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Etosha National Park Self Drive Safari

The Etosha national park in Namibia is located in the north of the country and is probably its most famous park and a popular tourist attraction. It’s well designed and has great wildlife viewing opportunities. The best thing about it is that you can take yourself on safari as Etosha National Park self drives are very easy.

Etosha National Park Self Drive – Take a Drive on the Wild Side

Namibia is a fantastic country for a fly-drive holiday. The distances may be long but the roads are well made and largely empty. And the scenery is spectacular. It’s worth noting that some of the roads are gravel, so it’s worth packing a spare tyre, and that the petrol stations can be quite a distance apart. We travelled on the principle of topping up the tank every time we passed a petrol station, trying never to let the tank go below half-full.

The great thing about Etosha is that it is accessible for all types of car. We had hired a two-wheel drive saloon car – perfect for the pair of us – and encountered no difficulties at all, there was no need to have hired a 4WD. (Indeed we had been absolutely fine with the two-wheel drive throughout our journey in Namibia, even on the Skeleton Coast.) The roads are clearly marked and easy to navigate. There is plenty of parking around the waterholes, which are the best places for viewing wildlife.

The park is located in the vast Etosha pan, the largest salt pan in Africa.  Four of the ‘Big Five’ game animals – lions, leopards, elephants and rhino (black and white) – live in the area. Etosha became a game reserve in March 1907 and a national park in 1967.

The word ‘Etosha’ means ‘great, white place’ in the language of the Ovambo tribe, which is entirely appropriate. The pan was a lake several thousand years ago. Angola’s Kuene river used to flow into the area but changed its course over the years, eventually flowing into the Atlantic. The result was that the lake dried up completely. However, there are a number of springs in the pan and lower lying areas fill with water during the rainy season. Indeed, if the wet season is particularly rainy the lake can re-form across Etosha, although these days it is fairly shallow and dries up again swiftly. If the area is flooded the chances of seeing wildlife can be reduced as they have no need to travel to the watering holes. Hence the best time to visit is during the dry winter season, from April to October.

Entry To The Etosha National Park

On entry to the park you need to pay a fee per person and for the vehicle. and you will also need to show ID. Your passport will be fine to use for this purpose.

On entering the park, the first thing we had to do was stop… for a zebra crossing!

Etosha National Park Self Drive

Although organised safaris are available, we thoroughly enjoyed exploring the park at our own pace. The advantage of an organised tour is that the local rangers can communicate with each other via mobile phone to let each other groups know about particular sightings.

We found that when visiting a watering hole it was actually better to wait. A number of organised safari tours turned up to the watering hole, quickly established that there was no wildlife there, and moved on. But waiting turned out to offer a much more rewarding experience. Sitting in the car, looking out across the vast, vast pan, we saw what appeared to be some angular shapes appear on the horizon. We continued to watch. Slowly, a group of giraffe sauntered across the plain. It was such a pleasure to see them as a group.

Giraffe often appear to be somewhat ungainly but actually they were very graceful creatures. It was fascinating to see them part their legs, despite their long necks, in order to reach the water and have a long, cool drink.

Etosha National Park Self Drive

We saw wildebeest having a rut.

Etosha National Park Self Drive

An encounter between a young lion, an elephant and an impala. (The lion is in the background.)

The impala was very aware of the lion’s presence…

Etosha National Park Self Drive

…but he made the best decision to saunter away.

Etosha National Park Namibia

Although the large mammals are the obvious attraction, it’s also great to discover some of the smaller animals, birds and flora.

Etosha National Park Namibia

Moringa ovalifolia is a succulent tree which looks very otherworldly, almost like it has been planted upside down.

And the park is abundant with zebra…


and gemsbok and springbok.

We also saw a ground squirrel, a marabou stork and a jackal.

