Namibia is a sparsely populated country, and distances between towns can be vast. However, there is an excellent infrastructure of sealed roads, and to more remote locations there are well-maintained gravel and even salt roads. With such a low population density, it’s hardly surprising that the public-transport network is limited. Public buses do serve the main towns, but they won’t take you to the country’s major sights. By far the best way to experience Namibia is in the comfort of your own hire car.
Air Namibia (www.airnamibia.com.na) has an extensive network of local flights operating out of Windhoek's Eros Airport. There are six flights per week to Rundu, Katima Mulilo and Ondangwa.
From Windhoek’s Hosea Kutako International Airport, domestic destinations include Lüderitz and Oranjemund (three times per week) and Walvis Bay (daily).
Namibia is a desert country, and makes for a tough cycling holiday. Distances are great and horizons are vast; the climate and landscapes are hot and very dry; the sun is intense; and, even along major routes, water is scarce and villages are widely spaced. If all of this wasn’t enough of a deterrent, also bear in mind that bicycles are not permitted in any national parks.
Loads of Namibians do get around by bicycle, and cycling around small cities and large towns is much easier than a cross-country excursion. With that said, be wary of cycling on dirt roads as punctures from thorn trees are a major problem. Fortunately, many local people operate small repair shops, which are fairly common along populated roadsides.
You might find small boats plying Namibia's rivers, but they're always dedicated to sightseeing rather than getting from A to B.
Namibia’s bus services aren’t extensive. Luxury services are limited to the Intercape Mainliner, which has scheduled services from Windhoek to Swakopmund, Walvis Bay, Grootfontein, Rundu, Katima Mulilo, Keetmanshoop and Oshikango. Fares include meals on the bus.
There are also local combis (minibuses), which depart when full and follow main routes around the country. From Windhoek’s Rhino Park petrol station they depart for dozens of destinations.
Car & Motorcycle
The easiest way to get around Namibia is in your own car, and an excellent system of sealed roads runs the length of the country, from the South African border at Noordoewer to Ngoma Bridge on the Botswana border and Ruacana in the northwest. Similarly, sealed spur roads connect the main north–south routes to Buitepos, Lüderitz, Swakopmund and Walvis Bay. Elsewhere, towns and most sights of interest are accessible on good gravel roads. Most C-numbered highways are well maintained and passable to all vehicles, and D-numbered roads, although a bit rougher, are mostly (but not always) passable to 2WD vehicles. In the Kaokoveld, however, most D-numbered roads can only be negotiated with a 4WD.
Nearly all the main car-rental agencies have offices at Hosea Kutako International Airport.
Motorcycle holidays in Namibia are also popular due to the exciting off-road riding on offer. Unfortunately, however, it’s difficult to rent a bike in Namibia, though the bigger car companies generally have a couple in their fleet. Note that motorcycles aren’t permitted in the national parks, with the exception of the main highway routes through Namib-Naukluft Park.
The Automobile Association of Namibia (AAN; 061-224201; www.aa-namibia.com) is part of the international AA. It provides highway information and you can also acquire maps from it if you produce your membership card from your home country.
Foreigners can drive in Namibia on their home driving licence for up to 90 days, and most (if not all) car-rental companies will accept foreign driving licences for car hire. If your home licence isn’t written in English, you’d be better off getting an International Driving Permit (IDP) before you arrive in Namibia.
Fuel & Spare Parts
The network of petrol stations in Namibia is good, and most small towns have a station. Mostly diesel, unleaded and super (leaded) are available, and prices vary according to the remoteness of the petrol station. Although the odd petrol station is open 24 hours, most are open 7am to 7pm.
All stations are fully serviced (there is no self-service), and a small tip of a couple of Namibian dollars is appropriate, especially if the attendant has washed your windscreen.
As a general road-safety rule, you should never pass a service station without filling up, and it is advisable to carry an additional 100L of fuel (either in long-range tanks or jerrycans) if you’re planning on driving in more remote areas. Petrol stations do run out of fuel in Namibia, so you can’t always drain the tank and expect a fill-up at the next station. In more remote areas, payment may only be possible in cash.
Spare parts are readily available in most major towns, but not elsewhere. If you're planning on some 4WD touring, it is advisable to carry the following: two spare tyres, jump leads, fan belt, tow rope and cable, a few litres of oil, wheel spanner and a complete tool kit. A sturdy roll of duct tape will also do in a pinch.
If you’re hiring a car, make sure you check you have a working jack (and know how to use it!) and a spare tyre. As an extra precaution, double-check that your spare tyre is fully pressurised as you don’t want to get stuck out in the desert with only three good wheels.
Whatever kind of vehicle you decide to rent, you should always check the paperwork carefully, and thoroughly examine the vehicle before accepting it. Car-rental agencies in Namibia have some very high excesses due to the general risks involved in driving on the country’s gravel roads. You should also carefully check the condition of your car and never ever compromise if you don’t feel totally happy with its state of repair.
Always give yourself plenty of time when dropping off your hire car to ensure that the vehicle can be checked over properly for damage etc. The car-rental firm should then issue you with your final invoice before you leave the office.
For a compact car, the least expensive companies charge around US$50 to US$100 per day (the longer the hire period, the lower the daily rate) with unlimited kilometres.
Most companies include insurance and unlimited kilometres in their standard rates, but some require a minimum rental period before they allow unlimited kilometres. Most companies also require a deposit, and won’t hire to anyone under the age of 23 (although some go as low as 21).
Additional charges will be levied for dropping off or picking up the car at your hotel (rather than the car-rental office) and for each additional driver. A ‘cleaning fee’ (which can amount to US$50!) may be incurred – at the discretion of the rental company – and a ‘service fee’ may be added.
