20 essential things to know before you visit Namibia
Looking for Namibia travel tips before you begin your epic Southern African adventure? Our guide to the essential things to know before you travel to Namibia has you covered, including everything from what to see and do, where to stay, how to get around safely, and how to prepare for your trip.
The mountainous red/orange dunes of Sossusvlei, the stark and perilous Skeleton Coast, the moonscapes of Spitzkoppe, the incredible wildlife viewing in Etosha, the deep valleys of Fish River Canyon, the endless starry skies, the blazing African sunsets, the friendly locals, and seriously delicious food. Yep, Namibia totally blew our minds.But if we’re honest, we didn’t plan our trip to Namibia very well at all. It was only by chance we met a wonderful local named Hennie, who provided us with the knowledge to navigate Namibia efficiently, safely and enjoyably. His words of wisdom saved us and no doubt led to the incredible time we had in Namibia.
Now it’s our turn to pass on the knowledge we learned. So you can have the best possible trip to Namibia, here are 20 things to know before you visit this remarkably beautiful country.
NAMIBIA TRAVEL TIPS: 20 ESSENTIAL THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU VISIT
#1 - The distances are vast and you should travel Namibia slowly
Travel in Namibia is truly unlike travel anywhere else on earth. Known as the land of endless horizons, the vast distances and epic landscapes of this country will leave you feeling both insanely small and insignificant, and carefree and in absolute awe at every turn. It's epic in every single way, and a visit here is well worth it.
A little known fact is that Namibia has the second lowest population density in the world after Mongolia, with only 2.2 million inhabitants. It’s immensely vast, yet so completely empty. In fact, on one day, we spent several hours driving through the Namib desert without seeing another living soul - not even an animal. The isolation has it’s perks though; we found Namibia to be the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of city life, and embrace a quieter way of living.
Make the most of the vastness, and spend at least two weeks exploring the country. If you have the time, a month. That way you don't have to rush from place to place and spend days at a time in the car just to tick places off. You won’t regret, and if we’re honest, the longer you spend exploring Namibia, the less likely it is you’ll want to leave.
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#2 - NAMIBIA WAS INHABITED BY BUSHMEN FOR MILLENIA, THEN COLONISED IN 1884
Prior to the 19th century, Namibia had been inhabited by the rich and peaceful cultures of the original San, Damara, Herero and Nama bushmen for millennia. The most well-known of these groups, the San bushmen, are also believed to be the oldest original people in the region (of Botswana, Namibia and South Africa), living a nomadic hunter-gatherer life.
Then, as in many other African nations (and to the surprise of local indigenous populations), in the 19th century Europeans arrived.
Although Namibia was technically a British territory, it was to be German colonists that landed on the shoreline at Walvis Bay in the 1880s and quickly claimed the area known as 'South West Africa' for Germany (actually Prussia, at the time). This occupation has made Namibia a totally unique country in the area; much of its architecture is German, there's a german newspaper, and most of the population speaks German as one of their main tongues.
However, like most colonial empires in Africa, brutality was enforced on the indigenous population. From 1904 to 1907, in what's become known as the Herero revolt, the local Herero and the Namaqua tribes took up arms against the colonisers, and resulted in what has been termed ‘the first genocide of the Twentieth Century’. German government officials ordered the extinction of natives, and devastatingly, half of the Nama population, and 80% of the Herero population were wiped out.
In many ways, this was the precursor to the apartheid years that dominated this region in the 20th century.
#3 - APARTHEID also EXISTED IN NAMIBIA
While apartheid is most commonly associated with South Africa today, it's important to be aware that apartheid also existed in Namibia - which is why, like South Africa, a social divide is still evident today.
In the 1940s, South-West Africa become a de-facto ‘fifth province’ of South Africa, and therefore fell under their awful apartheid regime. Much like South Africa, black and coloured neighbourhoods were torn down, populations were segregated from each other, and tt wasn’t until 1988 that independence was gained and the united nation of Namibia was formed.
#4 - ENGLISH AND GERMAN ARE WIDELY SPOKEN
Namibians commonly speak two or three (or more!) languages; English, a native tongue like Oshiwambo (spoken by 49% of the population), and either German or Afrikaans.
In fact, due to the country’s colonial history you’ll hear German pretty regularly around areas like Swakopmund (which looks eerily like a quaint german town), while Afrikaans often functions as the lingua franca between locals.
#5 - THERE IS A HUGE AMOUNT TO SEE AND DO IN NAMIBIA
It may be vast, and distances may be long, bu Namibia has an awful lot you absolutely must see.
