Namibia is possibly Africa’s best-kept secret. Often overlooked in favour of better-known safari destinations, a holiday in Namibia with the kids offers the amazing lodges and wildlife opportunities of East Africa, as well as the activity options and stunning scenery of South Africa.
You can fly by light aircraft between lodges if time is short, but we think the best way to explore Namibia with children is on a self-drive holiday. With good roads and little traffic, self-driving in Namibia gives you the ultimate in freedom and flexibility. So hit the road in your 4×4 and wait for the squeals of excitement from the back as you spot your first giraffe, zebra, elephant, lion, rhino… Namibia really is quite unlike anywhere else on earth.
Here are our top 10 activities you can enjoy in Namibia with kids
1 – Self-drive safari through Etosha
Etosha is Namibia’s leading wildlife attraction so what better way to experience it than driving yourself through this incredible national park. Stop where and when you like (there’ll be no-one behind you – bar a jackal perhaps) and pick your own route between the various waterholes. Turn the engine off and enjoy the spectacle of herds of zebra lapping, giraffe sauntering around your car, wildebeest grazing on the plains and skittish impala prancing between ostrich. Even on the main ‘highway’ through the park, a bull elephant may suddenly loom out at you (put those windows up as they get very close!) or a pair of lions might be resting on the roadside in the shade beneath an acacia tree. We promise there will be no cries of “Are we nearly there yet…” (Check out our example Namibia itineraries, both of which include Etosha).
2 – Guided animal tracking
Whilst the independence and flexibility of a self-drive safari is perfect for families, heading off into a private game reserve in the company of knowledgeable – and fun – guides is also an invaluable part of any family holiday to Namibia. At Okonjima you can track leopards using radar technology so sightings are good. Here you can also visit the famous AfriCat Foundation and observe cheetah close up. Guides are always excellent, can relate facts in an entertaining way to keep even those with short attention spans interested and have eyes in the back of their heads when it comes to spotting well camouflaged mammals and birds.
3 – Get out the car on a guided bushman walk
Let’s face it, kids love talking about ‘poo’ so what better way to entice them on a walk than to track paw prints and various droppings whilst also learning about survival in the bush, medicinal values of plants or how to out thwart a hyena. At Waterberg you can enjoy a fabulous morning plateau hike with stunning views from this orange rock escarpment over the plains below – whilst learning which trees make the best toothbrush. In the Kalahari you can learn hunting skills from the San Bushmen – kids and spears, always a good combination.
4 – Sea and sand at Swakopmund
This coastal resort is a wonderful contrast to all the land-based wildlife activities when taking the kids to Namibia. Kayak with seals at Pelican Point or take a catamaran cruise to spot dolphins, flamingos and even whales from nearby Walvis Bay. The brave can take the sky diving option and the less brave, the stunning scenic flight along the Skeleton Coast. Older kids will love riding the dunes on either a Quad or Fat Bike trip or try dune bashing on the 4×4 Sandwich Harbour excursion. And it’s great not to be behind the wheel for once – just hold onto your stomachs!
5 – Roof-top camping
Not for everyone we know but if you are an adventurous family who loves the outdoors and likes sleeping under canvas then what better way to enjoy a family holiday in Namibia. With twin tent options, you can pitch up at sites, often strategically located by a waterhole, pull the tent up and over and, hey presto, there’s your room with a view for the night. Onsite bars and restaurants offer flexible dining but we think nothing beats listening to the sounds of the bush whilst barbecuing supper round the braai. Just be careful getting out of bed at night… (See our Where to stay in Namibia section for more about camping vehicles)
6 – Self-guided hiking
Like a self-drive safari, heading out into the wilds under your own steam works perfectly for families. Take a picnic and follow well-marked trails on your own mini-walking safari. At Bullsport Farm we recommend the fabulous Quiver Tree Trail where you are driven high into the Naukluft Mountains and then simply walk down through the Quiver Tree Gorge in the company of mountain zebra, klipspringer and baboon. Dip your toes in the many ponds that line the route, creating a lush green scenic background for the stunning rock formations. At Waterberg you can walk with scurrying rock dassies and tiny dik dik along the Porcupine Trail and if you’re lucky, you may even spot the rhino that frequents the lodge lawn. Any moaning about having to put hiking boots on will soon be quashed as younger ones start tracking prints and poo along the way.
