A road trip in Namibia is one of the best ways to experience the vastness of this beautiful and peaceful arid landscape. We have a saying in Namibia that you only cry twice…when you arrive in Namibia and when you leave Namibia. The wide-open spaces where less than 2.5 million people live can sometimes be overwhelming at first but it does not take long before the mesmerizing beauty of the land grows on you and you wish that your “going nowhere slowly” may never end. As a Namibian myself, I have travelled many times to every corner of this part of the continent which has been rated the safest country in Africa. There are however a few things that nobody tells you when doing a road trip to Namibia which may make a huge difference to your overall experience.
If you go in your own car make sure that it has recently been serviced and are in tip-top condition!
Distances between towns in Namibia are far and it is not always possible to find the proper parts in the closest town should you have a breakdown. If using your own vehicle it will be money well spent to take your vehicle for that long overdue service. When eyeseeAfrica arranges a vehicle for you we ensure that your vehicle is in perfect condition and we stay in contact with all our clients 24 hours a day should any mechanical problems arise during your trip.
Tyres and spare wheel
Most of the roads you are going to travel on will be gravel roads. Namibia’s excellent infrastructure includes a major road system of which only 5% are tarred or sealed road surfaces. The rest is made up of excellent gravel roads. Standard tyres are not suited for gravel roads, especially if they are low profile. The lower the profile of your tyres, the less capable the vehicle is of navigating, so keep this in mind before your trip. You should have at least one spare tyre ready to rumble and should you have to replace it during your trip, always repair the flat one at the first opportunity. Last but not least, make sure you have all the proper tools you need to change a flat tyre, in your trunk.
Another word to the wise: Take along a spare set of keys in case they get locked inside the car or get lost in the desert.
When you pick up your car from the airport, the tyres will normally have been inflated to the correct pressure for driving on tar roads. The precise pressure will usually be indicated somewhere in the car’s handbook, or on a small label fixed to the car. For a better ride and traction on gravel we suggest reducing the tyre pressure by around 10–20%. Doing this allows the tyres to act as an additional shock absorber, taking the bite out of the corrugations. It also increases the amount of time that the tyre is in contact with the gravel surface, and thus increases their traction. Rule of thumb is 1.8 bar for gravel roads. When you drive in really thick sand like the dunes of the Namib or even small stretches on your way to Sossusvlei it can be as low as 1.2 Bar.
NB!!! If you decide to slightly deflate your tyres for driving on gravel roads, which isn’t essential, then remember that it is absolutely essential that you remember to reflate them when you return to the tar. Driving on tar on low-pressure tyres will cause heat to build up in the tyre, and increases your chances of a blowout.
You’ll probably start your trip with a planned route but be sure to take an old-style printed map of Namibia for backup just in case you end up in a remote area where modern navigation tools don’t work.
Another good idea is to download the Namibian map on your phone (Google maps app). It works brilliantly and it is sometimes difficult to believe how accurate all the roads are listed, even in the most remote parts of Africa.
Google maps work offline absolutely flawlessly.
A Global Positioning System (GPS) unit is a handy gadget to take along, as well – some travellers say they wouldn’t leave home without one! Many cars have navigation systems built-in, but if your car isn’t factory-equipped, you can pick up one for a small amount.
Crossing the border:
Have your paperwork ready
Crossing borders in Africa is always stressful with lots of red tape and having the correct documents will help a lot to get this done as fast as possible.
Crossing into Namibia you will need :
- A Passport – Make sure your passport has at least two blank pages and is valid for at least 6 months after your return date.
- Registration papers of your vehicle should you cross the border with your own vehicle. Most of our clients will collect their rental vehicles at an airport within Namibia and will not need this document.
- A ZA sticker on your car if you are from South Africa.
- Have your driver’s license and contact numbers for roadside assistance readily accessible.
- Most countries will get a 30-day visa to Namibia at the port of entry. Even if you plan to travel for fewer days rather than ask for a maximum of 30 days to make provision for unforeseen circumstances. The maximum is 90 days and please make sure that the stamp clearly indicates your exit date. The Namibian authorities are very strict and you will have to do a lot of explaining wanting to leave the country if your visa has expired.
