If you’re organising a small 4WD expedition, then it is assumed that you know exactly what you’re doing, and where you want to go, and hence no 4WD itineraries have been included here.
The suggested itineraries here, for 2WDs, are intended as a framework only, and the time spent at places is the minimum which is reasonable – if you have less time, then cut places out rather than quicken the pace. With more time to spare, consider taking the same routes, and exploring each area in greater detail.
When planning your own itinerary, try to intersperse the longer drives between more restful days. Avoid spending each night in a new place, as shifting your base can be become tiring. Try to book hire cars and accommodation as far in advance as you can; that way you’ll get the places you want, exactly when you want them.
Included here are two very loose categories: ‘Budget’ and ‘Indulgent’. These broadly reflect the cost of the choices made. Most of the places on the Budget itinerary allow camping. The odd place that doesn’t, like Zebra River Lodge, is such good value that it’d be wasteful not to use it.
Two weeks Southern–central Namibia BudgetIndulgent
Night 9 Helmeringhausen area Duwisib Restcamp Dabis G’stfarm
Night 10 Namib-Naukluft area Zebra River Lodge Wolwedans
Night 11 Namib-Naukluft area Zebra River Lodge Wolwedans
Night 12 Namib-Naukluft area Namib Restcamp W’ness Camp
Night 13 Namib-Naukluft area Namib Restcamp W’ness Camp
Night 14 Fly overnight out of Namibia
There is a wide choice of places for the last four nights of this trip, in the NamibRand, Sesriem and Naukluft areas. It really depends on how much time you want to spend exploring the mountains and walking, compared with investigating the area’s dunes and desert.
Night 13 En route to Windhoek Waterberg’s Restcamp Okonjima
Night 14 Fly overnight out of Namibia
This trip is better in a ‘clockwise’ direction, as below, because then the best game-viewing (at Etosha) is saved until near the end. This route could easily be expanded by a few days to visit the Sesriem area, by slotting it in after Windhoek and before Swakopmund.
Three weeks Southern–central–Etosha BudgetIndulgent
Night 1 Overnight flight to Namibia
Night 2 Mariental area Hardap Restcamp Into Afrika
Night 3 Mariental area Hardap Restcamp Into Afrika
Night 4 Fish River Canyon area Ai-Ais Restcamp Canyon Lodge
Night 5 Fish River Canyon area Ai-Ais Restcamp Canyon Lodge
Night 6 Lüderitz Lüderitz Guest House Zum Sperg SV
Night 7 Lüderitz Lüderitz Guest House Zum Sperg SV
Night 8 Namib-Naukluft area Duwisib Restcamp Die Duine
Night 9 Namib-Naukluft area Namib Restcamp Die Duine
Night 10 Namib-Naukluft area Namib Restcamp Kulala Lodge
Night 11 Namib-Naukluft area Namib Restcamp Kulala Lodge
Night 12 Swakopmund Municipal Restcamp Schweizerhaus
Night 13 Swakopmund Municipal Restcamp Schweizerhaus
Night 14 Damaraland Khorixas Restcamp Dm’land Camp
Night 15 Damaraland Khorixas Restcamp Dm’land Camp
Night 16 Etosha Okaukuejo Restcamp Ongava Lodge
Night 17 Etosha Okaukuejo Restcamp Ongava Lodge
Night 18 Etosha Halali Restcamp Etosha Aoba
Night 19 Etosha Halali Restcamp Etosha Aoba
Night 20 En route to Windhoek Waterberg’s Restcamp Okonjima
Even on an unrestricted budget, many would rather stay inside Etosha, at the basic Okaukuejo and Halali restcamps, rather than outside it – regardless of how comfortable the outside lodges are.
Night 1 Overnight flight to Victoria Falls
Night 2 Victoria Falls area Sprayview Hotel Vic Falls Hotel
Night 3 Victoria Falls area Sprayview Hotel Vic Falls Hotel
Night 4 Chobe River area Camping in Kasane Impalila Island
Night 5 Chobe River area Camping in Kasane Impalila Island
Night 6 Chobe River area Camping in Kasane Impalila Island
Night 7 Katima–Mudumu area Hippo Lodge camping Lianshulu
Night 8 Katima–Mudumu area Hippo Lodge camping Lianshulu
Night 9 Okavango–Popa Falls area Popa Falls Restcamp Drotsky’s
Night 10 Okavango–Popa Falls area Popa Falls Restcamp Drotsky’s
Night 11 Rundu Sarasungu camping Sarasungu
Night 12 Etosha Namutoni Restcamp Etosha Aoba
Night 13 Etosha Namutoni Restcamp Etosha Aoba
Night 14 Etosha Okaukuejo Restcamp Ongava Lodge
Night 15 Etosha Okaukuejo Restcamp Ongava Lodge
Night 16 Southern Kaokoveld Khorixas Restcamp Huab Lodge
Night 17 Southern Kaokoveld Ongongo Campsite Huab Lodge
Night 18 Southern Kaokoveld Ongongo Campsite Etendeka
Night 19 Southern Kaokoveld Brandberg Restcamp Etendeka
Night 20 En route to Windhoek Ozombanda Okonjima
Night 21 Fly overnight out of Namibia
This trans-Caprivi route is intrinsically more expensive than spending the same length of time just in Namibia. Victoria Falls and the Chobe/Kasane are both relatively costly, Botswana’s national park fees are relatively high, and there would also be a one-way drop-off fee levied on the car hire. Such a trip is better suited to a second or third visit to Namibia, rather than the first.
