Cape fur seals
Cape fur seals

Before we arrived in the country, our prospects for seeing Namibia on the cheap were looking quite grim. Most of the package safaris we found online were north of the US$125 per day which is astronomical compared to most of the places we’ve gone (Palau excluded!). As with many other African countries, the general advice to budget travelers is to not book ahead but instead just turn up and look for a last minute discount.

The crew on our final morning.
The crew on our final morning.

We were thrilled when we met Chad, the owner of the Cardboard Box Travel Shop (and hostel) the day after we arrived in Windhoek. He was planning to try out a new business idea he had come up with for in a few days time. His idea was a “participation safari” for budget-oriented travelers. Basically, he would provide the vehicle, a guide (himself) and all the necessary equipment for NAD3500 per person for an 8-day itinerary. In addition to this cost, we would be responsible for paying for our own camping and park entrance fees.

As for the “participation” part of the safari deal, we would be responsible for preparing our own food and making/breaking camp each day. The food aspect of it was good fun. Given Amy’s vegan diet and my enthusiasm for burning things over an open fire, we would just assume do our own thing on that front. The near-daily access to Namibian grocery stores, which were well stocked, made it easy to get supplies and we even found exotic things like veggie sausages in the stores.

Gems (squash) stuffed with carrots and onions then roasted on the braai
Gems (squash) stuffed with carrots and onions then roasted on the braai

Helping setup and take-down the camp each night became part of the daily routine. Chad’s tents were of the industrial strength (military?) variety but they were easy enough to setup. These tents could have easily slept four people but we were assigned two people per tent. He also had some nice mattress pads and quality sleeping bags – what I would’ve given for those in Mongolia!

I became the roof loading specialist.
I became the roof loading specialist.

Overall, Chad’s safari was an excellent experience and on top of that he’s a great guy. His budget safari idea is a great one and I definitely think there is a niche in the budget travel market to be filled. In retrospect, I would say that the “turn up and see what happens” approach to budget travel in Namibia is a risky one. Unlike some of the bigger safari destinations (e.g. Kenya, Tanzania) there just didn’t seem to be a large volume of tours leaving from Windhoek and I think we were quite lucky. Hopefully Chad can make his new idea work to help open Namibia up to backpackers!

8-day Safari Budget Summary

  • “Participation” safari for two: NAD7000 ($875)
  • Groceries: NAD790 (US$ 98.73)
  • Two nights camping plus park fees at Etosha National Park: NAD770 (US$96.25)
  • One night camping in Damaraland: NAD180 (US$22.50)
  • Misc entrance fees: NAD260 (US$32.50)
  • Two nights at guesthouse in Swako plus laundry: NAD840 (US$105)
  • Two nights camping plus park fees at Sossousvlei: NAD1000 (US$125)

Total for two people: US$1355 (or $85 per person per day)

If you want to go on safari in Africa you have two choices: book it in advance or turn up and hope for the best.  The latter approach generally yields much better deals but demands some flexibility.  I researched some of the options ahead of time and the costs were downright scary.  We are talking well north of US$1000 for an 8-day tour!  To put that in perspective, that is roughly equivalent to our monthly budget!

Fortunately, our turn-up-and-see-what-happens approach worked out just fine.  On our first full day in Windhoek we visited a couple of tour agencies including the Cardboard Box Travel Shop where we learned about a tour that was departing in about four days.  Chad, the owner, would personally be leading the 8-day “participation safari” to some of Namibia’s headlining attractions.  Unlike the expensive tours, we’d be responsible for feeding ourselves, erecting/stowing the tents and loading the vehicle.  The itinerary included two nights in Etosha Park, a night in Damaraland, two nights in Swakopmund on the coast and finally two nights near the dunes at Sossousvlei.  Don’t worry if those names don’t mean anything, I’ll be writing about all of them in the coming posts!  I’ll also put together a budget summary for the safari in the final post on Namibia.

Namibia has some great roads
Namibia has some great roads

On the first day of the trip we made the 400km drive north from Windhoek to the southern entrance to Etosha.  The roads in Namibia were much better than we were expecting (Mongolia certainly altered my concept of what constitutes a bad road!) so we reached the park by mid afternoon.   As soon as we were through the gates we started to see the animals and lots of them there were.

Sometimes the birds dwarf the mammals!
Sometimes the birds dwarf the mammals!

