How to plan a self-driving trip in Etosha National Park

JUAN MARTINEZ

March 10, 2022

How to plan a self-driving trip in Etosha National Park

With excellent wildlife, comfy camping spots, and easy routes to follow, a self-driving safari in Etosha is the ultimate adventure in Namibia

Self-driving in Namibia is easy and uncomplicated. Rental cars with rooftop tents are available for all budgets, camping spots are quite inexpensive and the natural wonders around the country are simply outstanding. Still, for those who want to take their self-driving trip to Namibia to the next level, a trip to Etosha National Park is a must. Here, self-drivers will easily encounter rhinos, elephants, and lions – something that leaves any road trip lover simply speechless. However, you should not forget. While a self-driving trip to Etosha is very rewarding, good planning and organization are required. 

How to plan a self-driving trip in Etosha National Park
Pride of lions observing from just meters away of our vehicle

Getting a vehicle

With 90% of the roads inside Etosha being gravel, getting a 4×4 is essential to move around. They are not just more suitable for the conditions, but they also offer a way bigger comfort to the group. They are also not as expensive as in other countries, and if you end up sharing the costs within 3-4 people, you will see it is simply your best bet. There is no official rule in Etosha that does not allow you to drive a small car, as off-road driving is not permitted inside the national park. However, this is something I would not recommend at all. 

4×4 vehicles with full camping equipment, unlimited mileage, and overhead tents start at around 80 to 100 EUR per day. Vehicles without any equipment can start as low as 60 EUR per day. 

Keep also in mind that rental booking platforms like Expedia are great for finding a compact vehicle for the day. However, to save money, avoid hidden fees and get a better deal, you need to get in direct contact with local companies from Windhoek. These can be easily found while being in the country, Facebook groups such as “Backpacking Africa” or “Backpacking Namibia”, Google Map searches, or forum threats. 

I stayed in Namibia for almost 6 weeks and used several car rental companies for different weekend getaways. I found the most reliable and cheapest car rental companies for 4×4 vehicles in Namibia are:

INSIDER TIP:
Etosha has the advantage that you can spontaneously book 2 hours, half-day, or full-day game drives with safari vehicles. Something I would definitely recommend on your first day, as you can get a first glimpse of the route, ask for some safari etiquette when encountering wild animals, and learn more about the fauna and flora of Etosha. 

4x4 vehicles with overhead tents in Etosha
4×4 vehicles with overhead tents in Etosha

Understanding Etosha National Park

Located almost 420 km away from Windhoek, a trip to Etosha from Namibia’s capital takes around 4-5 hours. Travelers arriving from Etosha will likely enter through the Andersson Gate at the southern side of the park. With a total of 4 gates, travelers can also enter and exit the Galton Gate in the west, Nehale Gate in the north, or Namutoni Gate in the east of Etosha.

Entrance fees are paid per person per day and there is an additional fee per day for the vehicle. In 2022 the entrance fees for Etosha National Park are 150 NAD (8 EUR) per foreign adult per day and 50 NAD (2.80 EUR) for a vehicle per day. 

You can visit the official site of Etosha National Park if you want to check other prices for larger vehicles, locals, or children. 

Before you visit Etosha, don’t forget to bring your passport and remember that the driving times change weekly according to the sunrise and sunset (driving at night is not allowed due to the risk of poachers in the area).

NOTE: Even though the park officially closes at sunset, take into consideration that you are not allowed to drive at night. If you are planning to stay overnight inside the national park, keep in mind the driving times between the gate and your lodge. 

Etosha offers excellent game
Etosha offers some of the best game in the world

Accommodation inside the park

With 6 main camps supported by Etosha National Park and many more private and luxury lodges, finding accommodation for all budgets and tastes won’t be a difficult task. 

The six main camps are: 

  • Dolomite Camp (close to Galton Gate)
  • Halali Camp (between Anderson and Namutoni)
  • Namutoni Camp (right next to Namutoni Gate)
  • Okaukuejo Camp (close to Anderson Gate)
  • Olifantsrus Camp (close to Galton Gate)
  • Onkoshi Camp (between Nehale and Namutoni Gate) 

These facilities offer different options for lodging, well camping areas starting at 350 NAD (20 EUR) – remember to bring your own camping equipment. Additionally, all camps have restaurant options, where you can get some food in case you don’t want to cook in Etosha. 

Okaukuejo Camp and Namutoni Camp are known for having great views of a waterhole (and a camping area). I stayed 3 nights in Okaukuejo and every evening I saw elephants, rhinos, and antelopes reaching the waterhole and offering a small spectacle. 

Of course, private camps like Gondwana or &Beyond might offer better facilities and service. However, expect to pay anything between 300-500 EUR per person per night. 

