Going on safari is one of the most life-affirming travel experiences on the planet. And Namibia is one of the best countries to do it in. While safaris in Namibia don’t come cheap, they don’t have to wipe out your life savings, either. You can cut costs significantly by camping instead of staying at swanky lodges. Even if you’re not generally a camper, you can still enjoy a Namibia camping safari — if you know what to expect.
There are two common ways to go on a camping safari in Namibia. One is renting a car. The other is booking a tour — either just to see the wildlife, or to cover the entire country. Either way, you should budget about $100 a day for your trip. That will cover transportation, food, campsites, and admission to the parks. The tips in this post apply either way.
So without further ado…
Six things you should know before booking a Namibia camping safari
1. You’ll spend a lot of time on the road
Safaris are often billed as adventure travel. So many travelers are surprised to discover just how sedentary they are.
Don’t get me wrong — safaris are full of excitement. There’s nothing like the adrenaline rush of finding tracks from one of the Big 5 and slowly creeping through the bush in search of the animal that left them. And even from the safety of a vehicle, your heart will surely be pounding when you encounter a lion or an elephant.
But you may also find yourself desperately in need of a stretch break after you’ve been driving for three hours without seeing a thing. And it’s not like you can just hop out of the car when you need to — for one, it’s illegal, but it also could be dangerous if a hidden animal spots you. (And if it’s a cheetah, you won’t be able to outrun it.)
Because you spend so much time in the car, most travelers find that 2-3 days is enough time for a Namibia camping safari, especially in Etosha National Park (where distances between camps are huge and speed limits are low). If you still want to see more wildlife, consider staying at a camp with a water hole and spending half a day at the camp instead of driving around. And try to bookend your game drives with shorter trips to and from your next destinations.
2. Everything you own will be covered in a fine layer of red dust
To be fair, this one is true for lodge safaris as well. It’s just an inevitable factor of life in Namibia.
Many roads throughout the country — including the ones in Etosha National Park — are gravel. They’re good gravel roads, mostly without potholes, on which you can drive 80 km/hour. But they’re still gravel.
Meanwhile, it’s pretty unlikely that your Namibia camping safari vehicle will have air conditioning. And even if it does, you’ll probably want to keep your windows down for better photos, rendering the A/C pointless.
Add together 6-8 hours each day in a car, gravel roads, and open windows, and you get a dusty journey.
There isn’t a whole lot you can do about the dust situation, so you might as well embrace it. Wear clothes that don’t show dirt (hint: avoid black and white). Take protective measures with your electronics, especially your camera lenses. Consider committing to one lens all day, but at the very least, don’t change lenses while the car is moving. I use these cases for extra protection.
And if you need to wash your clothes at campsites to get the dust out, don’t hang them on clotheslines on windy days. Trust me, it only makes things worse.
3. The campsites are probably nicer than anywhere you’ve camped at home
Non-campers may be hesitant to book a Namibia camping safari. I get it. You’re not sure it’ll be comfortable enough. Animals could wander through during the night. What about charging your camera? And how are you supposed to scrub all the dust off in cold-water showers?
Well, I’ve got good news. When you go on a budget camping safari in Namibia, you don’t have to sacrifice creature comforts.
Every campground I stayed in throughout Namibia had hot water and flush toilets. There was never a line for the shower or bathroom. The facilities were invariably clean (with the occasional insect visitor, but hey, you’re still camping).
Most campsites had charging stations for electronics, but you will need to bring a plug adapter for southern Africa. In campsites attached to lodges, you can even use the free WiFi at reception! Pretty unbelievable when you’re way out in the middle of the desert.
To add to the luxury, most campgrounds have swimming pools. These range from just okay to pretty damn luxurious. And if you don’t feel like cooking for yourself, you can eat at the on-site restaurants.
As for the wild animals? Yes, they’re out there. They could theoretically come into your campsite. But a little common sense goes a long way here. Don’t bring food into your tent, do bring your shoes into your tent, and listen for rustling before going outside in the middle of the night and you’ll be fine. One of my campsites in Etosha had a resident jackal (cute little guy), and a hyena came through when I was camping in the Kalahari Desert. Neither seemed at all bothered by humans.