Camping and walking in the Bush
Many manuals have been written on survival in the bush, usually by military veterans. If you are stranded with a convenient multi-purpose knife, then these useful tomes will describe how you can build a shelter from branches, catch passing animals for food, and signal to the inevitable rescue planes which are combing the globe looking for you – whilst avoiding the attentions of hostile forces.
In Namibia, camping is usually less about surviving than about being comfortable. You will usually have much more than the knife: at least a bulging backpack, if not a loaded vehicle. Thus the challenge is not to camp and survive, it is to camp and be as comfortable as possible. Only practice will teach you this, but a few hints might be useful for the less experienced African campers.
Where you can camp
In national parks and areas which get frequent visitors, there are designated camping sites, usually at restcamps. Most people never need to venture away from these.
Outside the parks, you should ask the local landowner, or village head, if they are happy for you to camp on their property. If you explain patiently and politely what you want, then you are unlikely to meet anything but warm hospitality from most rural Namibians. They will normally be as fascinated with your way of life as you are with theirs. Company by your camp fire is virtually assured.
Choosing a site
Only experience will teach you how to choose a good site for pitching a tent, but a few points may help you avoid problems if you’re in a very remote area:
· Avoid camping on what looks like a path through the bush, however indistinct. It may be a well-used game trail.
· Beware of camping in dry river beds: dangerous flash floods can arrive with little or no warning.
· Near the coast, and in marshy areas, camp on higher ground to avoid cold, damp mists in the morning and evening.
· Camp a reasonable distance from water: near enough to walk to it, but far enough to avoid animals which arrive to drink.
· If a storm with lightning is likely, make sure that your tent is not the highest thing around.
· Finally, choose a site that is as flat as possible; it will make sleeping much easier.
Camp fires can create a great atmosphere and warm you on a cold evening, but they can also be damaging to the environment and leave unsightly piles of ash and blackened stones. Deforestation is a cause for major concern in much of the developing world, including parts of Namibia, so if you do light a fire then use wood as the locals do: sparingly. If you have a vehicle, then consider buying firewood in advance from people who sell it at the roadside in the more verdant areas.
If you collect it yourself, then take only dead wood, nothing living. Never just pick up a log: always roll it over first, checking carefully for snakes or scorpions.
Experienced campers build small, highly efficient fires by using a few large stones to absorb, contain and reflect the heat, and gradually feeding just a few thick logs into the centre to burn. Cooking pots can be balanced on the stones, or the point where the logs meet and burn. Others will use a small trench, lined with rocks, to similar effect. Either technique takes practice, but is worth perfecting. Whichever you do, bury the ashes, take any rubbish with you when you leave, and make the site look as if you had never been there. (See the Further Reading for details of Christina Dodwell’s excellent Travel, Survival and Bush Cookery.)
Don’t expect an unattended fire to frighten away wild animals – that works in Hollywood, but not in Africa. A camp fire may help your feelings of insecurity, but lion and hyena will disregard it with stupefying nonchalance.
Finally, do be hospitable to any locals who appear – despite your efforts to seek permission for your camp, you may effectively be staying in their back gardens.
Using a tent (or not)
Whether to use a tent or to sleep in the open is a personal choice, dependent upon where you are. In an area where there are predators around (specifically lion and hyena) then you should use a tent – and sleep completely inside it, as a protruding leg may seem like a tasty take-away to a hungry hyena. This is especially true at organised campsites, where the local animals have got so used to humans that they have lost much of their inherent fear of man. At least one person has been eaten whilst in a sleeping bag next to Okaukuejo’s floodlit water-hole, so always use a tent in these restcamps.
Outside game areas, you will be fine sleeping in the open, or preferably under a mosquito net, with just the stars of the African sky above you. On the practical side, sleeping under a tree will reduce the morning dew that settles on your sleeping bag. If your vehicle has a large, flat roof then sleeping on this will provide you with peace of mind, and a star-filled outlook. (Hiring a vehicle with a built-in roof-tent would seem like a perfect solution, until you want to take a drive whilst leaving your camp intact.)
