Etosha National Park is one of Africa’s most iconic destinations. Etosha means /Great White Place’ and is home to an immense salt pan that is visible from space. It is also the stomping ground of a great variety of fascinating lifeforms that simply have to be experienced first-hand.
That’s not all though, Africa’s largest salt pan is unique in so many ways:
- Etosha National Park is recognised as a World Wildlife Fund Eco region
- It formed the backdrop for filming of 2001: A Space Odyssey
- Flamingos flock here during the rainy season by their thousands
- Due to wind erosion, the pan deepens slightly every year when the waters evaporate
- In places, the waters of the rainy season can be twice as salty as seawater
- The pan adopts an eerie pale green hue when it is devoid of water thanks to minerals and algae in the salt crust
- There are no hippos, buffalo or crocodiles and only one species of fish found in the park
At once hostile and beautiful, Etosha Pan has always been a sought-after destination for man and beast. At first for hunting the abundant game found there, and now for unforgettable wildlife experiences.
Located in north-western Namibia, and about 4 hours’ drive from Windhoek, Etosha National Park is one of Africa’s most accessible. You can enter the park from one of 4 gates as follows:
- Andersson Gate in the south close to Okaukuejo
- Von Lindequist Gate from the east past Tsumeb
- Nehale lya Mpingana (King Nehale) Gate in the north on the edge of Andoni Plain
- Galton Gate is reached via Outjo and Kamanjab in the south west
Formally established in 1967, the history of the area extends much further back in time.
The pan came into being about 100 million years ago due to tectonic plate movement which diverted the Kunene River from its route towards what was then a lake. This caused the lake to dry up, forming today’s pan.
The nomadic Hai||om Bushmen were the first people to discover the pan as they followed the migrating herds in their seasonal search for water. By 1854 the Hai||om had been driven from the area, but were granted lands adjacent to the park in 2004, where they remain today.
In 1851, Charles Andersson and Francis Galton stumbled across this vast dry lake, establishing trade routes around the rich hunting grounds of the pan.
In 1886, German troops arrived to quell the spread of rinderpest by culling migrating wildlife. They built Fort Namutoni, and in 1901, a second military post was established at Okaukuejo.
On 22 March 1907, Dr F von Lindequist, declared an area of 80 000 square kilometres as Etosha ‘Game Reserve No 2’. In 1955 construction commenced on the boundary fences, tourists were invited to visit the park, and Okaukuejo Camp was opened.
Since then the boundaries have been moved several times, culminating in the completion of the fence in 1973. Today Etosha National Park spans 22,000 square kilometres.
The accommodation options available in the park have come a long way since the first modest campsites established at Okaukuejo and Namutoni. Restaurants, shops, curios, swimming pools and petrol stations have been established and there are 5 rest camps available today. These accommodation establishments are run by Namibia Wildlife Resorts.
The traditional camps, Okaukuejo, Halali and Namutoni offer the option of campsites and chalets with self-catering facilities and floodlit waterholes for 24-hour game viewing. Guests visiting these camps need to bring all their own utensils, crockery and cutlery as well as their food.
Dolomite and Onkoshi provide an intimate safari experience for more discerning travellers with meals included.
A new addition to the offering is Olifantsrus, which offers a camping only experience in remote western Etosha.
In addition, travellers can book in to a number of select establishments located on the fringes of Etosha National Park. These luxury lodges offer all-frills experiences including guided game drives into the park and a very high standard of service.
Children are welcome at Etosha National Park and all the surrounding lodges. Some activities involving wildlife may have age restrictions.
Many of the lodges on the outskirts of the park cater for conferencing and all the camps within Etosha National Park embrace group bookings.
Your game viewing efforts in Etosha National Park rarely go unrewarded. Lion, elephant, springbok, eland, hyenas, giraffe, red hartebeest, gemsbok, rhino, zebra and wildebeest are some of the animals most often seen during the daytime.
With over 30 roads and several picnic spots to explore, self-drive safaris are by far the most popular way to get around Etosha.
Please pay careful attention to any signage at stopping points. You are not allowed or advised to get out of your vehicle except at specific look out points and rest areas.
It is critical that you adhere to the gate opening and closing times during your visit.
Morning, afternoon and night drives are available throughout the park and from the nearby lodges. These take place in the care of professional rangers who add huge value to the experience with their knowledge and expertise.
