Etosha NP. How to do a Safari with your own car

Some people travel to Namibia just to do a Safari in Etosha. It is considered one of the top 5 National Parks in Africa:

  • Etosha National Park (Namibia)
  • Masai Mara National Reserve (Kenya)
  • Serengeti National Park (Tanzania)
  • Chobe National Park (Botswana)
  • Kruger National Park (South Africa)

With its 22270Β Km2, Etosha is the biggest of the 5 most important National Parks in Africa. Namibia is the second less dense country in the world after Mongolia, which means that humankind has a small impact on wildlife all around the country. Having such a vast National Park in a so less dense country, together with the fact that Namibia has an extremely dry weather, makes the visit to Etosha one of the best things to do in Africa.

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Giraffes drinking in a waterhole

Why is dry weather a positive thing? It is because wildlife always stay close to the water. This means, that wildlife will also be close to waterholes and this makes it easier for you to spot lions, elefants, giraffes, …

Consider one extra thing: you don’t need to go with a group or prebooked safaris. You can do it by yourself: 100% freedom! This means that you get with your car to the park and start looking for wildlife. However, what it will happen is that wildlife will find you.

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Elephant under the sunset

We started our journey in Opuwo before lunch, more than 450 km away from the south entrance of Etosha. We had already a booked campsite inside the National Park: Okaukuejo was our destination.

We planned our visit to Etosha with two nights in the park. The first one in Okaukuejo, west side of the Etosha Pan. The second night was in Namutoni, close to the east gate of the park. This way we had one full day to go from one side to the other with our own car.

This is the map we used.

After 450 km our fuel tank was almost empty. There is a fuel station in the Okaukuejo campsite, but… Oh surprise! When we arrived the fuel station had ran out of gasoline! We had almost no fuel, and for sure we had not enough to cross all the park. It was sunset time and we wanted to stay next to the campsite waterhole, which someone told us it was one of the most beautiful places in the park… but I had no time! I needed to find how to fill our tank for the next day. Sitting on a bench, looking at the waterhole and listening to the birds above our heads, our minds were not focused on spotting mammals, we were just thinking how to cross the park…

I was already starting to walk to find some help when suddenly, like a present, we forgot about the fuel while a 12 member elephant family came to drink water and bath in front of our eyes.

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The magic moment

We can say that in Namibia we have had the best sunrise of our lives in Sossusvlei, which we explained here, and the best sunset of our lives in Etosha.

We stayed sitting, taking photos and videos till the family was gone. After that I went for help to the staff of the campsite. They said they would not have fuel till next day noon but we could not loose half a day! They also told us that the fuel truck would stop next day first in Halali, a campsite in the middle of our route to Namutoni. We had to pray to not run out of fuel next morning. We had no other option than filling the tank in Halali.

Elephant in Etosha
An elephant drinking in the sunset

It was already late and we had a booked night safari in less than an hour. So we cooked our dinner, eat fast and meet with our guide in the dark african night.

The campsites in the park are like forts with walls in order to make your stay safe. You can only cross the gates when they are open and always with a car, so there is a strict timetable which changes during the year. Check the times when you visit Etosha.

So, as I said, it was dark night. Okaukuejo gates were already closed and the only way to cross them was booking in advance a night safari. We strongly recommend you to do the same. Why?

  1. You’ll feel fortunate to be in such a place at night. Not many people can say it.
  2. You will see one of the starriest skies of your entire life. 0% light pollution.
  3. Wildlife is extremley active at night. You’ll be surprised.
  4. Some animals are easier to spot at night. For example, rhinos.
  5. The experience itself will be remembered forever.
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Bye bye day. Hello Night.

The guide gave us two ponchos. Once we started driving in the dark we understood why: the lack of windows in the jeep and the cold air made that cloth a survival tool. The jeep could not use the lights because lights can frighten the mammals that we wanted to spot, so instead we were using super power red lamps that the guide swung from right to left, from left to right, scanning the plain. This way we spotted dozens of Springboks sleeping in the dried grass, some zebras walking… and finally we stopped in a waterhole.

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Next day we spotted dozens of zebras passing by our car

Three rhinoceros were there: the mum, the child and one male. We could feel the tension. The male wanted to approach the child, and the ingenuous child also started walking towards the male. Then the mum ran and stopped between them. A violent reaction could have happened. The child was also a male, and the big male just wanted to kill him. There is only space for one male.

Then suddenly we heard a roar! A lion? The guide started to scan again in the dark but we couldn’t see it. Then three elephants came to drink water. Meanwhile the three rhinos were still looking at each other with no confidence at all. Then again, a roar! This time was louder. The lion was coming to us. But, where was it?

