Makalani Self Drive
Etosha, Owamboland, Damaraland, Swakopmund, Sossusvlei, Luderitz & Fish River
This 20 day self drive itinerary really does pack in most of Namibia's highlights. Whether your interest is in Namibian people, wildlife, stunning landscapes or just some fabulous Namibian sunshine, then the Makalani self drive is for you. This itinerary derives it's name from Makalani palm trees, which are usually single-stemmed up to 10m high with characteristic fan-shaped palms.
The itinerary starts with a drive to Waterberg Plateau Park. The plateau itself is 200m high and its sheer cliffs and amazing rock formations dominate the surrounding landscape. There are a number of short walking trails which offer great birding opportunities as well as a diversity of colourful flora.
The next day you will drive to Etosha National Park, one of southern Africa's most spectacular wildlife destinations. About 20% of the park is an enormous mineral pan, commonly known as the 'Great White Place'. Whilst the pan often fills with water in the rainy season attracting flamingoes and other wading birds, the series of waterholes along the southern edge of the pan entices large concentrations of wildlife in the colder, winter months. With 3 leisurely nights set aside to game view at flood-lit waterholes, close-up observations and photographic opportunities of animal interaction are plentiful.
To the north of Etosha is Owamboland. This area is seldom visited by tourists but is one of the more fascinating areas of Namibia - as this is where the majority of the countries population lives. Wander around markets, visit local cuca shops and learn how the majority of the inhabitants live from subsistence farming on communal farming land, where there is no individual ownership or formal boundaries. Here you will stay in accommodation which is part of a traditional Owambo 'kraal' or settlement and get to participate in the lifestyle, daily chores & crafts of the local people
The drive west is to the area known as Kaokoland. Although this region shares a border with Owamboland, the atmosphere and landscape couldn't be more different. This is one of the sparsest populated areas in the world as the local inhabitants are the nomadic Himba people. Puros, approximately 100km north west of Sesfontein, is one of the best locations to view Kaokoland's famous 'desert-adapted elephants'. The true wilderness adventure continues with the opportunity to go canoeing on the Kunene River. It is now time to head south.
In Damaraland, you have another opportunity to search for the elusive desert-adapted elephant, great fun when self-driving. Viewing ancient Bushman rock art at Twyfelfontein, a massive open-air art gallery follows and Brandberg Mountain also has it's fair share of rock engravings as well. The Ugab Vingerklip and the Petrified Forest are a short drive away.
The next leg of your self-drive tour is to the Cape Cross Seal Reserve, situated 53km north of the Atlantic coastal fishing town of Henties Bay. In mid-October bulls come ashore to establish breeding colonies with over 200,000 seals eventually congregating here in the November and December breeding season. Also in this location is a replica of the original padrão (stone cross), planted by the Portuguese explorer and navigator Diego Cão over 500 years ago.
And now for some relaxation and recuperation! Swakopmund is a picturesque town surrounded by desert and sea. Most of the original buildings have been restored and maintained from the German colonial area and they now house, restaurants, bars and cafés. After relaxing or joining one of the many day tours and activities available in Swakopmund, the drive heads southwards into the fascinating Namib Desert.
There is no part of the Namib Desert that is more stunning than Sossusvlei. It's mountainous dunes are shaped by multi-directional desert winds. Only 4km south from Sesriem is Sesriem Canyon, a narrow gorge about 1km in length. A drive south through the desert bordering the Naukluft Mountains follows. This section was created as a sanctuary for Hartmann's mountain zebra which graze with livestock. Other wildlife has also adapted to this inhospitable desert environment.
The drive into Luderitz can be an adventurous one, Barchan sand dunes blocking the roads are not uncommon! Numerous colonial-style buildings overlook the bay and the architecture continues throughout the town. Watch out for springbok close to the sea or brown hyena on the lookout for lunch on the beach. Situated in the Sperrgebiet about 10km inland from Luderitz is Kolmanskop, Namibia's most famous ghost town.
Whoever takes the wheel for the next leg still has a bit of an adventurous drive to Fish River Canyon. Situated at the southern end of the canyon are sulphurous natural hot springs complete with rejuvenating thermal waters.
The final stopover before your drive back to Windhoek is at a lodge in the Kalahari Desert. Not far from Keetmanshoop is quirky Quiver Tree Forest and Giant's Playground. The forest has around 300 quiver trees, or kokerboom, that usually produce bright yellow flowers during the winter months.
Although it is possible to book this itinerary 'as is', as with all our self drive trips this is entirely customisable. We can add or delete days, change the accommodation used and generally design the tour to suit your individual requirements. If you do not like the idea of driving yourself the itinerary could easily be used as the basis for a guided safari.
