The Northern section of Namibia is much more varied than Southern Namibia in terms of flora, fauna, and people. Here you can find what is often referred to as the Skeleton Coast, a coastal German enclave, true wilderness, and innumerable wildlife. Our Northern Namibia road trip route stretched from Walvis Bay on the coast all the way across the country and to the end of the Caprivi Strip. Stops along the way included entrancing tribal villages, lush green forests, and the famous Etosha National Park.
Our last post detailing travel in Southern Namibia ended at the Tropic of Capricorn. So, that is where we will pick back up. We arrived in Walvis Bay, Namibia in dire need of an escape from the desert heat. We were about two weeks into our month-long road trip through Namibia with our trusty Land Cruiser, Charlie. We had already driven around Fish River Canyon, through the sands of the Kalahari, and watched the sun rise over the highest sand dunes on earth. Temperatures in the desert had soared to 40+ Celsius. So, by the time we drove into a gloomy Walvis Bay we were relieved.
A Northern Namibia Road Trip Route
The Namibian Coast
Walvis Bay gets looked over in comparison to its sister, Swakopmund, and for good reason. That’s not to say that Walvis Bay is a bad place. In fact, it may be the best option around; however, it all depends on what you’re looking for. The city of Walvis Bay on the coast of Namibia is the country’s chief port and home to around 35,000 flamingos. No, that’s not an overestimate. 35,000 greater and lesser flamingos roam the shores of Walvis Bay. There is also the fascinating Pelican Point, a natural sand spit that stretches out into the ocean.
On arrival, we were greeted with a windy 17C. It was chilly and therefore we were happy. We were able to put on our jackets one last time before we faced the heat and humidity of Africa. In Walvis Bay, we stayed at a lovely Airbnb. For us, the stopover was needed to unwind and catch up on the blog. Our last week in Cape Town was spent running around attempting to prepare for #HashtagAfrica. More than a few things fell through the cracks like maintaining poor Charlie. Our Land Cruiser was in dire need of new tires and some serious TLC. We bought some new tires at $3,400 NAD a piece and then cried after we looked at our recent credit card transactions.
We took the time to explore Pelican Point with our new tires. We found massive pelicans, seals, and plenty of more flamingos while driving around the salt flats that compose Pelican Point. Looking back on the weathered
Traveling through Southern Africa there are a number of stops that are on every tour operator’s schedule. Places like Swakopmund, Vic Falls, and Cape Town. Swakopmund is the city in Namibia to be seen at. It is a hip German town right along the Skeleton Coast. The city seems to hum with Namibians and tourists alike, but still retains its sleepy coastal charm.
“Swakop” makes for a great base to stop and stock up on supplies, grab a cappuccino, and gather your bearings before you leave “comfortable” Africa. You can find old school German colonial architecture that looks out of place and like much of Namibia it is chock full of German tourists. There seems to be a serious draw for German’s to head to Namibia to live out their former colonial past and I can see the big draw especially for Swakopmund. The town has lots of old styled German homes, a waterfront, pier, hip coffee shops, a craft brewery, and a number of hotels. The main draws for tourists to the town are the various activities on offer. Everything from skydiving to sand boarding, and quad biking are available for a very reasonable price.
Things to check out:
- Slowtown Coffee Roasters: We’ve bought a kilo of their delicious roast and still have it in the back of our truck now. They also have tasty baked goods.
The Skeleton Coast goes in traveler’s book as one of the strangest places on earth. It’s similar to Death Valley or the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia. When the Portuguese sailors first found the deadly stretch of coastline they referred to it as As Areias do Inferno. The translation from Portuguese is “The Sands of Hell.” It’s little hard to understand why. The Skeleton Coast holds undeniable tragic beauty. Massive sand dunes raise up from the beach, gusts of cold wind screech across the earth, and quite literally skeletons from animals, ships, and man dot the coastline. A shipwreck here back in the day meant almost certain death.
