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Even though it’s as sparse as it gets, Namibia is a great country for a road trip. Driving in Namibia is a challenge, but the reward is well worth it. And this self drive Namibia itinerary will help you make it as worthwhile as can be.
About this Namibia itinerary
Nobody likes being told what to do, and I know you don’t need me to hold your hand. That’s why this itinerary doesn’t have exact timings, so you can adapt it to suit your own interests and preferences.
What I would is say is you’ll want as much time in Namibia as possible. Not only will it break up the long distances you’ll be driving, but a Namibia road trip is just so cool that you won’t want to rush through it. I mean, where else can you go from sand dunes to safaris to seaside piers? When planning, err on the side of caution and don’t get too ambitious. There’s really no rush – you could spend weeks in all of these places without getting bored!
If you’re driving into South Africa after your trip, you may want to reverse the order of this Namibia itinerary. You can still begin in Windhoek, but work backwards after day 1. It’ll make for a much more logical route out of the country – and save you some precious driving time! Similarly, if you’re driving to Namibia from South Africa, you may want to just skip Windhoek to avoid going back on yourself.
Day 1: Windhoek
Your Namibia trip will most likely begin in Windhoek… but don’t spend too much time there.
Normally, I’m all for spending at least a few days in the capital before shooting off to a country’s main attractions. It’s an argument I’ve made for everywhere from Bucharest to Kuala Lumpur, but Namibia might be the exception.
Even though Windhoek is a rapidly developing city, there’s not much there for tourists. Well, apart from a crazy restaurant called Joe’s Beerhouse. If you’re flying into Windhoek, make sure you spend one night there to experience this place. As well as an extensive menu of meats (and plenty of veggie options too!), it’ll give you a taste of just how eclectic Namibia is.
Where to stay: Chameleon Backpackers has a mix of dorms and hotel-like private rooms, operated by staff who will make you feel instantly at home. The two resident dogs are a bonus!
Sleep under the stars in Quiver Tree
“Quirky” and “eclectic” are going to be the theme of this post, because there are no better words to describe Namibia. Whenever you come across any sign of life, you can be sure you’re in for a surprise. Anything goes in Namibia and it only adds to its unique charm.
Plan a couple of nights in Quiver Tree rest camp to acquaint yourself with one of the country’s quirks: the quiver tree. These funny-looking trees could be from another planet, and Namibia has no shortage of them. They’re indigenous to the whole of Southern Africa, but an area just outside Keetmanshoop has a particularly large concentration of them.
It’s worth going just to see the trees, but seeing them at night will be the highlight. Not only do they look even funnier under a moonlit sky, but you won’t believe the number of stars you can see when you’re among them.
Total drive time: 4.5-5 hours from Windhoek, without stops.
Where to stop: Mariental is a tiny town about 2.5 hours south of Windhoek. There’s a good gas station and a Wimpy with both takeaway and table service. It’s pretty much the only place to stop for food, so it’s worth making a lunch stop here. If you need a rest stop before, Rehoboth has a couple of good gas stations.
Where to stay: The only place to stay is Quiver Tree Rest Camp. The owners aren’t the friendliest, but their pet dogs always come and say hello. There’s a lodge if you like to have a roof over your head, but camping is the best way to appreciate the stars. Wherever you rest your head, pay for a night photography permit to enjoy the quiver trees at their best.
Visit a ghost town in Kolmanskop
Kolmanskop is an abandoned diamond town in a remote area in southern Namibia. Built by the Germans, it’s now nothing more than rusting buildings overtaken by the Namib desert sand dunes. It’s incredible, it’s eerie and it’s an experience you won’t soon forget. Signs still hang over doors and the town comes to life as you explore its decaying doorways and broken floorboards.
If you want a guided tour, visit during the day. There are two 45-60 minute tours daily, in both English and German.
And if you want to take photos as the sun goes down (an extra eerie experience!), a photography permit will be worth every rand.
Total drive time: Luderitz, the nearest town with accommodation, is a 3-3.5 hour drive from Quiver Tree Rest Camp.
Where to stop: You’re getting into real Namibia now. There are very few signs of life between Keetmanshoop and Luderitz, so make sure you stock up with supplies before you go. The town of Aus – which is just over halfway – has a Puma gas station and toilets, but that’s about the only stop along the way. You’ve been warned!
