Driving in Namibia is easier than many think. But its remoteness and wildlife provides challenges. Here are our tips to help you self-drive Namibia and advice on getting a 2WD or 4×4.
Is there a better road trip country than Namibia?
Wide-open roads, stunning scenery and numerous wildlife encounters. Namibia is a dream destination for those who like to get off the beaten track. While taking a tour can be a good option, there’s really no better way to see this desolate country than in your own wheels.
If you like the freedom your own car gives you then hiring a car and designing your own self-drive Namibia adventure is a thoroughly rewarding and exciting road trip experience. And a self-drive Namibia road trip is not as hard as you may think.
The vast majority of roads in this remote country are gravel. However, although exotic safari animals may stray onto your path, the lack of other traffic and ease of navigation make driving in Namibia a breeze. Yes, it can be uncomfortable driving for long stretches on rutted roads, but after a while, the “Namibian massage” becomes part of the experience.
Here are all our tips for driving in Namibia to help you have, what could possibly be, the best road trip of your life.
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1 / HIRE A 4X4 RENTAL IN NAMIBIA
There are very few paved roads in Namibia. The vast majority are gravel tracks that become rougher and rockier in more remote areas. While it is possible to navigate many of them in a 2WD, it can be a slow and uncomfortable journey. So, in our opinion, it’s worth extending the budget to a 4X4.
Firstly, the extra clearance helps you navigate rutted roads and larger rocks more safely and comfortably. Secondly, having all 4 wheels powered improves your traction on loose gravel, sand and rock. So although a 4X4 is more expensive to rent and uses more fuel we think the benefits of comfort. speed and safety outweigh the costs.
Our trusted partner for booking car rentals is AutoEurope. You can find more information for booking your rental car at the end of this article.
2 / BUY COMPREHENSIVE INSURANCE
A self-drive Namibia road trip means spending a lot of time on rocky gravel tracks. It’s a pretty tough destination for a vehicle. Rocks batter the undercarriage and fly up into the side of your car. Damage the windscreen or the paintwork is easily done.
Furthermore, spending many hours on rough roads takes its toll on your tyres. In 3 weeks in Namibia, we got a chipped windscreen and two punctures. You’ll notice how common flat-tyres are in Namibia when you see how many tyre shops there are, even on the most desolate roads.
So, regardless of how careful you drive, it’s likely you’ll return your car with a few bruises from your adventure. It makes sense to take out comprehensive insurance and we have a few money-saving insurance tips at the end of this article.
3 / SLOW DOWN WHEN PASSING OTHER CARS ON GRAVEL TRACKS
One of the joys of a Namibia road trip is that you can go hours without seeing another car. But, when you do, keep in mind they’ll be throwing up lots of rocks from the road. So make sure you slow down and get as far left as possible as you pass. You don’t want to damage each other’s cars unnecessarily.
The speed limits in Namibia do change but are generally as follows. It’s 60km/h on public roads in urban areas, 100km/h on gravel tracks and 120km/h on paved highways. Some of the gravel tracks are actually quite smooth, compacted earth meaning you can almost hit the speed limit. On many gravel roads however, the speed limit is purely aspirational. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to go anywhere near that speed.
4 / DON’T GO OFF THE EDGE OF THE ROAD
Namibia is a desolate sandy country. Many of the roads have been made by throwing a heap of gravel down on the sand and flattening it out. It creates a safe area on which to drive, but the safe area is no wider than the gravel you see.
If you venture even slightly off the gravel track you could find yourself in deep sand. Something your car might have a hard time getting out of. We saw quite a few cars – even 4x4s – stuck like this. So if you need to stop, do not pull completely off the road, just pull to the side staying on the gravelled section.
With not much traffic around it can be a long wait to be saved.
5 / CHECK YOUR TYRES AND KNOW HOW TO CHANGE THEM
Namibia’s roads are rough. Sand, gravel and rock take their toll on the tyres so it pays to regularly. Every time you pull into a petrol station wouldn’t be overdoing it. On our 3 weeks in Namibia we had two punctures: one on the Skeleton Coast and the other in Etosha National Park.
I had never changed a tyre, but it’s easier than I thought. So don’t be put off by the risk of getting a puncture, just be prepared. Watch this quick video to see how easy it is.
Remember that if you get a puncture and change the tyre, you no longer have a working spare tyre with you. So go to the nearest petrol station and get the puncture (on the tyre now in the boot) repaired. Most petrol stations fix tyres for very little cost (they’re used to it) and there are many tyre repair places along the major roads.