Despite being one of the most inhospitable places on earth for man there are species that flourish here. The Cape Cross seal colony is a site to be seen in Namibia. Along the rocky point, hundreds of thousands of fur seals flourish. We arrived in mid-November right when the seals give birth to pups. The sound of thousands of seals barking and pups crying was deafening and amazing. The most prominent thing that literally hits visitors in the face is the smell. Anyone that has been close to a seal before can speak to attest to the odor. That odor times one thousand and it will make you almost gag. Being genius travelers, we are used small pieces of cotton with rose geranium oil on them to cancel out the smell. Worked like a charm.
To access the Skeleton Coast one must head up the C34 from Swakopmund. The cold Benguela Current creates some of the oddest weather conditions on earth in the desert environment. The coast is windy, cold, and often blanketed in dense fog. It is a large reason for the sheer number of shipwrecks that now lie along the coast. You can drive all the way up to Torra Bay in the North where you can find a campsite popular with fishermen who come for an awesome catch. Not to mention the famous marine life that can spotted from the shores such as killer whales, humpback whales, and benguela dolphins.
Tips For Driving the Skeleton Coast
- The Southern half is accessible to self drivers via the C34. It is a salt road in very good condition, feels like driving on pavement.
- Camping is available at Terrance Bay Resort 30 miles North of Torra Bay.
- The park is only accessible during daylight hours at the two entry gates. Ugab river in the South and Springbokwasser in the North.
- Buy a current map with the petrol stations and know the range on your vehicle. Our vehicle has a range of around 700km+. So we were fine to push through the entirety of the park.
Etosha National Park
Etosha National Park is arguably one of the best national parks of Namibia, but it comes with a catch. It can be dusty and unbearable hot for an endless amount of miles. This creates incredible animal concentration at the water holes as zebra, giraffe, hyenas, and all walks of life come from kilometers away in order to have a sip of water. This is what draws wildlife enthusiasts to Etosha. Instead of spending hours staring at the bush in search of an animal visitors park their vehicle on a watering hole and watch the wildlife come to them. All of Africa’s finest are all on display here and there are plenty to be seen.
Our arrival into Etosha came after driving up the Skeleton Coast and through Damaraland. The stench of the seals traveled with us soaking into our clothes, hair, and skin. Our priority was bathing. I would say we found the most suiting places to wash the smell off. Our room at Gondwana’s Etosha Safari Camp included an awesome elephant butt shower.
After a much-needed shower, we headed to the main lodge decorated in the style of the famous township in Namibia called Oshebeena. The lodge has a boma with live music every night and entertainment. This “township” lodge has an awesome vibe with a laid-back (and cheap) bar, billiards table, curios shop, and pool area.
We spent the next day driving through the park. The road conditions are good and water is, unfortunately, scarce. The animals misfortune does make for some terrific sightings, however. The weather in true Namibian fashion was HOT! My midday both us and the animals had to go into hiding. We managed to make our way to the Halali camp with in the middle of the park to have lunch. The camp also has a swimming pool, which we would suggest you have your swim suits with you to take advantage of. Our first leg in the park was largely uneventful besides one wonderful sighting at a watering hole filled with springbok, zebras, ostrich, and then watched as a tower of giraffe approached the watering hole to take a drink.
After spending our afternoon waiting out the heat we set back out for the Etosha Safari Camp at the Southern gate. The second half of our day proved to be much more successful. We stumbled across a rhino who spent her time walking back and forth along the road not paying us mind at all!
Driving across the park takes time as with many national parks in Africa. This is due to the prevalence of wildlife, speed limits, and track conditions. Although Etosha park has well maintained gravel roads some of the roads are badly corrugated. We did see sedans making their way across the park, but would recommend traveling with a larger vehicle.
As the evening fell on Etosha and our time was coming to an end we made our way to one last watering hole. It just happened to be our best sighting of the day. We found a lion sitting on a fresh kill while a black backed jackal and two hyenas circled around waiting for the scraps. We watching the animals until the 6 p.m. closing time and returned back to the safari camp hungry and tired. After a full meal and good nights sleep, we moved to check out the Etosha Safari Lodge, just two minutes down the road, for a change of pace. We had plans to drive across the park the next days and spend two days exploring Etosha from the Eastern side. With this in mind, we chose to relax at the gorgeous lodge and take in some long days by the pool watching the giraffes in the distance. Of course, we always had a cool gin and tonic in hand.
