Etosha National Park Safari

The ultimate guide to your next Etosha Safari

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    Everything you need to know about your Etosha National Park Safari

    One of Africa’s greatest safari destinations, the 22 000-square kilometre wilderness of Etosha National Park is a top highlight for many travellers to Namibia. Made up of grasslands and woodland savanna and dominated by a giant salt pan, Etosha is home to 114 species of mammals, including four of the Big Five and the world’s largest concentration of black rhino.


    Namibian Etosha Self-Drive Adventure

    Drive yourself through the majestic landscapes of Namibia en-route to Etosha and spend your days searching for, and finding the wildlife that Etosha is known for…

    • okonjima luxury bush camp

      Day 1

      This southwest African desert wonderland know as Nambia is home to a diverse spectrum of wildlife including one of the largest cheetah populations on earth … Windhoek and Swakopmund are also well known Namibian destinations for their German colonial architecture. Its wide open spaces make it the ideal location for a 4x4 self-drive safari. On arrival at Windhoek International Airport you will be met by a representative from Discover Africa and assisted with the collection of your rental vehicle. With directions provided, travel north to Okonjima, where you will be spending the night. Be sure to reach the lodge by early afternoon so that you can join the afternoon activity, which you have been signed up for, if you so wish. Once you are back at the lodge, enjoy a traditional Namibian dinner.
    • lion kill

      Day 2-4

      Today you have also been signed up for a morning lodge activity. So prepare for an early start to the day, but its assured to be well worth the effort. … After finishing breakfast, make your way further north to the eastern side of Etosha National Park. Accommodation will be arranged for you at Mushara Bush Camp in thatched tented accommodation - a true bush experience you’re unlikely to forget anytime soon.
    • zebra calf

      Day 5-7

      You will have the oppurtunity of having another day to explore Etosha from the comfort of your own vehicle … The park covers a vast area which is under protection. This dates back to colonial German rule and is arguably one of the most productively involved game parks in Africa.
    • close encounters with elephant

      Day 8

      Make your way back to Windhoek today in order to return your vehicle and to connect with your onward travel arrangements … Please note that this journey is completely adjustable to your requirements. We can make it a few days shorter, or add an extention; we can change lodges and base the accommodation on more upmarket options, and we can run it for families. Contact a friendly Discover Africa consultant today for more information and when is the best time to travel.
    • self drive etosha

      View the complete tour

      Make your way back to Windhoek today in order to return your vehicle and to connect with your onward travel arrangements … Please note that this journey is completely adjustable to your requirements. We can make it a few days shorter, or add an extention; we can change lodges and base the accommodation on more upmarket options, and we can run it for families. Contact a friendly Discover Africa consultant today for more information and when is the best time to travel.

      Highlights of Etosha

      Highlights of Etosha National Park

        • namutoni leopard

          Central and Eastern Etosha

          Welcome to the best-known part of Etosha: The expanse of land fringing the eastern and southern rim of the enormous depression that is the ancient salt pan itself … Most visitors will drive to Etosha from the capital, Windhoek. It’s 430-odd kilometres up routes B1 and C38, an easy trip that takes around five hours. A quick orientation tour is helpful. Visitors will enter this section of the park through either the southern Andersson Gate, or Von Lindequist Gate in the east. A little further north is King Nehale Lya Mpingana Gate, for those coming down from the Caprivi region, now called Zambezi. Camps in this region are the older, government-run classics, renovated about a decade ago: Namutoni, found inside the eastern border of the park, Halali, situated south of Etosha Pan, and Okaukuejo, near the pan’s eastern tip. All will suit couples, solo travellers and families happy with budget accommodations (although they are not dirt cheap). Guided game drives are on offer at all camps, morning, afternoon and night. The C38 through the park links all three camps, and tempting loop roads slip off to waterholes along the way. The names themselves are a delight, hinting at the essence of the place and the cultures that have lived here: Okaukuejo, for example, means the woman who had a child every year; the tongue-twisting Omumborombonga means leadwood tree, protected hardwoods that are rare in Namibia and grow at this pan; and Tgumses translates as “the soil deep in the hole is always wet”.
          elephant waterhole
          It is worth remembering that Etosha really is an arid place, a harsh landscape that some might find unforgiving. Towards the end of dry season, grazing around waterholes is depleted and hooves clatter on stones as animals come down to drink. It is quite primordial in ways; but foregrounds the natural cycles that allows life to flourish even in tough places like this. As game tends to migrate east when the rains come, the Namutoni area is a good option. It is also near Fischer’s Pan, a hotspot for migrant waterbirds – blushing pink flamingos! – in rainy season, as well as cheetah. Pretty makalani palms sway around waterholes on this side of the park. An NWR ranger born in Namutoni recommends the Sandveld north of the camp for big herds of elephant and that giant among antelope, the eland. The few white rhino in the park (reintroduced in 1995) liked the area between Namutoni and Halali at one stage; look for them near the Springbokfontein waterhole. The old fort at Namutoni is a remarkable sight in the desert surrounds. It was virtually obliterated by Owambo warriors at the turn of the 20th century, but rebuilt within a couple of years. At all three classic camps one can stay in chalets (some family chalets have a kitchenette but most chalets aren’t fully self-catering), double rooms (in blocks of four) or the campsite, and there is a restaurant, shop with basic supplies, a pool and fuel.
          flamingos
          Halali, opened in 1967, has the same basic amenities and accommodations as Namutoni although it’s slightly smaller, and it too has a floodlit waterhole, more frequented by the coveted black rhino than Namutoni’s. It’s usefully situated, has an attractive setting below a hill, and boasts the odd honeymoon suite and a busy pool. The birding in camp is excellent. Okaukuejo, opened in 1955, is the park’s oldest and largest camp and its large, floodlit waterhole is legendary (as a result, you may be elbow to elbow with others on the viewing stands, waiting for a black rhino to trundle down to drink: it’s the best place in Africa for these volatile creatures). The few waterhole rooms which overlook this prime territory are what to book if you’re ever lucky enough to get a slot! The camp is close to Andersson Gate and the waterholes in the area are extremely popular. The grassy stretches west of Okaukuejo attract game in large numbers after the rains, and are a calving hotspot.
          rhino
          The best accommodations in this region of the park are at Onkoshi (opened in 2008), the newer solar-powered “luxury eco-camp” north of Namutoni, although you will have to eat at the restaurant and there is no waterhole here, so game is scarcer in winter. It is more intimate, with only 15 chalets on raised wooden decks, an infinity pool and vast vistas. Only lodge guests can access the area; no self-driving visitors, so there is more peace as well as space, although prices of course beat the classic camps. Wildlife photographers and co-authors of The Photographer’s Guide to Etosha National Park, Mario and Jenny Fazekas cite this as their favourite camp for its photo opportunities. “The camp faces west and is situated right on the edge of the salt pan so when the sun sets you get magnificent landscape images of the sun reflecting off the water and silhouettes of flamingos, pelicans and other waterbirds,” they say. “The best time would be after the rains, but some years the pan still has water even in the middle of winter.” This camp will suit couples and solo travellers with a little more to spend. Young children and decks don’t go together.
          onkoshi camp
          One note on the area overall: there are reports that the park’s picnic sites and toilets are sadly neglected. Also, it’s not an exclusive luxury experience, aside from the quality of the game viewing! Visitor numbers have surged and overland trucks and tour buses, never mind numerous day visitors and tours, are a feature. Those who want good service, more attentive staff and an exclusive experience should opt to stay outside the park.
        • zebra ongava

