Namibia: A self-drive safari in Etosha

Etosha National Park in northwestern Namibia is 22,270 square kilometres in area, is dominated by a 130 km by 50 km saltpan but has desert, savannah and woodland landscapes. There are 114 mammal species present in the park and over 340 species of birds at different times of the year.

That’s the statistics but the best thing to know about Etosha is that it is an African wildlife park where you don’t need to pay for a tour but can go on your own self-drive safari – in a hire car in my case. There are three campgrounds within Etosha that have swimming pools and waterholes where you can view wildlife in the evening, as well as a range of lodge accommodation. Check the visitors’ book for reports from recent visitors of the best places to see wildlife.

Etosha National Park, Namibia

Spend two or three days going out for drives in the early morning and late afternoon. I visited picturesque waterholes scattered with pretty islands and elegant dead trees. I saw shedloads of springbok, beautiful zebra very close to the car, giraffes eating near the gate of the park and Black Faced Impala. There were quite a few young animals about also, always a bonus.

Etosha National Park, Namibia

Gemsbok or Oryx with their huge horns look like the Push-me-Pull-You from Doctor Dolittle when standing back to back. Solid Kudu, ostriches and whiskered warthogs join the fun at the waterhole. Giraffes rock up from the empty plain, spread their forelegs and bend low to drink. Suddenly the circus starts and quickly retreats. A lion approaches to drink and all wait for him to finish and move on before returning to their fun.

Etosha National Park, Namibia

On one drive a lion walked right across the road in front of the car. He had his eye on some distant giraffe as he padded away, stopping and scenting and looking again. On another day a big male lion settled down to rest after a successful hunt and a big feed. See the blood around his chops.

Etosha National Park, Namibia

At the end of the day the typical skyline is of trees silhouetted against a band of golden orange light in the sky. Orange that fades to gold, then to pale lavender, then to the dusky blue of an almost night sky. The colours finally melt away and the evening star appears. Then the rest of the constellations appear as faint pinpricks through a dark sheet. Leave the flysheet off your tent and enjoy the magnificent night sky of Africa. And the sound of jackals howling in the bushes.

Etosha National Park, Namibia

You can drive out onto the Etosha saltpan – I went about one kilometre into the saltpan and looked out into the khaki nothingness. My feet sank into the crazy-paving cracks of the slimy mud. The algae floating on the surface of patches of standing water threw delicate colours and reflections.

Etosha National Park, Namibia

It is difficult to choose but the most beautiful sunset was at Okaukuejo Camp. The waterhole with fenced off viewing area is right beside the camp and the flaming sky silhouetted a tree, the reflecting pool, a wooded skyline and great banks of clouds.
Etosha National Park, Namibia

When to visit Etosha National Park

As with many places I’ve travelled, choosing the best time to go to Etosha is a matter of weighing up personal comfort with scenery and wildlife viewing opportunities. The temperatures in this part of Namibia are going to be most pleasant, especially at night, from April to September. During this time the landscape of Etosha gets increasingly dry and while this may not be to everyone’s taste, it is the best for wildlife viewing. More and more animals gather to the shrinking waterholes, whereas in the wetter months they disappear into the vastness of Etosha. For bird watching the wetter summer months are best with migratory birds arriving to wade in the shallow waters of the Etosha salt pan.

By Natasha von Geldern

Have you been to Etosha in Namibia? Where’s your favourite African safari destination?

Self drive safari in Etosha National Park Namibia

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16 Replies to “Namibia: A self-drive safari in Etosha”

  1. Laurence

    I spent five weeks in Namibia a while ago and absolutely loved it. I wouldn’t say it was the best African country for the wildlife, as there is so much desert, but the landscapes are breathtaking!

    • Natasha von Geldern Post author

      I wouldn’t travel solo as a female in Africa but with a friend (male or female) yes. I travelled through southern Africa independently for 3 months, camping in most places, and had no problems… until the last week in Cape Town when I went on a tour of the Cape Flats townships. The tour was held up and my camera stolen 🙁

  2. Parind

    Loving all your posts on Namibia. I plan to visit this gorgeous country sometimes next year and I’m making notes based on your experiences. Can you please update your posts on how much did it cost to, say, rent the car, how to get there, lodging, food etc? That’d really help someone looking for specific information, like me 🙂


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