There are a number of safety rules at the Etosha national park in Namibia. Obviously stay in your vehicle and it’s advisable keep the windows closed when you’re out in the park. You are not allowed to drive at night, so make sure you leave enough time to get back to your rest camp. The speed limit is 60 km/h but it’s far better to drive at a leisurely pace – you have a greater chance of spotting wildlife if you’re not zooming around. Look for other vehicles that have stopped – there’s a good chance that someone has spotted some wildlife worth viewing.  

Staying At Etosha

The area has a number of rest camps with all the facilities you might need. There are various levels of luxury in terms of accommodation. We were in self-catering accommodation in Okaukuejo Rest Camp.

Etosha National Park Namibia

It has a restaurant as well as shops where you can pick up food and other items. And, of course, the all-important petrol station. Our cabin was clean and comfortable with a couple of bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen area and it also had a braai, an African barbecue. You can buy meat and charcoal in the local shops and it’s rather nice to relax with a few beers and a barbecue as the sun goes down.

The safari experience doesn’t end in the evening. The rest camps are located very close to (fenced off) watering holes that are floodlit at night so it is possible to wander out to the fence and watch the wildlife as they come to drink in the cooler evening. It was fantastic to be able to see endangered rhino enjoying both a drink and a bathe.

One thing that rounded off our experience happened on leaving the park just as we were checking out. Throughout our journey in Namibia, a number of people approached us, at park gates or local attractions, to ask whether we would be prepared to give their friends or colleagues a lift to the next town. We were happy to do this – it was a fantastic opportunity to chat with local people on a long drive.

At Etosha we were asked whether we could give one of the park rangers a ride to Otjiwarongo. We were delighted to be able to help. We had a brilliant chat with him and learned loads about the park. He was very interested to hear about the wildlife in our country. We don’t have anything nearly as exotic or large as elephants – we reckoned the largest animal in the UK is probably a red deer. And we had a laugh comparing Namibia’s enormous termite mounds with England’s teeny-tiny ant hills. The Etosha National Park, Namibia is an ideal place to take yourself on safari and view amazing wildlife.

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    • Thank you! We can definitely recommend fly-drive. Namibia’s roads are well managed and the scenery is always spectacular.

    • Thank you. We hope you will be able to get to Namibia. It was wonderful to be able to undertake a safari at our own pace in such a beautiful country.

  1. Awesome. Some great information here for when I’ll plan my own trip. 4 out of the big 5 isn’t bad. You got some great sightings and photos.

    • Thank you so much. Really hope you get to visit. Driving was remarkably easy and the sightings were indeed fantastic. It was great to be able to see Etosha at our own pace.

  2. Wow… fantastic blog post with lots of great information. Namíbia is definitely a place I would love to visit. Doing a self-drive safari would be amazing. I have to keep this post for future reference.
    Good on you to give local people a lift, certainly a great way of interacting with the locals.

    • Thank you so much! We would definitely recommend Namibia as a place to visit, we absolutely loved it there, and it was brilliant to have the freedom of the road inside Etosha. It was absolutely lovely to be able to chat with the ranger – we learned so much from him.

  3. Loved the play on words for the zebra crossing – but so apt. Beautiful pics of the wildlife and they entice me even more to visit Etosha which has long been on my list. Good to know that a 4WD is not entirely necessary.
    Good tip about stopping when you see a parked car, as they might have seen something. I would have just driven past assuming they were just parked up for a snack to eat.
    I’ve found that those chance encounters with locals, like you did, are often the most captivating of lucky encounters. Great that you got to speak to a Ranger for some info on the area.
    Namibia. I’ve heard, can be quite expensive. What was your experience of prices?

    • We couldn’t resist the zebra crossing – it was the very first thing we encountered! Etosha is definitely worth visiting and what we loved about Namibia was the independence self drive gave us. We found that Namibia was very reasonably priced (obviously prices vary according to the levels of luxury people choose). Car hire and petrol is cheaper than the UK and the park entry prices are less than £8 per person per day (at the time of writing). We have long wanted to go to Botswana and that continues to be really expensive for our budget.

