Here are some of the key learns from our epic camping trip around Namibia. I hope you find some of them useful.
- Plan in advance. Because of the vast distances and high costs, Namibia is not a budget destination, where you can just rock on up and hook up with other backpackers. Most tourists there are rich European families in expensive Hiluxes with roof tents. Routes, destinations and logistics, like renting a vehicle and camping gear, all need to be done in advance, especially in high season, July-August.
- Rent your own vehicle. Namibia is not a budget destination. Camping or Lodges are the only option to really see the highlights of Namibia, which are only reachable with your own vehicle. A small SUV starts at around 60+ € per day (in high season), whereas a late model Hilux with full insurance will set you back more than double that. If your budget allows it, get a Fortuner, starting at 150 € per day.
- Get a 4×4. We rented a Renault Duster from Europcar and separate ground tent. It was a brand new vehicle and served us really well on the dirt roads, which were often poor quality. It is possible to travel in a normal car and we did see the odd car bumping its away along. However, it would make for an extremely slow and uncomfortable ride. Two-wheel drives’ wheels also spin in the sandy, causing corrugation to occur. Therefore a 4×4 or at least a vehicle with high ground clearance (for the many rocks) is highly recommended. Most people opt for the sturdier Hilux, which is a tougher vehicle built for offroad conditions. It tends to glide of the bumps better than the Duster, but is a much heavier vehicle and is therefore more prone to punctures and uses way more gas. It is, however, the only option for families of 4 or groups, as we had to put the rear seats down on the Duster to accommodate all the camping gear.
- Get full insurance. Namibia has the highest rate of road accidents per capita in the world. Most are single-vehicle and not collisions, and involve foreign tourists losing control of the vehicle. The roads of Namibia are treacherous and should not be underestimated. Flat tires are a common occurance (we thankfully did not suffer one the whole trip). Therefore full insurance (including tyre, windscreen and no excess) is essential.
- Forget the roof tent. Roof tents’ sole purpose is to stop you from being eaten by lions or hyenas at night. While this is essential for Botswana, it is not required for Namibia, even in the northern parts of the country near Etosha. Sure, there is a small chance of running into a rogue older lone male lion, rejected by the pride and too slow to hunt antelope, but this is rare. Brandenburg mountain was unfortunately closed when we where there (due to lions in the area), but it is not in the interests of any lodge or campsite to have you eaten, so they would not let you camp anywhere near an area with a grave risk. Roof tents are also not as convenient as they might first appear. When researching the trip, I saw a promo video on Youtube showing how easy it was to get your tent set up. It just popped up effortlessly and a fully equipped kitchen appeared as if by magic, to the sound of the cork popping on your bottle of wine. The reality, however, is somewhat different, as we witnessed on many occasions the scene of stressed families on the roof of their Hiluxes painfully trying to unpack and pack the tent. We opted for the standard igloo ground tent, which has the advantage of you being able to stand in the tent. After a bit of practise,and refinement, we were able to get it set up in about 5 minutes. With the ground tent, you can set it up and leave it there if you make a day trip. With the roof tent, however, you have to pack it up every time you use the vehicle, even to make a short excursion. This soon becomes a major pain in the arse, unless of course, you only stay one night in each location (not recommended).
- Fill up at every opportunity. I can’t stress this one enough, as we almost ran out of diesel and had to buy some from the lodge we stayed at, which was also a farm, so happened to have some handy. We learned our lesson pretty quickly.
- Camp at luxury lodges. This may seem like a no-brainer to anyone doing any research on her trip, but we did meet campers in Namibia who were completely oblivious to this basic fact. Many luxury lodges, some, insider tips, offer a small number of campsites, some with private ablution and kitchen. Often these are cheaper than the larger government run campsite (NWR, of National Wildlife Resorts). Included in the price of the camping is access to their facilities. Many have pool, bar, landscaped gardens with desert plants, etc. Some even offer half decent WiFi, but don’t expect good connection speeds.
- Take your time. We travelled for 3 weeks and only stayed 3 times in a place for only one night, and only when we were trying to break a longer journey. We decided not to go to the south (Fish River Canyon) or the far north and Caprivi strip. Whilst I am sure these are worth visiting, we made the decision not to try and cover everything. Most people only have 2 weeks, however, and try to see the whole country. This means travelling all day, every day. We often witnessed Hiluxes driving into our campsite at night after sunset and leaving the next day before sunrise, completely missing the beautiful view of the mountain/sunset. Staying longer in one place also allowed to get to know the locals and experience the incredible Namibian hospitality. We got so much help and insider tips on where to go, what to watch out for, etc. Plus each person we met would introduce us to someone they knew in the next town/lodge, and so on, effectively giving us a local support network all throughout the country.
- Don’t underestimate the camping. Camping is a lot of fun and very rewarding. It is also a lot of hard work and has an element of discomfort. It can also get quite cold at night during winter, so you need a decent sleeping bag. The ones for rent and quite thin and I was glad I bought a down 3 season bag with me. We lit a campfire each night and ate excellent quality vegetarian food, thanks to the awesome cooking skills of Anita, my travelling companion. Still, I found the camping quite tough and I was completely out of my comfort zone. But at the end, I had learned a lot of new skills and had pushed myself to new limits. It was an amazing adventure, but not something I am rushing to repeat in a hurry. If camping doesn’t sound like you, then you need to stick to the lodges. The lodges are really luxurious, but you have to pay 150-200 € per night for this standard in the middle of the desert. Unfortunately, outside of the major towns, there is very little in the way of budget or backpacker accommodation.
- Book in advance. There is a lot of debate online as to whether to book campsites in advance. In high season (July/August), it is essential to book Sessriem and Etosha. However, in the south, we found most campsites to be only partially full. This changed when we went north of Windhoek/Swakopmund and we were glad we had booked 2 locations in advance – i.e. the next after the next destination. Only once did we not do this and found the good campsites to be full and had to settle for a crappy campsite, which was not clean, had not been maintained and was infested with flies and mosquitos. This kind of experience can ruin your trip, so I would recommend at least researching and knowing where you are going to be staying for 2 destinations in advance.
Read the first installment of our epic road trip through Namibia here.