Each room here had its own porch that looked out towards the national park. While sipping our drinks from the main deck we spotted a herd of Zebra and a tower of giraffe. As the night came to an end we watched a thunderstorm roll over Etosha from the lodge’s elevated deck.
We’re certain that the park has some well managed campsites, but after our first experience in Sossusvlei, we decided to opt outside of the park and spend two lovely days at the Onguma campsite at the Eastern gate. It takes roughly four hours to drive from the Southern gate to the Eastern gate. Our second day of driving in Etosha was not nearly as eventful as our first. We saw a few zebra, springbok, wildebeest, and giraffe.
The campsites at Onguma will spoil campers. Each campsite comes with a private shower, bathroom, kitchen area, laundry sink, power points, and plenty of shade. Combine that with a pool, shop, WiFi, and a nice lounge overlooking a watering hole. It is also a private concession and campers can take a game drive through their park that has large game including predators. Not only did we find the campsites here way nicer, but they were much cheaper than the park campsites too!
Etosha National Park Facts
“Etosha” means “big white place,” which refers to the Etosha Salt Pan. The park covers an area of roughly 20,000 square kilometers. It is the second largest national park in Namibia. Etosha National Park is home 114 mammal species. All accommodation within the park is managed by Namibian Wildlife Resorts – a Namibian government run company. The center pan that park derives its name from is 4731km² large. Click here for maps of Etosha National Park.
Etosha Park Entrance Times
- Open: Sunrise – changed on a weekly basis
- Close: Sunset – changed on a weekly basis
Park Entry Fees (enjoy these they are some of the cheapest in Africa):
- Namibian: N$30.00 per day
- SADC: N$60.00 per day
- International: N$80.00 per day
Campsites outside of the park
We are not the biggest fan of the Namibian National parks campsites. They are good campsites, but we found a better value at the private camps.
- To the South at the Anderson Gate we recommend the Gondwana Collection’s Campsite. (Cost: N$160.00 per person)
- To the East at Von Lindequist Gate we recommend the Onguma Campsite (Cost: N$ 220.00 per person)
The Caprivi Strip
The Caprivi Strip feels like another world in comparison to the rest of Namibia. The small strip of Namibia is at a higher elevation and traveling to the region you cross the Otjihavera Mountains and climb a gradual hill for what feels like forever. We found several relaxing places to stop on our exploration of the Caprivi Strip. Our first being along the banks of the Okavango river where we were able to get a taste of the local culture and spot a hippo or two. Afterward, we had a frustrating day getting our car worked on in Rundu before booking it across the Caprivi to Namushasha.
The Okavango River plays a pretty big role in tourism in Africa, but we’ll touch on that later. Our first experience of the famous river was in Namibia just outside of the large town of Rundu. Here we stayed at the Hakusembe Lodge. Unlike many rivers the Okavango river does not flow out towards the sea, but instead inland towards the center of the continent. Eventually it dumps out into the Okavango Delta, an incredible wildlife region.
When we entered the Caprivi strip we finally felt we had arrived at the Africa pictured in our heads and displayed in photos. Exotic birds flew from the trees while villagers paddled downstream in mokoros. The Hakusembe lodge is located just outside of the Namibian outpost of Rundu and across the river from Angola. It’s a buzzing town full of Angolans and Namibians. While Rundu has nothing to draw tourists of significance it makes for a wonderful stop to relax during a trip to fully enjoy and stop at while crossing the Caprivi strip. Days can be spent relaxing along the river watching hippos and crocodiles and life in Angola.
Mbunzu Living Museum
The highlight of our stop here was a living museum located next to the lodge. The museum was set up by a Namibian nonprofit called the Living Culture Foundation. The Mbunzu living museum is a school for traditional culture and a community based business. It is aimed at preserving the culture of the Kavango people and provides an additional source of income for villagers. We spent an hour and a half learning about the different aspects of their culture, although full day trips can be arranged. We loved our time at the living museum and think it is such a unique and valuable way to preserve the culture of the local people.