- Day 1: Windhoek - Waterberg
- We start your Namibian adventure with an easy 300km drive, the majority of this is on good tarred road followed by a short 24km section of gravel driving. Once you pass through the town of Okahandja the landscape becomes flat and the road is straight - pretty much the only notable geographical feature along this section of the road are the Omatako Mountains. Clearly these mountains have made quite an impression on Namibian's for several centuries as the Herero word 'Omatako' is translated as 'bum' (or 'butt' for our American readers).
On reaching the Waterberg, settle into your accommodation and then scramble up to the top of the Plateau and enjoy the magnificent views of the surrounding plains. A few buck species inhabit the slopes of the mountains, but the real game is on top. The top of the plateau is a wildlife reserve and hosts several endangered species including rhino, sable & roan antelope. Unfortunately (for tourists, not for the animals) the dense bush makes this area unsuited for game viewing, and although there is a guided game drive we recommend you give it a miss - there will be plenty of time for game viewing in Etosha.
Accommodation: Waterberg Camp
- Day 2: Waterberg - Etosha
- Leaving Waterberg drive through the towns of Otjiwarongo and Outjo entering the Etosha Park through the Andersson Gate. The chances are that immediately on entering the national park you will start to see interesting wildlife - so covering even the shortest distance can be a rewarding and time consuming business. Do remember that you have to be inside the Okaukuejo gates before sunset - otherwise you face the prospect of a fine, or even having to sleep in your car with the animals as your companions.
Accommodation: Room at Okaukuejo
- Day 3 & 4: Etosha Park
- It is really worth waking early and heading out on your game drive as soon as the gates open at sunrise. Animals are most active in the cool of the day (early morning & late afternoon) and in order to maximise your chances of good viewings it is worth imitating their behaviour. The roads in Etosha are unsealed gravel roads but are in reasonable condition - and the general tourist behaviour is to drive between various waterholes searching for animals.
As the day gets hotter head for shade, and lunch, at one of the parks three camps, Okaukuejo, Namutoni or Halali. When things start to cool down again head out for another game drive. With two full days in the park you should have sightings of most of the parks inhabitants (although be warned the cats are notoriously hard to find - and of course what you see is determined by luck and more importantly your ability to spot wildlife)
- Night 3: Room at Okaukuejo (this gives you 2 nights in the same room meaning you do not have to pack up and move)
- Night 4: Room at Halali
- day 5 & 6: Etosha - Owamboland
- Leave Etosha via the King Nehale Gate (north of Namutoni) - here you are entering a much more heavily populated area of Namibia. Around 60% of the country's population live in this small northern section of the country, so unlike in the rest of the country you can expect to meet lots of people. This higher population density also leads to an explosion of open air markets, lots of grazing cows, goats & donkeys and cuca shops (bars) on every corner. For the next two days you will be free to explore the area and the towns of Oshakati and Ondangwa as well as numerous small villages in the area. You will be based at the Ongula Traditional Homestead, which offers all the 1st world comforts in a 3rd world setting, as such it is an awesome place to learn about & experience the local traditions and customs first hand. The predominant cultural group in this area are the Owambo people.
Meals: Breakfast & Dinner
Accommodation: Ongula Village Homestead Lodge
Note: Ongula Lodge is considerably more expensive than most of the other accommodation used in this itinerary. We have included it as we believe it offers something different to the normal experience however for those wanting a cheaper trip (this self drive is from our budget range after all!) then these nights could be swapped with another property in the area . As always our travel consultants are happy to discuss various options with you.
- Day 7 & 8: Ruacana - Kunene River Lodge
- To reach Kunene River Lodge you have two possible options - one route (the more scenic & time consuming of the options) follows the Kunene River heading due east of Ruacana (along the border with Angola), but this is only suitable for 4x4's and sections can be incredibly rough, in the wet season it is often completely impassible . Those requiring an easier route will take the tarred C41 road to the town of Opuwo (the capital of the region) and then head northwards until they reach Kunene River Lodge (close to Swarbooisdrift). This may seem like a big detour, but trust us if you are not in a 4x4 it is worth it!
Kunene River Lodge is set in a scenic & tranquil river environment, it is a great place to relax and enjoy the river or to visit a nearby Himba Village. The lodge offers white river rafting on the Kunene River, which is an awesome experience and one not to be missed - as you get to experience the beautiful river valley in all its splendor (and have one or two rapid induced thrills along the way). The choice of how you spend your time and what activities you do is up to you.
