Information and photos courtesy of: The Namibia Tourism Board
Travelling through Namibia by car is one of the best ways to explore this extremely vast and beautiful country. This plus the freedom you have to stop and go as you please makes self-driving in Namibia extremely rewarding. Here you’ll find some important tips to make the most of your road trip in Namibia.
1. Things you should have in your car:
A camera: This is something that is invaluable on your trip through Namibia. From wild animals to stirring landscapes and interesting people, there are photo opportunities galore and documenting your road trip is a great way to make the memories of your adventure last even longer.
Water: Always bring loads of bottled water in the car with you. Namibia can be very hot and you may drive for an hour without seeing any settlement, so always make sure you’re hydrated.
Snacks: As always when driving, make sure you have a little bit of food to nibble on to keep up your spirits and sugar levels. If you don’t eat properly your alertness could suffer and that’s not ideal. Biltong and droewors are great snacks which can be found for sale all over Namibia.
Sunglasses and sunscreen: Protect yourself from the sun while driving. Many people forget that they can get sun burnt whilst in a car. Wearing a good pair of sunglasses will not only protect your eyes but also reduce the sun’s glare, which will help you be able to spot animals and other things in the distance.
2. Fill up on petrol when you have the chance.
There are many fueling stations dotted along the national roads, but you must always make sure that you have enough petrol or diesel in your car to get from one station to the next. Namibia is a sparsely populated country and getting stuck with no fuel is not an ideal situation. Some maps will tell you where the filling stations are, but don’t simply trust any old map you find online as it could be out of date.
**Note! Many filling stations do not accept card payments for fuel, so always have enough cash to pay for your fuel. It should also be noted that not every filling station has an ATM so be sure to have enough cash on you before you start your self-drive adventure.**
3. Know the major national roads.
The national roads of Namibia are all labelled with the letter ‘B’ and you can use them to get to most major destinations in the country. The major highways in Namibia are the following:
B1 from Noordoewer (South African border) to Oshikango (Angolan border), 1694 km
B2 from Walvis Bay to Okahandja, 285 km
B3 from Nakop (South African border) to Grünau, 324 km
B4 from Lüderitz to Keetmanshoop, 351 km
B6 from Windhoek to Buitepos (Botswana border), 335 km
B8 from Otavi to Katima Mulilo (Zambian border), 837 km
These tarred roads are in great condition and navigating them is a cinch.
4. Only take secondary roads if your car can handle it.
The secondary roads are identified by either their ‘D’ or ‘C’ prefixes, and these roads are mostly un-tarred, graded dirt roads. These roads are more often than not easy to drive on, but do bare in mind that you will need a car that can handle a little bit of sand and dust when using some of them.
When you begin exploring the country’s secondary road network in earnest you will find loads of little gems hidden along the way. Quiet rest camps, conservation centres, traditional communities and even the largest meteorite in the world!
5. Look out for animals!
No matter what road you’re driving on, highways or side roads, you need to be on the lookout for animals. Not only because they are amazing to spot and observe, but because they can run into the road rather unexpectedly.
Warthogs can be particularly dangerous as they are relatively difficult to spot from a distance, and will cause some serious damage to your vehicle if hit at high speed. Kudus (and other antelope) have also been known to panic and run in front of cars so be aware, especially if you see road signs warning of the likeliness of one of these animals.
The animals are most active during the dusk and the dawn, so if the sun’s going down, or if the sun’s coming up, then sharpen your wits and keep a close eye on the verge of the road.
6. Plan your trip before you set out!
It is important to decide on a route before you launch out into the wild on your road trip adventure through Namibia. Do some googling before you depart, plot out the sights you want to see and then plan a route that’ll best get to there keeping the kind of car, and the kind of roads (being either national tar roads or dirt secondary roads) in mind.
Also, don’t over-estimate the amount of kilometres you can do in a day. With any road trip, it’s always better to give yourself more time to get to a destination rather than rush on roads you’re familiar with, in a place you haven’t been before. You never know what could delay you, whether it’s a particularly rough road that calls for you to slow down or stumbling upon a cute little town you want to spend time exploring.
Factor delays into your plan. After all, it’s better to arrive late than not arrive at all.
7. Make sure your car is ready for adventure
Whether you are driving your own vehicle or have chosen to rent one, you will need to pick the appropriate type of car for your journey. If you are planning to stay on the national roads and not go gallivanting into the untamed wilderness of Namibia then any reliable mass-produced four door sedan should do you just fine. Do bear in mind though that a car with a very low ground clearance may run into trouble, so it’s probably best to leave the sports-sedan at home.
Long with this, make sure that you have all the required documentation you need for a long-distance trip. Is your car is roadworthy? Do you have all the equipment you will need in the event of a flat tyre or other minor mechanical faults? Also check out the Automobile Association’s website for some useful information on bringing your private vehicle across Namibia’s borders.
8. Kick it old school – bring your map along
GPS is a wonderful invention and it has made navigating around unexplored parts of the world a cinch for travel, and it is highly recommended that you invest in such a device if you plan on driving yourself around the countryside.
However, it is still VERY important that you bring a physical map with you. Electrical equipment can fail, so you need to have a backup plan. A map is solid and dependable and it never has to reacquire its satellites.
9. Prepare to take a few dirt roads
Many of the roads in Namibia are not tarred and as such you will find yourself driving on either dirt or graveled roads at some point. But do not fear. Most of these roads are well graded and easy enough to drive on. But if you are unfamiliar with driving on dirt roads, now’s the time to familiarise yourself:
- Firstly, your car will handle very differently on a dirt road then it does on a tarred road. So if it’s your first time driving on such roads start off quite gingerly and get used to the way your car stops, accelerates and takes corners.
- When going around corners it is important to not accelerate or decrease your speed massively, try and keep an even, moderate pace as you go around the corner (rather slow down before you get to the turn).
- Keep an eye out for deep loose sand as even larger 4×4 vehicles can get stuck in sufficiently deep or loose sand.
- Make sure you keep an eye on your tyre pressure. Every time you get to a filling station ask the attendant to have a look at the pressure. While you’re at it ask the attendant to check your car’s oil and water as well (don’t forget to tip the filling station attendant when you move on!).
- You need to know how to change a tyre. Flat tyres happen and no matter how cautious one is there is always a chance that you will ride over something that will cause a small hole in your tyre. If you can, try and have two spare tyres.
- When driving on a dirt road be aware that it will take considerably longer to cover a distance compared to travelling on a national, tarred road. So always plan your trip so that you have enough time to get where your going on time.
10. A few more nuggets of important information to get you going:
- It’s a good idea to leave your headlights on through the day and the night. Headlights, even in daylight make your car easier to see for oncoming vehicles.
- Drive carefully and cautiously, as always. Be especially careful when leaving or entering villages and towns. There are often people and cattle crossing the road.
- Make sure you have a roadside emergency kit in your car. If you have rented a vehicle make sure with the agency that there is a kit in your vehicle. You should always travel with a basic first-aid kit.
- Do not speed! The penalties for exceeding the local speed limits are extremely severe, and law enforcement is wide-spread.
- Cellphone reception is not consistent all over the country so have a look at your service provider’s coverage map to see if where you’re going will have service.
- Always ensure you have more than enough fuel to get to your destination or the next filling station.
- Drive on the left, even on deserted dirt roads.
- If you pass through any farm gates you have to open, be sure to close them behind you. If you don’t then livestock will escape and you will be costing a farmer a lot of damage.