          Highlights

          The perfect pan:Many of the area’s waterholes have a distinct character and are known for particular sightings; some even have ‘resident’ leopards (although never trust a guide who promises a leopard sighting; they can’t be guaranteed) … Etosha’s game is used to traffic. Pure bliss is finding a quiet spot to sit and listen and watch and wait for action, be it zebra jostling for a drink, streams of gorgeous sandgrouse flying in as black-backed jackals try and snap them from the air, or sudden drama as elephant arrive in rumbling groups to slack their thirst. Anja Denker, a Namibian wildlife photographer who has visited the park six times in 2018 alone, cites one of her favourite waterholes as Salvadora, which has views stretching over the water to the horizon and the white mud that elephants coat themselves in. “Salvadora’s backdrop makes for great photography and is always good for spotting lion prides, cheetahs, hyena and a variety of antelope that frequent the surrounding grassland, all year round,” Denke says. She also rates Chudob, near Namutoni “for the sheer variety of game that congregates there, especially in the dry season” (it’s also wonderful for giraffe drinking, legs splayed wide). Nebrownii is excellent for ghost-white elephant – and lion. Halali and Goas have reputations for leopard, as does Rietfontein, which is also a lion hang-out. Fischer pan is marvellous when covered in flamingos.
          credit namibia tourism board
          Credit: Namibia Tourism Board
          The Etosha Viewpoint: North of Halali camp and very close to Nuames Waterhole is a causeway that takes one out onto the crazy paving cracked white mud of Etosha Pan itself (generally one can’t drive on the pan surface). It’s the closest most of us will get to a lunar landscape. Mirages can turn the horizon to static and it is a good place to feel the immensity and age of the pan: 100-million years old, once a massive lake fed by the Kunene River, which – inexplicably – changed course in some ancient tragedy. PS: It can get mushy after rains when the road is closed; this is a dry season activity. A nest that’s a city: Look out for the remarkable structures built by sociable weavers (Philetairus socius). The name rather gives it away: these rather ordinary-looking birds know how to build a community. Their enormous compound nest – the largest in the world – is crammed with independent chambers for young families, and a handful of neighbours help to feed any chicks. Birdlife calls them “ecological engineers” as the nests are used by other species, often in ways we are yet to fully understand. A good spot to start looking for them is in Okaukuejo rest camp, although nests will weigh down bigger trees across the park. Pygmy falcons are associated with the nests too.
          weavers nest
          A Fairy Tale Forest: It’s the driest, least crowded “forest” you’re likely to see, but Sprookjeswoud, about 30 kilometres west of Okuakuejo on the road to Grunewald waterhole, is otherworldly. It means ghost or phantom forest, and contains some gnarled African moringa trees (Moringa ovalifolia), standing like lumpy figures in the bright light. The San used to say the trees were thrown from heaven in anger and landed upside down (they have something a little baobab-like about them, with sparse leaves, but are not related). The perfect shot Mirages, zebra stripes, water, sky: Etosha is a photographer’s dream, especially as animals obligingly trot down to waterholes in winter. Photographer Anja Denker says that Etosha is a challenge due to the harsh light that reflects off the predominantly white soil and surface of the pan. “The best light is in the early morning and late afternoon, with spectacular sunrises and sunsets to boot. It’s best to bring a long telephoto lens as sightings might be a fair distance away, and a wide angle to capture the landscape or the magnitude of game which frequents the waterholes.” Mario and Jenny Fazekas, authors of The Photographer’s Guide to Etosha National Park agree that “a telephoto lens is critical.” They also suggest familiarising oneself with one’s equipment before the trip – they were once shooting a leopard at the floodlit Moringa waterhole at Halali and a hapless guest baffled by her camera settings interrupted, asking them to take a shot for her!
        • zebra drinking

          Practical advice

          Etosha is Namibia’s flagship park and so popular that it can be difficult to find room to stay in the government-run camps. Book well in advance …
          • Etosha is enormous and distances extremely deceptive, especially if the 60km/h speed limit is taken into consideration (sadly, not everyone complies). It is larger than South Africa’s Kruger National Park and driving just from Von Lindequist Gate to Okaukuejo, for example, is a hefty 140km that averages 4.5 hours.
          • Guests must check in at Namutoni or Okaukuejo upon arrival.
          • Children are welcome at the classic camps; no children under six at Onkoshi.
          • One can book guided game drives – including at night when visitors may not drive themselves. An excellent way to see the after-dark species.
          • The classic camps usually have mobile phone reception.
          • Self-driving photographers may find a copy of The Photographer’s Guide to Etosha useful; it has information on where to park, best light, and what action can be expected or hoped for at various waterholes.
          • fort dauphin

            Western Etosha

            The western side of the Etosha National Park has its own character and appeal, plus the all-important wildlife encounters (although game is considered to be sparser) … The only accommodations here, a NWR luxury eco-camp called Dolomite and a fenced, camping-only site called Olifantsrus – opened in 2010 and 2014 respectively. This section of the park was also off-limits to self-drivers until 2014, and it’s only recently that all can enter and leave through Galton Gate and enjoy the scenery and 15-plus waterholes in the area. This means there is simply less traffic, and more peace. The West offers different vistas and biomes to the east and central areas—the most obvious being that the landscape is not as flat at a pan(cake), and the soil not all chalky white but reddish. There are hills, like the ridges around Dolomite camp that gave it its name, and these are more wooded, with fewer mopane and more other species such as moringa and star chestnut. Plains game plus elephant frequent the woodlands and savanna surrounds. There are also patches of sandy acacia shrub. When driving, mopane takes over from the grasslands after Ozonjuiti m’Bari waterhole, (it’s the most common tree in Etosha, making up 80% of all trees!). The region is less of a hot spot for predators, but lion are certainly seen: as always, sightings come down to luck (or a good guide). One resident pride is known as the Rateldraf pride; the name refers to the determined, fearless gait of the honey badger – known to fight back when persecuted by lion. Otherwise, more unusual species that frequent this side of the park include Hartmann’s mountain zebra, black-faced impala and brown hyena. It’s also of special interest to botanists, with many unusual species magically sprouting after rains. Photographers and authors Mario and Jenny Fazekas recommend the area during summer too, as “this hilly western part of Etosha is used by wildlife as a retreat during the wet season”. Certain waterholes on this side have been closed for various management reasons, including fighting poaching (some holes were very close to the boundary fence), so ask at the camps for the latest news. The unfenced NWR eco-camp Dolomite is on a wooded ridge of hills and has lovely views, an infinity pool and restaurant, and 20 chalets (three deluxe options have a plunge pool, robe and slippers and a deck). The nearest waterhole is Dolomietpunt, just below the ridge (where cheetah have been seen drinking in the very early mornings, as in from 4am). Klippan, to the north, is known for both black and white rhino; Rateldraf is probably where the Rateldraf lion pride got their name and yes, they like it here. Giraffe enjoy it too, and photographing them drinking with legs akimbo, a series of straight lines and triangles, is a total treat. Nomab is scenic and can draw birds of prey, including vultures. The Fazekas also recommend the stretch between Okawo, a natural spring, and Duiukerdrink for a variety of game and birds of prey.
            cheetah
            The campsite, Olifantsrus, may suit hardy travellers and the 10 sites accommodate a maximum of eight people each. It is safely fenced! Otherwise, as with many reserves, recommending who will enjoy this section over others can be tricky. It is less child-friendly, and distances can be daunting, but it is an easy self-drive destination for solos, families and couples and there is not as much pressure to be fully equipped for vehicle break-downs as is the case in other wilderness areas in Africa. Guided tours that often visit other key attractions, as well as Etosha, are an excellent option for those who prefer to hand over all worries once stepping off the plane. Guides can help locate animals in all seasons. The eco-camp accommodations will suit couples and solo travellers but those seeking more space and exemplary service may wish to stay outside the park.
          • olifantsrus

