Driving in Namibia is a breeze... if a breeze was the same as a hurricane! All you need to do is make sure you don’t get the wrong type of car, stay on the right (left) side of the road, watch out for zebras, and, oh, take out really good car insurance, just to be safe. And a few more really important things to remember if you don’t want driving in Namibia to turn into crying in Namibia.
So, let’s be completely honest here: if you’re self-driving in Namibia, you’re in for an adventure! But who am I kidding, you’re traveling to Namibia, you WANT an adventure, and you expect nothing less.
And Namibia, the hot beauty that she is (because, duh, desert galore), delivers on all fronts: from the coolest natural destinations combined with some fun activities to so much wildlife, the result is an experience like none other.
The journey is as much the destination as the, well, destination in Namibia. I have a separate article on the best destinations in Namibia, as well as a detailed itinerary so you don’t have to lift a finger in planning your trip. And, low and behold, the reason you clicked on this article in the first place, here is how you can have the best off-roading journey in Namibia:
If you’re worried about self-driving in Namibia due to safety reasons, you can chillax and get your driver’s license ready for an adventure! Namibia is a safe country to travel, roads included.
You do need to remember that distances are vast, but due to the lack of traffic and a relatively good infrastructure, you’ll be enjoying your off-roading adventure more than worrying about it. Huh, what off-roading?? Oh, did I not mention that there are almost no asphalt roads in Namibia? Driving in Namibia means hours on gravel and dirt roads. Which takes me to my next tip:
Trust me when I say a 4WD is an absolute must-have in Namibia. Most of the time, you’ll be tackling dirt roads, and Namibia is a huge country… Do you want to be stuck going 30 km/h (18.5 mph) while trying to drive 500 km (310 miles) a day? I didn’t think so.
We literally passed hundreds of sad-looking, sedan-driving tourists going at a frustratingly slow pace that were regretting their poor decision as we flew past at 140 km/h (87 mph). That's right, baby, we were the kings of the desert!
Not to mention that you’ll probably have way more punctured tires if they aren’t massive enough to take on whatever spiky thing you drive over. You’re already driving for hours while trying to get to places like my personal favorite, Swakopmund, or to see the animals at the incredible Etosha National Park Safari, so why not make the trip semi-comfortable? 4x4 and Namibia are basically synonyms.
That said, Namibia is a very flat country, so driving is easy, IF you follow the rules of the road, don’t drive at night, and watch out for animals. Oh, and if you happen to be there in rainy season, huge potholes! Told you, easy peasy.
A cautionary note for driving in rainy season: You wouldn’t be able to tell in the winter (which is when you should be visiting Namibia anyway), but some of the country’s roads lead through ex-riverbeds. You can, however, tell they used to be riverbeds the moment the rain doubles down. If your road turns into a river, don’t be surprised, you have been warned. See, I told you that you should visit Namibia in the winter (May to September)!
It's not like you have anything else to worry about, so I’ll just remind you that you drive on the left side of the road in Namibia. Namibia used to be part of South Africa, and, before that, an English colony, so driving on the left is little memento from those days.
To ease your stress from driving on the wrong side of the road (but shout out to my Aussie and UK readers!), you will be pleased to learn that Namibians are (mostly) courteous drivers. And there's literally no traffic to worry about anyway, so even if they were such menaces as, oh I don’t know, in Georgia for example (don’t get me started on Georgia!), they wouldn’t cause much trouble.
After a long, uncomfortable, dusty drive, you’ll feel like you’ve arrived at an oasis at Burgsdorf Guest Farm. They welcome you with open arms, feed you like a king, and there’s even a pool to wash the day away (after you’ve showered, preferably).
You will see wildlife on and around the grounds, making Burgsdorf Guest Farm one of the best safari lodges in Namibia.
Driving in Namibia means animals committing suicide by walking in front of your vehicle, tourists that can't drive on dirt roads, and sand, dirt, and gravel everywhere. You are sure to end up with at least a cracked windshield and a punctured tire or two.
I consider myself an experienced driver, having driven off-road many times before, but even I got into two accidents in two weeks in Namibia. The first one was with a French tourist who didn't understand how driving in Namibia works.
The second one was with a warthog who didn't understand anything, really, and paid for it with his life. He basically demolished the front of our Toyota Hilux. I was lucky to have paid for full insurance—I just gave the bent-out-of-shape car back to the rental company and that was the end of that. It was a win-win situation. Well, except for the pig.
Buying full insurance is expensive—I paid over 1000 bucks for 14 days of Toyota Hilux coverage. But totally worth it in the end thanks to my pig-ccident. Just presume you’re going to wreck the car, you’ll have a much easier time coughing up the cash for your insurance payment with that vision in your mind.
If (when) you get into an accident in Namibia, be ready to go to the police station. Your car rental and insurance companies will request the accident report.
In my experience, the police in Namibia are nice and efficient. We had to deal with the police after our little accident with Mr. Piglet, but it only took an hour, and we only got a small fine to show for it. Not bad for a day's work.
Why? Because it's not like driving on actual roads is a useful skill in Namibia. Off-road is where the action is, and sometimes the action is more than you’ve ever wished for—animals jumping into your way, sand making things slippery and the sides of the road hard to make out… the whole shaboozle.
Not that you’ll practice not hitting wild animals, but at least make sure you know how to handle a car that’s not on a boring, perfect asphalt street. Maybe through a bunch of sand on a narrow neighborhood road, have one neighbor make dust clouds while your other neighbor wears a zebra costume and runs across the road randomly while you try to drive.
What public transportation? Ok, there are a couple of buses and even a train in Namibia, but they are few and far between, don’t go to where you want to go, and should probably stay as the mysterious, unchartered territory it has been for you up until now. Just forget it exists.
