Exploring Etosha National Park in Namibia – Tips for Self-Guided Tours and Camping
If you are thinking of going on a safari you might be imagining big Land Rovers that fit large groups of tourists. If that is not to your liking, there are options to go on your own self-guided tours just like you would in a National Park in the states. Etosha National Park is one of these fantastic parks where you can do your own self-guided tours and camp. This article will review the history of the park, suggestions on where to camp, and tips for self-guided tours.
History of Etosha National Park
Etosha National Park was first proclaimed a national game reserve in 1907. At that time it covered over 100,000 km2 of territory, stretching all the way to the Skeleton Coast. Since then, the park has reduced its size to 20,000 km2. A significant decrease; however, the park is still very large and supports a large variety of wildlife.
Namibia offers a great opportunity to see lions, rhinos, elephants, kudo, giraffes, hyenas, baboons, oryx, elands, zebras, and much more. With all these big animals, one big question that comes up is, is camping safe in Etosha National Park? We’ll get to that further in the article.
When you first enter the park you cannot help but get excited about seeing your first animal. Maybe it will be a giraffe or maybe you will be extremely lucky and see one of the Big 5 like a lion. Located in the northern part of the country, Etosha National Park is a place where you will find savannahs with open grasslands mixed with camel thorn trees and mopani trees. Etosha means the “great white area” because of the dried salt pan in the middle of the park. This dried up lake was once home to crocodiles and catfish more than four million years ago.
Sometimes it may appear so open that you can easily spot the animals in the distance. It is one of the few places in Africa where you can take a self-guided tour searching for animals.
Camping in Etosha National Park
There are six lodges in the park that you can choose from and they are: Dolomite Camp, Halali Camp, Namutoni Camp, Okaukuejo Camp, Olifantsrus Camp, and Onkoshi Camp. These lodges are very popular so it is highly recommended to make reservations ahead of time.
All are spread out nicely across the park and offer very nice accommodations. The lodges offer a nice relaxing place to wind down after a long day of exploring the park. There are waterholes at each lodge and benches to sit on. There is a good chance you will see wildlife while you sip on some wine from the safety of the lodge.
If you are looking for something more affordable, camping is a great option. However, camping is not offered at all the lodges. The lodges that offer accommodations and camping are Okakujo, Halali, and Namutoni. Olifantsrus only offers camping and you must bring your own gear.
Is it safe to camp in the park? Yes, camping at one of these four places is safe. Each lodge has a fence around that keeps the dangerous animals outside. Many campers still use the rooftop tents that sit on top of the cars or trucks. These are very common in Africa.
In Etosha National Park, you are permitted to drive your own vehicle inside the park without a guide. This is a nice benefit because you can stay as long as you want in one spot or move from spot to another as you wish. You don’t have to worry about being stuck with a tour group that you don’t like. Just remember to never get outside of your vehicle while on your self-guided tour. It’s not worth the risk in case there is a hungry leopard waiting in a tree.
Helpful Tip: The best way to see wildlife is to travel from waterhole to waterhole.
Plan your trip around the waterholes. The weather is hot and water is scarce. The wildlife will visit the waterholes to hydrate and to cool down. Sometimes you might see many different species mixed together, a group of elephants playing in the water, lions drinking from the water with zebras looking cautiously from afar, or a group of wildebeest. You will never know what you will find but you will find something that you won’t forget.
Helpful Tip: If you see guided tour vehicles or a group of cars that are parked slow down or stop by them to see what they are looking at. They normally don’t stop if there is no big game around or at least something interesting. If you see a dead carcass but no lions or other carnivores stop for a while and see if something comes back for seconds. Sometimes the predator is just relaxing in the shade next to a tree or bush.
Namibia has strong populations of white and black rhinos. Please do not share pictures of rhinos you saw on social media or write in guest books of rhinos you saw at the lodges. There are poachers within the park that will look at guest posts or social media of people posting pictures of rhinos they saw. They will use that information to track and illegal hunt rhinos.
There are not a lot of roads to choose from in the park so it is hard to get lost. Before heading out on a self-guided tour plan your day accordingly. If you are traveling from one campground to another you can take detours to hit spots that might not be visited as much. Or you can plan a trip around your campground.
Only Halali Rest Camp, Namutoni Camp, and Namutoni Camp have gas stations in the national park so make sure you have plenty of gas before heading out on your self-guided tour.
Helpful Tip: You can download maps of the park that show where each waterhole is located, which ones are natural, and which ones are manmade.
How to Get There from the Airport?
If you are flying into Namibia, the easiest way to get to Etosha National Park is to fly into the capital of Namibia, Windhoek. There are daily direct flights from Johannesburg, Cape Town and on somedays from Germany. Etosha National Park is located approximately four hours north of Windhoek International. And it’s a relatively easy drive. Once you are out of the capital, to get to the park takes less than 3 turns.
The two main highways that you will take are B1 and C38. You will drive through some very remote areas so don’t count on the radio providing you with good entertainment because there won’t be great radio signals for much of the drive. Make sure to have some of your own music on your phone. There are no harsh winters in Namibia like you would find in the northern United States, so the roads are all in relatively good shape. Even the unpaved roads are smooth.
Helpful tip: To avoid paying for cellular data charges but you still want to use your Google Maps. While at the airport use the WIFI, set up your Google Maps to give you directions to Etosha. Once the map is loaded, make sure the screen is zoomed out enough so that you can see the whole route. Once your phone is on airplane mode, your GPS will still work and show you where you are according to the map. And that little blue dot will track you as you go. So if you miss a turn, you can see on your map if you have gone too far or if you are still on the right path.
Should I rent a car or a truck?
If you plan on just going to Etosha National Park than any sedan will do just fine. A truck or SUV will be helpful if you plan on driving to other parts of the country, where getting your car stuck might be a higher probability. However, as previously mentioned, the main roads are in good condition.
The roads in the park are well maintained but you find some large potholes. With a truck or SUV, it will be easier getting around the large potholes and it will also provide a better view of sighting animals. If renting a truck or SUV is in your budget than that is recommended.
Helpful Tip: Whichever vehicle you rent, make sure it has cruise control and Bluetooth.
Cruise Control is nice because you can lock in the speed so you won’t be pulled over for speeding. In Namibia, they are very strict on speeding. They will pull you over if you go more than 5km over the speed limit. To pay the ticket, you have to drive to the regional headquarters of where the ticket was cited, and it may be hours away.
Etosha National Park is a wonderful park to explore and see some amazing animal life on your own tour. You have the opportunity to see some endangered animals like the rhino and elephant. The park gives you the freedom to explore the openness and exoticness of the wild Namibian plains. It’s a place where you don’t have to be a famous explorer to find your way. It is well suited for tourists from all over the world who are looking to have a little different experience.
James Lantz is an outdoor enthusiast who is passionate about hiking, fishing, and biking. He runs the website, Trip to the Wild, which provides tips and tricks for any outdoor fan no matter if you are a beginner or experienced person.
About the Author
Ahoy there! The name’s Kevin Smith, the proprietor of this little travel and outdoors blog. The outdoors has always been a passion of mine since I was a kid as my parents were avid campers themselves. They taught me everything I know when it comes to camping, hiking etc. and I would like to do my part by imparting my know-how to like-minded individuals who enjoy the same hobby as me. I started this website in the hopes of helping other people when it comes to answering questions, giving tips and recommendations focusing on the camping niche. Along with some close friends of mine, we are here to help you make the most out of your outdoor experience. Enjoy your stay and enjoy the wild side!