Our Namibia Dusty-Nation Guide continues with these Cape Town to Namibia Road Trip Tips.
Why Aren’t One-Way Road Trips Between Cape Town and Namibia More Popular?
A one-way road trip from Cape Town to Namibia (or vice-versa) is a no-brainer. It combines two of Southern Africa’s top attractions into one trip with less flying, no backtracking, and more adventure.
Or so we thought.
When we looked for Cape Town to Namibia road trip info online, we found nothing. No blogs, guides, or anything. Just a couple old TripAdvisor forums. We couldn’t comprehend why a Cape Town to Namibia road trip wasn’t more popular.
So we did it.
We loaded a rental car with whatever we’d accumulated during our six months living in Cape Town, plus some flea market-sourced camping gear and set off towards Windhoek.
Thirteen days later, we arrived with a much better understanding of why—and why not—to do a one-way road trip between Cape Town and Namibia.
Here’s what we learned.
Why Not Do a Cape Town to Namibia Road Trip?
You’re not going to save money by doing a one-way road trip between South Africa and Namibia.
Sure, you save money if you drive from Cape Town to Namibia because car rental is generally cheaper in South Africa than in Namibia. And whichever direction you go you’ll save roughly $120-$200 US per person on a one-way flight ticket, plus the hassle of flying, baggage restrictions, getting to the airport, and all that.
But one-way car rental fees negate those savings and possibly supersede them.
For our little VW Polo, the one-way fee was $280 US, so Kim and I came out pretty much even. But if we had rented a truck instead, which in retrospect we should’ve done—we’ll elaborate on this later—the one-way fee would’ve been about $390 US. In this case, flying to Namibia and doing a round-trip road trip from there would have been slightly cheaper.
✗ Insurance Troubles
Car and truck rental agencies don’t offer tire and windshield insurance outside of the country you rent from, so if you rent in South Africa like we did you won’t be covered in Namibia. You have to rent in Namibia to be covered there.
Normally, this wouldn’t matter because car rental usually insurance isn’t worth it.
But Namibia isn’t normal.
You are very likely to puncture a tire or crack a windshield at some point along Namibia’s shamefully mismanaged dirt roads—we punctured three tires in our trip!—so a Namibia road trip is the rare case where it might actually be in your favor to do so.
Don’t count on your credit card’s insurance to cover tires and windshield either, because it almost certainly does not.
So unless you can find third-party insurance to cover you, you’re going to have to take the risk.
We did and ended up getting dinged $120 US by our rental agency for returning our car with one patched tire. Good thing we didn’t tell them about the other two or it would’ve been triple that!
Even a Buddhist monk couldn’t help but eventually run out of patience and start swearing and
pulling his hair out scratching his scalp because of Namibia’s mind and body-numbingly terrible roads.
So if you don’t like the idea of spending your days feeling like you’re trapped inside a giant paint can shaker, you might want to think twice about doing a major road trip in Namibia entirely.
Sure Namibia’s desert landscapes are beautiful and one-of-a-kind, but South Africa also has equally-worthy scenery and much better roads. Consider doing a road trip between Cape Town and Johannesburg instead, or, if you’re dead-set on desert, do a road trip in Jordan, Oman, or the Southwestern U.S.
Hardcore off-road trippers tell us that Namibia’s real highlights and adventures are found in the northwest of the country and the Caprivi Strip.
These areas are as far as you can get from South Africa, so if you prefer to explore them you’re probably better off starting off and ending your trip in Windhoek.
If you have less than ten days and really want to knock off Namibia’s top two highlights—Etosha’s animals and Sossusvlei’s sand dunes—you’re better off flying to save time.
Why Do a Road Trip Between Cape Town and Namibia?
✓ More Rewarding
There’s something extra rewarding about driving a long distance to get somewhere rather than simply flying there and doing a loop. We certainly felt it as we drove into Windhoek to conclude our trip.
Part of the reward has to do with getting a better appreciation for and understanding of the gradual changes in the landscape. And for sure there’s the benefit of not having to backtrack. Then there’s the feeling of accomplishment when you’re done.
It’s hard to explain, but whatever it is, for us this was the biggest appeal of all of doing a one-way road trip from Cape Town to Windhoek.
✓ Easy Border Crossing
Crossing into Namibia with our South African car took only half an hour and cost just 295 NAD ($20 US) for, ahem, “Road Fund Administration.”
Us Canadians are lucky to not need a visa for Namibia. Americans and Western Europeans don’t either. If you have another nationality, check Wikipedia to see if you need a visa or not.
✓ Load Up in Cape Town
This was also key for us.
We’d accumulated a bunch of stuff during our six months in Cape Town that we wouldn’t have been able to fly with but could stuff into our car. This included cheap used camping gear we bought at the flea market (see below), big bags of almonds and macadamia nuts from Komati Foods, and many bottles of wine.
✓ Namibia’s South is the Best
Surprisingly enough, we enjoyed Namibia’s south most of all even though two of Southern Namibia’s top highlights, the Fish River Canyon and the Orange River, failed to impress us and we regret-less-ly skipped a couple of others entirely, Luderitz and the ghost town of Kolmanskop.
