NAMIBIA TRAVEL GUIDE
Few countries in Southern Africa can match Namibia's sheer natural and vast beauty. It's named after the world's oldest desert (the Namib) which offers some of the most incredible scenes and sights on the planet, from the sand sea and ancient dead-tree valleys near Sossusvlei to the other-worldliness of massive sand dunes plunging down to the sea along the Skeleton Coast. This vast country truly is a desert lover's dream - the beauty of its canyons, orange sand dunes, incredible wildlife, and friendly locals ticks every box. Namibia is the second least densely populated country in the world after Mongolia with only 2.6 people per square kilometre and if you plan your route off the beaten path you might find yourself alone for days or even weeks on end.
We absolutely love Namibia and take every opportunity to visit. Fortunately for us, Namibia's southern border is barely a day drive from Cape Town, and even if you only have limited time, the southern part of the country is more than diverse and vast to provide you with a glimpse of what may lie further north. To fully experience what Namibia has to offer you should ideally spend closer to a month self-driving yourself across from end to end. At some point, you will look around and wonder whether you've fallen off the end of the earth.
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NAMIBIA QUICK FACTS
- Currency: The official currency of Namibia is the Namibian Dollar (N$), which is subdivided into 100 cents. The Namibian Dollar is pegged 1:1 to the South African Rand (ZAR). Both currencies are legal tender in Namibia, though change will usually be given in Namibian Dollars. Current conversion rate here.
- Electricity: 220-240V AC electricity. Power outlets are mostly round three-prong sockets (type M) and round two-prong sockets (type C). Remember to pack a universal travel adaptor so you can still use all your electronic gadgets.
- Visa: Traveling to Namibia is easy; citizens from 55 countries can enter Namibia without a visa - for a maximum stay of 3 months within one calendar year. Most other countries can obtain a visa on arrival at airports. Make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months after your entry and that you have at least one blank page (two if you require a visa).
Language: Nine different languages are spoken across the country but English is the official language and is widely spoken. Older Namibians in the South are more likely to speak Afrikaans or German.
- Safety: Namibia a very safe, politically stable country. With its small population and low crime rate, it's one of Africa’s safer destinations for travel. If you are travelling on an organized trip and staying at lodges and camps, safety problems are very rare. For these kinds of trips always follow the instructions of your guide who is responsible for your safety. Driving at night is not recommended due to the proliferation of wild animals. As anywhere in the world, most crime occurs in cities where higher safety precautions are urged. The northern part of Namibia is in a malaria-risk zone, so consult a doctor before leaving your home country, and take appropriate malaria precautions when travelling in these areas. Namibia's water supply is usually safe to drink, except where labelled otherwise. Whatever you do, don’t travel without travel insurance! We would suggest checking out World Nomads or SafetyWing, for travel insurance as they have the best coverage for active travellers.
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NAMIBIA PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
21 March, Independence Day
1 May, Workers’ Day
4 May, Cassinga Day
25 May, Africa Day
26 August, Heroes’ Day
10 December, Human Rights Day
26 December, Family Day
Also, Good Friday, Easter Monday, and Ascension.
FESTIVALS IN NAMIBIA
Namibia is extremely proud of its diversity and German roots, and locals like to celebrate with loud and colourful festivals.
- Windhoek Karneval - The biggest cultural event in Windhoek, and Namibia in general, is the Windhoek Karneval or WIKA. A remnant leftover from German occupation, visitors in attendance will feel a distinctly German vibe throughout the festival. Held during April, the Karneval involves a number of events including musical performances, a masked ball, a parade along Independence Avenue parade, and numerous carnival activities for kids.
- Kuste Karneval - Yet another remnant of German occupation in Namibia, the Kuste Karneval, held every August, is Swakopmund’s version of a street party. The festivities in this coastal city take the form of parades, food stalls and all-night ragers.
- Heroes’ Day (Maharero Day) - A traditional festival celebrated every August is Heroes’ Day, (also known as Maharero Day). Celebrated every August in the town of Okahandja, This loud and colourful festival is held in the town Okahandja and commemorates the efforts of Namibia’s war heroes. The festivities include military processions and parades in traditional costumes.
- Oktoberfest - As can be expected from a territory that was once held by Germany, the Namibian people naturally celebrate what has become one of the world’s best-known drinking events, Oktoberfest. Beer tents, live music, and general fun attract people from all over the country to the capital of Windhoek during this time.
- Enjando Street Festival - Also known as Mbapira, the Enjando Street Festival is held every March in the Namibian capital of Windhoek. Expect a loud display of traditional dance, complete with music and a variety of traditional and national costumes.
