Self Drive Family Safari in Namibia and Botswana
Our next country, Namibia, is somewhere new for all of us. It was somewhere we have read lots about, and I’ve heard that it’s the friendliest African nation. That coupled with the boys passion for animals, we couldn’t miss a self drive family safari adventure!
Are safaris suitable for families?
Many guidebooks suggest that you should be at least 8 years old for safari, with some suggesting 12 as the preference. So taking 2 boys age 7 (although turning 8 in Namibia!) & 9, I was a little hesitant. Step forward over cautious mother!!
I did have some ridiculous motion that you couldn’t get out of your vehicle… Like ever (apart from in towns etc)!!!
Needless to say the reality is nothing like the images I had conjured up. In fact it was hard enough to find animals in the safari park, let alone outside them! But don’t judge me too harshly as our previous camping safari experience didn’t provide me with overwhelming confidence and it was a while ago!
Obviously when booking a tour with a company you get first hand knowledge. The tour company came up with several suggestions but, as I mentioned, budget and getting the right balance for me and the boys meant lots of toing and froing. Eventually we came up with an itinerary which suited all of us. The tour company were very patient:
Windhoek – 1 night & pick up 4wd car hire from Namibia car rental
Sesriem – 2 nights (sand dunes)
Swakopmund – 2 nights (activities & beach resort)
Damaraland – 1 night (desert elephants & boulder rocks/white lady spider)
Etosha – 1 nights (west etosha)
Etosha – 2 nights (east etosha)
Rundu – 1 night (chill out)
Manghu – 2 nights (west caprivi)
Mudumu – 1 night (East caprivi)
Kasane, Botswana – 2 nights (Chobe national park)
Victoria falls, Zimbabwe (don’t get confused with livingstone which is in Zambia – the other side of Victoria Falls) – 3 nights
We would have loved to explore Botswana further but alas the cost is much higher! Instead we merely dipped our toe in and hope to come back again one day.
Also, since completing the safari I would suggest 2 days in West Etosha and 2 days in East Etosha. Game drives can be quite tiring and it’s nice to relax and clean up one afternoon. Plus it gives the option of sunrise or sunset drives where you are more likely to see animals.
In our personal experience I would also push onto Botswana and skip East Caprivi. Maybe with the option of more activities in Botswana if possible.
I’ll provide a separate blog post regarding our route with activities and what the drive was like.
What to take on Safari
We arrived in July 2018, which is wintertime. For the most part it was pleasant.
The days can be very hot if the sun is out but the early mornings and evenings/nights get very cold in most places, especially if there is a breeze. We were unlucky to catch a bit of a cold spell so the early mornings and late evenings were especially chilly! brrrr…
Most places have outdoor eating so be prepared to wrap up for dinner. The first hotel in windhoek we stayed at required formal attire to eat in their restaurant, but this wasn’t the norm. We ordered room service instead.
During the day we tended to wear our sandals, but it is recommended to wear closed toe shoes while in the desert because of scorpions!
We were on a self drive tour so did all the driving ourselves. However, if you choose to go on a game drives with your campsite/lodge then wrap up warm. The vehicles are open trucks and can get very chilly. Also bring a buff both for warmth and dust/sand.
So my recommendation would be:
- Warm coat
- at least 2 fleece jumpers or windproof tops
- several t-shirts
- cotton shirts or safari shirts are handy as dark in colour but breathable.
- couple of Cargo pants
- Walking shoes or trainers
- Walking sandals
- buffs for warmth and sand/dust
Non clothing essentials
- SIM Card
- Camera and binoculars (absolute must)
- Animal Guidebook
- Map & Sat nav (both of these were provided by our tour company)
- Drinks (make sure they are in the cab with you before you set off)
- Entertainment for the kids (kindle fires and kindles were great for ours)
- Earplugs (these were more for me!)
- Firewood, if camping (purchase this at the first available opportunity)
- Lighter, if camping (although we were provided with matches)
Note: Don’t bother bringing your sunday best – this ain’t no cruise! Laundry is available at campsites but they usually need a full day to do it and it can be costly. You’ll be wearing the same clothes for days and stinking like the rest of us… or maybe that was just us!
A friend recently asked me if we had been eating freeze dried food packs while on our family safari. It made me chuckle, but to be honest before I got here I was on Google maps looking at towns and what shops were there.
With Namibia being the 2nd least populated country in the world you’d be forgiven for thinking there’s not much here! However, the towns (although not too frequent) provide most of your needs . The larger towns definitely have a supermarket and it’s advisable to stock up wherever possible. Other times we just used the shops based in the petrol stations which were pretty well stocked too. There was more than we expected.