The roads in the south were in better condition because of less traffic, the scenery was more consistently impressive, and it contained more surprises than Namibia’s more populated and touristed center and north.
✓ South Africa’s Northwest is Worth It, Too
- The Cederberg has fantastic hiking, camping, swimming, wine, and beer.
- Paternoster, Langebaan, and Lamberts Bay have world-class restaurants (like this one), nice beaches, and colorful shops.
- Darling lives up to its name.
- Vredendal has fantastic wine cellars, including one of our 10 absolute favorite South African wine tastings: Fryer’s Cove.
- Around August and September, colorful wildflowers burst from the desert.
You could easily spend a couple of weeks exploring these attractions on their own. Definitely don’t speed past them on your way from Cape Town to Namibia.
Cape Town to Namibia Road Trip Tips
These tips specifically relate to Cape Town to Namibia road trip. To be fully prepared, make sure to check out our general Namibia Road Trip Tips (Part 2 of our Desert Diary series) and our South Africa Road Trip Tips.
What kind of vehicle?
One day, the Namibian government might get their shit together and get back to grading their dirt roads every two weeks like they used to, but don’t count on it happening anytime soon.
Until then, it’s worth the extra expense to rent an off-road-worthy vehicle instead of a sedan.
For our 13-day trip, we rented a VW Polo for $550 US all-in, including one-way fees, and spent about $260 US on gas. That’s a total of $810 US.
A truck would’ve cost us closer to $1,500 and significantly more on gas. But the extra $800 US would have been worth it to be able to cover Namibia’s miserable roads at twice the speed. This would have saved us around 15 hours of despair-inducing driving time.
Can I use the same SIM card in both South Africa and Namibia?
Fortunately, they’re easy to buy and set up at gas stations right across the border.
Who to rent from?
We searched far and wide and Around About easily had the best-prices for one-way rentals of sedans or SUVs.
Where to buy gear?
If you’re renting a car or SUV without camping gear and driving from Cape Town to Namibia, make Milnerton Flea Market your first stop. We bought all our kitchenware there for less than $10 US combined and a couple of sleeping bags for only $11 US.
What papers should I hold on to?
When you cross the South Africa-Namibia border you’ll get a slip of paper confirming your car’s been authorized to use the roads. Don’t lose it because your rental car agency needs it to bring the car back over the border when you’re done with it.
Is the currency the same in both countries?
The South African Rand and Namibian Dollar are worth exactly the same, but you can only use them interchangeably in Namibia.
Nobody accepts Namibian Dollars in South Africa so if you’re driving from Namibia to South Africa, exchange your NAD for ZAR at a hotel or gas station before you cross the border.
Is fuel the same price in both countries?
Gas is about 30% cheaper in Namibia than in South Africa, so fill up your tank on the Namibian side of the border.
What to buy if I’m going from Windhoek to Cape Town?
Don’t feel the need to load up on groceries too much in Windhoek because they aren’t much cheaper than in other towns throughout the country, which all have supermarkets. Do load up on wine though, because you’ll find little selection and big prices in smaller towns.
What to buy if I’m going from Cape Town to Windhoek?
Load up on nuts from Komati Foods in Woodstock, the cheapest place in Cape Town we’ve found, buy dried fruit from roadside padstals (farm stalls), and buy wine from wineries along the way.
What do I do with the camping gear I no longer need at the end of my trip?
In Windhoek, we found a new home for all of the camping gear we no longer needed by donating it to the homeless through Heaven Sent.
What time of day should I leave Cape Town?
Around lunchtime and from 3 to 7 p.m., rush hour traffic from Cape Town to the northern suburbs is a disaster.
Leaving early also gives you enough time to do tastings at wine farms in the Vredendal area, which generally close around 4 p.m.
Any more tips?
Yeah, we have extensive tips for both South Africa and Namibia. They share advice we wish we’d known before setting off:
- Every tip and trick we learned for getting the most out of South Africa road trips
- Namibia road trip tips to know before you hit the road
Cape Town to Namibia Itinerary
Be sure to go to our in-depth Namibian Road Trip Itinerary and Travel Blog for our complete breakdown of the highlights, lowlights, and tips.
- Day 1: Cape Town to Vredendal
- Day 2: Orange River
- Day 3: Fish River Canyon and Aus
- Day 4: NamibRand
- Day 5: Sossusvlei
- Day 6: Solitaire, Spreetshoogte, and Camp Gecko
- Day 7: Walvis Bay and Moon Landscape
- Day 8: Swakopmund
- Day 9: Spitzkoppe and Camp Mara
- Day 10: Kamanjab
- Day 11: Etosha
- Day 12: Etosha, Pt. 2
- Day 13: Windhoek
- Day 14: Goodbye
The Final Word
It Was Tough, but Worth It
Knowing what we do now, we think we made the right choice to do a one-way road trip from Cape Town to Windhoek rather than fly to Windhoek and do a loop from there.
We’re glad we got to see more of Northwestern South Africa and Southern Namibia than we would have otherwise and we feel our route was more of an adventure than the standard loops that most visitors take from Windhoek.
Our only regret was renting a small car.
If you’re still not convinced, please share your doubts with us in the comments below and we’ll do our best to address them.
Also, be sure not to miss the rest of our 4-part Namibia Dusty-Nation Guide: