Self-drive or guided safari tours are an adventure-filled way to see Namibia, and there’s an excellent choice of affordable campsites in incredibly scenic locations from Sossusvlei to Spitzkoppe. Seeing the deserts, dunes and mountains, sleeping under twinkling stars, breathing fresh air and listening to nature’s silence is therapeutic for body and soul.
But despite its excellent tourism infrastructure – and many campsites have good bathroom facilities, perhaps a simple bar and restaurant, a shop for basic groceries, and even a swimming pool – the amount of planning required for camping in Namibia shouldn’t be underestimated. Its remote nature, scorching summer temperatures and freezing winter nights mean you’ll need to be well equipped and want to plan routes thoroughly to see the best sights.
Here are some important tips to make the most of your Namibia road- and camping trip.
1. Choose a good site
In areas that get numerous visitors like the Etosha National Park, there are designated campsites. Elsewhere, camping in the wild is allowed; however, permission from the landowner is needed so sticking to formal campsites is recommended, and there are plenty, including excellent community owned ones. Only experience will teach you how to pitch a tent, but in choosing a site general rules are:
- Avoid camping on a path through the bush as it may be a well-used wildlife trail
- Don’t camp too close to water or in dry riverbeds as dangerous flash floods can arrive with no warning
- During a lightning storm, ensure the tent is not the highest thing around
2. Be prepared for weather extremes
November–April are the hottest summer months with average daily temperatures above 30°C/86°F. However, during the May–October winter months, while the weather is nice and sunny during the day and shorts and T-shirts can be worn, temperatures drop dramatically at night to below freezing in the deserts. Be properly prepared with warm clothing and a decent sleeping bag, and perhaps a beanie, gloves, a hot water bottle and a thermos flask to keep coffee hot for early mornings.
3. Always stock up
Namibia’s population is only just over 2.5 million, and the smaller towns/villages are spread out in the vast wildernesses so sourcing items in rural areas can be difficult. It’s a dry and remote country and shops are few and far between, so always top up with enough water and petrol/diesel to sustain you for a few days. Supermarkets might only get deliveries a couple of times a week, so fill your cooler with fresh fruit, vegetables and meat at every opportunity.
4. Manage your campfire
Most campsites have dedicated stone or metal braais (fireplaces). If there isn’t one, create a fire ring using stones for cooking pots to balance on. It’s handy to have a small braai grill and important to ensure that the embers stay within the circle. Deforestation is a major concern in Namibia, so use firewood as the locals do – sparingly – and, if possible, buy firewood on the roadside in the more vegetated areas. If collecting it yourself, take only dead wood, checking carefully for snakes or scorpions.
5. Be illuminated and camera-ready
While it’s romantic to sit under the moonlit sky in the wilderness, dark shadows and strange noises can play tricks on your mind. Carry torches, lanterns, headlamps and of course spare batteries and bulbs as you can only buy these in the larger towns. The same goes for cameras – don’t forget extra batteries, a battery charger, sufficient memory cards and a tripod.
6. Be kitted out for first aid
This is of upmost importance in Namibia. Whether you accidentally cut yourself, get stomach problems, or bruise your knee while climbing over rocks, you might be at least half a day’s driving distance from the nearest doctor or pharmacy. Stock your first-aid kit with the basics and include rehydration salts, painkillers, antiseptic wipes, diarrhea medication, travel sickness tablets, eye drops for the dust and something against allergies. There are fewer mosquitos than you would expect but take a good bug repellent and a spray for the tent just in case.
7. Don’t expect washing machines
Luggage stowed in your vehicle will quickly be covered by dust and sand on the gravel roads. Put items in clear resealable plastic bags (note that most types of plastic bags are banned in Namibian national reserves and parks), expect to do handwashing at campsites when there’s sufficient water, and pack clothes that are easy to wash and dry (although this is hardly ever an issue as the weather is nearly always sunny).
Top Tip – all Gondwana Collection properties have laundry services on offer.
8. Book well in advance
If you are travelling with children or if your dates are not flexible, book campsites well in advance, as popular spots like Etosha, the NamibRand and Sossusvlei can become booked up nearly a year ahead, and both Namibians and South Africans often decamp to Swakopmund during the Christmas and Easter school holidays.
9. Contribute to camping as low-impact travel
Stick to basic rules to minimize your environmental footprint so Namibia’s wildernesses stay pristine. Carry rubbish “out”, even if there are bins available. These are not always emptied regularly and animals target bins in search of food. Oh, and pick up at least one piece of litter every day! Dispose of soapy water sensibly so it cannot pollute waterways used by local people or animals for drinking. Don’t leave anything outside that could be picked up by hyenas and other animals, and never drive off-road in national parks or deserts as this destroys the fragile ecosystems and leaves tracks for eternity.
10. Stay in a hotel every now and then
Camping in Namibia is a great experience, but it can be tiring, so a comfortable night at a hotel is both a treat and takes the strain off days and days in the desert packing and unpacking. Windhoek, Lüderitz and Swakopmund are good places to take a break and they have a decent selection of hotels, lots of restaurants and shops, and are perfect bases for various day trips and excursions.
So, what are you waiting for? Go camping in style in Namibia and remember to check out the various Gondwana campsites.