Before you get really excited about travelling around Namibia by train, let me lower your expectations now. The train system is primarily designed for shipping freight and agricultural products. They travel VERY slowly and don’t go to many places. You may need more than one large book to read. Notably they do go to Swakopmund, Walvis Bay, and Tsumeb. Unless you have a lot of time you may want to hire a car or take a bus instead. We are talking days (plural) - not hours.
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The ticket office and departure/arrival for Intercape buses to Cape Town (every day 10 am), Johannesburg, Livingstone (friday and monday 15 pm), Swapokmund (most days at 9am) and Oshikango (Angola border) is now at Bahnhof street, next to the train station.
The departure/arrival for Monnakgotla Transport for buses to Gaborone, Botswana is also at Bahnhof street Independence (friday and sunday 7 am). For reservation call 0812135138 morning only.
The former bus station is at the moment a constructionsite.
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Beware of wildlife and livestock on the road
Forget the charming whimsy of this warning sign ... this is a serious risk if you're self-driving in Namibia (or in virtually all of Africa for that matter).
The risks are threefold: people, livestock and wildlife. Fortunately Namibia is very sparsely populated and villages tend not to be located right on the road (with the exception of the more densely populated Owamboland in the north, which is away from the main tourist centres) so your major risks are livestock and wildlife.
Let's deal with livestock first and step through the hierarchy of traffic cluenessness from the bottom up. By far and away the most random and stupid livestock you are likely to encounter are sheep: my experience is that sheep have suicidal tendencies, and if given a choice, will almost invariably put themselves into the situation that poses greatest danger to its welfare! Fortunately there aren't too many sheep in Namibia ...
One step up from sheep are cows and donkeys have precious little road sense, but tend to be a little slower moving and slightly more predictable in their movements (admittedly this is fairly faint praise). There are lots of donkeys in Namibia and they love to stand in the middle of roads.
Despite the fact that they wander across roads with gay abandon, goats are generally nimble and canny, and in 25 years of driving in Africa, I have never come anywhere near to running over a goat or known anyone who has (although I have seen many accidents caused by people swerving to avoid one). My personal feeling is that goats are well able to look after themselves, and so you’re much more likely to do greater damage to yourself, your vehicle and other bystanders by trying to avoid them. Goats are by far the most numerous domestic animals in Namibia.
Next, onto wildlife (probably one of the reasons you decided to come to Namibia in the first place). One of the many charms of travelling in Namibia is that you will encounter all sorts of wildlife along the roads, even outside of the established game parks, much of it quite large.
By far the most dangerous times to travel are dawn and dusk (driving after dark is downright stupid, so I'm not even going to elaborate on that). The animals are generally more active in the cooler hours, and also become dazed and bemused by headlights, which mess with their distance judgement. So if you decide to travel after dark - which I would strongly recommend you don't - the chances of a kudu - which is about the size of a small cow - misjudging your proximity and trying to leap over your bonnet (and defaulting to join you in the front seat via the windscreen) are very real and potentially catastrophic. This is not just an urban legend and happens more regularly than you might think.
By the way, your caution shouldn't just be restricted to the large herbivores - a collision with a substantial tortoise (hard to make out on a dirt road) could cause substantial damage to you, your car and him, and I wouldn't recommend hitting large birds either.
Thus, because of the risk of colliding with pedestrians/livestock/wildlife on unlit roads after dark, I would strongly advise that you simply don’t even consider venturing out on the roads after sundown and exercise extra caution in the early morning and late afternoon.
Finding good detailed maps of Namibia
(work in progress)
If you're planning a trip to Namibia (or elsewhere in Africa) - especially one that will take you off the well beaten tourist track - it can often be difficult to get your hands on detailed and recent maps.
This is why Maps 4 Africa is such a splendid resource. It stocks a terrific range of maps that both my husband and I raid regularly for both business and personal travel purposes, and I was interested to discover that the owner does the majority of his trade via his Maps 4 Africa website.
For those travelling into Southern Africa from overseas, Johannesburg is often their port of arrival because stiff competition on this route usually results in the keenest fares. If so, then I'd recommend stopping over for a couple of days if your schedule allows, in which case, another option is to drop into shop at 354 Jan Smuts Avenue in Craighall (cnr Rothesay Avenue).
Leon is a delightful and knowlegeable chap for whom nothing is too much trouble. In addition to his splendid map resources, he also stocks a nice range of travel guides. It will hardly come as news that we are considered among his favourite (and more eccentric) customers, and his standard welcome to us as we step through the door is a wry, twinkly smile and a amused, "Where to now?"
Cheap and Safe car service (driver)
On our Namibian honeymoon we found a car service that was very reasonably priced and had an excellent driver named Se-dick. He was always on time or early to pick us up, and we would text him on short notice to take us to lunch etc. One time our flight arrived into Eros airport 20 mins early and he was there because he had called to check our flight status. He also gave us a great lunch place reco when our first pick was closed. Only 60 NAD from Eros to downtown hotels, and 280 NAD from hotels to Windoek International. To call or text him from a local sim dial 0812551301, or from an international sim use the prefix you would call Namibia with from home then country code 264 then drop the 0 in his #. For a North American phone that would be 011264812551301. I only used texts with him... He didn't seem to ever talk on his phone while driving us so maybe he doesn't as a rule. Very friendly and professional, so we're happy to give him a good review.