            Highlights

            On the wing South African-based birding guru Ian Sinclair describes Etosha as “the star on the crown of the whole of Namibia” … Summer is when avian action is in full swing. The central area around Halali is a great spot to seek out the noisy Bare-cheeked Babbler and Violet Wood-hoopoe, Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters as well as lovely little predators like Red-necked Falcon. But the West has its specials too: the dolomite hills are home to various near-endemics and specials. A guide from Lawson’s Birding, Wildlife and Custom Safaris suggests searching for Hartlaub’s Spurfowl, Monteiro’s Hornbill, White-tailed Shrike, Rüppell’s Parrot, Rockrunner, Violet Wood-hoopoe, Bare-cheeked Babbler, Chestnut Weaver, Yellow-throated Sandgrouse, Pallid Harrier, Montagu’s Harrier, Red-necked Falcon and Carp’s Tit. Less avid birders will be pleased to hear owls, eagles and vultures can all be seen.
          • red necked falcon

            Practical advice

            This section of Etosha is closer to the stark splendour of the Skeleton Coast and the wilderness of Damaraland. It can also offer an alternative route to Swakopmund on tarmac roads, although long sections on dirt are possibilities for those with 4x4s …
            • Remember the distances: Dolomite camp is a hefty 180 kilometres from Okaukuejo. To try and cross the entire park from east to west in a day at the speed limit and allowing for sightings would be gruelling and is not recommended.
            • Keep an eye on your fuel gauge… there is no fuel within 85km; you’ll need to leave the park and fill up at Kamanjab.
            • At Dolomite Camp, supress any superstitions and book number 13; it has views of the camp’s waterhole, plus a private pool (only three chalets have this perk). There is no self-catering, so the restaurant will have to be frequented.
            • Leisure tourists from Europe and North America visiting Namibia for 90 days or less do not require a visa.
            • walking safaris

              Private concessions in Etosha

              It is possible to combine the best of two worlds: Spend hours at some of Etosha’s most desirable waterholes, ticking off a Noah’s Ark-sized list of species – and then escape to the quieter surrounds of a lodge or camp on a private reserve for the night … Etosha is completely fenced, unlike, for example, the Kruger National Park in South Africa, where fences between the public park and its plush private neighbours have come down. That said, there are some notable private reserves on Etosha’s borders, impressive not only in size but for the quality of the game viewing on offer. Many also have waterholes, and while predators are scarcer, some harbour a good selection of game including specials such as sable, roan and rhino. As they are also not bound by park rules, guests can be offered more diverse activities, like guided walks or rhino tracking – very welcome for families or active visitors who like to stretch between game drives. Nature trails wind through some properties without dangerous game, also wonderful for down-time hours. An astonishing 25% of Namibia is conserved through national parks, communal conservancies and private reserves. One key thing to check when booking in a private area is whether the conservancy offers hunting (a few do); this will be incompatible with some visitors’ personal ethics. Accommodations are varied and couples searching for romance as well as wildlife, solo travellers and families are all catered to. Places to stay range from rustic campsites to fine lodges or exclusive-use villas, complete with your own guide for game drives. Unlike many high-end safari lodges in other parts of Africa, those around Etosha tend to offer different kinds of packages. Most will have an accommodation-only option for self-drivers with various activities and meals charged separately – but also all-inclusive options for those who want to park the car on arrival (or who hop off a charter plane). If all-inclusive, most needs are catered to, from local beverages and meals, to game drive vehicles with experienced guides. Guests who want to go on many guided drives may wish to assess the activities costs before booking, as at times an all-inclusive rate is better value. Spa treatments are available in some spots, as are various activities from clay pigeon shooting to visits to hides. Safari staples such as boma or outdoor dinners, and drinks around fire pits are common. There’s nothing like a log fire sending up sparks to rival the stars above.
              cheetah
              Onguma Bush Camp
              Private reserves close to Von Lindequist Gate, in the east of the park can easily be accessed by road, but some of the lodges will have an airstrip or share one with a neighbour, so fly-in safaris on charter planes are an option for those pressed for time. Proximity to the park gates really is a plus, both to enjoy more cool early-morning and late-afternoon game viewing hours in the park itself, and to get home sooner for sundowners when tired. Private reserves on the eastern side of the park include an important 34,000 hectare reserve, and a well-known 4,000-hectare property that borders Etosha. Closer to Andersson Gate is a large 30,000 hectare reserve which protects parts of the tongue-twisting Ondundozonanandana foothills (the wonderful name translates roughly as the mountain where the boy took the calves) and a multitude of smaller reserves and properties. Accommodations can range from exclusive and romantic “premier” lodges, luxury tented camps and family-friendly options to camping. Of course not all properties have Big Five species, but a couple will have lion and/or black and white rhinoceros. Staying outside the park and being able to explore on foot may also allow contemplation of smaller species, more vulnerable to the traffic of Etosha: impossibly cute elephant shrews, springhares, lesser bushbabies and many more.
              lion waterhole
              Galton Gate accommodations options are definitely sparser, but there is a casual, community-owned lodge with three of the Big Five on 8,800 hectares and an airstrip. A Discover Africa expert can help match specific needs and desires to the right accommodations.
            • cheetah

              Highlights

              In the tracks of giants certain reserves outside the park offers guided walks – and the chance to track resident rhino … A walk in any reserve with a representative or two of the Big Five can be thrilling: walking in silence in single file with an armed ranger, feeling your senses come alive and gradually tune in to the sounds of the bush: alarm cries from birds, the crunch of hooves on stone, the smell of hot vegetation. To approach the enormous bulk of a rhinoceros on foot is an awesome experience in the old sense of the word. It is like seeing concentrated time and evolution and power in one breath-taking moment. In fact, any nature walk, even on a private reserve without Big Five species, is recommended. Specialised guides can point out birds, read animal tracks as if they were newspapers, locate fascinating insects and smaller reptiles and rodents, and generally transport guests to a world that plugs one into the web of life. Sundowners Private reserves are indifferent to gate closing times. This means that should a group see a remarkable cheetah on the move as the sun slips towards the horizon, there’s no need to leave. Vehicles can stay with her for as long as she allows… Alternatively, guides will stop for sundowners at particularly beautiful spots, all the better to watch the skies turn pink and orange as dark approaches.
            • giraffe anderssons camp

