Chock-full of otherworldly landscapes, exotic wildlife, starry skies, and friendly locals, traveling through Namibia is unlike anywhere else on the planet. Make the most of the vastness and spend at least two weeks exploring the country at a slower pace. This epic 16-day road trip kicks off in the capital and makes its way to Gamsberg, the Atlantic coast, the Namib Desert, the NamibRand Nature Reserve, Naukluft Park, and the Kalahari Desert before returning to Windhoek where you'll complete the adventure.

Highlights

  • Snag iconic views from the top of Gamsberg's immense flat-topped mountain
  • Spend multiple days exploring two world-famous deserts: Namib and Kalahari
  • Enjoy free time to climb incredible sand dunes, like Dune 45, in Sossusvlei
  • Relax in a picturesque beach town on the Atlantic with German roots
  • Trek for three days on the Tok Tokkie Trail while sleeping under the stars

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Windhoek Windhoek
Day 2 Drive from Windhoek to the Gamsberg Region Gamsberg Region
Day 3 Explore the Gamsberg Region Gamsberg Region
Day 4 Drive from the Gamsberg Region to Swakopmund Swakopmund
Days 5-6 Explore Swakopmund & Walvis Bay Swakopmund
Day 7 Drive from Swakopmund to Sesriem Sesriem
Day 8 Tour the Sossusvlei Desert Sesriem
Day 9 Drive to the NamibRand Reserve - Hike the Tok Tokkie Trail NamibRand Nature Reserve
Day 10 Hike the Tok Tokkie Trail NamibRand Nature Reserve
Day 11 Hike the Tok Tokkie Trail - Drive to Namib-Naukluft Park Namib-Naukluft National Park
Day 12 Explore the Namib-Naukluft National Park Namib-Naukluft National Park
Day 13 Drive from the Namib-Naukluft Park to the Kalahari Desert Mariental
Day 14 Explore the Kalahari Desert Mariental
Day 15 Drive from the Kalahari Desert to Windhoek Windhoek
Day 16 Depart Windhoek  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Windhoek

A residential area in Windhoek
A residential area in Windhoek

Welcome to Namibia! Upon arrival at the Hosea Kutako International Airport, it's time to pick up a rental car and proceed to your hotel in the nation's capital—Windhoek—a great base to begin your road trip adventure. This tidy and modern city has a western flair that mixes nicely with the colors, sounds, and tempos of urban Africa.

If you have some daylight hours, learn about the end of apartheid at the Independence Memorial Museum, a free activity with a vast collection of paintings, displays, and artifacts that tell the story of the path to racial freedom. While here you can visit the National Museum of Namibia, located next door in an old German fort dating back to the 19th century. Take some time to check out fascinating displays about Namibia’s indigenous San rock paintings.

Another great activity in Windhoek is the Namibia Craft Center, a clean and safe covered market with dozens of independent vendors selling the work of thousands of artists around the country. You'll find a range of items from African drums and woodcarvings, as well as elegant Swakara garments and Namibian gemstones. In addition to the stalls, there’s also a bookstore, an art gallery, and a popular café that focuses on local ingredients for breakfast and lunch. 

For dinner, you can choose between several cuisine options like Taiwanese, Italian, Portuguese, African, Chinese, French, and German.

Day 2: Drive from Windhoek to the Gamsberg Region

Hit the road in Namibia
Hit the open road in Namibia

After breakfast in Windhoek, it's time to complete the first section of your road trip as you make your way towards the Gamsberg Nature Reserve (117 miles/189 km).

Located west of Rehoboth, the reserve is home to the third highest peak in Namibia—a flat-topped mountain called Gamsberg—rising 7700 feet (2347 m) in elevation. It is worth stopping along the way to enjoy the views.

Upon entering the region, you'll head to your accommodations at the Hakos Guest Farm surrounded by nature and beautiful mountains. You'll have the rest of the afternoon to enjoy the farm's activities and amenities including spacious grounds, an indoor pool, and powerful telescopes. In fact, astronomy is an important activity here and the property has several observation platforms in front of the farmhouse.

Later in the evening, you'll be served a three-course meal at the property along with your fellow guests. Make sure to dress in layers as the farm is located at a high-altitude with chilly temperatures after sundown. 

Day 3: Explore the Gamsberg Region

Spend a day exploring this mountainous region
Spend a day exploring this mountainous region

Today you'll have a free day to explore the Gamsberg region, and its protected nature reserve, at your own pace.  