Accommodation: Kunene River Lodge
- Day 9: Epupa Falls
- You will want to leave Kunene River Lodge early this morning as although Epupa Falls are less than 100km (as the crow flies) away it is going to take you some time to reach them. Once again you have a choice of two routes, one along the river and the other heading south to Epembe and then back north to Epupa. The river route from Kunene River Lodge to Epupa is way less traveled, in worse condition, and generally much less accessible than that from Ruacana to KRL (on day 7) - and it is unlikely you would be able to do this stretch without overnighting next to the river (and this would mean renumbering all the days on our itinerary & that is a lot of boring work for us) - so we're going to assume you are a wise traveller and opt for the more boring but less life threatening route via Epembe to Epupa.
This route will take 4 or 5 hours as although the road is in pretty good condition (for such a remote area) it winds through river beds and around sharp bends. Occasionally you will encounter Himba cattle in the road & frequently when you near a settlement Himba woman & children will rush to the roadside, all of this makes for a tough and slow drive. When reaching Epupa Falls check into your accommodation at Kapika Waterfall Camp (situated on the hill above the Epupa settlement). Before sunset head down to the falls (here you can employ a local guide - they do not cost a lot and it helps the community) who will show you the best viewpoints.
Accommodation: Kapika Waterfall Camp
- Day 10: Kunene River - Grootberg Lodge
- Today is another long drive as you head southward leaving Kaokoland and entering the Damaraland area of Namibia. Just south of Palmwag (which despite appearing prominently on many maps is little more than a petrol station & lodge) you will encounter the vet fence, it should be noted that meat products can not be transported south of this point. Once through the gate you will head east up the Grootberg Pass, your lodge for tonight is on top of the Grootberg Mountain and offers spectacular views over the surrounding area. Grootberg Lodge is a great place to spend two nights, so if you have longer in Namibia an additional night here is highly recommended.
Meals: Breakfast & Dinner
Accommodation: Grootberg Lodge
- Day 11: Palmwag - Damaraland
- There are plenty of activities at Grootberg Lodge, these range from Desert Elephant & Rhino tracking to guided walks, speak to the lodge management to find out what is available and suits your interests best. Leaving Grootberg drive towards the village of Khorixas around 40km west of the town you will find the Petrified Forest, here you will need to pay for a local guide to show you the remains of million year old petrified tree trunks (interesting, if not exactly riveting stuff). Luckily the highlight of this part of the trip is still to come - from here head to Twyfelfontein, this world heritage site has an extremely high density of bushmen rock engravings. After hiring a local guide you will be shown some of the more striking of these petroglyphs.
You will be overnighting at a lodge just east of Twyfelfontein.
Accommodation: Madisa Camp
- Day 12: Damaraland - Swakopmund
- Today you head to Uis and then Henties Bay. Here turn northwards along the Skeleton Coast and head for the seal colony at Cape Cross. Despite this being one of the smelliest places in Namibia the seals make for a fascinating time. when your senses can no longer take the pungent smell of seal hop back in your car and drive down the coast, back through Henties Bay and then a further 70km to Swakopmund. On arrival in check into your accommodation before heading out for a drink, dinner and a night on the town.
Meals: No meals
Accommodation: Meike's Guesthouse
- Day 13: Swakopmund
- There are a host of adventure activities to participate in while in Swakopmund. These range from sandboarding through quad biking to sky-diving. No activities are included in this package but they can be pre-arranged when you book this itinerary or left for you to arrange on arrival is Swakopmund
Being a German inspired town good food and beer is never hard to find, so we are sure you will find something productive to do!
Accommodation: Meike's Guesthouse
- Day 14: Swakopmund - Sossusvlei
- Leave Swakopmund towards the harbour town of Walvis Bay, the lagoon here attracts a lot of marine & birdlife and is well worth a visit to view the pink flamingoes. You may decide to take a catamaran cruise on the lagoon (not included in package price). Today you have a drive of around 300km's which will take you around 4-5 hours. Your route will take you across the gravel plains of the Namib Desert and through the Kuiseb & Gaub passes.
Aim to arrive at your accommodation in the late afternoon.
Accommodation: Desert Quiver Camp
- Day 15: Sossusvlei
- Wake up early and leave your lodge, heading for the Sesriem entrance gate to the Namib Naukluft Park. This gate only opens at sunrise, so there is no point arriving much earlier, but driving the 60km from Sesriem through the dunes towards Sossusvlei while the sun rises is a real pleasure. The first major dune you will encounter goes by the imaginative name of Dune 45 - many people choose to stop and climb this dune but we suggest you continue onwards towards Sossusvlei. Park at the the 2x4 car park (unless you have a 4x4 vehicle this is as far as you can drive), Sossusvlei is a further 4km from here but you are already amongst fairly large dunes. The walk along the dry river bed into Sossusvlei is lovely but for the very unfit or terminally lazy there are 4x4 shuttles from the car park to Sossusvlei.
