Self-Drive Safari: Northern Namibia (Detailed Route and Roads)

Here is everything you need to know about tackling a self-drive safari adventure through Northern Namibia – including routes and roads. 

Self-Drive Safari: Northern Namibia (including Detailed Routes and Road Conditions)

In December 2014, we set off on an epic road trip covering more than 4,500km from Cape Town, South Africa, all the way up to Windhoek, Namibia and then once around Northern Namibia. And we did this all in our trusted Mercedes Benz panel van, Carlito the Vito (read: not a 4×4). Here are some of our experiences.

The Self-Drive Safari Adventure

Namibia is a vast and safe country filled with friendly people – perfect for exploring independently on a self-drive safari. Being in the driver seat of your holiday has some serious perks. We love the freedom of being able to stop whenever we wish, take photos for as long as we want and move on when we are ready. We also love the freedom of a flexible itinerary – love a place then you can linger longer, don’t love it and you can move on. Of course, with only a handful of tarred roads and loads of wildlife along the side of the road, planning a route that matches your vehicle and driving skill is very important.

Need to Know:

The Roads

Our Namibian Self-Drive Safari Adventure: Random Pitstops

The question of road condition is something that might deter many visitors to Namibia from taking on the self-drive safari adventure. It was definitely something we worried about driving a Mercedes Benz Vito – not exactly made for rough terrain.

Do I need a 4×4?

The friendly lady at the Namibia Tourism stand at the Getaway Show assured us that she had recently taken on our route in a small sedan. And looking back we must admit that most of the route was very do-able in a non-4X4. Though we must also mention that there were times when we had some regrets about our mode of transport – especially driving along at a snail’s pace while Toyota Hilux’s zoomed past.

Our advice: If you have the choice and can afford it, rent a 4X4. If not, planning the route is very important. Luckily Namibia’s road names give some indication of quality, making it relatively easy to find a route to suit your vehicle and skill.

Road Types

Road TypeTarred/ GravelConditionAverage Speed
B-roadsTarredGood to Great80 - 120 km/h*
C-roadsGravel**Good60 - 80 km/h
D-roadsGravel**Not great40 - 60 km/h
Other roadsGravel**UnknownUnknown

* Even though the speed limit on highways is 120 km/h, the average Namibian driver prefers 140 – 160 km/h. Our advice: just get out of their way.

** Remember to let some air out of your tyres before hitting the gravel roads – this will improve your grip and save your tyres.

(See our detailed route and the road conditions we experienced below)

The Border

Our Namibian Self-Drive Safari Adventure: At the Namibia/ South Africa Border

In many ways Namibia often feels like an extension of South Africa but the reality is that it is a separate country – and with that comes the border crossing. This is hardly something to lose sleep over though. We were well prepared with all the necessary documents – which no one ever asked us for. We paid the necessary fees, declared the necessary goods and were on our way in 30 minutes – only delayed by the border post staff (who seem to be semi-conscious due to the extreme cold of the airconditioners).

For more information about the border crossing fees, visa/ other requirements or operating hours for various border posts, check out our Namibia Border post.

Tropic of Capricorn

Our Namibian Self-Drive Safari Adventure: At the Tropic of Capricorn Sign

On our previous trip to Namibia we had missed the turnoff to the Tropic of Capricorn sign on the C14 driving North from Solitaire (S 23° 30.016 E 015° 46.318). But this time we managed to take full advantage of the sign along the B1 between Rehoboth and Tsumis.

The Animals

Our Namibian Self-Drive Safari Adventure: Game Viewing in Etosha National Park

Always keep an eye out for animals – from warthog to kudu – pretty much anything is ready to jump out in front of your car. And when they do, common wisdom suggests slowing down as quickly as possible and avoiding swerving. In addition to observing speed limits in national parks, you should also be on the lookout for wild animals along highways (especially in areas indicated with warning signs).

The Route

Driving from Cape Town, we overnighted in Keetmanshoop and then on a friend’s farm close to Okahandja before heading to Swakopmund for a desert wedding. Inspired by the Open Africa Arid Eden Route we then loosely followed the Welwitchia Experience from Swakopmund to Etosha’s Galton Gate. Driving the full width of Etosha we emerged at the Eastern gate before heading back to Windhoek and onwards to Cape Town.

Our Namibian Self-Drive Safari Adventure: Northern Namibia Route Map

Click on the map to view in Google Maps

* Please note that road conditions noted below were as we experienced the above route in December 2014. The conditions might well have improved due to roads being graded or worsened due to rain/ wear and tear. 

