Going on an African safari is a bucket list trip for most people. A combination of David Attenborough documentaries and high definition televisions means that the African savannah in all its glory has been beamed directly into our living rooms, doing more for this part of the world than any glossy travel brochure or website could ever do.
Sadly, tour operators and travel companies know this and the costs involved can at first glance appear to be prohibitively expensive, so much so, that your African dream begins to look like an expensive nightmare. Although the cost of living in most African countries is far below that in the majority of Europe there are relatively few local tourists going on safari so the price is very much geared to the international market. Whilst in some respects that is a good thing – a lot of the accommodation available is of a very high standard and some of the food served can be of Michelin star quality which is great if you are honeymooners – what if you want to safari on a budget? Take your children on the trip of a lifetime which is more about the animals than sipping champagne in your own private safari lodge? Explore the National Parks at your own pace in your own vehicle rather than crowded into a safari truck full of fellow tourists? Surely that’s not possible is it?! You will be pleased to hear that it is!
Safari in Namibia: Affordable, Safe and Spectacular
Step forward Namibia, one of Africa’s best kept secrets. Here you can hire a 4×4 vehicle with a roof tent for a very reasonable cost and then hit the open road, camping in some of Africa’s most stunning locations and wildlife spotting as you explore this amazing country. Namibia is very safe, (it is often referred to as “Africa for beginners”) and the people are very friendly and welcoming towards tourists so you should have no reservations about exploring this part of the world independently. It is also one of the least densely populated countries on the planet (with just 3.13 people per square kilometer and second only to Mongolia) which makes the roads extremely quiet, a welcome relief to those of us used to rush hour conditions in the UK.
Travel in Namibia is truly unlike anywhere else on earth. It is a land of epic landscapes and vast horizons combined with some of the best wildlife viewing opportunities in Africa. The big draw in this regard is in the north of the country, at Etosha National Park, although there are a number of other brilliant options too.
International flights arrive in the capital Windhoek, from the UK most people will fly via South Africa and it is advisable to book your flights as early as possible in order to get the best deals. Most car rental firms include a free airport pickup and will take you to their office and tell you everything about your vehicle, camping equipment and driving in Namibia. We hired a 2.4 litre turbo diesel Toyota Hilux, which came fully equipped with roof tent (which is basically a tent that folds up from the roof of your 4×4 and contains a comfortable mattress, duvet and pillows essential for any novice camper!) and all of the equipment you may need. You will see lots of these vehicles on the road as you explore the country so our advice is to read reviews and shop around for the best deal but we paid around £50 a day which was excellent value for money for a very comfortable, well equipped car. Our friendly rental firm waved us off fully loaded with all of the camping kit you could ever think off and plenty of safety gear in the boot as well (thankfully we didn’t need to use any of it) and so your safari adventure begins!
We chose to head south first to explore the jaw dropping dunes at Sossusvlei. Situated in the Namib-Naukluft National Park these endless, other-wordly dunes will be familiar from television car adverts and are a great introduction to Namibia’s stunning and varied landscape. If you are lucky your wildlife spotting will begin on the journey there, we saw giraffes and baboons by the side of the road as we drove on deserted highways (and gravel roads!) to our first destination.
One word of caution, Namibia is a big country so although the roads are very quiet – going an hour or more without seeing another caar is normal! – driving distances can be long so ensure you study the map and have enough time to explore the country at a relaxed pace. We spent at least two nights in every destination we visited and would advise you to do the same but you are still able to cover the main sights of the country on a two week trip so there is no need to rush around.
After Sossusvlei we headed to the coast to Walvis Bay and Swakopmund for a different kind of animal spotting. Inexpensive boat trips are available daily to go out and explore this part of the world’s rich marine life. It is home to southern Africa’s largest flock of flamingos and most days you will be lucky enough to spot dolphins, seals and pelicans. Swakopmund is also Namibia’s adventure sports capital so if you fancy trying your hand at sand boarding or dune buggying this is the place to go for it.
Self-Drive in Etohsa
From here many people head directly to Etosha National Park, the jewel in Namibia’s crown, for their safari adventure to really begin in earnest. There are a number of places along the way to break up the journey and we stayed near Brandberg and were fortunate to see desert-adapted elephants both by the side of the road and also from our campsite (with a cup of Yorkshire tea in hand!) which was an unforgettable experience.
Campsites in Namibia are excellent value for money, most were £20 a night or less and for that you get your own electricity point, running water and braai spot (Afrikaans for barbecue) – your 4×4 should come equipped with its own braai kit too. Some campsites even offer private ablutions (toilet, sink and shower) at no additional cost, your guidebook will give you this information. Compared to the cost of even a basic lodge, that really is amazing value and makes a self-drive camping safari a truly brilliant way to have the adventure of a lifetime.
Finally to Etosha National Park, one of the few national parks where you are able to drive your own vehicle making the safari experience even more magical. Nothing beats the excitement of turning a corner and finding a large herd of elephants blocking the road! You should spend at least three nights in the park to maximise your game viewing opportunities, although using a mix of camps both in and just outside the park is also a great option.
We were lucky enough to see lions, elephants, giraffes, zebras, black and white rhinos as well as a dazzling array of antelopes and bird life. At over 20,000 sq km it is no exaggeration to say that Etosha is one of the world’s best wildlife-viewing locations. Thanks to its large number of water holes it is very easy to spot the wildlife, just park next to a watering hole and wait for the wildlife to come to you! After a quick stop off at the stunning Waterberg Plateau National Park for our final slice of Namibian wilderness it was with a heavy heart that we dropped our 4×4 back off in Windhoek and were again given a free transfer back to the airport.
You will not regret your decision to visit Namibia, a country offering stunning and varied scenery, amazing wildlife and friendly people. It is our top pick for any safari but especially those wishing to travel on a budget.