Sossusvlei, Fish River Canyon and Kolmanskop are must visit destinations to the south, while the unique and wild coastlines of Swakopmund, Walvis Bay and the Skeleton Coast simply cannot be missed.
Don’t forget Etosha National Park, home to some of the best wildlife viewing opportunities in Africa, and the epic, otherworldly landscapes of Spitzkoppe. And we haven’t even mentioned the abundant plains of the Caprivi Strip yet - one of Africa's most unspoiled safari destinations!
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#6 - NAmibia is SAFE(ISH)
Undoubtedly, "is Namibia safe to travel" is the question we're asked most often about our time in the country. Our honest answer, is that Namibia felt like one of the safest countries we've ever visited - until we arrived into Windhoek.
On a Saturday night in the heart of Namibia's capital, we were almost mugged. We won’t go into detail as all's well that ends well, but it was our own stupid fault and a lesson for you all - never let your guard down. Why are we telling you this? Because it’s important we’re transparent with you, but it’s equally important you don’t let our small negative experience dissuade you from visiting.
As a whole, Namibians are incredibly friendly, the country's infrastructure is good, and the level of corruption found here is far less than neighbouring countries. It is, overwhelmingly, a peaceful and welcoming country. However, there are still issues with both poverty and gang violence, which has lead to increased personal and petty crime.
When it comes to travel and safety in Namibia, take the normal precautions you would anywhere, such as never leaving valuables or bags unattended in your car, and being wary of those around you at ATMs. In some areas, we recommend that you don’t wander alone or catch taxis late at night (particularly after 9pm) as there have been reports of armed muggings and theft of tourist's backpacks.
As always, take these warnings with a grain of salt, and rather than let them sway you from visiting, just keep these Namibia safety tips in mind
AFRICA SAFETY: HOW TO TRAVEL SAFELY IN SOUTHERN AFRICA
#7 - the NAMIBIAN DOLLAR = the SOUTH AFRICAN RAND
Namibia, along with South Africa, Lesotho, and Swaziland, are all part of the Common Monetary Area. Therefore, the Namibian Dollar is on 1:1 parity with the South African Rand.
The current exchange rate is 1 USD = 11.6 Namibian Dollars (last updated 20/03/2018).
The South African Rand is widely accepted within Namibia, which is definitely handy if you have leftover change from your travels in South Africa.
While we’re talking money, credit card facilities are available just about everywhere (we paid for a room via credit card in the middle of the desert). However, do still carry an amount of cash with you, just in case.
#8 - IT'S ACTUALLY NOT THAT CHEAP
If you're backpacking Namibia on a budget, it's worth nothing that travelling Namibia isn't as cheap as what you might initially think it would be.
In some instances, we found Namibia to be an affordable destination. Essentials, such as food and drink were inexpensive, and we found accommodation in cities and towns as also quite cheap. Entry into the many National Parks is also very manageable.
However, as you make your way out into the desert, the prices absolutely skyrocket.
We recommend being thrifty in the cities by taking advantage of backpacker accommodation (check Hostelworld for the best budget accommodation options) or AirBnB.
When you visit Sossusvlei, Fish River Canyon, or Etosha use accommodation websites such as Hotels Combined for the best deal, or stay in the many campsites. From our perspective, we mostly stayed in hotel accommodation during our road trip as we didn't have a tent or camping equipment. This totally hiked up our daily budget for hotel accommodation, and as camping in Africa is super easy, it's safe to say that if we had our time over we'd definitely choose the cheaper campsites instead!
If you’re planning to self-drive, be warned that fuel prices are expensive. We spent over N$2,500 (almost $200 USD) on fuel during our 7-day road trip.
#9 - PLAN your trip AHEAD of time (AS MUCH AS YOU CAN)
Okay, we’re going to let you in on little our secret.
We didn’t plan our Namibian trip ahead of time, nor book any accommodation, and unfortunately we paid handsomely for it. There was actually one moment in Sossusvlei we thought we’d have to sleep in our car overnight. Thankfully, we didn’t!
Major travel blogger fail.
Our advice is to thoroughly research Namibia and plan your itinerary ahead of time. Work out where you want to visit, how to get around, and where to stay; and then book everything you can before you leave. It's an understatement that mobile service is patchy in desert areas, and there's nothing worse than turning up at your destination after a long drive only to discover that the place is entirely booked up.
Note: Namibia is extremely busy during South African school holiday periods, so keep that in mind when planning your journey.
