Perfect for first-timers to Africa, this two-week road trip explores the wild, beautiful, and safe environs of Namibia. The adventure kicks off in Windhoek where you'll drive through two deserts (Kalahari and Namib) known for epic sand dunes, rivers, canyons, and gorges. From here, continue west towards the Atlantic coast before heading north to meet nomadic tribes. Finish with several days at Etosha National Park—as well as a private reserve—for the ultimate game-viewing experience.

Highlights

  • Enjoy the old world charm, ethnic restaurants, and craft markets of Windhoek
  • Experience Africa's distinct wildlife at a game reserve and two national parks
  • Visit the Namib Desert, the Namib Sand Sea, and the Sossusvlei dune belt
  • Discover the continent's largest concentration of petroglyphs at Twyfelfontein
  • Explore two towns on the Atlantic coast (one with German colonial roots)

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Windhoek Windhoek
Day 2 Drive from Windhoek to Intu-Afrika Game Reserve Hoachanas
Day 3 Drive from Intu-Afrika to Namib-Naukluft National Park Sesriem
Day 4 Tour the Sossusvlei Desert Sesriem
Day 5 Drive from Sesriem to Swakopmund Swakopmund
Day 6 Explore Swakopmund & Walvis Bay Swakopmund
Day 7 Drive from Swakopmund to Twyfelfontein Twyfelfontein
Day 8 Drive from Twyfelfontein to Opuwo Opuwo
Day 9 Explore Opuwo Opuwo
Day 10 Drive from Opuwo to Etosha National Park Etosha National Park
Days 11-12 Explore Etosha National Park Etosha National Park
Day 13 Drive from Etosha National Park to Okonjima Nature Reserve Okonjima Nature Reserve
Day 14 Drive from Okonjima to Windhoek - Depart Namibia  

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 Intu-Afrika Game Reserve

Khomas Highland
Untouristed surroundings in Khomas Highland

After breakfast in Windhoek, it's time to drive to the Intu-Africa Game Reserve (155 miles/249 km), located in a stunning part of the Namibian area of the Kalahari Desert with trees, rivers, and fossil watercourses.

To get here, you'll make your way south through the Khomas Highland region towards the town of Rehoboth—home to the Baster Community, a fiercely independent group of people who are the descendants of a group of farmers of mixed European and Khoisan blood. They first migrated to the area from the Cape in 1870 where they established a settlement at the site of an abandoned Rhenish mission station.

From here, continue south towards the small settlement of Kalkrand before heading east towards the western Kalahari Basin. You'll eventually reach your accommodations within one of three lodges that make up the Intu-Afrika Kalahari Game Reserve. Located across over 24,000 acres, the reserve offers breathtaking views and incredible fauna and flora to discover. In the afternoon, you can choose between one of many activities including a 4x4 excursion, a bushman walk, a quad bike safari, and even a dune dinner.

Day 3: Drive from Intu-Afrika Game Reserve to Namib-Naukluft National Park

Rugged landscapes of the Namib Desert
Rugged landscapes of the Namib Desert

After a leisurely breakfast at Intu-Afrika Game Reserve, you'll begin the journey towards the Namib-Naukluft National Park (211 miles/340 km), the largest game park in Africa and the fourth largest in the world.

First, you'll head towards the central Hardap Region and the town of Mariental. Mariental is home to a large number of Nama-speaking people, descendants of the early Khoi inhabitants of Namibia. The town provides essential services in the area, including fuel stations, grocery stores, and banks.

From Mariental, continue west past the southern edge of Namibia’s largest dam, Hardap Dam, and towards the small town of Maltahohe. From Maltahohe your journey traverses a gravel road that descends the spectacular Tsaris-Hoogte Pass. This is where you'll enter the Namib-Naukluft National Park, which encompasses part of the Namib Desert and the Naukluft mountain range. Stay overnight in or near Sesriem, a town known as being the main access point for visitors entering the park and visiting the nearby attractions of Sossusvlei.

Day 4: 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 5: Drive from Sesriem to Swakopmund

Swakopmund
German-influenced Swakopmund on the Atlantic Ocean

Today, you'll make the drive to Swakopmund (224 miles/360 km), a coastal city facing the Atlantic Ocean. 

As you depart the Namib Desert from Sesriem, continue north along the eastern boundary of Namib Naukluft Park. You'll then pass through the small settlement of Solitaire and onward, via the Gaub and Kuiseb canyons. Continue across the gravel plains of the Namib Desert towards the country's largest coastal town, Swakopmund. If there's time, you may wish to travel to Swakopmund via the erosional feature of Moon Valley and see Namibia’s ancient plant species, called the Welwitschia mirabilis, which is endemic to the Namib Desert.

Once you arrive in Swakopmund, take note of the German architecture. 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 colonial 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 good selection of restaurants and coffee shops that, no surprise, often include traditional German fare, cakes, and pastries.

Plan your trip to Namibia
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 6: Explore Swakopmund & Walvis Bay

Sand dunes in Walvis Bay
Sand dunes in 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 desert day-trip excursions to choose from, like quad biking or dune boarding.

Day 7: Drive from Swakopmund to Twyfelfontein

Dry landscapes in Twyfelfontein
Search for rock engravings in Twyfelfontein

This morning, it's best to make an early departure from Swakopmund as you make your way to Twyfelfontein (279 miles/449 km). You'll first head northbound through the National West Coast Recreational Area towards the small fishing town of Henties Bay. If you have time, make sure to stop in Cape Cross and say hello to the Cape fur seal colony here (this is also the place where the first European set foot on the coast of Namibia in 1486.)

Shortly after Henties Bay, continue east, crossing the gravel plains to the abandoned mining town of Uis. Continue north towards former Damaraland (now Erongo) in the Kunene Region. This route passes Brandberg Mountain, Namibia’s highest at 8,442 feet (2,573 m), renowned for the famous tribal artworks, including The White Lady rock painting.

You'll eventually reach the UNESCO World Heritage site of Twyfelfontein, where you can visit one of the richest areas of rock engravings and San (Bushmen) tribes’ paintings in Namibia, as well as the geological formations of the Burnt Mountain and the dolomite columns known as the Organ Pipes. Also of note in the area is the Doros Crater.

The flora and fauna of Damaraland include plants such as welwitschia, moringa, and a variety of Commiphora species, and animals such as the desert-adapted elephant, giraffe, springbok, oryx, and ostrich, which live in total harmony with the community and the communal farming activities of the Uibasen Twyfelfontein Conservancy.  While here, you can join a guided nature drive in the dry Aba Huab riverbed, marvel at the rich vegetation, and possibly see the desert-adapted elephant.

Day 8: Drive from Twyfelfontein to Opuwo

Rocky landscapes of the Kunene Region
Rocky landscapes of the Kunene Region

After breakfast, you'll make the drive north through the town of Kamanjab towards Opuwo, the capital of the Kunene Region in northwest Namibia (286 miles/460 km).

The Kunene Region, or Kaokoland, is situated in the northwestern corner of Namibia—bordered by Angola in the north, by Owamboland and the Etosha National Park in the east, Damaraland (now Erongo) in the south, and the Atlantic Ocean where Skeleton Coast Park forms part of Kaokoland to the west. The landscape varies drastically, from dry dolomite hills in the south to towering peaks with deep gorges and chasms in the central region. To the east, the sandy, flat plains of Owamboland reach into the Kunene Region.

Surrounded by low-lying hills, Opuwo, which means the end in Oshiherero, grew into a permanent settlement and administrative center for the region during the bush war prior to gaining independence. Opuwo’s name is indeed appropriate, as it is both the first and last place offering supplies, accommodations, and telecommunications in the region.

Day 9: Explore Opuwo

Himba tribe
Meet members of a Himba tribe

Today, you'll have a free day to explore Opuwo any way you'd like.

The area of Kaokoland contains 31,068 square miles between the Hoanib and the Kunene rivers. It is also home to a nomadic tribe called the Himba with a way of life that has remained unchanged for centuries. Members of the tribe can be seen wandering with their herds of goats and cattle from watering hole to watering hole. Clad only in a loincloth, the Himba paint their bodies with an ochre-red pigment that protects their skin from the sun.

You can participate in an excursion to see the Himba tribe, offered by your accommodation, or arrange your own local guide from the Kaoko Information Center.

Day 10: Drive from Opuwo to Etosha National Park

Zebras in Etosha National Park
Zebras in Etosha National Park

This morning, you'll depart Opuwo and make the drive to the renowned Etosha National Park near Okaukuejo (320 miles/515 km). Entrance into the Etosha National Park is via the southern Anderson Gate (Ombika Gate). If you leave early enough, you could arrive by midday, allowing for sufficient time in the afternoon to drive to some local watering holes to view game.

In terms of timing, keep in mind that the park and its resorts’ gates strictly open at sunrise and close at sunset. 

Days 11-12: Explore Etosha National Park

Look for giraffes and elephants (among others) in Etosha National Park
Look for giraffes and elephants (among others) in Etosha National Park

After breakfast, you'll have the entire day to spend in Etosha National Park. Before you set out on your adventure, consult with your guide and an animal sightings book to determine the current movement of animals in the area in order to optimize your game-viewing experience. Detailed maps of the park are also available at each resort curio shop and filling station.

Etosha National Park has over 114 mammal species, 350 bird species, and 21 types of vegetation. The most common plains game species encountered include Burchell’s zebra, springbok, black-faced impala, blue wildebeest, gemsbok (South African oryx), giraffe, and red hartebeest. The park also boasts healthy populations of lions, elephants, and black rhinos.

In the heart of the park is the Etosha pan, meaning place of dry water, an extensive flat depression of about 3,107 square feet (947 m). This great white expanse is a place of shimmering mirages; seeing large herds of game in this setting makes Etosha a unique experience in Africa.

Day 13: Drive from Etosha National Park to Okonjima Nature Reserve

Cheetahs in Okonjima Private Nature Reserve
Cheetahs in Okonjima Private Nature Reserve

After breakfast at your lodge outside of Etosha National Park, you'll make the drive south to the Okonjima Private Game Reserve (144 miles/232 km). This beautiful area is at the heart of Namibia and surrounded by the sandstone Omboroko Mountains. The landscape is home to an array of indigenous African wildlife and birds, which makes it the perfect place to take photos. 

Upon arrival at Okonjima, enjoy a relaxing lunch and then choose between guided activities in the game reserve offered by your camp.

Day 14: Drive from Okonjima to Windhoek - Depart Namibia

The historic railway station building in Okahandja
The historic railway station building in Okahandja

It's time to say goodbye to Namibia! Depending on the time of our flight, you might have time to participate in an early morning activity at the reserve before making the return trip to Windhoek (161.5 miles/259 km). 

The route passes through the small town of Okahandja, one of Namibia’s oldest established settlements and also the administrative center of the Herero people. In fact, many of the former Herero leaders are buried here and there's even an annual procession through town to their graves to commemorate those who died during the wars against the Nama and Germans. While here, consider a visit to the open-air woodcarving market and the Herero Grave Complex.

Finish the road trip at Windhoek's airport where you'll return the rental car and catch your departure flight. Safe travels!

Map

Map of Namibia Self-Drive Adventure - 14 Days
Map of Namibia Self-Drive Adventure - 14 Days