Etosha National Park Travel and Vacations

Etosha National Park is Namibia's premier safari destination and one of Africa's most unique national parks. Nowhere else in Africa can so many different species be photographed around the same waterholes. Anyone who travels to Namibia should spend some time on safari in Etosha.

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Etosha National Park

Top Travel Attractions in Etosha National Park

Etosha National Park provides a unique safari adventure in the northern part of Namibia. A place like no other on the sub-continent is explored on safari packages that visit this national treasure of Namibia.

Etosha Pan

Etosha pan is a great white expanse that covers almost 25% of the park. It is the largest salt pan in Africa and one of the unique sites in Southern Africa. It is a Flamingo breeding ground that attracts roughly a million birds during the breeding season.

Waterholes

A large number of waterholes are scattered throughout Etosha. These oases attract animals and birds of varied species in large numbers, especially during the dry season. Each overnight camp has its own water hole that brings exciting game viewing to your doorstep.

Fairy Tale Forest

It is situated 32km east of the main camp in Etosha National Park. Fairy Tale Forest covers a small area of around one square kilometer. It contains a high concentration of one of the world's most unique tree species - the Fairy Tale Tree, which occurs nowhere other than in Namibia.

Etosha National Park Travel Overview

Etosha National Park is one of the best game reserves in Africa for observing a diverse range of animal and bird life. Game viewing in Etosha is excellent, as wildlife is forced to congregate around the park's water holes for much of the year, and there is little vegetation to obstruct one's view.

Location
Namibia
Year Founded
1907
Size
22 270 km2
Mammal Species
114
Bird species
340
Amphibian Species
26
Reptile Species
110

Reasons to Visit Etosha National Park

1

Wildlife

One of the major drawing cards of Etosha is the rare opportunity to see an abundance of species in close quarters. It is not uncommon to encounter eight species of animals converging around the same waterhole, ceding spectacular sightings. The park also hosts a healthy population of black rhinos, and sightings of lion, elephant, and cheetah offer lasting, thrilling memories.

2

Accommodation

The standard rest camp accommodation in Etosha National Park is a much higher standard than rest camp accommodation in South Africa's national parks. You can stay comfortably at a very affordable rate, with breakfast (and dinner, if you wish) included. Ongava and Onguma offer plush lodgings in beautiful settings for those seeking luxury.

3

Photography

Etosha's predominantly flat and arid landscape and relatively sparse vegetation mean unobstructed game viewing and fantastic photographic opportunities. Bring your best lenses and capture Africa's animals without the hindrance of thick shrubbery or undulating landscapes. The intermingling of various species around waterholes is also ideal photographic fare.

4

Unique Environment

There is no other wilderness area on the continent quite like Etosha – none so open and arid, harsh yet so fertile and bountiful. The vast salt pan, the dolomite hills, the semi-desert grasslands. The staggering number of species that eke out an existence here make it an indelibly unique safari destination.

Etosha National Park Vacation Options and Travel Tips

Etosha National Park vacations range from private tours to romantic honeymoon safaris and dedicated game-viewing experiences tailored just for you.

Transport

Your transportation in Etosha depends on whether you enjoy a guided overland safari at one of Etosha's rest camps or a luxury fly-in safari at Onguma or Ongava. We use hardy, closed 4x4 vehicles with air conditioning and comfortable interiors for our privately guided overland safaris. Namibia's roads cover long distances in a harsh desert environment, so a well-equipped car is a must.

Should you stay at one of the private game reserves that border the park, you will enjoy game drives in modified open 4x4 vehicles, particularly those that are purposed for game viewing. These vehicles typically have three rows of two or three seats and a canopy to shield against the sun during game drives.

Experiences to be Savored when traveling to Etosha National Park

Etosha National Park's most rewarding experiences are inherently linked to game viewing. From Okaukuejo's prolific waterhole to breathless encounters with unique species, you'll find your safari here to be unforgettable.

Nighttime at Okaukuejo Waterhole

The famous waterhole at Okaukuejo Camp is mentioned with reverence by Etosha regulars. After sunset, the waterhole is illuminated with floodlights, which makes it possible to observe animals after dark. Black rhinos are frequent visitors amongst a wide variety of nocturnal critters.

Encountering Animals on the Pan

The Etosha salt pan is 120km (75 miles) long. It is dulating, starkly white, and dry throughout most of the year. Observing animals on this alienesque landscape is an arresting experience, providing a unique tableau for spectacular unobstructed photographic opportunities.

Meeting the Black Desert Rhino

Unlike the devastation experienced in other Southern African countries, Namibia has been largely unaffected by poaching. It currently boasts the largest population of black rhinos worldwide, with the majority thriving in Etosha. You are sure to encounter this prehistoric giant on your game drives.