If you intend to camp in Namibia, then your choice of equipment will be affected by how you are travelling; you’ll have more room in a vehicle than if you just carry a backpack. A few things to consider are:
Tent Mosquito-netting ventilation panels, allowing a good flow of air, are essential. Don’t go for a tent that’s small; it may feel cosy at home, but will be hot and claustrophobic in the desert. That said, strength and weatherproofing are not so important, unless you’re visiting Namibia during the height of the rains.
Mat A ground mat of some sort is essential for comfort, warmth and protecting the tent's groundsheet from stony ground (put it underneath the tent). The ubiquitous closed-cell foam mats are good and readily available. Genuine Karrimats and Therm-a-Rests (combination air-mattress/foam mats) are quite expensive, but much stronger and more durable – worth the investment.
Sleeping bag A three-season down sleeping bag is ideal, being the smallest and lightest bag that is still warm enough for winter nights. Synthetic fillings are cheaper, but for the same warmth are heavier and more bulky. They do have the advantage that they keep their warmth when wet, unlike down, but clearly this is not so vital in Namibia’s dry climate.
Sheet sleeping bag Thin pure-cotton sheet sleeping bags (eg: YHA design) are good protection for your main sleeping bag, keeping it cleaner. They can, of course, be used on their own when your main sleeping bag is too hot.
Stove ‘Trangia’-type stoves, which burn methylated spirits, are simple to use, light, and cheap to run. They come complete with a set of light aluminium pans and a very useful all-purpose handle. Often you'll be able to cook on a fire with the pans, but it's nice to have the option of making a brew in a few minutes while you set up camp. Canisters for gas stoves are available in the main towns if you prefer to use these, but are expensive and bulky. Petrol- and kerosene-burning stoves are undoubtedly efficient on fuel and powerful – but invariably temperamental, messy, and unreliable in the dusty desert. If you’re going on a long hike then take a stove and fuel, as firewood may not always be available in the drier areas.
Torch (flashlight) This should be on every visitor’s packing list. Find one that's small and tough, preferably water- and sand-proof. Head-mounted torches leave your hands free (useful when cooking) but some people find them bulky. The small, strong and super-bright torches (such as Maglites) are excellent, but their bulbs are difficult to buy in Namibia. Bring several spares with you.
Water containers For everyday use, a small two-litre water bottle is invaluable – however you are travelling. If you're thinking of hiking, you should bring a strong, collapsible water-bag for times when you will be away from a close source of water. Ten litres is a useful size, and probably the most you'll ever consider carrying on top of your normal kit. (Ten litres of water weighs 10kg.) Large plastic containers for the car can be bought when you arrive.
See Planning and preparations for a memory-jogging list of other useful items to pack.
Dangers from wildlife
Camping in Africa is really very safe, though you may not think so from reading this. If you have a major problem whilst camping, it will probably be because you did something stupid, or because you forgot to take a few simple precautions. Here are a few general basics, applicable to anywhere in Africa and not just Namibia.
Big game will not bother you if you are in a tent – provided that you do not attract its attention, or panic it. Elephants will gently tip-toe through your guy ropes whilst you sleep, without even nudging your tent. However, if you wake up and make a noise, startling them, they are far more likely to panic and step on your tent. Similarly, scavengers will quietly wander round, smelling your evening meal in the air, without any intention of harming you.
· Remember to ‘go to the toilet’ before going to bed, and avoid getting up in the night if possible.
· Scrupulously clean everything used for food which might smell good to scavengers. Put these utensils in a vehicle if possible, suspend them from a tree, or pack them away in a rucksack inside the tent.
· Do not keep any smelly foodstuffs, like meat or citrus fruit, in your tent. Their smells may attract unwanted attention.
· Do not leave anything outside that could be picked up – like bags, pots, pans, etc. Hyenas, amongst others, will take anything. (They have been known to crunch a camera’s lens, and eat it.)
· If you are likely to wake in the night, then leave the tent’s zips a few centimetres open at the top, enabling you to take a quiet peek outside.
As you set up camp, clear stones or logs out of your way with extreme caution: underneath will be great hiding places for snakes and scorpions. Long moist grass is ideal territory for snakes, and Namibia’s many dry, rocky places are classic sites for scorpions.
If you are sleeping in the open, it is not unknown to wake and find a snake lying next to you in the morning. Don’t panic; it has just been attracted to you by your warmth. You will not be bitten if you gently edge away without making any sudden movements. (This is one good argument for using at least a mosquito net!)
Before you put on your shoes, shake them out. Similarly, check the back of your backpack before you slip it on. Just a curious spider, in either, could inflict a painful bite.
WALKING IN THE BUSH
Walking in the African bush is a totally different sensation from driving through it. You may start off a little unready – perhaps even sleepy for an early morning walk – but swiftly your mind will awake. There are no noises except the wildlife, and you. So every noise that isn’t caused by you must be an animal; or a bird; or an insect. Every smell and every rustle has a story to tell, if you can understand it.
