If you are wondering what you should know before you go on a self-driving trip to Namibia, I get you! This is an ultimate guide, that is meant to give you some insights into what to expect on your Namibia Road Trip. You should be able to plan a trip and have confidence that you will be able to drive safely and without any doubts or fear.
I took a 10-day cross-country self-drive road trip in Namibia and drove from the cities to safari, to the desert, and to many remote areas of the country. I am here now to share with you all the essential tips you must know, to be possibly the best road trip of your life!
Driving in Namibia is definitely different than driving in most other countries, however, it doesn’t have to be a challenging experience. Rent a car in Namibia with confidence and know that you can do this! If you have never driven on the left side of the road before, Namibia’s sparse traffic makes it a great place to learn. If you’ve never driven off-road before, read the tips below and get ready to put your truck in 4-LOW and drive through the sand.
Namibia is such a great self-drive adventure destination, and renting a 4X4 and exploring the country is an experience you will never forget. See the natural beauty, history, and cultures that make Namibia a top-road trip adventure tourism destination. So let’s dive into this self-drive in Namibia guide, and start planning your adventure to uncover the Most Beautiful Places to Visit in Namibia.
You may also enjoy these articles:
- Ultimate Sel-Drive Itinerary in Namibia
- 7 Essential Tips to Safely Rent a Car in Namibia
- The Most Beautiful Places to Visit in Namibia
- 22 Essential Things to know before you go Self-Driving in Namibia
- 1. WHAT ARE THE FIRST THINGS I NEED TO CONSIDER TO GO SELF-DRIVING IN NAMIBIA?
- 2. RENTING A CAR IN NAMIBIA
- 3. DO I NEED A 4X4 TO SELF-DRIVE IN NAMIBIA?
- 4. CONSIDER RENTING A TRUCK WITH A TENT ON TOP
- 5. DO I NEED A NAMIBIA DRIVER'S LICENSE?
- 6. HAVE SOME BASIC MECHANICAL AND OFF-ROAD DRIVING SKILLS
- 7. IS IT SAFE TO SELF-DRIVE IN NAMIBIA?
- 8. PARKING IN CITIES – PAYING FOR SOMEONE TO WATCH YOUR VEHICLE
- 9. YOU SHOULD HAVE TRAVEL INSURANCE IN NAMIBIA
- 10. DON'T DRIVE IN NAMIBIA AT NIGHT
- 11. RESPECT THE SPEED LIMITS IN NAMIBIA
- 12. NAMIBIA ROAD CONDITIONS ARE RELATIVELY GOOD
- 13. DRIVING ON GRAVEL ROADS
- 14. CHECK YOUR TIRES OFTEN
- 15. BE AWARE OF ANIMALS ON THE ROAD
- 16. GET FAMILIAR WITH THE NAMIBIA ROAD SIGNS
- 17. DOWNLOAD GOOGLE MAPS OR BUY A GPS BEFORE DRIVING IN NAMIBIA
- 18. KEEP MORE WATER AND SNACKS THAN YOU THINK
- 19. CHECK OTHER DRIVERS WHO MAY HAVE A PROBLEM
- 20. IT WILL TAKE LONGER TO GET TO YOUR DESTINATION THAN YOU THINK
- 21. SELF-DRIVE SAFARI IN NAMIBIA IS RELATIVELY EASY
- 22. DON'T PACK LIGHT WHEN YOU GO SELF-DRIVE IN NAMIBIA
- Self-driving in Namibia Conclusion
22 Essential Things to know before you go Self-Driving in Namibia
1. WHAT ARE THE FIRST THINGS I NEED TO CONSIDER TO GO SELF-DRIVING IN NAMIBIA?
Before you start reading this long list of the essential things you need to know to safely self-drive in Namibia, let me make it easy for you. If you answer “no” to any of the 4 questions below, I would consider hiring a private driver like this one.
- Do you feel comfortable driving a 4×4 vehicle?
- Do you feel comfortable driving a manual car?
- Do you have basic experience in driving off-road?
- Do you feel comfortable driving on the left side of the road?
