Epic desert sunsets. Remote landscapes. Lions, elephants, rhinos, and leopards. I saw all these things and more during my two weeks in Namibia. And it was all thanks to Wild Dog Safaris.
Now, I’m not normally a tour person. I’m a firm believer in public transportation, bumps, dust, crowds and all. I like to choose my own activities and travel on my own timeline.
But as soon as I started planning my trip to Namibia, it became obvious that I had to take a tour. Namibia is one of the least-densely populated countries in the world. And where there are no people, there are no buses. While you can get between a couple of the major population centers by public transport, if you want to see the dunes and wildlife the country is so famous for, you need your own wheels. And as someone who hasn’t driven since she was 19, the idea of renting a car and driving it out into super-remote desert country — alone — on gravel/dirt roads — seemed a bit much.
So I started researching the various tour options. I could do an overland trip with a company like G Adventures or Acacia Africa. But they only offered Namibia as part of a multi-country tour — and they rushed through it in only a week. I had to keep my budget down, so I needed a company that would run camping tours. And I desperately wanted to see both Fish River Canyon and Kolmanskop Ghost Town.
Only one company met my requirements: Wild Dog Safaris. After some minor back-and-forth with their staff, I booked the trip. I ended up traveling with the Wild Dog Safaris team for two weeks, in a group of six women ranging from their early 20’s to their early 60’s. In this post, I’ll review my experience with them.
I’m writing this post because it was very difficult to find information about tour companies in Namibia online before I went, and I want to help people like you decide which safari is right for you. I paid my own way on this trip, 100%, just like you would — I have no relationship with the company and this blog was not even live when I was in Namibia. All opinions are my own.
Before the tour: Communication and booking: 8/10
The booking process with Wild Dog Safaris was straightforward. I reviewed the itinerary options on their website and decided on a two-week camping safari, Windhoek to Windhoek, covering both the northern and southern parts of the country. I checked which days of the week the trip I wanted leaves, verified that I could find flights that would make sense, and sent an email inquiry.
Memory from the front office team at Wild Dog Safaris got back to me right away. She sent more detailed information about the itinerary, a list of recommended hotels in Windhoek that they could help me book if I wanted to arrive before my tour, detailed terms and conditions, and information on the payment. I had a couple additional questions at that point and Memory always responded within a day.
When it came time to make the payment, I was able to do it online and without paying fees. I simply used an e-check service. It never felt insecure. The payment did take awhile to process (like, weeks), which was partially because I sent it over the Christmas holidays. I had to follow up with Memory a couple times to ensure they received it, but it got through eventually.
The front office team was super-helpful throughout the entire process, and had good and thorough answers to my questions. I felt completely confident in their level of organization and knowledge about travel in Namibia.
On safari with Wild Dog Safaris Namibia
The day I set off on my safari, the Wild Dog team picked me up at exactly the time they’d promised. They brought everyone leaving for various trips to their office, where we met our safari-mates, put our luggage in the correct vehicles, and were shown a map detailing our route. Then we were off!
The guides and assistants: 10/10
Wild Dog Safaris’s guides double as drivers. Both my guides were excellent drivers — no crazy speeding here. But on top of that, they really know their stuff when it comes to the landscapes, people and wildlife of Namibia.
My guide for the first week of the trip was Gabriel. He’s young, soft-spoken, and very insightful about Namibian culture. He did a brilliant job of keeping our group on schedule, while giving us the flexibility to see things at our own pace. He also went way above and beyond when he got our group to the base of Dune 45 ahead of all the others.
The second week, Raymond took over as my guide. He is Gabriel’s polar opposite: super-outgoing, a little older, gregarious, and very passionate about wildlife. It was great to have him as our guide in Etosha National Park — whenever we were feeling tired of game driving, he’d say “I came here to see animals, didn’t you? Let’s go!” He knew where to find elephants in rainy season and could describe the behavior of wildebeests in-depth.
The guides were accompanied by assistants who helped with camp chores and cooked. The first week, our assistant Manfred also hung out with the group. The second week, our assistant was quieter and didn’t spend much time with us.
Overall, I was very happy with the guides at Wild Dog Safaris. I never asked a question they didn’t have the answer to. I felt 100% safe in their company. And they added to the fun of the trip — by the time we parted ways, they felt like family.
The camping experience: 9/10
Wild Dog Safaris offers both camping and lodge safaris. As a budget traveler, I opted for the camping experience. They keep their camping and lodge safaris separate, so you don’t need to wait for lodge-goers to finish breakfast or anything.
Wild Dog provided all the gear for camping. That included one three-person tent for every two people, comfy sleeping mats, and sleeping bags. The tents were high-quality and durable, and they held up (reasonably) well to rain and dust. Mosquitoes were only a problem one night out of the ten nights in the bush.
The guests were expected to “help” set up our own tents. In practice, this meant we went through some of the motions of trying, but the guides quickly became exasperated and just did it for us.
We traveled with a full set of cooking equipment, plates/knives/forks/etc., dish soap and wash bins, several battery-operated lights, camp chairs, and a hand-washing basin. While we were responsible for washing our own dishes, it certainly never felt like we were roughing it.
Most of the campsites we stayed at were absolutely amazing — far better than most U.S. campsites I’ve stayed in. They came complete with luxurious, hot-water showers, charge points for electronics, swimming pools, wildlife-watching spots, and even occasional Wi-Fi at the camp store!
We stayed at hotels in Lüderitz, Windhoek for a night between the northern and southern halves, and Swakopmund. All hotels were covered by the tour price. They were invariably clean and safe, and far better value for money than anything we could have booked on our own. The place in Swakop was a little dull and business-y, but they made a surprise birthday cake for one girl in our group so it’s hard to complain.
The activities: 10/10
Wild Dog Safaris definitely kept me busy during the two weeks in Namibia. I think the only time there was real downtime was during the afternoon after we hiked up Dune 45 for sunrise. There was lots of car time, and evenings were pretty chill, but this would not be a good trip for someone hoping to relax at the campsite for hours each day.
The activities were all really worthwhile, though. Even the ones I wasn’t sure I cared about — like visiting a mesosaurus fossil site or hiking to rock art galleries — turned out to be surprisingly cool. Opportunities to see wildlife abound.
The two-week tour takes in some off-the-beaten-path locations, like Damaraland, the desert near Aus, and the Kalahari Desert. So even though you are on a tour, it doesn’t feel like you’re just chasing the other tour buses. I visited in off-season, so even Etosha and the Namib Desert were virtually empty, and the off-the-beaten-path places felt way more remote than I’d been expecting.
My one complaint was we didn’t do an early-morning game drive in Etosha. It would’ve been nice to leave the camp at 5 am one morning for an hour or two, and then go back and have breakfast. We never left the camp before 8 am. In dry season, when wildlife shows up at the campground water holes, this may not be as relevant.
The food: 8/10
Most of our meals were prepared at the campsite or on the road by the Wild Dog Safaris team. I ate at restaurants (at my own expense) a few times.
Breakfast was a 50-50 split between hot breakfast and yogurt/cereal/pastries/toast. The best was after we climbed down from Dune 45 at sunrise, there was a hot breakfast waiting for us in the parking lot, in the shadow of the dune. It truly doesn’t get any better than that. We were served tea and (instant) coffee every morning before we even had to take down the tents.
Lunch was something like sandwiches, hot dogs or tuna salad that could easily and quickly be prepared at a roadside rest stop. Ingredients for a simple salad were always available, as was fresh fruit.
Dinner was the big meal of the day. The cooks really went all-out. Most meals had a main dish and several sides, including vegetables, but were pretty meat-dominant. Upon request, Manfred even cooked us a local meal of grilled eland (antelope) and ugali (a corn-based, doughy starch). The food was always tasty and plentiful. I picked up a bottle of Peri-Peri hot sauce, which made the grilled sausages and meats that much better.
Wild Dog Safaris caters to vegetarians if you let them know in advance. While I’m a vegetarian at home, I didn’t want to miss out on sampling the local food, so I ate meat the whole time. It only really started to bother me the last two days.
The vehicles: 8/10
I traveled in two different Wild Dog Safaris vehicles — the first week in an eight-seat Land Cruiser; the second week in a fifteen-seat truck.
Both vehicles were ready for bush driving. Even when the roads were bumpy, we didn’t really feel it. Neither was air-conditioned, but the dry heat of Namibia is pretty tolerable if you open the car windows. Both vehicles also had pop-up roofs for game viewing.
My preferred car was the Land Cruiser. We only had six people in our group so we had plenty of space. We carried all our gear in a trailer behind us. It was ideal for southern Namibia because we were able to drive the final 5 km into Dead Vlei, which is 4×4-only — saving us a 5 km walk in the mid-day desert sun. The one downside was we busted a spring on our trailer on the road away from Fish River Canyon. It was fixed with minimal disruption to the trip (more on that shortly).
The fifteen-seat truck was almost too much space for our six-person group. Every person got a row to themselves, which made it harder to bond with my car-mates. The pop-up roof also made a lot of noise, especially on bumpy roads. But on the plus side, the windows were much better for game viewing in Etosha.
Both cars were clearly well-maintained and in good condition. I never had any safety concerns.
Dealing with the unexpected: 10/10
Each week of my Namibia road trip with Wild Dog Safaris, one unexpected problem came up. I see these problems as the truest indicators for the quality of a tour company. Do they handle it professionally? How do they communicate with their guests about it? How do they make up for any missed opportunities?
Wild Dog amazed me with their handling of both problems.
Mechanical breakdowns and closed repair shops
The first week, trouble arose on the road out of Fish River Canyon. It was long, gravel, and very bumpy. Something must’ve felt wrong, because as soon as we got back to the tarmac, Gabriel pulled over and inspected the vehicle. It turned out a critical spring had broken on the trailer.
Luckily, while we had another 300+ km to drive that day, were were only a few kilometers away from Keetmanshoop. Keetmans is a larger town with several auto repair shops. So we headed there, only about ten minutes out of our way. Meanwhile, Gabriel was in contact with the Wild Dog Safaris front office and communicated exactly what we were going to do to the guests.
It was a Sunday, and in Namibia, Sundays mean everything is closed. So Gabriel dropped us off at a supermarket and shopping mall to grab lunch (which he would reimburse us for) while he found an open repair shop.
Not more than an hour later, Gabriel came to pick us up — without the trailer. It turned out no repair shops were open. So he left the trailer to be fixed the next day, piled all our suitcases into the back of the Land Cruiser, and we continued on our way. Meanwhile, the Wild Dog Safaris front office sent someone else to pick up the trailer. While we stayed in a (planned) hotel for one night in Lüderitz, the trailer was fixed, and it — along with our camping gear — were waiting for us when we arrived at our campsite the next day.
The total disruption to our trip was about 30 extra kilometers driven, one lunch in a supermarket parking lot, and maybe an hour of our time. Not bad at all.
Rainy season problems
The second unexpected disruption was more serious. We were driving out of Etosha National Park, toward our campground in Damaraland. All of a sudden, the skies opened up in an hour-and-a-half-long downpour.
When we got back on our way, we made it just to the edge of the tarmac road. But where the dirt road began, it had completely turned into a river. My heart sunk. If we couldn’t get across this road, we’d miss out on our entire Damaraland experience — or so I thought.
Raymond made some quick phone calls to the Wild Dog Safaris office and some other guides. He then explained to the group that even if we could get across this river, there were several more — and there was a real chance of getting stuck between them.
It was getting late, so Raymond proposed that we find somewhere to camp for the night. Then, the next day, we had a few options. Maybe we could cross the river and do the planned rock art gallery hike at Twyfelfontein. But if not, we could still probably get to a different rock art gallery at Brandberg.
Raymond somehow negotiated us a campsite at a nearby campground that was fully booked. He helped us organize a quick evening walk through the forest. Then we made dinner and hunkered down for a wet night.
In the morning, Raymond raced around to gather information about the roads from the locals. He determined pretty quickly that attempting to get to Twyfelfontein would be risky. So he recommended we try for Brandberg instead. He asked our group how we felt about that before committing to it, and we were all in.
In the end, we went to Brandberg, saw some amazing rock art, and missed out on nothing. Raymond stayed calm and consulted our group at each stage. It was all very professional and stress-free.
Overall experience with Wild Dog Safaris Namibia: 9/10
In sum, I could not be happier with my overall Wild Dog Safaris experience. The guides were great, the food was good, the campsites were amazing, and I got to do every single activity I’d wanted to — and then some.
There are tiny tweaks the company could make to improve. Things like properly sealing the pop-up roof while driving, providing more creative lunch options, and being a little more responsive when it comes to confirming payments from abroad. But those are really, extremely minor things in the context of the trip as a whole.
As I said in the beginning, I don’t have any sort of professional relationship with Wild Dog Safaris. I just had an awesome trip with them. I’m hoping this review can help other travelers like you decide whether a camping tour like mine is right for you when you visit Namibia.
Have any questions about my experience with Wild Dog Safaris? Feel free to leave a comment!
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