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Introduction

Before we go deeper into the "tips" section for this trip, I think it is only fair to tell you that we are not exactly the "outdoor types". We prefer hotels, lodges, guestfarms and B&B's over pure camping. Also, we are not really the "hiking types" either, so you won't find us with a backpack waiting for a lift somewhere between Khorixas and Twyfelfontein. Having said that, we would be happy if some of the tips still apply to you. :-)

Unfortunately, all your decisions for the trip to Namibia are linked to each other. If you go for a 4x4 (highly recommended), you will be able to drive for longer distances and probably also be faster. On the other hand, this affects the budget, which again affects the available accommodation. To make it easier for you, let's start with...

The Vehicle

When we started to plan the trip to Namibia, we purchased two travel guidebooks from well known German publishing houses. We also received a lot of information from the Namibian Tourist authorities. We read some stuff on the Internet. And we talked to people who have been to Namibia already. But virtually nobody told us to get a 4x4. And honestly, I don't know why? The only reason I can think of is - they all used a 4x4 when they were there. And they might be interested in selling the trip to you (especially tour operators and travel agents).

Quote from one of the guidebooks: "Tarred roads are almost always in a good condition. (...) On gravel highways you usually also get along quite fast (but this can change quickly after some rain). The condition of the 'D' roads varies. Sometimes there are lane grooves, but in most cases these roads are still good for driving.", or another quote, from the other guidebook: "The whole infrastructure of Namibia is a perfect match for individual trips with rental cars. Depending on the itinerary, a sedan type car is fully sufficient. 4x4 vehicles are just required for trips to the Kaokoveld, into the Kaudom Game Park, and into the National Parks on the Caprivi Strip." (translation for both snippets by me).

Sorry, but this is complete nonsense!

Based on this information, we selected a sedan type car (a Volkswagen Polo Classic 1.6, to be precise) from our preferred rental company, Avis. The car was great and extremely reliable, but today we know that it was not suitable for our trip at all. Most gravel roads are in a good condition, yes, but even then the gravel puts a lot of stress on the tyres, and the potholes certainly test the workmanship of the car's body. We were lucky, because we got away with just one flat tyre. The next town was still 45 kilometers away, there were almost no cars you could have stopped, it was late already, and the town did not have a tyre shop to replace the damaged tyre. Our booked accommodation was another 70 kilometers away (from there). It would have been a really bad situation if we had just another flat tyre on this way (or, if it would have happened earlier that day). Sure, such problems are solvable, but you can and should avoid them, because it prevents you to enjoy your trip as you should. Also, you may not be able to access all sites and attractions as you would like.

Yes, we know that a 4x4 is more expensive than a sedan type car, but you should make this investment. I've seen offers for older 4x4's starting from 65 Euro (roughly N$ 650) a day, which is not so much more than our rate (N$ 430 per day) for the Volkswagen. So, please, please, please do yourself, and your family, a favour and...

Tip # 1
Do rent a 4x4. Do not listen to others who say it can be done easily with a normal car. Yes, it can be done, but it's not a fun way to spend your time in Namibia.

Tip # 2
If money is an issue, please still go for a 4x4. You could use cheaper lodges or guestfarms during your stay, or you could reduce the duration of the trip (e.g. two weeks instead of three).

Sedan type - unsuitable for Namibia 4x4 - recommended for Namibia
Go get a 4x4, and forget about renting a sedan.

Ah, one more comment regarding rental car companies: this is Africa, not the U.S.A. or Europe. A car is of substantial value here, and they do inspect your car much more thorough than elsewhere. In other words: if you return a damaged car, they will most likely find the damage (one more reason to go for a 4x4, by the way). And the inspection takes time. At Avis' Windhoek Airport station it took about an hour (!) to return the car. There were people in front of me, then they told me the car had to be re-fueled and inspected at the Avis petrol station at the airport (regardless of the fact that we filled up the car in Windhoek. They could fill up for N$ 18 - wow!), and only then we could complete the paperwork at their counter. Took an hour.