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Next day we spotted this lioness and the alert mammals

We saw it! 300 metres in front of us, the lion came out from behind the bushes and was walking toward us and the waterhole. Then I looked to the back of the car beacuse I thought I heard something. There was no red light pointing to the back of the car, so it was difficult to see anything. However, I spoted two black shades coming to us from behind. I told the guide, what is that? He pointed the light to the back and… 2 hienas!

– Don’t take your arms out of the car! – Shouted the guide. – It is very dangerous! – He said.

Hienas can tear your arm in one single bite.

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Next day we saw this two hienas with daylight

So at that time there was one lion, three rhinos, three elephants and two hienas playing the game of nature in front of us, in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere.

During the night from our tent we could hear the roar of the lions, the shouting of mammals, and some smaller animals running around our tented car. Although there are walls that protect you from the wildlife, never leave food outside your tent. Try to avoid any mammal smelling food or it will try to get it. Small mammals can find holes in the walls and they penetrate into the campsite.

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A giraffe eating

The next day we started our journey when the gate opened. We started our exploration of Etosha in our own car. It is important to go slow, so you don’t miss any movement among the bushes or you don’t hit against any animal. We started going from one waterhole to another follwing the map that we have attached above. When you find a waterhole you need to do three things:

  • Stop the engine of the car. The noise is not good.
  • If there is not wildlife, wait.
  • Prepare your cameras and the binoculars.

Don’t stay all day in one waterhole. If there is no activity for some minutes, go to a different waterhole.

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An elephant after drinking and one kudu

In one of the waterholes we could see hundreds of zebras coming to drink. It was amazing, they surrounded our car while coming to drink and some of them started a battle while others just starred at them in a courios way.

Finally we arrived at Halali campsite, in the centre of Etosha, and we could fill our tank! Just in time. Happy, relaxed, and enjoying our self safari.

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Zebra battle in Etosha

From Halali and after having lunch we started the second half of our journey: Halali – Namutoni. In this stage the waterholes were not so crowded, maybe because of the time of the day. Wildlife is usually more active during the sunrise and sunset. Anyway, we could spot dozens of mammals. We also could drive in the white pan of Etosha where you have a surreal landscape: two colors separated by the horizon, white and blue.

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Etosha Pan

We ended our day in Namutoni with a romantic dinner in the restaurant under the starred sky and a candle on our table. Nothing else needed for happiness.

The next day we did a short morning drive towards the north but we could not see anything different than the day before. It looks like the best zone of the park is between Okaukuejo and Namutoni. In the first stage you can see dozens of elephants in different waterholes and in the second stage, between Halali and Namutoni giraffes are more common. At least, this is what we saw.

So, if you go to Namibia don’t miss Etosha! Don’t rely on intrapark fuel stations! Have full battery in your cameras! And have binoculars with you!

If you want to see Etosha in movement don’t miss our video Wild Namibia!

Don’t miss our next adventures. We already know where is our next destination… Top secret for the moment πŸ˜€

Two Traveling Texans


20 thoughts on “Etosha NP. How to do a Safari with your own car

  1. Wow what an experience! I can’t believe how many animals you saw and how close they got. Neat that you can spend the night in the park too. I can just imagine how stressful the fuel issue was though. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! That was the most stresful moment in our travel. But we could forget it pretty fast. The experience of being surrounded by dozens of animals that we had only seen in books was amazing! Thanks for your comment 😊


  2. I’m so loving the photos. Doesn’t the poor giraffe look awkward when he drinks? What a vulnerable position to be in just to have a drink. #TheWeeklyPostcard

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! It is fantastic to have this experience with your own car. However, we didn’t expect the fuel station would not have fuel 😩 This is an important thing to know if someone wants to repeat the experience. Enter Etosha with the tank full of gasoline. Thanks for reading 😊


  3. I had no idea Etosha was the biggest National Park in Africa. Would love to visit Namibia one day! IΒ΄d be so stressed if this fuel story happened to me, but with all these stars, sunsets and wildlife it looks like such a magical “once in a lifetime” experience anyway! You photos are wonderful! #TheWeeklyPostcard

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! It was so stressful! We planned everything to be magical but we were afraid of not being able to cross the Park with enough time to see the elephants, rhinos, lions… fortunately it didn’t affect to our experience! Thanks for your comment! 😊


  4. Reading this made me smile. I spent a lot of time in Zambia last year but unfortunately never made it across the border to Namibia. The gasoline station running out of gas is so typical Africa, it happened to us many a time as well! It sounds like you had a fantastic experience here though. Your pictures are amazing, I especially love the Zebra fighting action shot!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Nicola, glad that you liked it so much πŸ˜€ It was a fantastic experience and we learnt a lot. I hope we can go someday to Zambia too, it is in our bucket list! Thanks for your comment 😊


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