6 / CHECK ON OTHER DRIVERS WHO MAY HAVE A PROBLEM
A self-drive Namibia road trip can be a delightfully lonely affair. On the busier roads, you may pass 4 or 5 cars an hour but on the quieter stretches, you may see no one for hours on end. While the solitude is what makes a self-driving in Namibia such a great experience, it’s important to be a good road trip citizen and keep an eye out for your fellow travellers.
If you see someone stopped on the side of the road, slow down and check they are OK. They may just be enjoying the view, or they may be broken down, out of fuel, stuck in sand or completely lost.
With so few people about they might not see another person for a long time.
7 / KEEP HEADLIGHTS ON AT ALL TIMES
As you drive along sandy roads great plumes of dust splurge out around your car. It makes visibility poor, especially for the cars behind you. So in Namibia it is required to have your headlights on at all times. This way cars in front of you can clearly see you coming. More importantly, however, cars behind you – the ones that may be trapped in your plumes of dust and sand – can see the back of your car.
8 / BEWARE OF ANIMALS ON THE ROAD
Before we went to Namibia we thought the wild animals were all in the National Parks. But that is not the case. Wild animals are everywhere. Cheetahs and leopards hunt on private farms, oryx and baboons run along gravel tracks and giraffe munch on trees by the side of the road. It means that you can meet a wild animal at any time.
But it also means you’re potentially sharing the road with them. So keep your eyes peeled and be alert to anything that may run into your path. It would be a travesty to harm any of these magnificent creatures.
9 / DON’T SELF-DRIVE IN NAMIBIA AT NIGHT
Unless you are in a town, driving in Namibia at night is not a good idea. There are almost no streetlights, and with potholes and uneven surfaces, driving at night in poor light can be hazardous. In addition, Namibia has a problem with drink drivers who are more likely to be on the road at night.
But apart from your own safety, there’s another reason why you should avoid driving at night. Animals hunt and are generally more active in the cooler evening temperatures. It is much harder to see them in the dark and various creatures such as kudu and other antelope tend to leap into oncoming headlights. So for the safety of Namibia’s star attractions, keep your driving within daylight hours.
10 / DOWNLOAD GOOGLE MAPS OR MAPS.ME BEFORE DRIVING IN NAMIBIA
There are not that many roads in Namibia so navigation is relatively easy. Google has extensive coverage of the country but (even if you have purchased data) reception in less populated areas will be patchy. So make sure you download Google Maps for the area you intend to explore before setting off.
We also highly recommend Maps.Me. This app also allows you to download maps for the area, but it has better offline functionality and more accurate estimates for journey times than Google maps.
11 / GIVE YOURSELF PLENTY OF TIME FOR YOUR JOURNEY
Driving times in Namibia can be difficult to judge. While Google and Maps.Me do a decent job in estimating journey times it will depend a lot on the vehicle you hire and the confidence with which you drive it. We saw some 2WD making painfully slow progress while other 4x4s bombed past us like we were not there.
Road quality also changes over time. A flat straight gravel track may be driven at 100km/h but as soon as it gets rutted your speed will halve to 50km/h.
So don’t make your journeys too long and try to start them in the morning so that if they take longer than you thought you are not left driving at night.
12 / KEEP PLENTY OF WATER AND SNACKS IN THE CAR
When self-driving in Namibia you often find yourself in the middle of nowhere with no one and nothing around. Even in busier areas like Etosha National Park, it can be long distances between shops.
So make sure you stock up with plenty of food and water when you can. Firstly, snacks are a critical ingredient on any decent road trip. But, more importantly, if you do have a problem and have to wait a few hours for some help you definitely want to have some water with you.
13 / KNOW WHERE TO FILL UP WITH PETROL AND DO SO REGULARLY
There are enough petrol stations dotted around the country to make getting fuel relatively stress-free, but not so many that you can completely relax. On the main roads, most small towns you go through will have a petrol station. But in the more remote areas, fuel stops may be less frequent. It’s also not uncommon for petrol stations to run out of fuel. In Etosha we met a family who were skirting very close to empty, only to find the petrol station had run out of diesel.
So make sure you know where your next petrol stop is and always give yourself enough fuel to have two options to fill up. As a general rule, fill up whenever you can. We rarely let the gauge get below half.
14 / GET PERMITS FOR ANY OFF-ROAD ADVENTURES
For most national parks in Namibia, permits are purchased at the entrance gate. You don’t need to provide any advance notice of your arrival date, so no forward planning is necessary.
However, this is not the case for the Namib-Naukluft National Park and the Dorob National Park. In these parks, the main roads (the B2, C28, D1982, D1998 and C14) do not require permits. However if you want to go onto a more minor road, then you will need to get a permit in advance.