Best Private Tours and Safari Packages

14 Days From: ZAR 69,270 pp 4-Star & National Park Camps Code: S36

Visit Etosha National Park in combination with other Highlights of Namibia, accompanied by a Private African Sky Guide.

10 Days From: ZAR 69,270 pp 4-Star & National Park Camps Code: S43

This private tour includes visits to Swakopmund, Damaraland, and the Etosha National Park, led by an experienced guide.

4 Days From: ZAR 69,270 pp Luxury Code: S48

Experience the Etosha National Park on a short safari adventure that departs from and returns to Johannesburg.

Foods to try when visiting Etosha National Park

Gemsbok

The gemsbok is a handsome species of oryx that roams the desert landscapes of Namibia. It also has incredibly high quality, low-fat meat, delicious as steak, sausage, biltong, and even goulash.

Springbok

Springbok meat is light and lean. Like the gemsbok, this gazelle also enjoys the Namib's arid environment and produces naturally free-range fare. Springbok carpaccio is a popular delicacy.

Beer

Namibia's beers are brewed according to strict German purity laws – a relic of colonial occupation. Windhoek - named for the capital – is the most popular, and an ice-cold light, lager, or draught is a refreshing post-safari treat.

Brötchen

A brötchen is simply a German bread roll – another relic of the "German South-West." These rolls are so popular, however, that the word has penetrated every linguistic group in the country.

FAQ

Does Etosha have the Big Five?
Unfortunately, buffaloes have been extinct in the Etosha area since the middle of the 20th century. The park does, however, host lion, elephant, leopard, and black rhino.
Can wild animals harm me?
As long as you avoid feeding animals or wandering around the park on your own, you need not worry about being harmed by animals. Always heed the advice of your ranger or guide
Are bush walks available?
You can only enjoy a guided bush walk if you are staying at one of the private game reserves like Onguma or Ongava.
Do I need to take malaria medication?
Anti-malarial prophylactics are recommended for visitors to Etosha.
Can I view animals at night?
Unfortunately, night drives are not available in the park itself. At the rest camps, you can observe animals at the floodlit waterholes at night. When staying in one of the private game reserves, your late afternoon game drives will lead into the night.
Are my valuables safe at the lodges & Camps?
Petty crime is generally very low in wilderness areas. However, should you have rather estimable values, you can ask reception to lock them away in a safe for the duration of your stay.
Is there fresh water to drink?
Bottled mineral water is readily available at all the rest camps in the park and all the private lodges. Although tap water is safe to drink, it is not very pleasant due to its high mineral content.
Are there any species that are unique to Etosha?
At Etosha, you may encounter black-faced impala, the Damara dik-dik, and Hartmann's mountain zebra - animals that are very rare or non-existent in other wilderness areas.
Is there water in the Etosha Pan?
The Etosha Pan becomes a shallow lake in the rainy season (November - April). During the winter months, it remains dry.
Will I have mobile reception and access to the Internet?
While the rest camps and lodges have good mobile reception, you will typically be off the grid while on safari. Internet facilities are available at certain establishments but are usually relatively slow.

Useful Travel Info

Getting There

By Air

Guests typically fly to Windhoek or Walvis Bay from Cape Town or Johannesburg. Afterward, guests will board a light aircraft charter flight to an airstrip outside the park. Charter flights are usually employed when guests stay in private game reserves bordering the park, like Ongava or Onguma.

By Road

On a private overland safari, guests will also fly to Windhoek or Walvis Bay from Johannesburg or Cape Town, then travel by road in a hardy 4x4 vehicle in the company of their African Sky guide. From Windhoek, the trip is around four and a half hours, while Walvis Bay to Etosha is roughly five and a half hours drive.

Weather & Best Time To Visit

The best time to visit Etosha is during the dry season – the "winter" months between May and October. Water becomes scarce, so the animals converge around waterholes. The vegetation thins out, even more, allowing for unobstructed, superior game viewing. The pan is often bone dry during this time, and the arid landscape makes for unique photographs. Average maximum temperatures range from 26°C (79°F) to 33°C (91°F), while minimums vary between 8°C (46°F) and 15°C (59°F).

In the summer months between November and April, the average daily temperatures range from 25°C (77°F) to 35°C (95°F), and sweltering days can even push the mercury past 40°C (104°F). The rains transform the park from a dry, dusty white lunar landscape to a green paradise bursting with lush vegetation. Bird populations peak in the summer, with many northern hemisphere birds migrating south to Etosha. The pan gathers water and turns into a shallow lake, attracting wetland birds and flamingos. Many larger mammals, like elephants, will move north towards Namutoni, as this area will have more rainfall than down south at Okaukuejo.

Medical Considerations

Although the prevalence of mosquitoes in Namibia is very low, malaria is a risk from Okahandja northwards. Therefore, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention recommends anti-malarial prophylactics for visitors to Etosha. Other than that, ensure that your routine vaccinations are up to date. Should you be prone to allergies and irritation, ensure that you pack the appropriate remedial medication, as Etosha can be dusty in the winter.

