Namibia was made for road trips. The vast open landscapes invite travelers to explore life on the open road. The highways of the country are in excellent shape, but we all know that the fun only starts once you leave those. Most of Namibia’s sights are only accessible on gravel roads, and even though most of them are in excellent shape, a sturdy vehicle will ease your ride.
Here are 10 great offroad journeys through Namibia
1. Skeleton Coast The Skeleton Coast National Park greets visitors with an intimidating skull gate. After the mandatory signing of a visitor book, travelers enter a desolate landscape that is devoid of most elements humans require to survive. In the past, sailors feared this stretch of coastline as it was well-known for its devious waters and unpredictable weather swings, causing ship crews to battle for survival in one of the most inhospitable regions on earth. Countless failed.
Today, an easy to follow gravel road leads through a landscape without much visual appeal. The sheer nothingness is worth taking in though. While the land is desolate, the adjacent sea is teeming with life. Countless sea lions, sea birds, and other ocean dwellers are a testament to the nutrient-rich waters.
Soon after leaving the Skeleton Coast behind, travelers arrive in the outskirts of Damaraland. A vibrant red is added to the formerly grayscale color palette of the landscape, and soon more obvious signs of life begin to reappear.
Undoubtedly one of Namibia‘s most well-known sights, Sossusvlei offers adventurous travelers some offroad fun. While the majority of the road to the dunes is paved, the last five kilometers are a bumpy ride across ever-shifting sand. Only 4x4 vehicles are allowed to travel on this last stretch of the road - and oh boy - it’s a lot of fun.
After properly airing down your tires (20psi), you‘ll enter the breathtaking world of earth's highest sand dunes. If you are lucky, you‘ll spot an Oryx antelope on your way to Big Daddy and Big Mamma. Those are the names of the two highest dunes at the end of the path. If you feel like it, you can climb either one of them. After a highly strenuous climb, with plenty of sand getting blown in your sweat-covered face, you‘ll be left marveling at a landscape straight out of National Geographic.
3. Spreetshoogte Pass & Gamsberg Pass
The ride up the extremely steep Spreetshoogte pass (paved) grants visitors spectacular views over the vastness of the Namib desert. Traveling through the nearby Khomas Highland, a landscape of undulating hillsides, is equally magnificent, especially once reaching Gamsberg pass, at which point the road steeply descends towards the coast.
4. Gamchab River Trail
In the far south of Namibia, south of the enormous Fish River Canyon, the short Gamchab River Trail follows an old river bed through a Martianesque landscape. It is unlikely you will meet any other travelers in this remote part of the country. Take in the beautiful loneliness, before you meet up with the Orange river and glance over to South Africa.
5. Orange River Trail - C13
An oasis of green, the Orange River is the natural border between South Africa and Namibia in the southwest of the country. While the surrounding landscape is arid and desolate, the river allows many animals to survive. Groups of baboons can be seen foraging for food, while Vervet Monkeys quickly hide in the treetops at any sign of danger.
A narrow gravel track meanders alongside the river for many kilometers until you‘ll reach the outliers of the Namib Desert.
6. Namib Desert - D707
The world's oldest desert is magnificently desolate after long droughts and teeming with life after rain. No matter when you visit, you will enjoy the beauty of the landscape, occasionally spotting wild horses and Oryx eking out a living. Make sure to bring enough time to take in the rough beauty of this ecosystem during your visit.
7. Mahango Core Area - Bwabwata National Park Namibia‘s Caprivi Strip offers travelers a glimpse into an entirely different ecosystem. Several rivers originating in the Angolan highlands flow southwards towards Botswana crossing the Caprivi Strip along the way. One of them is the Kavango river, which is also known as Okavango. Along its shoreline, visitors can drive along little-used paths spotting a wealth of wildlife, from hippos frolicking in the river to rare sable and roan antelopes grazing.
A night spent next to the Okavango river listening to the roaring calls of hippos is an unforgettable experience.
8. Kwando Core Area - Bwabwata National Park Further to the east, Kwando Core Area offers some of the best offroad fun in all of Namibia. The sandy trails leading through a densely forested landscape are reasonably challenging. It is unlikely you will encounter many other human travelers, however, be aware of elephants. One particular river bend is a favorite drinking and socializing spot for large elephant congregations. During our visit, a group of about 200 elephants gathered at the river to drink, and as a side effect, completely blocked the road for several hours.
A word of warning: Do not drive through a herd of elephants. They can flip a car as if it is a toy. We opted for a 20km detour along overgrown and seldom-used bush trails.
9. Spitzkoppe Mountain
Fairly central in Namibia, Spitzkoppe mountain is rising impressively from its flat surroundings. Several small gravel tracks lead around the mountain and allow visitors to take in the massif from every direction.
10. Etosha National Park Namibia‘s premier tourist hotspot, Etosha National Park, sports a large number of corrugated gravel roads. In an effort to discourage visitors from taking their regular road vehicles into the park, many roads are purposefully left in their poor state.
While visitors will undoubtedly see many animals everywhere in the park, the Western part is more lonely and off the beaten path. Waterholes with hundreds of animals lingering around, lions sleeping in the shadows, large groups of giraffes, and zebras foraging - Etosha is a must-visit for every animal fan.
Important: Take your time and drive slowly, especially on the minor trails, to spot well-camouflaged animals such as the Dikdik antelope.
Namibia offers many great off-road trails, and we are far from having explored all of them. The above list is in no way a complete set of great off-road tracks in Namibia. The very remote Kakaoveld offers many impressive tracks, which we did not have the chance to explore yet. We hope to return one day to do just that.