Also, you will need to have a 4×4 vehicle to go on your Namibia road trip. Keep in mind that most of your options will be a manual transmission. If you need an automatic, you will pay more and have fewer options to choose from.
2. RENTING A CAR IN NAMIBIA
I have written this very detailed guide on renting a car in Namibia, between these two articles, you should be very prepared to design your own self-drive Namibia adventure.
Since there are different providers, offering different rental car options. Therefore, you will need to decide if you will rent a 4×4 truck or a 4×4 truck with a tent on top (if you are planning to camp around the country).
The good news is that you can get a 15% off your rental car when you book through this site. I use and recommend RentalCar because it is the most reliable rental car source, and it allows you to compare the prices of different places. If you choose any of the car rentals from RentalCar, you can pick up your car at the Windhoek International Airport.
3. DO I NEED A 4X4 TO SELF-DRIVE IN NAMIBIA?
Considering that Namibia is covered by great swaths of desert, you will need a 4×4 to navigate more easily and to reach some of the less accessible areas. There are many paved roads covering the primary routes, but there are more gravel roads than anything else.
Gravel roads can be traversed in a regular car, and you can do a self-drive safari in Etosha in a car, but it is not advisable. A 4×4 with rugged tires is the best way to get around.
Another great aspect of most 4×4 rental trucks is that they have 2 gas tanks. Considering that you will be driving long distances in remote areas, extending your range with 2 gas tanks is invaluable.
Also, keep in mind that most of your options will be a manual transmission. If you need an automatic, you will pay more and have fewer options to choose from. I also recommend you check these 7 tips to rent a car in Namibia before you make a decision on your rental vehicle.
4. CONSIDER RENTING A TRUCK WITH A TENT ON TOP
Namibia is a great place to camp. Wild camping (camping outside a designated campsite) is not allowed, but there are many excellent campsites across the country. Having a tent on your truck gives you the flexibility to either make camp or stay in a lodge if there is space.
Most of the campsites in Namibia have electric hookups, access to private or shared bathrooms, water, and a fire pit. Being able to set up a tent also gives you the ability to experience nature in a way that you may miss in a lodge.
5. DO I NEED A NAMIBIA DRIVER’S LICENSE?
As long as you have a driver’s license in your home country, you can drive in Namibia. Keep in mind, however, that in Namibia you will drive on the left side of the road. Any car you rent will most likely have the driver’s seat on the right side of the vehicle.
If you are not used to driving on the opposite side (of the car and the road) take your time and exercise caution. I find that it takes about 3 – 4 days to adapt and feel more comfortable. If you have a passenger with you, ask them to help remind you how to turn, and have them be a copilot. It takes practice.
6. HAVE SOME BASIC MECHANICAL AND OFF-ROAD DRIVING SKILLS
Make sure you are comfortable with some basic maintenance skills, like putting gas in the vehicle, checking oil, and adjusting tire pressure. You will often be on deserted stretches of roads/trails, so you should be able to change a flat tire at a minimum.
Get to know how to drive in loose sand. You will need to know how to drop your tire pressure to the right level, and you will need to learn how and when to drive in low gear versus high gear. Your 4×4 will probably be a 4×2, which can be put into 4×4 mode (4×2 saves on gas, 4×4 when you need the additional traction).
Driving in low gear (high torque) and in 4×4 is necessary for deep sand – but needs to be combined with the correct tire pressure to give you the most traction.
Tire pressure is absolutely the most important aspect of driving off-road and in deep sand. Many times vehicles (even 4×2) can get unstuck just by dropping tire pressure and creating a wider tire profile. Combining the right tire pressure for the conditions along with a good 4×4 in low gear can get you through nearly any situation you will encounter.
7. IS IT SAFE TO SELF-DRIVE IN NAMIBIA?
Namibia is a very safe country, and it is very safe to drive in – as long as you follow a few rules.
Driving at night is highly dangerous due to wild and domestic animals. Most wild animals are active at night, and the chance of a collision with an animal is much higher. There are also herds of domestic animals that graze near the roadways.