BEST TIME TO VISIT NAMIBIA
If seeing wildlife is your main objective, the absolute best time to visit Namibia is during September as it's warm and sunny with blue skies and not too cold at night. There are limited water sources so the game gathers around the waterholes, making for great game viewing.
May is the beginning of Namibia's winter. There is little to no rainfall during the winter and humidity is low. Wildlife will start to gather around the waterholes when rivers and other water sources dry up. From June nights are getting cold and temperatures can drop to below 10°C, while in the desert areas it can get to freezing. Daytime temperatures are pleasant, with blue skies and temperatures in the mid-20°Cs.
Generally speaking, the best time to visit Namibia is from July to October, with mild daytime temperatures and a low chance of rain. As can be expected, this is also the best time for wildlife viewing, making it peak travel season and you will need to plan well in advance.
However, Namibia is an incredibly scenic country and can be visited throughout the year. The colours will be most vibrant during and after the Wet season with the months of October to February unpleasantly hot during daytimes. We have on occasion spent a few weeks during December in the desert and if you can deal with the daytime heat it's a way to escape the busy coastal towns during the December holiday season.
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
HIKING & CYCLING IN NAMIBIA
You can enjoy outdoor activities in Namibia throughout the year. It can get uncomfortably hot inland from November to January. The very famous Fish River Hiking Trail can only be done during the months of April to September and you need to make a reservation in advance.
BEACH OPTIONS IN NAMIBIA
Although Namibia has a long coastline, the coast is not really suitable for a beach holiday. You will however find a few beaches at Swakopmund.
SURFING IN NAMIBIA
Namibia offers some great surfing conditions from April to October, with the most consistent swell from May to September.
KITESURF IN NAMIBIA
Namibia has winds suitable for wind and kitesurfing from August to January, with September and October being the best months. The best spots for kitesurfing are Walvis Bay, Swakopmund and Lüderitz, but these are not really suited to beginners.
For more details on kite surfing in Namibia expand this section!
HEALTH RISKS IN NAMIBIA
Be aware of possible health risks in
Malaria - Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease caused by a parasite that commonly infects a certain type of mosquito which feeds on humans. People who get malaria are typically very sick with high fevers, shaking chills, and flu-like illness. Although malaria can be a deadly disease, illness and death from malaria can usually be prevented.
NAMIBIA TRAVEL COSTS
Namibia is not a budget destination. Certain aspects, such as your transport and accommodation can be pricey, but on the other hand, dining out and luxury treatments can be good value for money. With the Namibian Dollar pegged to the South African Rand - foreign tourists can generally find good value in Namibia.
If you want to save money on accommodation, camping would be the cheapest option and probably the most enjoyable too. There's plenty of private and community-run camp-sites around and it could cost as little as $10 to spend the night at a basic campsite, many of which have pools, or about $30 to camp at some lodges. you may also find hostels in the larger centers like Windhoek and Swakopmund.
Getting Around Namibia
Namibia's roads are generally very good, with the main routes tarred, and secondary routes of well-graded gravel. During the holiday periods, gravel roads can deteriorate somewhat due to the increased traffic. An all-wheel-drive vehicle is not necessary except on tertiary roads and along the Skeleton Coast. Driving at night is very dangerous as there can be a lot of wildlife on the roads. Always check your spare wheel and inspect your tires often as Namibian roads are notorious for destroying tires. It's a good idea to purchase tire insurance that your rental car company might offer. Most importantly, if you do not have experience driving on gravel roads, SLOW DOWN! If you are on the back roads of Namibia, it's always wise to stop and add fuel to your tank whenever you see a service station. If possible carry at least 5L extra fuel in a container for an emergency. Plan to have some cash on hand in more rural areas as most fuel stations typically do not accept any form of payment other than cash.
A rental vehicle provides you with more freedom and flexibility during your travels, but there are some things which you should be aware of:
Budget class rental vehicles are available almost only with manual transmissions and if you specifically want an automatic vehicle, options available are often more expensive and in short supply. Prior to renting the car, also make sure you understand any restrictions you might be under like, total distance, whether you are allowed to drive on dirt roads, or geographic limits. Many rental agencies will also limit the waiver they provide on damage and you should inquire about this prior to signing any contract. Skyscanner.com is a fantastic tool for finding great flight deals. Also, check Momondo for flight comparisons and car rental deals.
If self-driving Namibia isn’t quite your style, there are also a number of small group adventure tours we’d recommend taking through the country, including:
WONDERS OF NAMIBIA - This 10-day G Adventures tour takes in all the best Namibia highlights, including Sossusvlei and Deadvlei, Fish River Canyon, Swakopmund, and Etosha National Park. Search all G Adventures Namibia group tours here.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF NAMIBIA
Namibia is a large and diverse country with much to see and do - from the nature lover to the historian and even for the adventurer. All that we can say for sure is that you will never have enough time in a single trip and you will most likely leave Namibia wanting to return.
