Namibia is an absolute gem in southern Africa. It’s a relatively young country (since 1990) that is often overshadowed by its southern neighbor (South Africa). The Namib Desert, considered to be the oldest in the world, makes its home in Namibia. The country focuses on eco-tourism and many operators provide skydiving, sandboarding, and quad biking. Due to a lack of public transport and considering how large and spread out the country is, renting a car is your best bet to visiting the country properly.
There are car rental companies in the capital of Windhoek, however, another common option is renting a car in South Africa and driving it over the border. You can expect to drive at least 4,000 kilometers return from Cape Town, South Africa while passing through some of the main sites in Namibia. Some of the roads are unpaved (especially the route to Sossusvlei), so a 4×4 would work best (as was suggested to me many times by everyone). I went with the gas-friendly VW Polo (w/ TWO spare tires) since I was just a student. As far as insurance goes, so long as you have travel insurance from home, you should be ok.
As far as journey, we opted to do most of the heavy lifting (driving) at the start of our trip, meaning that we would see most of the sites after heading back south towards South Africa (thusly, we went in a counterclockwise direction driving north towards Windhoek, then west to Swakopmund, then South towards Sossusvlei and back to South Africa). The currency in Namibia is the Namibian Dollar, but some places accept the South African rand as well. I recommend bringing both currencies (the exchange rate is 1:1).
The drive from Cape Town to the South Africa: Namibia border at Vioolsdrif is roughly 700 km and then another 800 km to the Namibian capital of Windhoek, so it is recommended to stop about 120 km from the Namibian border for the night in Springbok, a rather small town mainly known for its flora and rich history from the second Boer war. Rest up here (I recommend at the Mountain View Guest House) and get an early start the following morning.
The longest leg of the drive will take you through the border to Namibia and all the way to Windhoek (approaching 1000 km) on the B1. After exiting South Africa you will find that the roads are straight, the land is flat, and towns are sparse, and the experience is strange as sometimes it feels like there is no one for miles. This is a hard drive as there isn’t much to see, so bring a playlist, stop off for a picnic here and there, and make stops for gas frequently as you don’t know when the next one will be (I recommend not going below half a tank).
When you arrive at civilization Windhoek, take some time to recover and maybe stay for a day or two to explore the Namibian capital.
The stretch from Windhoek, west to Swakopmund is a paltry 364 km and can be done in a morning. Swakopmund is a gorgeous seaside town that is small, quaint, and relaxing. Our stay at the Sea Breeze Guest was beyond perfect. Once here, you can go quad biking on the sand dunes and sandboard surfing. There are many operators in the area but our experience with Namibia Desert Explorers was perfect.
When you decide to leave this idyllic paradise, head south to Walvis Bay for breakfast and to get snacks and gas up for the next part of the trip. The drive towards Sossusvlei should be started in the late morning time (depending on how many hours of daylight you have available). It is not wise to drive through this part of the country after dark as this is when the animals are more freely roaming, including on the roadways (and by roadways, I mean gravel). A mere 330 km later, with some stops to admire the scenery and the extreme silence surrounding us, we arrived at our next accommodation, albeit a bit after dark to which our new hosts said: “we were worried about you!”.
The Little Sossus Lodge provided excellent accommodation as well as day trips to Sossusvlei. The morning trip to Sossusvlei was absolutely breathtaking. The red sand dunes and unusual surroundings make you feel like you’re on Mars. The dunes are amazing for photography, as the sun illuminates one side to rich red color, and the other side is merely a black shadow. Once you arrive on-site, you’ll see a giant clay pan, sparsely populated with acacia trees, flanked on all sides by high sand dunes.
The Acacia trees from Sossusvlei are centuries old but due to the arid climate, do not decompose. It is widely advised not to climb these trees, they will not hold much weight and it is disrespectful for future travelers to the area. Oftentimes you will see a springbok foraging for food in these parts as well as many beetle varieties. Wear shoes with socks during this trek, especially if you plan on walking on the dunes. There is also an option to ride a hot air balloon around this area as well, which starts early in the morning. Any tour operator can give you more information on it.
Also, don’t miss the ‘Sundowner’ drive that Little Sossus offers to their guests as well. You are driven to the side of a mountain with drinks and food provided and can enjoy the sunset over the Namibian countryside. It is breathtaking.
While continuing on your journey south, the small abandoned diamond-mining town of Kolmanskop is 450 km south of Sossusvlei and is worth the visit. It is a vastly peculiar place, as in most buildings, there are sand drifts that almost go up to the ceilings, broken glass everywhere, paint that has peeled back from the walls, and some floors that have collapsed. There is a fee to access the site but overall there were not many visitors. It is remarkable to see how nature has slowly reclaimed the entire area. Use caution but take the time to really admire this place, or at least what was of it.
When heading back to South Africa, you will once again cross over the border at Vioosdruf, but as you do, you will drive along the border along the Orange River, which offers stunning views as this area is more plush with plant life and not the desert that you escaped from. You can choose to stop off for another night in Springbok or go the entire way back to Cape Town. The former is preferred since the drive from Kolmanskop to Cape Town is over 1100 km.
No matter how you decide to split up this drive, the sights you see will be worth it. The relative obscurity of this area with regards to tourism makes it ideal to discover these places without hordes of people following your lead. The ideal exchange rate also makes it affordable for most travelers. If you don’t mind driving, this trip is perfect for you.
PROTIP: If you have extra time during your road trip, head north from Swakopmund and check out Skeleton Coast National Park, which is littered with shipwrecks and whale skeletons.
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Namibia Travel and Tour Packages
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