Driving in Namibia – 5 Tips for Travelers

We recently visited this Southern African country and did spend quite a few days on its roads. It was the first time for me driving outside the Northern European countries and consequently it was also the first time for me driving on the “wrong” side of the road. It really did take some time getting used to driving on the left side. Driving in Namibia turned out to be an adventure in many different aspects.

Driving in Namibia

Driving in Namibia

So for anyone planning a trip to Namibia here are our five tips for what to consider when hitting the roads.

1. Driving on the Left Side of the Road

I was quite happy with our choice of starting our vacation in Namibia instead of South Africa. Having a population of around 2 milion people spread out over a large area, there really was no dense traffic. This meant that I had more time to get used to driving on what is for me the wrong side of the road.

Driving on the opposite side of the road compared to what you are used to comes with a few hazards. The risk of looking in the wrong direction in a crossing is obvious, but not always so easy in practice. We were told by a guy at the guest house where we were staying that there had been people arriving at the airport, renting their car and getting hit in the side at once when driving out from the parking lot.

Our advice would be to take your time before driving out in a crossing. There really is no reason to stress, so it is better to look in both directions instead of stressing to get out on the road. When we exited the parking lot at the airport we made sure that the road ahead was completly empty before going out in the crossing. Why be in a hurry when there are no other cars behind you?

2. Stop Signs at Crossings

This was something that took us some time to understand. When arriving at a crossing, instead of traffic lights as in Sweden there was a stop sign with a number below it. We of course stopped at these, but I had to google the rules at once the first evening.

It turns out that the crossings have stop signs from all connecting roads. The rule is that the first one to stop is the first one to go. The number below the signs gives you the information about how many roads go into the crossing, usually three or four.

So the second tip is to read up on the traffic rules and signs before arriving in Namibia. Driving in Namibia was not the same as driving in Sweden. There are new signs to learn and as with the crossings, the need to understand the new rules.

Driving in Namibia

3. Speed Limits

The speed limit could be considered normal. A bit slower in the towns and villages and faster along the main roads outside the towns. The top speed allowed is 120 kilometers per hour and the roads are not like highways in Europe. It is small narrow roads between the towns and when meeting other cars and lorries it does feel like they get a bit too close. There is also the risk of potholes, which in that speed would give you a very short time to react. Not to mention all the animals that walk along the roads, I would not like to hit a warthog, that is for sure.

Our recommendation is to really take your time and keep a speed that you are comfortable with. The roads are so straight that it is possible to see far in the distance, so you will eventually be going faster than you think.

4. The Distances

It is hard to imagine the distances in Namibia. I have always considered the distances here in Sweden to be something to consider when hitting the road. What struck us while driving in Namibia was how much longer the distances between towns were. During the drive from Okahandja to Otjiwarongo, a distance of 180 kilomteres, we noticed one thing. There really is nothing in between the towns except wilderness. That does include a lack of gas stations and lunch restaurants.

I cannot say this clearly enough. Make sure to stock up on enough gas, food and water for a long drive. You never know how far it is to the next gas station and you do not want to have a forced stop along the road without any water with you in the car.

Driving in Namibia did offer quite amazing views, but the distances gave a few thoughts about our planning.

Driving in Namibia

5. Gravel Roads

This was a surprise for us. We knew that there was going to be a lot of gravel roads in the country and our thought was that those might have a few more potholes in comparison with gravel roads in Sweden. It took some time of driving in Namibia before we encountered our first gravel road. We gave it a try, but after just a few hundred meters we gave up. The road was so corrugated that it was impossible to drive there with our small rental car.

So, make sure to plan where you want to go and check the status of the roads ahead. In case you need or want to go on long gravel roads, make sure to rent a car that is able to handle it.

Driving in Namibia

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28 Comments

  1. Gorette

    I currently live in Chicago but was raised in Namibia. It is a breathtaking beautiful and diverse country ranging from forest in North to desert in South.
    3 Major things to consider when driving in Nambia is wildlife crossing highways espescially at night. Wind drafts can be quite severe over shallow bridges and lots if water in car for human consumption and for helping out a fellow motorist at side of road with an overheated car!