7 – Having fun in the sand
The massive dunes at Sossusvlei are one of Namibia’s main attractions and on all the tourist posters. They are stunning although it is not necessary to race there for sunrise (along with all the crowds – we use that term loosely, this is Namibia after all). We recommend Dune 45 for a quieter and easier ascent over Big Daddy. The slog uphill will be worth it for the photos AND the whooping run down afterwards. Manage the sandcastle-building expectations though. The Mars-like scenery of the various vleis is mesmerising and any budding photographer’s dream but to escape the sun, take a walk through Sesriem Canyon at the park entrance. Here you can meander leisurely between fascinating rock formations in the cool – a living geography lesson. For an example family itinerary that includes Sossusvlei, see Highlights of Namibia.
8 – Wilderness lodges
Namibia has some of the most extraordinary wild scenery in the world and Damaraland is the ultimate area to experience this. Choose from one of the gorgeous lodges located in unbelievable spots, to truly get to the heart of this region. The hair-raising drive up to Grootberg Lodge will be worth it for the breathtaking views from the infinity pool. And there is a reason the sundowner excursion here has been re-named the scenic sunset drive… At Etendeke you can choose to hike to remote wilderness camps or take the transfer/safari to the main lodge in the middle of this remote plateau, where comfortable tents are en suite with fun bucket showers. Children (and parents) will absolutely love these. At Hohenstein Lodge, in the Erongo Mountains, you can combine both main lodge luxuries with a night under canvas. And everywhere offers total wilderness, solitude and overwhelming peace
9 – Joe’s Beerhouse – and other dining options
Great food and drink are all part of the Namibian experience and what better way to kick a family holiday here off than at the legendary Joe’s Beerhouse. A firm Windhoek establishment, Joe’s is an excellent introduction to the ‘game ahead’. Try the Bushman’s Fire platter of springbok, kudu and gemsbok kebab replete with schnapps. A fantastic layout including a boma fire area and various open air booths means kids can run around freely while waiting for their ” what meat is this” burger. Elsewhere, drinks are cheap and all the wildlife lodges offer superb quality dining whilst guest farms provide excellent home cooking where the bush meets Bavaria – zebra schnitzel anyone? Or for the essential African experience, head to a campsite and enjoy a boerwurst on the braai.
10 – The Road to Nowhere
Ultimately a holiday to Namibia is all about the freedom of the open road. The joy of being your own boss, choosing your own route, stopping where and when you want and not being tied to a guide or group’s timings makes a self drive trip to Namibia with kids the perfect family adventure. Shop for snacks at the regular (well, as regular as anything can get in a country where towns are often hours apart) supermarkets, stock up the cool box (or fridge if camping) and hit the (very) open road. Picnic in remote spots and pull up whenever you want to snap that stunning mountain scene or majestic oryx or funny little warthog.
Admittedly there are a few places where the ‘African Massage’ of bumpy gravel roads begins to jar and empty stretches of nothing might make a game of ‘I Spy’ challenging but an ever changing scenery and the anticipation of wildlife spotting from the moment you leave the airport will keep all ages involved, excited and happy. Kings of the road indeed.
Next step to touring in Namibia with kids
Our top tip is BOOK AT LEAST A YEAR IN ADVANCE (with limited capacity in key locations such as Etosha and Sossusvlei, lodges and camps are taking bookings as far ahead as 3 years time). So talk to us as soon as you can about routes, distances, lodges versus campsites and the activities you can enjoy holidaying in Namibia with kids.
Don’t get too obsessed with which lodge you use as all of them are excellent, especially in Damaraland, and try and extend your time as long as possible as the difference between a two and three week trip can really allow you to fully enjoy each location without having to miss out on key activities. You are guaranteed to come home exhausted but exhilarated.
Check out our Namibia family holiday section for more photos, pricing guide, reviews, suggested Namibia itineraries and places to visit. To start planning your trip, just call us on 01728 752751 or use our website contact form.
Liddy Pleasants, MD Stubborn Mule Travel
Please do send us your reviews and feedback about travelling in Namibia with kids – we always love to hear from our customers. Thank you – [email protected].