#10 - NAMIBIA IS THE PERFECT ROAD TRIP DESTINATION
Namibia is vast, which we’re sure you’re now aware of. Because of this, it’s the perfect destination for an epic road trip.
The beauty of road tripping through Namibia is having the freedom to travel at your own pace, and go wherever you want to go. There were so many times we just had to pull over, the scenery too incredible to pass.
The road network is extensive and generally well signposted (apart from the depths of the Skeleton Coast).
If you do decide to road trip, be aware of the large distances between destinations, and plan accordingly.
Read our Namibia road trip itinerary here.
#11 - you should HIRE A 4WD AFRI-CAMPER
If you’re planning on road-tripping through Namibia, you should do it in an off road 4WD Africamper. These converted 4WD ute/truck/tray back beasts are made for the Namibian roads, and can easily handle the sand that will inevitably stand in your path.
If you can’t afford a 4WD camper, we recommend hiring a high clearance mini SUV. We managed to get by just fine in ours, despite a few hairy moments.
That said, make sure you have travel insurance for your road trip in Namibia. Distances are vast, and you're in the desert. Be prepared, be safe, and always travel with insurance for the 'just-in-case-worst-case-scenario' moments.
#12 - you ALWAYS need to BE PREPARED (AND WE MEAN ALWAAAAAYS)
In Namibia, it’s important to prepare for the worst, and expect the best. After all, you're about to take off an a multi-day journey through an extremely dry and wild desert - being ready for whatever that adventures throws at you is a must.
If you’re heading on a Namibian road trip by yourself, we cannot emphasise enough how important it is to always pack extra supplies including food, water, and warm clothing. To give you an idea, we always had a minimum of 10L of water in the back of our car, and enough food to last us 2-3 days if the need arose.
Some days, you'll be lucky to pass another car on the road. On one stretch of road in the Namib Desert, we passed three cars/trucks with punctured tyres. If you’re self-driving, always carry additional fuel and tyres.
Read our guide to driving in Namibia.
#13 - WINDHOEK IS WORTH YOUR TIME
Most travellers will arrive to Windhoek and scurry straight out almost straightaway, and in all honesty, we get why. But despite there not being a whole lot to do in Windhoek, we just can't hate on the city - particularly because Mark's mum was born there!
If you’ve been on the road for a while, Windhoek is a good place to stop, relax, and stock up on all your supplies before hitting the Namibian highways to your next destination.
If you are spending time in Windhoek, we recommend checking out the follow places: Christuskirche (Christ Church), the Parliament Gardens, the Old Breweries Craft Market, and hit up one of the beer houses (it is little Germany after all).
#14 - SWAKOPMUND IS EXTREME SPORTS HEAVEN
The violent Atlantic ocean to one side, the towering dunes of the Namib to the other, the colonial town of Swakopmund feels like an outpost time forgot. It’s surprising then, that ‘Swakop’ is actually Africa’s adventure capital.
Those looking for a shot of adrenalin can take their pick from a smorgasbord of activities, including skydiving (Swakop is one of the cheapest places in the world skydive!), sand-boarding, quad-biking and power-kiting.
And at night, make your way to one of the many awesome pubs, notable for their delicious German beer and cuisine.
#15 - NAMIBIA HAS GHOST TOWNS
Kolmanskop, in the far south-west corner of Namibia, was once a thriving diamond mining town. Established in 1908, Kolmanskop was complete with stately homes, a school, hospital, bowling alley and ballroom.
As the price of diamonds began to drop after World War One, and after richer diamonds were found further south, the residents began to leave. By 1954 the town was abandoned. Now, an eerie ghost town remains, partially reclaimed by the constantly moving sands of the Namib. It’s a seriously cool place to visit and one which is worth the effort of getting there (generally from Luderitz).
You will need a permit to enter the area, which can be organised through one of the tour companies in Lüderitz before you go, or at the gate when you arrive. There are a few things to keep in mind regarding the Kolmanskop permits:
- Standard Kolmanskop permits: are about N$75 per adult (though this may have increased since we were there in 2016), and also includes a free tour. While it is possible to wander around the town yourself, but we'd recommend joining the tour to ensure you don't miss out on discovering any of the town's secrets. Tours depart at 9:30am and 11:00am.
- Kids permits: if you're travelling with kids, entrance fees are N$50 for children between 6 and 14.
