One of the biggest attractions of Namibia is the Etosha National Park. For many travelers, it is even the main reason to visit the country. It’s different from other national parks in Africa, as you don’t need a guide but can visit the park on a self-drive safari with your own (rental) car! The park is almost half the size of our home country the Netherlands, so you can imagine that there is an endless amount of wildlife. We spent three days exploring the park and can therefore give you now the best tips for visiting the Etosha National Park in Namibia.
Read more: camping in Etosha and the diary of our 4 day self-drive safari.
25 tips for visiting Etosha National Park in Namibia
#1 Rent a car for your self-drive safari
Etosha is designed for a self-drive safari, so make full use of it. Don’t join a group tour, but rent a car in Windhoek to explore the park yourself. We wrote an extensive blog about everything you need to know about renting a car in Namibia and driving in Namibia.
#2 Allow enough time for your safari.
Etosha National Park in Namibia is very large, so this is not a park to explore during a day trip. Take at least two, but preferably three days to explore.
#3 There is no best time to visit Etosha National Park.
All travel guides will recommend the Namibian winter as the perfect travel time for the park, so from April to November. As this is outside the rainy season, the waterholes attract many drinking animals and without the summer heat they are much more active. This makes it easier to spot wildlife. But we visited Etosha in summer and spotted many animals. Even better: tt then is maternity time in Etosha, so there were baby giraffes, elephants, lions and much more to see!
#4 Book accommodation inside Etosha.
If you want to visit the park as early as possible in the morning and want to be able to spot animals from your accommodation in the evening, we recommend you to book your accommodation in Etosha National Park. The Etosha Camps offer both lodges and camping spots, so you could choose either one.
#5 Book your Etosha accommodation in advance.
Etosha is very popular among travelers and so are the camping spots and lodges in the Etosha camps, so make sure to book your place to sleep (well) in advance. But this only applies to the high season and you’ll be perfectly fine without a booking in the low season. We traveled to Etosha in the low season (January, the Namibian summer) and it was very quiet around the camps then. So when our booking turned out to be on the wrong date – oops! – it was no problem fortunately.
#6 Go camping in Etosha and skip the more expensive lodges.
The lodges in the Etosha camps are even more expensive than in other places in Namibia. So camping is the way to go if you’re on a tight travel budget for Namibia. Or if you prefer a more adventurous safari trip like we did!
Read more: everything you need to know about camping in Etosha.
#7 Bring your own food for your home-cooked meals
Bring enough food with you if you plan to cook your own meals. The shops at the Etosha camps aren’t very well equipped and mainly sell souvenirs and drinks. If you want to cook, we advise you to fully load your mini-fridge at a supermarket outside the park for the next days.
#8 Read the rules about meat and eggs.
In order to protect the animals inside and outside the park, it is not allowed to bring meat, eggs and other animal products out of the park (but not in). Check the official Etosha site in advance for the current rules in detail.
#9 Do not bring any plastic bags.
To protect the Etosha park, plastic bags are absolutely forbidden, we were told. We had (garbage) bags in our car – open and exposed – but received no comments about this at the parking entrance.
#10 A 4×4 in Etosha is useful, but not essential.
We often read that a 4×4 is a must-have in Etosha, but we have never used the 4WD function of our rental car. A good 2WD would also be fine for the park. Yes, the gravel roads are sometimes in bad shape. The maximum speed in the park is 60 km/h and in the camps 20 km/h. On the bad roads, you just drive a bit slower, even if you drive a 4×4.
#11 Download offline navigation as there is no internet coverage.
We had bought a SIM card at the airport, but it was of no use in Etosha. The park had no coverage, unfortunately. In the camps, Wi-Fi is available on some spots, but you’ll have to pay for it. So besides that, you will not have internet in the park. So make sure you have offline maps on your phone before you drive to the park. We found not just Google Maps, but especially Maps.Me very useful.
#12 The Etosha camps are close together, so spend the days driving slowly past all water holes to the next camp.
The best way to explore the park is to drive slowly from one camp to the next one. We stayed at the Namutoni, Halali and Okaukuejo camps and traveled through the park from one camp to the next. Halali is only a 75-kilometer drive from Namutoni. Okaukuejo is 56 km from Halali and 115 km from Namutoni. These are easy distances to cover, even at a slow pace. We took some detours to visit the waterholes where many animals can be found during the day.
#13 Make sure you have everything with you in the car, because outside the camps you are not allowed to leave the car.
It is forbidden to leave your car in Etosha. Not that you would want that in a park with lions and elephants, I guess. Just make sure that you have everything for your safari with you in the car, so you don’t have to go get it from the trunk.
#14 Visit the Etosha salt pan where.
Besides the camps in the park, there are a small number of spots where you can get out of your car to stretch your legs or (not recommended) visit the toilet. The best spot? The one at the Etosha pan! The vast salt plain with a clear blue sky above it is breathtakingly beautiful.
#15 Start your safari as early as possible.
Many predators hunt at night and are still active in the early morning when it’s still cool.
#16 Keep an eye on the other cars
The best tip for spotting game: keep an eye on the other cars and especially those from the park guides. Do you spot a lot of cars somewhere? There is a good chance that you can see some rare animals there! You can also join game drives and the guides on these tours will be much better than you spotting animals. So whenever you notice one of those guided tours stopping somewhere, you know for sure the guide has spotted something to see there.
#17 Look under the trees.
In the middle of the day, many animals lie down to rest under the cool trees. They are more difficult to spot there in the shades, so make sure to look close. We twice saw a male lion and once two elephants hiding under a tree.
#18 Bring a (picture) book with all animals.
We obviously were able to see the difference between a lion and an elephant, but all the different antelopes in the park? We really needed a guide book for that. After a few days in Etosha, we could actually spot the differences between most animals based on the stripes on their fur, the size of their horns, etc.
#19 Check the ‘animal sightings book’ at the camp receptions.
Are you looking for a specific species or have you just spotted a lion? At the reception of each Etosha camp, is a book in which visitors write down where they have recently seen a specific animal.
#20 Head to the water holes.
Summer or winter, the water holes are always popular with animals for drinking. We usually drove along almost all water holes between the camps to have the best chance of spotting animals. And visited the water holes at the camps during the evening as well.
#21 Stay at Okaukuejo main camp and visit the water hole.
One of the most popular water holes is the one next to the Okaukuejo camp. It is known for its elephants and rhinos sightings. We saw them both during our overnight stay there around sunset. It was absolutely magical.
#22 Bring binoculars.
Animals are sometimes hard to spot from a distance, especially when seeking coverage in the shades of a tree or bush. Or it’s hard to see what type of gazelle is running in the far distance. Bring binoculars to make your safari even more fun.
#23 Bring a good camera.
You’ll take many, many photos in Etosha for sure. Your phone will not be sufficient here, so make sure you have a good camera with you. Preferably one with a good zoom, but we also succeeded in getting good photos without one and just using our regular camera lens.
#24 Also make sure your bring enough camera memory.
Did I already mention that you’ll want to take a lot of photos?
#25 In the summer, cool off in the swimming pools at the camps in the afternoon.
You will be happy in the warm summer months to cool off in the afternoon. Fortunately, all park camps have a cold swimming pool. Highly recommended for a safari break! The animals are less active in the afternoon heat anyway, so this is the perfect moment to take a break and relax at the pool.