The only alternative to self-driving in Namibia would be to rent a car with driver or use other private transportation, like buying a tour that includes transportation.
If you look at my Best Places in Namibia article, you’ll see that the highlights are all in the top half of the country. But that’s not to say they’re close to each other—you’ll need your own set of wheels to follow both my 10-day Namibia itinerary and the 2-week itinerary for Namibia.
Do you think that driving 600 km (370 miles) a day in a desert with sand in all the wrong places, i.e. outside and inside of your car (and probably in much less comfortable orifices, too!) and nothing to see on the way is the ultimate way to spend your vacation? (Thanks, Skeleton Coast, for the endless nothingness!) Well, you better, otherwise maybe go someplace smaller and less sandy. Like anywhere not in Africa.
You can’t entirely trust Google Maps’ estimated travel times—they will almost always be longer IRL. If you get a 2WD, they’ll be A LOT longer. You can, however, trust Google Maps in Namibia to navigate you. Maybe pick up a paper map at the airport just to be on the safe side, if you like being on the safe side. If not, and you find yourself on a “P road”, you’re probably on the way to somebody’s farm. Turn back and try again.
So, don't be a cheapskate and rent a damn 4x4, or you'll spend your vacation changing tires and/or driving forever without getting anywhere. Your call.
Here’s another hotel tip, which at the same time proves just how little distance matters in Namibia.
Ijaba Lodge at Buschfeld is about 1 hour away from Etosha National Park Safari, but let's be real, in Namibia, an hour’s drive is basically next door. The lodges inside the safari are crappy value, and Ijaba Lodge was superb.
And as a bonus: You might spot some zebra snakes and black mambas! Don't worry, they're more afraid of you than you are of them! Or was it just me that scared them with my bulging muscles and strong charisma?
There are gas stations fairly regularly throughout the country—enough that you can drive without stressing, but not enough that you can wait until the last minute to fill up. Err on the side of caution and top up when you have the chance.
It’s not that rare for gas stations to run out of gas either, so plan ahead and know where your options are located. If you’re running on less than half of a tank, you should prioritize stopping at the next gas station you find.
Gas/fuel prices in Namibia are cheap, costing around NAD 20 (USD 1.40) per liter, which is NAD 78 (USD 5.20) per gallon in February 2023.
I had only good experiences with the local drivers in Namibia, which is more than I can say for the other tourists I tried sharing the road with.
Most of the time, Namibians are considerate drivers. Most of the time. There are asshole drivers, too, as in any country, so I don’t feel like it’s anything to cry over.
You can have some trouble if you get into an accident with an uninsured local driver, which could result in a hit and run. If that does happen, write down any information about their vehicle, the location and the situation, take photos, and call the police. Chances are they won’t come to you and you’ll need to make your own way down to the station to file a report, so come armed with details.
You got that big 4x4 and you’re feeling like a desert navigator extraordinaire, driving a little cocky? Or maybe you’re a goodie goodie, but have been deceived by the miles and miles of nothingness, aka desert, making you lose all sense of speed?
Whatever the reason for your speeding is, I’m pretty sure you don't want to spend your vacation money on speeding tickets. So, just a heads up, Namibian police don't play when it comes to speeding fines. They’ll hit your wallet harder than a ton of bricks, so keep your eyes peeled and your foot off the gas pedal. At least when somebody’s watching. Otherwise, you could end up paying up to USD 500 just for forgetting, or not caring, how fast you’re going.
On paved roads, the speed limit is 120 km/h. Gravel or dirt roads have a speed limit of 80 km/h, and you can go 60 km/h in towns and cities.
You might be a skilled off-roading master, but the other tourists… probably newbs in most cases. They’re more like a swarm of annoying mosquitoes, buzzing around and ruining your Namibian off-road driving adventure.
So, even if your first instinct is to ram through them in your monster truck, just be mindful, be patient, and don’t go running over people in their slow little sedans. Or just run them over and see what happens, your choice. Just kidding!!
When self-driving in Namibia, not only do you have to deal with the dirt roads, long distances and endless desert, you’re also dodging animals left and right. And keep in mind that those beautiful wild suckers are mostly nocturnal! They’re literally out partying all night long, not caring where the roads are, sometimes putting you and themselves in great danger. For you, that means no driving after dark.
We were so good at following this rule, except for that one time we thought we could make it but didn’t. What happened 20 minutes past sunset? We ended up demolishing a hog (see above for the full exhilarating story). Lesson learned!
Give yourself enough time for journeys and don’t set out late in the afternoon. You never know how many hogs you’ll hit or how many flats you’ll get on the way. It’s easy for a short(ish) trip to turn into an unexpected long(ish) journey.
So, do yourself a favor and stick to driving in the daylight. Your car and the animals in Namibia will thank you for it.
In tourist areas, traffic signs will be in English.
If you’ve read this far, you may have gotten the feeling that driving in Namibia is a hoot…and you wouldn’t be wrong! It’s one of those experiences where you’ll be cursing while it’s happening, but then have the coolest stories to tell once you’re back home.
In the end, driving in Namibia was the most adventurous driving experience I've ever had—because nothing beats driving off-road, surrounded by elephants and hippos trying to jaywalk, tourists trying their hand at off-roading, all combined with driving on the left side of the road. It’s driving on steroids! And I’ve driven in Costa Rica, Italy, South Africa and worst of all—Georgia.
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The Namib Naukluft National Park, in particular the Sossusvlei area, is the epitome of Namibia. It’s that place with the famous tree skeletons. I don't really like the desert, but Namib Naukluft NP is a must-see!
I’ve put together 2 detailed day-to-day itineraries for you: one for 10 days, and one for 14 days, both awesome. You will spend hours on the road, so you might as well do it in the comfort of your own vehicle.