In general, private campsites are nicer than government-run ones. But my favorite in the whole country was Sesriem Camp.
4. Seasons matter
You can go on a Namibia camping safari any time of year. But there are pros and cons to different months. So before you book your safari, consider what you’re hoping to get out of the trip.
If you want to see Etosha National Park at its finest, aim for dry season (June-August is best). The lack of rain forces wildlife out of the bush and to the water holes to drink. If you camp at Okaukuejo or Halali, you won’t even have to leave the campground to see rhinos, elephants and lions — just head to the on-site water holes. Of course, with huge wildlife viewing opportunities come huge crowds. You’ll have to book well in advance (like, by March) or stay outside the park.
If you’re more interested in the landscapes and wildlife of southern Namibia, I’d recommend an April or May trip. These areas get almost no rain anyway, and the crowds will be nonexistent. Rain may disrupt your trip further north, but it’s usually a minor disruption. Nights stay warm enough to comfortably camp. On the other hand, you have to be pretty lucky to see Big 5 wildlife (I saw everything except buffalo, but I was very lucky), and take malaria prevention seriously in Etosha.
You probably want to avoid January and February no matter what. These months get pretty soggy. Roads flood up north, and camping would not be a lot of fun.
5. You don’t need to bring your own camping gear
If you’re planning a Namibia camping safari, there’s no need to rush out and spend hundreds of dollars on camping equipment. You can rent everything you need in Windhoek.
If you’re on a tour, the tour agency will arrange gear for you. They generally won’t allow you to use your own tent even if you brought it (I’m guessing that has something to do with not wanting to be responsible if your tent has holes in it and you get malaria). You can bring your own sleeping bag, but you don’t have to. If you want to pick up your own, something like this should work.
If you’re self-driving, ask around in Windhoek for outdoor equipment stores. Everyone has roughly the same gear, so don’t worry too much about shopping around — but do check the tent for holes. Definitely rent a sleeping pad so you don’t have to sleep on the cold, hard ground. And if you’re traveling in rainy season, make sure you have a tarp to protect the bottom of your tent from water.
You can rent camp stoves as well. However, if you’re a meat eater, there’s really no need — every campsite will provide a braai (traditional grill) for you to cook on.
…but there are a few things you do need to bring
While you can rent or buy most gear in Windhoek, there are a couple things you should bring from home.
You need to supply your own pillow. Don’t do what I did and get stuck stealing the airline pillow from your flight over. Get one of these inflatable pillows before you leave home.
A headlamp proves invaluable when you have to clean up dinner after dark, or if you want to check out a water hole at night. I’ve been using this one for over a year and love it.
Most campsites have a designated sink/washboard for doing laundry. This comes in handy when your clothes get intolerably dusty — plus, in Namibia’s desert climate, everything dries super-fast. Bring some laundry sheets from home.
Two of the best wildlife experiences on your Namibia camping safari are sure to be Etosha and the Africat Foundation at Okojima. Don’t let them be ruined by mosquito-borne illness. As you drive north of Windhoek, you get into malaria zones, especially during rainy season. Unlike what many travelers believe, malaria is a serious illness and can be fatal. Take prevention seriously. If you’re on a short trip, the benefits of anti-malarials usually outweigh the side effects, but talk to a travel doctor if you’re not sure. Either way, stock up on good mosquito repellent with DEET. This stuff is carry-on-friendly.
6. You’ll wonder why anyone would want to stay at a lodge
Once you get on the road, you’ll realize how great camping in Africa is. For one, you’ll save hundreds of dollars. The cheapest lodges in Namibia start in the $100 per person range, and they go up to $300 or more. Meanwhile, campsites are more like $15.
But more importantly, going on a Namibia camping safari is a magical experience. While the lodge tourists are dining under artificial light, or sleeping in rooms fully insulated from outdoor Africa, you’ll be gazing at all the stars in the Milky Way and listening to zebras bark in the distance. (Yes, zebras bark. I was surprised too.) There really is no better way to see Namibia.
Have you been on a camping safari? Are you nervous to try it? Leave a comment!
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