[email protected]   |    +27 21 852 6911

Written by: Johanna Höß on 22 October 2021

10 things to know before you go to Namibia

Two people hiking in the Erongo Mountains

The mostly arid terrain that stretches from South Africa to Angola is one of the lesser-known safari destinations in Southern Africa, and yet it deserves so much more attention. Unlike its famous neighbours South Africa and Botswana, Namibia is a land of stark contrasts. Its complex history and one-of-a-kind nature spectacles only add to the country’s mystique. After travelling to Namibia, I realised that there were a few things you should know before you go.

When you think of Namibia, you might think of the golden sand dunes in the Namib Desert, colourful ancient tribes, safari in the dusty wilderness tracking down wild lions or the rough Namibian coast with its quirky underwater characters in the endless Atlantic. But there is so much more to this country. Knowing these ten things before you go to Namibia will help you understand the roots of some of the country’s quirks and give you a deeper appreciation of this beautiful part of the earth.

Mountain landscape and moon

Backpacking won’t get you far in Namibia

While there is nothing wrong with travelling to Namibia with your backpack, the southern African country is not your typical backpacking destination. The long distances and sparsely populated land make it hard to be spontaneous. Therefore, my seemingly most boring travel tip for you is to plan your trip well beforehand. When travelling through Namibia, you should always be prepared for the unexpected. Make sure to carry enough water with you and if you are road tripping you should fill up your tank at every gas station – you never know when the next one will come. Also, make sure that you know where you will spend the night and work out distances and driving times beforehand. When planning, don’t forget to take into account the Namibian roads. If you don’t feel like the hassle of planning and driving yourself, our experienced guides will happily do the job for you on a guided tour. Or maybe you want to read more about how to best prepare for your self-drive trip to Namibia.

Rental car on gravel road under tree

Experience a space odyssey without uncomfortable spacesuits or cramped space rockets

Don’t worry, I’m not talking about paying $55 million for taking a flight to space. Instead, I have a secret tip for a low-cost, low-effort alternative to flying out of space: Namibia. Besides the overall dryness and extreme landscapes where ocean and desert clash, there are some parts of Namibia where you will feel like you are on another planet, somewhere far away from earth. Want to take a walk on the moon? Visit Namibia’s “Moonscape” around the Sesriem Canyon, close to Swakopmund. Look for Neil Armstrong’s footprints while you navigate the rugged terrain of eroded hills and valleys, which was carved out by the river. Another rather curious phenomenon adds to the otherworldly feel of the region. Aptly coined “fairy circles”, you can find these peculiar constellations of dry little plants across the country. The grass forms circles in which nothing grows, varying between 2 and 15 metres in diameter. Before you go to Namibia you should know that until this day, no one knows why nothing grows in these circles, however, there are some theories.

Fairy circles seen on Balloon Safari Namib Sky
Fairy Circles seen on a balloon safari with Namib Sky

Beer, Lederhosen and a friendly “Guten Morgen” – 12,000 km away from Munich

You enter a ‘Bäckerei’ and order an ‘Apfelkuchen’ while looking onto an ‘Antiquitätenladen’, but something seems off. And when you feel the African sun on your face, it all comes back to you: You are not in Germany but in Namibia. The country was a German colony from 1884 until 1915 and its colonial history is still evident in some parts. In Windhoek, Swakopmund and Luderitz you will pass by various old “German” buildings, and many streets still have German names. Some Namibians might even greet you with a “Hallo, wie geht’s?”. While today, English is Namibia’s only official language, about 30,000 Namibians of German descent and an estimated 15,000 indigenous Namibians still speak German in Namibia. Even after German rule over Namibia came to an end during World War I, German remained an official language until Namibia’s independence in 1990. Until this day, German Namibians sustain a fully-fledged culture within Namibia: There are German schools, churches and even German television.

Windhoek is worth a visit

Whether Windhoek is worth a visit or not is a hotly debated topic, but I can confidently say that it is worth going. I wish someone had given me this travel tip because one thing is for sure: Your trip will be over quicker than you think. Before you go to Namibia, you should know that being on safari normally comes with a busy schedule. Your days in Namibia will fly by. To make the most of your trip, I recommend you add two additional days in Windhoek at the end of your travels. Just outside the city are several beautiful lodges, where you can soak up Namibia’s nature and slow down before you go back to your daily life. Immerse yourself in Namibia’s stunning nature and decompress before going back to your everyday life. Some lodges are home to wildlife, if you still haven’t had enough of Namibia’s nature you can go on another game drive. Or take the time to relax, read your book by the pool and spoil yourself with a nice dinner. It’s up to you.

Swimming Pool at GocheGanas Windhoek
GocheGanas Lodge and Wellness Village outside of Windhoek

The real adventure in Namibia is on the road

There are four things you should know before you go to Namibia, especially if you do a self-drive trip:

1. Distances are long, very long. You will spend many hours behind the wheel; and while the scenery passing by your window is often spectacularly beautiful, it can be hard to concentrate for long hours at a time. On top of it, most roads in Namibia are dirt roads and corrugation is very common which gives you less grip than smooth tarmac roads. You should plan for frequent breaks along the way.

2. You will encounter wildlife not only in the national parks. Especially during dusk and dawn, it is common to see wildlife along the road. While this does add to the road trip adventure, it can also increase the risk of accidents. So make sure to keep an eye out for donkeys, warthogs, kudus and the like and slow down when passing. Wildlife have right of way, always.