Deadvlei, so named because it is a large pan with sculptural dead trees, is close by and definitely worth a visit. When you have had enough sand - head back to your vehicle (there really is no shame in taking the shuttle back - the sand is likely to be hot, and the walk less pleasant than the one in the cool of the morning)
On your way back to the lodge stop at the Sesriem Canyon - follow the signs from the Sesriem Campsite.
Meals: No meals
Accommodation: Desert Quiver Camp
- Day 16 & 17: Luderitz
- Leaving the Sossusvlei area today you drive south along the edge of the Namib Naukluft Park with Luderitz as your ultimate destination. The district D707 road is seldom used but amongst those in the know is thought of as one of the most scenic drives in Namibia. Eventually you will reach a tarred road again at the small village of Aus, here your route takes you westwards through along the restricted diamond area (Sperrgebiet). This section of the Namib is characterised by vast empty plains with small dunes and hills in the distance.
Eventually you will reach the bizarre harbour town of Luderitz where you will spend the next two nights. While in Luderitz you should visit the ghost town of Kolmanskop as well as drive along the rugged and rocky coastline. For the early birds there is a catamaran trip every morning from the harbour which visits points of interest in the area and allows you to see Diaz Point, Cape Fur Seals, the occasional penguin and a host of flamingoes.
Accommodation: Kairos Cottages
- Day 18: Luderitz - Fish River
- Today you will head back towards Aus and then continue inland until turning south towards the Fish River Canyon. Often compared to America's Grand Canyon the Fish River is smaller but still impressive. The main look out point is at Hobas which is around 70km north of Ai-Ais where you will be staying.
- Day 19: Fish River - Kalahari Desert
- The route heads northwards via the town of Keetmanshoop towards the village of Gibeon, before heading eastwards into the Kalahari Desert. The true lure of Namibia's 'second' desert is it's deafening silence and eerie solitude. Tall golden grasses pepper the red dunes with buck and bird species foraging and browsing around dwarf shrubs and mixed tree savannah. Not far from Keetmanshoop is the Quiver Tree Forest and Giant's Playground. Some 300 quiver trees, or kokerboom, often produce bright yellow flowers from May to September.
Accommodation: Kalahari Anib Lodge
- Day 20: Kalahari Desert - Windhoek
- On the last day of the trip you head northwards back to Windhoek. Your route leads you through the village of Rehoboth before you finally arrive back in Windhoek. If you are flying out tonight you can leave your vehicle at the airport however we can also book you accommodation in Windhoek if you require
- All your meals and activities as specified.
A welcome pack including maps and vouchers for the places that you'll be visiting.
See the individual lodges for precise inclusions & exclusions
A 24 hour emergency assistance phone number
- Vehicle & Fuel
Park entrance fees (these need to be paid on arrival).
Tips and gratuities (which are optional).
Any meals or activities not specified.
See the individual lodges for detailed inclusions & exclusions.
- Although we have excluded the cost of renting a vehicle from the quoted rate we are happy to advise you on the best possible vehicle and arrange a rental for you. For an idea of what is available have a look at our car hire in Namibia section
3 Days - A short visit to the sand dunes at Sossusvlei
3 Days - Get away to Swakopmund on the coast - includes sandboarding on the Namib Dunes as well as a dolphin cruise
4 Days - A game viewing trip to the famous Etosha National Park
8 Days - Combines a visit to Etosha National Park, with some time at Swakopmund and then the dunes at Sossusvlei
9 Days - Southern Namibia: Fish River, Luderitz, Sossusvlei with some self catering accommodation.
10 Days - The classic northern and central Namibia trip. Includes Waterberg Plateau, Etosha National Park, rock art in Damaraland, Cape Cross & Swakopmund and ends with two night near the dunes at Sossusvlei.
10 Days - A combination of Namibia & Botswana. Highlights include game viewing in the Etosha Park & a trip in a traditional dug out canoe in the Okavango Delta Panhandle.
14 Days - Two weeks worth of travel allow you to visit everything that is included in the Camelthorn Self Drive and add the vast expanses of southern Namibia. Additional stops include Luderitz, the Fish River Canyon and a night in the Kalahari Desert
20 Days - This includes Waterberg, Etosha, a visit to the densely populated Owamboland region on the Angolan border, Kaokoland and the nomadic Himba People, rock art and desert elephants in Damaraland, Swakopmund, Sossusvlei, Luderitz, the Fish River and Kalahari.
20 Days - A circular route that includes Sossusvlei, the highlights of Northern Namibia, the Zambezi region and Chobe, Vic Falls and the Okavango Delta in Botswana