- Photography permits: N$230 per person. This is actually a slightly confusing permit as you can still photograph the site using your standard entry permit. However, the photography permit grants access to Kolmanskop from sunrise until sunset and also includes the free tour at 9:30am. Sadly, our schedule didn't allow for us to stay that long - but if you're a keen photographer we'd totally recommend that you purchase the extended permit, as the shadows and light would be incredible on the buildings during this time.
Opening hours | 9:00am - 13:00pm each day
Location | Map of the Kolmanskop area - Kolmanskop is 10kms east of Luderitz on the B4 highway.
Cost | Kolmanskop permits N$85.00 per adult (see details above)
Food and drink | Despite being an abandoned town, you can purchase (good!) food at the Kolmanskop restaurant/museum on site.
Reviews | Check out Tripadvisor reviews of Kolmanskop now
#16 - THE FOOD IS SURPRISINGLY GOOD (IF YOU LIKE MEAT)
The fusion of German, South African and traditional African cuisine means the quality of food in Namibia is actually very good.
We had many exceptional meals in far flung outposts such as Aus, Fish River Canyon, and Sesriem. And if you’re a meat eater you’ll be in heaven, with vast selection of game meat available just about anywhere. And the trusty road-trip snacks of biltong and boerewors.
Vegetarians, your food game might be a little harder, but definitely not impossible.
#17 - YOU CAN DRINK THE TAP WATER
It's important to know that you can drink the tap water in Namibia. Sure, it might taste a little different, but so does London's water (yuck!)
We should point out that Namibia is a desert country and as such has very limited water resources. Try to be water conscious and conserve wherever you can.
#18 - IT GETS COLD in namibia SOMETIMES
If you’re visiting Namibia during winter (June - September), expect very pleasant days and freezing cold nights.
There were many mornings we’d wake up and refuse to get out of bed, the temperature outside was so cold. Like, between 0c - 10c overnight kind of cold. That said, during the day the temperature will still climb to around 24c each day, so peaks and troughs, eh?
#19 - not all travellers require a namibian tourist visa
Travellers, rejoice - there is a place where the visa process looks upon you favourably! For many travellers in Namibia, there's actually no need to organise a tourist visa at all if your stay is less than 90 days. The lucky travellers who can go 'visa-free' here are:
- South Africans
For the above, do make sure that you check with the immigration desk that you've been granted the full 90 days duration and that the correct date of entry was stamped on your passport to make sure there are no issues down the track when you're trying to depart.
Those who do require the 90-day tourist visa for Namibia (which can generally be processed within 3 days at your local Namibian Embassy) are:
- South Korea
- travellers from Eastern European
As always, make sure you double check your individual country's travel advice prior to arriving in the country for the most up to date visa information.
#20 - Namibia is home to a huge diversity of wildlife
All this talk of deserts and isolation might have had you thinking that there's no interesting wildlife in Namibia - which is absolutely not the case!
The salt clay pans of the Etosha National Park is home to some of the greatest wildlife diversity in Africa, and the Caprivi Strip is known to be some of it's most untouched safari plains. All the usual suspects are here in Namibia; the big 5 and the little 5, along with a number of desert game we'd never seen before, like the Kudu, Oryx, Gemsbok, and the Damara Dik-Dik.
Then, there's the Cape Cross Seal Colony just outside of HentiesBaai (hold your nose as you approach!) and the huge Flamingo population around Walvis Bay. If it's diverse and plentiful wildlife you're after, Namibia has exactly what you're after.
NAMIBIA TRAVEL INFORMATION
how to get to namibia
Most people choose to fly into Hosea Kutako International Airport, about 45min east of the capital, Windhoek. If you're flying from Cape Town, South African Airways operates 3 flights per day, other areas are regular (but obviously not as frequent). Check Skyscanner for the best Namibia flight deals from wherever you're travelling from.
If you're already in Southern Africa and keen to keep costs to a minimum, the most convenient and easy bus service to Namibia is the Intercape Mainliner. Services run from Cape Town, Victoria Falls, and Johannesburg. It's trickier to travel from Botswana (a mix of local buses and taxis), but it is also possible to cross the border from Botswana too.
We crossed into Namibia at the Vioolsdrift/Nordoewer land crossing from the northwest of South Africa. You can also cross from South Africa at a number of other points, including: Mata Mata, Rietfontain, Nakop, Onseepkans, Sendelingsdrif, and Alexander Bay (full disclosure: obviously as we haven't crossed these, we can't currently vouch for their ease of access or suitability personally).
Self-drive crossings can also be made easily from Botswana, Zambia, and Angola.
We hope these Namibia travel trips come in handy. If you've visited, and have something to add, let us know in the comments below!