Renting a car in Namibia was the best thing we could do for our trip. Let’s face it: self-driving Namibia is the only good option to discover Namibia to the fullest. We rented a 4×4 to go camping and touring Namibia for over three weeks, experiencing the Namibia roads, some car trouble and the freedom of renting a car in Namibia. We were a bit nervous in advance about the road quality, safety, camping and expenses during a trip. But it turned out to be the most relaxed road trip we ever had!
We would love to help you out to experience the same during your Namibia trip. So we wrote an extensive guide on renting a car in Namibia, explaining everything you need to know about the road quality, car rentals, 4×4 driving in Namibia, safety on the road and so much more. Let’s start preparing your Namibia self-drive trip!
Why renting a car in Namibia?
You don’t think of Namibia as a road trip destination? Think again! A rental car is actually the best way to explore this African country. The only other alternative is an organized group tour, but we don’t like to travel with groups and stick to the group plans.
Namibia is large with big distances between destinations. The country is about 20x the size of our home country the Netherlands with only a small population. Did you know that Namibia is the least populated country in the world after Mongolia? So expect little public transport, long empty roads and just a few cities and villages. That’s why driving, besides an organized tour or expensive taxi, is usually the only way to reach the Namibia highlights.
Is driving in Namibia safe?
Absolutely! Of course, there are accidents in Namibia too and there is no absolute safety. But we didn’t feel unsafe at all. In fact, there are few traffic accidents in Namibia, as there is only little traffic. Most accidents don’t involve other cars, but are caused by speeding, unsafe driving or an animal collision. So be careful, keep your eyes on the roads and adjust your speed to the road condition.
We read a lot about road safety in Namibia in advance to prepare our trip. We also got many more safety tips from our rental company.
- Never drive in the dark, as there is absolutely no illumination, the roads can be of poor quality and many animals are on the move at night. Most rental companies won’t allow you to drive in the dark. You will not have insurance coverage if you do.
- Rental cars are sometimes the targets of thieves. Pay particular attention to the supermarket parking areas in the capital Windhoek. Tip: if you close your car with the remote control, check if the doors are really closed. It is possible to block the signal from a remote control and thieves often use that trick in Windhoek.
- As the drives are long and the country is sparsely populated, it can sometimes take a long time before you see any other traffic. So if your car happens to breakdown, it may take some time before a passer-by can help you. Be prepared for this.
- Make sure you know how to change a tire and learn the basics of the rental car. Your rental company can give you a quick tour of the car when picking it up.
- Buy a local SIM card at the airport, so can ask for help with car trouble. Unfortunately, the phone coverage isn’t that great around Namibia, so don’t rely on it. If you want to be able to reach someone anytime, you could rent a satellite phone with your car rental company.
- In your phonebook, save the phone numbers of your rental company.
- Make sure you always have enough water in your car. We always had at least two full 5-liter tanks with drinking water with us and usually much more.
- For your own peace of mind: most rental cars have a black box for your rental company to follow you. If you’re parked in a strange place for too long, they will come for help anyway. The company will also be notified automatically if you get into a car accident, so they can then call the emergency services to help you.
Renting a 2WD or 4×4 in Namibia?
An important question if you are going to rent a car in Arica: do you need a 4×4 to drive in Namibia? For most of the highlights in Namibia, you’ll be okay with a normal 2WD car. The main B-roads are asphalted and most other gravel roads are well maintained. We choose a 4×4 though and we would recommend you to do the same.
Tip: if you do opt for a 2WD, we recommend you to check out Discover Car Hire. They often have the best deals and it gives you a good indication of the prices for car rentals on your trip.
A 4×4 gives you the opportunity to travel everywhere you’d want to go in Namibia, even the more distant and more difficult to reach places. You don’t have to worry about road quality when planning your road trip. We could take some detours with better views because of our 4×4. Some highlights were much easier to visit. Or we came closer to the most beautiful places without hiking or using the paid shuttle services, like in the Sossusvlei, on the Brukkaros volcano or the viewpoints of the Fish River Canyon. And another big plus: a 4×4 perfectly fits a rooftop tent, the best way of camping in Namibia.
Read more: interested in camping in Namibia? Check out our camping in Namibia blog with practical tips.
What surprised us about our 4×4: it was actually a 2WD with a 4WD button. We didn’t use the 4×4 most of the times, but it took us even high up the Brukkaros volcano when we wanted to camp up there. You’ll go up slow though with a maximum speed of 30 km/h and you can’t use it for too long.
Another thing to know: most rental cars in Namibia are manual. You’ll have to pay extra for an automatic car.
Tips and prices for renting a 4×4 in Namibia
The most popular car for rental companies and locals in Namibia? The 4×4 Toyota Hilux. It is an indestructible all-terrain vehicle you will see all around the country. Or indestructible? That’s what the guys from Top Gear claim.
Almost every rental car is the same type of car. So there seems to be little difference between the cars when looking for one to rent. But don’t get fooled, as the difference is in the details. Important, for example, is whether you choose a single or double cab. A single cab only has a driver and a passenger seat, while a double cab also has a back seat. Such a back seat is of course essential if you travel with more than two people. Also because only a double cab can have two rooftop tents. But even with two people, a back seat can be very practical. We had a single cab with a very dusty back trunk and would have loved to have a clean and easily accessible seat in the back for our backpacks and some food and drinks for on the road.