Health & Safety

Crime is not an issue as you will be staying in the wild throes of a national park. Still, ensure that you are discrete with your valuables to avoid petty theft. Do not feed animals under any circumstances - baboons and monkeys become particularly aggressive when they learn to associate people with food. Do not exit your vehicle unless you are in a demarcated area where it is safe to do so or in the company of an armed ranger.

History

The name Etosha (spelled Etosha in early literature) comes from the Oshindonga word meaning 'Great White Place,' referring to the Etosha pan. The Hai//om called the pan 'Khubus,' which means "totally bare, a white place with lots of dust."

Explorers Charles John Andersson and Francis Galton were the first Europeans to record the existence of the Etosha pan on 29 May 1851. The explorers traveled with Ovambo copper ore traders when they arrived at Omutjamatunda (now known as Namutoni). The Etosha pan was discovered when they traveled north upon leaving Namutoni.

Areas north of the Etosha pan were inhabited by Ovambo people, while various Otjiherero-speaking groups lived immediately outside the current park boundaries. The areas inside the park close to the Etosha pan had Khoisan-speaking people.

The German Reich ordered troops to occupy Okaukuejo, Namutoni, and Sesfontein in 1886 to kill migrating wildlife and stop rinderpest's spread to cattle. A fort was built by the German cavalry in 1889 at the site of the Namutoni spring. On 28 January 1904, 500 men under Nehale Mpingana attacked Imperial Germany's Schutztruppe at Fort Namutoni and destroyed it, driving out the colonial forces and taking over their horses and cattle. The fort was rebuilt, and troops were stationed once again when the area was declared a game reserve in 1907. Lieutenant Adolf Fischer of Fort Namutoni became its first "game warden."

Mammals & Birdlife

Most visitors to Etosha National Park are quickly struck by the vast amount of wildlife in what initially appears to be quite a harsh, stark environment. Because of the park's arid nature, animals are forced to congregate around the waterholes. The result is a photographer's dream; extraordinary varieties of species captured on film in a single setting.

Though buffaloes have been extinct in the park since the 1950s, the rest of the Big Five – lion, leopard, elephant, and rhino – occur throughout. Cheetahs count among the rarer sightings available. Etosha is home to both plains zebra and the threatened mountain zebra, which occurs only in the park's western section. A sighting of these two subspecies together is quite remarkable. Such is the case with brown hyenas and spotted hyenas as well.

For avid birders, summertime is the ideal period to visit Etosha. Though game viewing is generally considered better in the dry season, the summer rains render the vast pans into seasonal lakes and attract migratory and wetland species. Etosha hosts around 340 bird species, about a third of which are migratory. The avian residents of the park make up an eclectic mix that ranges from flamingos to the colorful lilac-breasted roller and some 35 raptor species.

Fisher's Pan is a birding hotspot. Flamingos and storks occupy the shallow waters when the rains gather in the Pan. African open-bill and great crested and black-necked grebe also occur. After substantial rain, the 5 000 km² Etosha Pan fills with water and attracts a blushing cloud of Flamingo. The best time to observe them is during January and February when water is present in the Pan, and they arrive to breed in their thousands.

Geography

The salt pans are the most noticeable geological features in the Etosha National Park. The main depression covers an area of about 5,000 square kilometers (1,900 sq mi) and is roughly 130 km (81 mi) long and as wide as 50 km (31 mi) in places. The hyper-saline conditions of the Pan limit the species that can permanently inhabit the Pan itself; occurrences of extremophile micro-organisms are present, which can tolerate the hyper-saline conditions. The salt pan is usually dry but fills with water briefly in the summer when it attracts pelicans and flamingos.

In the dry season, winds blowing across the salt pan pick up saline dust and carry it across the country and the Southern Atlantic. This salt enrichment provides minerals to the soil downwind of the Pan on which some wildlife depends, though the salinity also creates farming challenges.

The Etosha Pan was one of several sites throughout Southern Africa that formed part of the Southern African Regional Science Initiative. Using satellites, aircraft, and ground-based data from sites such as Etosha, partners in this program collected a wide variety of data on aerosols, land cover, and other characteristics of the land and atmosphere to study and understand the interactions between people and the natural environment.

The dolomite hills on the park's southern border near the Andersson entrance gate are called 'Ondundozonananandana,' meaning 'place where young boy herding cattle went never to return. This probably implies a high density of predators like leopards in the hills, giving the mountains its English name of 'Leopard Hills. The Halali area is also home to dolomite hills within the park, with one hill inside the camp and the nearby Twee Koppies.

Countries

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Elephants in the sunset in Botswana. Botswana
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View of the Victoria Falls in Zambia. Zambia
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