How many days should I spend in Etosha National Park?

Baby elephant, Etosha National Park, Namibia.

A frequently asked question by tourists visiting Namibia is how many days/nights they should spend in Etosha National Park. Etosha is extremely popular due to its abundant wildlife, easy access by 4×2 sedan and affordability for foreign visitors. But on average a tourist has 2 weeks, often less, to spend in the country and Namibia has so much to see.

The park was described by the Lonely Planet guidebook and Getaway travel magazine as the best destination to view wildlife in Southern Africa. On all of my visits, about twice annually, I have never failed to see at least three of the Big Four (there are no African buffalo in the park). On occasion I’ve seen herds of 40 plus elephant and I’ve experienced extremely close encounters with lions and other big game. 

But how many nights are enough? With such a large area to cover and multitude of rest camps available to choose from one would be inclined to believe that more is better. However, you might be surprised to learn that this is not the case with Etosha. I rarely spend more than two nights per visit and neither should you. Here are a list of five considerations that should save you from spending more than two nights.

1. Visit during Namibia’s winter

I know this is not always possible, but the difference is significant enough to mention first. The reason for this is quite simple. Namibia receives the most of its rainfall during its summer causing wildlife to be less dependent on man-made waterholes which serve as viewing points for visitors. The opposite is true during our winter. Due to naturally occuring water drying up animals are forced to make use of the waterholes and during extremely dry seasons hundreds congregate around these.

2. Spend at least one night at Okaukuejo

Okaukuejo is the most popular camp in Etosha for a reason. It seems to be an area in the park where big game congregate. I’ve seen everything within a 10km radius of the camp. Also, it has the best watering hole for game viewing of all camps in Etosha. It is well lit and open 24 hours day and night. If you are really lucky you would see all the wildlife you want right there. However, it comes at a price as it is almost always fully booked during our winter months. Early booking is therefore essential.

3. Plan your trip through the park properly

It is no use simply pitching up and driving for hours not sure where you are heading or want to go to. You’ll end up wasting precious time, money and see less than you can. The entire camp can be traversed in two days if planned properly. Plan your entry and exit points, Okaukuejo for instance is perfectly situated for late arrivals and early departures which is something to consider. Also consider the daily habits of animals, attempt to be out driving in the late morning and afternoons.

4. Make use of the waterholes at the camps

The gates at the various camps close at sunset, but this does not mean the game viewing needs to stop. I usually head to the waterhole with an ice cold beer about half an hour before sunset. Perfect African sundowner moment. After sunset and the beer, I head to my chalet, have dinner and return to the waterhole for another hour or two. The waterholes are extremely well lit especially the one at Okaukuejo and affords hours of some of the best game viewing Africa has to offer. Repeat at sunrise. An hour before, head back to the waterhole with a steaming cup of coffee in hand. By doing this you’ll add an extra 7-8 hours of game viewing to your visit and you might just see that lion or elephant that has eluded you the entire visit.

5. Go on a NWR guided tour

If all else fails consider a NWR guided tour. They happen in the morning, afternoon and as a night drive. They are pricey, currently a tour will cost you between N$650-750 with a 25% discount for Namibians. The main advantage of a guided tour is the local knowledge the guides possess. They disseminate information amongst themselves and at all times know where the best game viewing is to be found. I’ve only been on one guided tour before and we headed directly to a fresh lion kill and spent a couple hours watching two female lions devour a gemsbok carcass.

So these are my five top tips to make sure you get the best of your two nights in Etosha National Park. Don’t get me wrong if you have time to spend stay as long as you need to. No time spent in Etosha is wasted, but in general most visitors to Namibia do not have the luxury of time. Trust me, two days are sufficient in the park, make use of the tips and enjoy your stay.

*please refrain from posting Rhino sightings on social media and online, poachers are watching.

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