Self-Guided Safari in Etosha

Self-Guided Safari in Etosha

Namibia
Namibia

When Is the Best Time

The Etosha National Park is the main attraction of Namibia, with a quarter of a million visitors annually. The best time regarding the weather is the colder and dry season from May to September. The dry season is also the busiest time of the year, and reservations have to be made an entire year in advance.

Lions in the high grass in the rainy season
That's the rainy season - vibrant colours

Friends of mine visited Namibia at the end of the rainy season. The pro; it wasn’t busy with lush vegetation. Four of the Big 5 exist in Etosha. Lions, elephants, and rhinos are frequently spotted, leopards are hiding pretty often, and buffalos don't occur. However, therefore you may spot the elusive black rhino. IMO the best place in the world for it.

Weather - Climate - Crowds

Elephant at a pan filled with water in high grass
The rainy season can be outstanding as well.

Dry Season (April-October)

Zebras at a waterhole in the dry season

The dry season is outstanding for wildlife watching and photography because of the dry bush and the low grass. The visibility of game and predators is terrific. Decreasing rainfall in April but still hot around 30°C/86°F. April is a transient month, therefore, less busy. May gets a little cooler below 30°C/86°F. June to August are the dry winter months. During the day, especially in the afternoon, temps are pleasant, around 25°C/77°F.

Honey Badger early morning
Honey Badger early morning

It is cold at night, and during the morning game drives, temps are below 10°C/50°F. Animals are easy to spot gathering at the waterholes. At the end of the dry season in September and October, the game is weaker and easy prey for lions, cheetahs, and hyenas. Already increasing temperatures in September above 30°C/86°F. However, early morning drives are still pleasant, with temps below 20°C/68°F. The dry season is also the peak season, crowded, and pricy. Early accommodation bookings are advised.

Rainy Season (November-March)

Giraffes crossing a gravel road in Etosha

Increasing rainfall in November and December but usually worth a visit. Most rainfall from January to March, usually in the afternoon often accompanied by thunderstorms. However, my friends visited Etosha in March, and it was quite ok not crowded, and lodges were cheaper.

One of the camps at Namutomi Fort next to the waterhole
One of the camps at Namutoni Fort - click to the pic to get to booking.com to the five lodges close to the waterhole.

They took stunning pictures of the cloudy sky, but they told me it was hot; some days topped 35°C/95°F. The rainy season can be a little tricky. Flooded roads occur, and more driving necessary to spot wildlife since the game isn't concentrated at the waterholes.

Flooded gravel road in Etosha in the rainy season

However, everything is turned into a lush green paradise. Mosquitos are an issue during this time of the year. The dry saline pans are most of the time a desert. The pans get occasionally flooded in very wet years by several rivers. The Etosha pan becomes a shallow lake of roughly 20cm in height.

Pelicans swimming in the Etosha Pan

During these exceptional occasions, flamingos and pelicans breed at the Etosha Pan. Usually, the rainy season is an excellent time for bird watching with residents and migratory (one third) birds alike. As you can see, lots of these pictures were taken during the rainy season. It is hot, there can be torrential rain, but this season has some advantages as well. If you can adjust to heat, think about November, December, mid to end of March, or April. Many grazers like zebras and antelopes start calving because of the huge food availability. The game conditions are getting better at the beginning of the rainy season.

Hours of Sunlight

Colourful sunset in Etosha in the rainy season
What a colourful sunset in the rainy season

Sunrise is between 6 and 7 am - Sunset before 8 pm. Sunrise and Sunset times
Gate opening hours depending on sunrise and sunset. The gates and also the camp gates are open from sunrise until sunset. You have to leave Etosha in time or be in your camp at sunset, otherwise, you risk a fine. The reason for the closure at night is to avoid accidents with the wildlife. 

  • There are roughly 12-13 hours of sunshine in the rainy season.
  • During the dry season, days are shorter; daylight hours are ranging from 11-12 hours. 
     

Malaria in Namibia

Puddle after rain in Etosha

Malaria isn't a big issue in Namibia except for the Caprivi part of the Okavango Delta in the northeast. In general, the risk is the highest during the rainy season and at the beginning of the dry season roundabout until June. It is recommended to wear long sleeves, long trousers to keep mosquitoes at bay. Ask your doctor if it is advisable to take antimalarial in the high-risk time or even in the dry season. What we always do is travelling with a stand-by medication in our luggage. 

Guided Namibia Tours With Safaris in Etosha
 

 

Best Months to Visit

Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Dec

Location and Tips

Etosha National Parc
Namibia
Namibia

Namibia is a “Young Nation” that gained independence from South Africa in 1990. Before, it was named  German South-West Africa, and it was a German colony until 1920. 

Very German Supermarket
Still a big German influence like in the supermarket

Etosha is located in the north of Namibia, 5 hours drive from Windhoek. It got the National Park status already in 1967. Etosha means “great white place” in the language of the Ovambo tribe. The Etosha Salt Pan has almost a quarter of the National Park’s size. This salt pan is a vast breeding ground for more than one million flamingos during the rainy season. What happens in the rainy season the "great white place" becomes a great pink place.

Flamingos in the Lake Magadi in the middle of the crater
Spotting flamingos in the Etosha Pan is best in January and February

Self-driving safaris are one of the highlights in the park. Explore Etosha on more than 3.550 km of gravel roads.

Etosha National Park Map

Waterholes, Roads, Main Camps, Entrance Gates, and Distances

Etosha Map

4 Etosha Gates - Waterholes - Highlights

Black-rhinos at the Okaukuejo Waterhole in the night
Black rhinos at Okaukuejo Waterhole in the night

There are four gates to access Etosha. The waterholes are natural sources while others are human-made.

