Namibia is an awesome country for first time Africa travellers, amazing wildlife and scenery, but still many European style shops, services and luxuries. The vast distances, limited public transport and expensive accommodation makes it a difficult country for backpackers to travel on a budget. This beautiful country possesses some of the world’s most spectacular desert ecosystems, vast plains, rugged mountains and savannahs teeming with a large variety of African game. Backpacking Namibia is definitely more of a challenge than South East Asia, but not impossible!
Why go to Namibia?
Namibia is all about amazing nature. Explore the world’s most spectacular desert, experience the flooded plains of the Caprivi Strip and see the unreal wildlife walking in the savannah. We travelled this awesome country for 2 months to write the ultimate Namibia Road Trip Itinerary
Backpacking Namibia? don’t miss:
- The Fish River Canyon is the second biggest canyon in the world and number one in Africa. Seeing it from the viewpoint is breathtaking, but to really experience it you must hike it! Sleeping under the stars hiking through the canyon for 5 days is amazing!
- Sossusvlei, the red dunes is probably the most spectacular and famous place in Namibia, see the sunrise from Dune 45, cross The Deadvlei and climb Big Daddy.
- Walvisbay, see the sunset from Dune 7, the highest dune in the Namib and don’t miss the massive flamingo colony feeding close to the beach.
- Skeleton Coast, spot many shipwrecks driving up this amazing coast. Walk in a colony of more than 20 000 seals, it is awesome but does not smell too awesome.
- Etosha, maybe the greatest park in Namibia, lions, elephants, black rhinos and giraffes gather at waterholes.
- The Caprivi, float down the Zambezi River on a local mokoro close to hippos and crocodiles.
- Epupa Waterfalls, camp right on the edge of these amazing waterfalls surrounded by massive baobab trees.
Transport and accommodation are the two things that can break your budget while backpacking Namibia. It is the 34th largest country in the world, so it is quite big. Attractions are far apart and roads are mostly gravel. Your options for transport are self-drive, travel by bus or hitchhiking.
Self-drive Road Trip
This is the ultimate way to travel Namibia. There are campsites everywhere, just pull in to a campsite, pop up your rooftop tent, light the fire and open a beer! In some of the ‘off the beaten track’ parks lions and other wildlife are a real danger and sleeping in a rooftop tent on top of your car is the way to go! We camped in a little dome tent, I woke up in the Caprivi Strip one night; a hippo was so close to our tent I could hear it breathing! Another advantage is that you can use your own vehicle to go on safari in the game parks.
To see most of the country a 4×4 is not essential, but it is nicer, safer and more convenient. The main road going through Namibia is tar but only goes through the larger cities. If you want to see the parks, desert and other attractions you will drive hundreds of kilometres on gravel roads. To have some ground clearance for this is nice and you can drive a bit faster without feeling you are losing the chassis
Renting a 4×4 in Namibia is easy and travelling with a 4×4 with rooftop tent is very popular. If full camping gear is included it usually means rooftop tent, table, camp chairs, cooler box, gas stove, sleeping bags and everything else you might need for camping.
Things that will influence the rental price: single or double cab bakkie (truck), accessories, insurance package, limited/unlimited mileage, place of pick up and drop off, RSA normally bit cheaper than Namibia, season: Low season Jan – June, High Nov-Dec, Peak July-Oct
We asked many travellers how much they paid for car rental, NAM$ 700 -800 ($50-60) per day for a single cab with unlimited mileage, camp accessories including rooftop tent, pick up and drop off at the same place and minimum insurance in low season is a good deal.
Petrol consumption will be about 8 km per litre in an equipped 4×4.
Travel by bus
There are nice AC busses going all the way through Namibia. Traveling by an Intercape bus from Cape Town to Windhoek costs about R700 ($50). The problem with travelling by bus is that it only drives on the main tar road running through the country. It thus won’t get you to most of the remote areas, which is the main reason for visiting Namibia! It is easy to travel to many surrounding countries by bus. In Windhoek, we met a couple of backpackers and volunteers that rented a vehicle together for a couple of days. It is thus possible to stay in a backpacker’s here and try to hook up with other travellers. For this option, you cannot have limited time. You can also travel by bus to Swakopmund, there are many tours that you can do from here.
Hitchhiking in Namibia
Hitchhiking you will obviously have the freedom to get anywhere, but I am sure you can get stuck in some pretty remote areas in the desert. Even though Namibia is a lot safer than South Africa, seeing a hitchhiking tourist is not common. Namibians are a friendly bunch and if you get a ride from a local farmer there is a good chance that he will offer you a place to stay or buy you lunch! Truck drivers also often pick up hitchhikers, but they drive mostly on main roads. There are many European tourists in rental vehicles going all over the place, unfortunately, most of the time they are quite full.
Backpacker Hostels can only be found in Swakopmund, Luderitz and Windhoek. The hostels had dormitories, shared kitchen, wi-fi and offered many activities.
Camping is the only affordable way to travel through Namibia. Government campsites (NWR) at most national parks start at about NAM$200 pp ($14) per night. Many of the private lodges and guest farms also have campsites, the facilities are good and they are mostly cheaper than the NWR campsites, price varies between $NAM 100-150 ($7-10).
Wild camping is possible; we slept in the car a couple of nights, just parking it in the middle of nowhere.
Private lodges and guest farms are the most common accommodation for tourists in Namibia. Double rooms vary between NAD650 ($50) and NAD2500 ($195) per night. Cost of Airbnb in the cities/towns starts at about NAD300 ($23) for a room and NAD500 ($38) for an apartment.
When to Go
- It is possible to travel Namibia all year round. It gets very hot in summer December to March, this is also the rainy season with thunderstorms.
- For game viewing, especially in Etosha the dry season from June to October is best. We were in Etosha in February it was raining a lot and we saw thousands of springboks, but not much else. In the dry season, the animals congregate around the waterholes. There is also less foliage to serve as hiding place.
- The peak tourist season is between June and October. Namibian school holidays are in July so this time of the year you need to book accommodation well in advance.
- June to September it is winter, the temperatures are cooler at around 25-30 ?C making travel more comfortable.
- So winter is the best time to travel, but also the most touristy.
Backpacking Namibia Tips
- Take a tent and don’t drive past the lodges, they often have amazing campsites and are not too expensive. Check out Our Favourite campsites in Namibia and why we loved them!
- It is a big country if you rent a vehicle take the unlimited mileage option.
- Be prepared for more than one flat tyre per day, have a good spare wheel and a tyre repair kit.
- You are going to drive for hours, organise music. There is no radio reception in many areas; we had a cheap FM modulator since CD’s skip on the gravel road.
- Take a small air compressor, so that you can deflate your tyres for driving on sand.
- Airtime and data are cheap in Namibia, reception is unfortunately not great most of the time. It is handy to have internet access and to be able to phone campsites, lodges etc.
- The cheapest option for us was to buy a MTC sim card and use the Aweh Gig package.
- Namibia has great meat, buy wood, blitz (fire lighters) and meat for a real African Braai (barbeque pronounced ‘Bry’ like dry)
- Biltong is popular snacks (dry meat), almost like jerky, but made from game
- You often don’t have phone signal so an off-line map is essential the phone app maps.me worked well. We also had a paper map.
- ioverlander is a very useful offline app that shows accommodation, campsites, reviews and more.
- Be sure to check to regular check online the Best travelling promos and discounts.
We wrote an ebook travel guide for Namibia. It is available to download for free from any of our Namibia articles, you can find them HERE