Etosha National Park Travel Guide

One of Africa’s largest wildlife reserves is also one of the most easily accessible.  In northern Namibia, this stretch of dusty turf is home to some of the most flavourful mix of wildlife anywhere on the planet.  Thanks to a sparsity of water, the wildlife in these parts is forced to congregate pretty heavily around the few waterholes which makes spotting wildlife quite easy in the park.  Moreover, Etosha National Park is about more than just the wildlife.  There is also one of the more impressive salt flats in the world deep in the heart of the reserve.  In fact, the salt plain takes up about a third of the park’s entire territory.  Only the eastern side of the park is open to tourists, however, although you’ll find more than one could ever need in this section.

What Wildlife you can Expect to see in Etosha National Park

Since Etosha is essentially a dry land park, you’ll find mostly animals that don’t rely heavily on water.  Thus, there’s a noticeable absence of  hippos, crocodiles and buffalo, which means you wont be able to see the entire big 5 in the park.  This doesn’t mean that it’s an inferior park, of course.  This is one of the really great spots to spot lions, for example.  There are massive herds of zebra and impala which makes for good hunting grounds despite the lack of tree cover for the lions.  Etosha is also decent for Cheetah spotting, and occasionally leopards.  You can also expect to see a rhino or two if you spend a couple days here.  You’ll see dozens, if not hundreds, of elephants and giraffe.

Etosha National Park, elephants

Time of Year to Visit Etosha National Park

In my opinion, Etosha is best visited during the dry season which runs from May to September.  During the dry season you’ll still see plenty of wildlife, but there’s a lingering dustiness to the air.  The advantages to the dry season are plenty.  For one, the wildlife will likely be congregating around the waterholes more this time of year.  Secondly, from a viewing standpoint, it’s easier to spot wildlife without a lot of greenery to the trees. There is a minor issue when it comes to taking photography in Etosha National Park during the dry season as there is a lingering dust in the air that makes for slightly hazy images.  During the rainy months most of the wildlife moves away from the tourist zones and waterholes.

Etosha National Park, rhino

Where to Stay in Etosha National Park

There are loads of places to stay in and outside of Etosha.

Inside the park, there are three rest camps.  The largest of which is Okaukuejo.  Okaukuejo has a massive waterhole and nice viewing area.  However, this camp can be a bit of a zoo (figuratively speaking) as it’s always packed and the viewing area will always have a couple hundred people around it.  It is like a little city in the middle of the park, and is definitely the busiest of the camps.  A nice alternative is the quiet Halali Camp which is right in the heart of the national park.  At Halali, there is a night lite waterhole which is small, but quite active.  I managed to see a massive herd of elephants here during the night as well as rhino.  The third camp inside the park is called Namutoni, though I never visited it and thus can’t really comment on the quality.  Also inside the park, there are two “exclusive camps” which are small and quiet.  Onkoshi looks out onto the salt flats and Dolomite is set into some nice rock formations.

Some example prices for accommodation in Etosha are as follows:

  • Double Room in Halali: $80 per person
  • Double Room in Okaukuejo: $100 per person
  • Camping at any camp: $20 per site + $11 per person

What to Bring for a Safari in Etosha National Park

Obviously there are some things you’re going to need to bring along on any safari, but I’ll keep this short because you’re smart people.

  • Camera Gear: You’ll want to bring all the usual gear.  There are places to charge camera equipment in the camps.  Be sure to also bring dust cleaner since this park is quite dusty.
  • BBQ Equipment: If you want to Braai, there are facilities at all camps.  You can buy charcoal and food at the shops, but they can be expensive.  You will want to bring your own cutlery and such, however.
  • Binoculars: Binoculars come especially handy in Etosha where the territory is flat.  You can see for miles and scout out what’s around you.

Safari Options in Etosha National Park

  • Self-Drive: If you’re familiar with the wildlife and wildlife behaviour it’s a good option.  If you’re not wise to the ways of the wild world, you’re better off taking a guided safari.  The additional cost to bring your own vehicle into the park is $1.
  • Guided All-Inclusive Safari: If you want to go for a couple days, it’s a good option to book an all-inclusive safari using a company like Chameleon Backpackers and Safaris.  They are good value and you won’t need to worry about booking anything yourself.
  • Partially Guided Safaris: If you bring yourself into the park on your own steam, you can leave your car at the camps and go out on a guided safari using the park’s staff.  A morning or afternoon safari will only cost you about $30, while a night safari costs $40.  Note that only the park’s staff can run night safaris. you cannot leave the camps after hours otherwise.

Etosha National Park, giraffe

Entry Fees for Etosha National Park

Etosha must be the best value of any national park in Southern Africa.  At the moment, foreigners only pay $8 per day to visit the park.

Rules to Viewing Wildlife in Etosha National Park

The same standard rules apply for nearly all national parks in Southern Africa:

  • Don’t leave your vehicle unless it’s signed saying you may.
  • Keep your distance from all wildlife, and be prepared to move if you need to.
  • Keep quiet around the wildlife.
  • Stay away from breeding herds of elephants and aggressive solo males.
  • Do not feed the wildlife.
  • If driving, pull to the side to stop and view the animals.  Always leave a gap for cars to pass by.  Always leave yourself an emergency exit from the traffic.

Where to Eat in Etosha National Park

All of the lodges in Etosha have nice restaurants.  The camps also have grocery and Braai (BBQ) facilities if you want to cook for yourself.  The price of meals in the camps is expensive by Namibian standards but not as astronomical as one might expect.  You can also bring your own food into the park.

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