Namibia is a vast and mostly unpopulated country, full of otherworldly desert landscapes and wildlife that has adapted to some of the harshest conditions on the planet. Because Namibia is safe and largely free of malaria, it’s a great destination for families and adventurers.
On my most recent visit to Namibia, my husband and I spent two weeks exploring by car and plane from Windhoek to Sossusvlei, and then from Swakopmund we drove down to Walvis Bay, meeting locals eager to share information about their country along the way.
Some of the worst travel stories I heard while there involved theft from open taxi windows and credit card fraud. I know now that hailing a random taxi in the streets of Windhoek is not always a great idea, and while you might think that taxi drivers know the way to your destination, that may not always be the case. We once gave the address of a not-so-touristy local shop and were dropped off in the wrong place, only realizing the error after we paid and got out of the taxi.
I also learned about credit card cloning, where thieves make a digital copy of your credit card info using a disguised electronic scanner or some other device. Keep your eyes on your card at all times, ask vendors to bring the card reader to you instead of them taking your card and doing the transaction out of sight.
Here are the nine most important things to know when planning a trip to Namibia.
A self-driving tour of Namibia is a doable adventure
Traveling by car in Namibia is safe though time consuming if you want to explore large portions of the country. Paved roads, like the Trans-Caprivi and Trans-Kalahari highways, are well maintained and link the most-visited corners of the country. If you’ve got the time, a self-drive safari is an affordable way to experience Namibia.
Maneuvering on unpaved roads comes with its own set of risks. On gravel roads, flying pebbles while passing other cars can cause damage to windshields, and driving on uneven terrain requires a sturdy 4WD vehicle as well as off-road driving skills. Driving with headlights on is a must at all times of the day. Avoid driving at night because of roaming animals.
In remote corners of the country, gas stations are few and far between, so keep an eye on the gas tank and fuel up every chance you get. Always travel with snacks and plenty of water.
To avoid credit card fraud or cloning, rent your car online through a major rental company, such as Avis, Budget, Triple Three Car Hire or Imperial, which operate across Namibia and at the international airport.
Namibia doesn’t require a tourist visa
You don’t need a visa to enter Namibia if you’re a tourist and staying for fewer than 90 days. Check your passport to make sure it is valid for at least six months beyond the intended stay in the country and that it has sufficient blank pages for entry and exit stamps.
Check your vaccines
There’s no risk of yellow fever in Namibia, but if traveling there from a country with risk of yellow fever transmission or transiting for more than 12 hours through an airport of a country with risk of yellow fever transmission, travelers are required to have a yellow fever vaccination certificate.
Other recommended vaccines for traveling to Namibia include hepatitis A, hepatitis B, tetanus, typhoid, and rabies. Confirm that your routine vaccines and boosters, such as MMR, chickenpox, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, shingles and polio are up to date.
Bring malaria medication to Namibia’s north in the wet season
Malaria is a risk when visiting the north and northeast regions of Namibia during the wet season (November to June). You might need to start taking malaria medication several days before your trip, depending on the medicine your doctor prescribes. Check with your doctor about suitable anti-malarial tablets before visiting Namibia. There’s low to no risk of contracting malaria in the rest of the country, including the iconic Skeleton Coast.
View wildlife from a safe distance
Wildlife is, well, wild and unpredictable. If you’re on a safari tour, your guide will give you instructions and protocols to follow. If you opt for a self-drive safari, follow the park’s rules, most of which advise you to drive a safe distance from wildlife and to remain in your car unless you are in a designated area and it is safe to get out and walk.
Don’t drive between elephants in a herd, particularly if you see females with their young. If an animal seems disturbed or agitated, slowly back off.
Stay vigilant of your belongings when visiting Namibia’s cities
Namibia is a stable country, but to stay safe during your visit, you should be aware of your surroundings. Keep an eye on your possessions, particularly when exploring Windhoek and other town centers where pickpockets can target foreign tourists. Beware of scams, such as someone trying to divert your attention while an accomplice snatches your bag or phone.
It’s best not to bring expensive jewelry or watches to Namibia. Whenever possible, leave valuables in the hotel safe. Keep cameras, phones and large amounts of cash out of sight when moving around in public. Avoid changing large amounts of money in busy public areas, and if you’re paying by credit card, try to keep your card in full view to avoid the risk of cloning. To do so, insist that the card reader is placed in front of you.
If you’re renting a car, keep car doors locked and windows shut while waiting in traffic. Keep valuables out of sight during the day and never leave anything in the car when parking overnight.
Taxis are cheap, but know what you’re getting into
If you don’t have a rental car, taxis are a cheap and convenient way to get around in cities like Windhoek, Swakopmund and Walvis Bay. To operate legally, taxis must have a government registration. But that doesn’t stop anyone with a car from driving a “pirate taxi” in search of a fare. Sometimes these pirate taxis pick up more passengers during your ride. Ask your accommodations or tour operator to call a taxi for you or to recommend a reputable taxi company.
Before getting in the taxi, know your destination or ask the driver if they know how to get there, and always negotiate the fare in advance. Taxis don’t take credit cards, so make sure you have exact change because often drivers can’t break big bills and will require you to stop somewhere to get change. While riding in the cab, never place your bag or other belongings on the seat next to an open window; at a stop light someone in the street could reach in and snatch it.
Be prepared for the heat, but don’t forget there’s a rainy season too
Namibia boasts on average 300 days of sunshine per year, with high temperatures no matter the season. Expect summer temperatures to reach 40°C (104°F), while winter temperatures hover around 25°C (77°F).
The coastal area, where the Namib Desert is located, is the driest region, as is the Kalahari Desert in the south. The air is humid and can get quite foggy along the coast, particularly in the early hours of the day. The northeast is the rainiest area of the country, with an average of 50 to 60cm (20 to 23.5 inches) of rainfall per year. The peak of the rainy season is from January to March.
Dress in earth tones
Keep your wardrobe for Namibia simple and practical. If you’re going on safari, muted earth colors such as beige, khaki and olive green are best because they blend into the environment. During a safari, particularly a walking one, avoid wearing bright or colorful clothing and perfume. Long sleeves protect you not only from the sun but also from mosquitoes and other insects. Shorts, T-shirts, comfortable pants and long skirts are a good bet for when you’re in town.
Pack a light jacket or sweater for early morning and evening outings, and a lightweight waterproof jacket in case of rain. Comfortable walking shoes are a must, as are hats and sunglasses. Don’t forget sunscreen, swimwear, lip balm and moisturizer.