Etosha National Park
Some of the finest wildlife viewing in Africa
Etosha is a truly epic National Park, offering some of the world’s finest wildlife viewing. Tucked away in the north of Namibia and stretching across 22,000 square kilometres of unrivalled remote landscape, it’s a top-notch choice for a totally secluded and surreal safari.
The Park rings the huge white Etosha Salt Pan that covers a whopping 20% of the entire Park. This Pan is the stomping ground to a breathtaking amount of animal life, with vast herds of zebra, giraffe and elephant roaming across its cracked white surface and surrounding savannah. Scattered with odd ‘upside down’ trees and shallow, salt-heavy lakes, Etosha feels as though it’s popped straight out of the pages of a Dr Seuss book, making it a seriously special place for a safari.
Etosha is home to 114 different species of mammal, including four of the famous Big Five - lion, leopard, elephant and rhino (both black and white). It also boasts over 400 species of bird and 110 species of reptile. You’ll also find 3 rare antelope species amongst its hills and valleys - the lovely black-faced impala, the graceful roan antelope and the dinky Damara dik-dik, Southern Africa’s tiniest antelope, which stands only 40cm tall to the shoulder as a fully grown adult.
The Etosha Pan, a massive swathe of salt pan covering 5,000 square kilometres is Etosha’s strange but beautiful centrepiece. Measuring an amazing 130 km long and 72 km wide, it’s something quite incredible to see with your own eyes. Unsurprisingly, Etosha means ‘huge white area’ or ‘place of dry water’ in Owambo, and this explains how the Park got it’s name.
Over 12 million years ago, the pan was a shallow lake fed by the trickles of the Kunene River, but shifting tectonic movement in the earth’s crust has since changed the course of the river, drying up the Pan. Now, it’s totally unique safari terrain that is difficult to describe in words.
San legend holds that the pan was formed by a young woman whose only child was murdered by savage hunters. The woman literally cried a river and her tears gathered into a great lake. When the sun shone upon the land, it dried up the water but left the ground sprinkled with salt.
It’s true that the pan has a extraordinarily high alkaline content, which serves to attract a whole host of wildlife needing salt for nutrition. If there is exceptionally heavy rainfall, the Pan transforms into salty sludge lake and becomes the feeding ground literally thousands of wading birds and huge flocks of bright pink flamingos.
VEGETATION IN ETOSHA
The vegetation in Etosha varies mostly between bushland, long grass and sun-scorched savannah. It’s also dotted with completely mad-looking Moringa trees, which look as if they have been planted upside down with their roots where their leaves should be and viva versa.
Legend has it that these striking trees were caused by the Creator, who became angry with the animals and furiously flung a tree down to Earth. Luckily, the tree missed the animals, but it landed topsy-turvy, where it stayed as a warning for the wildlife not to enrage the Creator again. Nowadays, the quirky Moringa trees are befitting to the bizarre landscape of Etosha and, indeed, Namibia at large.
EXPLORING ETOSHA ON A SELF-DRIVE SAFARI
There are 4 main gates that lead into the Park - the Andersson Gate to the south, the Von Lindequist Gate to the east, the Galton Gate to the south-west, and the King Nehale Lya Mpingana Gate in the north. These gates are open from sunrise to sunset and upon arrival every visitor pays an entrance fee which contributes to the upkeep and the conservation efforts of Etosha. When you visit Etosha, you can either opt to stay in one of the comfortable lodges just outside the gates and drive in each day or rest your head at one of the rustic rest camps within the boundaries of the Park run by Namibia Wildlife Resorts.
The main roads leading from the main gates are tarred, but after that you’re in gravel territory where the condition of the roads ranges from surprisingly smooth to bone-shakingly pot-holed. This means that driving here is an experience all of its own before you even throw the jaw-dropping wildlife into the mix! The speed limit through the Park is 60 km and it’s really important to observe this at all times. Only the southern rim of the Etosha Pan is open to visitors and there are no roads traversing the Pan itself, keeping the landscape pristine and serene.
Strictly speaking, you don’t need a 4WD to explore Etosha. However, a high clearance vehicle with sturdy suspension is a very sensible idea, as it improves visibility (for looking over the bushes and through the long grass) and ground clearance (for puddles and potholes!). All of the roads within Etosha are accessible by 2WD saloon car, but if you take one of these vehicles you need to be extra vigilant in wet weather. If you drive through too much deep water, you’ll risk soaking the spark plugs and the engine, and you really don’t want to breakdown before a pride of lions - trust us!
If you are unlucky enough to break down or puncture a tyre, stay inside your car until help arrives. Do not get out. This kind of incident is highly unlikely, but make sure you have a mobile phone and plenty of water handy - just in case!
WHEN TO VISIT ETOSHA
The summer rains begin in November, and the dried out bush begins to take on a lovely green hue, but the water levels are just enhanced and if anything the excellence of the game viewing intensifies over November and December.
Come January and February, however, which are the wettest months, the wildlife is able to disperse across the Park more, as water is more abundant. Over these months, however, the Pan fills with water, attracting migratory birdlife and hundreds of flamingos.
STAYING IN A PRIVATE RESERVE
We recommend staying in Etosha for a minimum of 3 nights. It’s a pretty epic journey to reach the Park, so it would be a shame to cut your visit short after the effort of getting there and there’s so much to see that even 3 nights is only barely enough. The ideal scenario is to stay near one gate for a couple of nights and then self-drive through Etosha to the other gate for a further night or 2. This will give you a good look at both sides of the salt pan without doubling back on yourself and provide a sensational safari at the very same time.
