still freezing. And then just an hour later when the sun was up I was overheating in just a tank top. This was during the winter months. During the summer months there is a bit less fluctuation, but it still exists.
Understand the crime level in Namibia
Overall Namibia is super safe, we felt safe throughout the two weeks that we spent there. However, there is still petty crime.
It is important to never leave valuables in view in your car. Many parking lots in the cities actually have attendants that will watch your car for a small tip.
Prepare for spotty WiFi and cell service
With any country this sparsely populated, it should be no surprise that cell and WiFi service is super spotty. My international phone plan doesn’t cover Namibia at all, and even a local SIM can be super spotty in many of the parks.
There is WiFi available at many hotels, but we found that it was often out of order or just super slow.
A few ways to plan for this is to download any offline Google Maps, download offline music and podcasts, and make sure you have any information that you need for checking into lodges or campsites.
Bring (or buy) a travel adapter
If you’re traveling to Namibia from the US or Europe, you will need a travel adapter.
Namibia uses type D and M for outlets, commonly three thick circular prongs in a triangular formation. Type D is the same outlet prong that you’ll often find in India and Nepal, as well South Africa and Botswana.
You can easily pick one up when you arrive in the country, but I usually prefer to order one ahead of time for convenience.
Campgrounds are really nice
The campgrounds in Namibia were surprisingly nice with a lot of amenities. Most of our campsites came with running water, a toilet, and a hot shower.
While its not quite camping, it is far from rustic camping in Namibia. So even if you are new to camping, this is definitely an experience that you could enjoy!
Here a few places that we stayed at:
Bring a zoom lens
Namibia is a beautiful and diverse country – an absolute paradise for photographers. I recommend traveling with a zoom lens. We traveled with a 200-400mm lens on our Canon body which was perfect.
You don’t often need more than that because you’ll have a lot of opportunities to get up close to the wildlife. If you don’t have one, or don’t want to travel with a heavy lens, you can also rent one from the photography store in Windhoek.
Pack sun protection
The sun in Namibia is strong, especially in the summer. This means that in addition to packing a hat and some sunglasses, I also highly recommend wearing a daily SPF.
Travel with binoculars or a monocular
The Zoom lens is great for taking photos, but you’ll want something for your own eye as well. A travel monocular is tiny and compact, but helps you to spot all of the best wildlife from a distance.
Understand if you need malaria medication
While there are no required medications or vaccines (as of August 2023) to enter Namibia, many travelers choose to take malaria prevention pills. Most of the areas with malaria-infected mosquitoes are in the north, including the popular Etosha National Park.
However, the areas are typically mosquitos-free in the winters. I would check local infection rates and maps, and speak to your doctor before traveling to make your personal decision.
Respect the wildlife
This is probably the most important piece of advice for visit Namibia, and should probably go without saying, but please please please respect the wildlife. This is their home, and it should be treated that way.
Use caution when driving, don’t approach wild animals, don’t feel any animals and avoid driving after dark. These tiny precautions will make the experience safer for both you and the animals.
Dress in earth tones for walking safaris
One thing that took me by surprise in Namibia is that despite thinking through my ideal safari outfits, I pretty much never left the car during any of our safaris. In fact, in Etosha National Park you are not even allowed to exit your vehicle. Since we were doing a self-drive in Etosha, literally no one ever saw me.
That said, if you are doing a walking safari tour in Namibia, or riding in a jeep that is completely open, then I suggest wearing only earth tones such as beige, brown, and green.
Buy your groceries in major cities
If you’re planning to camp and cook your own meals, you’re going to want to buy your groceries in one of the major cities. These include Windhoek, Walvis Bay, and Swakopmund.
Groceries are reasonably priced in any of the major supermarkets, and have a wide range of products. I had no problem finding more speciality products like non-dairy milk in the bigger supermarkets.
Near most camping areas you find small mini-marts, often attached to the gas stations. You’ll be able to pick up some basics here like drinks, pastas, snacks and canned goods, but likely not any fresh produce. Many of the campgrounds or small markets do sell wild game, however, if that interests you.
We had a decently large fridge in our rental car, so it was easy enough to stock up on fresh produce.
Always travel with enough water on you
I’ll say it again, Namibia is the desert. We visited in the winter months and it was hot, I can only imagine a sunny summer day. It is super important that you pack enough drinking water. I always recommend packing more than you think you need.
This is the same for any hikes. At a minimum I always pack my foldable Vapur water bottle.
Pack a battery pack
Electricity is not always available when you’re traveling in Namibia, especially if you are camping. We also dealt with a handful of short power outages.
While you can likely charge many of your devices in the car, it is always a good idea to pack an extra battery pack to keep everything charged up.
This is a desert country – conserve water usage
On the topic of having enough drinking water, it is also super important to be super conservative with your water usage. This goes for showering, brushing your teeth, washing dishes, etc. Always turn off the tap when you’re not actively using it.
Pack food storage items
This piece of advice seems so small but makes a huge difference, and it is something that I wish that I had thought of before traveling through Namibia. If you are planning to camp in Namibia, then you should pack a few food storage items. In particular I would bring a handful of rubber bands and some Tupperware. These can either be resused takeout food containers that you plan to dispose of or maybe some collapsible bowls from Stojo.
If you cook some rice for example but don’t finish the whole bag, you can use the rubber bands to seal things up. And similarly cooking grains like rice can take a long time. Rather than starting from scratch each night, if you have a few storage containers you’ll be able to
Vegetarians beware, prepare for lots of meat
This is more of a thing to know, rather than something you need to explicitly plan for. But in general the cuisine in Namibia is super meat heavy, with very few vegetables. Even the vegetarian salad we ordered had chicken in it.
If you’re going to be camping and cooking, then this won’t be a problem. Just something to be mindful of. Perhaps you want to pack a few of your favorite granola bars or snacks just in case.
Pack a book and a deck of cards
With lots of quiet nights around the fire with no WiFI, this is the perfect time to disconnect and enjoy. I read a ton while I was in Namibia.
I always travel with my Kindle Paperwhite. I love how small it is, I can load it up with a ton of books, and the battery life lasts forever.
🏘️ Book your accommodation
Booking.com will help you to book accommodation in advance and check availability
✈️ Book your flight in advance
To find the cheapest flight options, you can use WayAway and find the most suitable option for you
Planning a trip to Namibia? Make sure to check out these other articles:
- Everything you need to know about Sossusvlei
- Planning a self-drive in Etosha
- Camping in Spitzkoppe
- Visiting Deadvlei, Namibia