Don’t exceed the speed limit, especially on gravel roads. One of the most common accidents is a vehicle rollover due to excessive speed, or rapid steering input changes on gravel roads. This is even more important if you are in a top-heavy vehicle like a 4X4 truck. Be cautious of the built-up gravel on the roads which can push your car off to the side.
Be cautious going over blind hills. On gravel roads, you can usually, but not always, see if a vehicle is coming in the opposite direction by the dust trail. When going over blind hills, use tremendous caution because you never know what may be on the other side, including pedestrians or animals.
Be very careful in sandstorms. The low visibility is similar to a snowstorm. The danger is not just in front of you, but also could come from behind. If you decide to stop and wait it out, do so in a safe place.
8. PARKING IN CITIES – PAYING FOR SOMEONE TO WATCH YOUR VEHICLE
When you stop in a city/town to restock your food and water, or just go to a restaurant or site see, you will probably be approached by 1 or more people who offer to watch your vehicle. You may even be guided into a parking spot by one of these people. It is courteous to tip someone for watching your car while you go about your business.
A small amount from you will mean a lot to them. In lieu of money, a donation of food can also be appropriate. Remember, these are people who are just trying to get by. Giving someone 1 dollar or 2 will put a smile on their face.
Don’t leave valuables in plain view when you do leave your vehicle. Prior to parking, secure your valuables and stow things that could tempt someone to break into your car. While you may have paid someone to watch your car for you, the likelihood that they will stop someone from breaking into your car is low.
9. YOU SHOULD HAVE TRAVEL INSURANCE IN NAMIBIA
For auto insurance, make sure you consider getting covered. Anything can happen when you are driving in unfamiliar territory or in unfamiliar conditions. Read the policy carefully beforehand and understand what is covered and not covered. For example, most policies will not cover tires and windshield damage.
Driving in Namibia means you will be spending a lot of time driving n gravel roads and through terrains. It doesn’t matter how carefully you drive your vehicle, expects to have some scratches and at least small damages to the car. I recommend paying for comprehensive insurance when you go on your Namibia self-drive adventure.
You will need to pay for any damages to the vehicle, it is in your contract! I had a couple of damages and at the end of my trip, I had to pay extra – so be prepared!
10. DON’T DRIVE IN NAMIBIA AT NIGHT
As mentioned previously, nighttime driving is not advised. In some places, it is absolutely not permitted (such as Etosha National Park). If you find yourself driving after dark, use extreme caution and reduce your speed below the speed limit. It may take you longer to get to your destination, but you will get there in one piece, and you should be able to avoid any animals out on the roadway.
Many Namibians do not have access to vehicles, and they walk to their destinations. At night, the safest way, and easiest, is to walk along the road. Since most roads do not have street lamps (except in the city), it can be very difficult to spot people walking. Your headlights only go so far, and you may drive up on someone quite unexpectedly in the dark.
11. RESPECT THE SPEED LIMITS IN NAMIBIA
There are speed limits throughout Namibia, but they are not always posted. Pay attention to your speed on gravel roads (max 100 km/hr), and going through towns and villages. It is very common for Namibians to walk along the roadway to get to their destination or to get to a bus stop. Villagers also walk along the roadway to carry water and shepherd their animals. It is also quite common to see cows or sheep crossing a road unaccompanied, or grazing alongside the road.
Many Namibians look for a ride alongside the road. It is common for a car or truck to suddenly slow and pull over to pick up a passenger. Be wary of cars slowing down suddenly, and always keep an eye on the road and to the side of the road.
If you have a passenger, ask the passenger to keep an eye out, especially in village areas where both people and domestic animals could pose a hazard. If you are driving too fast, you could potentially reduce your time to react to the unexpected.
12. NAMIBIA ROAD CONDITIONS ARE RELATIVELY GOOD
The roads in Namibia are well maintained and easy to drive on, even the gravel roads. Signs are generally prevalent on paved roads and at intersections of gravel roads. The use of a GPS is the easiest way to navigate, but without GPS you can still find your way around.
