Travelling with your family in Namibia

15 October 2018

For a once-in-a-lifetime family vacation, Namibia is definitely a destination to be reckoned with. A family trip to Africa is not always the most obvious choice, but having lived in Africa for many years, and travelled extensively before having children, now that I have a child, I can’t think of anywhere more exciting for young people to experience. 

Here at CTA, we believe that Namibia (with South Africa a close second) is the easiest introduction to Africa that you could give your family. The country is safe, welcoming, well set up and has some of the best wildlife viewing, adventure activities and spectacular scenery in Africa.

Read our Article 'Why a safari in Namibia is so special' to find out more, and read on for why we especially love it for families.

- It’s very underpopulated

With a population of just over 2.6 million, in a country double the size of Germany, Namibia is one of the least densely populated countries in the world. And with nearly 15% of the population living in Windhoek, once you get out of the capital you can go miles without seeing another person.

While this might not suit everyone, we think this is one of Namibia’s greatest attractions.

- Safety

Namibia is one of the safest countries in Africa. Thanks to its sparse population (see above!), even Windhoek is more like a provincial town than a large bustling capital city. With a little common sense, tourists rarely find themselves in dangerous or scary situations (of the human kind anyway!). if you exercise the same precautions that you would in any unfamiliar country, you are unlikely to be affected by crime - keep your valuables out of sight, keep your doors locked when driving and put your valuables in a safe wherever you can. Don’t travel at night (mainly because of the gravel roads and wild animals), and lock up your tent if you can.

- Incredible wildlife and unique landscape

Namibia has some of the best year-round game viewing opportunities in Africa; the star of the show obviously being Etosha National Park. It is well worth spending 3 nights in the park to make sure you can fully explore each region, home to different animals and birds.

In addition to Africa’s Big 5 (although remember that buffalo are not found in Etosha), Namibia is also home to the world’s largest cheetah population, and the country is renowned for its excellence in carnivore conservation. We defnitely recommend a visit to the Cheetah Conservation Fund outside of Otjiwarongo, where you and your family can learn about the work being done to support cheetahs in the wild. 

And it's not just about the large animals. One of the highlights of a trip for kids has is a guided nature walk into the dunes around Swakopmund, where your guide will show you the small animals which call the desert their home. These include chameleons, tiny snakes and blindworms, geckos and lizards, and you will also learn about the special plants that have adapted to life in such a harsh environment.

The dunes of Sossusvlei and the hikes around Sesriem Canyon are unforgettable, and if you have slightly older (or taller!) children, then we can’t recommend taking a balloon ride enough (kids need to be more than 120cm to ride). It is a magical early morning experience (despite the 4.30am wake up in the middle of winter).

Jumping off rocks, climbing up sand dunes and exploring unfamiliar environments are everything that kids of all ages love.  

- Easy to get around

Despite the lack of public transport options available in Namibia, car hire is extremely affordable. If you don’t fancy driving, there are plenty of tours you can join (click for our recommendations for family-friendly experiences)

The roads in Namibia are amazing. And what makes them even more amazing is the complete lack of traffic, excellent road signs and regular distance markers. Be aware that many of Namibia’s roads, off the main highways, are gravel, so you cannot travel fast (the speed limit is 80km/h on gravel roads), and you need to watch out for windscreen cracks and punctures. That being said, the country is perfect for self-drives and easy to navigate. Drivers in Namibia also drive on the left (the same as the UK and Australia) - which makes it nice and easy for some!

Depending on where you want to travel, you may not need to use a 4x4 vehicle. Of course, if you plan on camping, a 4x4 is really the ONLY way to travel, but otherwise, you can consider saving some money and hiring a sedan car. This will get you to and around Etosha, to Swakopmund and to most of Sossusvlei, and as long as you are careful on the gravel roads, you will be fine.

Car seats are available for hire, although not compulsory by law. We also found that a booster seat is useful for older children, so they can see out the window better when you’re game viewing.

Fuel is readily available in Namibia, with petrol stations in all the main towns (and even in some very random places!). Most fuel stations also have a shop where you can buy water and snacks if you run short.

- Malaria (or lack of)

There is no malaria in the vast majority of tourist destinations in Namibia. It is really only prevalent as you head up into the north-west river region. There is also no yellow fever in the country. 

- Language

The official language of Namibia is English, which is actually only the native tongue of around 3% of the population. English is the language of instruction from secondary school onwards and most people will speak good English and Afrikaans, as well as a number of local dialects.