Mbunzu Living Museum Rates
- Short Program: 1.5 hours Introduction to culture with demonstrations of various aspects of traditional life (N$150.00 per person)
- Full Day: 4+ hours for a day spent learning about the culture and learn to make your own crafts. (N$280.00 per person)
- Craftsmanship workshop: Learn about the craft making. (N$150.00 per person)
We knew Charlie needed a good servicing. So, on our way from Rundu to Namushasha we decided we’d make a morning stop in Rundu and have him properly looked at… operating on Africa time, we left Rundu seven hours later. It was around 5:00 p.m. and we had four hours of driving ahead of us. Little did we know that our drive would coincide with the start of the rainy season. Driving at night is not recommend in Africa, but we ran into this unavoidable situation anyways. We drove through the Caprivi Strip National Park at night in torrential rains with “elephant crossing” warnings every 5 kilometers. It was late in the night by the time we arrived at the Namushasha River Lodge, but thankfully we made it in one piece. We had the foresight to have called the lodge in advance and warned them of our late arrival. The lodge was kind enough to put us up in their honeymoon room, which was about three times the size of our old NYC apartment. There was a full meal waiting for us at our private table to enjoy as well!
The next morning we awoke to vervet monkeys outside and views of a Zambezi river plain. Of our entire tour of Namibia Namushasha offered the most amazing views. In this lush setting, we could see herds of various antelopes running across through flood plains and crocodiles lazily cruising down the river in search of lunch.
There was also a diverse birdlife here as well. We saw a variety of birds from the comfort and privacy of our back porch set high in the trees. From here we were able to take in a variety of activities. Visitors to the lodge have the option of evening game cruises down the river in a boat, a visit to a cultural center, or a game drive in the neighboring Bwabwata National Park.
How is the Caprivi section part of Namibia?
The story comes in the form of a bit of a scam if you ask me. The German Chancellor Leo Von Caprivi was looking for a water route to link Southwestern German Africa (Namibia) with the Indian Ocean where they had colonial rights to Zanzibar (Tanzania). Legendary explorer Cecil Rhodes knowing of Victoria Falls sold Caprivi the rights for an impossible river passage to the Indian Ocean.
Where we didn’t go in Namibia.
A month in the country felt too short. Traveling long-term means blasting through to each place with only a day or two. This would prove to be absolutely exhausting and not fun. While some may cover more ground in a shorter amount of time we cannot. Here are the places of note to visit when planning your trip that we failed to cover.
- Northwestern Namibia
- Northern Skeleton Coast
- Quiver Tree Forest
- Waterberg Plateau
Namibia by Air
Quick Help to Northern Namibia
- Capital: Windhoek
- Currency: The Namibian Dollar, equivalent to the South African Rand
- Borders are hassle free for self-drivers.
- Self-Driving is the most popular way of getting around Namibia. Distances are great and petrol stations are scarce so buy a map and plan accordingly.
- We were able to get around with credit card for a majority of our time in Namibia.
- Most roads around the country are in very good condition, however, expect corrugation and some bumpy rides.
- Visitors will be able to get by just fine with English in Namibia. We found most Namibians to be exceptionally friendly.
- We experienced no bribes, hassles, or police corruption in the country during our month in the country.
- We felt very safe traveling in Namibia. We did not go to Windhoek as we felt we didn’t need to see another big city.
- Visitors will be able to get just about anything they need in Swakopmund and Windhoek. Don’t expect common amenities in many of the other towns.
- MTC and TN Mobile are the two main cell phone providers in the country. We received a promotion for 1.3 GB of data for $N40 for one week with TN Mobile Jiva Surfer. Cell phone service was only available in towns and cities.
- We felt that Namibia was very “western” feeling and felt much like South Africa. It wasn’t until we got into Damaraland and then the Caprivi region that we felt we were in Africa.
- It is not recommended to drive at night in Namibia. Especially in the north where there are cattle, goats, and donkey grazing on the roads.
Thank you to our partner The Gondwana Collection who helped make this post possible. We were very fortunate to partner with them in Namibia. We stand behind their brand and believe them to be a positive force within the tourism industry in Namibia. Their efforts towards conservation, job creation, value, environmental impact, and guest happiness are beyond commendable. As always all opinions are our own.
Read More From Around The World:
The Hashtag Africa Collection
Read more about our self drive journey across the continent.