Namibia: the land of never-ending dirt roads, the land of constantly changing scenery, the Land of the Brave. It’s a country that will stun you with its beauty, recharge your batteries, and deliver a fresh perspective on life, the world, and our minute presence in it all. And what better way to take it all in than with a road trip?
A road trip in Namibia is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, but it’s not a trip that is suitable for everyone. You must have a thirst for adventure, an admiration for both Mother Nature and Mama Africa, and a mindset that flows as free as the undulations of its landscapes. You must be willing to spend hours on bumpy roads, find peace and tranquility in its remoteness, and be able to repair a flat tire (knock on wood). Trust me, waiting for a tow truck would be almost as much of a struggle as finding the cell service to call one. The temperature is hot and the Wi-Fi is spotty. But in the end, I promise it will all be so, so worth it.
Once you understand what you’re signing up for and have a plan (albeit a flexible one), you are in for the most incredible journey of your life. Which is where I come in – buckle up and get ready for a 10-day trip around Namibia.
Day 1: Touchdown Windhoek and off to the Kalahari
Descending toward Hosea Kutako International Airport will bestow a sense of Namibia’s vast remoteness before you even touch the tarmac. Signs of civilization are few and far between, and the few roads (read: paths) weave in amongst the semi-desert-arid landscape. For me, the landscape was surprisingly green, as I was arriving in January after a bout of heavy rains. But the thing about Namibia’s landscapes is they change by the mile and by the day, so your first impression may be different.
As developed as Namibia’s capital of Windhoek is, we’re not going to Namibia for the civilization aspect — so head straight to your rental vehicle and set off to the Kalahari Desert. The vastness of the horizon should stun straight out the gate, and if you’re lucky, you will have your first taste of a fiery Namibian sunset on your drive.
The Kalahari is known for its gently undulating dunes, pans, and rocky outcrops known as kopjes. My road trip buddy and I stayed at the Kalahari Anib, a beautiful property that welcomed us to lodge life with open arms: a delicious 3-course meal awaiting my arrival, a quiet ambience due to the scarcity of travelers during the pandemic, and a crisp glass of white wine — a highlight for me, since I was traveling from South Africa where the lockdown had instilled a liquor ban.
You’re likely to be tired after a day of traveling, so it’s time to kick back and soak in the serenity while you get ready for your new adventure.
Day 2: Morning magic and Namib Desert
The Kalahari Desert, a semi-arid sandy savannah, captivates those who visit with its endless stretches of space, unique wildlife (especially its resident meerkat colonies), vibrant red sand dunes, and adventures from sand boarding to chasing waterfalls.
While we could spend weeks exploring the region, we’re on a tight itinerary, so my first morning was spent on a game drive — and it was spectacular.
Wildlife roams all over Namibia, so technically every day of your road trip could be considered a game drive, but there is just something about waking up pre-sunrise, hopping in an open-air vehicle with a driver and guide, the morning breeze invigorating your skin and the sounds and smells of the bush igniting your senses.
The morning drive in the Kalahari took us up to a red-sand mound for sunrise, where we sipped coffee and watched the flaming ball of pink rise above the horizon. Springbok, wildebeest, ostriches, and even a beautiful family of giraffes graced us with their presence as we proceeded to cruise through the park. Back in time for a delicious breakfast: this is safari life, and it is the best life.
As the afternoon heat sets in, it’s a good time to get in an air-conditioned vehicle. Head off down the gravel road to the Namib Desert, where iconic adventures await.
We stayed at Namib Desert Lodge, which is set against a backdrop of incredibly striking red fossilized sand dunes. There are accommodation options closer to the main attraction of the area — Sossusvlei — but this one was lovely due to its beautiful property.
Day 3: The dunes of Sossusvlei
Photographers, get your cameras ready. Day 3 is going to run your memory card dry.
This is the day you will get to see all the Namibia postcards IRL. Wake up early to reach the gate to Sossusvlei for its 6:15 AM opening. I can’t stress this enough, because you are heading into the desert and once 10:00 AM hits, it’s game over. The sun is pounding, the heat is intense, and if you are wearing open footwear, your feet will not be happy with that sand-burn.