              Practical advice

              High-end lodges pride themselves on the skill of their guides; many will have special interests such as birds or botany: let the lodge know in advance of your interests …
              • Self-drivers must offset the hassle of getting to the gates at sunrise and sunset with the advantages of being outside the park.
              • Etosha National Park gate times must be respected. The opening and closing hours are based on sunrise and sunset hours, and change weekly. A detailed timetable will be provided by most accommodations.
              • Not all high-end lodges welcome children; do check child policies before setting your heart on a particular property. Over-12s are generally accommodated.
              • A swimming pool is a real asset in summer – as is a waterhole in winter.
              • Booking in advance to avoid disappointment is recommended during high season and December and Easter local holiday periods.
              • While animals in Etosha are so habituated to people that wearing bright colours is not much of an issue, neutral-coloured clothing (not white) is recommended for walks and activities in private reserves.
              • Lodges do not supply all guests with binoculars. Do bring a pair; it revolutionises game viewing and birding.
              • Guests will have heard of the terrible poaching threat to rhinos in Africa. Lodges may ask that you delete GPS or location data on pictures taken of the animals; this is recommended in Etosha National Park too.
              • Charter flights limit luggage to just 20kg (including hand luggage and cameras) and bags must be small, soft and flexible to fit into the craft: no inflexible suitcases.

            When to go

            When to visit Etosha?

            • January
              mokuti etosha lodge
              Average temperatures hit a sticky 34°C. It’s rainy season: incredibly for a place one thinks of as arid, this can mean mud in patches! A 4x4 will be useful and comfortable, but it is a lot more costly, and the majority of Etosha’s roads remain accessible in an ordinary city car … Park authorities also tend to temporarily close roads that will be a problem. The weather is simply unpredictable: there can be clear sunny skies, but Etosha can also be overcast for days at a time, with the chance of some quite heavy rain. As such, potentially not the best time for photography, although there may be dramatic skies and sunsets thanks to thunderstorms. The beginning of January is still peak local holiday travel time, so the park will be packed. Things quieten down drastically later; by month-end some private lodges can even feel a bit echoey! All the more attention for those lucky few. If the rains have been good, there will be water in the pan itself, and Fisher’s Pan near Namutoni could have turned pink with flamingos, which breed here in good years. Those charismatic big guys, the elephant and rhino, will have gone walkabout toward the east, i.e. moved from the waterholes to thicker bush. As the park roads tend to link waterholes, this can make sightings less accessible.
            • February
              flamingos fishers pan
              The peak of the rainy season. Vegetation will be as lush as it gets in Etosha for the next month or two – which makes game viewing more challenging … If the rains have been good, there will be water in the pan itself (and migrant waterbirds); Fisher’s Pan near Namutoni could have turned pink with flamingos. All the details mentioned for January still apply in terms of the desirability of a 4x4, thunderstorms and potentially, patches of dodgy weather. Elephant and rhino will be more elusive, feeding in thicker bush while they have the chance to be further from the waterholes. Heavy showers can cause dry riverbeds to suddenly flow, although it’s usually over in a matter of hours rather than days. The park has lower visitor numbers, which some find a great boon, but experts actually tend to tell first-time visitors in search of big-game drama that this isn’t the best time for Etosha. That said, this is a fenced park (although bigger than the US state of New Jersey), and the animals move around within it: they are there; one just needs more time to get lucky. The Namutoni area (and the east in general) can be more productive.
            • March
              green season namibia
              There still a chance of rain and the bush is thick and green and grasses tall… all very lovely, but it does make spotting animals that little bit more difficult! … Not many people around, but as per February, not as much big game either, or not lolling around the waterholes waiting to be photographed. Our travel experts say this is a time for more seasoned travellers, rather than those with just one chance to tick Etosha off their bucket list. The game, however, is there, but as always, it’s a bit of a lottery as Tripadvisor notice boards can relate. People have reported superb sightings in March.
            • April
               leopard onguma reserve
              Still nice and quiet in beautiful Etosha, although there will be a spike in tourists around Easter, when rest camps will fill up … The seasons are changing, evenings and early mornings may be cooling down by the end of the month. A less predictable ‘shoulder season’ month, but often very good for Etosha. The herds should have started to move back towards the central areas by the end of the month, but this is still not prime game-viewing-at-waterholes season; driving around will be needed.
            • May
              wild dogs etosha
              The land is drying out and long, warm sunny days will start turning the bush a million shades of brown. Average high temperatures are a delicious 29° Centigrade, with lows of 11°C … As things dry out, waterholes become the place to be once again, making it possible to pull up near one and see all sorts of action. By the end of this month, elephants are likely to be heading back to the central /southern areas of the park. It is still not prime holiday time for locals or international, so tourist numbers are low to moderate. A wonderful time to visit the south and east areas.
            • June
              elephants in june
              Good sunny weather this month, with highs of 27°C and lows a surprisingly chilly 6°C. The dry season starts in earnest … Most of the park is considered to have good game viewing potential and visitor numbers are moderate. It’s the beginning of high season, and by the end of the month, pretty busy. The waterholes will be delivering the goods: lovely tableaux of species can gather at one hole. The elephant will be back at the waterholes, barging in as and when they please.
            • July
              etosha safari lodge
              Full sunshine is the default weather forecast, with average highs of 27°C and lows of 6°C (it can and does occasionally hit 0°C) … We’re now in peak season, and waterholes will be well attended by both big game and tourists! This means the central part of the park is optimum turf, and game viewing wherever there is a water source is extremely rewarding. Booking in advance is essential.
            • August
              safarihoek lodge
              Peak season in terms of weather, international tourist numbers and waterhole action. August seldom sees a drop of rain, and average temperatures are rising: highs are 31° and lows 11° … It will be busy enough in the park for those allergic to crowds to consider staying in a lodge on a private reserve outside the park borders, or look to the less-visited Western side of the park. Acacia nebrownii trees flower by the hundred in August and September, each tree bearing “hundreds of thousands of yellow flowers that give off a lovely scent,” says wildlife photographer Mario Fazekas.
            • September
              elephant rest camp
              Still prime dry season game viewing time … Days are hot. Average highs are around 35°C, although a warm jacket may still be welcome on early morning game drives and when the sun goes down, believe it or not. It’s still peak season for Etosha for the first part of the month, and there will be traffic and some congestion at prime waterholes, which will be seeing all the big game action. The central section of the park will be buzzing. Not the African experience you imagined? Consider a lodge in a neighbouring private reserve and dip into the park itself as required.
            • October
              dik dik
              One of the hottest months of the year, with high temperatures averaging 37°C … You’ll be able to tell it’s really warm when you see the tiny dik-dik breathing rapidly: it has an enlarged internal nasal area with lots of blood vessels and ‘nasal panting’ helps cool it down (elephants flap their enormous ears to do the same thing). Happily, humans have iced drinks! Visitor numbers tend to be high to moderate this month (it quietens down). As with August and September, herds are plentiful in the central areas. If pressed for time, this is the place to go and one need not visit the eastern or western sides. There should be some showers this month, but it’s not guaranteed.
            • November
              sunset
              One of the hottest months of the year, when average temperatures spike: it’s 35° to over 40°. November is the real start of the annual rainy season … Once showers have drenched the thirsty land, vegetation springs to life – giving herbivores the chance to move into new areas to feed and become less dependent on the waterholes. November is somewhat of a ‘shoulder’ season though and visitors will see animals, fear not. This is the month that sees most cloud cover (fully overcast days), yet that averages only five to six days. Much of the rainy season is partly cloudy, with rain in the afternoons as opposed to set-in rain.
            • December
              banded mongoose
              The rains should have arrived, and the game will be moving east to browse in the Namutoni area and further north, beyond the road network. … The central waterholes quieten down and will no longer be visited much by elephant; rhino, too, may take some seeking out. Baby animals are born and shiver into action, able to walk in no time, but vulnerable for the first few days after birth. Visitor numbers soar in mid to late December as local holidays kick in. Book way in advance if you hope to travel at this time, for all accommodations inside and outside the park. Large family parties will be setting up camp in the park with everything including a kitchen sink and buzzing about in search of predators; if the crowds will intrude on the experience, choose another time. Average temperatures have cooled a bit with rains, but still average 35°. Intra-African and Palearctic migrant bird species should be here, an enormous plus for birders.

