Ultimate Road Trip Namibia

Namibia is the ultimate Slow Travel destination.  The distances are vast, so it’s essential to take your time on a self-drive through this expansive desert.  When you do, you will find a country of untouched landscapes so endless that you lose all sense of time and space.  Your soul gets space to breathe, far away from the stresses of urban life.

I have lived in the country off/on for the past few years, and finally decided that I’m in love with Namibia.  My curated road tripping guide is an attempt to share that love.  My route starts in the South and ends in the North, but you can obviously reverse it or skip the South and start with Windhoek. If you need help arranging a vehicle or a curated list of beautiful lodges along the way, please feel free to contact me!

Before I get going on the highlights, just a note on seasonality.  This road trip would be much more pleasant if you choose to visit from April until September, and game viewing is best in September/October as conditions are quite dry those months.  If you travel in the Namibian summer (November to March), the heat can be unbearable.  Also to note that the campsites and lodges get booked up quickly, as supply is quite limited so planning a Namibia trip well in advance is advised.

Stop #1 – The Orange River

Starting at the South African border, take a few nights to enjoy the Orange River which is literally right on the border between S.A. and Namibia.  The river meanders from the Drakensberg through Namibia, eventually spilling out into the Atlantic Ocean on the border.  If you are super adventurous, you can do a 4-day canoe trail through the Namibia section with Felix Unite (www.felixunite.com) or just stay in the cabanas and canoe one day, chill in the pool or river the next.

Stop #2 – Fish River Canyon

This is the largest canyon in Africa, and the second largest in the world, so you just have to see it – the views are incredible.  For seasoned hikers, the Fish River Trail offers a strenuous yet unforgettable backpacking experience.  You could also add the Richtersveld if you are this type, as it’s insane but totally off grid, so it’s only for proper 4×4 camping with few amenities.  If luxury is your thing (like me), Fish River Lodge has outstanding views from its perch on top of the canyon and they do fantastic activities such as day hikes and sleeping under the stars.

Stop #3 – Luderitz & Aus

If you wanted to do a really long drive this day, you could skip this area but I have always enjoyed the authenticity of these local towns which are fairly interesting due to the abandoned mining town of Kolmanskop (near Luderitz) and the wild horses near Aus.  There is something quite charming about Luderitz, with its stark coastline and Germanic influence.  The Garden Café is lovely for cakes and tea overlooking the harbor.  When you visit the desert adapted horses in Aus, you may be a bit disappointed, but it’s still quite cool.  The scene is straight out of an old Western movie, but the horses honestly tend to wait around one particular station to beg for food.  It’s somewhat alarming but makes for a good photo opportunity.

Iconic trees of Deadvlei

Stop #4 – Sossusvlei

The iconic sand dunes of Sossusvlei and the petrified trees in Deadvlei are the two most famous areas in Namibia, for good reason.  There is something so silent and utterly mystical about being here, that a visit makes one feel transported to another dimension.  If you are camping you can enjoy the best access from Sesriem; for luxury, you will stay a bit further away from the gates to the dunes but the drive is anyway quite long and best enjoyed at either sunrise or sunset – so plan accordingly.  If you can get in before the crowds, you will have an unforgettable experience of being alone in an endless expanse of red sand…it makes a person feel insignificant and connected all at the same time.  The photographs you take here will remain some of the best in your collection – the dunes and the dead trees make ideal subjects.  Don’t rush it.  Walk the dunes, sit quietly, take pictures…make the very most of it.

Stop #5 – Swakopmund

The coastal town of Swakopmund will surprise and most likely delight you.  After several days being in the wilderness, Swakop is a little pocket of hip civilization.  A lovely collection of shops and restaurants sits along the coast, enjoying views of the icy Atlantic.  Here you can shop for supplies forgotten at home and enjoy a delicious meal and a good cappuccino, before setting off into the bush again

Stop #6 – Spitzkoppe

When the granite mountains of Spitzkoppe appear before you, you already know you are in for a treat.  If the creator made artworks out of our land, it would look a lot like this.  The best thing to do in this area is walk or hike in the kopjes, or if you are a very experienced mountaineer you can attempt to summit Greater Spitzkoppe.

Stop #7 – Damaraland

The dry riverbeds in Southern Darmaraland are an ideal environment (due to abundant groundwater) for desert adapted elephant.  They can be somewhat hard to find, but there are several luxury camps in the area with excellent guides who work with one another to help track the wild elephants.  The landscape is striking and unusual, dotted with fever trees and massive rock outcroppings.

Cheetah in Etosha Pan

Stop #8 – Etosha NP

The vast salt pans of Etosha will be the first experience of big game on this road trip, so prepare to be blown away.  It’s best to enter the park from Okaukuejo, where the lion populations tend to be slightly better in dry season.  You then work your way East towards Namutoni, where you eventually exit the park after several days.  Distances between watering holes are immense, so make sure you spend a few days exploring the park which is home to excellent populations of giraffe and elephant as well as most of the big cats and an impressive number of black rhino.  I would suggest staying in one of the concessions outside of Etosha, because the park facilities really went to ruin during two recent seasons of drought, when they had to ship water and food in for the wildlife – at great expense. The country has recovered from drought, but the campsites are not yet up to standard in my opinion.

Stop #9 – Rundu

After spending the past week amidst an arid landscape, the lush habitat near Rundu is a welcome change.  Birds fly overhead and the Kavango River meanders past en route to the Okavango Delta.  This is ideally a stop of only one or two days, as essentially it’s a day to relax by the river on the way to the Caprivi Strip.  Enjoy the opportunity to get out of the car, have a sundowner by the river, swim in the pool, and birdwatch.

Stop #10 – Caprivi Strip

This verdant strip of land sits just to the North of Botswana and the upper reaches of the Okavango Delta, so it offers excellent access to the hippos, crocodile, and diverse birdlife endemic to the area.  The game parks in Caprivi are still fairly wild compared to other parks in Africa, and well worth a visit if you are driving a 4×4.