For your reference, here is an excerpt of what Avis Namibia lets you sign upon pick-up of your car, even if you opted for the maximum cover insurance (and no, they do not say any of this when booking online):

(...)

TYRES, RIMS AND HUBCAPS
Tyre, Rim and Hubcap Damages are not included in our Waivers. Therefore customers are required to replace any damaged tyre with an exact similar tyre at their own cost. If the customer does not replace a damaged tyre, Avis will replace the tyre and charge the customer's Credit Card or Voucher. No repaired tyres will be accepted.

WINDSCREENS
Any windscreen damage is not covered by the waivers and the customer will be responsible for the replacement value thereof.

UNDERBODY DAMAGE
Any Underbody Damage caused to the vehicle during the rental is not covered by acceptance of our Waivers. These damages will be charged to the customer's Credit Card or Voucher.

SANDBLASTING
Should customers be traveling in the vicinity of the coastal areas, special care must be taken with regard to weather conditions, as sandstorms do occur. Any sandblasting damages what so ever will be charged to the customer's Credit Card or Voucher.

VALET
Cars need to be returned in the same condition in which the customer received the vehicie. If this is not the case it will be up to Management discretion to charge a full valet for the vehicle to the Customers Credit Card or Voucher.

RETURN OF VEHICLES
On returning of the Avis vehicle it is the customer's responsibility to allow enough time for the vehicle to be properly inspected, so that the contract can be closed off before departure. In the event of customers not complying with this request any damages noted will be charged and no further correspondence or argumentation will be entertained.

GENERAL
Please check the vehicle thoroughly before leaving the Avis Station and notify the Rental Sales Agent of any obvious damage, so that it can be noted before you depart.

Therefor, here's our...

Tip # 3
Always drive carefully. When returning your car at the airport, plan one hour for this. You can drop the keys with them, but they will charge you all the damages found no matter what / see above. :-)

 

Getting Around

At first we thought it is a joke by (otherwise not so cautious) travel guidebook writers: "Use every chance to re-fuel you car". Then we encountered one closed petrol-station (it was clearly marked as "always open" in the map) and one petrol-station that would only sell leaded fuel. And soon we were driving on reserve...

Tip # 4
Re-fuel your car whenever possible, even if the tank is still at 3/4.

Tip # 5
Get a detailed map (scale 1:2,000,000 or better). The offical "Namibia Tourist Planning Map" you get from the NTB is nice and might help with the planning, but as several essential features are missing (e.g. distances and smaller road numbers), it is not suitable for navigating precisely.

Try to avoid driving in the darkness, because the bad roads can be really dangerous (animals, potholes, unlit vehicles). You do not want to have a breakdown somewhere in the middle of nowhere, or do you? Therefor...

Tip # 6
Do not plan "too long" legs for each day. Some tour operators offer rental car trips with pre-booked accommodation. Some of these have ridiculous distances planned for each day. For gravel roads, a good rule-of-thumb is 50 km/h on average (including some stops) when driving a sedan-type car.

 

Lodges or B&B's or Guest Farms or ...?

This can be answered easily: take what you get, and try to get it as early as possible. Namibia is still at the beginning of becoming a tourist destination, and so the infrastructure is not there yet. Also, some places are quite isolated with very few people - there simply is no accommodation. You should definitely forget trying to look for an accommodation every night. In some areas this won't work because you just have one or two or three lodges within, say, 50 kilometers, and that's it. Of course, you have some selection when you are planning your trip early enough. We recommend to start making reservations for off-season (November to Mid-December and Mid-January to March) minimum six weeks in advance, for high season two to three months in advance minimum.

You will find several resources on the Internet, but if you want to follow our itinerary then you will not have that much choice. You should always keep in mind that the distances are typically longer in Namibia due to the often bad road conditions.

Tip # 7
Book your accommodation as early as possible from home.