            Why Etosha?

            etosha pan

            Imagine a landscape so unearthly it was used as a set in classic science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey. A place where bone-white elephants shiver into view through mirages cast by heat and light. Here, giraffe tower over bleached grasslands that hide lion and cheetah; great herds of springbok and gnu stir up dust like mist. In the dry season, the vast salt pan that takes up almost 25% of this 22,935 km2 national park is an empty expanse of cracked white mud, visible from space.

            Water is the centre of this universe, and Etosha revolves around its galaxy of waterholes. This is a place where, rather than driving in search of game, one can pull up at a quiet pan and watch as creatures great and small come to share a drink. Clouds of red-billed quelea swirl overhead like omens and there is the sense that anything, anything at all, could happen.

            quelea etosha

            Unlike the rest of our beleaguered planet, there are more large mammals in this part of Namibia than there are people (Namibia squeaks into the top five least-populated regions on earth). A considerable number stroll around the startling expanses of Etosha, including the densest population of endangered black rhinoceros in the world. This is justifiably a top safari destination all year round, despite the fact that it is fenced and massively popular and an experience rather different to the great wildernesses of Botswana and Kenya. In dry season Etosha is a stark, shimmering vision of a place. Over 80 waterholes and pans (natural and man-made) are punched into the dry surroundings and the park’s road network leads from one to another like beads on a string. Most are to the south of massive Etosha Pan, and stretch from the busier East and Central section to the dolomite hills and mopane woodlands of the West, only opened to the public in 2011.

            dusty salt pan etosha

            In summer, the rains come and Etosha undergoes a spectacular transformation. If heavy enough, water fills the pan with a shallow layer of precious liquid that attracts masses of waterbirds, including Barbie-pink flamingos. Vegetation springs to life and the plains fill with spindly-legged baby antelope and wildebeest calves. This annual makeover adds to the changeable nature of the park, which draws repeat visitors for its reliable animal sightings.

            oryx

            Etosha was proclaimed over 110 years ago, and the original park accommodations and road network were designed for self-driving visitors. That said, there are other ways to explore: either by staying outside its boundaries and driving in, or with guided safaris. There are three “classic” camps that generations of visitors have visited with chalets and camping sites; in a way these are like busy mini-villages, complete with fuel stations and shops. These have been bolstered with two more contemporary and semi-exclusive “eco-camps”, and one site that caters to campers only. All (bar Okoshi) have a waterhole besides them, floodlit for guests to observe nocturnal activity. For those averse to crowds and unwilling to deal with the park staff (it has a reputation for being somewhat indifferent), there is a selection of accommodations scattered outside the park boundaries. These range from rustic enclaves to luxurious suites in choice locations on private reserves.

            halali camp
            Halali Camp

            Etosha at a glance:

            • 22,935km2 of dreamy, endless space
            • Landscapes like nowhere else: white clay pans, blue water, and shape-shifting mirages
            • Four of the big five (there are no buffalo)
            • 114 mammal species plus over 400 bird species have been recorded here
            • Waterhole central: scarce water draws the game like magnets in dry season
            • A low malaria risk

            Etosha National Park wildlife

            Elephant African elephant that have become accustomed to the relentless cycles of drought in Etosha and map its water sources in their memories. From just 26 in 1954, their numbers have swelled to over 2,500. It was in Etosha that a study proved that elephant can communicate using infrasonic sounds; they literally ‘bounce’ these off a thermal inversion layer in the atmosphere. This allows “conversations” they can hear for 100km further than normal.

            In the moist rainforests, you’ll find ancient cycads, giant ferns, orchids and long-stemmed lianas stretching across the damp undergrowth. Red-bellied-, and rare cyanide-eating golden-bamboo lemurs hang out in the dense canopies. Still more peculiar creations, such as giraffe-necked weevils, giant millipedes, satanic leaf-tailed geckos and a very special species of chameleon no larger than your thumbnail, all hide in the undergrowth.

            etosha elephants

            Springbok

            A particularly beautiful and bountiful antelope with distinctive colouring, horns that outline a heart shape and immaculate white tummies, despite the dust. They “pronk”: bounce with all four feet alternatively on and off the ground, for what seems to be pure joy.

            Black rhino

            Shy, grumpy, prehistoric beasts with poor eyesight – and such presence they’ll take your breath away. Browsers, not grazers: if you see a rhino mowing grassland, it will be a southern white.

            rhino

            Oryx, called “gemsbok”

            Pronounced correctly, with a harsh and rolling ‘g’, the word sounds nothing like the perfect angles and subtle patterns this lovely antelope displays. It has spectacular spear-like horns that even lion treat with respect.

            etosha oryx

            Damara dik-dik

            A pint-sized antelope, often no taller than a big coffee-table book, with a squeaky cry and a zig-zagging escape tactic.

            Type of traveller

            What type of traveller are you?

            • Solo travel in Etosha

              Namibia is a marvellous country for solo travellers, safe, accustomed to tourist needs and with excellent transport and communications infrastructure. This takes care of a lot of the anxiety about travelling to Etosha for many. One can easily take to the open road alone in a hire vehicle, and proceed to explore the park – but not all wish to. Besides the fact that striking out into a foreign country on one’s own can be intimidating, the distances are impressive, and driving for some is tiring. Even self-driving in the park itself – the primary activity – can be exhausting if one is always behind the wheel.

              solo game drive
              Okonjima Omboroko Campsite

              If being a solo driver is not a concern, those not after too much luxury might like to know that Etosha rest camps are often busy and the potential to meet others. The floodlit waterholes at the main camps are also ways to enjoy wildlife sightings with others, and one can book guided drives where shared animal sightings can be enjoyed. Solo travellers will enjoy all regions of the park – just remember that eco-camps Dolomite, in the west, and Onkoshi, in the east are the quietest, if priciest options. All roads to Etosha’s gates are tarred, but travellers planning on going further to Damaraland, or north via the western side of the park, will have to tackle some dirt.