- Variety of things to do

The variety of activities on offer in Namibia is huge, with something to suit even the most demanding teenager. In and around Windhoek there are a number of wildlife sanctuaries including N/a'ankuse and Okonjima, both of which we highly recommend. In Swakopmund, you can go quad biking into the dunes, sand-boarding, fishing (both on land and in a boat), there are micro-lights and light aircraft tours up the Skeleton Coast, and dolphin cruises from Walvis Bay. In Damaraland you can go on a drive to search for the elusive desert-adapted elephant, visit the cultural village and marvel at the collection of more than 2,000 ancient Bushmen rock carvings.

- Food

Food in Namibia is generally western with an African twist, and vegetarians can definitely be catered for in larger towns. Supermarkets, found throughout the country, are usually South African franchises, which generally stock food and dry goods imported from South Africa. Fresh fruit, vegetables and meat are of good quality and widely available. Food in shops and restaurants is of good value for money.

- Accommodation

There is a wide range of accommodation options for tourists. The vast majority of places, and generally all but the most upmarket of lodges, will happily cater to children of all ages. Most lodges and B&Bs will be able to give you a family room or two adjoining rooms.

There are many excellent mid-range options, and if you do want to splash out, there are a number of incredible lodges which will accept younger children. The best thing about accommodation in Namibia, is that you are really getting what you pay for - most lodges are set in outstanding areas of natural beauty, and have been designed to integrate into the environment as much as possible. 

If you’re a bit more of an adventurous family, we highly recommend exploring Namibia using a 4x4 vehicle with two rooftop tents. Many car hire firms will offer a camping option, where the car comes fully equipped with tents, sleeping bags, travel pillows (hot tip - buy cheap pillows when you arrive in Windhoek!), cooking equipment and a fridge / freezer. Namibian campsites are excellent, with the vast majority having power points, flush toilets, showers and hot and cold running water.

Camping is an incredible way to see the country, and each day you simply pack up your kit and head off like a tortoise, with your home on the roof.

Accommodation inside Etosha is limited to NWR (Namibia Wildlife Resorts) rest camps which do get booked up many months in advance, and are more expensive than comparable lodges outside the Park - but by no means expensive. The experience of staying in Etosha is unparalleled and we do recommend staying inside Etosha if you can.

- Can be done cheaply and independently

The Namibian dollar is pegged to the South African Rand, and either can be used interchangeably throughout the country. The current exchange rate and the weak Rand, means that the cost of travelling around Namibia has become more affordable. Fuel, food and accommodation can be obtained cheaply, and the prices of most accommodation compares very favourably with other holiday destinations. Entrance fees and activities are extremely reasonably priced.

- School holidays are great timing

If you can book far enough in advance, June, July and August are the most incredible times to visit Namibia. There is no rain around, the days are warm without being sweltering and animals congregate around waterholes, which means game viewing is at its best. 

- But Namibia is amazing all the time!

Namibia is a year-round destination with more than 300 sunny days a year. Because of its immense size and location,  it has many different climate zones and sometimes unexpected weather conditions. The Skeleton Coast, Swakopmund and Walvis Bay can be cloudy, foggy and cold, when just an hour away inland, it can be over 30 degrees.

December - March is low season, where rates are cheaper and most of the parks are quiet. Temperatures can get hot, and the days can be humid with the occasional isolated afternoon thunderstorm. January and February are great game viewing months, despite the rains, and predators tend to be very active during these months, giving you great sightings.

April and May get the best weather in Namibia, with temperatures more moderate and little to no rainfall. The country is green (well, relatively so!) and it is a great time to visit the drier desert areas. Towards the end of May, animals seek out water sources and game viewing is amazing. We travelled to Namibia in early May and had incredible animal sitings in Etosha, seeing rhino and lion every day. Peak season usually starts on 1st April.

June to August are the busiest months, where game viewing is at its best and the parks are busiest. The days are bright, warm and clear but nights can drop below freezing. As Namibia is so vast, it never feels overcrowded except in tourist hotspots like Etosha and Sossusvlei. But it still never feels packed.

September and October is a great time to visit - the days and evenings are getting warmer, game viewing is excellent and there is still no rain. It is also not quite as busy as June, July and August.

Hopefully, this has given you the inspiration to plan your next family holiday in Namibia! We have a number of tours, volunteer programmes and travel experiences which we can guarantee you will all love!

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