Visiting Namibia is truly a one of a kind experience… and driving in Namibia is exactly the same. The distances are long, the roads are rarely in great condition and the toilet breaks will take you to towns you won’t believe are real.
The best thing to do? Embrace it. The straight roads are somewhat therapeutic. The rest stops are always entertaining. And the roadside wildlife sightings along the way will probably include warthogs, giraffes, ostriches, baboons and more.
Plus, there’s no better way to explore Namibia than by turning it into one long, adventurous road trip. Here’s everything you need to know before you jump into the driver’s seat.
What you need to know before driving in Namibia
Driving in Namibia isn’t always going to be easy, but a little preparation (and some realistic expectations!) will go a long way in making the journey smoother. Here are some of the most important things to consider to make your Namibia road trip memorable for all the right reasons!
#1 – Make sure you have the right license
Namibia has a complicated history when it comes to language, and it’s something you’ll undoubtedly notice while you’re there. There are many spoken languages in Namibia, but English has been the only official language since independence in 1990.
If your driving license isn’t in English, you’ll need an International Driving Permit to hire a car in Namibia.
#2 – Always carry a spare tyre
All of these tips will help make driving in Namibia easier. But if there’s one piece of advice you take away from this post, please make it this one! Flat tyres are uncannily common in Namibia and it’s unlikely you’ll make it through your trip without it. Given the huge distances between towns and all signs of civilisation, you do not want to find yourself stuck on a highway road!
Check you have a spare tyre, jack and all the tools you need to change a flat before you leave, and check the tyre inflation every morning before you head off.
#3 – Know the rules
Like South Africa, traffic in Namibia drives on the left hand side of the road. That will be easy for Brits, but could be confusing for North Americans and Europeans – especially with so few cars around!
Speed limits in Namibia vary from 20kmph to 120kmph. Yellow speed cameras are dotted along the highways and, with a fine of N$4000 for speeding, you do NOT want to get caught!
Even though the minimum driving age in Namibia is 18, you need to be at least 23 to rent. If you’re under 23, it might be best to join a Namibia tour or overland trip.
#4 – Plan your breaks ahead of time
The phrase ‘few and far between’ could well have been coined to describe the state of Namibia’s towns. Out of the main cities (which are also tiny!), the few towns that exist are often separated by hundreds of kilometres.
That means you’ll need to plan ahead to fill up your car’s tank and empty your own – at least if you wish to avoid being caught in any tricky situations. A good rule of thumb is to make the most of every petrol station and toilet you see because you never know how long it could be until the next one!
#5 – Download an offline map
Namibian SIM cards are fairly easy to get hold of and the coverage is impressive given how desolate most of the country is. But even if you have data, download an offline map on your phone. I promise it will come in VERY useful at least a handful of times.
Travel Tip: Check out the full list of apps I use for travel
#6 – Stock up on water
Namibia is hot, but it’s the dryness that will leave you feeling thirsty. When driving long distances, make sure you stash at least a few bottles of water in the car. We learned the hard way when our car broke down just 100km out of town and we had to wait two hours to be rescued.
Don’t rely on the gas station you know is coming up – make sure you never come close to running out. You can never have too much water in Namibia. It’s also worth keeping the bottles to refill at your hotel. Most tap water in Namibia is safe to drink – just check with reception to be sure.
#7 Make sure you carry cash
Nearly everywhere in Namibia accepts card, but that doesn’t guarantee you’ll be able to pay with plastic.
We arrived one of the Etosha lodges to find the whole system was down because an elephant knocked a cell tower over. The nearest cash point? Over an hour’s drive away.
Make sure you carry at least a few thousand Namibian dollars at all times to over you for emergencies, especially if you’re heading into the national parks or reserves.
#8 – Have all your numbers handy
Do you know the rental company’s emergency number to call if something should go wrong? How about the nearest tyre centre? If not, it’s time to note it down. The police number is 1011.
Since this is Africa, there will always be a way to resolve anything that goes wrong. But don’t make it harder than it needs to be!
#9 – You don’t need a 4×4
Despite what the internet and the rental company will probably tell you, you really don’t need a 4×4 to drive in Namibia. We managed fine with a two-wheel drive because we didn’t have the option of a 4×4 vehicle and there wasn’t a single time it felt like we needed one. Save your money and spend it on a night safari instead!
#10 – Don’t forget your permit
If you’re renting a car from another country, you’ll need a permit to enter Namibia. You can get this from the rental company when you collect the car. Make sure you keep it somewhere accessible at all times, such as in the glove box.
#11 – Have your camera handy
You can go hundreds of kilometres without seeing anything but dusty plains and a long straight road ahead of you in Namibia. But you can also see the most incredible things when you least expect it. It’s all part of the fun of driving in Namibia.
Make sure you have a camera handy to capture any ad-hoc animals encounters or other events along the way.
#12 – Don’t leave without travel insurance
I would never recommend hopping on a plane without travel insurance, but even more so for somewhere like Namibia. Unfortunately you just never know what’s going to happen, and travel insurance could save your trip – and a large part of your savings – should the worst happen.
I use World Nomads to make sure I’m covered for every scenario. They’re not the cheapest, but they’ll insure you for things that most other companies won’t, such as adventure sports and long-term trips. I also recommend an American Express credit card to cover you for added car insurance.
#13 – Keep your valuables safe
You won’t be able to forget this one because there are signs pretty much everywhere, but never leave valuables in the car. In most places, it’ll be okay to hide valuables out of sight, but you may want to take them with you.
Be sensible and follow your gut instinct.
#14 – Be considerate of other drivers
Drivers in Namibia are, generally speaking, very safe and courteous. You should be too.
A quick flash of the hazard lights is the normal way to say thank you when someone lets you pass. Slowing down as you pass another vehicle will reduce the rocks and dust hurled their way. And stopping to ask a stationary driver if they need help is common practice.
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