Self-driving isn’t for everyone, so if you’re not excited by the prospect of exploring Etosha on your own four wheels, there is another excellent way to take a safari across its savannah and namesake salt pan. Staying at one of the concessions or private lodges just outside the Park boundaries, you’ll be treated to a series of show-stopping safaris in a game-viewing vehicle led by an experienced guide. The game drives will cover either the private concession or venture into Etosha itself - so this kind of safari really is the best of both worlds.
Ongava is the largest of the private concessions, and indeed, one of the largest private game reserves in Namibia as a whole. It’s one of very few reserves that can count both black and white rhino amongst its inhabitants, and you’ll be given the opportunity to track rhino on foot during your stay - something that is bound to become a highlight of your Namibia adventure.
The vast expanse of Ongava is home to only 3 exclusive lodges, so whichever one you choose, you’ll be treated to uninterrupted panoramic vistas and complete peace. Ongava Lodge is an enchanting assortment of rock and thatch chalets, while the smaller Ongava Tented Camp will bring you romantic starry nights under a canvas canopy. Little Ongava, nestled on the crest of a hill with far-reaching views onto the plains and valleys below, is somewhere magically serene and a perfect place for getting a new perspective.
National Park Camp
Guest Rating: 4.0 / 5.0 based on 6 ratings
Accommodation is provided to suit every need - double storey 2 bedroom premier waterhole chalets with balconies overlooking the waterhole, standard waterhole chalets (situated close to the waterhole), bush chalets, double rooms and family chalets. Other facilities include a restaurant, bar, shop, swimming pool, kiosk and camp sites.
Lodge / Inn
Each secluded thatched villa has its own unique ambience, fine detail has been considered from a small private library in each villa to a silver candle snuff in the en-suite bathroom. Air-conditioning will moderate the outside climate and the mini bar with its comprehensive selection of beverages, will satisfy even the most discerning palates.
Guest Rating: 5.0 / 5.0 based on 1 ratings
The accommodation at this small, classic, traditional tented camp is in 'Meru-style' or East African tents. Each of the luxury 8 walk-in tents have double doors in the front that lead onto a veranda, allowing for views to the bush and waterhole.
Guest Rating: 5.0 / 5.0 based on 1 ratings
The accommodation at Little Ongava comprises of 3 luxuriously spacious suites. Each suite has its own plunge pool, en-suite bathroom, a 'sala', an additional outdoor shower, and a superb view of the waterhole in front of the camp from the private veranda.
Guest Rating: 4.5 / 5.0 based on 4 ratings
The Mushara Bush Camp offers a down-to-earth tented bush camp experience, and can accommodate up to 32 guests as well as 8 children in 16 custom made en-suite tents (4 which have a double sleeper couch for children), which are built from a combination of canvas, wood and local limestone. With their own private verandah and roof to floor windows, these tents are spacious and airy.
Lodge / Inn
Guest Rating: 3.5 / 5.0 based on 2 ratings
This friendly safari camp offers cosy accommodation (50 chalets) set between the mopane trees, an inviting circular swimming pool, a lush green campsite and ample character. A delicious array of food is laid out in an old train compartment.
Lodge / Inn
Guest Rating: 4.3 / 5.0 based on 4 ratings
Onguma Bush Camp offers different styles of en-suite accommodation, according to your requirements. Choose from comfortable Standard Rooms, Family Rooms, Waterhole/Pool-View Rooms, or the beautiful Settler's Room, which has a private lounge area.
In keeping with the Victorian era in Africa, Epacha Game Lodge uniquely combines turn of the century elegance with personalised safari luxury - the chalets are individually appointed with specially commissioned antique furnishings and stylishly decorated in subtle, relaxing colours. All the luxurious chalets encompass a spacious suite and a magnificent en-suite bathroom as well as an open-air shower, and each has its own private balcony, complete with a breathtaking view across the majestic private reserve and the valley.
Guest Rating: 4.0 / 5.0 based on 1 ratings
This luxury lodge, built from natural rock with thatch roofs boasts 8 luxury canvas tents all with spacious en-suite facilities. All tents have their private raised wooden balcony with breath taking view over the valley amongst the mountains.
Guest Rating: 5.0 / 5.0 based on 2 ratings
The tents are a clever mix of calcrete stone cladding, canvas and wood all with en-suite bathrooms and elevated on wooden decks. These classic-style tents have double doors and a small veranda for uninterrupted views and feature a uniquely designed open-air private shower.
Lodge / Inn
The Mushara Outpost accommodates 16 guest in custom made tent like structures, of wood and canvas which are nestled on the banks of an ancient dry river bed known to the locals as an "omaramba". Each en-suite tent is set on a wooden deck, a meter and a half above the ground, giving a different perspective of the bush.
Lodge / Inn
Guest Rating: 4.0 / 5.0 based on 2 ratings
The 40 individual luxury canvas suites at Etosha Village are constructed on raised timber decks and offer a fully air-conditioned spacious bedroom with a unique 'kraal'-like en-suite bathroom. With the canvas doors opened up you can enjoy the panoramic views and the beauty of nature from the comfort of your bed.