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Is it possible to travel on your own in Africa?  I really wanted to go on a safari, but Michael’s not too big on nature stuff and neither of us like group tours.  The challenge was on: I needed to find a way for us to take a road trip, seeing Africa on a self-drive safari.

Many of the African countries popular for viewing wild game, such Kenya and Tanzania, caution against moving about the country on your own due to safety concerns. The result is group safaris. Usually bulky, uncomfortable overland vehicles that leave at the crack of dawn, cramming as much as possible into the day.  (Did I mention we really don’t like to get up early?)

Self-drive safari in Africa

Sleeping in is always an option on your own self-drive safari. We enjoyed a late breakfast at Ai Aiba Rockpainting Lodge after our solitary stroll amid the rock art.

To my delight I learned about Namibia. The 22-year-old nation on the southwest coast of Africa has developed a reputation as a safe spot for drive-yourself vacations. It offers an abundance of wild animals, a sterling national park system, and spectacular scenery.  It’s big and sparsely populated, larger than Texas with only ten percent of the people.

Self-drive safari in Africa

Not much traffic in sparsely populated Namibia.

Visitors typically begin in the capital city of Windhoek, flying in via Johannesburg or directly from Frankfurt, Germany on Air Namibia. Begin your road trip right at the airport. Pick up a rental car; almost all are 4-wheel drive SUVs or pick-ups. Namibia boasts excellent roads, but the well-marked secondary routes are gravel and the extra control and high clearance come in handy.

Self-drive safari in Africa

Driving on gravel roads or the signature red sands at Sossusvlei makes renting a 4-wheel drive vehicle a must in Namibia.

Namibia has stayed away from large-scale tourism. Most accommodation is of the “boutique” variety.  Whether lodges, tent camps or bed & breakfasts, all are perfect for a romantic stay. (Even the tent camps: we found one with a queen-sized bed and air-conditioning!) During our 3-week self-drive safari we stayed in a few of each. Our criterion of a double with en-suite was easy to find in all price ranges. We opted for 3-4 star quality, which cost us anywhere from $75/night with breakfast to about $250/night per couple, including breakfast and dinner. Prices were higher at more remote locations.

Self-drive safari in Africa

Our air-conditioned tent at Etosha Village-complete with queen-sized bed and open air shower-just outside of Etosha National Park.

The best part was that the entire trip was at our own pace. Self-drive also meant self-scheduling. We rose when we wanted and could spend as much time as we liked just absorbing Africa. During a pre-breakfast hike (which for us was 8:30) we searched for 500-year-old rock paintings of giraffes, and then turned to see a pack of live giraffes ambling by, oblivious to their portraits set in stone. Driving among the signature red dunes at Sossusvlei, we simply pulled to the side of the road for an impromptu picnic when the mood struck.

But nothing can compare to a drive all by yourself through the vast Etosha National Park to view wild game. Imagine rounding a bend on a dusty road to find a water hole with 30 elephants cavorting or another with a giraffe placidly taking refreshing sip, the two of you as the only observers.  Nature has invited you to a private showing, and it’s truly a “pinch me” moment. Even “I’m not a nature boy” was impressed.

Self-drive safari in Africa

It’s easy to get a great photo when you’re the only one around!

If you made it this far you might want to read how we avoided getting eaten by a lion in Namibia.

Planning:  There are several companies that can help you plan your self-drive holiday, however we chose to book our own. The Namibia Tourism Board publishes a comprehensive 200-page visitor’s guide that reviews sights, suggested itineraries, travel companies and lodging options. 

Getting There:  The capital city of Windhoek, which is just about in the geographic center of the country, is a great place to begin and end your safari. Most flights are routed through Johannesburg, however Air Namibia also offers one direct flight daily from Frankfurt, Germany.

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