The short answer is Yes and No. The longer answer will be discussed in this blog. There are two main considerations when deciding if you need a 4×4 to road trip in Namibia.
The first is your budget. If you have an unlimited budget then yes go ahead and hire the biggest and most equipped 4×4 you can get. This is the preferred and best way to explore Namibia, but if you are on a more modest budget it does not mean you cannot road trip Namibia.
The second consideration is where you want to visit in Namibia. And this is good news for budget travellers visiting Namibia. Most destinations and the majority of those on the top ten list to visit is accessible with a 4×2 sedan. I’ve done it myself as well as many locals and other tourists.
Let’s break it up into regions. If you intend to travel South which includes Luderitz, Kolmanskop, the Fish River Canyon and Sossusvlei you will most likely not need a proper 4×4. Luderitz is accessed via the tarred B1 and B4 roads and a daily tour operator gets you to Kolmanskop. The Fish River Canyon can be accessed with a 4×2, I’ve done it, but preferably you’ll need at least a SUV such as the Renault Duster, Hyundai Tucson or similar. The same goes for Sossusvlei. But I’d advise you to opt for an extra spare tire when taking the 4×2 and be confident about fitting it. Also expect a pretty rough drive for certain sections.
Heading West to Swakopmund and Spitzkoppe, there is absolutely no need for a 4×4. The entire road, the A1 to Okahandja and from there the B2 to Swakopmund, is tarred. Once in Swakopmund you might miss out on some of the dune bashing action, but there are day operators, quad bikes and camels available for tours. The turn off to Spitzkoppe is about 25km after the town of Usakos. From there you’ll easily drive between 30-40km’s of gravel road to reach the camp. I’ve done this before with a 4×2 VW Polo Vivo.
Heading North is a bit more complicated. The B1 North is tarred all the way to Ruacana on the border with Angola and the B3 that splits off at the town of Otavi is tarred all the way to Katima Mulilo, the border with Zambia. As long as you stay on these roads a 4×4 will not be required.
If your destination is the Etosha National Park, both camp Namutoni and Okaukuejo are accessed by tarred road. Also most of the park’s main roads are accessible by 4×2, but in recent years the roads in the park have become dilapidated. It is still possible with a 4×2, but a SUV such as the Renault Duster, Hyundai Tucson or similar is preferable. The height provided by a proper 4×4 allows for a more enjoyable game viewing experience.
The far North-western areas of Namibia including places such as Damaraland and Kaokaland in the Kunene region is where I highly recommend using a proper 4×4 such as a Toyota or Nissan truck. At the minimum, if you intend staying on the main roads, you can consider a 4×4 SUV such as the Renault Duster or similar. Remember the extra spare wheel and be sure you know how to fit one.
Heading Northeast on the B3 to Rundu, Divundu and onwards to Katima Mulilo there is no need for a 4×4, even if you wish to visit the prominent Ngepi camp or NWR Popa Falls resort. Ngepi camp have alternative purpose-built routes for 4×4 and 4×2 vehicles. I would at the minimum confirm with individual camps you intend to visit whether they are accessible by 4×2.
Do not be concerned that a 4×2 might not fit all the luggage and gear required for camping. I have done it before, others have done it before and as long as you keep it to 3 passengers there should be no foreseeable issues with space.
Namibia is a beautiful country and road trip heaven. It is preferable to explore the contry with the biggest and best equipped 4×4 you can afford, but fortunately this is not a requirement to fully enjoy everything the country has to offer. As I showed in this blog, it is not necessary at all.