Marguerite Engelbrecht from Jenman African Safaris shares her insight on one of Namibia's best-kept secrets.Read more...
Namibia - Travel and visas
Currently all visitors require a passport which is valid for at least six months after they are due to leave, a completely blank page for Namibian immigration to stamp, and an onward ticket of some sort. In practice, the third 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 other countries that include Angola, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Lesotho, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Macau, Malawi, Malaysia, Mauritius, 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. The 90-day tourist visa can be 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 N$500 plus handling fees.
Travelling with children
In Namibia parents travelling to, or through, the country are required by law to provide a full birth certificate for each accompanying child under the age of 18. This applies even when both biological parents or the legal guardians are present. The regulations on this are complex and controversial, even if the reasons for their implementation (to curb child trafficking and exploitation) are commendable.
If a child is travelling with only one parent named on the birth certificate, or with neither biological parent, things become even more complex and there has been a spate of passengers being denied boarding on flights or entry on arrival. Thus, if you are planning to travel with a minor, we strongly suggest that you check the latest information on this with your nearest Namibian high commission or embassy, well in advance of your departure date.
Windhoek has two small but modern airports: Hosea Kutako International Airport, which is generally used for international flights, and Eros, which caters mostly for internal flights and a few international flights. Be sure to check which one is to be used for each of your flights.
Air Namibia’s only direct flight to Windhoek from Europe is from Frankfurt, which connects easily with London. Flights depart in the evening in both directions, arriving early the following morning. 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 and South African Airways have daily overnight services from London, and both operate add-on connections to Windhoek, run by their subsidiaries. Virgin also services the Johannesburg route, though they do not have an add on to Windhoek so passengers have to use another airline.
Entering over one of Namibia’s land borders is equally easy – whether by car or by bus – as there are fast and direct links on good tarred roads with South Africa, Botswana and Zambia. Namibia’s few remaining passenger trains cover only internal routes, but those wishing to cross the border in style would do well to consider Rovos Rail's Namibia safari.
Border crossings 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. Be sure to check the opening hours of the borders.
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 clear, unambiguous and written in English.
Driving yourself gives you freedom to explore and to stop where you wish 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, I’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.
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, both scheduled and private charter, are being used for short camp-to-camp flights. These are pretty expensive compared with driving but are great if you are short on time, do not want to drive or want to visit areas that are otherwise confined to experienced off-road drivers. Air Namibia operates regular and relatively reliable flights around the region. These include daily flights from Windhoek to Cape Town and Johannesburg, from about N$2,000 one-way.
If you travel between Europe and Namibia with Air Namibia book your regional flights at the same time, as these routes become much cheaper. Prices and timetables of internal flights change regularly. Both South African Airways, and Comair link Windhoek with Johannesburg, while Comair also has flights to Cape Town.
In the last few years, there have been an increasing number of light aircraft flights around Namibia, arranged by small companies using small four- and six-seater planes as well as larger 16-seater ‘caravans’. These are particularly convenient for linking farms and lodges which have their own bush airstrips. If you have the money, and want to make the most of a short time in the country, then perhaps a fly-in trip would suit you. This is still the only way to see one or two of the private concessions in the extreme northwest.
Although an extensive railway network connects Namibia’s main towns, most trains carry freight rather than passengers. StarLine passenger trains, operated by TransNamib, are limited to the line between Windhoek and Swakopmund/Walvis Bay and the north–south service between Windhoek and Keetmanshoop, with onward connections to Karasburg, along with trains to Tsumeb and further north.
Trains are rarely full, but they are exceptionally slow and stop frequently, so are not for those in a hurry; most visitors without their own vehicle prefer long-distance coaches or hitchhiking. However, travelling by train affords the chance to meet local people and, as journeys are overnight (there’s no chance of enjoying the view), it allows travellers to get a night’s sleep while in transit, saving on accommodation costs and perhaps ‘gaining’ a day at their destination.
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$300 (£16.50/US$20) between Windhoek and Ondangwa, one-way.