Cruising down the beautiful road to Sossusvlei will already make you want to stop a million times for photos, but keep driving – it gets better.
First, stop at Dune 45. After taking a few moments to process the elegant curves of the sand dunes that now surround you, it’s time to head to the top. Yes, you can hike this sand dune! Walk along the ridge as you follow the footsteps of those before you — barefoot is encouraged. The round-trip hike takes about 45 minutes. Run down the side of the dune with reckless abandon.
Continue on to Sossusvlei, where you will see Big Daddy — one of the largest dunes in the world (which can also be hiked if you’re feeling really adventurous). Take the 15-20 minute walk over to Deadvlei, another iconic Namibian sight. The contrast of the white salt pan, dark dead camel thorn trees rising from the barren ground, towering red surrounding dunes, and bright blue sky is truly breathtaking.
From there, head to Sossusvlei itself, where you can see another vivid salt and clay pan. Due to the recent rains, this was actually filled with water for our visit, which was a rare sight.
Head back before the heat really hits and take the rest of the day to relax, reflect, and enjoy. If staying at Namib Desert Lodge, make sure to do the sunset drive on the dunes for spectacular views!
Day 4: Going Coastal: Off to Swakopmund
Take the morning to explore and soak in the serenity of the beautiful desert landscapes that surround you. Rent an e-bike, relax by the pool, or if you’re feeling you didn’t get your fix and are staying close to the gate, by all means, head back to the dunes. You’ll never get enough of the beauty of this place.
From there, it’s time to move on. You’ve likely only seen a smattering of other people so far on the trip, but now it’s time to head into an actual realm of civilization — it’s time to go coastal.
Stop at Solitaire, a quaint sand-swept town on the way, to fill up with gas (hot Namibia tip: fill up with gas at every station you see), and try one of the famous apple crumbles from its bakery.
From there, it’s off the Swakopmund on the coast for a recharge. This drive may seem a bit more tedious than the others as there are long stretches of dusty desert, but the mountains and canyons that break it up are a lovely treat.
Day 5: A day at Swakopmund
Take the day to explore this quaint Namibian city, where you’ll find extreme German influence from its architecture to its beer houses. The beach is dotted with swimmers and sunbathers, and the restaurants lining the coast provide a nice view to soak in that Vitamin Sea. But be warned that Swakop (that’s what the locals call it) tends to be coated in a fog of clouds, which may be a welcome respite from that desert heat.
Browse through the artisan shops, grab a coffee at Slowtown, a German brew at Brauhaus, and a gin cocktail at Bar Zandernaam. The Tug on the water is an upscale spot with a view for dinner. Adventure lovers can go sand duning, deep-sea fishing, or paragliding in the surrounding nature. Spend your day however suits you, and get ready to head back into nature for the rest of your trip.
Day 6: Journeying into Damaraland
If wildlife is your thing and you are not bothered by atrocious smells, a stopover at the Cape Cross Seal Reserve is calling your name. These shores host the largest colony of Cape Fur Seals, populating the beach with over 200,000 of them. The babies are adorable and the colony’s antics are quite entertaining. It’s worth checking out, but not worth lingering — they come with a nasty stench! Back into the vehicle and onto the next.
Now, I’m no astronaut, but the landscapes of Damaraland are a close second to those of the moon with flat barren lands with rocky outcrops rising out of nowhere, vast table mountains and towering peaks in the distance. The drive is still bumpy and tourist centers are few and far between, but the remoteness of the landscape will once again soothe your soul.
I stayed at the Damara Mopane Lodge, which was quite a distance from the main attractions of Damaraland, but I have to say the sunset viewing deck made up for the journey. Do the short hike up and around the hill on the mountain, lounge by the pool, enjoy next-level delicious meals, and enjoy your sundowners from the deck as you look out onto nothing but pristine Namibian nature.
Day 7: Exploring the landscapes of Damaraland
An early start is recommended as you head out to explore the fascinating rock formations of Damaraland. The day will heat up around mid-morning which will make your explorations more taxing, but the sunrise drive will always be worth it!
