A Namibia road trip is an incredible way to experience the country and renting a car was an essential part of our Namibia itinerary. We’ve driven on its good roads, its not so good roads and its off roads, through its deserts and cities and across its borders. Having experienced driving on Namibian roads on multiple visits we wanted to share everything we learned about driving in the country to help you plan your road trip in Namibia. Here are our top tips for renting a car in Namibia!
Why Rent a Car in Namibia?
The question we get asked most frequently about Namibia is should you rent a car in Namibia? From our experiences, driving in Namibia is safe, fun and simply the best way to explore this beautiful country! We’ve driven around Namibia a number of times, including an epic trip across Namibia and Botswana to Victoria Falls and every time it’s been an incredible experience.
The tarred roads are typically in good condition, the gravel roads are manageable and get easier to navigate with experience and off-road driving is only an optional part of your trip.
Tips for Renting a Car in Namibia
1 | Booking your rental car
Renting a car in Namibia is the best way to explore the country. Most of the main roads are good quality, however some are classed as gravel roads. For these (eg. Driving to Sossusvlei) we recommend getting a 4×4 as it will make driving much more comfortable. Having your own car gives you the flexibility to travel at your own pace and explore all the hidden sights Namibia has to offer.
We’re huge fans of road trips and have driven rental cars in almost 50 countries so we have a lot of experience renting cars in foreign countries. Book your car now with RentalCars.com, where you will find a great selection of cars at competitive prices – check prices now!
2 | Choosing a rental car
Rent the biggest car you can afford if you’re travelling for more than a few days and ensure it has good air con. The vastness of the country means you are going to spend many, many hours in the car and it is more than worth it to spend a little extra for some comfort. We, as three adults and a baby on our latest trip, shared a Toyota Fortuna, and it was perfect for a long haul trip. The tinted windows meant our luggage wasn’t too visible in the trunk and we had plenty of legroom during the trip. Window shades are also a great option if you have passengers in the back of the car as it gets uncomfortably hot during extreme temperatures.
Renting a Car in Namibia tip: Due to the extreme temperatures in Namibia its super important having good A/C in your car. Make sure your A/C is working when you pick up your car. It’s too hot to drive with the windows down!
3 | Do I need a 4×4 for Namibia?
Technically you can visit most of Namibia with a regular car and most of the major tourist sites can be reached without a 4×4. However, a 4×4 vehicle can make your trip much more comfortable.
There were many occasions where we needed it and loved having this freedom – Sossusvlei Dunes and Dead Vlei are two examples. You cannot access Deavlei without a 4×4 car due to deep sand and we saw other vehicles getting stuck.
Much of the Skeleton Coast is only accessible by 4×4 and Fish River Lodge at Fish River Canyon is only accessible via off-road – check it out here to understand why we made the trip! We also encountered a number of gravel roads that would likely be very uncomfortable in a regular car due to their very poor condition, especially after rain.
4 | Tips for renting a 4×4 in Namibia
If you are renting a 4×4 ensure you have the proper off-road tires and understand the tire pressure. Ask at the time of rental on the best way to handle the tire pressure on gravel roads – you’ll need to lower your tire pressure on sand and potentially on gravel roads to improve traction and reduce the chances of a puncture.
It’s worth checking this with your rental company when you pick up your car. This is especially important if you are renting in another country (eg. South Africa) , where off-road driving isn’t typical, and are planning to drive into Namibia on the 4×4 roads.
Namibia driving tip: Off road tires have thicker walls which vastly reduces the chance of a flat tire while on the 4×4 roads and tracks.
5 | Roads in Namibia
There are three road types in Namibia: tarred roads, gravel roads and off-road tracks. The tarred roads are typically in very condition and are very easy to drive on. The gravel roads vary in their condition and can range from very coarse gravel to sand. The off-road conditions tend to include very deep sand or rocky roads which have not been graded and require slow and careful driving to avoid a puncture or getting stuck.
Renting a Car in Namibia tip: Off-road tracks will be marked clearly before entering so don’t try them if you don’t have a suitable car. At best you’ll get a puncture and at worst you’ll get firmly stuck and need to be rescued! We encountered a number of visitors stuck along the skeleton coast in saloon cars.
6 | Namibian Dust
Driving on gravel roads in Namibia means that your rental car will get covered in the fine dust that sprays up from the road. You need to be careful when entering and leaving your car (and opening the trunk) after your journeys as this fine dust sticks to everything, clothes, bags, electronics. It’s worth wiping down the edge of your doors and trunk each day to avoid a buildup of too much of it.
Renting a car in Namibia tip: If you are visiting Sossusvlei and the red dunes be careful not to get red dust from your car on your clothes as it stained some of ours!
7 | Driving on Namibia’s Gravel Roads
Long stretches of gravel road are part of the adventure of visiting Namibia and we found them relatively easy to drive on. Although the roads are gravel based they are generally in very good condition and well maintained.
The roads are covered in a mix of gravel and dust/sand and usually have a more solid track in the centre of the road where the gravel was most compacted.
Renting a Car in Namibia tip: Try to avoid driving in the sandier sections of the road as it’ll be harder to drive and you car will tend to drift in the sand if it gets too deep.
The gravel roads have no road markings but do have traffic going in each direction. Due to this we recommend slowing down when meeting oncoming traffic to avoid causing damage to either your car or the approaching vehicle from flying gravel.
Avoid driving near the edge where the road is not as graded and beware of sudden dips in the road. The dips are often marked: we found that there tended to be signs warning of the dips en route to Sossusvlei
8 | Spare Tires
Always carry a spare wheel and more importantly know how to change it. If you’re not familiar with the car ask the rental company to demonstrate how to change the tire. This is super important as 4×4’s spare tires are usually stored under the car and can be tricky to get to if you don’t know the car! Don’t ever drive without a spare wheel outside of the urban areas as you could end up in a really difficult situation and with no passing cars to help out for hours.