Dolomite Camp offers a more luxurious and private experience. However, prices for a chalet start at 2650 NAD (150 EUR) per person per night.

Read more: How to plan a trip to Akagera National Park in Rwanda

elephants drinking water at the Okaukuejo Camp waterhole
elephants drinking water at the Okaukuejo Camp waterhole

Planning a route

With over 20.000 square km, Etosha is massive, and covering the best-hidden spots without proper knowledge of the area is simply impossible. Fortunately, Etosha has a very easy route to follow in which self-drivers can easily cover it in one or two days and see a lot of wildlife. 

The route starts west at the Galton Gate and finishes up north at Nehale. This is a route of almost 400 km and will basically surround the whole Etosha Pan (an area where is not possible to drive). For this route, the best way to plan it is by choosing first your accommodation and planning different day trips between the different camps. 

I stayed in Okaukuejo Camp and from that base, we did day trips in direction to Dolomite Camp on the west and Halali Camp on the east – these were covering distances between 150-200 km a day. In these routes, we were able to cross lions, cheetahs, rhinos, and elephants. And even though viewing wildlife requires a lot of luck, following the route and observing what other vehicles are doing significantly increased our chances of seeing what we wanted. 

If I would visit Etosha again, I would prefer to spend one night at Okaukuejo, one night at Halali, and one night at Namutoni. All three camps offer chalets and camping facilities, they are very well connected and offer a lot of viewing sites along the ride and simply follow a simple route where not much respective driving is involved.  

The official site of the Etosha National Park has a great map visualizing all the routes inside the park. You can either visit their website or click HERE to open the map. 

Read more: Everything you need to know for planning a trip to Namibia

Renting a safari vehicle for a day can be a good introduction for a self-driving trip to Etosha
Renting a safari vehicle for the first day can be a good introduction for a self-driving trip to Etosha

Tips for your self-driving game viewing

Waterholes in the early morning 

Wake up early, as most animals (especially lions) are more active in the morning. You should leave the camp once the doors open at sunrise and head straight to the nearest waterhole. There you will have a great chance to see rhinos, hippos, lions, and cheetahs. This is your biggest chance to see lions on the move, as when the day gets hot, lions simply lay on the ground and sleep. 

Drive slowly

It might sound clique, but a self-driving trip in Etosha is not about the destination. It’s about the journey. You are driving searching for animals and not going somewhere. Therefore, try to enjoy the ride the most you can and observe everything that is around you. You can easily miss observing a lion or a cheetah as you drive by.

Read more: Packing list for a camping trip to Namibia

lions playing around in Etosha- namibia
2 lions playing around at the national park

Ask for help

If you get the chance to see a group of 1-3 vehicles stopping somewhere, there might be something there to see. Simply take your car up in the queue and wait for your turn to observe what did they find. 

It is not nice to follow a safari vehicle the whole time. However, you can simply drive around in your own route and ask for friendly help if you think you need one. 

Do a night drive

Even though is not allowed in your private vehicle, most camps offer night drives of two hours. They cost 750 NAD (50 EUR) per person, but they show you how life change inside the park once the sun goes down. See hippos roaming around, lions looking for prey, and rhinos exciting their hiding spots, as you explore with an expert the national park. 

NOTE: Planning a self-driving trip but you are not interested in taking care of the bookings and organization? Local companies can also take care of all of that. For example, SWA Safaris, Namibia’s oldest tour operator, can take care of all your bookings while you just focus on exploring. You simply discuss with their team what you want to see and they take care of your car rental, hotel bookings, camping site bookings, and more. 

Read more: How to plan a self-driving trip to Serengeti

2 rhinos at a waterhole at night
two rhinos at a waterhole at night

Read more: How to plan a trip to Hlane National Park in Eswatini

Planning a trip to Namibia independently is fun. However, if you want to arrange everything with tour operators beforehand from the comfort of your home. SafariBookings is the best platform for it.

They have the largest database of tour operators in Africa and you can simply send a request and negotiate a tour and a price directly with the operator. You don’t have to pay any additional fees.

These are some of the most popular tours in Etosha National Park at SafariBookings

How do I find cheap flights to Namibia?

Finding a cheap flight anywhere around the world is not always easy. It’s about comparing platforms, selecting the right routes and booking at the right time. Fortunately, platforms like Skyscanner became known as an all-in-one tool for booking flights at the lowest cost possible.

They analyse every potential company and sub-contractor in order to find the lowest price available for you. Not only that, but you can also select the option “Travel Anywhere” and let Skyscanner find the cheapest place to travel at any selected date.

I check all my flights first at Skyscanner, and in 90% of the cases, I find the best option for me to book.

Also, by booking here using Skyscanner, you will support my blog and help me create more amazing and useful content.

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