Tip # 8
See the addresses of the Lodges and B&Bs we used, on one printer-friendly page

Restaurants

It will largely depend on your itinerary, how and where you actually dine. As we had B&B-style accommodation in Windhoek and Swakopmund only, we had to look for restaurants there, and in these cities you will find plenty of them. Whenever you are at a lodge, far away from the next city, we suggest to dine at the lodge. The food is usually very good. Sometimes, as with the Etosha-Aoba-Lodge or the Sossusvlei Lodge, it is even excellent, and compared to the quality provided, rather cheap.

Tip # 9
Don't worry about dining, you will not starve. Lodges that are isolated will offer good and cheap food. In Windhoek and Swakopmund you will have plenty of choice between restaurants.

One word about beers - you will get excellent beer everywhere in Namibia, coming typically from one of the large breweries in Windhoek. Most often you will get Windhoek Lager or Tafel Lager, both brewed following the German "Reinheitsgebot", i.e. without additives or preservatives. If you do not care about the label, however, you should just order a "pint of draught lager" instead of a specific brand. Then you will get the same beer, just in a glass instead of bottled, and you will save (a little bit of) money. Get more beer for less! Sounds good to us. :-)

Tip # 10
When you want to order a beer, order a "draught beer" or "draught lager".

Activities

In general, we found Namibia to be an extremely friendly country. Most of the people are "all smiles" and are happy to answer your questions. However, please do not expect this to happen pro-actively. This is still Africa, and tourism is not as advanced as elsewhere. For example, if you arrive at a lodge and do not specifically ask for available activities (e.g. sundowner excursions, scenic flights) then there is a good chance that they won't tell you about it, even if they do offer it and it should be in their best interest to sell this activity to you.

We think this very unusual behaviour may be linked to the fact that they (i.e. the staff) simply do not understand traveling (most of them never have traveled anywhere) and caring for customers. Often, they just do what they have been told, and that's it.

Tip # 11
Do not expect to receive important information without asking for it. So, when arriving at a lodge, ask specifically for activities and attractions, and for the details (e.g. departure time, opening times, prices). This also applies to other concerns or information, e.g. road conditions for the next leg of your trip.

Attractions

There is so much to see in Namibia that it would be useless to list everything here. Any good travel guide (you'll need that anyway) will be better than what we could tell you here.

Mobile Phone Coverage

The mobile phone coverage in Namibia is surprisingly good. We expected to have almost no phone coverage once we leave Windhoek, but we were wrong - just have a look at the coverage maps provided by MTC Namibia. You will have some coverage along most of the highways, even when using the C-class gravel roads. The signal strength depends also on your mobile phone. I took my trusted (very old) Ericsson R320s and saw a signal strength of at least one block during most of our itinerary. But still, you should not rely on your cell phone. In certain areas of the Etosha National Park, or the Skeleton Coast National Park, you will have...

No network shown on mobile phone
No Network!

Tip # 12
Bring your GSM cellphone, but check with your mobile network provider whether they have roaming agreements with MTC Namibia in place. If not, just purchase a prepaid SIM card from MTC after your arrival.

Photography

Namibia is a photographer's dream come true: quickly changing landscapes, wild animals, wonderful colours, sunshine. Make sure to bring plenty of memory (or film) if you are an avid photographer. We did 2,900 photos in just two weeks, averaging 207 photos a day. You get the idea.

If you are a professional photo journalist, you need to get a work visa for Namibia. I went this path, because I did not want to have a situation where the equipment is seized due to a missing work visa (which is highly unlikely, but still possible). Please go through a Namibian embassy near to you. You have to fill in dozens of forms and provide plenty of information (e.g. itinerary), thus the process should be started at least two months prior to arrival. Oh, you have at least one benefit from this visa type - when arriving at Windhoek airport, you may use the "VIP route" upon immigration.

If you think, Namibia is not serious about this, you may be wrong. In spring 2006 there was the famous and among journalists much discussed case of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie working together with the Namibian government to protect them from paparazzi.

Work Visa - Shooting Photos for Website Zanzig.com
Work Visa - "Shooting Photos for Website Zanzig.com"

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