Namibia is a great place to go on safari. Not only will you see amazing animals — leopard, cheetah and desert-adapted elephants anyone? — but you can see shipwrecks on the otherwise empty Skelton Coast, climb red sand dunes, and walk through canyons that will (on rare occasions) flash flood and fill with water. And Namibians are amongst the nicest people on the planet who love showing off their gorgeous country.
What you need to bring with you on a Namibian safari will, of course, depend a great deal on the way you travel. If you are driving yourself and camping, your needs will differ greatly from if you are being driven by a guide and staying at the top lodges.
I was lucky enough to be driven around in a Land Cruiser (by the greatest guide ever – Perez, from Ultimate Safaris), so my advice is based on that. Adapt to your circumstances. By the way …. almost all of this advice applies to my packing wherever I go in the world.
Another version of this story was published on the Namibia Tourism Board’s website: Five essential for a safari in Namibia.
1. Washable multi-purpose shoes
The most useful thing I had with me were my Crocs. They weren’t the dorky ones — I could get away with wearing them with a skirt for dinner (not that I brought a skirt). They were extremely comfortable (and I am prone to blisters). I wore them every day except on very rocky hikes.
Most importantly I could rinse them off in the shower every night, and they dried almost instantly. This is important in such a dusty environment (even more important in a humid environment, where I wear these shoes most of the time too!).
Washability is also important when you are walking in a lot of shit. Yes, shit. You’re going on safari to see animals. You hope to get close to them. You will, therefore, step in shit. Now, most of it is vegetarian shit, so it isn’t stinky or wet. You’ll be able to, I hope, avoid the rhino and elephant shit — it is large, but thankfully not that disgusting. No matter how hard you try not to, you will step in goat, springbok and/or steenbok shit. Get used to it. And wear shoes you can rinse off in the shower.
2. A carabiner
A carabiner is always useful to attach your hat, water bottle, or whatever to your day bag. When you walk up a sand dune, or walk the 1.1 km to Deadvlei, the carabiner is useful for attaching your (washable multi-purpose) shoes to you belt or your day pack.
It is much easier to move through the sand in bare feet, especially climbing a steep sand dune before breakfast. Your toes will help you dig in to the sand so instead of two steps forward, one step back, you will be two steps forward, 1/2 back. Yes, you could wear your boots, but on the dunes the sand will leak in, and you won’t get the toe help. And yes, it is a bit chilly on the sand in bare feet until the sun comes up, but just dig your toes under the surface a bit to warm them up. Clip you shoes to your pack and you won’t have to carry them. Nor will you worry that they get lost at the base of the dune, hidden by blowing sand during your climb.
You’ll probably want the air on your toes to walk to Deadvlei. The walk has a mixture of loose sand and hard-baked (but nice and smooth) salt pan. Most people do this walk around 9:00 – 10:00 in the morning, when it is starting to get warm. It just feels more fun in bare feet. But under no circumstances should you leave your shoes in your vehicle — you must carry them with you (leave your hands free for photos with your carabiner). If you walk back from Deadvlei after about 10:30 am without shoes, you will burn your feet on the sand. The guides will tell you the story of the guy who had to take off his t-shirt, and borrow his friend’s, and tie them around his shoeless feet to walk back. Don’t be that guy.
3. Closed toe boots
Also useful are closed toe shoes or boots — Blundstones in my case. You’ll need these for rocky hikes, like the Sesriem Canyon in Sossusvlei and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Twyfelfontein rock engravings. You’ll also need closed toe footwear in the evenings. In the winter (June – September), it can get very chilly at night, and you’ll need the warmth of boots and socks. (And, despite the chilly mornings and evenings, winter / early spring is when you want to go to Namibia because the lack of leaves on the trees make it a lot easier to spot wildlife).
Closed toe boots are also essential for foot protection from mosquitoes, especially in the malarial zones (Etosha National Park being a main one). Mosquitoes are rarer in the winter, but you may find some at dawn and dusk.
