If Namibia’s on your radar, then you’ve probably realised you’re in for a lot of driving! Travel around Namibia is near impossible without a car, and frankly I think you’d be missing out on something pretty special. Namibia has the second lowest population density of any sovereign country, and driving in Namibia is a great way to experience solitude and wide open spaces. Plus, who doesn’t love a roadtrip!
Before we left home we were riddled with questions about driving in Namibia. Thanks to Google I was acutely aware of Namibia’s less than brilliant car accident statistics, but it was really difficult to find the answers I actually needed.
So, here’s what I wish we knew about driving in Namibia before we got there:
Firstly, it’s not as bad as Google makes it out to be.
Seriously, a lot of the roads are better than the roads at home. The major highways (‘B’ roads) are fantastic – and not just by African standards. They were much, much better than many Aussie roads.
But, if you venture off the main roads, as our itinerary had us do, you’ll also be driving on quite a lot of gravel roads. ‘C’ roads are wider, well-maintained gravel and ‘D’ roads are usually narrower and graded less often so they’re not as smooth. We were surprised by how well maintained even these roads were.
You don’t need a 4×4 for driving in Namibia, but it certainly helps.
I must have spent hours researching whether we needed a 4 wheel drive car or not.
Unless you’re doing some crazy off-roading (generally banned with rentals anyway) you don’t need a 4×4. We saw a few people driving in sedans, and if your budget is really tight then it may be a good option for you.
At the end of the day, we decided that the extra comfort and peace of mind from a 4×4 would be worth it given how much driving we planned on doing.
We were also contemplating doing at least one self drive around Etosha, so having a larger car gave us a bit more comfort. A couple of years ago, we were in South Africa driving a VW Polo a week after seeing these photos of an elephant using a Polo as a scratching post… safe to say I wasn’t super relaxed driving into our Lodge.
If you get a 4×4 ute, make it a dual cab.
…or be prepared for everything you own to be covered in dust!
Often it’ll cost the same if you shop around, and when you’re in the car for 6+ hours, being able to reach back and grab some water or snack without stopping (or having everything at your feet) is totally worth it.
Go for the cheapest option, and pick up from the airport.
We hired our car through Thrifty. Apart from having to wait an hour for the car to be ready, everything was fine with it.
I found so many recommendations for specialty 4×4 shops that offered ‘better service’. We had nothing go wrong with our car thankfully so I can’t say for sure they don’t offer better service, but I’ve seen just as many bad reviews about these places as good ones.
At Hosea Kutako International Airport (Windhoek’s main airport) you’ll find Bidvest, Hertz, Avis and Thrifty. Many more in town will drop the car at the airport for you – which isn’t really a disadvantage as even ‘the big guys’ with an airport presence keep most of their vehicles off site (this is why our car took so long to come!).
(Actually) read the rental agreement.
Whoever you choose, read the T&C’s carefully before you drive away (don’t do that skim job we’re all guilty of). Often they’ll prohibit driving at night, off-road and above certain speed limits.
Most of these rules are actually really great ‘advice’ anyway, and heeding them will help you stay safe on the road and avoid any insurance issues if you do happen to have an accident.
You can’t rely on mobile service for navigation.
We often buy local SIM’s to get around navigation issues, but service can be pretty spotty in Namibia. If you’re doing a lot of driving, heading off the main tourist route or are prone to ‘feeling-lost-when-you’re-not-really-lost’, then the peace of mind from a GPS might be worth it.
Tracks4Africa is the authority on road maps in Africa, because they’re crammed full of extra detail (like accomodation, restaurants, fuel stops) and they are constantly being updated. If you’re hiring a GPS I recommend you ask that it’s one loaded with the T4A maps.
T4A has also recently started doing printed maps – I’m a fan of ordering them before I book accomodation so I can map out my route properly (all their maps include both time and distances between points). Take my word for it, it’s pretty annoying when you realise you have to leave really early in the morning (and miss that game drive) because you thought an 12 hour drive was only going to take 7 hours!
If you’re heading to more than one country in Southern Africa (or think you might over the next couple of years) then it’s worth buying the Travellers Atlas of Southern Africa. If you’d rather something a bit lighter or you’re only driving in Namibia, the Namibia Road Map is also a great option.
Stay off the road at night.
Even if your rental agreement doesn’t prohibit driving at night, not doing it will make your trip much more comfortable (arriving into a game park at night time is not a fun experience if, like me, you’re terrified of being stomped on by an elephant) and you won’t miss dinner (there’s not going to be a drive-through nearby so this is a BIG plus).
As I mentioned above, when you’re mapping out your itinerary, do note the latest time you’ll need to hit the road on your driving days…and then leave even earlier than that. Nobody likes being stressed on a holiday!
Pack lots of water, and refuel when you can.
Depending on where you’re driving in Namibia, it can be a long time between drinks.
When you first pick up your car, head to a grocery store and buy lots of water and snacks. Hanger is real.
Then, you’ve only got to worry about filling the car up. Do it earlier than you think you need to, and you won’t run into problems.
Driving in wet season?
We were in Namibia during winter (dry season), a time I would highly recommend. If it’s been raining or you’re visiting in wet season, please find some seasonal advice and be extra careful.
Take it easy and enjoy the ride.
My best piece of advice for driving in Namibia would be to exercise a little bit of common sense. Don’t speed, you’re on holidays. Slow down on gravel, and don’t break suddenly. Keep your lights turned on, even during the day time.
Pump those cringe-worthy roadtrippin’ tunes you wouldn’t listen to at home and, most importantly, enjoy the ride.
Still planning your trip? Check out my ultimate one week Namibia itinerary.