Guide to Driving in Namibia: 10 Useful Self-drive Tips
Anthony is a photographer and writer for travel magazines and Lonely Planet, including the guides to Kenya and Botswana & Namibia.
Driving in Namibia on a self-drive safari means embarking on a true African adventure. Namibia is custom-made for this kind of self-guided exploration. It has a well-maintained road network and all the necessary infrastructure for drawing near to the country’s winning combination of soul-stirring landscapes, unique wildlife, and encounters with a rich diversity of people. The experience can also be as adventurous as you want it to be, and it’s a superb introduction to the joys of being your own boss out on the open road.
1. Is Driving Yourself in Namibia Safe?
They sometimes call Namibia ‘Africa for beginners’, and it’s no idle claim. Crime rates in the country are low, infrastructure (including roads) is generally excellent, and very low population densities mean that traffic is light. Accidents can happen, of course, and keeping safe means making sure that you understand local conditions and drive accordingly. But that’s true anywhere, and the danger of driving in Namibia is significantly lower than in many other countries around the world.
2. Do I Need a 4WD for a Self-drive Tour in Namibia?
It depends on where you want to go. Most Namibian self-drive safaris can be easily accomplished in a 2WD vehicle. Most of the major destinations are connected by sealed roads, and where gravel roads take over, many are in excellent condition. That said, make sure you do your research. Some areas – such as the remote river valleys of Damaraland and the northwest, Khaudum National Park, or parts of Sossusvlei and the wider Namib sand seas – do require a 4WD. With that in mind, renting a 4WD vehicle is, of course, more expensive, but it does mean that you can explore a little further.
3. What Preparation Do I Need?
If you do decide to drive in a 4WD, it can be a good idea to take a beginner (or refresher) 4WD-driving course. Most of the things you’ll learn – how to cross water safely, how best to navigate soft sand, etc. – will never arise while on the road in Namibia. But it’s about having the confidence to set out, safe in the knowledge that you’re ready for most eventualities.
It’s also important that you learn everything you need to know about your vehicle. Most rental companies will give you a briefing when you pick up your vehicle. Much as you might be in a hurry to get out on the road, don’t rush this part of the process. Far better to delay your departure than set out in a hurry and discover some important gap in your knowledge when it’s too late. This briefing can involve really simple yet important details, such as which type of fuel your car needs, or making sure you know how to change a tire on your vehicle. Punctures are relatively common on Namibian roads.
4. What Should I Consider When Planning My Self-drive Safari?
Namibia is a big country. Distances here are long, and you can spoil the whole experience if you try to be too ambitious. This is especially the case if you’re traveling as a family. Research the distances between the attractions you want to see and be realistic. Remember that it’s far better to see a few places well than try to see everything and end up spending most of your time in the car.
And a few basics. Always carry far more food and water than you think you might need: if you break down, it may be quite some time before help arrives. And take out insurance to make sure that you’re covered in the rare case of an emergency.
5. What Are Road Conditions Like for Driving in Namibia?
Although there are exceptions, especially in remote areas, Namibia’s roads are generally excellent. In fact, some of them are so good, that it can be easy to drive too quickly without realizing you’re speeding. Always keep an eye on how fast you’re going. On gravel roads you should be especially careful. There’s no easier way to ruin your trip than going too fast on gravel. One minute you’re having the time of your life, the next, one small error can change everything.
6. What Do I Need to Be Careful Of?
Never, ever drive at night in Namibia. Street lighting ranges from poor to non-existent. Local vehicles coming in the opposite direction are often poorly maintained and the headlights don’t always work. And most dangerous of all, both wild and domestic animals frequently wander across the road. By day, you can probably see them coming and have time to adjust. By night, a cow or a giraffe might appear in front of you without warning.
Remember also that it can be a long way between gas or petrol stations. So try and fill up when you can, rather than assuming that there might be a fuel stop somewhere in the next 200km.
7. Which Side of the Road Do I Drive On?
8. What Are the Speed Limits When Driving in Namibia?
The simple rule of thumb is that the speed limit for urban areas is 60km/hr, 120km/hr for sealed roads away from urban areas, or 100km/hr for gravel roads. There are two caveats to this. First, always observe road signs when it comes to speed limits, as these can vary according to local conditions of which you may not be aware. Secondly, as we said earlier, if you’re traveling on a gravel road, the actual speed limit is simply an upper limit and we strongly recommend that you travel considerably slower.
9. Do I Need an International Driver’s License?
By law, foreigners driving in Namibia don’t need to carry an International Driving Permit (IDP) if you plan on staying in the country for less than 90 days. As a result, rental companies will accept your home driver’s license. The only possible exception is for those whose license is in a language other than English. If that applies to you, carry an IDP with you to make sure you don’t encounter difficulties renting a car or dealing with police.
10. What Equipment Should I Carry With Me?
Hopefully, your rental company will make sure you have everything you need, but it’s worth coming up with a checklist in advance to make sure nothing is missed. There’s nothing worse than renting a 4WD camper and discovering out in the desert that you haven’t been provided with cutlery or a spare gas bottle. Some things are about comfort – extra blankets, a torch, the ladder for the rooftop tent, a lighter for the gas stove. Others could be more critical, such as the pump for reinflating tires or the jack for changing tires.
Also important is the GPS unit. Assuming that one is included in your rental, ask for it to be set up with Tracks4Africa, an excellent program where the route descriptions are updated regularly, often in real time. If you’re really heading out into the wilds, renting a satellite phone is also a good idea.
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