Self-drive safari in Africa

Road trip in Africa: How to take a self-drive safari

by Larissa

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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Sylvia July 26, 2013 at 9:57 am

Those pics are amazing. What type of camera did you use?

Jenn July 27, 2013 at 5:41 pm

What great tips! I’ve always wanted to go on a safari too, but I hate group tours also. I had no idea that driving yourself was even an option! It sounds absolutely incredible. I’m not sure I would ever leave. Great, great tips, and glad you all had a great time too! Thanks for sharing!

Larissa August 11, 2013 at 6:48 pm

Believe it or not, it was actually a “point and shoot”.

Larissa August 11, 2013 at 6:51 pm

Yes, we were surprised to learn about self-driving too. Fortunately we met a couple earlier in the year on our RTW journey who had been to Namibia and recommended it. That piqued our interest, and the more we learned, the more we liked. So now we’re passing that tip along. . . 🙂

Val-This Way To Paradise August 11, 2013 at 6:53 pm

Great idea instead of getting caught up with all of the other tourists!! I LOVE the picture of the giraffe!

Larissa August 11, 2013 at 6:58 pm

I could have watched that giraffe all day. . . mother nature is better than TV! 🙂

wanderingeducators August 12, 2013 at 12:23 pm

I want to go!!!

Kate August 13, 2013 at 8:26 pm

I’d never even thought of a self drive safari as an option! I am definitely getting more interested in Africa as a travel destination.

Larissa August 14, 2013 at 1:57 am

And I want to go BACK!!!

Larissa August 14, 2013 at 1:58 am

Going at your own pace makes all the difference, Kate 🙂

Marina K. Villatoro August 14, 2013 at 1:58 pm

How amazing is this trip! Wow, Africa for us is still a pipedream. Way too many things to see on this side of the world 🙂

Terry at Overnight New York August 15, 2013 at 3:13 pm

Love that giraffe! Also love the idea of an exotic country the size of Texas with ten percent of the population.

Mary @ Green Global Travel August 18, 2013 at 11:09 am

Namibia sounds like our kind of place- lots of wildlife and off-the-beaten path. We’ll need to add it to our Africa dream trip. Love the picture of the giraffe at the watering hole.

Larissa August 18, 2013 at 7:30 pm

Anyone who loves to travel as much as you will get there eventually!

Larissa August 18, 2013 at 7:31 pm

Definitely a lot of room to breathe in Namibia!

Larissa August 18, 2013 at 7:32 pm

I think you guys would really like it, Mary. Especially the ability to explore at your own pace.

Dale August 19, 2013 at 4:59 am

I don’t know why but I’d never really considered a self-driven safari as a possibility, maybe because seeing wildlife out in the open in my little spa town that I used to call home was an impossibility.

Now all I need to do is convince Franca that this is a great idea for us to do too as she’s the only one of us that drives (don’t giggle!).

Gabi (The Nomadic Family) August 25, 2013 at 7:50 am

I love the sixth picture the most.

Noel | Stories On Travel September 23, 2013 at 11:21 am

With all the wildlife in Africa, driving on your own seems impossible or too dangerous. But now your adventure driving around and exploring Africa shows us that it can be done safely. Thanks Larissa for the adventure and info. By the way, your photos are fantastic.

Sand In my Suitcase November 23, 2013 at 4:22 pm

Now this looks like an interesting way to go on safari! We recently returned from safari in South Africa and Zambia (which we loved). Now we hanker to return to Africa – it gets under your skin. We’ll put Namibia on our list :-).

Michael November 23, 2013 at 4:59 pm

When you head back to Africa Namibia is a great country for a road trip.

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