  1. King Nehale Gate north-northeast
    Highlights Stinkwater and Andoni Waterhole, the northernmost waterhole famous for spotting breeding crooned cranes.
  2. Von Lindequist Gate in the east 
    Namutoni Mani Camp and Waterhole. The waterhole is a natural source located behind the fort and main camp. Strong lights illuminate the waterhole in the night. 6 km to the north is the Groot Okevi located; also a natural source often frequented by leopards, cheetahs, elephants, herds of zebras. Dik-Dik Loop Drive near Namutoni, where lots of the lightweight Damara dik-dik antelopes occur. Another highlight at Namotoni is the Fisher's Pan, a paradise for birders, especially in the rainy season.
  3. Anderson’s Gate in the south
    The Ombika Waterhole and the Okaukuejo Waterhole are popular to spot black-rhinos. Olifantsbad; as the name already indicates, huge herds of elephants, also lions, roan antelopes, zebras are spotted. Best light in the afternoon. Gemsbokflakte; popular by photographers because of the proximity to the waterhole to spot herds of elephants, lions, cheetahs, black rhinos, and of course, oryx antelopes. 
  4. Galton Gate in the west
    Open to the public since 2014. This area wasn't accessible for day visitors before. The Adamax salt pan Is the third-largest in Etosha. These pans are most of the time a dry saline desert. Another interesting waterhole is Olifantsrus next to the new campground in Etosha.

Etosha Entrance Fee 2021

Etosha Entrance Gate

  • Foreign Visitors NAD 80
  • SADC Visitors NAD 60
  • Residents NAD 30
  • Free for children under 16 years

Facts About Etosha

black-backed jackal at a waterhole
black-backed jackal

  • Distance from Windhoek roughly 400 km a 4-5 hours drive
  • Nowadays estimated a quarter of a million visitors annually
  • Seize Etosha National Park 22.935 SqKm
  • Seize of Etosha Salt Pan 4.730 SqKm
  • Established in 1967 with a population of 500 elephants only.
  • Estimated 2.500 elephants live in Etosha now.
  • Estimated 600-800 lions are living in the park. 
  • 3.550 km of gravel roads to explore Etosha
  • Etosha means "Great White Place."
  • Etosha is home to 340 bird species, according to the National Park administration.

Tips for Your Self-Guided Safari

Secretary Bird in the high grass in summer
The Secretary Bird is a special bird of prey. It is hunting on foot and stomps its prey to death.

  • Start early morning and again in the afternoon when the carnivores are active and rest at midday. 
  • If you plan to drive through Etosha the entire day, take lunch with you and have a break at one of the view picnic spots or at one of the main camps.
  • Be patient and take your time at a waterhole you never which game appears suddenly.
  • Bring a binocular to see more details and, especially for bird watching.
  • Have your camera prepared next to you, or just enjoy.
  • Check the lion and leopard sightings in the office of the camps. Usually, lions stay at least two days nearby at their kill.
  • Speak with other park visitors exchange your sightings you won't get disappointed. 

Etosha vs Kruger

Oryx antelopes are resting under a tree
Oryx antelopes occur in Etosha only.

I can't say Etosha or Kruger are the better park to visit. The vegetation is different, the carnivore density, and also the number of visitors each year. In the end, it depends on what else you would like to experience in Africa. I want to give you an idea of both parks with the followed facts:

Springbokes in Etosha
Springboks occur in Etosha also in South Africa, but not in Kruger.

  • Etosha is less busy with a quarter of annual visitors just 250.000 instead of one million. I Etosha, you don't end up in a line of 10 or 20 cars.
  • Etosha predators density is smaller. Kruger has more of all and on top wild dogs, especially in the south. Leopards are easier to spot. Wild dogs were once extinct in Etosha, reintroduced, but not successful. 
  • It is estimated there are less than 50 cheetahs in Etosha. They can't compete with lions, and another reason is the anthrax disease. Kruger has a view hundred cheetahs.
  • Etosha has more than 260 black rhinos, the highest number of all in Africa. The actual count kept secret to protect them from poachers.
  • Etosha has 2.500 elephants and Kruger more than 13.000.
  • Etosha has 340 bird species and Kruger 500.
  • There are more guided walking tours in Kruger offered - also multi-day wilderness trails. You can stay in a basic and remote bush camp. We did this, and it was thrilling!
  • Etosha depends on the by car accessible waterholes. Usually, you spot more game; antelopes, zebras, and giraffes together at one water source in Etosha.

Do you like to know more about Kruger? Read on my Kruger National Park Guide included a game viewing calendar. 

Facts of the Etosha Elephants

Broken elephant tusk because of hypomineralization
Broken tusks at the Etosha elephants

  • In 1954 there were just 26 elephants in Etosha. 
  • Human-made waterholes were dug to draw elephants from farmland to the park which was a success. 
  • In 1967 there were already 500 elephants in Etosha. 
  • Etosha's elephants are the highest with 4 m.
  • Their ivory tusks are meagre because of hypomineralization. 
  • Unique is the elephant trunk with 50.000 muscles. This trunk makes the elephant capable to get even the smallest leaves from a tree.
  • These elephants weigh on average 6 tons.
     

Colourful sunset in Namibia
You can take pictures like this only in the rainy season

I recommend combining Etosha with Caprivi Strip, the Okavango Delta and Chobe in Botswana and also the Vic Falls in Zimbabwe. It is all located in the east and easy to access by rental jeep. Getting to Victoria Falls only is best by plane. The falls are located 1000 km to the east.

 

Thanks for these outstanding pictures from the dry season taken by my friend and photographer Chris. The photos from the rainy season were provided by my wonderful friends Umamisky from Switzerland.

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Created by
Micha and Markus
Micha and Markus