Namibia's greatest wildlife sanctuary, Etosha National Park, is a paradise for anyone with a love for wildlife. Basically that's why you go there - to drive around and watch for animals crossing your path, feeding, playing and hunting. With some species you have to be lucky, leopards are a rare catch. But the other Big 5 gang members are not hard to spot as soon as you know where to look. Giraffes, zebras and wildebeests are the ones which you'll see plenty and eventually stop screaming from excitement after every turn (I didn't though). Being inside the park feels like you become a part of a National Geographic show.
We have spent 2 nights 3 days inside the park and it was good timing to learn the area and not to get an overdose on animals. Let me share with you some tips on all the things you need to know before visiting Etosha National Park. This post is for independent travelers who are planning to drive their own vehicles inside the park, not for organised tour groups.
where to start
There are 4 main entering points or gates to Etosha National Park and it actually doesnt matter where you start. Be sure to check for opening times for each gate here since they may vary. You will also find the fees to be paid when entering under the same link.
Most people start at Anderson Gate and end up at Von Lindequist Gate at the end. The route between these two gates is also the most popular and the most busy one. It goes along great Etosha Pan, which is dry most of the time.
We have started our trip through Etosha at Galton Gate, at the south-western end of the park.
PLEASE NOTE!! You are only allowed to enter over the Galton Gate if you are staying overnight at the Dolimite Camp. You will be asked for a valid booking confirmation which is double checked with camps receptionist, so there is a litttle chance of sneaking in.
The part between Galton Gate and Anderson Gate is receiving little traffic, thus more wildlife. We had indeed some beautiful encounters like a whole family of Pumbas rolling in mud at this piece of the road.
The forth gate King Nehale Lya Mpingana Gate is also off the main route, but is worth the drive.
where to stay
Etosha National Park offers different opportunities for different wishes and budgets - you can stay inside the park, outside the park or you can also camp.
Most of the accomodations are built as separate lodges offering the guests facilities for staying, relaxing and dining. More fancy lodges offer have on their premises water holes (with light at night) for wildlife watching.
Over here you can have the overview of all the lodges inside the park.
PLEASE NOTE!! All facilities inside Etosha National park are run by Namibia Wildlife Resorts - a company run by the Namibian Government. This said, the reviews and the cash flow directly to government pockets might be fine with some, but not ok with the others. We heard controversial opinions about the state of facilities, but it's up to you to make a choice. It is very tempting to stay inside the park though.
We have stayed our first night at the Dolomite Camp inside the park, but this was more of a necessity, because otherwise we wouldn't have made it to the other gate on time. We had a great stay and the staff was helpful and friendly. Facilities were fine too.
Lodges outside the park are privately owned and thus cater for different budgets - starting with simple over night camping grounds and finishing with incredibly fancy palaces. The most expensive ones are located around von Linquist Gate.
These were our accommodations. We were content with the service/price relation:
- Onguma Game reserve. This was by far our most expensive stay in Namibia, but it was realy worth it. This game reserve offers different styles of accomodations - please check on the web page. We have stayed at the Onguma Bush Camp.
- Etosha Village. Glamping under thunderstorm was a blast.
For camping opportunities please see this page. It gives a detailed overviews on the areas and camping opportunities.
There is no walking inside the park! Unless you want to become food. No, seriously, you are not allowed to get outside of the car - only at the designated areas and camping sights. We were told that it is also not recommendable to open the windows, but you won't want to do it anyway, since the roads are dusty and mostly gravel.
The easiest way is to grab a map of the park (you can also do it here) and cruise around. We found it helpful to ask fellow travelers or at campsights about wildlife spotting - life this we came across a couple of rhinos and a lion family.
If you are staying at a lodge you can also hop on a safari tour almost every lodge offers. It's actually a great choice if you want to visit the park off hours (we took a sunset tour and it was a blast). Private visitors are not allowed to enter the park after the closing hours, but for tours there is an exception. Usually it's a small jeep accomodating everyone who is interested in participating.
Jeeps are open, but you sit high with a better viewing perspective. The big advantage of such a tour is that jeep drivers are talking to one another over walkie talkie and in case one spotted wildlife another one knows where to go, meaning you have greater opportunities for spotting unique animals than on your own. Like this we had a chance to see an African elephant, simply because one group have spotted it and informed our driver where the location was.
We were desperately searching for elephants the day before on our own, but during rainy season they migrate to neighbouring Botswana but without any luck.
Please always keep in mind that you are only a guest in Etosha and our goal is to leave as little impact from our visit as possible! You are entering animals territory and there are certain rules to be strickly followed:
- do not get out of the car
- do not feed the animals
- do not block their way or prevent them from following their daily routine
- do not use any lights or signals which might distirb animals. Try to stay quiet at any times
- do not leave any trash behind you - be responsible!
- do not bring any food or strong smelling substances with you on safari's, since the jeeps are open
- Etosha National Park is often spoken about as the Malaria active zone. Consult your doctor before going on any recommended precautions. By booking accomodations take care that there is a mosquito net available and use mosquito spray at all times.
- I highly recommend you to organise a map or an overview of all the animals available in the park (usually available at all lodges, camps or tourist centers). Otherwise you will be ooverwhelmed finding the difference between oryx, kudu or waterbucks.
- Don't forget to pack a pair of binoculars - they are essential for wildlife watching!
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