We’ve all talked about our bucket list destinations and what it’s like to travel in Namibia. But have you ever thought about which animal encounter you look forward to when enjoying a game drive?

The closest most of us have been to “wild” animals has been when we were taken to a local zoo as a recreational activity. As children, it’s an overwhelming experience as we start to experience sights of what we’ve learned in books during our bed-time stories. The sounds these creatures make? You’ll hear them echoing in the house for the next few days as your children try to relive those beautiful memories.

As we grow older and our desire to conquer the world expands, we start aiming for more experiences. For me, one of them was seeing animals in their natural habitat. I always thought that it was something unattainable but I was wrong. There are so many safari destinations available to choose from. In Namibia, you have the option to see wildlife in the desert, ocean, game reserves and national parks.

Game drive in the Bwabwata National Park ©Gondwana Collection Namibia

One of the most visited national parks in Namibia is the Etosha National Park. There are many tips for when to travel to this African country depending on what you want to see or feel (anyone trying to escape the cold weather at home?). So, with that in mind, you will need to decide if you’re going to do a self-drive or a guided game drive.

Animals by the waterhole in Etosha National Park ©Nela Shikemeni

There are a few car rental options, such as the Namibia2Go for the adventurous who prefer a self-drive. Please note that the roads and driving conditions may differ from what you’re used to. The pros of this option are that you can decide on your own route and time spent at each waterhole or wildlife encounter. The cons are that you might not have the sharp eyes that the guides do to spot animals.

Fully equipped Toyoya Hilux 4×4 ©Gondwana Collection Namibia

But there is an unspoken culture inside the park that facilitates the sighting of wildlife. Most drivers will signal or stop to share where that magical moment happened, especially when it comes to one of the “Big 5”. I also learned that when someone asks you “what did you see?” you do not simply say “some animals”, you have to list what you saw and if possible, mention how many.

This brings us to my must-see animal, the rhino. We stayed at the Etosha Safari Camp and were serenaded by the Etosha Boys every evening during dinner. The property also offers game drives into Etosha in the mornings and afternoons, so we took the latter. At 14:30 the heat and scorching temperatures were brutal not only to your thighs but also to the animals. They were all hiding under the shade of trees and did not dare to move until the heat had subsided.

The Etosha Boys singing in the evening at the Etosha Safari Camp ©Röder

In a way this facilitated the spotting of quite a few lions lazily enjoying a siesta under the trees. They were waiting for the weather to cool down so they could start hunting. Not far away from them was the waterhole where we spotted a big herd of blue wildebeest.

Have you ever seen a giraffe drinking water? It’s so cute it was worth the long wait. They literally take their time to position themselves at the waterhole while the others keep watch. Because of their long necks, they bend their front legs awkwardly so that their heads can gracefully descend and reach the water.

Giraffe drinking water at the waterhole in Etosha National Park ©Nela Shikemeni

We were on our way out (no rhinos in sight yet) as the sun was starting to set. It was a memorable drive as I contemplated the vastness these creatures call home and deep inside still hoped to come across a rhino. We made a last stop at the Okaukuejo Waterhole and when we were about to leave, I felt a tap on my shoulders. It was our guide Rodney and he whispered “you’re so lucky, look who’s coming …”

You cannot miss their silhouette; even from far away you can recognize the rhinos! It was such a magical experience; you stare in awe as they slowly approach the water to refresh themselves. Time stops briefly (yes, this feeling is not only exclusive for those in love) while you try to absorb the moment.

Rhinos approaching the waterhole at sunset in Etosha National Park ©Nela Shikemeni

We made it just in time to the gates of the park and guess what? On the way out we saw another rhino! Some might call it luck, I call it being blessed. Unfortunately we were not able to stop due to time constraints but it made my heart smile in gratitude. We drove back to the Etosha Safari Camp with the sunset waving us goodbye. For me, this was another unforgettable moment I could add to my secret bucket list.

Sunset outside the Etosha National Park ©Daniela Chan

Which animals do you look forward to seeing when visiting Etosha National Park?

Author – I’m Dani, a Chinese-Brazilian who is retiring her sea legs and has an obsession with Namibia. I love camping and I’m trying to make the most of this journey we call life.