There are many waterholes located in close proximity to the main camps. These allow you to settle down and wait for game species to approach.
Halali, Namutoni and Okaukuejo Camps also offer the benefit of floodlit waterholes for after-hours game viewing.
The unique landscapes of Etosha National Park will blow you away. Apart from the vast salt pans, you can marvel at miles of arid scrub, rolling savannahs and rocky outcrops in this park.
The Fairy Tale Forest is enchanting, with hundreds of Moringa trees growing en masse in contorted shapes reminiscent of a Brother’s Grimm landscape.
Catch up on days gone by with trips to Fort Namutoni, The seven soldier plaque, a grave from the era of the Dorsland Trekkers and Halali’s stone memorial.
If you feel like a change from the Etosha scene, you can embark on day trips to:
Khorixas Museum – highlights the life and times of the Damara people at a living museum complete with huts, beer brewing, fire making and a history lesson.
While in the area, pop in to see the Petrified Forest, 40km away.
Twyfelfontein – is quite a drive (about 3 hours), but while you are there you can take in the cave art, the towering Brandberg, and the Vingerklip rock formation.
Tsumeb – here you can pick up San arts, Caprivian woodwork, Owambo basketry, leatherwork and karakul weavings.
Cheetah Conservation Centre – a 2-hour drive to Otjiwarongo to visit the big cats and learn more about the good work done by the Cheetah Conservation Fund.
Rare and Endangered Species Trust – Also at Otjiwarongo, REST offers a chance to interact with vultures, storks and raptors.
You will find plenty to please your palate at the restaurants in Etosha National Park. Each Rest Camp offers a selection of traditional Namibian food as well as international favourites.
The lodges surrounding the park provide 5-star a la carte and set menus as well as the opportunity to revel in the joy of dining under the stars.
Fauna and Flora
There is no shortage of birds, mammals, reptiles and plants among the semi-arid expanses of Etosha National Park.
Mammals include 114 different species including almost 3 000 elephant and healthy populations of rhino. The black-faced impala thrive in Etosha and there are 3 kinds of zebra found in the park.
Birdlife is abundant with 240 species noted, including 46 different kinds of raptor. Look out for secretary birds, red-necked falcon, pygmy falcon, Pallid harrier and Montagu’s harrier.
The reptile family is represented by hundreds of different specimens including 50 species of snake.
Plants thrive here, with 134 species of trees and grasses to sustain the animals who live here.
Some essential items to bring along for your trip to Etosha include:
- A camera
- Sunglasses, lip balm, moisturising lotion and sunblock
- Swimming costume and towels
- A map and guide book
- Comfortable walking shoes
- Binoculars, preferably one pair for each person
- Mosquito repellent and anti-malaria medication
Many fully-inclusive guided tours are available from Windhoek.
If you choose the freedom of a self-drive excursion you will have no trouble in reaching Etosha with an ordinary sedan car. The roads are paved and the sand roads are in good condition. During the rainy season, you may find some parts of the park inaccessible. These will be clearly cordoned off.
Directions from Windhoek:
If you fly in to Hosea Kutako International airport, you should plan for a six hour journey to Etosha National Park. Most guests choose to overnight in the capital and set off as early as possible in order to accommodate the gate times of the park.
If you are traveling to Andersson Gate, take the B1 to Otjiwarongo and then turn off onto the C38.
Galton Gate may be reached along the B1. Travel for 250km past Otjiwarongo 250 km, turn on to the C38 towards Outjo and then on to the C40 to Kamanjab. At Kamanjab, take the C35 signposted Galton /Otjovazandu.
To get to Von Lindequist Gate travel along the B1 past Otjiwarongo and Tsumeb. You will find Etosha National Park clearly signposted 73km from Tsumeb.
King Nehale Gate is also reached via the B1, another 70 km from Tsumeb. Follow the signs.
Air Transfers are available from Eros Airport to private airstrips in the park and surrounding areas.
For more information or to book your trip to Etosha National Park in Namibia, pop African Travel Guide a message via our contact us page, and we will gladly assist you.
Please Note: The details shared herein were correct at the time of publishing. However, with time some of this information may change. We recommend confirming information with suppliers prior to making final travel arrangements. If you do happen to find an issue with any information we’ve shared here, please feel free to contact us so that we can make the relevant changes.