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An international airport in the middle of nowhere
In the Olden Days, when I first started visiting Windhoek, the flights landed at the charmingly named Eros airport, just on the edge of the CBD. It could be a little hair raising on the final approach - particularly if there was a thunderstorm brewing - and it was only a matter of time before a new airport was established to cater for the heavier traffic and larger planes.
Windhoek's Hosea Khutako international airport is located 45km east of the city. This means that you need to allow yourself at least 45 minutes to get there from Windhoek (more in rush hour), which people often overlook. The airport is small but fairly modern and offers all the basic amenities that you are likely to need (including all the usual car hire companies).
For those who are not hiring a car, there are a number of shuttle services available, although these can be expensive, especially if you are travelling by yourself. See the airport website below for more information on these (and other information on the airport itself).
This photo is taken from the runway - talk about a whole lot of nothingness!
What's the easiest way to get to Namibia?
(work in progress)
Namibia is a long way from anywhere, and doesn't receive mass tourism, so it isn't necessarily the easiest or cheapest place to get to. Nevertheless, some options are quicker and easier than others, so here are a few ideas on how to secure a reasonable and flexible fare.
From Europe, the only direct flights are from Frankfurt on Air Namibia - not surprising as Namibia was a former German colony (South West Africa) and Germans still comprise the largest single group of tourists. However, because of the lack of competition on this route, this can be an expensive option (but check it anyway when you start your research in case there is a special on offer).
Many tourists find that the easiest way is to fly in via Johannesburg, as this is a heavily trafficked route on which there is considerable competition between carriers. From Jo'burg, it's only a two hour flight to Windhoek - the main port of entry for most tourists to Namibia. Air Namibia, SA Express (the regional service operated by SAA) and the low cost carrier Kulula (in partnership with British Airways) fly the Jo'burg - Windhoek route, so there are several flights a day and some welcome competition to drive down the price.
It's also possible to fly in to Windhoek via Cape Town - which also takes about two hours - although there are fewer flights (and thus, less flexibility) on this route.
One other option that you may not have considered is to fly into Walvis Bay, which is 30 minutes drive south of Swakopmund on the Atlantic coast. There are a couple of flights from Johannesburg a day operated by Air Namibia and SA Express. If you are hiring a car, then it might well be worth investigating the possibility of flying into Windhoek and out of Walvis (or vice versa) to save yourself the extra driving time and additional hire car and fuel costs involved in driving a circular route.
Some nationalities require a tourist visa for Namibia, but there is a long list of exceptions (see the website below) including tourists from the UK, USA and Germany and neighbouring states, who do not require a visa.
Hiring the right vehicle to explore Namibia
If you want to explore Namibia in a flexible manner, then there's no doubt that hiring a car is the way to go ... and once you've got over your nervousness at the prospect of Driving In Africa (and on the left hand side of the road), you'll find it surprisingly easy, as Namibia has an unexpectedly good road network.
So, a few pointers to consider if you think that this option is for you.
Firstly, most of the major car hire companies operate in Namibia (sometimes in partnership with local companies), as well as a range of smaller local service providers. It's not possible to generalise about who offers the best deals, as this changes from day to day, so I would suggest that you search online for the best offer. However, when comparing offers, be sure to compare 'apples with apples' - similar vehicles and levels of insurance being the most obvious.
Don't even consider anything that doesn't offer you unlimited mileage (which, fortunately, is a standard offering from most companies). Bear in mind that Namibia is a vast country, and even if you're flying into Windhoek (the major port of entry) on business, consider that the airport is 45km out of town, so just travelling to and from the airport will consume nearly half of a 'free' 200km allocation. There is no better way to spoil a road trip than to agonise over whether an enticing detour is really worth the hefty additional mileage charges ...
I would always advise registering two drivers when you hire the car: this is inexpensive, and allows you to share the driving, as well as providing a fallback solution if (God forbid) something happens to the main driver - such as spraining an ankle, for example.
Secondly, air conditioning is also non-negotiable, particularly if you're visiting in summer. Even in winter, it's not advisable to travel with your windows open on dirt roads because of the dust, so in any season, bargain on using the aircon. Daytime in Namibia can get incredibly hot, even in the winter months, and if you don't have aircon, then you're going to struggle and possibly risk dehydration. Just keep an eye on the fuel gauge, as obviously using the aircon will reduce the mileage you'll get on a tank of fuel, especially if you're driving on dirt roads.
Four wheel drive (4WD) vehicles are useful in terms of negotiating poor road conditions, providing clearance on dirt (unsealed) roads and adding height for game viewing, but these are much more expensive than ordinary 2WD and much heavier on fuel. So consider your proposed itinerary carefully and ask yourself whether 4WD is really essential or just desirable (in which case, you can make an informed decision on whether you feel the cost differential is justified).