Some options for activities in the area include: 

  • Astronomy Tour: Stargazing has been synonymous with Hakos since the guest farm opened in 1998. The good altitude and clear view help keep this area ranked internationally in the top 10 places for astronomy. This means that amateur astronomers come to Hakos every year, especially in the clear, dry winter months when, despite cold nights, the sun shines from the blue sky during the day. Hakos has its own three observatories, the Vehrenberg Observatory, the Henning Observatory, and the Rock Observatory, as well as free-standing telescopes and other instruments that can be rented to guests.
  • Farm Drive: Much of the Gamsberg region is privately owned by farms, and this is a good opportunity to check out some of the farmland on your own or with a local guide. 
  • Gamsberg Mountain Tour: Take a full-day drive to the top of Gamsberg's flat-topped mountain, often referred to as Namibia’s very own Table Mountain. Along the way, enjoy challenging off-road 4x4 trails and awe-inspiring views of the foothills around the Kuiseb River. With a private guide, you'll also get glimpses of rare plants and geological aspects that make the region unique. 

At the end of your day-trip, return to Hakos in time for another three-course dinner. 

Day 4: Drive from the Gamsberg Region to Swakopmund

Welcome to the seaside town of Swakopmund!
Welcome to the seaside town of Swakopmund!

Today, it's time to depart the Gamsberg region as you drive further west towards the Atlantic Ocean. You'll eventually arrive in Swakopmund (approximately 166 miles/267 km), where you will spend the next three nights. Known for its Old World charm and relaxed atmosphere, Swakopmund was founded in 1892 during the period of Namibia’s German colonial rule, when it served as the territory’s main harbor.

This is a popular destination for Namibians seeking respite from the heat of the interior of the country. Walk around and check out the town's beaches, walkways, and German colonial architecture and landmarks, which include the Swakopmund Lighthouse and an old sea wall called the Mole. Next to the lighthouse is the Swakopmund Museum where you can find documents on Namibian history. Meanwhile, the elegant Swakopmund Railway Station, now a hotel, also dates to the colonial era and is worth a look.

For food and drink, Swakopmund offers a nice selection of restaurants and cafés that, no surprise, may include traditional German fare, beer, cakes, and pastries.

Days 5-6: Explore Swakopmund & Walvis Bay

Sand dunes in Walvis Bay
Undeveloped scenery and dunes near Walvis Bay

Today, you'll have the entire day to explore Swakopmund and another picturesque coastal town nearby called Walvis Bay at your own pace. Though Walvis Bay doesn't have the same charming German architecture as Swakopmund (thanks to the British occupation) you can find a new waterfront development and great food options, as well as beautiful sand dunes that jut up against the Atlantic.  

You can also sign up for one of the unique experiences in the area, like the Dolphin Cruise which sets sail from the Walvis Bay Harbour. This is ideal for travelers who'd like to get up close to dolphins, as well as Cape fur seals, and flamingo colonies. In addition, there are more water-based activities or desert day-trip excursions to choose from, like quad biking or dune boarding.

Day 7: Drive from Swakopmund to Sesriem

The extraordinary landscapes of the Namib Desert
The extraordinary landscapes of the Namib Desert

After breakfast, it's time to say goodbye to the Atlantic Ocean as you drive towards the gravel plains of the Namib Desert (224 miles/360 km)—one of the oldest and largest deserts in the world—where you will spend the next two nights.

Located in the central region of the country, the Namib stretches far and wide covering large swathes of land in Namibia, as well as parts of South Africa and Angola. The distinct arid climate supports a diverse number of plants and animals, some of which are found nowhere else in the world.

Early in the drive, you may wish to visit the erosional feature of Moon Valley and see Namibia’s ancient plant species, the Welwitschia mirabilis, which is endemic to the Namib Desert. You'll also pass through the small settlement of Solitaire and onward to your home-base, via the Gaub and Kuiseb canyons. 

You'll be making your way to the Sesriem area, a small settlement close to the southern end of the Naukluft Mountains

Day 8: Tour the Sossusvlei Desert

Sesriem Canyon and the Tsauchab River
Sesriem Canyon and the Tsauchab River

Today, you'll take part in an early morning excursion that travels along the path of the ancient Tsauchab River into the Namib Sand Sea. The adventure highlights the Sossusvlei Desert, including Dune 45 and Dead Vlei—all surrounded by red dunes in the southern part of the Namib Desert. 