  4. Love this! Namibia isn’t top of mind for safaris but clearly it’s up there with the more famous parks. Giraffes are a personal favourite of mine and I can just imagine them sauntering, as you say, around all gracefully. How exciting that you got to see animals like the rhino at night, chilling around the fenced off, floodlit watering holes.

    • Thank you! Yes, we absolutely adored the giraffes, it was such a treat to be able to watch them emerge from the bush and take a drink. It was brilliant that the rest camp was located so close to the floodlit watering hole – it was as though the safari could continue through the night.

  5. Wow! I’m jealous! A safari is high on my bucketlist. It’s great you were able to go through the park on your own. Your cabin sounded perfect. I would have sat out all night watching for animals. Nice of you to give the gentleman a ride. Unfortunately being a solo female traveller I would be one to say no. But what a way to learn about things!

    • We do hope you get to go on safari one day, we are sure you will love it. Getting close to the animals is really wonderful. Totally understand that, as a solo female traveller, it wouldn’t be appropriate to offer a ride. While it all turned out to be fine and a great experience, even as a couple we did have to think carefully about the safety element.

  6. I have a friend who recently visited the skeleton coast and he loved it. Namibia looks like a real hidden gem to me and your post is a great article. a safari to see all the animals would be number one for me. Watching at night under floodlights too must be a wonderful experience.

    • Thank you. We passed by the Skeleton Coast on our visit and absolutely loved it. Namibia really is a hidden gem and it was fantastic seeing so many animals – big and small – on safari. And the floodlights at night were just brilliant – we could see animals all day and all night!

  7. I’ll admit I laughed out loud at “zebra crossing”. I can’t believe I never thought of self drive safari as being an option – it always seems you have to go on a tour. But this sounds incredible. You were so lucky to see so many animals too, what great shots. I can see why some people might be wary of giving a lift to people but you’re right, it gave you a great opportunity to chat with new people

    • Hee! Yes, although many safaris in African countries need to have some sort of tour, self-drive in Namibia is both easy and fun. The driving is very laid back. And being able to explore Etosha at our own pace was brilliant and we got lucky seeing so many amazing animals.

  8. I was supposed to visit Namibia and Etosha in 2020, but we all know what happened and I put my plans on hold.
    I have to get back on track and having these tips has made me want to visit this magnificent place even more.
    Seeing animals in their natural habitat must be a spectacular experience, one that I would love to have.

    • Thank you! So sorry that you didn’t manage to get to Namibia, 2020 did manage to foil a lot of travel plans! Hopefully you will be able to visit in the not too distant future. Seeing the animals in a natural habitat was astonishing and Etosha is a fantastic place to view wildlife.

  9. There’s something so magical about Africa and seeing these beautiful creatures in the wild. It sounds like you really loved Namibia and Etosha, so I’ll have to put it on my list. That’s nice of you to give someone a ride and a great way to learn about the local culture.

    • Thank you. Yes, we absolutely adored Namibia and would love to return. Africa is magical – we would definitely recommend adding Namibia to your list. It was a real privilege to see the creatures in their natural environment.

  10. This must have been a really cool life experience. I like that you were able to do the tour yourself and go at your own pace. Like you said in your post, you were able to see some of the wildlife by just waiting patiently and took all the time in the world to observe the inhabitants of the park. Organised tours can be great when you have a knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide but often they just rush from one end to the next, ergo only giving you a taste of the place but not really the time to fully getting to know it.

    Carolin | Solo Travel Story

    • We absolutely loved that we could take ourselves on safari – it gave us so much flexibility and, as you say, we really managed to get a sense of place. Thank you for your comment!

  11. Nice post! I loved the joke about stopping at the zebra crossing. It made me chuckle!

    This looks like a fantastic experience, and it’s cool that you get to do it at your own pace. It also looks like there are loads of amazing animals to see.

    It definitely looks like it’s worth a visit!

    Russ & Luke | Two Guy Tripping

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