Etosha National Park – A Complete Safari Guide

What’s a trip to Namibia without a wildlife safari? As amazing as Namibia‘s other attractions are, its safaris are really the big draw for most travelers. Allow yourself at least two full days at Etosha National Park in order to take in everything it has to offer.

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Quick Facts About Etosha National Park

  • Located in northwestern Namibia
  • Home to four of the “Big Five” (lions, leopards, elephants and rhinos)
  • Became a game reserve in March 1907
  • Upgraded to the status of a national park in 1967
  • The park covers 22,270 km2
  • hundreds of species of animals live in Etosha National Park

Giraffe safari etosha national park

Health and Safety

Before you visit Etosha National Park, there are some simple health and safety steps you should be aware of.

Malaria

The risk of malaria is fairly low in Namibia, especially in the southern region. Etosha National Park and surrounding areas in the north are considered medium risk throughout most of the year. However, the park is virtually malaria-free during the dry winter months as there is nowhere for mosquitoes to breed.

Despite this, most physicians still recommend taking a prophylaxis against malaria regardless of when you visit, just as a precaution. Follow your physician’s recommendations, wear long sleeves and long pants, and use insect repellent just to be safe.

Vaccinations

There are no mandatory vaccinations required for visiting Namibia. However, if you are coming from a country that requires the Yellow Fever vaccination, you will need to show proof that you received the vaccination. You may also want to consider ensuring that your standard vaccinations for polio, tetanus, etc. are up-to-date.

It’s typically also recommended to get vaccinated against Typhoid, as well as Hepatitis A and B. Make an appointment with your physician or travel health services for up-to-date advice on the recommended vaccinations for Namibia before you travel.

Scorpions

Scorpions like to hide in crevices and under rocks. Don’t turn over rocks or pick them up, just to play it safe. Also keep your tent zipped up at all times, and shake out your shoes and clothes before putting them on every morning. If you do your laundry outside, make sure you shake out and inspect each article of clothing before putting it away/putting it on.

Wild Animals

Of course, one of the primary reasons to visit Etosha National Park is to see the wildlife. But they can also be dangerous. Don’t get close to any wildlife and stay in your vehicle when on safari. Don’t feed the wildlife, including birds. Some animals carry rabies – if you are scratched or bitten by any animals in the park let your guide or park employee know.

zebras in Etosha National Park

Waterholes

Your best bet for viewing wildlife is around any of the 40+ waterholes in Etosha National Park. Some of the waterholes are naturally formed, while others are man-made and fed by boreholes. The amount of water rises and falls with the seasons and amount of rainfall, which also impacts your viewing opportunities.

Three giraffes at watering hole in etosha national park

There are many message boards and blog posts highlighting which waterholes are the best for wildlife viewing. But your viewing success can vary depending on the time of day, the season, whether it was a wet or dry year, and so on.

Springbok in Etosha National Park

Springbok at a waterhole

Some waterholes, such as King Nehale, Moringa and Okaukuejo are lit by floodlights at night for spectacular evening viewing. Keep an eye out for the endangered black rhino that often come to Okaukuejo every night for a drink.

floodlit water hole at Etosha

Etosha’s Wildlife

Etosha National Park offers the perfect landscape for spotting wildlife. This is because the region only gets about 100mm of rain annually, so there’s sparse grass cover. In other words, there aren’t too many areas for the big animals to hide.

Some of the most common wildlife you’ll see here are elephants, giraffes, zebras and wildebeests.

As you spend time in the park, note some of the wonderfully symbiotic relationships the animals have with one another. Take these egrets, for example, sitting on the back of a wildebeest. Egrets eat the insects that fly around wildebeests or buffaloes. They also pick away at any parasites, and can act as an early warning system if there are predators nearby.

wildebeest and zebras in Etosha safari

Some endangered wildlife of particular note to look for are the white rhino, black rhino, and the black-faced impala:

black faced impala in Etosha

Hyenas are a somewhat elusive creature, but they are present in the park. Although hyenas are primarily nocturnal, you may be lucky enough to spot them during the day as well.

Hyena in Etosha National Park

Etosha National Park is also great for birdwatching. The park boasts over 340 bird species. This includes vultures, eagles, flamingos, sandpipers and weavers, just to name a few.

