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Namibia - Travel and visas
Currently all visitors require a passport which is valid for at least six months after they are due to leave, and an onward ticket of some sort. In practice, the second requirement is rarely even considered if you look neat, respectable and fairly affluent.
At present, British, Irish and US citizens can enter Namibia without a visa for 90 days or less for a holiday or private visit, as can nationals of the following countries: Angola, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Cuba, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Lesotho, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Macau, Malawi, Malaysia, Mozambique, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Russian Federation, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
That said, it is always best to check with your local Namibian embassy or high commission before you travel. If you have difficulties in your home country, contact the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration in Windhoek (Cohen Bldg, Kasino St, P Bag 13200, Windhoek; 061 292211).
The 90-day tourist visa can be easily extended by application in Windhoek. You will then probably be required to show proof of the ‘means to leave’, like an onward air ticket, a credit card, or sufficient funds of your own. The current cost of a tourist or business visa is £30/US$50.
Several reliable airlines fly to southern Africa from Europe, with onward connections to Windhoek. Most fly overnight, so you can fall asleep on the plane in London, and wake in the southern hemisphere ready to explore. The time difference between western Europe and Namibia is minimal, so there’s no jet lag.
Air Namibia’s (SW; www.airnamibia.com.na) only direct flight to Windhoek from Europe is from Frankfurt, with connections to London on British Airways. Flights depart from Frankfurt for Windhoek, and return every evening. Air Namibia also operates connecting flights to/from Johannesburg and Cape Town to link up with most of their intercontinental flights to/from Windhoek.
For many European travellers, the best choice is to fly via Johannesburg. There’s a whole host of other options here, from many European airports. British Airways (BA; www.britishairways.com) and South African Airways (SA; www.flysaa.com) have daily overnight services from London, and both operate add-on connections to Windhoek, run by their subsidiaries. Virgin (VS; www.virgin-atlantic.com) also services the Johannesburg route, though their add-on prices to Windhoek are not usually as competitive.
Expect to pay from around £850/US$1,400 return if booked direct with the airline. Prices rise significantly for departures during Easter, July and August, and peak from mid-December to mid-January, when you can expect to pay upward of £1,600/US$2,600. The quietest periods are mid-April to the end of June, and November.
From the Americas
South African Airways operates direct flights between New York and Johannesburg, code-sharing with United (www.united.com), which connects with numerous regional flights to Windhoek. Delta (www.delta.com) operates direct flights between Atlanta and Johannesburg. Alternatively, many travellers from the US approach southern Africa using connections via Europe, joining Air Namibia’s flights in Frankfurt, or travelling on one of the many carriers servicing Johannesburg, and then connecting through to Windhoek. As in Europe, start your research online.
Given the duration of these flights, travellers often include a few days in Europe as they transit. However, do allow a day or so in London between the flights, as your flights will not technically ‘connect’ – and if one is late you don’t want to miss the other.
From the Far East, there are flights between Johannesburg and most of the major centres in the region, including Hong Kong (with South African Airways or Cathay Pacific) and Singapore (Singapore Airlines). From Australasia, the best route is probably one of the flights from Perth or Sydney to Johannesburg, with South African Airways or Qantas, connecting to Windhoek.
Entering over one of Namibia’s land borders is equally easy. Namibia has fast and direct links with South Africa – good tarred roads and railway service. Namibia’s borders are generally hassle-free and efficient. If you are crossing with a hired car, then remember to let the car-hire company know as they will need to provide you with the right paperwork before you set off. Opening hours at the borders – listed clockwise – are as follows. Note, however, that in winter, between April and September, opening times away from the Caprivi Strip may be an hour earlier, and that all times are subject to change.
Abridged from the Getting around section in Namibia: the Bradt Guide.
Driving yourself around Namibia is, for most visitors, by far the best way to see the country. It is generally much easier than driving around Europe or the USA: many of the roads are excellent, the traffic is light, and the signposts are usually numerous, clear and unambiguous.
Driving gives you freedom to explore, go where you like and stop wherever you wish on journeys across the country, but it doesn't restrict you to your car every day. When visiting private camps or concession areas, you can often leave your hire car for a few days, joining daily 4x4 excursions into more rugged country, led by resident safari guides.
If possible, we'd recommend hiring a vehicle for your whole time in Namibia, collecting it at the airport when you arrive, and returning it there when you depart. This also removes any worries that you may have about bringing too much luggage (whatever you bring is simply thrown in the boot on arrival).
However, if your budget is very tight then you may only be able to afford to take a vehicle for just a few days, perhaps from Windhoek to Swakopmund via the Sesriem area, or to drive around Etosha. However long you keep the vehicle, the type you choose and the company you hire from can make an enormous difference to your trip.
Namibia’s internal air links are good and reasonably priced, and internal flights can be a practical way to hop huge distances swiftly. The scheduled internals are sufficiently infrequent that you need to plan your trip around them, and not vice versa. This needs to be done far in advance to be sure of getting seats, but does run the risk of your trip being thrown into disarray if the airline’s schedule changes. Sadly, this isn’t as uncommon as you might hope. Increasingly light-aircraft flights are being used for short camp-to-camp flights. These are pretty expensive compared to driving but are great if you are short on time or do not want to drive.
Generally, Namibia’s trains cater better for freight than visitors (Desert Express excepted). Although there is an extensive network of tracks connecting most of Namibia’s main towns, many of these are freight only, and there is no through service into South Africa either – the only passenger train to cross the border terminates at Upington, where there is no through connection into the South African rail network (the next mainline station, De Aar, is 415km away). Even within Namibia, routes have been curtailed in recent years, with no passenger trains now running north of Otjiwarongo or east to Gobabis.
The dedicated Starline passenger rail service is run by TransNamib (www.transnamib.com.na). That said, the service has been curtailed considerably over the last decade, and there are no longer any trains to the north or east of the country. Trains that do run are pleasant and rarely full, but they are slow and stop frequently. Travelling by train is not for those in a hurry but, while most visitors without their own vehicle prefer long-distance coaches or hitchhiking, travelling by train affords the opportunity to meet local people rather than other visitors. Unfortunately the faster Omugulu Gwombashe Star from Windhoek to Swakopmund/Walvis Bay, and Windhoek north to Ondangwa, suffered from serious technical problems from its introduction in 2004, and in 2007 was withdrawn from service.
In comparison with Zimbabwe, east Africa or even South Africa, Namibia has few cheap local buses that are useful for travellers. That said, small Volkswagen combis (minibuses) do ferry people between towns, usually from townships, providing a good fast service, but they operate only on the busier routes between centres of population. Visitors usually want to see the more remote areas – where local people just hitch if they need transport. As an indication of fares, you could expect to pay around N$280 (£15.50/US$25) between Windhoek and Ondangwa, one way.