Of all the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, Namibia is the most comprehensively tourist-friendly. Not only does it have exceptional wildlife – including a quarter of the world’s cheetahs and the last free-ranging population of black rhino – and a well-developed network of parks, reserves and safari lodges, but the landscapes of its coastline and deserts are some of the most photographed in the world.
Add to all this efficient infrastructure and you have a recipe for invigorating, trouble-free travels. Most people opt to combine wildlife and landscape, and the best way to do it is by driving yourself. The road network is extensive and well maintained (and you drive on the left). Most roads are tarred and suitable for standard 2WD cars, while, in the remoter areas, the roads are gravel, for which 4x4s are recommended.
- Entering Namibia is straightforward and hassle-free – upon arrival and departure, you must fill out an immigration card. If arriving by air, queues can be long, particularly when a couple of planes arrive at the same time, but once you finally reach the counter it’s usually straightforward. If you are entering Namibia across one of its land borders, the process is similarly painless – you will need to have all the necessary documentation and insurance for your vehicle. Most nationalities (including nationals from the UK, USA, Australia, Japan and all the Western European countries) don’t even require a visa.
- If travelling with children, parents should be aware of the need to carry birth certificates and may require other documents.
- Most items from elsewhere in the Southern African Customs Union – Botswana, South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland – may be imported duty free. From elsewhere, visitors can import duty free 400 cigarettes or 250g of tobacco, 2L of wine, 1L of spirits and 250mL of eau de cologne.
- There are no limits on currency import, but entry and departure forms ask how much you intend to spend or have spent in the country.
- For pets, you need a health certificate and full veterinary documentation (note that pets aren’t permitted in national parks or reserves).
- All visitors entering Namibia must hold a passport that is valid for at least six months after their intended departure date from Namibia.
- Allow a few empty pages for stamp-happy immigration officials, especially if you’ll be crossing over to Zimbabwe and/or Zambia to see Victoria Falls. In theory, you should also hold proof of departure, either in the form of a return or onward ticket.
- Nationals of many countries, including Australia, the EU, USA and most Commonwealth countries do not need a visa to visit Namibia. Citizens of most Eastern European countries do require visas.
- Tourists are granted an initial 90 days, although most immigration officials will ask how long you plan to stay in the country and tailor your visa duration accordingly.
- Visas may be extended at the Ministry of Home Affairs in Windhoek. For the best results, be there when the office opens at 8am and submit your application at the 3rd-floor offices (as opposed to the desk on the ground floor).
- Tipping is welcomed everywhere, but is expected only in upmarket tourist restaurants, where it’s normal to leave a tip of 10% to 15% of the bill.
- As a rule, taxi drivers aren’t tipped, but it is customary to give N$2 to N$5 to petrol-station attendants who clean your windows and/or check the oil and water. Note that tipping is officially prohibited in national parks and reserves.
- Guides and drivers of safari vehicles will also expect a tip, especially if you’ve spent a number of days in their care.
- Tap water is perfectly safe to drink almost everywhere – but check with campsites and in extreme north/northwest before using the water there.
- Most of the country is malaria free, with the exception of the far north and Caprivi.
- There are plenty of good pharmacies in the main towns, and decent hospital facilities in Windhoek.
The food is of high quality and varied.
- Be careful of temperature extremes: very cold winter nights and extreme heat during day. Keep kids well hydrated, and request a cool box in your vehicle for drinks.
- Even in cooler temperatures it is easy to burn fast – always cover up, and wear a hat and sunscreen.
- The local currency is Namibian Dollar, but South African Rand is accepted for payments and purchases everywhere in Namibia, but Namibian dollar is not accepted in South Africa. 1 Namibian dollar = 1 Rand
- You can exchange USD, Euro, and British Pound at most banks and currency exchange agency in larger towns.
- You can also swipe your Visa / Master Card or Diners Club card at most speedpoint payment machines when doing purchases. The best is carry a small amount cash.
- Observe the usual rules around wildlife. Avoid traveling between dusk, night and dawn. Wild life often cross or graze along main roads.
- Lock your vehicle and don’t leave valuable in plain site in your vehicles.
- Always carry your driver’s license and passport with you.
- Make use of en-suite safe or hotel safe where ever you stay to safeguard your valuables.
- Namibia is relatively safe, however be weary of areas that have a lot of people where pickpockets are often active.
What to take
- Light linen and cotton clothing for daytime (muted colours for game viewing), sun hat, sunglasses, sunblock, comfortable walking shoes, insect repellent and a fleece for cold nights.
- A good pair of binoculars (8x42s) is vital for the bush.
On the Road
With all those empty roads and spectacular landscapes, driving is enjoyable in Namibia – but you can be lulled into a false sense of security if you’re not used to driving long distances, often on gravel. Make sure someone knows where you are expected to be each evening – tourists in remote areas have been known to break down and not be found for several days. Bear the following in mind at all times.
- Drive on the left side of the road.
- Observe speed limits, usually 120km/h on tarred national roads, 80km/h on gravel.
- Take special care on gravel, which can be deceptively tricky – for example, braking suddenly may turn your vehicle over, while you need to slow right down at dips and even on gentle curves.
- 4WD is advisable for gravel roads.
- Keep headlights on gravel roads.
- When overtaking on gravel, keep to the right-hand (opposite) side of the road for a good half-mile so the plume of dust from your vehicle does not obscure the vision of the overtaken driver.
- Take two spare tyres, plenty of water and snacks.
- Build in plenty of time for your journey.
- Watch your fuel and fill up when you can.
- Keep emergency numbers with you. Mobile phone coverage is generally good.