In fact, the word Sossusvlei is from Nama descent, which, directly translated, means a place with many endings. Visitors who come to Namibia often say that this is the most stunning part of the desert, with monumentally high dunes (as high as 1,066 feet/325 m) and the shadows of their sinuous crests that continually change as the daylight waxes and wanes. The warm tints of the sand, ranging from pale apricot to brick orange and deep red, contrast vividly with the dazzling white surfaces of the deflationary clay pans at some of their bases.

In the afternoon, you'll have time to enjoy the landscapes and views around Sesriem Canyon, carved into the Tsauchab River over millions of years, resulting in a narrow gorge of just over a half-mile in length. At the foot of the gorge, which plunges down over 100 feet (30 m), are pools that replenish after a good rain. Sesriem derives its name from the time when early pioneers tied six lengths of rawhide thongs (‘Ses Rieme’) together to draw water from these pools.

Following your excursion, return to your base in Sesriem for the night.

Day 9: Drive from Sesriem to the NamibRand Reserve - Hike the Tok Tokkie Trail

NamibRand Nature Reserve at dusk
NamibRand Nature Reserve at dusk

Get ready for an adventure to remember! This morning, you'll depart Sesriem bright and early and make the drive southwest towards the NamibRand Nature Reserve (46 miles/74 km). Here you'll partake in a three-day hike along the Tok Tokkie Trail. Before you set off on foot, you'll have the opportunity to fill up on water and prepare a small daypack for each day of the journey. Meanwhile, your luggage will be transferred to the overnight camp by vehicle (two nights total). 

Start your hike as you make your way over a slope strewn with mysterious fairy circles and over rolling sand dunes toward the first overnight camp. The dunes are not the massive ones like those encountered at Sossusvlei, rather small, vegetated dunes that have a unique beauty of their own. 

Along the way, discover many secrets of the Namib Desert that cannot be experienced when driving, from mountainous terrain to sandy dunes. Keep an eye out for fog-basking Tok Tokkie beetles, barking geckos, dancing spiders, bat-eared foxes, and other animals that make you realize that the desert is not deserted at all. 

Once you reach the camp, there will be time to relax, marvel at the magnificent scenery, and enjoy the sunset as you get acquainted with your surroundings before dinner is served. For most, the first night in the desert will be unforgettable. If the sky is clear and moonless, you will quickly understand why NamibRand Nature Reserve is one of the few International Dark Sky Reserves in the world. There will be plenty of opportunities to gaze above as you sleep in the open air on comfortable cots.

Day 10: Hike the Tok Tokkie Trail

More splendid views within the reserve

Today, you'll wake up with tea or coffee and a light breakfast before sunrise so that you can set off on your second day on the trail during the cool hours of the early morning.

The highlights of today's 6-7-hour hike are the breathtaking views of the dunes and plains, as well as the coming alive of the oldest desert in the world. With some luck and a guide’s trained eyes, you may spot some desert wildlife, such as the golden mole, dancing white lady, barking gecko, dune lark, or flightless wasp. 

During the course of the day, your guide will explain some wonders of the Namib, such as how the fascinating desert flora survives, how insect and reptile life adapts to the harsh environment, and how mammals can survive here without water. Birding is surprisingly good and you may be lucky enough to see one of Namib endemics, like the dune lark. Larger animals you might come across include the bat-eared fox, oryx, springbok, and ostrich.

For lunch, you'll stop at a shady spot where you can relax and fill up your water bottles. There is plenty of time built into today to take it easy; perhaps you'll have a short siesta after lunch and reflect on all you have seen.

As the afternoon heat dissipates you'll start walking up and over the dunes to your second overnight spot, set against a backdrop of magnificent mountain scenery. The shadows on the dunes create an ever-changing palette of colors shortly before sunset. Here, you'll enjoy a delicious camp dinner, perhaps to the sounds of some barking geckos, owls, or just incredible silence. Like the night before, you'll sleep in the open air on comfortable cots.