              Certain solo travellers to Etosha will appreciate handing over all responsibilities and booking in at an all-inclusive lodge outside the park. Meals and game drives will be on offer when needed, leaving travellers free to admire the landscapes, relax in patches, and concentrate on what they can see through binoculars and cameras. Wake-up calls will help you up make dawn-patrol game drives, and cold drinks and meals will magically appear as and when needed. Many self-drive to their lodge accommodations, and then happily park for the duration. In this case, thanks to Namibia’s long empty roads, it’s a good idea to let your lodge know when you hope to arrive. Note that some areas en route will not have mobile phone connectivity.

              Those soloists who are chasing passions such as birding and wildlife photography can investigate specialised tours that cater to the particular needs such guests have.

              photographic safari
              Credit: andBeyond

              Solo travellers do have the disadvantage of not being able to share rates. Most accommodations will charge a single supplement, and it can be steep. Ask about specials and low season rates as these make certain establishments more affordable.

              Some lodges also attract more honeymooners and couples who stare at each other with an intensity others lavish on the wildlife! A Discover Africa consultant will know which lodges and camps are more likely to welcome singles, provide communal dinners and meals, and offer private dining should you wish to retreat. As accommodations around Etosha cater to self-drivers and independent travellers as well as fully-inclusive guests, there can be less mixing of guests than at remote safari lodges in other countries. Some seat self-driving solos at individual tables; singles booked on fully-inclusive trips are more likely to eat as a group with other guests. If this important to you, do ask your travel expert for advice.

              A guaranteed, ready-made “group” can be found – by taking a small-group guided tour. These range in quality and comfort levels, but there are some excellent operators with fine guides – the kind who can identify a small bird on the wing and know what medicinal uses a plant has. Most have set departures and itineraries, and will include Etosha as part of a trip that takes in a range of Namibian highlights. These can work out quite reasonably as they include most meals, park fees, accommodation and of course, that invaluable peace of mind. Groups of no more than seven are desirable. Whether lodges, luxury tented camps or actual “real” rough-and-ready camping, there should be an option to suit all budgets. Single supplements for your own tent or room are likely.

              For those with seriously deep pockets, there is also the option of a private guided trip, which can be customised to focus on regions of primary interest.

              • Travel tips
                • Self-drivers should travel with plenty of drinking water in case of breakdowns. Tap water can be drunk in Etosha unless otherwise stated.
                • Low-season rates may provide solo travellers with a better deal.
            • Honeymoon in Etosha

              There’s a reason so many couples choose a safari for those extra special occasions. So much about the experience sighs with romance: deep, dark night skies washed in starlight, the impossibly relaxing smell of sun-warmed savanna, rain on dry earth, or vegetation crushed by passing herds. Most importantly, it’s an escape to a place where the rhythms of life swirl around one. Ancient laws and cycles are observed; contemporary life takes a back seat and patterns of attraction and birth and death take centre stage. It’s proven that time in nature boosts health and happiness, and the Great White Place is nature on steroids. Add some contemporary luxury to all that delicious wildness – of the kind that can be found in a superior lodge – and the scene is set for romance.

              etosha village
              Taleni Etosha Village

              Couples celebrating in style will be well-catered to on private reserves outside Etosha. Often within easy driving distance of one of Etosha’s main gates, there are some extremely attractive lodges, villas and tented camps tucked into wildlife-rich surrounds or with sweeping views. For a safari of this kind, its likely one would opt for a fully-inclusive stay that will take care of all meals and activities such as game drives, let alone more menial tasks. Fly-ins, for those after the superlative experience, will offer views of the immensity of Namibia’s empty spaces. Lodge accommodations can be booked whether you are self-driving or doing a private tour, although there may be extra costs for the guide’s bed. We would recommend choosing accommodations based on the size of the camp (smaller is usually more intimate and cosy), and the presence of a floodlit waterhole if remotely possible: there is nothing like holding one’s breath, hand in hand as a leopard slinks to the water’s edge. Additional activities like rhino tracking, guided walks and hides are options couples may leap at experiencing together. If visiting in summer, a private plunge pool may be desirable, and some may like the idea of perks like outdoor showers. In winters, fireplaces in a lodge’s communal areas or a fire pit are nice-to-haves for atmosphere. Service in such accommodations really should be good and genuine – if not absolutely top notch. Compared to the classic restcamps within Etosha, however, it will shine.

              Most private reserves offer sundowners: drinks of your choice in an exquisite setting or at a remarkable animal sighting. One Tripadvisor reviewer recalls watching a crash of enormous rhino, drink in hand, as the sun eased itself below Etosha’s big horizon. It was, unsurprisingly, a highlight.

              There is also a plethora of down-to-earth, more reasonable accommodations outside the park if the private reserves are beyond reach or one is after a more rustic experience.

              A mobile safari can also whisk you from place to place in expert hands, and if higher end, is likely to be lodge-based as opposed to camping-based.

              The most romantic options in Etosha itself are undoubtedly the smaller, more contemporary “luxury eco-camps” of Dolomite in the west and Onkoshi in the east, although they won’t offer the enormous volumes and space of private suites, nor fine dining. They are, however, both marvellously situated, with shimmering views and all the joys of being in the park with (at Onkoshi) white-mud clad elephants wandering by like ghosts at dusk. And one can abdicate driving responsibility and book guided drives.

              onguma the fort

              For those to whom romance means proximity to the wild and the sounds of the bush filtered through canvas, the busy camping sites in the classic restcamps will probably not be top of your list. Even Olifantsrus, although 130km from Okaukuejo and with just 10 sites, can get busy (day visitors can visit). Unlike Botswana, private tours that offer wild camping in exclusive, unfenced areas are not allowed in Etosha itself – all private tours will accommodate couples in the official restcamps. If you’re not really suited to roughing it in a sea of other tents and caravans, perhaps the best option is to splurge a little and seek out a permanent tented camps on a private reserve. Private camping outside the reserve is also a possibility.

              By the way: overland tours offer adventure for couples who want to see the highlights of a region on a tight budget. But as the groups are relatively big, chores must be done and the itinerary is static with very long periods on the road.

