Namibia and Botswana are also friendly called “africa for beginners”. When I first got here, couldn’t really get the reason why there are so called, since moving around by public transportation isn’t easy at all due to lack of buses and….people! So where this nickname is coming from?
Sometimes we should pay more attention to words said, sure enough, these countries aren’t called “Africa for beginner backpackers” but just “for beginner”, meaning that if it’s your first time in Africa then Namibia could be an easy and interesting introduction to the black, dusty/dirty/noisy/crazy, black Africa.
Travelers in Namibia won’t really have hard life, compared to Ethiopia, for instance, but it will be a soft introduction to Africa that will slowly take you to the bustling hearth of Africa.
Namibia is pretty well organized for tourists, it certainly has nothing to do with South Tanzania that surprised me a lot because the almost all unpaved roads and the not great state of buses (even the luxury ones), or Ethiopia, where public transportations exist, take you almost everywhere, but require a good state of mind to stand the crowd, leave only when full, and I mean really full included people standing, and can be really uncomfortable.
Living in the bush with namibian tribes for a few days. Daily life, conversations about cows and cuttles, took part to a meeting about the village stuff. Light is the moon. Toilet is the bush. Feeling dusty and happy. #namibia #africa #travelblog #traveldeeper #passionpassport #natgeotravel #bbctravel #viaggiaredasoli #viaggiare #travel #traveling #cute #tribes #culture #nature #love #discover #discovery #worldnomad #worldcaptures #phototravels #photoofthefay #travelphoto #worldwide #world #aroundtheworld
Is really Namibia Africa for beginners?
I would say so.
Thinking about Ethiopia, a Country I really love, even if traveled by private car isn’t immune to typical African problems that contribute to make of the trip an adventure where probably something will go wrong.
Namibia instead is an easy Africa for many reasons.
It’s easy to drive around, even the gravel roads are in pretty good conditions, there are hostels (with dorms!), wi-fi, pretty everywhere, hot showers, campings are amazing, real restaurants serving good food…and I could keep on mentioning other pros.
The overland tours (check some overland tours in Namibia at this link) are the ideal choice for whom travel solo or can’t afford a private tour or a car rental on his own. These group tours usually have scheduled departures, are made for a maximum of 16 people, will take you to the main highlights of the Country, sometimes of the Countries, since for the 20/23 days tour, are also included Botswana and Victoria Falls, both sides.
In 22 days you can make a grand tour across Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbawe (Victoria Falls) paying no more than €2200, check this overland out, per person all included, camping, but I am happy to say it again, campings are just great, safari car with driver, food and guides where needed.
An excellent price for an excellent offer. Right?
Backpacking in Namibia – The problem
This is the why I travel, I am a slow traveler, I don’t want to compromise, I am used to travel solo, and so this is how I enjoy the country I am visiting.
It’s not matter of spending less money, it’s not even interesting to me seeing as many places as possible in short time.
Buses allow me, as markets do, to get in touch to people, and I am pretty good with it, they put me on their same level making easy to start any kind of conversation (and in africa often the main topic is about cows and cuttles!).
It’s exciting and challenging, and I like discover the world from the roads and the streets.
I still remember my trip to Omorate, in the Omo Valley, the same trip everybody said “you are not going to make it!”. It took me 2 days, but planning strategically my route, following the market days, I reached the southern city in Ethiopia where the discover of the Ethiopian tribes begun.
I’ve always believed that as long as locals travel by bus then I would be able to do it as well.
Of course these aren’t the most comfortable and easy ways to do it, mainly if you don’t have lot of time to spend, you never know what time you are going to leave nor arrive, but everybody has its own passion and terrible and tiring buses are mine!
So I tried to give a chance to it before booking any tour in advance, mixing the different ways of travel leaving the less appealing to me, the organized tour as last, in case my idea would turn out to be an “impossibile” one.
Backpacking in Namibia – The right solution (that worked for me!)
But nothing is impossible! Right?
Spending time in the hostel, talking to people, joining some independent travelers in order to share the rental cars costs and traveling by bus I got from Namibia what I was looking for, an exciting and trilling trip that took me to the north where I have been able to manage also 4 days camping with the tribes spending more time than I thought I would do in Opuwo.