The gravel roads and dirt roads can be a bit rough in places, and will not provide the smoothest/quietest ride, but they are in good condition. Keep an eye out for the dips and rises in the dirt and gravel roads. There are usually signs where the biggest ones are and you would do well to reduce speed to avoid damaging the truck, your gear, or your food stocks.
13. DRIVING ON GRAVEL ROADS
You will spend most of your time self-driving in Namibia on gravel roads as you tour the country. Keep in mind:
- Gravel provides less traction and grip than paved roads, therefore you will need to reduce your speed
- Gravel roads require lower tire pressure in order to minimize flat tires – lower tire pressure will smooth your ride and may cost you slightly more in gas, but will save you a lot of money on tires (and the time to change tires)
- You will get a flat tire on gravel roads. It is not a question of if, it is a question of when. Be ready to get out and change your flat tire to a spare. Next time you are in a city, get the flat repaired or replaced.
- Gravel roads create a lot of dust which can minimize visibility. Be careful when passing other vehicles or when you are being passed. If visibility gets too low, pull over to the side until it improves.
- On gravel roads, it can be hard to see big dips or bumps. If you hit either of these at a high speed you can damage the vehicle or whatever is in the back of your truck (like food and water containers).
- Gravel can collect into berms on the sides or in the middle of the road which can cause your vehicle to slide. Be EXTREMELY cautious about these low berms of gravel, they can cause you to lose control and possibly flip the vehicle.
- Follow the tire tracks as best you can. This will minimize your chance of puncturing a tire and reduce the risk of driving through a berm of gravel.
14. CHECK YOUR TIRES OFTEN
Tires are key to your road trip to Namibia. Your rental truck should have at least 1 spare tire, if not 2. I absolutely recommend having 2 spare tires due to the high probability of getting a flat tire on gravel roads.
I recommend carrying a tire pressure gauge to monitor and adjust your tire pressure according to the type of road you are traveling on. If you lower the tire pressure, don’t worry, every gas station will put air in your tires when you get fuel.
It can be difficult to know if you got a hole in a tire when driving on a gravel road. Visually check your tires often, and don’t hesitate to stop and check if you notice the truck handling differently, you hear a new noise, or you smell something unusual. All of these could be indications that you have a flat tire.
15. BE AWARE OF ANIMALS ON THE ROAD
Whether is a wild animal or a domestic animal, you will come across animals on the road. When you are on a safari, your eyes are peeled for a sighting. Your alert level is high and your anticipation is soaring. At the same time, you are probably not driving 60 km/hr.
Be very cautious and aware of animals throughout your travels in Namibia. Four eyes are better than two, so engage your co-pilot to help keep an eye out. You never know what you may come across…wild horses, elephants, sheep, cattle, dogs, springboks, giraffes, jackals, etc.
The most frequent risk you will find will be near villages, where herds of animals graze alongside or cross the road. These domesticated animals (cows and sheep) are often unattended, and unpredictable. Wild animals are usually much leerier of roads and cars and will usually run in the opposite direction.
16. GET FAMILIAR WITH THE NAMIBIA ROAD SIGNS
English is the official language of Namibia, and all road signs are in English. You will see road signs with the route, the letter B, C, or D, followed by numbers.
- B roads are paved
- C roads are wide gravel roads that are maintained frequently
- D roads are more suited to 4×4 traffic and are not maintained as well as C roads
You are also likely to find quite a few different animal signs, quite different from what you are used to seeing. Keep an eye out when you see these signs and you might get lucky! For example, when I laughed at the “squirrel crossing” sign, there was a squirrel staring at me just next to the sign…haha!
Most signs are red and white and triangle-shaped and alert the driver to potential hazards. These warning signs should be self-explanatory, but if not, use caution.
17. DOWNLOAD GOOGLE MAPS OR BUY A GPS BEFORE DRIVING IN NAMIBIA
Getting around Namibia is not too hard, as there are not too many roads to choose from. Having a GPS in the vehicle is one sure way to navigate around the country. If you have cell service you can use your phone as well. Barring these devices, a good old-fashioned map is a great option too.
