Self Driving in Etosha National Park
Etosha National Park is one of Namibia's biggest attractions. It is Namibia's prime wildlife location and, it's Africa's most magnificent salt pan. The landscape and geology here are both fascinating and extraordinary. The park is also well designed for self-drivers.
The biggest thing to work out when planning your time in Etosha is where to stay, as there's a lot more to consider than you first think. There are effectively two experiences on offer. The in-park experience and the out of park experience; let me explain.
The in-park experience
Inside the park, driving and navigating is straightforward. There's only one main route across the park which has apparent detours and side roads to various waterholes and views points (the best spots). It's very hard to get lost, and you are likely to find everything you came to see.
Inside the park, you will find the government-owned NWR camps (Halali, Okaukuejo, Namutoni, Dolomite, etc.) which are located within the park. Many will see them as the perfect stopover due to their locations, and even more so when they read that these camps have excellent waterholes (which they do). They do the job and are affordable. However, know that they are big, quite ugly and often very busy - they can cater for 200-300 people per night.
The out of park experience
Outside the parks, you have the private reserves, which neighbour the National Park. Same area, same views, same wildlife, just outside the official border of the park. These reserves are home to generally smaller camps, from campsites to luxury lodges and offer a more refined safari experience. They also have private waterholes on-site.
Notably, the rules differ between the reserves and the park. In Etosha, you can't drive in the park after 17.30, and you can't leave your vehicle at any point. In the reserves, you can have sundowners in the evening, do walking activities and night drives, which we feel is a huge plus!
What's the best way to go about it?
Overall, we think camping or lodging in the private reserves is the way to go. Ultimately the reserves offer a little bit more on all fronts and importantly, a more private experience. Some of the lodges can be luxurious and have the added benefit of expert guides on-site, which is useful to have in wildlife areas. Also, you don't miss the Etosha National Park experience this way - you still have to drive across the park at some point.
When to travel?
This park is excellent for wildlife viewing all year round. We would not hesitate to recommend it at any time of year.