Etosha National Park: The Complete Guide

Animals at the waterhole with Etosha Pan behind, Etosha National Park

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Etosha National Park

Address
Namibia
Phone +264 81 180 0016

Northwest Namibia is home to the country’s flagship nature reserve and most popular tourist destination, Etosha National Park. Proclaimed in 1907, the park is named after the Ovambo word meaning “the place where no plants grow”—a reference to the mighty Etosha Pan at its heart. Once part of a lake that has long since dried up (with the exception of seasonal flooding), the pan covers 23 percent of Etosha’s total area and is so large it can be seen from space. Its vast white expanse and shimmering mirages constitute the park’s most iconic landscape, although other habitats range from Nama Karoo scrubland to arid savannah and dolomite hills. This diversity is the key to Etosha’s abundant wildlife, which in turn forms the basis of the park’s most important activity: game viewing.

Things to Do

Visitors come to Etosha National Park for one main reason: to encounter Namibia’s fantastic wildlife in its natural environment. The park is home to 114 mammal species, including four of the Big Five (elephants, rhinos, lions, and leopards). In particular, it is renowned as a stronghold for rhino conservation—both for the indigenous black rhinoceros and the reintroduced white rhino. Cheetahs round out Etosha’s big cat count, while other predators range from smaller cats like caracal and serval to brown and spotted hyenas, aardwolves, black-backed jackals, and bat-eared foxes. Desert-dwelling antelope including eland, gemsbok, springbok, and the endemic black-faced impala thrive. Burchell’s and mountain zebra also live here, although they are exclusively found in the restricted Western Etosha section of the park. 

Birding is another popular activity in Etosha, where 340 avian species have been recorded. Specials include the Hartlaub’s francolin, the Carp’s tit, and the Ruppell’s and Meyer’s parrots. Three species of endangered or critically endangered vulture can also be seen. In the rainy season (November to April), Etosha Pan and Fisher’s Pan occasionally fill up with water, at which time great flocks of pelicans and flamingoes take up residence.

Other activities in Etosha include nature walks at Halali Resort (to the top of a pair of hills which allow for spectacular views across the park), and game-viewing at the floodlit waterholes of Okaukuejo, Halali, and Namutoni (more on these below). The park also has some historic significance. This is best explored at Namutoni Camp, where a German fort built in 1897 and then rebuilt after an Ovambo attack in 1905 still stands as a national monument. 

Self-Drive and Guided Safaris

There are two main ways to see wildlife at Etosha National Park. Arguably the most popular way is on a self-drive safari, whereby visitors rent a vehicle (often a 4x4 with a rooftop tent attached) and use it to explore the park at their leisure. Namibia is a particularly good country for this kind of adventure, due to its excellent reputation for safety and easily navigable, well-maintained tarmac and gravel roads. In Etosha, embarking on a self-drive safari means being able to look for wildlife on your own schedule, taking whichever route appeals most, and pausing for as long as you like to take photos. It also means experiencing the thrill of discovering each sighting for yourself. The park’s three main camps (Okaukuejo, Halali, and Namutoni) are ideally placed at convenient intervals along the self-drive route. 

Alternatively, you can opt to join a guided game drive. These are offered at all of the park’s resorts and take place during the morning, afternoon, and night. There are some benefits to this method. Firstly, if you have hired a 2x4 or sedan car, you will be able to see much better from a safari vehicle. Professional guides are experienced with finding the best sightings, and often communicate with each other about exciting spots. Most importantly, they are allowed to drive in the park before sunrise and after sunset, which public vehicles cannot do. This means increased opportunities for spotting nocturnal animals, and for seeing predators in action. Namibian-registered tour operators are also permitted to enter the more remote Western Etosha section, which is off-limits to public vehicles. 

Where to Stay

There are five resorts and one campsite in Etosha National Park, all of which are owned and operated by Namibia Wildlife Resorts

Okaukuejo Resort

The largest of the three main camps, Okaukuejo Resort is located 10.5 miles from the southern Andersson Gate. It offers a wide range of accommodation, including premier waterhole chalets, family and bush chalets, and double rooms. Chalets are set up for self catering, with a kitchen and braai area. There are also 37 campsites. These have electricity and water, a braai area, and access to ablution blocks with laundry and kitchen facilities. Okaukuejo has its own floodlit waterhole, which is famous for producing incredible sightings of rhinos, elephants, lions, and more. It also has a full list of amenities, including a restaurant and bar, a swimming pool, and a gas station. Morning, afternoon, and evening game drives are offered from Okaukuejo. 

Halali Resort

Halali Resort is located in the middle of the park, between the Andersson and Von Lindequist gates. Surrounded by moringa trees and overlooked by a pair of dolomite hills, it is often thought to be the most beautiful of the main camps. Guests have a choice of self-catering family and bush chalets, double rooms, and campsites. There are 58 of the latter, all with electricity, water, and ablution blocks. Halali has its own waterhole, fringed by amphitheater-like seats built into the hillside. It also has a restaurant, bar, and swimming pool, while the gas station is of crucial importance to those attempting to cross from one side of the park to the other. Like all of the park’s resorts, Halali offers guided morning, afternoon, and night game drives. 

