Backpacking Namibia: Top experiences
- Climbing Dune 45 for sunrise in the Namib Desert
- Wildlife-watching in Etosha National Park
- Walking along the rim at Fish River Canyon
- Camping under the starriest skies you’ve ever seen
- Hiking to remote rock art galleries in Damaraland
Jump to the list of posts from Namibia, or read on for the destination overview.
I spent about three weeks backpacking Namibia.
Windhoek --> Kalahari Desert --> Fish River Canyon --> Lüderitz --> Aus --> Sessriem --> Windhoek --> Okojima --> Etosha National Park --> Damaraland --> Swakopmund --> Windhoek
Know before you go
Day-to-day life in Namibia is cheaper than in most of Southern Africa. If all you wanted to do was stay in Windhoek for awhile, you could make it backpacking Namibia for under $20 a day.
Even better, most wildlife encounters in Namibia are very cheap. Admission to Etosha National Park is about $6 a day.
The only problem is transportation. Namibia is huge, sparsely populated, and has no transit infrastructure. So if you want to see the deserts and wildlife the country is known for, you’ll have no choice but to rent a car or take a tour when backpacking Namibia.
I took a tour and spent a little over $100/day. Self-driving would have come out about the same.
Accommodation when backpacking Namibia consists of hostels, hotels, campgrounds, and lodges.
Windhoek, Swakopmund and Lüderitz have a handful of hostels. Dorms are around $13 a night, while private rooms are about $50. Standards are high.
Small hotels are another option in the cities — especially if you have two or more people. Rooms start around $35.
Outside the cities, most people camp when backpacking Namibia. It’s a fantastic way to see the country — sleeping under the starriest skies you’ve ever seen.
Campsites are about $10 a night, plus usually a small per-person fee. The best campsites have permanent cooking huts, charge points for your electronics, and lots of shade — but even the most meh sites are clean and have hot water. It’s worth booking the most popular sites (Okaukuejo in Etosha and Sessriem Campsite) well in advance.
If you have the cash, you can stay in lodges all across the Namibian countryside. Prices start as low as $100 per night, but skyrocket up to $250/night or more at the most popular lodges. I didn’t stay in any, but I did camp at campsites attached to lodges, and I have to say they looked pretty amazing.
Namibia is not a country known for its food. The highlight is the excellent seafood along the coast (in particular, Kooky’s Pub in Swakop and Diaz Cafe in Lüderitz). Elsewhere, you’re in serious carnivore country.
In the cities and bigger towns, you can get good German food or wraps, salads, etc. at proper restaurants and cafes. Prices run $4-$15. Tourist lodges offer similar items.
In the bush, you’ll probably have to self-cater. It’s worth finding out in advance where there will be larger supermarkets along your way — sometimes you can go 2-3 days without passing a well-stocked store. Hostels, campsites, and even many budget hotels have cooking and grilling facilities.
You can drink tap water throughout most of Namibia — just not in Etosha or Windhoek.
There are enough things to do in Namibia to keep you occupied for weeks on end. Most people backpacking Namibia come for the landscapes and the wildlife. Both are incredible and affordable — assuming you have transportation. Park fees are universally $6, plus a small fee for your car.
Namibia’s most dramatic landscapes lie south of Windhoek. The sand dunes at Sossusvlei are the one must-see attraction in the country. There’s nothing quite like climbing Dune 45 at 4:30 am, watching the desert around you turn orange as the sun rises.
Fish River Canyon is another highlight. It takes a long time to drive here on hot, dusty roads, but it’s worth it. You can do a five-day hike (register with the park service in advance) or just walk along the canyon rim to several viewpoints.
If it’s wildlife you’re after, head north. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more impressive park than Etosha. It’s seasonal — in wet season, we had to work pretty hard to find lions, elephants, and rhinos — but during dry season, it’s known for being one of Africa’s best parks.
The big cat rehabilitation program at Okojima is a great stop between Windhoek and Etosha. You can see leopards and cheetahs up close, with guaranteed sightings. There’s tons of other wildlife, too (just no Big 5 besides the one leopard).
To the west, you’ll find some of Namibia’s most remote corners. The Himba people occupy Kakaoland — only venture there if you have a 4×4 (or preferably at least two in convoy). South of that is the stark natural beauty of Damaraland — also home to some of the world’s finest rock art galleries. Skeleton Coast National Park runs along the coast, with the resort town of Swakopmund at the southern end.
The area around Swakopmund is one of Southern Africa’s “adrenaline activity” capitals. You can sandboard, quad bike, go on desert tours, skydive, hot air balloon, etc. Activities can get expensive — you’ll pay at least $40 for a half-day tour.
The biggest barrier to backpacking Namibia on a budget is transportation. Aside from Swakopmund, almost nowhere in Namibia that is of interest to travelers is served by buses.
Some backpackers on extreme budgets choose to hitch around Namibia. I wouldn’t recommend it — first of all, it’s never 100% safe. Second, it’s illegal (and enforced) in national parks anyway. But most importantly, many of Namibia’s roads see almost no traffic. You could have to wait hours for a ride in the hot sun. In remote areas, it could even be dangerous if you don’t have enough water.
So that leaves most travelers with choosing between self-driving and taking a tour.
You can rent a car for about $60/day. If you have two or more people, it can work out more cheaply than a tour. While the roads are good, many of them are gravel, and accidents are frequent. And don’t underestimate driving distances — it’s a huge country.
Budget camping tours run a little over $100 per day, all-inclusive. I recommend Wild Dog Safaris — they’re one of the few Namibian-owned companies, and they run a really tight ship. You sacrifice the flexibility to do your own thing, but it’s nice to have a good guide in the national parks and to have someone else do all the driving.
Backpacking Namibia is extremely safe. There are almost no hassles tourists need to worry about, and very little violent crime.
Windhoek empties out after dark, so it’s best to be back at your guesthouse by 5 pm or so. Muggings are common at night.
Otherwise, the biggest risk is a road accident. The high-speed gravel roads can give novice Africa drivers a false sense of security — don’t forget that it’s still gravel, and you can lose control easily. Don’t ever drive after dark, due to wildlife near the roads and a serious drunk driving problem.
Etosha and areas further north have malarial mosquitoes. It’s worth taking anti-malarials, especially in rainy season.
Don’t forget that Africa’s wild animals are truly wild. Keep your distance.
For women alone
Backpacking Namibia presents no problems to women alone. It’s fairly conservative in the countryside, so it’s polite to cover to your knees and your shoulders.
Ready to get started?