These permits can be obtained either in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism offices in Windhoek, Swakopmund or Walvis Bay or in the NWR offices in Sesriem.
15 / CLEAN YOUR CAR BEFORE DROPPING IT OFF
Driving in Namibia is a dusty sandy affair. It will be impossible to keep your car clean after a few weeks driving along those desolate gravel roads. Surprisingly for such a dusty country, Namibian car rental companies are very fussy about the cleanliness of their vehicles and will charge you if they need cleaning. Our car rental agent went over our car with a white glove – completely unnecessary though, because it was filthy.
To avoid an argument – and save a few dollars – get your car washed before you drop it off. Many large petrol stations will clean your car (inside and out) for only a few dollars.
HOW EASY IS IT TO SELF-DRIVE IN NAMIBIA?
Self-driving in Namibia is not difficult and if you keep our tips in mind, you’ll find it’s a thoroughly rewarding and exciting travel experience. There is very little traffic on the roads, and in fact with so few roads, navigation is very easy. Apart from animals to avoid, the main challenge is just keeping your car in good working order.
So, fill up regularly; keep an eye on your tyres and know how to change them; stick to the roads, and drive slowly when other vehicles are around. Do all this and you’ll have an unforgettable Namibian road trip.
WHAT TYPE OF CAR RENTAL SHOULD YOU GET FOR SELF-DRIVE IN NAMIBIA?
While you can manage with a 2WD, a 4×4 will make journeys quicker, safer and more comfortable. But a 4×4 rental in Namibia does come at a significantly higher cost. Here is a breakdown of rough prices based on our visit, to help you decide.
OPTION 1: 2WD ECONOMY CAR
For prices starting at around US$20 per day a regular 2WD car is adequate in Namibia. But on some of the less smooth roads, you’ll definitely be making slower progress. On particularly rutted roads, the ride can be rather uncomfortable.
OPTION 2: HIGH CLEARANCE 2WD
At around US$40 per day a high clearance 2WD will help you clear some of the smaller boulders and possibly make the ride on rutted roads smoother. However, you could still find yourself stuck in sand if you venture off the gravel roads.
OPTION 3: 4X4 VEHICLE
For around US$70 per day a 4×4 is more expensive (and will use more petrol) but your journeys will be faster, safer and more comfortable. It will also enable you to head into more sandy regions if you want to get off the main roads.
OPTION 4: 4X4 WITH ROOF CANOPY
Spending between US$80 and US$130 will allow you to sleep above your wheels. A popular and economical option in Namibia. But it does include the rigmarole of packing up the canopy each day and you’ll need to do it in the dark if you want to be on the road at sunrise.
RENTING A CAR IN NAMIBIA
The best portal we’ve found for booking hire cars is rentalcars.com. They compare prices from all major car rental companies so you can make an easy comparison.
EXTRAS & INSURANCE WHEN RENTING A CAR IN NAMIBIA
In our opinion, there is no need to hire a GPS as an extra when self-driving in Namibia. Many cars now come with GPS and if they don’t, Google or Maps.Me offline are just as easy and possibly more up to date.
If you book through AutoEurope the upfront rental cost comes with basic insurance covering theft, third-party damage and liability but with a large excess (between above $500 and a few thousand). For self-driving in Namibia we recommend you get comprehensive insurance. With all the gravel and rocks it is easy to damage the car. There are two good cost-effective ways of doing this.
1 / Purchase a refundable excess guarantee package from either AutoEurope or insurance4carhire. In this case, the car hire company will charge you up to the excess for any damage but you can claim it back from AutoEurope or insurance4carhire.
2 / Purchase an annual refundable excess guarantee package from insurance4carhire. This makes sense if you are likely to hire a car 3 or more times a year as it will be cheaper than continually buying a one-off package. Do make sure however the package covers 4×4 rentals if that is what you decide to hire.
Purchasing a refundable excess guarantee package is much cheaper than the amount you will pay for insurance at the car rental company desk when you pick up the car. But it does involve the extra hassle of claiming the excess guarantee back from your insurer.
WHAT ELSE DO YOU NEED FOR CAR RENTAL IN NAMIBIA?
When picking up your rental car in Namibia make sure you bring your passport & valid driver’s license. You will also need a credit card as the car hire company will hold the excess on your credit card in case it needs to charge you for damages. Check your credit card is accepted by your rental car company and has enough limit to cover the excess.
Remember to drive in Namibia on the left and keep all your documentation with you when you are driving.
Finally, check the minimum age for your car rental company. Most require you to be at least 23 to 25 years old and to have been driving for at least a year.
Our 2-week Namibia itinerary
Self-drive Etosha National Park
Driving the Skeleton Coast
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