Visit Etosha National Park
Dominated by the white salt flats of Etosha Pan, Etosha National Park is one of southern Africa’s great safari destinations. This 22 700 square kilometer wilderness area in Namibia is home to nearly 115 species of mammals, including four of the Big Five. You are more likely to spot animals here than other national parks due to its structure - the park is partially a massive salt pan and experiences low rainfall and visibility can be really good. Rent a vehicle or camper and camp at Okaukuejo camp within the park limits. The dry season is the best time for your Etosha safari, especially the months from May/June to October. Lack of rain means animals gather around the waterholes to drink, so these are the best places to park and wait for them to appear. July and August are also the busiest months, with lots of foreign visitors.
No visit to Sossusvlei, Namibia, would be complete without checking out the famous trees of Deadvlei. The clay pan is characterized by dark, dead camel thorn trees contrasted against the white pan floor. Formed when the Tsauchab River flooded, the abundance of water allowed camel thorn trees to grow in the pan. However, the climate changed and the sand dunes soon encroached on the pan, blocking the river from reaching the area. The fossilized trees are estimated to be around 900 years old, however, they have not decomposed due to the intensely dry climate. While there you're sure not to miss "Big Daddy" - situated between Sossusvlei and Deadvlei and at 325 meters dwarfing all the other dunes.
Hike Fish River Canyon
The largest canyon in Africa (the second largest worldwide), it forms part of the state-run Ais-Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park. The Fish River is the longest interior river in Namibia and over time managed to cut deep into the plateau - in total about 160 km long and up to 27 km wide and in places, almost 550 meters deep. The river itself flows intermittently, usually flooding in late summer; the rest of the year it becomes a chain of long narrow pools. Towards the lower end of the Fish River Canyon at the end of road C10, the hot springs resort of Ai-Ais is situated.
Kolmanskop Ghost Town
Kolmanskop grew out of the diamond boom. The region was administered by Germany at the beginning of the century and the town reflected this in its character. It was said of the Germans that only after they had finished building the pub and the skittle alley, their favourite form of relaxation, did they start looking for suitable plots to build their houses. During 1912, the area produced one million carats which were almost 12 percent of the world’s total diamond production for the year! The last people left the town around 50 years ago and since then, the desert has completely taken over the buildings.
HOT AIR BALLOONING OVER THE NAMIB DESERT
This is probably on a lot of people’s bucket lists somewhere, and for good reason! Taking off at dawn, we watched the sunrise over the dunes between Swakopmund and Walvisbay, flew towards the Naukluft Moonlandscape, over dunes that looked like play-dough and startled ant-like gemsbok. It’s definitely better seen than described – if you see the aerial images you’ll be tempted to book your flight right now. From Sossusvlei, it can be a pricey excursion but you can also do it from Swakopmund for substantially cheaper, albeit with a somewhat different scenery below.
WHAT TO PACK FOR NAMIBIA
Not only is Namibia raw and rugged, but its weather is also hugely diverse, with climatic differences that many struggles to comprehend (like, freezing nights and blazing deserts days).
Plan for hot and dry summer weather between November and March. You should wear loose, cool clothes during this time when temperatures generally reach 30°- 40° Celsius. Definitely pack a light jacket or sweater for evenings, when the weather can cool down closer to the coast. Avoid bright colours that can scare animals away and dark colours that can attract insects. Dress in layers so you can adapt to varying temperatures throughout the day. Especially during summer, you should wear long sleeves and long pants to deter insects - this also protects from the risk of sunburn. Pack good walking shoes with a thick sole as you will need these for safari, hiking, and sightseeing.
Prepare for the hot, African sun. Bring a sun hat - this is essential during summer when outside. Also, bring your sunglasses to protect your eyes from the glare. Find a good quality sunscreen which offers at least 30 SPF - however, this is something you will find available throughout the country.
Here are some of our recommendations for your Namibia packing essentials:
- TENT - When you have your own tent, you have the freedom and flexibility to set up camp just about anywhere in Namibia. During the winter months it can get really cold at night so get a 4 season tent like the North Face Stormbreak Tent. During summer months you can make do with a 2-3 season tent like the Featherstone 2 Person Backpacking Tent.
- SLEEPING BAG + SLEEPING BAG LINER - It gets freezing in the night in Namibia during winter, so we recommend bringing a sleeping bag with you such as RAB's range of sleeping bags. If you're heading out on a planned group tour, you'll generally have a sleeping bag provided to you. Always bring a sleeping bag liner (we use these Sea to Summit silk liners) with you to use with hired sleeping bags.
