Namibia was on our bucket list for about a year before we had the opportunity to visit. We kept seeing gorgeous photos on Instagram, we read countless blogs about road tripping around the country, and we figured that the camping in remote areas while surrounded by wildlife was unreal. We also did our research and learned that Namibia was quite a bit safer than it’s neighbor, South Africa.
We found that most of what we’d heard about Namibia was correct. But we also encountered a few unexpected surprises along the way. Read on before you plan your trip to ensure that you are ready for anything and everything in this beautiful country!
It’s Really Expensive
To put this in perspective, road trips are always pricey so Namibia isn’t outrageously more costly than any other country. But considering that you’ll be spending at least $80/day on renting a 4×4 truck with a tent (if that is your choice of accommodation), probably $60/day on gas, plus money on groceries, park entrance fees, and then pay per person to camp – it adds up really fast.
We laughed at ourselves for somehow managing to spend $300 each day while dining on ramen noodle packets for dinner each night.
It’s just really easy to drop $300/day without even really doing anything other than driving, eating, and sleeping. Expect campsites to cost around $15-20 per person per night. And if you decide to stay in luxury camps or do a guided safari, the costs will increase dramatically.
Be sure to budget accordingly and to build in a little cushion in case something goes wrong with your vehicle or any of your camping gear. And buy a lot of wine, shockingly it’s the only thing that’s cheap here.
4-Wheel Drive is Highly Recommended
Paved highways in Namibia are few and far between. In order to visit the most impressive highlights of the country, such as Etosha National Park, you’ll be more comfortable if you rent a car that has 4-wheel drive and, even better, high clearance. Especially if it’s been raining.
We briefly considered renting a smaller vehicle and staying in lodges rather than camping but we soon realized that would have been a huge mistake. We enjoyed having the freedom to take seemingly questionable roads without worrying about completely bottoming out our rental car. Plus our truck came with 3 spare tires, just in case.
If you do rent a regular-sized sedan for your trip, be sure to check road conditions prior to setting out each day. And make sure that you have a spare tire with good tread prior to leaving the rental car lot.
It’s Safe… Sort Of
Everyone we talked to that lived in Namibia raved about how safe it is. But when we’d tell them were were going to walk to a restaurant for dinner or check out the town after sunset, the response was always “oh no, you don’t want to walk around at night here”.
And every time we parked to go to the grocery store or to grab a bite to eat at a restaurant, we had someone insist on “watching our car” while we were inside. Even in the middle of the day with loads of other cars and people around. We figured it was worth giving them a small tip for the peace of mind.
Throughout our trip we learned that Namibia is definitely safer than South Africa, but probably not as safe as we expected it to be. The danger is more opportunistic than actual physical bodily harm but you should be as cautious as you would be in any large city. Never leave anything valuable in visible sight in your car and be sure to keep your doors locked, even while driving.
Everything Takes Longer Than you Think it Will
Most rental car agencies have rules about driving in the dark. Wild animals are everywhere and they can be incredibly difficult to spot at night. Visitors are strongly encouraged to limit their driving to the hours between sun up and sun down. And fitting in all of your daily activities with the long distances that you’ll need to travel during those hours can be daunting.
When planning routes it’s easy to take your Google Maps directions at face value. “Google says it will only take us 3 hours, we can leave at 10:00am and have plenty of time!” But in reality it will probably take you closer to 6 hours and you’ll end up limiting the number of times you stop for photos or snack breaks just to get to camp before dark.
Be sure to leave yourself enough time to get where you need to go. Especially when visiting Etosha National Park where you can actually face a fine if you’re not out of the park before dark!
You Won’t be “Roughing It”
When we’ve taken road trips in the past there were plenty of times we went days without showering and were forced to use the great outdoors as our toilet. We showered in gas stations or rivers when we couldn’t bare our own stench any longer.
That is definitely not the case in Namibia (unless, of course, you choose to wild camp).
All of the campsites that we encountered had well-maintained bathrooms, hot showers, shaded campsites, and flushing toilets. Many of them also offered campsites with their own electricity, picnic table, barbecue area, and fresh water faucet. Many even offered WiFi and a pristine pool!
If aren’t an avid camper and your upcoming trip is giving you anxiety, fear not! Even the most high maintenance person can handle this “glamping”.
The Amount of Time Spent Driving is Intense
We easily packed on 5 extra pounds during our 3 weeks in Namibia. There aren’t very many opportunities for hiking and most of the highlights of the country can be easily accessed by car. And since everything takes longer than you think it will, and you have to cram your driving into daylight hours, you’ll spend a huge portion of every day sitting on your butt in the car.
And while you’re driving it’s only natural to snack. All of the sitting combined with the snacking is a recipe for waistline disaster.
Not only is it challenging to keep the weight off in Namibia, but the long drives can be incredibly boring. There are several really amazing stops along the Skeleton Coast drive but much of it is just, well, barren. There’s nothing all that interesting to look at and the washboard roads make for an uncomfortable journey.
Check with your rental car agency to ensure that your truck has Bluetooth or aux cord connectivity (or pack an FM transmitter if they don’t) so you can keep yourself entertained during long drives.
Locals Try to Flag You Down
While driving through Namibia, especially in the north, you will encounter countless locals who will try to get you to stop. It may be because they would like a ride (many locals use hitchhiking as their primary means of transportation), or because they want you to give them food, money, or water.
It is especially common on the road leading from Opuwo to Epupa Falls. It can be a bit disconcerting if you aren’t expecting it. We even had a man run alongside our car, attempting to get us to stop. We gave water to a few people who were working along the road and gave rides to several Himba women. But if we’d stopped for everyone it would’ve taken us forever to get anywhere.
Don’t feel obligated to stop or to pick anyone up unless you feel totally comfortable. If you would like to help these locals, keep fruit, veggies, or water in the front seat of your car to hand out along the way.
A Regular Travel Adapter Won’t Work
Most plugs around the world are included in a standard universal travel adapter like this one. But unfortunately the plug you’ll need for Namibia and South Africa has prongs that are quite large and require their own specific converter. Make sure you buy one that is specific to this region either before you leave or in the airport when you arrive.
And be sure to check out our entire Namibia packing list when preparing for your visit!
The Tipping Culture is Strong
While tourism is steadily increasing in Namibia, sadly many of the people continue to struggle with poverty. And at times that leads to desperation which is why you may experience or hear about opportunistic crime such as car thief.
Many locals have gotten creative in an attempt to solve both problems. When you pull into a parking lot you’ll likely get approached by either a child or a man in an official-looking vest who will offer to watch your car while you’re inside. Expect to give a “car guard” 2-3 NAD if you are making a quick trip or 5 NAD if you plan on being away from your car for an hour or more.
At the time of writing (March of 2018) the exchange rate was 11.79 NAD to $1 USD so you’ll rarely tip more than $1 unless dining out.
You’ll also be expected to tip:
- Your gas station attendant 5-10 NAD for pumping your gas and washing your windshield.
- The person who bags your groceries at the market. 1 NAD per bag is appropriate.
- The parking lot security guard (unless you have a car guard).
- 10% or more at restaurants.
- Tips at hotels are customary and expected. Most have a “tip box” at the reception desk that is shared by all.
We hope that this post will help you to be more prepared than we were for your vacation in Namibia! If you discover anything else unexpected during your trip please let us know so we can add it to the list.
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