Our camping vehicle came with a fridge so storage was easy. Although, if you are on a self drive and family safari, you are NOT allowed to take raw meat or uncooked eggs into Etosha national park. These will be confiscated when you leave!!
To give you an idea we ate:
- Game steak and vegetables
- Spaghetti bolognese
- Sausage, mash and beans
- Pasta Arriabatta
- Lentil Daal & Rice
- African Curry & rice
- Packet Noodles
We certainly weren’t eating gourmet food but we did pretty well and didn’t starve! Plus most campsites/lodges have a dining room if you decided not too cook. My favourite meal was our African Curry – prepared during a thunderstorm and eaten under the shelter of our tents!!
Prior to leaving home we checked our medical centre what we required and this area was listed as a malaria zone. We therefore have been taking Malarone (paediatric version available for the boys).
We have not experienced any side effects with these tablets. However, we also have only heard/seen 1 mosquito in 3 weeks!!! And I was the only one to be bitten.
As we are travelling for a year we had to get quite a few injections, but for this family safari only the following are required:
Check for current medical advice, we used website www.NaTHNaC.net which advises Tetanus, Hepatitis A and Typhoid vaccinations.
Aside from this we also travel with a compact First Aid kit. The only things we have had to use so far are plasters and Savalon.
From the start we were advised that the water was ok to drink but best not to for Namibia, Botswana or Zimbabwe.
In a bid to reduce our plastic consumption we have purchased a water filter system (Aquasafe) which has very good reviews. We have used this on our family safari for the past 3 weeks and are pleased to report no issues.
Where possible we should try to reduce our plastic pollution, so we recommend bringing a filter system with you if you are travelling to the area.
Namibia use Namibian Dollars and South African Rand. The currencies are 1:1 (bit like manx and english currency) and both are accepted without issue. However, for the most part we continue to use our Revolut Card for all payments.
Botswana use Botswana Pula. I believe other currencies are accepted but they are not 1:1 like in Namibia so you need to check this. As we were only there for a few days we paid for everything on card and so didn’t get any currency. Kasane was a large town with a small shopping centre with ATMs and a huge Spar shop!
Zimbabwe appear to only use USD as the country does not have any local currency – it’s all a bit mad! You are not able to get money out of ATM machines or from banks and should be prepared to pay for everything using your card (this is where a Revolut card is brilliant as it doesn’t have fees). I suggest you take some USD with you (smaller denominations are better).
- Namibia uses South Africa plug sockets
- Botswana have mainly English plug sockets with a few south african ones.
- Zimbabwe have English & South African plug sockets
Namibia – we arrived in Windhoek via plane. The immigration was a simple process, but if you are arriving with children you MUST have an unabridged birth certificate.
We contact the IOM registry and the advised us to get a copy of the boys birth certificates notorized by the courts. This was mainly because many countries don’t recognise the Isle of Man as a country and it causes great confusion!
Botswana – we drove to the Ngoma Bridge border crossing and had to complete forms for each of us (make sure you place the forms inside the correct passport!).
We then drove to the Botswana Border post where there is a tiny room and only 1 booth! to process all the applications.
To say it was hectic was an understatement! However, the ladies didn’t take no messing and she would only process the applications if there was a straight line! Brilliant! Each visa processed took about 10 minutes so you can imagine if there’s more than 2 of you it’s going to take a little while!
We’d also heard you needed the birth certificates at botswana but they didn’t ask for them.
After you get your visa you then go to another counter and process the vehicle. They like their paperwork!
The car rental company had given us the cross border documentation that we required and the vehicle registration cost N$152. We paid in ZAR (south african rand) but I’ve read that they don’t accept Namibian dollars so it’s worth checking with the car rental company.
When you eventually get your paperwork in order you then need to get your vehicle, get out and disinfect your feet (to prevent transmission of hand, foot and mouth disease) and then drive on your way.
Zimbabwe – We decided that we would leave the car in Botswana and get a transfer across the Zimbabwe border. We’d read some stories of difficulties at the border and so with the kids we thought it easier to have help there if needed.
As it happens there was no difficulty for us. The day before had seen several overlander trucks go through and as such the guide told us it had taken 5 hours to get a visa! We were in and out in 20 minutes! winner.
The guards all seemed quite jovial and were all joking and laughing while processing our visas.
The visas cost US$55 per person (including the kids). There was an option to pay in Euro’s if that was the currency we had. Luckily we did have enough currency and were able to pay as their card machine was not working. Unfortunately the couple in front of us were not so lucky and had to return to Kasane to get money exchanged. There are no ATM machines at the border post.
All in all Namibia has been awesome. It isn’t like any other African country I’ve visited. The warm and friendly nature of the Namibian people have blown us away and I’m so pleased we decided to add this destination to our Round the World adventure.