Road Conditions

LegRoadsDurationDistanceConditionAvg. Speed (km/h)
Cape Town to WindhoekN7, B117h211,476kmGreat100 - 120
Windhoek to SwakopmundB1, B204h34362kmGood80 - 100
Swakopmund to SpitzkoppeB2, D3716, D1918, D192502h08147kmGood60 - 80
Spitzkoppe to UisD3716, D193001h3793kmOkay40 - 60
Uis to TwyfelfonteinC35, D2612, D3254, D321402h13142kmNot good5 - 50
Twyfelfontein to PalmwagC39, M126, C4301h36108kmNot good5 - 80
Palmwag to KamanjabC4001h40115kmGood60 - 80
Kamanjab to Galton GateC3501h0067kmGreat100 - 120
Roads inside EtoshaC3805h10324kmGood40 - 60
Namutoni to WindhoekC38, B105h33417kmGreat100 - 120

Windhoek to Swakopmund

The B2 is a good quality, tarred road connecting Okahandja and Swakopmund. Since Swakopmund is a favourite local weekend getaway from Windhoek and since the B2 connects Walvis Bay (a major shipping port) with the rest of Namibia, the B2 is a busy stretch of highway. With a number of slow rises and no shoulder, we often got stuck behind trucks – finding it too dangerous to pass. This of course did not prevent many locals from zooming past us.

Swakopmund to Spitzkoppe

As we mentioned above, the B2 was not exactly our favourite stretch of highway in Namibia. It was actually quite a welcome relief when we got to turn off the B2 and get our first taste of D-roads en route to Spitzkoppe.

Two route options exist (forming a loop – and we tried both):

  1. turn onto D3716, turn left onto D1918 and then right onto D1925 or
  2. turn onto D3716, continue on the D3716 and then turn left onto D1925.

All the D-roads mentioned were wide and relatively smooth, with some corrugation in patches. We managed to maintain an average speed of 60 to 80 km/h.

Spitzkoppe to Uis

Moving on from Spitzkoppe, following the Arid Eden Route, we returned to the D3716, which became narrower and slightly more corrugated, with some rises and falls (possibly making it difficult to pass), yet we managed to maintain an average speed of 60km/h. Only 6.5km down the road we turned onto the D1930 which again became a bit wider and less corrugated. However, as we approached Uis the conditions got a bit worse and we had to slow down to 40 km/h.

Uis to Twyfelfontein

After being advised (by a local) that there is not much to see in/ around Uis, we decided to push on towards Twyfelfontein. Proving that not all C-roads are made equal, we found the C35 (68.7km) to be pretty corrugated and only managed an average speed of 50 km/h.

Turning onto the D2612 (61.8km) did not offer much relief from the corrugation. And just when we thought it could not possibly get any worse we encountered the worst stretch of road during our entire trip – turning left onto the D3254 (5.9km). This road was badly corrugated forcing us to slow down to 20km/h and in some patches even 5 – 10 km/h. Turning right onto the D3214 (4.1km) again allowed us to speed up to 20km/h but was still pretty bad.

Twyfelfontein to Palmwag

Once again on the worst road of the trip, we crept along the D3245 (5.9.km) until we joined the D2612 (14.8km) again – speeding up from 20 km/h to 40 km/h. The C39 (43.3km) was not much better until we passed the heavy vehicles grading the road at Torra Bay, at which point we could speed up to 80 km/h. We finally joined the C43 (39.6km) which was in a great condition and meant we could maintain an average speed of 80 km/h.

Palmwag to Kamanjab

Finally the C-road we had been hoping for, the C40 (115km) was in a very good condition. There were some parts in lower-lying areas that were a bit sandy, perhaps caused by sand washed onto the roads during recent showers. But nothing notable really.

Kamanjab to Galton Gate

The C35 (67km) was such a good stretch of tarred road that we almost drove right past the Galton Gate entrance to Etosha.

Roads inside Etosha

The C38 (324km) running across the width of the Etosha National Park is a well-maintained gravel road. Though no one would really drive straight through the park in one day – it does give one a sense of the size of the park which encompasses 22,270 km² (2.5% of Namibia). Even though the roads are good enough to easily drive much faster, it is very important to observe the speed limit within Etosha to ensure the safety of the animals and yourself.

Namutoni to Windhoek

As you leave Etosha’s eastern gate, the C38 soon rejoins the B1, which snakes around Etosha on its way up to the Angolan border. Once again a tarred road, which is well-maintained and easy to drive an average speed of 100 – 120 km/h.

Planning a Self-Drive Safari?

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The Complete Guide: A Self-Drive Safari in Northern Namibia