You’ll also want protection from snakes. In the winter it will be unlikely that you’ll see them — in the afternoons they’ll be warming up in the sun and in the evenings they’ll be cold and practically hibernating, under a rock or in a tree. Your chances are only a little greater at other times of the year; they are more afraid of you than you of them. But it is wise not to take chances with snake bites. Or malaria for that matter. Cover your feet.
4. Ziploc (or other brand) bags
Travelling with ziplocs is a great way to keep your stuff clean and organized, whether it be to separate your dirty socks and underwear from the rest of your clothes, stash your leak-potential toiletries, or keep fresh that bag of cookies you bought from the market (and prevent crumbs from getting in your clean underwear). Most importantly, ziplocs are the best way to keep dust out of your electronics (or, in the tropics, humidity).
There is a lot of dust in Namibia. A lot. Again, depending on how you are travelling, your dust issues will vary. If you are driving yourself, you will find yourself in public open safari vehicles to get to Deadvlei and other 4-wheel-drive-necessary places. Even if you are travelling in a Land Cruiser, you will need to transfer to the lodge’s open vehicle when in private game reserves. And in these open vehicles, any time another vehicle passes, you will get blasted by dust. So, keep your camera in a ziplock. For these open vehicles, you may also want to bring a scarf or a buff to put over your nose and mouth too (particularly for the drive to Deadvlei).
Ziplocs are also useful to protect your camera when you’re climbing dunes (there is a constant breeze of gritty sand), on the beach in the Skeleton Coast, and for storage in your bag, as the dust will get everywhere. Everywhere. I store all of my electronics in various sized ziplocks wherever I travel, and add a few tiny packs of silica gel to each bag to keep everything nice and humidity- and dust-free.
The desert is dry. Dryer than you think. So bring all the humectants you can fit in you bag — conditioner, moisturizer, sun screen, hand cream, chapstick, whatever. Yes, the nice lodges will supply some of it, but you’ll want the extra strong varieties that you know work for you. My personal favourites:
- Sunscreen: Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen. It lasts all day (even a hot, sweaty day), doesn’t make you look or feel greasy, and doesn’t cause breakouts. I also use this as a day time moisturizer, every day, wherever I am in the world.
- General (non SPF) moisturizer: Aveda All-Sensitive Body Formula. Now I know this is a body moisturizer, but I use it nightly on my face, under the advice of an Aveda facialist. It has been fabulous for re-hydrating, getting rid of redness, and yes, PREVENTING breakouts. You need just a couple drops and you feel smooth and un-greasy, and after only a few days of use your skin looks better.
- Hand cream: Aveda Hand Relief. Your hands will suck up the moisture, but not feel greasy afterward, so you can use an iPad right away. Their Foot Relief is great too, but I assume you’re trying to pack light-ish, so the Hand Relief will be just fine on your feet too. Or the reverse. Yes, you could just bring the bottle of All-Sensitive Body Formula instead.
- Lip stuff: Nivea Lip Care. Pick your flavour and characteristics. The Sun version with SPF 30 is a good bet for Namibia. It goes on smoothly and doesn’t look too glossy or cakey. If I’ve got a lip injury to repair (cracks, chapping), I like Kiehl’s Lip Balm #1. A bit goopier than Nivea, but it fixes things overnight.
- Conditioner: Pantene hair masks. There are various types, I choose what’s on sale. I have impractically long hair (it’ll get chopped soon, and donated for wigs for kids with cancer) that can be uncooperative with too much sun, sea or wind. I use the hair mask as a regular conditioner and I can comb through my hair without issue. Few hotel conditioners can do that!
Your safari in Namibia will be spectacular no matter what. You’ll be especially happy if you bring the above essentials with you.
Worried about going all the way to Africa for a fab vacation and coming back more exhausted than when you left? Read about a great place to relax near Cape Town, HERE.
Want to see more of my photos from South Africa and Namibia? Check out them out on the Travel Eater Facebook page HERE.
And I’ve got lots more Africa stories.