Our recent African adventure offered some scenes that don´t seem as reality. I assume it will take some time to internalize everything.
We drove around 5700 km in 22 traveling days (that means 20 days in Africa) and did the path as pictured below. You should make some preparation before going on African adventure and if you intend to do so, you should buy airplane tickets at least half year prior.
We visited 4 countries, but most of the time we spent in two – in Namibia and Botswana, so logistic information will describe mostly traveling around those two countries. We visited Zambia and Zimbabwe when going to Victoria Falls, that were really beautiful and worth the money, but that wasn´t cheap.
1. Possible ways of travel
The easiest way to travel around Namibia and Botswana is with one of Slovenian travel agencies, some of them are specialized for photo safaris. That isn´t our way, but if you don´t have experiences in traveling on your own or you don´t travel on budget and you don´t mind traveling in group – than OK, this might work for you.
The other option is to buy plane tickets on your own and travel with local agency, where organizer takes care of complete logistic: transportation in small all-terrain bus, building a camp, meals, cleaning, guided tours… I hear that this could be good option for solo travelers.
Third option is traveling on your own with rented vehicle and that is what we choose. That is suitable for families as Namibia and Botswana are safe countries, but caution is needed in Windhoek because of criminal activity and we suggest that you spend there as little time as possible.
2. The best time to travel
The best time to travel is their dry season, which is their winter time. As those countries lie on south hemisphere that means it is our summer time. In this time animals are near water resources (natural and artificial ones) and you can really see a lot of them. Safari in Etosha National Park in that time (our summer, their winter) is something the most beautiful we have ever seen on our travels. There is another reason why traveling in their winter makes sense – because of malaria (even though a small chance) – it is better to travel in dry season. But the dark side of winter time is that days are short – sun rises at around 6.30 a.m. and sets at approximately 5.30 p.m. It is really wise to make good plans of the travel and everything you want to see.
3. What temperatures to expect when traveling in their winter?
Temperatures were just right for us. It was between 20°C and 30°C during the day, but the heat was dry and it was easier to bear comparing the heat in Asia. During the night were temperatures between 5°C and 10°C. I admit we would prefer some 5°C more, but if you have good sleeping bag and warm clothes, then there will be no problem. We were never really cold – or at least only for a little while. Their cold is dry as their heat and is easier to bear than cold and moisture. Just for comparison – we were colder when camping in the Dolomites (also in our summer) as we were in African winter. Warm socks, cap, long cozy trousers and traveling winter jacket are must have. You should have working gloves as well- they come handy.
4. Preparation of travel itinerary
It is really important to plan your trip in advance as the distances between places are quite huge and you have to reach your goal destination before night because driving at night due to wild animals is not allowed (at least rent-a-car agencies don´t allow it). And don´t forget – in winter sunsets are at 5.30 p.m.! If you have car accident on lonely roads during the night, the police and ambulance won´t come before sun rises and the insurance agencies don´t cover any damage. At least so we heard. Especially for the first day you should plan more time as there are long lines for passport check – we waited for an hour, and then you have to fill some special forms for coming in the country. There are lines in front of money exchange offices and cash machines, it takes more than two hours to pick up rent a car and to Windhoek is almost one hour drive. Beside that you have to go to gas station and supermarket to buy some food and only after that you can start your journey to your first night destination. But in any case you should reserve a room outside Windhoek, as there is a lot of criminal activity in Namibia capital. When planning your trip you should also have some spare time just in case – as for changing flat tire, for example.
From Windhoek we went towards south (we made circle path clockwise) and we spend first night in Namib Grens, which was one of the most beautiful camping on this trip and we highly recommend it. Just for example how much time we needed for those technical stuff of first day: we landed at 10.30 a.m. and we came to Namib Grens at 6 p.m., but the drive itself was less than 3,5 hours from Windhoek.
5. Plane tickets
For our travel in July, we have bought plane tickets already in the autumn. Our flight was from Zagreb to Doha and further to Windhoek for 530€, which is reasonable price for flight to Namibia. You can also check Namibair flights directly from Germany to Windhoek (usually much more expensive) or Turkish from Ljubljana (through Istanbul and Cape Town – plane transit visa is not necessary). If you are searching for the cheapest ticket, it is wise to check Eurowings from Zagreb or Klagenfurt as well.
