Tips for visiting Etosha National Park

Classic Etosha: springbok and zebra

First of all let me say that WordPress has been a huge pain in the butt lately and I have no idea if this post is going to publish the way I want it to. Text keeps disappearing, photos reorder themselves, and it’s general choas. I’ve spent 30 minutes trying to fix the photo captions and I’m giving up. Maybe they’re trying to get me to start paying to use their platform. HA.

Moving on.

One of our favorite things to do in Namibia is to go to Etosha National Park. We’ve been enough times now we basically know what we’re doing (Kind of? Maybe? We haven’t seen a cheetah yet so who knows.) There’s a massive amount of info on the internet about visiting Etosha, but I think I actually have some meaningful contributions to make!

I’m not going to tell you where to go to find the big cats or where the elephants like to hang out because frankly I have no clue. Each time we’ve gone they’ve all be somewhere different and Etosha is almost the size of New Hampshire so there is some wiggle room.

Spotted hyena in the morning

Here are our tips for making the most out of your trip to Etosha:

Get out the gate as soon as it opens. 
Yes, sometimes that’s quite early and yes sometimes it’s hard to get out of bed. But most of our favorite sightings have been early in the morning, and the light is great for photos. Similarly…

Black-backed jackal family near Okaukuejo
The Etosha morning commute

Exit the park right before the gates close
More great photography lighting and the animals are finally coming out of their shaded hidey holes. Pack a cooler with some beverages, find a watering hole, turn the car off, have a sundowner and just watch the animals emerge. 

Pack your meals to go.  
Or at least pack enough nourishing food to sustain you between meals if you get up early and plan on eating breakfast around 9 at your rest camp. On our most recent evening at Okaukuejo we made sandwiches for dinner while sitting alongside the Okaukuejo watering hole because we only had one night there and I’ll be damned if I’m going to miss an amazing sighting to go eat a mediocre expensive pork schnitzel at the restaurant. Some of our favorite meals-to-go: cold quiche, hard boiled eggs, hummus and pre-sliced veg, cold pizza, and of course sandwich fixings.

Bring lots of game drive snacks. 
I’m talking cookies, popcorn, gummy bears, chips, biltong, apples, granola bars, and more cookies. Everyone has their kryptonite snacks; bring those. Things that will make everyone forget their sore butts from enduring bumpy roads, keep whiny children and grownups from losing it, and generally make things more enjoyable. 

Bring a way to make coffee and large to-go mugs.
If you stay at an NWR facility there will be a water kettle; we bring ground coffee, a french press, and thermoses, and we are good to go.

Have everyone go to the bathroom whenever the opportunity presents itself. 
Toilets are few and far between. The LAST thing you want to hear when you’ve found the perfect watering hole, turned off the car, and cracked open a beverage is, “Mommy, Daddy, I REALLY have to poop.” Trust me.

Share information with other tourists whenever you can.  
If we hadn’t told a truck full of Namibians where we had our lion and rhino sightings, they never would have told us about their leopard sighting. And we never would have seen a leopard. Relatedly…

We never would have spotted this beauty without a tip-off and good binoculars

If you’re staying somewhere new and you don’t know where to go to find the big game, ask or look in the sightings book. 
If you can find a game driver they might help you, or maybe not, who knows, they can be proprietary about their info. Every NWR reception has a sightings book; take a look and go to those watering holes.

Buy a map (or several) before you start driving around the park. 
M gets one in the back seat, we have one in the front seat. They also function as an animal guide, which is helpful when you see things like the bird below, which is a puffed out male kori bustard.

Pay at once for as many consecutive days as you’ll be in the park.
You can pay for as many consecutive days as you want, and this will save you time each day. You don’t need to fill out the paperwork or go back in to pay, and sometimes the queues can be terrible.

Don’t get jealous when other people see things that you didn’t
There’s ALWAYS that guy that brags about how he saw a lion take down a zebra, but when you ask where exactly he saw this, he won’t/doesn’t want to give you a straight answer. It’s stupid. People are territorial about their sightings and it’s childish. But that’s life.

Lower your tire pressure, keep your vehicle in 4WD-high, and don’t drive too quickly.
The dirt roads in Etosha aren’t great, verging on really bad. We lower our tire pressure to 1.5 bar and take it slow and steady. After all how else will you see animals. The first time we went we saw a flipped over rented vehicle, probably some tourist who didn’t know how to properly drive on gravel roads. Don’t be that tourist.

Bring binoculars.
Good ones. This is not the time to figure out that your binoculars actually suck.

Take the advice on travel blogs with a grain of salt.
Most of them are written by tourists who went to Etosha for two days during the dry season, happened to get lucky with their sightings and now think they know everything. Have zero expectations: the only things you are truly guaranteed to see are zebra and springbok. Don’t waste your time researching where to find animals at Etosha on the internet because, speaking from experience, it never pans out. Instead look in the sightings book or ask.

Springbok for days

Whew. Well that’s more than I expected to write. In the next post I’ll cover our Etosha trip reports and go over some advice on how to pick where to stay!

This baby giraffe just couldn’t handle the morning traffic

2 thoughts on “Tips for visiting Etosha National Park

  1. Pingback: Etosha trip reports and accommodation advice | According to Athena

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