As you marvel at the blackened moon-like landscape, check out Burnt Mountain, a hill made up of solidified lava flow. Then head to the neighboring Organ Pipes, a fascinating display of geology made up of columnar basalt rocks.
One of the most scenic sights on your Namibia road trip (as if it’s possible to choose) has to be the UNESCO World Heritage Site Twylfenfontain, home to one of the largest collections of rock-art engravings in Southern Africa. The red limestone rocks stacked haphazardly up the mountain are beautiful, and a walking tour by a local guide will reveal the history behind the beautiful engravings carved up to 10,000 years ago.
Finish the day with another sundowner session on the deck back at the lodge, obviously.
Day 8: Arriving in Etosha
On your trip so far, you’ve definitely seen a fair share of wildlife. You’ve driven past oryxes — Namibia’s national animal, as seen on its Coat of Arms and its banknotes — as well as plenty of ostriches, likely some wildebeest and springbok, perhaps a warthog or two on the side of the road. If your trip is anything like mine, you’ve even had the pleasure of battling swarms of moths during dinner (not the type of safari I signed up for, but anyway).
But now it’s time to really dive into Namibia’s wildlife scene aka Etosha National Park.
Self-drive safaris are permitted in Etosha, and the limited pathways mean you won’t get lost (although my offline Google Map did help). Just pay the 170 Namibian dollar (11.50 USD) entry fee, and cruise around looking for animals. Lodges that are nearby or directly in the park will offer guided game drives as well.
Wildlife sightings are always up to fate, but this park is home to all the African wildlife you’ve been dreaming of, so if fate is on your side, you’ll see lions, elephants, leopards, giraffes, and other big game. I also feel extremely confident in guaranteeing you will see one, if not hundreds, of springbok. Zebras and wildebeest are also a pretty safe bet. But as with all safaris, soak in all the magic that surrounds you — the smells, the breeze, the birds, the beautiful African landscapes — anything else is a bonus.
Read about How to Choose a Sustainable Safari here.
Day 9: Full-day safariing at Etosha
This is your full day at Etosha, so it’s time to fully lean into safari life. Wake up, do an early morning drive to see the animals entering a new day as they take advantage of the cooler morning air to settle into a new resting or grazing spot or catch themselves a meal. Cruise around and take in the sounds and smells of this incredibly scenic national park. Make sure to check out the 1,900-square-mile salt pan that sits in the middle of Etosha, which is the largest salt pan in Africa (it’s even visible from space!) and look for the masses of flamingoes that come there to breed.
Spend your afternoon enjoying a delicious lunch at your accommodation, relaxing by the pool or in the bush, and enjoying that spectacular off-the-grid feeling. Go on a late-afternoon game drive to see what the cast of Lion King is up to now, and close out the day with a fiery sunset and a delicious meal.
Did I mention safari life is the best life?
Day 10: The Circle of Life: Back to Windhoek
We’ve barely scratched the surface of the magical land that is Namibia, but unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. We only had 10 days allotted for this trip, so it’s time to finish where we started, and drop the car back in Windhoek for the journey home.
Don’t worry, no road trip in Namibia is without its scenic roadside views, so you will still pass your fair share of spectacular rock formations and vast, never-ending horizons on the drive back to Windhoek. Plus, this is one of the few roads along your trip that is actually paved, so the trip will pass much quicker and with less rattling of your brain inside your skull!
If you’re having a stopover in Windhoek (as many of us must at this time, due to COVID-test-pray-and-wait), Urban Camp is a glamping site with a great vibe at its poolside bar, Klein Windhoek Guest House serves up delectable pizzas, and Joe’s Beer House has a fun atmosphere with a quirky set-up. But mostly, this is your time to regroup and reflect on what an incredible trip you just had.
There are major iconic sights that we didn’t get to on this trip such as the breathtaking Fisher River Canyon and ghost town Kolmanskip, but hey, just another excuse to come back (as if we needed one). The trip of a lifetime has come to a close, but you will be going through your photos and asking yourself how that was real life for years and years to come.
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