Most major international car-rental companies have local franchises.
No matter who you hire your car from, make sure you understand what is included in the price (unlimited kilometres, tax, insurance, collision waiver and so on) and what your liabilities are. Most local insurance policies do not cover damage to windscreens and tyres.
Third-party motor insurance is a minimum requirement in Namibia. However, it is also advisable to take damage (collision) waiver, which costs around US$25 extra per day for a 2WD, and about US$50 per day for a 4WD. Loss (theft) waiver is also an extra worth having.
For both types of insurance, the excess liability is about US$1500 for a 2WD and US$3000 for a 4WD. If you’re only going for a short period of time, it may be worth taking out the super collision waiver, which covers absolutely everything, albeit at a price.
Unless you’re going to be staying in Namibia for several years, it’s not worth purchasing a vehicle in the country. The best place to buy a vehicle is across the border in South Africa.
Namibia has one of the highest rates of road accidents in the world – always drive within speed limits, take account of road conditions and be prepared for other vehicles travelling at high speed. Avoid driving at night when speeding vehicles and faulty headlights can make things perilous. Both domestic and wild animals can also be a hazard, even along the main highways. And remember that the chances of hitting a wild or domestic animal is far, far greater after dark.
In addition to its good system of sealed roads, Namibia has everything from high-speed gravel roads to badly maintained secondary routes, farm roads, bush tracks, sand tracks, salt roads and challenging 4WD routes. Driving under these conditions requires special techniques, appropriate vehicle preparation, a bit of practice and a heavy dose of caution.
Around Swakopmund and Lüderitz, watch out for sand on the road. It’s very slippery and can easily cause a car to flip over if you’re driving too fast. Early-morning fog along Skeleton Coast roads is also a hazard, so keep within the prescribed speed limits.
To drive a car in Namibia, you must be at least 21 years old. Like most other Southern African countries, traffic keeps to the left side of the road. The national speed limit is 120km/h on sealed roads out of settlements, 80km/h on gravel roads and 40km/h to 60km/h in all national parks and reserves. When passing through towns and villages, assume a speed limit of 60km/h, even in the absence of any signs.
Highway police use radar, and love to fine motorists for speeding (officially about N$70 for every 10km you exceed the limit, but often far more – much seems to be at the discretion of the police officer in question…). Sitting on the roof of a moving vehicle is illegal, and wearing seatbelts (where installed) is compulsory in the front (but not back) seats. Drunk-driving is also against the law, and your insurance policy will be invalid if you have an accident while drunk. The legal blood-alcohol limit in Namibia is 0.05%. Driving without a licence is also a serious offence.
If you have an accident causing injury, it must be reported to the authorities within 48 hours. If vehicles have sustained only minor damage, and there are no injuries – and all parties agree – you can exchange names and addresses and sort it out later through your insurance companies.
In theory, owners are responsible for keeping their livestock off the road, but in practice animals wander wherever they want. If you hit a domestic animal, your distress (and possible vehicle damage) will be compounded by the effort involved in finding the owner and the red tape involved when filing a claim.
Although hitching is possible in Namibia (and is quite common among locals), it’s illegal in national parks, and even main highways receive relatively little traffic. On a positive note, it isn’t unusual to get a lift of 1000km in the same car. Truck drivers generally expect to be paid, so agree on a price beforehand; the standard charge is N$15 per 100km.
Lifts wanted and offered are advertised daily at Cardboard Box Backpackers and Chameleon Backpackers Lodge in Windhoek. At the Namibia Wildlife Resorts office, also in Windhoek, there’s a noticeboard with shared car hire and lifts offered and wanted.
Hitching is never entirely safe in any country. If you decide to hitch, understand that you are taking a small but potentially serious risk. Travel in pairs and let someone know where you’re planning to go if possible.
Public transport in Namibia is geared towards the needs of the local populace, and is confined to main roads between major population centres. Although cheap and reliable, it is of little use to the traveller, as most of Namibia’s tourist attractions lie off the beaten track.
Trans-Namib Railways connects some major towns, but trains are extremely slow – as one reader remarked, they move ‘at the pace of an energetic donkey cart’. In addition, passenger and freight cars are mixed on the same train, and trains tend to stop at every post, which means that rail travel isn’t popular and services are rarely fully booked.
Windhoek is Namibia’s rail hub, with services south to Keetmanshoop, west to Swakopmund and east to Gobabis. Trains carry economy and business-class seats, but although most services operate overnight, sleepers are not available. Book at train stations or through the Windhoek booking office at the train station; tickets must be collected before 4pm on the day of departure.
Namibia has two tourist trains, which are upmarket private charters that aim to re-create the wondrous yesteryear of rail travel. The relatively plush ‘rail cruise’ aboard the Desert Express offers a popular overnight trip between Windhoek and Swakopmund (single/double from N$6500/10,500) weekly in either direction. En suite cabins with proper beds and furniture are fully heated and air-conditioned, and have large picture windows for gazing out at the passing terrain. It also offers a special seven-day package combining Swakopmund and Etosha National Park, complete with wildlife drives, picnic bush lunches and plenty of long and glorious rail journeys to savour.
The Shongololo Dune Express, which journeys between Pretoria and Swakopmund via Fish River Canyon, Lüderitz, Kolmanskop, Keetmanshoop, Windhoek and Etosha, does 12-day trips taking in Namibia’s main sites. All-inclusive fares range from R59,800 to R75,000 per person, depending on the type of cabin. Regardless of which level you choose, the Shongololo is akin to a five-star hotel on wheels. Guests are wined and dined to their stomach’s content, and you can expect fine linen, hot showers, ample lounge space and a permeating sense of railway nostalgia.