“Etosha” in English translates to “Great White Place”.
Widely considered one of the world’s best places to go on safari, Etosha National Park spans a whopping 22,270 square kilometers. Situated in Namibia, Southern Africa, the park itself boasts a wide spectrum of terrain. The park is largely made up of a huge mineral pan, a part of the ancient Kalahari Basin.
Expect to find wide open landscapes dotted by natural watering holes and life-supporting vegetation. It seems the entire animal kingdom converges here, trekking through the wide open white plains and gathering around the water to rest.
The park became a Game Reserve in 1907 and today stands as one of the most incredible safari destinations on the planet. A must-visit for nature lovers and first-timers to the natural world alike, Etosha Park promises an experience like nowhere else on earth…
More than just a safari
Etosha National Park is so massive, the best way to experience it fully is by camping overnight. You’ll find a multitude of companies providing 3-day safari and Etosha camping trips to the park from surrounding areas, with varied package benefits and itineraries.
The park features numerous rest camps where you can unwind after a long day of lion-spotting. Sleeping among the sights and sounds of the park is the best way to experience the magic of Etosha. If you’re looking for something more, some tour groups offer trips of even up to 12 days, taking you into some of the more visceral parts of the region and providing an accommodation setup that will please virtually anyone.
A photographer’s dream, Etosha Park is a goldmine for some of the greatest pictures you’ll ever take. Bring a good camera with you, and you’ll take home some memories even more amazing than your gift shop buys. If you’re after a holiday that’ll seriously recharge your batteries and quench your thirst for adventure alike, a safari camping trip at Etosha is the ultimate choice for the whole family.
Ranger Tip: At night, some of the lodge camps turn on floodlights to illuminate the surrounding natural watering holes and reservoirs. This lets you see the animals in a whole new light – when predators are lurking in the dark night.
Wildlife like nowhere else
In Etosha National Park, you get the chance to spot four of the famous Big Five. Lions, elephants and zebras are well known to the park, including the elusive Black Rhinoceros, an endangered species that few get to witness elsewhere. At Etosha, there’s a healthy population of Black Rhino, making it that much more special.
You can also spot giraffes, hyenas, wildebeest, leopards, kudus and so much more. The park is teeming with life, so it’s best to keep your eyes peeled at all times on your tour. With an ecosystem consisting of up to 114 species of mammals and over 300 different species of birds, the animal kingdom comes out to play in all its glory. From the most vicious predators to the gentle roamers of the savannah, the park (now a game reserve) hosts some of the most spectacular wildlife there is.
Ranger Tip: If you want to increase your chances of seeing the most elusive predators, focus on the little things. Look towards the trees, rocks and other things that cast shadows – many animals like to keep to the shade during the daytime. Look close enough, and you might see a massive tail wag or hear a distant roar. Just remember to stay in your vehicle.
Best time to visit?
The best time of year to visit Etosha National Park is anytime between June and October. During these drier winter months, the animals of the park tend to gather around watering holes, moving around the plains less and making them easier to spot. The wet season (November to April) may be less crowded with other tourists, though sighting animals can be a lot trickier.
The dry and wet seasons remain somewhat similar in temperature, though summers may bring some heat waves of up to 40 degrees celsius. You’ll experience some cool nights of even 17 degrees in the drier season – just enough to sit outside and enjoy the floodlit views without breaking a constant sweat. Be warned though – it does get substantially colder on occasion.
With the popularity of the dry season comes the crowds – be sure to book your stay well in advance, so you can make sure you’ve got a space. Depending on what you’re after, you can certainly find packages and travel deals that give you some solitude away from the general crowds. If you’re travelling on a budget, the many mid-range travel deals out there are just the perfect thing to get amongst like minded nature-lovers and experience it all together.
What to pack?
Since you might get your shoes muddy and your clothes a little worn, it’s best to pack accordingly. Even in the dry winter months, temperatures may linger at a warm-ish 25 degrees celsius. Incase of a cooler night or two (and to keep the mosquitoes at bay), a hoodie and some jeans are definitely recommended. Most importantly, keep it casual and comfortable.
A good pair of sunglasses and a hat will do wonders on those days when it’s bright outside. Cloudy days are rare in the winter months, so be sure to protect your eyes from the sun’s glare. A few tubes of sunscreen will come in handy, especially if you’re out on safari for the majority of the day. Pair that with a wide-brimmed hat of your choice and you’ll be sure to avoid sunburn (and look the part too).
A small backpack comes in super handy when you’re on safari. Keep all the little things on hand like water bottles, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, etc. with a bag that’s big enough for a couple of adventure essentials, but still small enough for carry-on.
