Africa without a guide? No, not Morocco, Cairo or Cape Town. I’m talking about the barren plains of Africa, the wide open spaces, the I-haven’t-seen-another-car-on-the-road-for-an-hour wilderness all. by. yourself. A game drive without a game driver. A hike through the desert without someone to point you in the right direction. We did it, and so can you.
It does take some planning, and money, but it is well worth it. It also takes the right place. Namibia is this place. In fact, Namibia is known as “Africa for beginners.” The description is correct. Besides a 4-night stint in Cape Town, South Africa, Michael and I had never been to the wild continent before.
So, how did we do it? Read on to learn how we managed to spend a solid week in Africa by ourselves, without a guide, helper or bag schlepper. OK, you’re right. You know me too well. Mike was my bag scheppler a few times!
Who? (did we book our tour with?) Mike and I researched this a lot. We looked into three different companies who specialize in helping travelers see Namibia via road trip. We settled on The Cardboard Box Travel Shop (fancy name, heh?) The other companies were not horrible, but we booked with Cardboard Box because of the median prices, quality customer reviews and impeccable customer service.
Who? (is this trip for?) I am 100% sure that this trip is for every gender, age and ability level. If you can drive and read a map you are set. If you can appreciate independence and surrounded by beauty then you’ll be just fine!
What? Choosing what to see in Namibia is the hardest part of the process. Honestly, it is. We narrowed it down to a few must-sees, with a few can-we-squeeze-it-in locations and then the agent at The Cardboard Box did the rest. Our representative emailed us a preliminary itinerary, based on our financial and time budgets. We were then able to make a few adjustments. From there we booked our trip with the following itinerary:
- 3 nights in Etosha National Park (2 nights at Halili Rest Camp & 1 night at Okaukuejo)
- 1 night in an absolutely unique B&B in the coastal town of Swakopmund – complete with an amazing seafood meal, a snack at a German café and an ATV ride in the Namib Desert.
- 2 nights in the Namib Desert and Sossusvlei National Park
- 1 night in Windhoek for our earlier morning departure flight.
The Roadtrip: Even though we stayed in three distinct areas of the country, the road trip was just as spectacular! Even in the “nothingness” of Namibia there is beauty. The road conditions changed from paved to dirt, smooth to bumpy and back to smooth. The lone ostriches roaming the plains were unexpected. The sign signaling the Tropic of Cancer was a pleasant surprise as well. My point is, a road trip guarantees that you do not miss the grandeur of the country in between the major cities.
When? We traveled in Namibia in July. The mild winter was perfect! Low (to no) humidity was a welcome change for this Florida girl! Not to mention, winter is dry. This is a plus for a few reasons. First, less chance of your activities getting rained out. Second, fewer scorpions are out (YAY!). Lastly, and perhaps the best argument for traveling in Namibia during their dry season is that animals tend to congregate near watering holes for obvious reasons. This makes sighting a bit easier and more likely!
How? (This is how it worked for us, at the time, with The Cardboard Box Travel Shop. Your experience may vary, depending on who you book with.) We cleared customs at the Windhoek Airport and walked directly the Avis Rental Car desk. We told them who we were and the clerk handed us a packet. The packet contained hotel confirmations and a detailed map. And when I say “detailed” I mean it was highlighted, covered in hand written notes with restaurant recommendations, information on gas stations, etc. We were thrilled with how exact this map was. We signed for the rental car with Avis and were off. Yes, it was that easy!
Want a bit more of a challenge? Plenty of people (with and without children) rent trucks with tents, mini fridges and do the same road trip we did, minus the hotel rooms!
What’s Left? We saw a lot of Namibia, but there is so, so much more to explore! Your itinerary might look different from ours. Namibia is a very big, very diverse country!
Why? To see a lion eating its prey. To watch elephants fight. To watch the sunrise and set over the desert. To see the skeletons of trees that have been dead for hundreds of years. To make memories. To experience a wild frontier. To learn!
But honestly, I think the better question is: “Why NOT?”