Ideally, if you already have your route planned, you can program it into the GPS or into Google Maps and let the device guide your journey. Going off-plan and taking some side trips is easy when you can plan your way back onto your route.
18. KEEP MORE WATER AND SNACKS THAN YOU THINK
Distances between towns and cities can belong. In some cases, you may not pass a store for a few days. Any time you have the chance, make sure you stock up, especially on water.
If you have water in the back of the truck and you drive over rough terrain, it is possible that you could lose some water either through bottles breaking or spilling. Why I am saying this? Because it happen to me, and I ran out of food and water in a remote area.
You can never have enough water and food, so keep stocked up! Snacks are a great way to keep your energy up throughout the day, so make sure you have plenty on hand. I have a whole article of high-energy snacks that you can easily prepare and carry with you.
19. CHECK OTHER DRIVERS WHO MAY HAVE A PROBLEM
On the long roads, you may come across other vehicles stopped on the road. This certainly happened to me. Be courteous if you feel safe to see if the other driver is okay or needs help. The roads pass through long stretches of uninhabited territory. If anything, you can offer some water and snacks if they are waiting for help to come.
20. IT WILL TAKE LONGER TO GET TO YOUR DESTINATION THAN YOU THINK
It can be challenging to determine how long it will take to drive from Point A to Point B. The road conditions will determine the speed you will be able to travel, and you never know when you may get a flat tire. Be very conservative in your estimates (you won’t be traveling 55mph / 90kph on most roads), and make sure you plan to arrive at your destination before dark.
21. SELF-DRIVE SAFARI IN NAMIBIA IS RELATIVELY EASY
Going on a safari in Etosha National Park is incredibly easy. The gravel roads throughout the park are very well maintained and you can easily navigate them in a 4×2 vehicle. The main advantage of having a truck is the ride height and point of view.
The roads in Etosha are well-marked and it is easy to follow the park map to guide your safari. Driving off-road is not permitted and really not necessary. You can download an app and check animal sightings to try to be in the right place at the right time to see the animals you want. Most of the fun of safari is the search…driving around looking for the animals in their natural habitat.
It is very common to talk with other drivers while on safari to see what they have seen and where. If you are passing another vehicle heading in the other direction, you can wave them down and exchange experiences. Perhaps there is a lion 2km up the road that they saw.
22. DON’T PACK LIGHT WHEN YOU GO SELF-DRIVE IN NAMIBIA
Since you will be driving around the country, make sure you bring what you need. Doing a self-drive adventure is not like backpacking. The vehicle will haul what you need. Stock up on food and water, and make sure you have appropriate clothes for the environment and a change of shoes.
You want to pack light….but at the same time, you will be so remote for many days that you will want to pack heavy. So, let me help you PACK SMART:
- GPS and a good Namibia map.
- Extra flashlights and batteries
- A well-equipped First Aid kit (including a snake bite kit)
- Rehydration solution
- A daypack
- Satellite phone
- Inflatable LED Solar Lantern.
- Bring a warm blanket for cold nights.
- Camera and safari lens
- Toilet paper
- light hiking pants
- long sleeves shirts
- good face cover
- polarized sunglasses
- Hand sanitizer
- LifeStraw Filtered Water Bottle and Emergency water supply
- External battery charger
Self-driving in Namibia Conclusion
I hope you found this guide on how to self-driving in Namibia useful. There are some things that we just learn by doing ourselves, and during my Namibia itinerary planning, I found some information on the web, the majority of the trips on how to drive in Namibia are listed here, and I learned while I was in Namibia.
But in short, driving n Namibia is safe and relatively easy, if you are well-prepared and rent a reliable car. Most likely you will have some surprises along the way, such as a flat tire or getting stuck in the sand. But as long as you have good assistance from your rental car company, and some basic mechanical skills, you will be just fine.
If you have any further questions just leave me a comment below, as I would love to connect with you.
If you are planning a trip to Namibia, make sure you check out my other posts:
- Namibia Perfect Road Trip Itinerary
- How to rent a car in Namibia
- Ultimate Namibia and Botswana Road trip itinerary
- 15 Must-visit places in Namibia: A photo journey
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