Experiencing Namibia by car is an epic adventure—and pretty much the only way to truly experience it. The country is vast and abandoned; while flying over the landscapes is also beautiful, part of the fun is taking in every different element. The crumbling, shifting gravel roads. The dry air pouring in from an open window. The thrill of spotting a zebra in the high grasses. The first sputtering spatters of an unexpected rainstorm. But it wouldn’t be a proper adventure if it wasn’t at least a little bit hazardous. And by hazardous, I’m referring to road hazards.
The biggest piece of advice I can give you if you’re planning a self-drive road trip through Namibia is to be familiar with cars. You’ll need that know-how to navigate the different road terrains and avoid tire troubles. Tire trouble can easily derail your itinerary; you’ll likely get at least one. But some proper precautions will definitely help!
Familiarize yourself with car maintenance before you go
If you’ve never changed a tire on your own, it might be worth watching a Youtube tutorial, just to get a sense of how it goes. Because a flat is pretty likely to happen.
Book a 4-Wheel Drive Vehicle
Our Toyota Fortuner felt like a tank when we pulled out of the Walvis Bay Airport parking lot. But an hour later, on dirt and gravel roads, we were thankful for the car’s bulk, height, and automated systems. We met another couple who were driving a Volkswagen Polo—they told us they’d already gotten two flat tires within three days of arrival. It’s worth it to get the larger vehicle for the rough roads.
Check your insurance
We rented our Fortuner from Budget/Avis, and had full coverage included in our rental cost. Make sure to check with your rental company to see what you should do in case of an emergency—when we got our flat, we found out that all we had to do was go to a garage and they’d invoice the cost of the new tire directly to the company. That kind of stuff is helpful to know ahead of any trouble.
Deflate your tires
If you go too fast on bad roads with full tires, you’re at high risk for blowing one out. We found 1.8 worked the best for the gravel roads, and 2.0 worked best for the paved roads. Ask at any gas station, and the attendant can do it for you.
Carry 3-4 liters of water in your car
Or at least one liter per person. It can get to be over 100°F, and you’re going to want to stay hydrated. We always kept snacks and toilet paper in the car too—there are places where you can easily drive 3-4 hours without hitting civilizations, so it’s good to have provisions.
Fill up at every gas station you pass
A general, but important rule of thumb. We stopped to fill up any time we were lower than 3/4 of a tank. You never know when you’ll see the next gas station., and trust me, you don’t want to get stranded in the Kalahari desert.
Always have eyes out for animals
Your rental car company will probably sternly warn you not to drive after dark. This is because zebras, oryx, warthogs, and other animals come out at dusk. They aren’t accustomed to seeing cars and have a tendency to run suddenly into the street. Take this seriously—and always have at least one person on the lookout for animals at any given time.
If you see a stopped car, check in
When we got our flat, we were luckily close enough to a major highway intersection that a few cars passed. The first two didn’t stop, the next three did, and all offered help. It’s a considerate thing to do in a country where, depending on where you are, you might see only four other cars on the road per day. Tim did a great job with our tire and we didn’t need any help, it was reassuring when someone stopped by to offer help or even some water.
After it happened to us, we made sure to stop and check in with anyone pulled over on the side. It led us to one of our favorite moments. We were driving back up to Swakopmund on our heaviest (and hottest) driving day and saw a donkey-driven cart pulled off on the side of the road. A Namibian man thumbed us over, and we stopped. He asked if we were driving past Maltahöhe and if we were if we could take his kids with us. “The donkeys are overheated,” he said. “And school starts tomorrow.” Behind him stood six little kids, one clutching a plastic bag of books and clothes. Maltahohe was a 20-minute drive for us, but easily another few hours with the heaving donkeys; we opened the doors and let the kids and their mother pile into the backseat.
Even though Namibia is unpopulated and abandoned, we felt safe the whole time we were driving, and everyone who stopped did so with positive intentions. Obviously, exercise judgment when and for whom you stop. But with a little auto expertise, common sense, and alert senses, there’s no reason you shouldn’t have the drive of a lifetime.
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