You can get visa for Namibia in Wien, Austria, 30 days or less prior your trip and it costs 80€ per person and allows you to cross the border multiple times. (http://www.embnamibia.at/visa-information/visa-requirements) Documentation can be sent and received by post or couriers, which are more reliable. And don´t wait until your last days as bureaucrats in consulate have a lot of work 🙂 . In the time of this writing visa for Botswana is not required for Slovenes, but special obligatory tax (Tourism Development Levy) will be implemented soon (www.botswanatourism.co.bw/travel-advisory). We didn´t have to pay for it, we just had to pay 20€ tax for a car. Visa for Zimbabwe or Zambia costs 30$ per person per country and you pay for it on the border. There is also combined visa for both countries and costs 50$. We recommend this combined visa.
When crossing Botswana border you have to submit passports and birth certificates for children (if you are traveling with them) and it is best that they are translated in English. We didn´t have any problems with that but our friends did – obviously a lot depends of the good will of border official. Nevertheless, birth certificates for kids are requested, so it is necessary to have them with you.
7. Rent-a-car, roads and insurance
There is left-hand traffic in Namibia and Botswana and you have to have international driving license. Botswana has asphalt roads but are often bumpy. Namibia has mostly macadam roads various qualities, so we truly recommend all-terrain vehicle. On the roads, you can see many Toyota Hilux and more expensive Land Cruisers. For our 20 days long journey we hired Hilux at Africa on wheels. Hilux had all camping equipment, refrigerator, double tank for 140 liters of oil , two spare tires… and it cost 1.300€, which included all-inclusive insurance with high straight deductible of 2.500€. Additional insurance is not necessary as it covers only damage from collision with another car, but that is not likely as there is very light traffic. We recommend another car insurance (for example at www.icarhireinsurance.com) where you can get all-inclusive insurance and straight deductible for all rent-a-cars in a year all over the world, all for 100€.
It is important to rent-a-car as soon as possible as that way you will get the best price. We arranged rent-a-car in November (for trip in July) and got really good price. In December all cars at Africa on wheel were already reserved (our friend wanted to make a reservation for July trip, but couldn’t). However, it is necessary to rent all-terrain vehicle (4WD) and you shouldn´t save on that.
In Namibia, categories of roads are marked on every map and signposts. Asphalt roads are named with a letter and one number, the speed limit is 120km/h. But most roads are wide macadam roads, those are named with a letter and two numbers, the speed limit is 80km/h. The lowest categories of roads are named with a letter and three numbers and for those you need 4×4 vehicle.
There are great distances between working gas stations, so you have to be careful and it is best to fill your tank on every gas station you cross. Every sort of navigation is good for driving on roads – paper maps, Google map or maps.me. For off-road it is best to have Tracks4Africa maps that are compatible only with Garmin.
Deadvlei is must-see for every traveler in Namibia, because it is so photogenic. There is asphalt road from Sesriem to parking lot, but for the last two kilometers there isn´t any road, you have to drive on deep sand. You need 4×4 wheeler for that, and it is recommended to lower pressure in tires on 1,5 bars or less (but you have to fill the tires up again when reaching the road, so you have to have compressor) and you shouldn´t stop in sand as it is really hard to start afterwards. We heard that it is good to use reductor, but we didn´t need it. If the car is stuck in the sand, you need to dig it up with shovel and/or call for help of park employees, which is quite expensive. That´s why most visitors take “public transportation” for the last two kilometers – that is Land Cruiser with professional driver.
In Namibia and Botswana oil is quite cheap, approximately 0,70€/l. Our car consumed 650 liters of oil for 5.700 km long journey.
For 1€ you get 15 Namibian Dollars (ND) or 12 Botswana Pula (BWP).
In Namibia you can pay with Namibian dollars or South African Rand (the same value), but tourist guides accept American dollars too. You can exchange money in exchange offices at the airport (currency isn´t that bad), otherwise we haven´t seen exchange offices and we didn´t check on banks. Cash machines are on the airport and in big cities, but they sometimes don´t work. Sometimes they accept bankcards, but not everywhere (in Windhoek and Etosha they were accepted everywhere, but in camps it depended). In Botswana and on Victoria Falls we paid with cards everywhere.
The official language in Namibia is English, but semi-official are Afrikaans and German and some local languages. Oficial languages in Botswana are English and some local languages. We didn´t have problems communicating in neither of countries we visited.
All settlements have mobile signal, but data exchange is very slow and you don´t need buy big mobile packets. On other areas there is no signal and traffic is very light, so satellite phone can offer some feeling of safety. Telecom subscribers can borrow it for free, but in Namibia different regions have different emergency numbers.