With time, patience, and a good guide you can learn to smell the presence of elephants, and hear when impala are alarmed by a predator. You can use ox-peckers to lead you to buffalo, or vultures to help you locate a kill. Tracks will record the passage of animals in the sand, telling what passed by, how long ago, and in which direction.
Eventually your gaze becomes alert to the slightest movement, your ears aware of every sound. This is safari at its best. A live, sharp, spine-tingling experience that’s hard to beat and very addictive. Be careful: watching animals from a vehicle will never be the same for you again.
Namibia has several long hikes suited to those who are both fit and experienced in Africa. These include unaccompanied trails along the Fish River Canyon, in the Naukluft Mountains and on Waterberg Plateau. Also guided trails on Waterberg and along the Ugab River.
There are also hundreds of shorter hikes, varying from half an hour’s stroll to a few days, and many areas which cry out to be explored on foot. None involve much big game, though you may come across larger animals; all are more about spending time in the environments to increase your understanding of them.
Safety of guided walks
In many areas where guided game walks are undertaken, your chances of being in a compromising situation with seriously dangerous game – namely lion, buffalo or elephant – are almost zero. There are many first-class guided walks in the desert and the mountains, showing you superb scenery and fascinating areas, which don’t have these risks to contend with.
Generally Namibia isn’t the place for a walking safari which concentrates on big-game (as always, there are exceptions – Hobatere springs to mind). Hence many guides don’t need to carry a gun, or know how to use one. This is fine for most of Namibia.
However, in areas where you may meet lion, buffalo or elephant, you need extra vigilance. A few lodges will take chances, and send you out walking with a guide who doesn’t have big game experience. Don’t let them. If lion, buffalo or elephant are present, then you need a professional guide who carries a loaded gun and knows how to use it.
This applies especially in Mahango, Mamili and Mudumu, which have thick vegetation cover and healthy game populations. Don’t accept the logic that ‘experience and large stick’ will be good enough. It will be for 99.9% of the time... but you don’t want to become the 0.1%. Don’t walk in such areas unless your guide has experience of big game and a rifle.
Further east, in Zambia and Zimbabwe where walking safaris have been refined, the guides must pass stringent exams and practical tests before they are licensed to walk with clients.
Guided walking safaris
If you plan to do much walking, and want to blend in, try to avoid wearing any bright, unnatural colours, especially white. Muted shades are best; greens, browns and khaki are ideal. Hats are essential, as is sun-block. Even a short walk will last for two hours, and there’s often no vehicle to which you can retreat if you get too hot.
Cameras and binoculars should be immediately accessible – ideally in dust-proof cases strapped to your belt. They are of much less use if buried at the bottom of a camera bag.
With regard to safety, your guide will always brief you in detail before you set off. S/he will outline possible dangers, and what to do if they materialise. Listen carefully: this is vital.
Face-to-face animal encounters
Whether you are on an organised walking safari, on your own hike, or just walking from the car to your tent in the bush, it is possible that you will come across some of Africa’s larger animals at close quarters. Invariably, the danger is much less than you imagine, and a few basic guidelines will enable you to cope effectively with most situations.
Firstly, don’t panic. Console yourself with the fact that animals are not normally interested in people. You are not their normal food, or their predator. If you do not annoy or threaten them, you will be left alone.
If you are walking to look for animals, then remember that this is their environment, not yours. Animals have been designed for the bush, and their senses are far better attuned to it than your are. To be on less unequal terms, remain alert and try to spot them from a distance. This gives you the option of approaching carefully, or staying well clear.
Finally, the advice of a good guide is more valuable than the simplistic comments noted here. Animals, like people, are all different. So whilst we can generalise here and say how the ‘average’ animal will behave – the one that’s glaring over a small bush at you may have had a really bad day, and be feeling much more grumpy than average.
Here are a few general comments on how to deal with some potentially dangerous situations.
This is probably the continent’s most dangerous animal to hikers, but there is a difference between the old males, often encountered on their own or in small groups, and large breeding herds.
Lone male buffalo are easily surprised. If they hear or smell anything amiss, they will charge without provocation – motivated by a fear that something is sneaking up on them. Buffalo have an excellent sense of smell, but fortunately they are short-sighted. Avoid a charge by quickly climbing the nearest tree, or by side-stepping at the last minute. If adopting the latter, more risky, technique then stand motionless until the last possible moment, as the buffalo may well miss you anyhow.
The large breeding herds can be treated in a totally different manner. If you approach them in the open, they will often flee. Occasionally though, they will stand and watch, moving aside to allow you to pass through the middle of the herd. Neither encounter is for the faint-hearted or inexperienced, so steer clear of these dangerous animals wherever possible.