If you do bite the bullet and decide that 4WD is for you, then make sure you know how to operate a vehicle in 4WD mode - a bewildering number of people who hire them (and even some that actually own one) don't, and the time to be experimenting with this is not when you find yourself stuck in the middle of nowhere on a track with no through traffic from which to seek assistance! Similarly bear in mind that is not advisable to travel into remote vehicles as a single vehicle: people who are experienced off road drivers travel sensibly travel in convoys of at least two vehicles, and I would caution anyone planning to visit locations such as the Skeleton Coast and the Kaokoveld to do likewise.
If you're going to be doing guided tours in the game parks, then chances are that the service provider will have their own game viewing vehicle anyway, so you need to work out what's practical and cost effective getting to and from the reserves. My personal feeling is that unless you're not planning to do seriously off the beaten track destinations, then you'll be fine with a 2WD vehicle that has high ground clearance. A good compromise is what is known as a 2WD 'bakkie' in Southern Africa (aka a 'pick up truck ' in North America and a 'ute' in Oz).
Lastly, comprehensive insurance cover is NON NEGOTIABLE – chances are that if you are involved in an incident that damages your vehicle, its going to involve major cost to put right. By way of example, I once got caught in a sandstorm between Luederitz and Aus (a not uncommon occurrence) which stripped the paintwork on the underside of the vehicle down to bare metal, and another sandstorm on the same section of road (but with a different vehicle) sandblasted the windscreen to the point where it was like the frosted glass used for bathroom windows. Compared to the cost of undertaking that sort of repair, the insurance premiums are well worth it!!!
Take advantage of Namibia's excellent roads
Namibia has an excellent road network, for somewhat unexpected reasons. Namibia was governed by South Africa (some would say 'occupied') between the end of World War II and independence in 1994 and for the latter part of that period, there was a full blown war along the Angolan border. The then South African Defence Force needed to be able to mobilise men and equipment quickly, and so established a well engineered and very efficient road network in what is, after all, an exceedingly sparsely populated country that wouldn't really seem to warrant it. Anyway, enough of the historical context - the upshot of this is that the roads were excellent on independence, and have been encouragingly well maintained since then.
B roads are the main highways, and are well constructed tar roads, with some bypasses and dual carriageways in the vicinity of large towns. C roads are also usually of a high standard, and although usually unsurfaced, they are kept well graded. D roads are always dirt roads and are a bit of a mixed bag, especially after rain - sometimes they can be unexpectedly good, and sometimes they are unspeakable, so perhaps ask for up-to-date information from your hotel/lodge or a petrol station before venturing on these roads, especially if you don't have four wheel drive (4WD).
Road signage is fine, but (like South Africa) Namibia has an annoying tendency to signpost the next little cattle post along the route rather than the final destination. For this reason, I find it much more sensible to rely on the road numbering: just make sure that you pick up a good road map (usually tourist information has reasonable maps available free of charge and there are several excellent commercial maps available). If you have a GPS, then it should be possible to download maps of Namibia, but just exercise some common sense and don't treat the GPS directions as 'gospel' - I would personally rather recommend using a combination of GPS and maps, but then I'm a Luddite and therefore not a GPS convert.
Taxi in Windhoek
We just recently got back from a holiday to Namibia. It's generally advisable NOT to walk around in Windhoek unless you look like a local. Instead you can easily organise a taxi. We used Corrie van Wyk at L&C Transfers & Chauffeurs. Great service with a smile :)
Outside of Windhoek and Swakopmund I never saw a single policeman or car anywhere in Namibia. Drive as fast as you want to, even on paved roads, except here. There is a heavy Police/Security presence here in Windhoek near buildings of National importance. There are also fixed and portable speed cameras here. I have pictures of the fixed ones. Also, do not jump red lights. A good piece of advice anywhere, but the cameras pick that up too. Take it easy in town and go nuts when you drive out of town.
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Hosea Kutako International Airport
Hosea Kutako is the name for the International Airport in Whindhoek.
Round trip flights from Johannesburg could be purchased for about 350 euros.
The following airlines fly to Hosea Kutako Int'l Airport:
South African Airways
South African Express
TAAG Angola Airlines
Public transport is not very good here and I think if you are not planning to drive yourself, it is better to try and book a safari tour. I guess the other option is to join a safari tour, this way you do not need to worry about finding your way or miss any special attraction, but you will be compromise on your comfortability and flexibility.
Rent a car
There are a lot of car rental companies in Windhoek. 4 wheel drive cars are popular, and maybe the best since the roads are so bad in remote areas. Ask around and bargain the price. The best price I found after some hours was:
A small car cost from 750 N$ per day.
A 4-wheel drive car costs from 1300 N$ per day. With camping equipment on the roof add 150 N$ on the price. The minimum rent is 3 days. There are no kasko insurance included in the price. Deposit for a 4-wheel drive car is 29000 N$.
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Bus from Windhoek to Botswana
The trans Kalahari line departs at 06 AM. This is the main bus from Windhoek to Johannesburg via the Kalahari desert. The route: Windhoek-Gobabis-Boitepos (Botswana border)-Ghanzi (people to Maun can go off and change bus here)-Gaborone-Johannesburg.
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