              • Travel tips
                • Mosquitos aren’t romantic. If you’re camping independently, consider taking a net.
                • Take warmer clothes for drives and chilly evenings; winter in Namibia does actually have winter – temperatures plummet when the sun goes down.
                • Private dining (in your room) is usually an option at the better lodges, as are individual tables in communal dining areas.
                • Couples know each other best. Some may find large animals in close proximity frightening as well as thrilling. If an expert guide will help alleviate nerves, choose a guided tour.
            • Family holiday in Etosha

              There are families who have visited Etosha for generations, sometimes in family groups that range from pint-sized grandkids to grandads. Instilling a love for the park experience – exciting drives, mammal lists, tents, and searching biscuit-coloured grassland for biscuit-coloured lions – is a delight and a privilege, no matter the budget. A safari is an enormously exciting experience for most children, who will delight in watching creatures previously only seen in books and on TV walk and trumpet in front of them.

              kids activities

              There are some caveats – although many families will chose to ignore them; families are as different from each other as insects and mammals! Generally speaking, however, experts tend to suggest taking older children on safaris: eight-to-ten years old and up is perfect. Distances in Namibia are impressive, standard game drives far too long for wriggly tots, and it gets properly hot, which will wilt the sweetest-natured kid. Also empty landscapes, no matter how beautiful, tend to leave children unmoved.

              Choosing accommodations suitable for the family will of course be paramount. The Namibia Wildlife Resorts classic camps will be full of families and smaller kids are bound to meet others splashing in the pools. Some guided tours too, will book accommodation in these camps. The camps are relaxed and casual and self-driving allows parents to cater to their children’s tolerance levels. Guided activities for small children, however, will be limited.

              Family accommodations in more luxurious establishments outside the park is available – but suitable rooms, especially in the more upmarket establishments, can be limited at busy times. Book in advance. Self-driving, private tours and fly-in safaris are all options. Some lodges will not take young children, and families may have to book a private vehicle (smaller children will not be allowed on group game drives). Most lodges limit guided walks and such activities to older children too: check before booking. Parents able to choose all the creature comforts they desire may want to ensure that their rooms or family chalets have two bathrooms – extremely useful for the early morning crush before game drives or activities. A swimming pool is a great boon for children of all ages, and will often absorb all the extra time one has on safari with two drives a day.

              etosha safari lodge

              Upmarket lodges that cater for children may also provide a games room, short safe walks to look at plants and insects, private game drive vehicles (unfortunately rather expensive), and hides (great for leg-stretching and whispers). Rates for children will differ, from “under-threes free”, to full rates for kids of 12 and up.

              Families who are not self-driving can also find guided tours to suit their needs, complete with an informed guide – bliss for those who want to switch the planning side of the brain off. These can be all-inclusive and cater to different budgets, from camping to exclusive, fly-in options. Expect set departure dates for most, excluding the most upmarket. Try and be paired with another family; the children can play together. Lower cost camping tours sometimes do not include activities: check, as it can be very disappointing to be within a stone’s throw of a dream activity, only to find it is unaffordable.

              As Wanderlust notes, first-time safari goers with kids tend to be most concerned about health and safety. Etosha is considered very low risk for malaria in winter months, although repellent is always a must, as are long-trousers, socks and sleeves at dawn and dusk. In the rainy season, there is a malaria risk, although this is still considered medium to low. Many who are not travelling on to another malaria area or north to the Caprivi Strip (now called the Zambezi) choose not to take prophylactics, but consult a doctor. Of the medication available, etoshanationalpark.org suggests Malarone. If concerned about both the medication and the mozzies, pick a date at the height of the dry season and pack repellent.

              All regions of Etosha are suitable for family travel, so the choice of accommodations will decide things. The western region of the park has fewest options to choose from, both inside and outside the park and the game is not as dense.

              • Travel tips
                • Get the children some binoculars, and teach them how to use them before coming on safari. It’s a skill that adds huge value to the experience, particularly for nascent twitchers.
                • Get a species list from the camp shops for children to tick off or make your own: most love a treasure hunt for animals.
                • At the NWR classic camps, children under six stay free; children from six to 12 sharing with an adult pay 50%. Onkoshi does not accept children under six. Dolomite does, but is unfenced and has walkways threading between rocks; not an ideal playground.
                • Namotoni and Okuakuejo have small museums and there are interpretive exhibits up at some camps. Children will also love looking at sightings books where available – other visitors note what they have seen and where, leaving tantalising information that can help decide what waterhole to visit next.
                • Waterholes make Etosha special in winter: the animals come not only two by two, but at times by the hundred. Much easier for families than endlessly scanning grass and scrub for elusive critters.
                • As tempting as it is for children to run around barefoot when it’s hot, hardy sandals or closed shoes are recommended, especially when camping. This will avoid punctures (thorns) and stings (scorpions at worst).
                • Parents should be able to buy most essentials supplies at supermarkets in large towns. The sun may be more of a threat than any bug. Smear the kids with high-factor lotion and make them wear a hat.
                • Wifi is available at large camps; vouchers can be purchased at the camp shops. Teens will find this information essential.
                • Plastic bags are banned in Etosha.

            Budgeting for Etosha

            • Budget safari in Etosha

              Namibia is one of Africa’s easiest safari destinations to visit. Self-catering is possible (although be sure to book accommodations that have a kitchen with crockery and pots), shops are well-supplied, and long ribbons of tarmac unfold across its lunar landscapes. Self-driving is the standard for many visitors, and indeed the road-trip aspects are part of the attraction. It is rare to find a country as sparsely populated as Namibia, and the endless empty vistas can be stark but lovely.

              camping etosha-national-park-namibia-safari-camping

              Self-driving guests can visit Etosha, one of the world’s top safari destinations, on a shoestring. The classic camps in Etosha National Park offered campsites at N$300 to N$350 per person at the time of writing. Self-drive visitors will be right in the thick of the action, although seclusion will have to be sacrificed. Still, Etosha’s enormous open vistas make it difficult to feel crowded when out on drives, and the NWR resorts allow total self-sufficiency. Olifantsrus may be best placed for camping with fewer people, but there will still be company. Alternatively, if NWR rates seem high, even cheaper camping sites and rooms can be found outside the park.

              Various tour operators also take advantage of Etosha’s easy accessibility and offer self-drive tours: guests are sent an itinerary with bookings, hop in rental car on arrival, and just follow instructions. Armed with GPS directions, visitors then park at a reserve or lodge outside the park and enjoy all-inclusive experiences. This tends to work out less expensive than a dedicated vehicle and guide.

              For those allergic to maps and finding their way in lonely landscapes, the cheapest tour option is an overland tour, although this does not suit everyone and tends to attract hardy youngsters who don’t mind the unrelenting company and Spartan comforts. We’d recommend opting for a budget safari tour with as small a group as possible. The most reasonable of these tend to depart on set dates and take in key Namibian (and sometimes Botswanan) attractions. Many budget tours stay in accommodations in Etosha National Park – including campsites. Others will book guests in at accommodations outside the park. The advantage here is that these will have been vetted, and reasonable two to three star accommodations picked.

              self drive

              For those who have the option of picking when to travel, more affordable rates and specials can be found in low season outside Etosha (which ups rates annually). Savings are not, however, as pronounced as in some safari destinations, but may help to include a very special lodge for a night. Expect about 10% to 25% off, with possible extra specials for longer stays.