3. Do you know how to change a tire? If you don’t, you should definitely try it at home before you go to Namibia. It’s a very sparsely populated country and chances are high there will be no one around to assist you in changing your flat tire. And chances are equally high you will actually have a flat tire. When renting a car for a self-drive trip, I recommend not going with the smallest model. While it’s not a must, having a 4×4 on game drives in Etosha National Park and driving in more remote regions, it will be a big help. If given the choice, opt for a vehicle with high ground clearance.

4. Fuel when you can. Petrol stations are few and far between; you may drive for 500km without encountering any signs of civilisation. The adventurous drives are, however, also the charm of Namibia. If you are unsure about whether you would like to go on a self-drive trip, you can consult with one of our experienced travel experts.

Otherwise, booking a guided tour with a trusted tour operator might be the right choice for you.

Self-drive vehicle Namibian gravel road

Bear in mind that your laptop can’t hop into the shower

Next time you are on safari in Namibia, I ask you to do this little experiment: After a long day on safari, when you step out of your safari vehicle, run your finger over your sunglasses. You will discover what you might have already suspected: You are covered in a light layer of dust. While you can hop into the shower, this part could be tricky for your electronic devices. It is therefore important to know before you go to Namibia, that you should bring covers or other protective gear for your electronics. One important travel tip is to protect your electronic devices not only from dust and sand but also from the heat. Therefore, pack a bag for your camera, a laptop bag, or any other protective cover for your equipment. The climate in Namibia can be tough, not just for us travellers. Another alternative: Just leave your laptop at home and enjoy a break from your online life.

There is a way to enjoy the famous Deadvlei all by yourself

Well, possibly. When visiting the area around Sossusvlei inside the Namib-Naukluft Park in Namibia, there is one thing you should know before you go: If you slather yourself in sunscreen, bring enough water and a hat, you might be able to enjoy the famous Death Pan all by yourself. Here is what you should know before you visit the Deadvlei: It’s good to start your day early. Make sure that you are at the entrance gate as early as possible, so that you make it to the top of the famed Dune 45 before the rising sun lights up the desert landscape in a golden glow. After that, you can make your way to the Deadvlei, where you will find the iconic dead tree trunks sticking out of the red soil, which creates a dramatic contrast against the backdrop of the perfectly blue Namibian sky. My travel tip for a more private experience is to simply stay a little bit longer. Around 11 o’clock, the temperatures get quite hot, and most other travellers will have left. If you don’t mind the heat and come prepared, you can possibly experience the Deadvlei all by yourself.

Man running down dune in Deadvlei

Travel back in time and meet your ancestors

If you want to learn about early human life, possibly even about the life of your ancestors, Namibia is the right place for you. The country offers a particularly unique way to experience early ways of living. In Namibia’s “Living Museums”, your guide is a local San/Bushman who shares their almost forgotten culture with you. Dressed in traditional attire, your guide shows you around a reconstructed “nomad-village” where you can learn about ancient ways of living. Original remnants of the past that can be found in the area are rock paintings. Your guide will explain how rock paintings were used to communicate. These paintings indicate which animals could be found in the area, and some even explain how to make fire. While the Living Museum only recreates this historical period and locals do not necessarily live by these customs anymore, the experiential nature of a Living Museum literally brings history to life. Before you go to Namibia, you should know that one of the best ways to fully immerse yourself in a completely different period of time is by visiting one of the Living Museums.

Know your favourite animal’s favourite spots

There are different lodges that are known for being visited by different animals. If you are passing by the Grootberg region on your way from the Skeleton Coast, make sure to book a night at the Grootberg Lodge. Not only is this beautiful lodge located right at the rim of a plateau with a breathtaking view over an impressive valley, but you might also be able to observe some interesting scenes when looking at this valley a bit more closely. So strap on your binoculars and look out for movements down below while sitting at the lodge’s pool. With a little bit of luck, you might be able to spot elephants or zebras down in the valley. The Grootberg area is also home to the rare desert elephants that are unique to Namibia. While staying at the Grootberg Lodge, make sure that you don’t miss out on the sunrise, which tints the Klip River Valley below in beautiful hues of red. If you want to see rhinos, my travel tip is to book a night at the Okaukuejo Rest Camp in Etosha National Park. The camp’s famous floodlit waterhole is known for being visited by the endangered black rhinos every night. Sit back and enjoy the show.

Swimming pool at Grootberg Lodge view of Klip Valley
Foto: Grootberg Lodge

The desert is alive

Imagine driving through Namibia’s North-West, which looks exactly how you imagined it, dry, sandy, and somewhat lifeless. But in between all the sand, you spot an animal. A grey, rather large animal. Wait, is that an elephant in the desert? Before you go to Namibia, you should know that this is the only country in the world where you can find desert-dwelling elephants. These unique animals are smaller than their relatives and of a reddish colour owing to the red sand they live in. The gentle giants adapted to the country’s harsh conditions and learned how to survive in Namibia’s arid landscape. And not only elephants have accustomed themselves to a life in the desert: Namibia is also home to desert-dwelling lions, who hunt marine life. Knowing about these unusual animals before you go to Namibia will give you the best chances to spot them. But come to Namibia and see for yourself – you will not regret it.

Now you’re good to go.

Feel like you still want to find out more before you go to Namibia? If you need help planning your next road trip, speak to one of our Namibia experts. We are happy to help you plan your next trip.

Author: Johanna Höß

Born in Germany, Johanna studied Media in Mainz before she visited South Africa for the first time in 2016. One year later, she relocated to Cape Town and has made it her mission to spread her love for Africa. Johanna writes in German and English. Besides writing, she is also passionate about photography. She has always been intrigued by travelling and is constantly looking for the next adventure.