Day 11: Hike the Tok Tokkie Trail - Drive to Namib-Naukluft Park

Sand dunes in Namib-Naukluft Park

It's time to finish the Tok Tokkie Trail (3-3.5 hours)! This morning, enjoy coffee and breakfast before you set off through the dune field. The soft and rolling dunes are interspersed by camel thorn trees, which provide welcome shade for a rest. If time allows, visit the Namib Desert Environmental Education Trust (NaDEET), a non-profit, donor-sponsored trust, which aims to develop environmentally responsible citizens of Namibia. 

Upon completion of the trail, you'll depart the NamibRand Reserve, and make the drive towards the Namib-Naukluft National Park (198 miles/319 km) for two nights. Upon arrival, check into your accommodations and have dinner on-site.

Day 12: Explore the Namib-Naukluft National Park

Zebra sightings in Namib-Naukluft National Park

Today, you'll have a free day to explore the Namib-Naukluft National Park, situated between the coast of the Atlantic Ocean and the edge of the Great Escarpment.

Highly recommended is a hike along the Waterkloof Trail at about 10.5 miles (17 km). It winds along small creeks of the park and leads you through beautiful, varying landscapes. The trail also offers various swimming possibilities in natural pools as well. The trail is very well marked and well manageable without a guide, however, hikers should always be sure to follow the yellow footsteps.

On the hike, you are not only bound to enjoy the wonderful landscapes of Namibia but with a bit of luck—especially if you tread quietly—you might also observe various wild animals. The Naukluft Mountains are home to the Hartman zebra, Klipspringer, Kudu, Baboon and Dassie (Rock Hyrax). Furthermore, numerous species of birds, including birds of prey such as black eagle and owls can be seen.

Alternatively, there is the shorter Olive Trail at about six miles (10 km). Recommended for eager travelers not scared of heights, this trail offers breathtaking views, impressive scenery and a special kind of surprise at the end of the trail guarantee an unforgettable experience. On this hike, you may see some steenbok, mountain zebra, baboons, and other animals living in the area. 

Day 13: Drive from the Namib-Naukluft Park to the Kalahari Desert

Dry landscapes in the Hardap region
Dry landscapes in the Hardap region

After breakfast, depart the Namib-Naukluft National Park and make the big drive east towards the Kalahari Desert where you'll stay two nights in Mariental (268 miles/432 km), the capital of Namibia's Hardap region.

This semi-desert here is a completely different terrain from that of the Namib Desert. Kalahari is recognizable for the sand dunes, which are the largest continuous area of sand on earth. In comparison, the Sahara Desert sand dunes cover only about 15% of its area. The Kalahari dunes are covered with vegetation, including shrubs, and deciduous trees that have adapted to survive without much precipitation and wild swings in temperature.

Upon arrival in Mariental, consider having a look around town before you check-into your lodging for dinner. Mariental was founded in 1912 as a railway stop between Windhoek and Keetmanshoop, and today you'll find modern conveniences and a reservoir developed as a recreational area. 

Day 14: Explore the Kalahari Desert

A springbok roams through the Kalahari Desert
A springbok roams through the Kalahari Desert

Today is a free day to enjoy the Kalahari Desert any way you wish! The desert is an enchanting destination that stretches across three African countries including the eastern third of Namibia. The landscape of dunes, dune valleys, and yellow savannah is home to many arid-adapted game species like the Oryx antelope, springbok, bat-eared fox, ostrich, jackal, hare, and porcupine that inhabit the area.

Many activities available to you from your lodging include morning game drives, quad biking, guided Bushman Tribe walks, and sundown drives, just to name a few.

Day 15: Drive from the Kalahari Desert to Windhoek

Spend the morning in Kalahari before returning to Windhoek
Spend the morning in Kalahari before returning to Windhoek

Today, take advantage of some free time where you can relax with a long, leisurely breakfast at your resort. 

When you're ready, make the drive back to Windhoek (167 miles/268 km) for your last night of the adventure. If there's time left in the afternoon, feel free to visit any museums, craft stalls, and restaurants that you may have missed at the beginning of the trip. Of course, you can find plenty of options for places to sit back and sip an ice-cold beer.

Either way, relax and enjoy the capital’s Old World charm in preparation for your departure tomorrow.

Day 16: Depart Windhoek

A German-style church in Windhoek
A German-style church in Windhoek

It's time to say goodbye to Namibia! After breakfast at your hotel in Windhoek, depart for the airport with enough time to return your rental car and board your flight home. Safe travels!

Map

Map of Namibia Self-Drive Adventure - 16 Days
Map of Namibia Self-Drive Adventure - 16 Days