- Some cash (We recommend at least 500 Namibian Dollars/Rands) to pay for road tax at the point of entry. (Lately you can pay with credit card if the machine works)
Be friendly and never lose your temper
Although the border control officials may look intimidating, Namibians are considered to be some of the friendliest people in the world and a big smile on your face and friendly greeting will be a good start to get you into the country as fast as possible.
Namibia is about 3 times bigger than the United Kingdom.
The United Kingdom is approximately 243,610 sq km, while Namibia is approximately 824,292 sq km. Meanwhile, the population of The United Kingdom is 64 million people (62 million fewer people live in Namibia). You will be driving at least 4-5 hours per day if eyeseeAfrica has planned your itinerary (12-14 day trip). The mistake most people make is to want to cover too much of this vast country in one trip and then they end up most of the time on the road. Also many roads are gravel and although the distance may seem short, it will probably take you double the estimated time to arrive at your destination. Also avoid driving in the dark and get to your next destination at least on time for a sundowner drink.
“Make sure everyone is on the same page before you leave to avoid being stuck in a car with unhappy passengers for 4+ hours a day.”
On the road:
Namibia has the highest car-accident death rate in the world, with 45 people killed on the road out of every 100,000 citizens. The country’s roads are notoriously dangerous because travellers are not familiar with the landscape and conditions. Drivers run the risk of rolling their vehicles on the Namibian gravel roads when they go too fast on what seems to be an excellent road. Although the official speed for gravel roads is 100km/hour, we highly recommend that you drive at 80km/hour if you are not familiar with gravel roads. Remember you are on holiday and at this speed you can take in the surrounding countryside and see many things that you might miss at a higher speed.
Wearing seat belts and driving with your lights on during daytime too is compulsory
Passing other cars
It is dangerous to travel in a vehicle’s dust cloud for various reasons, the most obvious being that you cannot see. The dust cloud could obscure corners, oncoming traffic, animals and a variety of other obstacles. Please be extremely careful when passing cars on a gravel road.
NB!!! When you need to stop please never stop on the road, even if there is no other cars in sight! It may just happen that a car suddenly appears and, while they may see you and pass safely, another car may crash into you at full speed not seeing you due to the dust cloud caused by the first car.
Always look out for animals!
Every road in Namibia is often crossed by many different animals and there is always the risk of one running into your car, especially at night. Warthogs and Kudus can be particularly dangerous as they are relatively common and enjoy grazing on the side of the road. Most animals are also especially active during sunset and sunrise and be extra vigilant during this time of the day.
Try to never drive after sunset! It just increases your risk of making an accident!
Snacks and Food
A soft-sided cooler packed with water bottles and a few soft drinks will come in handy throughout your trip, and it won’t take up too much space in your car. Simply refill with ice and drinks at your hotel or destination every morning and you’re good to go for the next stretch. Some places in Namibia are really small and don’t expect too much in terms of sit-down meals in a restaurant.
Always fill up at every opportunity even if you still have enough fuel to reach your next destination. It may happen that there is no fuel available at the only pump available where you have planned to fill up next.
“Some places in Namibia are really small and don’t expect too much. Always have some cash on hand as the only ATM machine in the town may not be in working condition when you need cash to fill up.”
A Road-worthy playlist
Don’t forget to take your favorite tunes along for the ride. An iPod playlist or USB collection works wonders in making the trip more enjoyable, especially in Namibia where radio signals will be most of the time not available. Be sure to carry along a mix of tunes that cover every mood, from upbeat to introspective to make the most of your trip.
Namibian Dollars and Rands are accepted as payment currencies. Credit cards are also widely accepted where card facilities are available. Always have some cash on hand as the only ATM machine in the town may be broken when you need cash and when credit card facilities are not available. The only towns where open garage shops and working ATM’s are guaranteed to be available 24/7 are:
- Walvis Bay
- Katima Mulilo
Central and East
English is widely spoken and Afrikaans is a favorite language used by many of the indigenous tribes.
Always let friends and people know that you have arrived safely at your next destination. Some of the roads in Namibia do not have a lot of traffic and you may drive for hours without seeing anyone else. When your trip has been arranged by eyeseeAfrica we will make contact daily via Whatsapp to make sure that you have reached your next destination for the evening (most lodges do have Wifi).
“The scenery is really beautiful and remember it’s the journey, not the destination, that really counts.”
Written By : Tertius Jordaan