Other important differences? Pay attention to the car’s trunk. Our was one big and dusty trunk space. Our backpack, camping equipment, spare tires and much more were stuffed in it all together. That is not very practical. An alternative is a practically organized trunk with extendable bins. We saw other travelers with those kind of cars and were a bit jealous. It does come with a price tag of course.
Other important aspects relevant to the price of your car?
- Is it high or low season? The price in the high season (winter, June-August) can be double to that during the low seasons (summer, December-February).
- How is insurance coverage? We opted for the most comprehensive option as we were warned of the bad roads in Namibia a lot. We didn’t need the insurance and spare tires.
- How many spare tires do you want to bring? The car tires are usually not co-insured, but we had the option to buy extra tires with our rental company and so we did. We heard about a friend using three tires in just her first week. We didn’t need any of them in the end.
- Year of construction of the car. The older, the cheaper. But also the more risk of problems with the car of course. The newer cars usually have a practically organised trunk as well.
- Any other extras in the equipment. You can pay for an electric cooler, GPS or satellite phone.
We paid about €1,400 for the rent of our car for exactly 3 weeks in January. That price included 2 hotel nights in Windhoek, full camping equipment, extended insurance and extra car tires.
When picking up the car, we had to join the car rental employee checking the car condition in detail. You’ll probably always do this, using a details form to check all car parts. It’s the best way to get a tour of the car and learn about all functions and parts. It’s the perfect moment to ask anything you’d like, like we did setting up the rooftop tent to make sure we knew how to do this when arriving at our first campsite.
Tip: your rental company probably has printed road maps of Namibia. Those are very useful if you don’t have internet reception – but download offline maps as well – but also useful when planning your route. The maps show exactly in which parks the name of the roads, what type it is (B, C, D, etc.) and where the gas stations are. There are two maps: one for the north and one for the south of Namibia.
Driving in Namibia on the left side
This was actually pretty easy for us. We were surprised how easily we adjusted to driving on the left and using the manual gear with our left hand. We actually had to get used to driving on the right lane back home in the Netherlands after our Namibia trip.
The only problem that kept coming back? The window wipers! The signal lights, lights and window wipers were also mirrored. We just kept using the window wipers when trying to use the signal lights. Oops!
How are the Namibia roads?
Surprisingly good! The tagging system for the Namibia roads make it fairly easy to pick the roads of good quality for your trip. The tags don’t just indicate what the main roads are, but moreover the quality of the road you can expect.
- B-Roads: these are the main motorways of Namibia. These asphalt roads are always of top quality. With a maximum speed of 120 km/h, these roads are the best option to get to your destination quickly.
- C-Roads: this is where the asphalt road fun stops, but these gravel roads are perfectly fine as well. The maximum speed is 100 km/h. You will probably drive these roads most of your time in Namibia.
- D-Roads: these are the more narrow gravel roads. It has the same speed limit of 100 km/h. Strangely: some D-roads are actually in better condition than some C-roads, so you might not really experience any difference between the two.
- E-Roads: prepare for gravel roads with many holes and stones. Most car rental companies in Namibia don’t allow you to drive E-roads (or even worse roads), so make sure to stay away from them.
Don’t be fooled by the speed limits though and plan in enough time to drive from one destination to another. You’ll often drive slower. Your rental company probably has it’s own speed limits for extra safety. If you don’t follow their rules, you’ll probably don’t have insurance cover. Our rental company wouldn’t allow us to drive any faster than 90 km/h on any gravel roads. A car alarm would go off any time we would pass this speed limit. A car tracker would also pass this information to our rental company. We didn’t mind driving slow though and soak in the beautiful views. It was only annoying whenever a road was recently upgraded, but the tracker wasn’t updated yet and forced us to drive extremely slow.
The road quality isn’t just important to adjust your speed. You should adjust your tire pressure too! For bad roads, you lower your tire pressure. For example when leaving the B-roads for gravel roads or when driving the sand roads in the Sossusvlei with your 4×4. You’ll probably have a pump in your rental car to do this. You can also lower the tire pressure at a gas station and get some assistance.
In fact, we rather warn you about the good quality of the roads. They are long, straight and flat. This makes it too easy to lose your attention and speed. Always stay attentive, as there can be a sudden hole in the road or a springbok on your road anytime. Or perhaps you haven’t seen a car the whole day and you’re driving comfortably in the center of the road, only to suddenly meet another car on top of a small hill, also in the center of the road. Always keep your eyes on the road when driving in Namibia.
Read more: the most beautiful routes in Namibia? We wrote this blog about the most beautiful roads for your road trip!
What to do when having car trouble in Namibia?
Car trouble seems to be inevitable during a road trip in Namibia. We heard stories about at least one flat tire per travel week. We made sure to read in about all possible car issues and practiced exchanging a car tire of a Toyota Hilux with the rental company. But we never used any of our new skills. We returned all our extra tires and we were surprised by the road quality.