              • Travel tips
                • You can visit Etosha in a small car – as small as a Kia Picanto! You will, however, be closer to the ground and green season rains (January to March) will render some park roads unsuitable for small vehicles. Park authorities tend to close off the worst culprits.
                • NWR basic chalets cost from around N$1,400 to N$1,700 per person sharing in 2019 (double rooms are cheaper); breakfast is included. Prices escalate annually in July. Halali camp’s rates are lower; from around N$1,000 pps. While most chalets have a fridge and braai stand, not all have kitchens.
                • Book in good time. Local holiday times really affect availability.
                • It’s possible to stay outside the park at bed and breakfast, or dinner bed and breakfast rates, and buy lunch at an Etosha restcamp restaurant. Otherwise, pack snacks and picnics.
                • If not on a fully inclusive rate at the better lodges, be aware that extra activities can add up fast. For those who like more down-time and less buzzing about, however, non-inclusive rates will aid affordability.

              Try our African Safari Cost Calculator
            • An affordable safaris in Etosha

              International currency goes far in Namibia, and safaris here – even fully inclusive options outside the park with expert guides – can be considerably more reasonable than elsewhere in the region. The Namibia Wildlife Resorts options inside Etosha are affordable but not particularly cheap for what one gets: one pays for the privilege of being in the park. The best of the NWR options – for views, fewer people and the chance to be the first to etch tyre tracks over any big cat spoor on the roads – are Dolomite and Onkoshi, both rated for their spectacular locations. (Onkoshi is also good in green season as elephants tend to move east during this time, but some find it isolated and it doesn’t have a waterhole). The service and food at these camps receives fewer rave reviews, but is generally adequate and friendly. These eco-camps are not dramatically more expensive than the traditional “classic” NWR camps, yet are considerably more intimate and less busy. Guided drives will add up, however. Then again, the classic camps have their own charm for those immune to more people – plus conveniences such as fuel stations and shops and (in a few family chalets) full self-catering facilities. Just remember that all NWR camps are extremely popular in high season.

              etosha safari campsite

              Self-driving can certainly help keep costs down – one can then book into accommodations outside the park that match the budget. If one is the type of guest who enjoys two activities a day as opposed to lounging around a lodge deck, opt for fully inclusive rates at the more upmarket lodges to prevent costs escalating due to activity and meal costs. As meals, drives, guides and most drinks are included, these options allow one to pack the credit card away until you leave. These lovely lodges also tend to drop their rates somewhat in low season (January to April/May). Savings are not, however, as pronounced as in some safari destinations, but may help to make a few night’s stay possible. Expect about 10% to 25% off.

              Guided tours catering to various budgets are also an option – but not really deluxe camping safaris as wild camping is not permitted in Etosha. More upmarket tours won’t stick a tent village up in, say Namutoni’s campsite, but will book one in at lodges and tented camps outside the park according to budget. Tours are wonderful for peace of mind plus expert animal spotting (surprisingly difficult for first timers!). Groups, which are made up of a number of couples and solos and sometimes families who will leave on set departure dates, can become firm friends and are likely to eat and adventure together, with the guide joining the group for meals. Just opt for a smaller group wherever possible, with the best guide one can afford to maximise the experience. Many small group tours like this take in a number of key highlights in the region, such as Damaraland and the Skeleton Coast, as well as Etosha. If one’s goal is to spend more time in Etosha itself, there are more focused tours out there. Alternatively, there are tailor-made tours for families, private groups or couples – but these can be considerably more pricey.

              self drive close encounters

              Less pricey accommodations are also available outside the park, but are often further from park gates or on smaller reserves with no representatives of the Big Five. To make up for this, one is likely to find extremely comfortable rooms and extras like spa treatments – and good value for money. Where some tend to fall down is food – both the quality and price. If you know you have a sensitive palate, perhaps check menus and other guest reviews before booking or ask for expert advice from a Discover Africa consultant.

              • Travel tips
                • Go on a night drive if you are staying in Etosha. Rates are N$750 a person but the chance to see secretive night creatures like civets and aardwolf is not to be missed. Wrap up warm if it’s during winter! - The NWR eco-camps’ most reasonable bush chalets cost from N$1,820 to N$2,540 per person sharing. They accommodate two. Deluxe chalets are also available.

              Try our African Safari Cost Calculator
            • Luxury holiday in Etosha

              Even high-end guests sometimes choose self-drive safaris in Namibia, all the better to watch the flat landscapes unfurl to the growl of a motor. This is a country made for road trips. For those to whom time is the most precious thing, however, flying will be preferable. Small charter flights are available, and the top lodges will have (or share) airstrips. There is of course the added bonus of seeing the enormity of Namibia from the air; even the capital Windhoek is a mere blip of humanity quickly swallowed by red, white and khaki expanses of nothingness. With luck, you’ll see the 4,730km2 Etosha Pan from the air, shivering white upon the plains like a luminescent jellyfish.

              luxury at etosha safari lodge
              Etosha Safari Lodge

              Although justifiably billed as a top safari experience, Etosha might not tick all the boxes for first time safari goers. Its differences are its charms: the eerie stark pans in winter, the arid landscape with animals that have adapted to its cycles of rain and drought, and the ability to see to the horizon much of the time. It is a unique biome and deserves its accolades, but it is a busy place with ample tourists of all kinds; enormous, but fenced in; wild, but studded with the manmade waterholes that allow life to exist. Visitors who accept these contradictions will appreciate it most. Even if staying outside the park, do take trips into Etosha itself for the amazing landscapes; worth the bother of a bit of extra company. Those who want to explore the vistas through a lens may wish to look into a specialised, guided photographic safari, and expert birding safaris are highly recommended for avid twitchers. Photographers will prefer the ghostly hues of winter; birders will endure high temperatures in summer to see wetland birds and migrants.

              Unless drawn to the in-park amenities, finer accommodations will be found outside the park. The best are very good, although the most famous names in the Botswana and East Africa safari world are not represented. While any grumps tend to be about food or service, most guests appear to come away more than content with game sightings and lodgings. It’s advised to pick a large reserve with representatives of the Big Five to keep you company: one or two of these reserves have excellent conservation reputations and will offer exciting activities such as rhino tracking and guided walks, plus sunset and night drives. Sightings may not be as bountiful as in Etosha itself (which all lodges offer game drives to), but there will be the bonus of exclusivity: no unwanted, loud companions arriving just as the lions you’ve seen are slinking onto their bellies for a hunt. Guides are generally very good, and will do their best to find the more antisocial but desirable beasts.

              game drive luxury

              Specialised, tailor-made private guided tours to the area, with guests booked in at appropriate lodgings for as much time as suits them, are the other alternative. Other mobile, guided small group tours are advertised, and some are deluxe, but be aware that there is no wild camping allowed in Etosha National Park itself, so nightjar cries through (quality) canvas are harder to come by. Your best bet for a romantic, tent-and-lantern experience is likely to be a fine, permanent tented camp in an adjoining large private reserve.

              • Travel tips
                • Try and book at a reserve with as many Big Five species as possible for that extra thrill.
                • Rates seldom approach the highs seen at Botswana’s top lodges, so the most luxurious lodges available should seem reasonable. Booking ahead where possible is recommended to avoid disappointment.
                • Both fly-in and mobile safaris often have baggage limitations of 20kg, to be packed in soft suitcases that can be squashed into tiny planes.

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            Popular Etosha National Park Safaris

            These popular itineraries can be customised to match your budget and travel dates