Like many of the parks in Africa, Etosha is basically a huge fenced-in area.  The park is a little more than 22,000 km² which is roughly the size of the state of New Jersey but the wildlife is a bit more exciting!  The animals that live in the park roam freely, eat each other and do what wild animals do.  Water is the only thing that is provided to them by humans and this is because they are not able to migrate long distances in search of water as they would do in the wild.  The park staff drill boreholes to make small ponds for the animals.

Oryx (Gemsbok)
Oryx (Gemsbok)

Etosha is also the only game park in Africa where you can turn up in your personal vehicle (we saw people driving tiny VW’s!) and go on a self-guided safari.  The roads inside of the park are sealed and comparable to what you find in many national parks back home.  The rules are simple: stay on the roads and never get out of your car except at designated points.  I guess this makes sense considering you could very well end up as a tasty meal for one of the park’s residents.

A black rhino!
A black rhino!

There are a number of camps within the confines of Etosha.  We stayed at Okaukuejo lodge, a German-built camp dating back to 1901.  The facilities there include a luxury hotel, a campground, a swimming pool, a small airport and probably lots of other things I am forgetting.  We stayed in the campground but were treated to hot showers each evening and even running water at our campsite.

The best part of Okaukuejo was the adjacent watering hole.  Just a short walk from our campsite we could go sit and watch the activity at the watering hole behind the safety of a formidable fence and stone wall!  Sitting at the watering hole you have basically a nonstop parade of animals coming through.  At first there might be some giraffes awkwardly drinking from the pond (did you know they pass out if they keep their head down in the water too long?).  A short while later a pride of lions might come in for a drink and a nap while the lesser animals watch on cautiously with envy.  After they leave it could be rhinos, wildebeest, springbok, etc.  The parade goes on and on around the clock.  Amy and I both agreed that we could have spent days hanging around watching the action.

It took us a while to spot her!
It took us a while to spot her!

The main activity inside of the park is to go on game drives.  We completed a number of drives in the early morning and late afternoon when the animals are most active.  Chad had large modified Land Rover was perfectly suited for photography with huge windows.  Combine the vehicle with Chad’s uncanny ability to spot animals out in the bush and we had more than our share of animal sightings!  Be sure to check out the gallery below for many more photos from our time at Etosha.

Namibia – Etosha National Park
Beware of the warthogs!
Beware of the warthogs!
Namibia has some great roads
Namibia has some great roads
The group just outside of the camp ground at Okaukuejo
The group just outside of the camp ground at Okaukuejo
Kudu
Kudu
Kori Bustard (Ardeotis kori)
Kori Bustard (Ardeotis kori)
These springbok have figured out how to share the limited shade.
These springbok have figured out how to share the limited shade.
Springbok
Springbok
Red-Crested Korhaan
Red-Crested Korhaan
Jackel
Jackel
Sociable weavers - massive bird colonies
Sociable weavers – massive bird colonies
A black rhino!
A black rhino!
Etosha Pan
Etosha Pan
Cats and birds.  Both bigger in Africa.
Cats and birds. Both bigger in Africa.
Zebra crossing?
Zebra crossing?
The viewing area at the lodge's watering hole.
The viewing area at the lodge’s watering hole.
Black Rhino
Black Rhino
Helmeted guineafowl running for the water
Helmeted guineafowl running for the water
Oryx (Gemsbok)
Oryx (Gemsbok)
Southern Masked-Weaver?
Southern Masked-Weaver?
Kudu
Kudu
Helmeted Guineafowl
Helmeted Guineafowl
Looks like we aren't going to be continuing on this road.
Looks like we aren’t going to be continuing on this road.
Secretarybird (Sagittarius serpentarius)
Secretarybird (Sagittarius serpentarius)
Gemsbok (Oryx)
Gemsbok (Oryx)
A lone wildebeest listening to his radio
A lone wildebeest listening to his radio
Sometimes the birds dwarf the mammals!
Sometimes the birds dwarf the mammals!
Gemsbok (Oryx)
Gemsbok (Oryx)
The more vulnerable animals come out to drink in the light of day.
The more vulnerable animals come out to drink in the light of day.
Tuna sandwich.  I ate a few of those in Namibia.
Tuna sandwich. I ate a few of those in Namibia.
Acacia (also known as camelthorn)
Acacia (also known as camelthorn)
Jackel
Jackel
Blacksmith Lapwing (Vanellus armatus)
Blacksmith Lapwing (Vanellus armatus)
Jackels
Jackels
Spotted Eagle-Owl (Bubo africanus)
Spotted Eagle-Owl (Bubo africanus)
Cape Fox (Vulpes chama)
Cape Fox (Vulpes chama)
Mongoose
Mongoose
It took us a while to spot her!
It took us a while to spot her!

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