A surreal town where technologies meet the tribes.
Is Namibia backpacker friendly?
I would say: NO. Don’t get me wrong and let me say it better.
It all depends on what you expect from your trip in Namibia, and above all, who do you think the backpacker is.
Obviously isn’t the one traveling with a backpack, we are all good in doing it, not the one with no money,
It’s not matter of money, I am more than happy to spend my money for paying guides or tours or to get into sites, I save money and then I spend it the best way I think without missing what I am interested in, it’s more about a way of traveling that is not free from mishaps. I paid a safari in Tanzania of 6 days as much as I spent in more than 1 months and a half in the whole Country.
But I did not want to miss the most beautiful national parks in Africa and so I have saved enough money before. Easy enough I think!
This is what I mean by backpacker and this is why I didn’t find Namibia, nor Botswana, backpacker friendly. If you want to move around using public transportation and then take a tour just once and then, these are not the Countries you want to travel to.
Mainly if you want to travel south.
Is Namibia real Africa?
Of course it is, but I also have to say “It depends on what you mean by Africa and what you think it looks like”.
Africa is huge, I could tell you about 6 different Africas and you will never find anything in common between the Countries I am talking about.
My personal opinion is that, if you wish to live the rural black Africa then you can find it but only in the North, if you stick on the classic itineraries you will miss it at all.
On the other hand in Namibia, you can get lost in the silence where no people live. If you desire to live the desert or empty spaces, drive for hours without meeting anyone, if you are not used to the low African standards but want to sleep in nice lodges, and actually also pretty cool camping sites, without spending a fortune, if you need hot water or air con and can’t eat African street food, read more on things to get used in Tanzania, then Namibia is the right place to be.
If you, instead, want to get dirty, want to get lost into the mess typical of the african cities, want to experience the crowed mini-bus dodging cows or plenty of life daily markets then you might probably think to go somewhere else, Ethiopia or Tanzania are 2 incredible good options!
As everywhere else in the world, it all depends on what you are looking for and what you want.
There are no better places than others. Africa is big and different, I can’t say I know Europe and Europeans if I have only been in Spain, or can’t say Europe isn’t worth it only because I have been to 1 Country I didn’t like.
It works the same way for Africa.
Public transportation in Namibia
It’s hard, end of the story! Traveling south where just a few people live isn’t easy, reaching the main tourist destinations it’s not going to happen if you don’t hire a car.
True as well that if you think out of the box you can definitely make f your Namibia trip a pretty exciting one. Is here where I have hitchhiked first time, but I have also traveled by train took minibusses and shared car’s costs with other travelers met on my way. Namibia is really well organized and you can have great time over here if you have time and are happy to wait a little bit you can make, as I did.
How? Traveling considering all these options! I will begin from the easiest (and obvious one) ending up with the “hard-core” one. All tested!
If you want to know more about buses and mini-taxi ask local people, they all have telephone numbers to call. Don’t be shy and ASK! Of course buy a sim card, you will need it!
How to travel in Namibia and how to make of your trip a crazy adventure!
1# – Overland Tour – Group tours
Traveling with T.O as part of a group, in overland tour, in Namibia isn’t expensive as I thought, it turned out to be pretty cheap compared to East African Countries for instance.
22 days that will take you into Namibia, Botswana and Victoria Falls can cost no more than €2200 per person all included, check this itinerary out and see where you can go and how much it can cost you.
Cost I find fair. With less than 100€ per day, you don’t have to be worry about anything and you will cross borders and countries that otherwise you won’t be able to do if you travel on your own ad I did (unless you opt for the self-drive option).
Of course, you have to like the idea. 3 Countries in 20 days, the itinerary is scheduled and you will share the travel experience with about 14 people.
Even if it’s not my cup of tea I have to admit I find it pretty appealing and if your goal is to discover each corner, worth a visit, of these countries and have a tiny budget then I would go for it.
It’s not adventurous enough for my travel style, time has passed since my purpose of travel is seeing as much as possible, but definitely a good option for whom only have this time and are interested in traveling fast and with no stress.
For some overland tour ideas from 10 days up to 22, click here and pick the itinerary that suits more your budget and expectations (make sure the T.O you travel to has good reviews as well!)