11. Spending the night
Hotels and lodges in Africa are not cheap, so we were sleeping in camps. Camping in Namibia or Botswana has special charm and is really beautiful. Sleeping under billions of stars, silence, nature and us. In Namibia, there were little animals outside Etosha, in winter time (July) there were no snakes and spiders and we would dare to camp in wild as well, especially with tents on the roof of the car, where it would be hard for animals to reach. Those tents are fast and easy to set and fold back and we didn´t have any problems with them. Sleeping in them is cozy and comfortable. We save time by packing our sleeping bags in transporting bag instead of folding them every morning. Transporting bag is necessary as it protects your stuff against dust in coffer of the car. We recommend that you take big black bags (120 or 60 liters) with you, so you can protect your luggage (jackets, pillows, clothes) against dust.
Most camps have fence, toilettes, showers and some even water and electricity on lot (but not all). In Ngepi and Chobe we slept in camp by the river and fence was necessary as there are hippos and crocks in the water. But we felt safe, even though we were listening bass sounds of hippos all night 🙂 .
12. Etosha NP
Because Etosha has limited amount of accommodation facilities it is important to make reservation a few months prior, as camping outside camps isn´t only prohibited but also very dangerous because of huge amount of animals that live there.
If it is possible, stay in Etosha at least three nights (now that we know, we would stay night or two longer) and we recommend staying inside national park. You should make your reservation as soon as possible, because camps´ facilities are quickly sold out – especially in high season. This map can help understanding the size of Etosha and waterholes, where animals hang.
Besides driving around waterholes at day, it is pure luxury to observe night activities from safety distance in a camp. Every camp has its own waterhole, where animals hang during the day and night. That is Animal Planet Live 🙂 . The best camps for observing animal activities at nights are Okaukuejo, Halali and on west side Olifantsrus.
To drive around Etosha safari by yourself is priceless, even though it is strictly prohibited to leave your car with exception on specially marked places. We mostly obeyed because there are really a lot of animals.
13. Visiting Himba peope and Bushmen
You can see Himba in supermarket or on streets in Opuwo or in villages made for tourists where they have one or two hours long performance. Most tourists decide to go to those villages and see this photogenic people. We didn´t want that, of course, as we wanted genuine experience with non-touristic Himba. We wanted to go to the village where they actually live and where tourists don´t go. We wanted to sleep in their village. We managed to arrange that with help of local guide, even though we had many problems, because seeing them is often enough for others. And guides don´t have a lot to do with that 🙂 . Starting point to go to Himba was Sesfontein, but if you have enough time and you feel adventures, go all the way to Puros.
We visited Bushmen north of Tsumkwe, where German foundation (www.lcfn.info/hunters) organized live museum. Even though this little village was made for tourists (although small in number), was the experience real and genuine and we recommend it.
14. Victoria Falls
Zambia and Zimbabwe charge quite high environmental tax for those who cross their border with their own car, so it is better to go to Victoria Falls with agency from Kasane. Entry fee is expensive and have to paid beside visa, but it is worth it .Entry fee for Victoria Falls is 30$ for adult and 15$ for child. You have to pay for the agency as well. We took guided tour with Wild cars & guides agency (talk to Ben) and we highly recommend it. At waterfalls we were exploring for ourselves, without guide, and we had enough time. You can choose many adrenalin activities there (bungee, zip line…) but it is quite expensive. We were “just” enjoying the views 🙂 .
15. Chobe NP
For Chobe National Park you have to pay entry fee and tax for car (except if you spend the night inside the park, which is expensive), so it is best to go with local safari agency – if possible with the same agency as for Victoria Falls, because of the discount. We went with Wild cars & guides again. In morning we were exploring Chobe NP overland (Game drive) and in the afternoon we went on a boat ride on Chobe river and waited for sunset. Both was more that we expected and we would do it all over again.
16. Okavango delta
Okavango delta is one of world´s wonders and is truly something special. You can explore it on different ways, depends of your budget and time you have. Starting point is Maun. The most common options for exploring Okavango river delta is by water or by air. By water you can go on a trip with traditional mokoro boats and by air with helicopter or plane. The price for one hour overflight with seven sits in the plane is a little less than 80€ per person. Unforgettable experience.
I hope that you will find information in this article useful when planning your own trip to Africa. Or that it will make you want to go. Don´t wait too long, because it is really beautiful .