Self-driving Etosha National Park: everything you need to know for an epic safari trip

by | Jan 9, 2022 | Africa, Namibia, Safari, Travel Guides | 1 comment

Self-driving Etosha National Park
Self-driving Etosha National Park

During my 2-week Namibia road trip, the 5 days spent at Etosha National Park were some of my favorites. The abundance of wildlife and incredible encounters we made truly blew my mind.

From spotting huge herds of elephants and observing endangered black rhinos at a floodlit waterhole, to watching lionesses hunt, and finally sighting my first leopard, every day spent at Etosha turned out to be even better than the last.

In this post, I will tell you everything you need to know about self-driving Etosha National Park: the best way and time to visit, where to stay, and how to make the most of your trip to Etosha.

Things to know before you go

Where is Etosha National Park and how to get there

Etosha National Park is located in northwestern Namibia. One of southern Africa’s most accessible national parks, it covers an area of over 22.000 km2, extending around the Etosha Pan, an oval-shaped salt pan.

The easiest way to get to Etosha is by either including it in your Namibia itinerary, or by heading there directly from Windhoek, where Namibia’s largest airport is located. Driving to Etosha National Park from Windhoek will take you roughly 4 hours.

If you’re looking for a perfect Namibia itinerary, check out my 2-week road trip.

2 week Namibia itinerary_lion at Etosha
2-week Namibia itinerary

Opening hours, gates and national park fees

When entering Etosha National Park, you will be asked to show proof of identification and pay a daily fee per person and per car. One day at the park currently costs NAD 80 per adult, NAD 60 for SADC, and NAD 10 per car. You can find more details here.

You can access Etosha National Park through one of the four entrance gates:

  • Galton Gate is the only gate in the western part of Etosha National Park. It’s the ideal entry point for travelers coming from the Skeleton Coast or Damaraland.
  • Anderson’s Gate on the southern end of the park is closest to Okaukuejo camp, and one of the most accessible gates for travelers coming from Windhoek or Swakopmund.
  • Von Lindequist Gate is Etosha’s eastern gate. It’s located closest to Namutoni camp, Waterberg, and the town of Tsumeb, and most easily accessible for travelers coming from Caprivi.
  • King Nehale Lya Mpingana Gate on the northern end of the park is located about 48 km from the main road to Ondangwa, and the closest gate to the Angolan border.

The opening hours for the four gates are based on the sunrise and sunset times and change weekly. You can check the current opening and closing times here.

Western vs. eastern Etosha National Park

Etosha National Park can roughly be divided into a western and an eastern part. Up until 2014, the western part was off-limits for self-drivers. Although it is now accessible to all visitors, it is still noticeably quieter than the eastern part.

When planning your self-driving Etosha itinerary, it’s helpful to know the differences between the two parts. While the flat eastern part contains the Etosha Pan, the western part is more hilly.

The abundance of wildlife, and especially of big cats, is said to be bigger in the eastern part. But if you’re lucky, you might get some rare sightings, like Hartmann’s mountain zebras or black-faced impala in the eastern part.

No matter which part of Etosha you visit, the animal encounters are nothing short of spectacular.

If you have time, I would recommend visiting both the eastern and western parts of Etosha National Park. That way, you can experience the more off-the-beaten-path western part, as well as the fascinating landscapes around the Etosha Pan.

You can find a 4-night self-driving Etosha itinerary including eastern and western Etosha at the end of this post!

Where to stay at Etosha National Park

There’s a great variety of accommodation in and around Etosha National Park, from basic campsites to chalets, and luxurious resorts. The main thing to decide is whether you want to stay inside or outside the park. 

Staying at Etosha National Park

There are 6 camps inside Etosha National Park, which are all run by NWR (Namibia Wildlife Resorts). As I mentioned in my Namibia Road Trip Guide, NWR camps are usually located in the best spots. They are a little bit more pricey but well worth the money considering you’ll get to stay inside the national park.

Etosha National Park Accommodation
  • Dolomite Camp is located on the western side of the park, perched on a ridge, offering the best views over the vast expanses of Etosha. You can stay in one of 20 safari-style tents with private bathrooms. Apparently, tent #13 has views of the hotels’ waterhole and is one of three tents with a private pool.
  • Olifantsrus Campsite on the western side is the first camping-only option at Etosha. The camp site overlooks a man-made waterhole, popular with elephants and other wildlife.
  • Okaukuejo Camp is particularly famous for its floodlit waterhole, which is one of the best places to spot the endangered black rhino after sunset. The accommodation includes rooms, chalets, and campsites.
  • Namutoni Camp was built into an old German Fort overlooking a waterhole regularly frequented by wildlife. You can stay in rooms, chalets, and campsites at Namutoni Camp.
  • Halali Camp is located halfway between Okaukuejo and Namutoni Camp, overlooking the second floodlit waterhole at Etosha National Park. You can choose between rooms, chalets, and campsites.
  • Onkoshi Camp in the remote north-eastern part of Etosha National Park consists of 15 luxury chalets, perched a wooden structure on the edge of the Etosha Pan. The low-impact camp runs mostly on solar power.

For more information on the camps, check out the official NWR website.