- TRAVEL TOWEL - A microfiber towel is a perfect saviour when your hostel doesn't have towels or you need something to dry off with after a quick dip.
- REUSABLE WATER BOTTLE & WATER FILTER - Our favourite combination is the Sistema reusable bottle for hot & cold liquids with the Survival Water Filter Pro. This has got to be one of our best travel buys, not only for our budget (by eliminating the need to purchase bottled water) but also for doing our part for the environment by reducing the use of single-use plastic bottles. Not to mention that it is also very handy in the case of an emergency when potable water may not be readily available.
- HEADLAMP - Probably one of the most underrated items in any Africa backpacker's arsenal; the trusty headlamp, will help you navigate your campsite in the dark. Our favourite is the Black Diamond Cosmo as it has a dimming function as well as a red light which does not attract insects.
- SUNSCREEN - It doesn't take long for that relentless Namibia sun to do some real damage, so don’t forget your sunscreen. Sunscreen is rather expensive around Southern Africa and we would recommend bringing enough for your whole trip from home.
- SUNGLASSES - You will be staring across safari plains in the blazing midday sun for days on end - protect them from damage with a good pair of polarised glasses.
- FIRST AID KIT - In the wild, vast spaces of Namibia, it really does pay to have a well-stocked medical kit with you.
A GOOD BOOK / KINDLE - Distances are vast and your travel times between destinations here are often pretty lengthy (especially if you’re not driving!). You'll want to bring a decent book along with you - or a Kindle loaded with all your favourites.
WHAT TO EAT IN NAMIBIA
Food in Namibia, for the indigenous population at least, has mostly been more about survival rather than creating inspirational cuisine, and you're unlikely to encounter the basic food eaten by most Namibians on most tourist menus. Instead, you're more likely to find mainly international dishes, with some local variation or adaptation – German dishes (particularly cakes and pastries) are a highlight, as are the widely available game meats (eg eland, oryx or kudu). Local specialities worth sampling is Swakopmund green asparagus (September to April), Luderitz oysters (all year round), Kalahari truffles (May and June if they appear), and Omajowa, the large fleshy mushrooms that appear for a brief period at the foot of termite hills north of Okahandja shortly after the rains in February.
As Namibia’s cattle live entirely off savannah grasses and shrubs, local beef is entirely free from harmful residues, hormones and antibiotics, as is Namibian lamb. Venison has always been incredibly popular, especially ostrich, springbok, and gemsbok, while seafood such as kabeljou, rock lobster and oysters are highly regarded along the coast. Outdoor cooking is a big part of the Namibian way of life and the tradition of braaivleis (meat barbeque) is a popular meal, as is potjiekos, a spicy stew of meat, chicken or fish cooked in a cast iron, three-legged pot over an open fire. As you travel throughout the safari lodges in Namibia you will find that many of the lodges serve traditional braaivleis and potjiekos.
In Swakopmund, Luderitz and Windhoek you can indulge in traditional German-style confectionery including classics such as Schwarzwälder, Kirschtorte, and Apfelstrudel as well as the renowned Springer chocolates produced in Windhoek. A favourite breakfast or light lunch are crispy bread rolls, known as Brötchen, filled with cheese, eggs, meat or salad. Popular snacks include Southern African specialities such as biltong (spiced dried meat) and droewors (spicy dried sausage) as well as Ladjäger, a Southern German smoked port and beef sausage.
WHERE TO STAY IN NAMIBIA
Namibia is not a budget destination and accommodation can be rather pricey. However, for such a large country, accommodation can be found just about anywhere, whether it be a sleepy roadside town in the middle of the desert or incredible lodge in the heart of Etosha.
If you want to save money on accommodation, camping would be the cheapest option and probably the most enjoyable too. There's plenty of private and community-run camp-sites around and it could cost as little as $10 to spend the night at a basic campsite, many of which have pools, or about $30 to camp at some lodges. you may also find hostels in the larger centres like Windhoek and Swakopmund.
Family-run guesthouses are more common than hotels and you can expect to pay about $50 - $70 for a simple double room, which often comes with some meals. There are also guest farms that share the concept as a guesthouse but with the addition of hiking trails or other activities. For a more comfortable night, check into a lodge at the more luxurious end of the market. Expect to pay at least $100 for a double room.
If you’re travelling during peak season or school holidays, it is best to book your accommodations well in advance. We recommend checking sites like Booking.com to find accommodation at the lowest possible prices.
Airbnb Travel Tip: If you prefer to stay in your own apartment or house, we recommend using Airbnb in Namibia. Check out our full article on how to get $65 coupon code for your booking or simply click here to get our coupon code to apply on your next booking.