Namutoni Resort 

Located in the far east of the park, near Fisher’s Pan and the Von Lindequist Gate, Namutoni Resort has a somewhat surreal appearance, having been built in and around a German fort that dates back to the late 19th century. The camp offers bush chalets and double rooms in addition to 25 fully equipped campsites and its own floodlit waterhole. You can fill your vehicle up with gas, get a hot meal at the restaurant, buy essentials at the camp store, and cool off after a long and dusty day in the swimming pool. Don’t miss the fort’s museum and bookstore, both of which provide an interesting insight into Germany's colonization of present-day Namibia.

Onkoshi Resort 

Those looking for a more exclusive experience will find it at Onkoshi Resort, a luxury camp situated on the edge of the Etosha Pan and beyond the reach of public self-drive routes. Designed to have as little impact on the surrounding environment as possible, the camp is comprised of 15 free-standing double chalets, all of which overlook the pan. The view is particularly impressive during the wet season, when the pan typically fills with water. However, whenever you travel you can expect to be awestruck by spectacular sunrises and sunsets, and an unpolluted night sky filled with blazing stars. Activities include three game drives a day and swimming in the resort pool. This is a full-service camp with all meals served in the restaurant. 

Dolomite Resort 

Etosha’s most remote luxury camp is the Dolomite Resort. Located in the restricted Western Etosha section of the park amid astonishing dolomite rock formations, it offers spectacular game viewing thanks to no fewer than 15 waterholes in the immediate vicinity. Morning, afternoon, and night game drives also take guests into the most exclusive areas of the park, where game is undisturbed by public vehicles. There are 20 chalets to choose from, three with a private Jacuzzi. Other amenities include a gourmet restaurant where all meals are eaten, an infinity pool, and a souvenir shop. Dolomite Resort is best accessed using the Galton Gate in the south of the park. 

Olifantsrus Campsite 

Also situated in Western Etosha, Olifantsrus Campsite is the ultimate choice for those who like to step off the beaten track. It is the only one of the Etosha accommodation options to offer campsites only. There are 10 in total, with eight people per site and five power stands to share between them. A camp kiosk serves basic snacks and light meals, but guests should prepare to cook for themselves, either on the campsite braai facilities or at the communal self-catering kitchen. Other amenities include ablution facilities and a waterhole. The latter has a viewing hide to allow for fantastic sightings of unsuspecting wildlife.

How to Get There

There are four entrances to Etosha National Park: King Nehale Gate on the park’s northern boundary, Von Lindequist Gate on the eastern boundary, Andersson Gate on the southern boundary, and Galton Gate, the entrance to Western Etosha. From Windhoek, the Namibian capital, it's a 258-mile, four-hour drive to reach Andersson Gate by way of the B1 and C38 roads. If you're leaving from coastal Swakopmund, you can get to Andersson Gate in under five hours by driving the B2, C33, M63, and C38 roads (306 miles total). From Rundu (the gateway to the Caprivi Strip) to Von Lindequist Gate, take the B8, C42, B1, and C38 roads; it takes just under four hours to drive the 258-mile journey.

Accessibility

Accessible facilities at Etosha National Park are somewhat limited, but they include two accessible chalets at Okaukuejo Resort and four accessible double rooms at Halali Camp. The latter also has accessible ablution blocks for campers. 

Tips for Your Visit 

  • Namibia has a savannah desert climate with scorching summers and mild winters. Winter nights and early mornings can be very cold, so bring plenty of layers for early and late-night game drives.
  • The best time for game viewing is the dry winter season (June to September), when animals gather at the waterholes and are easier to spot. 
  • The best time for birding is during the wet summer season (November to April), when native birds are in full breeding plumage and migrant species arrive from Asia and Europe. 
  • Malaria is a risk in Etosha, although it is very small during the dry season. However, wearing mosquito repellent and long clothing is advisable at any time of year, and those traveling during the wet season should ask their doctor about taking prophylactics. 
  • Etosha National Park is a very popular destination. If you wish to travel during the peak dry season, plan to book accommodation between nine months and a year in advance. 
  • All visitors must pay a daily conservation fee. This is NAD$80 per adult and NAD$10 per regular vehicle. Children under 16 go free, and discounts are available for residents of Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries and Namibian nationals. 
  • Gate times (both for the park and for individual camps) change weekly according to sunrise and sunset times. Take note of gate clocks before departing for your game drives each day. 
  • For safety reasons, stay in your vehicle at all times when in the game-viewing areas. Never feed or approach wildlife that may come into the camps at night. 
  • If you plan on self-catering, shop for groceries before entering the park in order to have the best choice. Basic supplies are available in the resort shops. 
Article Sources
TripSavvy uses only high-quality, trusted sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Etosha National Park. "Etosha's Wildlife." Retrieved on October 19, 2021.

  2. Etosha National Park. "Birds in Etosha." Retrieved on October 19, 2021.

  3. Etosha National Park. "Malaria in Etosha." Retrieved on October 19, 2021.

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Etosha National Park: The Complete Guide