So didn’t we have any car trouble at all? Well we did! And was it fixed quickly? Nope! We were the lucky owners of an off-road car with a broken car battery. The battery simply died. We first noticed the problem in Torra Bay. Yes, that northernmost tip of the Skeleton Coast. Where hardly anybody ever comes. Luckily, after an hour, the car spontaneously started again. But when stopping at a shipwreck at the coast, we weren’t this lucky again. We couldn’t have picked a more dramatic location to strand in Namibia.
Of course we hadn’t seen any other traffic all day. And of course we had no phone reception here despite that local SIM card. But we were well prepared. It was too hot – afternoon, summer – to walk for hours to the nearest spot on the map. But we had lots of water with us, our camping gear was attached to the roof and we also had enough food in the trunk. We decided to wait that day to see if someone would pass by to help us. Otherwise, we would start walking the next morning right after sunrise.
But we got lucky! After 1,5 hours of waiting, a car drove by and stopped to help us out. Our hero even managed to start our car with jumber cables. Not for long unfortunately, because during the ride to the nearest garage the car died a few more times and the local helped us out again and again. We made it to the garage and they solved the problem within a minute by simply replacing the battery with a new one. The bill was sent directly to the rental company.
We already mentioned some of our car trouble tips. Learn to swap a tire and get to know the car, arrange a local SIM card or even a satellite phone and bring enough water. Always bring enough water! And above all: don’t stress. We didn’t find it a big disaster to spend the night on the Skeleton Coast if necessary and decided to think of it as a cool adventure. We knew eventually someone would drive by or we didn’t mind the idea of hiking along the coast to another spot. We knew we’d be okay.
And if you don’t like all of this stress: you could pay for a newer car with less chance of these kind of issues. To save money we chose a somewhat older type. We knew that this could happen and it was okay for us
Tip: fuel up as much as you can
It’s good to know most cars have two fuel tanks. We’ll stress it once more: Namibia is a vast and sparsely populated country. So you won’t pass a gas station every hour. We had a tank capacity of 140 liters in total: one 80 liters-tank and one 60 liters.
There are enough gas stations, so you don’t have to fuel up each time you see one. You’ll tank capacity will bring you much further than that. We decided to stop at the nearest gas station each time our first tank ran empty and the car switched to the second one. How did we know this was happening? It was the moment the meter in the dashboard would start moving; it won’t move when using the first tank.
All gas stations offer more services than just gas. You can also adjust your tire pressure and have other services run. The prices of fuel are the same everywhere. We even read that prices are state issued.
We already gave the tip to bring paper road maps in your car. Finding gas stations is very easy with those maps, as it shows all of them around Namibia. The maps can fool you a bit. Sometimes you think you spot a small village, but it’s actually just a gas station with perhaps a campsite or lodge. Solitaire and Betta are good examples of such places. In an empty country like Namibia, those spots are already worth mentioning on a map.
Why we loved our self-driving in Namibia
We gave you tons of practical tips about car trouble, road safety, gas stations and more. What you have to think about, where to worry about and what not. But let’s keep in mind the most important: the freedom of a 4×4 with a roof tent!
Even when our battery died in the middle of nowhere, we weren’t worried at all. We had our rooftop tent to spend the night there. A rental car gives you the option to go just anyway and not deal with any group tour planning. We could make stops and detours whenever we wanted. Our 4×4 brought us to places we would have never visited with a group tour or public transport.
Didn’t we miss the comfort of lodges and real beds while camping? Not a single moment. Actually, the lodges of the NWR were on sale because of the low season and were sometimes even cheaper than camping spots. We tried a lodge for one evening, but were missing our car and tent. We never did that anywhere in Namibia, not even when a free room was offered to us in Swakpomund.
Extra (packing) tips when self-driving Namibia
- Bring a car plug to charge your phone and maybe other electronics in the car.
- Music, a podcast or an audiobook in the car can make your road trip extra fun. But do check in advance what type of car radio is in your rental car. We brought audio cables, but our car was even too old for that. Eventually we bought a cheap music box at a supermarket.
- Don’t forget to buy a SIM card at the airport. And if you’d like to have phone reception anywhere, rent a satellite phone with your car.
- Use the free road maps (one for the north, one for the south). It’s convenient to always have the road numbers with you to see what type of road it is (B, C, D or even E).
- Download offline maps on your phone in advance at home or anywhere on WiFi. We used the offline maps Google Maps and maps.me. Be aware that maps.me is not really designed to be used on motorways and therefore not the best navigation for your road trip. It is the best tool for hiking though.
- Driving in Namibia on the gravel and sand roads can get dusty. Especially if you have a large truck with your stuff, keep in mind they’ll all be covered with dust and sand after each drive. We were told to open the front window of the trunk, so the one at the driver’s seat.
- The road signs are usually in English, so you don’t have to learn Afrikaans to get around.
- Make sure you have a first aid kit in your car.
- Buy multiple 5 litre bottles of water at one of your first super market stops. Tap water in Namibia is drinkable, so you can just refill it anywhere. This way you’ll always have enough water in your car.