    1. Thank you Gorette for the additions. We decided to only drive during day time due to the wildlife situation. I would compare the wildlife situation with here in Sweden, so for us there is nothing extraordinary with having wildlife along the roads. The kind of animals was for sure different though 🙂

      I believe that it is not possible to stress enough the need to bring extra water when driving, as you say. 🙂

  2. Jerry Pokrupa

    Mar 2016 we spent week self drive holiday in Namibia, renting a Toyota SUV 4 wheel drive. Yes the roads were straight and gravel roads very corrugated. What empressed us the most was the scenery. Drive for an hour and the scenery changes. Drove carefull, patient & will return for another visit.

  3. I can relate to this. I am from Australia so almost everywhere I travel is driving on the other side of the road. I have turned onto the wrong side of the road more than one occasion both in a foreign country and when I have returned home. There is always that sinking feeling of you thinking the other person is on the wrong side of the road haha.

  4. I never thought about driving around Namibia before but with these tips it seems like I could definitely do it. Its good to plan ahead like you said, especially if the gas stations are far between and the roads might not be that great. Thanks for sharing!

  5. I can relate to your post. Every country has different rules and we should definitely follow them for our own safety. Driving provides scenic views , will remember all these points whenever visiting Namibia.

  6. It seems simple buy really it can get really difficult to drive even if there is a small tweak in the rule. Namibia is not a country I have ever considered visitng but these vast barren landscapes do seem invtiing. Also, from your description it seems they have right hand drive like India, so it should be fine for me.

    1. We ended up renting a smaller sedan even though a SUV was recommended. The price difference was quite big between the cars. It was luckily possible to go most places with the sedan as well. 🙂

  7. Ami

    Interesting stuff about driving here.Some bits are similar to a lot of Asian countries – I guess that is why I would not be too shocked. However, you have given some nice tips on roads for someone heading to Namibia for the first time

  8. I’d love to visit Namibia – it’s high up on my wishlist. It’s good to know that it’s not too bad driving on the roads as tours are so expensive. And that they drive on the proper side of the road 😉

  9. Thanks for these road trips. In a new country and new driving conditions these cautions really help. We initially face some difficulties when we set off for a drive in Europe roads where it is LH drive in contrast to RH drive in Indian roads.

  10. It looks like a wonderful place to drive actually, not much traffic to be seen! I think it would be awesome to rent a 4WD and then really hit all those gravel roads. I used to live in Qatar and off road driving is just so cool, however you do need to be careful and going on the dunes by yourself is definitely a very bad idea.

  11. Thanks Jesper, many good informations here. Actually I’m planning to visit Namibia next year, so from the last month, I’m checking out every single info about that. Well, drive on the left side at the beginning could be very weird, since in Italy we drive on the right side…but if I’ll rent a car, surely a sort of Jeep, evene it’s difficult to find there..and I probably keep the spid limit to 80…120 in that “roads” is insane :D. Anyway, thank you for the tips.

  12. Brown Gal Trekker

    The gravel roads look a bit rough. We did driving in S. Africa which turned out to be very pleasant. Some of these reminders apply for that experience as well.

  13. Hello Jesper, my husband and I lived in Swakopmund, Namibia for a few months. I loved it there but you are so correct about driving. We first visited the country, over Christmas in 2013 and rented a car to drive from Swakopmund to Sossusvlei. We had a small Volkswagen car, not realizing that the roads were going to be gravel. OMGosh, what an adventure that was. It took us 7 hours for what would have normally been a 5 hour ride. We were some glad to see the resort when we arrived! It was funny, too, that everyone else at the resort had 4-wheel drive SUVs, so at the resort, there was a row of about 10 SUVs parked and then our little car! I just laughed…”Silly Americans, didn’t get the memo about renting a SUV!!!” Loved Namibia…such a beautiful country. Thank you for sharing and bringing back the memories! Wishing you blessings in 2017!

    1. Hello Sharalyn, nice to hear that we were not the only ones doing that “mistake”. It was at least possible to go around in a smaller car and Namibia really was an amazing country to visit. Happy travels during 2017. 🙂

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