2# – Self Drive
You don’t have to be a rally champion to drive in Namibia, nor you really need a 4×4 car, as long as you stick on the main tourist paths.
From Opuwo to Epupa the bumps will be significant but everything and pretty everywhere is feasible with a simple two wheels.
I recommend not to drive at reckless speed, but remain below 100 sometimes 80km, the worst accidents are just due to the conviction of driving on good roads, when then something happens.
Deaths from careless drivers are heard pretty often and the motivation is always the same, 120/140 kh on dirt roads. So watch out!
I know that renting a car if you are alone can be very expensive, my advice is to spend a few days in a hostel in Windhoek and look for other backpackers willing to share the cost with you.
I did it twice, the south with two Swiss and a 4×4, and the Etosha National park on a 2×4 with an American guy. Just ask around. If the routes that you want to follow are the same they will do, just jump on board!
Obviously, it requires a few days to find the car and people.
3# – Public transportations
A sore point for public transportation lovers. The transport deficiencies in the south but surprise surprise not in the north.
Intercape connects several towns from Windhoek to Livingston, Zambia, from which to visit the Victoria Falls, or South Africa.
For other less conventional routes, the cities are connected by those who here are called “mini-taxis” that are nothing more than collective minibusses that depart when they filled up and all seats are sold.
Easy to get your own conclusions, it’s not that rare waiting more than two hours for the minibus to depart.
In other cases, such as when I got stuck in Grunau, you can call and ask the driver what time the mini-taxi the next day will depart. The risk is that if he won’t get enough passengers then he won’t drive and so you won’t leave!
If you are in isolated places, like where I was, the solutions are mainly two: wait for the train, which passed them two days a week, or hope to be lucky the next day.
5# – Trains
I waited for four days in the middle of the desert, in Gruanu to be precise, to be able to try this way of transport that turned out to be one of the slower in the world. But what an experience!
A small and compact locomotive, through the desert. I liked it, despite the broken engine at 3.30pm in the middle of nowhere with no water and food, while outside there were, I guess, 40 degrees. I took the train twice, the broken engine didn’t scare me that much, just bought more food and water, and traveled also from Kethmanshoop to Windhoek (450km in about 12 hours!). Official website: TransNamibia
How to book:
You should buy the ticket at the train station or, if like in Grunau there is none, then you better call the head office and then pay once you get into the train. Online payments are not accepted, yet.
I did, and I had fun, less fun the 37 or 40 degrees but under a sign, for directions I sheltered from the scorching desert sun. Lift must be paid.
Namibians travel this way very often. For 50km you pay about $ 30 Namibians, about 2 Euros. You move easily from one place to another and the driver rises few dollars.
Ask how much the passage costs before getting in, pay when you get off.
How does it work? As works all over the world.
Wait on the highway when you see a car arriving raise your thumb. usually, 1 of 3 car stops.
Otherwise, if you are in a town or city, the best place where to wait is the petrol station. Ask to cars where they go and if they can offer you a ride. Also in this case it is good to negotiate the cost in advance. If in doubt ask the attendant how much it could cost so that you know when you should pay.
HOW TO PLAN A SELF-DRIVE IN NAMIBIA
Most of the roads even when gravel are really good so, unless you want to go off the beaten paths, you will be fine with a 2×4 car. Of course, a 4×4 will let you go faster, it’s more stable and allows you to drive on bad roads, but as long as you drive slowly then also with a normal car there won’t be too many troubles.
The rental options are 2×4 car (you will need your own car if you want to camp) or 4×4 (usually with tent on the roof and equipped).
Apps, guides and maps
If you self drive you will need a map, usually the good car rentals provide you one but if you want to make sure to not get lost then these can be good options: Namibia (National Geographic Adventure Map) and Namibia GPS (r) ms by Booksite Afrika (2013-09-20).
I recommend you to download the free application offline maps or/and Map.me. Once you downloaded the application you can download the map of the country, in this case Namibia et voila! you will not miss the most! The application works as GPS and requires free access. Available for Android and Apple.
I travel independently taking mainly public transport. A world trip began in 2011 is not yet finished, my mission is to explore the world and write about it. Travel consultant Galapagos, Argentina, Morocco, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Namibia.