Helmeted guineafowl on Etosha safari

Helmeted guineafowl on Etosha safari

Best Time to Visit Etosha National Park

The best time to visit Etosha National Park is anytime between April and October, with July to September being ideal. This is the dry winter season, which means wildlife is more likely to gather around water holes. During the rainy months, there is sufficient water for the animals, so they tend to spread out more across the park.

Elephants in etosha national park

Weather and Climate

Dry Season

May – This is the end of summer, so there still may be rainy days. The landscape is still green, so it may be slightly more difficult to spot some smaller wildlife. Daytime temperatures range between 14/28 °C (57/82 °F).

June/July – Nights start getting colder and may even drop below freezing. Temperatures range between 8 °C/46 °F at night and 25 °C/77 °F during the day.

August – Temperatures range between 10 °C/50 °F at night and 28 °C/82 °F during the day.

September – Daytime temperatures start getting warmer. Temperatures range between 14/32 °C (57/90 °F).

October – Temperatures range between 16/33 °C (61/91 °F).

Wet Season

November/December – This is the beginning of the rainy season, with hot daytime temperatures. Temperatures range between 18/33 °C (64/91 °F).

January/February/March – These are the wettest months. Temperatures range between 18/30 °C (64/86 °F).

April – This is typically the end of the rainy season. Temperatures range between 16/30 °C (61/86 °F).

lion in Etosha National Park

Self-Drive VS. Guided Safaris

One decision you’ll have to make is whether you want to join a guided safari tour, or do a self-drive safari. Etosha is well suited to self-drive safaris, as the waterholes are linked via gravel roads. This option also gives you the freedom to choose which waterholes you wish to visit and for how long.

Note that the opening and closing times of the park gates are based on sunrise and sunset, which change throughout the season. Also be mindful that although the speed limit in the park is 60 km/h, you’ll have a better chance of spotting wildlife if you drive slower and keep your eyes peeled.

Make sure to also keep your gas tank full, as the distances in the park can be deceiving! There are only three fueling stations inside the park – at Okaukuejo, Namutoni and Halali. Fill up when you can, as the stations often run out of fuel, especially during the high tourist season.

On the other hand, if you prefer to have someone else worry about the driving, booking a game drive may be preferable. You’ll have the benefit of being able to relax and watch the animals, while also being in the company of a knowledgeable guide. You can book a game drive when you enter the park gates, or through a third party company. You can also book a night safari, which is highly recommended to get a different wildlife experience.

How Long Should You Stay?

2-6 days is ideal to get the most from your visit to Etosha National Park. But if you can’t stay that long, do try to plan for a minimum of 1 night, preferably 2.

Where to Stay

Staying right in Etosha National Park is a popular choice, as it gives you access to viewing the waterholes at night and early morning, increasing your chances of seeing a wider variety of wildlife. However there are only 6 camps inside the park, which means accommodations can be difficult to book, especially on short notice. If you do wish to stay right in the park, book as early as possible to avoid disappointment.

Onkoshi Camp and Dolomite Camp are eco-friendly chalet-style accommodations. Onkoshi is on the rim of the Etosha Pan, affording vast viewpoints of the area. Dolomite Camp is located on the outer edges of a dolomite ridge.

Okaukuejo Camp, Halali Camp and Namutoni Camp all offer chalets, swimming pools, and a variety of different viewpoints depending on which accommodation you choose. We enjoyed staying at Namutoni Camp, which offers both chalet-style accommodations and camping sites. There is an old German fort on the site, giving it a unique look and feel.

namutoni camp German fort

Olifantsrus Camp is the newest camp site in the park. As it is camping-only, you need to bring your own food.

There are also several lodges outside of the park boundaries if you prefer not to stay inside the park or have trouble finding accommodations.

Need a place to stay near Etosha National Park? Start your search here:



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Etosha National Park

3 Replies to “Etosha National Park – A Complete Safari Guide”

  1. Sue

    I absolutely love the picture of the giraffes drinking water!

  2. Vinn

    Great article for many of us who haven’t been to safaris. It is so important to check vaccination requirements and all these info help us manage our expectations.

  3. Carina | bucketlist2life

    The Etosha National Park is a must see in Namibia! Thank you for your word on advice about scorpions. As a trained geologist I’m known to randomly pick up rocks^^

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