A good camera
You’ll be thankful you did. There are so many amazing things to see at your Etosha safari and the region in general, so you’ll thank your lucky stars you’ve brought a decent camera along for the ride. A solid set of long-distance zoom lenses will ensure you’re getting some incredible snaps. If you’re just after some basic holiday pics, your smartphone may be just the ticket. Beware though, you may spend a long time in the car while on safari – so packing an extra Power Bank or spare battery is always a good choice for your camera or phone.
Passport & travel docs
This one’s a no-brainer. Check your visa requirements for visiting Namibia and make sure you’ve got all the appropriate paperwork at hand. Make sure you’ve got your vaccination certificates with you too – if you need to visit the hospital for any reason during your trip, it’s best your doctor knows what your recent medical history is.
If you’re flying to Namibia from overseas, you’ll need some adapters that fit Type D and Type M electric plugs. These can be found at your airport, but it’s best to purchase beforehand and maybe invest in a universal travel adapter or two.
Travel Tip: Investing in a small hidden pouch or undergarment pocket may be a good idea. If your trip involves visiting Namibia’s larger cities, you may want to take extra caution towards protecting your goods from being stolen. Pickpockets exist everywhere, and you’ll simply have a better time on the road knowing your passport & wallet can’t be easily taken.
How to get there
Etosha National Park is situated 435km/270mi due North of the capital city, Windhoek. Flying into Hosea Kutako International Airport (just East of Windhoek) you can join a tour group or venture out by yourself in a 4×4 vehicle. The trip from the airport to Etosha by drive takes approximately 6 hours. If you’re in for the long-haul scenic drive or just want to save some holiday cash, the trip from Hosea Kutako by car may be the way to go.
If you’re looking for a quicker way to the park, taking another domestic flight from Hosea Kutako to Ondangwa Airport is best to substantially reduce your drive time. From Ondangwa, the drive to Etosha is only just over 2 hours.
If you’re after something a little more luxurious, you can hop on to a charter flight that’ll take you from various locations straight into the heart of Etosha Park itself. Some of the luxury lodges outside of the reserve have private air strips too, so if you’re looking to live in the lap of luxury, you absolutely can.
Know before you go
When travelling to Namibia, it’s advised to get vaccinated for the following:
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Yellow Fever
- Other Routine Vaccinations
Book your trip early
Etosha attracts a lot of visitors. Especially if you’re travelling with a group or with family, it’s best to book well before the season you intend to visit. The many hotels and lodges around Etosha get swamped in the high season, and you’ll want to make sure you’ve got your place both in the hotel and the safari car.
With wide open spaces and little infrastructure between Etosha Park and the cities, driving at night is seriously advised against. What’s more, you may experience some gravel roads that may make your driving time a little longer – renting a 4×4 over a 2WD is a good idea. Be prepared for speed limits of 80km/h and some traffic coming out of the cities. Most importantly, remember to drive on the left side of the road.
Invest in good shoes
Even when it’s warm, wearing a pair of closed-toed, sturdy shoes is advisable. You never know what’s lurking in the grass or the gravel, so use some common sense. A pair of light hiking shoes or comfortable work boots will save your feet from any misery. Be prepared though – you’ll probably get sand in them, no matter how heavy duty your kicks are.
Keep food & water on hand
When you’re venturing to the park, you won’t find too many rest stops or eateries. Stock up on some snacks & bottled water for the longer drives and make sure you eat your fill when you sit down with a hotel meal or otherwise. Out on safari, it’s best to keep some nourishments on hand. A couple of wrapped cereal bars and a few bottles of water should do the trick.
Exchange your money
In Namibia, you can pay in Namibian Rand or South African Rand. 200 Rand (approx 12 EUR) is quite a lot. Consider keeping some small banknotes on hand for the general stuff. Most lodges, hotels and resorts will of course take credit cards, but you’ll need some cash for smaller purchases – especially in shops and rest stops. Tipping is commonplace in Namibia and sometimes, you may be approached by locals who offer to guard your car for you, for some change. This is a regular occurrence in Namibia and South Africa – so no need to be alarmed.
Be prepared to go offline
When you’re on the road, cellphone and wifi coverage is rare to find. Most hotels on your trip will have wifi connectivity, though download speeds can be quite slow. It’s best to get into the offline mindset on your Namibian safari – after all, it’s the best way to truly unplug and get out of your 9 to 5 for a while.
Leave the environment as you found it
Etosha Park has been a protected game reserve since the early 1900s. Be extra careful where you leave your belongings and your rubbish. If you can’t find somewhere to toss it out, keep it in your pocket for later. Super simple. Also, try and refrain from taking any rocks, plants (especially small animals) from the park. Even the smallest things can make a difference to protected ecosystems.