Renting a Car in Namibia tip: Make sure you check with you rental car company where the spare tire is and that it’s inflated. Most 4x4s carry the spare under the car chassis and are lowered from inside the trunk.
When driving on gravel roads be aware of train tracks and farm gate crossings. Gravel and sand tend to get very compacted at the crossings and it’s crucial to reduce your speed to avoid a puncture.
9 | Speed Limits
The general speed limits are 120 km/h on tarred roads, 80/100 km/h on gravel hours and 60 km/h in urban areas. The gravel roads are in varying conditions and, speaking from experience, a puncture is a real possibility – it’s best to consider the condition of each road and reduced your speed accordingly. We noticed that the Namibian drivers rarely, if ever, broke the speed limit.
We found that it’s really not comfortable to drive above 70 km/h on the gravel roads and that was in a 4×4.
Renting a Car in Namibia tip: Many rentals are equipped with black boxes which track the movement and speed of the vehicle during the rental: this means that your insurance may be invalid if you have an accident and are acting outside the terms of the insurance so it’s important to understand the rules at the time of renting. Stick to the speed limit and rental rules!
10 | Drive times in Namibia
Car journey distances in Namibia are usually in the 100’s of miles long so drive times in Namibia are generally quite long. For example, the popular route from Windhoek to Sossusvlei will take around 5-6 hours with stops, with most other trips a lot longer. It’s very important not to underestimate the journey times and allow lots of additional time for stops and breaks.
Our biggest tip for drive times is to work backwards from sunset and plan to arrive at your destination at least 2-3 hours prior to sunset.
11 | Set out at Sunrise for Long Drives.
This will help avoid the extreme temperatures at midday and will give you a buffer if the drive time is longer than expected. It’s important never to drive after dark outside of urban areas (see more on this below) so you need to ensure you reach your destination promptly.
Renting a Car in Namibia tip: Let your accommodation know to expect you if it is in one of the more remote areas. It’s important, in the event of an accident, that someone knows to raise the alarm.
12 | Have multiple drivers and take breaks
Due to the long drive times in Namibia, it is useful to have multiple drivers. Most rental car companies will allow you to add an additional driver and it’s definitely worth considering in Namibia.
Distances and drive times in Namibia are no joke. Even the drive from Windhoek Airport to Namibia roads tend to be long and straight or require intense concentration when they become gravel. Either way, they’re tiring so ensure you plan realistic journeys or have someone to share the driving with.
18 | Navigation
A good GPS is essential and due to cell signal, we don’t recommend relying on Google Maps. We used an offline GPS app that we have on our cellphones and, on occasion, used the data on the sims we purchased at the beginning of our trip. It’s always worth carrying a paper map in case technology fails.
Renting a car in Namibia tip: Double-check your route before you start and have a general idea of the route before you set out each day. This is especially important in where you are journeying on gravel roads.
13 | Don’t Drive after dark
The number one rule is to avoid driving after dark! Our car rental company advised us of this a number of times when we picked up our car. There are a number of reasons for this:
- In some areas there are lots of people walking on the hard shoulder after dark and it was almost impossible to see them with the head lamps as they didn’t typically wear any reflective gear.
- Many of the roads do not have fluorescent line markings or cats-eyes. This makes driving after dark particularly difficult as it can be difficult to see the road!
14 | Purchase a Local Sim Card
We highly recommend purchasing a SIM that can make calls when you arrive in Namibia. We found it essential if you need to call for assistance. You can pick up local simcard at Windhoek airport that is reasonable and offer good reception – the data allowance isn’t as important as the cell signal and phone calls.
15 | Carry extra water
Always, always carry water. Temperatures can be extreme and water is essential. Even a quick tire change will require plenty of water to recover lost fluids.
16 | Pick up a Cooler for your car
Speaking of heat, we highly recommend buying a cooler for your car for keeping your drinks cold on your trip. We picked one up at a supermarket in Windhoek and used it every day.
17 | Drive on the left hand side
Driving is on the left-hand side in Namibia.
19 | Taking a rental car in other countries
Most of the major rental companies allow their cars to be driven into Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.
30 | If you want to drive outside of Namibia be sure to mention it to your rental company when you pick up your car. We rented from Avis and received a letter (free of charge) for customs which gave us permission to enter South Africa and Botswana with the rental car. We also received a similar letter allowing us to travel to Namibia after picking up our car in Cape Town on another occasion but this took much longer to obtain. These letters were required at the borders so don’t lose them! We were still liable for the vehicle border-crossing fees.
20 | Fuel and Gas Stations
Gas stations can be infrequent so plan your route accordingly and top up whenever possible. Towns can be few and far between in the more remote areas so ensure you map out your fuel stops along with the route and fill up frequently.
There are petrol attendants at all the fuel stops who will fill you up, bring the credit card machine and wash your windows as you wait. If you need it, they can check your oil, water and tyre pressure. As a tourist, it’s customary to tip a small amount such as 10 or 20 Namibian rand for the service.
21 | Keep your lights on
It is a requirement to keep your headlight on (dipped) during daylight hours. It makes it much easier for other cars to see you with lights on during the hazy heat during the day. Most drivers keep their lights on at all times as it makes cars easier to spot and is a great safety precaution.
So there you have it: our best tips for driving through Namibia on a road trip.
For more Namibia articles:
- Our Namibia self drive itinerary
- The best stops from Sossusvlei to Swakopmund
- Our Namibia, Botswana and Victoria Falls self drive itinerary
- An overview of our trip from Namibia, the Okavango Delta and Victoria Falls