Tim Culley

The awe-inspiring scenery and accessibility of Namibia lend it perfectly to an autonomous holiday. The long, often empty roads, and epic vistas make it an ideal road-trip destination whereby you can plan your route, stop along the way, or just take it slowly. 

From the stark desolate beauty of the Skeleton Coast, to the otherworldly palette of Sossuvlei and the moonscapes of Spitzkoppe, and the vast starry skies over it all, Namibia has all the makings of an unforgettable journey. That, together with freedom to explore at your own pace, choose your stops, or change your itinerary at will, while at the same time safe in the knowledge that the country is safe to navigate (the perfect balance of security and adventure) makes it ideal for a family road trip. 

There are a few practicalities to consider, and some forward planning to do to get the best results, which we’ve summarised in a short guide to help you get on your way. 

When to go

The dry season – which falls between June and October (winter) – is considered the best time to visit Namibia. While days are warm, nights can be chilly, but crucially, this is the best time for road drivability. It’s also an optimal time of year to visit Etosha National Park should you wish to include this destination on your route.

Getting there

Unless you are coming in via land borders from another destination or driving up from Cape Town (a relatively easy and scenic addition to the road trip), you’ll most likely access Namibia by plane, landing at Windhoek airport. Air Namibia has direct flights to Namibia from Frankfurt, Germany. From everywhere else you will need to transit via Johannesburg or elsewhere in Africa.

Choosing a vehicle

The vast majority of roads in Namibia are gravel (with a smattering of tar along more major routes). But, while not the most comfortable for long stretches, ease of navigation and lack of traffic makes the driving itself straightforward. Consider your choice of vehicle carefully, based on the destinations you’re planning to visit. The best course of action is to hire a vehicle that can weather any surface and out-of-the-way route you take it on (sand, gravel, etc) – bear in mind that tracks become rougher in more remote areas. And while it is possible to navigate many of them in a 2WD, it can be a slow and uncomfortable, avoided by getting a 4X4 for your journey (more expensive but worth it for prioritising safety, convenience and comfort). A good tip in addition to hiring the safest wheels you can afford is to take out comprehensive insurance to safeguard you against any damage.

Finding your way

Because the country’s roads are easy to navigate – long and straight for the most part – getting from place to place isn’t daunting. Getting a SIM card and data for when you have signal will help to check directions, but planning your route ahead of time and saving it for when you’re offline and out of service will ensure you know where you’re going. On the whole Google Maps is accurate (although time estimates are occasionally off). Create a custom Google Map ahead of time, with pins in the destinations you’d like to visit. 

Stopping along the way

Namibia offers varied accommodation, at all levels, from camping sites to five-star lodging. If you’re running short on time, and night is falling, you can even pop up a tent on your 4X4’s roof (vehicle permitting of course). For popular tourist hotspots (Etosha for example), try and book your accommodation further in advance. 

Helpful tips

Give yourself extra time to get to where you’re going – build in a contingency (driving times vary according to drier confidence, varying road surfaces and vehicle capability so the GPS estimate is not always fool proof). Avoid driving at night – poor lighting, roaming wildlife and uneven surfaces all make for potential hazards.  Fill up with petrol whenever you see a petrol station – the distances between destinations are long, and you don’t want to be caught short with no refuelling options in sight.