Infinity Pool at Etosha National Park

Staying outside Etosha National Park

Aside from the 6 NWR camps, there’s also a wide range of accommodation located outside Etosha National Park. Staying outside the park is a great option for travelers on a tighter budget, or if you can’t find any accommodation within the park.

You’ll be able to choose between campsites, tented camps, and resorts, some even with their own waterholes. Just keep in mind that the park gates are open from sunrise to sunset and you will not be able to get in or out of the park outside the opening hours.

During my 5 days at Etosha, I stayed both inside and outside the park. While I loved the locations of the NWR camps, I also really enjoyed my stays outside the park:

The Mushara Outpost_Etosha National Park
Namibia Road Trip Guide
  • Etosha King Nehale is located just outside King Nehale Gate. It boasts 40 beautifully decorated bungalows with private plunge pools, and access to a private, secluded waterhole inside Etosha National Park.
  • The Mushara Outpost, located just 10 km from Etosha National Park’s Von Lindequist Gate, is the perfect getaway for travelers looking for a bit of luxury and homely hospitality. The Mushara Outpost is part of the Mushara Collection, a family-run business, owning 4 properties in the Etosha area.
  • The Trading Post Campsite, 4 km outside Andersson’s Gate, is perfect for travelers on a budget. Each campsite has its own bbq area and toilet facilities, and the campground also has a pool, shop, and a small floodlit waterhole.

How to visit Etosha National Park

In my opinion, the best way to visit Etosha National Park is a combination of self-driving and guided game drives. Visiting Etosha with your own car will allow you to explore the national park at your own pace and to pick your own route. But you will have to focus on the road, whilst trying to spot wildlife.

This is why I would definitely recommend adding a few guided game drives to your itinerary.

You will be able to book different game drives at all of the NWR resorts inside the park and most accommodations outside the park. Or you can pre-book your game drives on GetYourGuide before you head off to Etosha.

Pro tip: for a very unique safari experience, stay at Etosha King Nehale and book an excursion to the hotel’s private waterhole. The cozy hide on its shores is the perfect spot to observe the hustle and bustle at the waterhole while sipping your morning coffee.

2-week Namibia itinerary
2-week Namibia itinerary

4-night Etosha itinerary

This is the 4-night itinerary I followed when visiting Etosha National Park. I drove to Etosha after road tripping the Skeleton Coast and continued on to Waterberg afterward. If you’re heading to Etosha from Windhoek or so, you can start this itinerary at any other gate and tailor it accordingly.

Night 1 | Dolomite Camp

Enter Etosha National Park through Galton Gate. Once you’ve registered and paid your entrance fees, head north towards Dolomite Camp. Keep your eyes peeled, you might spot some wildlife on the side of the road.

Once you reach Dolomite Camp, check into your safari tent, and then head off to the infinity pool for a swim and a sundowner. If you’re traveling on a budget, you can opt to stay at Olifantsrus Campsite instead of Dolomite Camp.

Night 2 | Okaukuejo Camp

If you’re up for an early wake-up call, start your day with a sunrise drive. The bush never sleeps and early mornings are one of the best times for a game drive. As the rising sun casts the wilderness in soft light, you might spot zebras, elephants, or even some big cats returning from their nightly hunt.

After a hearty breakfast, head east across the plains towards the Etosha Pan and Okaukuejo Camp. Along the way, you can take various detours and stop at the many waterholes.

Once it starts getting dark, grab a drink and head to the floodlit waterhole at Okaukuejo Camp for a really special insight into the busy nightlife at Etosha National Park.

Night 3 | Etosha King Nehale

When I discovered Etosha King Nehale on Booking.com, I just had to treat myself to a night at one of their beautiful chalets with a private plunge pool. It was so worth it! If you decide to spend the night at Etosha King Nehale too, head along the shores of the Etosha Pan towards King Nehale Gate today.

Alternative: if you don’t want to leave the national park for the night, you could stay at Onkoshi Camp, overlooking the Etosha Pan instead.

Night 4 | Namutoni Camp or The Mushara Outpost

If you’re staying at Etosha King Nehale, start your day with a guided game drive to their private waterhole. After the 3-hour game drive and tasty breakfast, head back into the national park, and slowly make your way back towards Namutoni Camp.

Again, make sure you drive some of the extra loops to visit a few waterholes along the way. Depending on your further plans, you can spend the night at Namutoni Camp inside Etosha National Park, or The Mushara Outpost near Van Lindequist Gate.

Etosha National Park Map

Are you thinking about self-driving Etosha National Park? If you have any further questions, let me know in the comments. And don’t forget to pin this post on Pinterest to save it for later!
2-week Namibia itinerary
2-week Namibia itinerary

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1 perfect night at The Mushara Outpost at Etosha National Park

1 perfect night at The Mushara Outpost at Etosha National Park

This site contains affiliate links. I may recieve a small commission for purchases made through these links at no extra cost to you. You can read my full disclosure here. Located just 10 km from Etosha National Park's Von Lindequist Gate, The Mushara Outpost is the...

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Hi, I’m Sara, a twenty-something Swiss on a mission to become a full-time travel writer and digital nomad.