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
NAMIBIA IS VAST AND DISTANCES ARE LONG
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.
On one day, we spent several hours driving without seeing a soul – not even an animal. The isolation has it’s perks though; we found Namibia to the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of city life, and embrace a quieter way of living.
NAMIBIA WAS INHABITED BY BUSHMEN FOR MILLENIA, THEN COLONISED IN 1884
Inhabited by the San, Damara and Nama bushmen for millennia, Namibia was colonised by the Germans in 1884.
Like most colonial empires in Africa, brutality was enforced on the indigenous. From 1904 to 1907, the Herero and the Namaqua tribes took up arms against colonizers, resulting in what has been termed ‘the first genocide of the Twentieth Century’. Government officials ordered the extinction of natives, resulting in half the Nama population, and 80% of the Herero population being wiped out.
In many ways, this was the precursor to apartheid.
APARTHEID EXISTED IN NAMIBIA TOO
When visiting, It’s important to understand that apartheid existed in Namibia, which is why, like South Africa, a social divide is still evident today.
South-West Africa become a de-facto ‘fifth province’ of South Africa, and therefore fell under their awful apartheid regime. It wasn’t until 1988 that independence as gained and the nation of Namibia was formed.
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, while Afrikaans often functions as the lingua franca between locals.
THERE IS A HUGE AMOUNT TO SEE AND DO IN NAMIBIA
It may be vast, and distances may be long, but Namibia has an awful lot you absolutely must see.
Sossusvlei, Fish River Canyon and Kolmanskop are must visit destinations to the south, while 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, other-worldly landscapes of Spitzkoppe. And we haven’t even mentioned the Caprivi Strip yet.
NAMIBIA INSPIRATION: 9 PLACES YOU ABSOLUTELY MUST VISIT IN NAMIBIA
TAKE IT SLOOOOOOW
Look, getting to Namibia is a bit of a struggle, and the country is incredibly vast. So why visit for a short stay?
Make the most of the long journey and spend at least two weeks in the country, and if you have the time, a month. 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.
IT’S SAFE (ISH)
Namibia was one of the safest countries we’ve visited… until we arrived into Windhoek.
On a Saturday night in the heart of Windhoek, we were almost mugged. We won’t go into detail, 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 corruption is far less than neighbouring countries.
When travelling through Namibia, follow the usual safety protocols, such as never leaving valuables or bags unattended in your car, and in some areas we recommended you don’t wander alone at night.
AFRICA SAFETY: HOW TO TRAVEL SAFELY IN SOUTHERN AFRICA
NAMIBIAN DOLLAR = SOUTH AFRICAN RAND
Namibia, along with South Africa, Lesotho, and Swaziland, are part of the Common Monetary Area. Therefore, the Namibia Dollar is 1:1 with the South African Rand.
The current exchange rate is 1 USD = 13.7 Namibian Dollars.
The Rand is widely accepted within Namibia, which is handy if you have leftover change from your time in South African.
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). Do carry cash, just in case.
IT’S ACTUALLY NOT THAT CHEAP
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 skyrocket.
If you’re on a budget, we recommend being thrifty in the cities by taking advantage of backpacker accommodation, or AirBnB. When you visit Sossusvlei, Fish River Canyon, or Etosha use accommodation aggregator websites such as Hotels Combined for the best deal, or stay in the many campsites.
If you’re planning to self-drive, fuel prices are expensive. We spent over N$2,500 (almost $200 USD) on fuel during our 7-day road trip.
PLAN AHEAD (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.
Note: Namibia is extremely busy during South African school holiday periods, so keep that in mind when planning your journey.
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 sign posted (apart from the depths of the Skeleton Coast).
If you do decide to road trip, be aware of the large distances in between destinations, plan accordingly and…
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.
ALWAYS BE PREPARED (AND WE MEAN ALWAAAAAYS)
In Namibia, it’s important to prepare for the worst, and expect the best.
If you’re heading off-road, always pack extra supplies including food, water, and warm clothing.
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.
WINDHOEK IS WORTH YOUR TIME
We can’t hate on Windhoek (Mark’s mum was born there), but to be honest, there is not a lot to do.
If you’ve been on the road for a while, it’s a good place to stop, relax, and stock up on supplies before hitting the Namibian highways to your next destination.
If you are spending time in Windhoek, we recommending the following: Christuskirche, the Parliament Gardens, the Old Breweries Craft Market, and hit up one of the beer houses (it is little Germany after all).
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.
NAMIBIA HAS GHOST TOWNS
Kolmanskop, in the far south-west corner of the 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.
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 an boerewors.
Vegetarians, you’re food game might be a little harder.
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.
IT GETS COLD 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, so cold was the outside temperature.
Don’t say we didn’t warn you!
Namibia truly is unlike anywhere else on earth. The land of endless horizons, Namibia will simultaneously make you feel small and insignificant, yet carefree and content.
It’s epic in every single way and a visit here is well worth it.
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!
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