Where to stay: The nearby town of Luderitz has several hotels and lodges at reasonable prices. We stayed at Obelix Village Guesthouse, which had everything we needed, including a great breakfast and guards at the front gate.
Climb the iconic dunes of Sossusvlei
If you’ve seen one photo of Namibia, it was probably of the famous red dunes. Sossusvlei is home to dozens of towering sand dunes and it’s a spot you just can’t miss off your Namibia itinerary.
Self driving Namibia means you’ll be able to explore the dunes as you please, as long as you’re out by the time the gates close. (If you’re not, be prepared to pay a very big fine!)
If you really want to see everything Sossusvlei has to offer, you’ll need at least 2-3 days in the park. During that time, you can climb the famous dune 45 – apparently the most photographed dune in the world! – and hike to Deadvlei. You’ll also want some time to just drive around and take photos of the oryx against the sandy backdrop, the ultimate Namibia scene.
Don’t rush your time in Sossusvlei and plan to do one thing every morning and every late afternoon. It gets pretty hot during the day, so you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy the pool or catch up on sleep.
Total drive time: You’re in for one of the longest drives today, so set off early if you can. The drive from Luderitz to Sossusvlei takes around 6 hours, and the roads are a little sketchy in places.
Where to stop: You’ll be heading back through Aus, so make sure you stop for a toilet and fuel break. If you want to be sure of somewhere to stop, take the C14 through Helmeringhausen and grab some lunch at Lisbon Road House. It’s another random restaurant in an incredibly isolated place, but the owner makes a good cheese toastie considering.
Where to stay: If you want to stay in the park as late as possible (and get in early the next morning!) you’ll need to stay at the lodge or campsite inside the gate. Otherwise, the Sossusvlei Lodge is a beautiful resort just outside the gate.
Get adventurous in Swakopmund
Swakopmund is the adventure capital of Namibia. If the thought of throwing yourself out of a plane or taking on the dunes by bike, you might want to spend several days here.
If getting the adrenaline going doesn’t sound so appealing, it’s still worth spending some time in Swakopmund. At the very least, enjoy the seaside sand dunes and recover in a comfortable hotel. If you want to get out and explore, there are plenty of tours. You could go kayaking with seals, spot them from the comfort of a 4×4 vehicle or enjoy a guided tour with a sparkling wine lunch.
Total drive time: The drive from Sossusvlei to Swakopmund will take around 5 hours.. Depending on the road conditions, it could be considerably faster or slower. As always, make sure you leave prepared!
Where to stop: The road out of Sossusvlei can be ROUGH. And by rough, I mean bumpy – very bumpy – and slow. Solitaire is like an oasis in the desert, serving up incredible apple pie and other treats once you get past the really bad bits. Whatever you do, make sure you stop to try something. After that, there are frequent stops and needing the toilet is no longer a problem – hooray!
Where to stay: We stayed at the Hotel Pension A La Mer, which had recently been renovated and rooms to show it. The hotel is right by the sea and many of the rooms come with views of the pier. Click here to check the latest prices.
Spot the Big 5 at Etosha National Park
self drive safaris and organised safaris. The camp safaris book up quickly, so get there early to avoid disappointed. Etosha is also a great place for a night safari. It can be a little bit hit or miss, but can be incredible if you strike lucky.
Total drive time: Allow 5-6 hours to reach the front gate, plus the time it takes to get to your camp. Remember, the speed limit is strictly between 20kmph and 60kmph within the park.
Where to stop: The northern part of Namibia is much more densely populated than the south. Don’t be fooled: it’s still one of the sparsest places on Earth, but there are plenty of towns to stop in. You don’t really need to plan breaks on this part (finally!).
Where to stay: You have a choice of camps within Etosha. If you’re short on time, Okaukuejo is super close to the park entrance and will only take around 20 minutes to reach. It’s in a great location and the chalets are really nice, especially the ones overlooking the water hole!
If you want the best experience, however, I recommend Halali. Halali is about 1.5 hours from the main gate, but well worth the journey. The waterhole was full of life at all times of day, and we got incredibly close to elephants and rhinos late at night. It’s a really magical place and one you definitely won’t want to miss.
Wherever you end up going, I hope this self drive Namibia itinerary helps you plan a trip you’ll never forget. Namibia is such a unique, and massively underrated, country, and I’m sure you’ll love it as much as I did.