In Part 2 of our Namibia Self Drive Guide we explain how we came to decide on a self catered self drive safari rather than an organized guided tour around Namibia. Our aim with this post is to pose considerations that help you decide if a self drive safari is the right option for your upcoming Namibian adventure.
Once we had settled on a Namibian safari over a safari in neighboring countries South Africa or Botswana, our focus quickly turned to whether or not we should go on a packaged tour or an independent self drive. Historically we have loved the freedom that self-drives afford us, like our Garden Route motorcycle road trip. However, an African safari would be a new experience with a new set of uncertainties and unknowns. We spent countless hours researching our options, consulting with South African friends and compiling an extensive pros and cons list. If you have ever wanted to go on safari, hopefully this will help you in deciding whether to take out tour or strike out on your own.
Of course it isn’t as easy as picking between a self drive or guided safari. We quickly realized that there are self drives with a guide, guided safaris where you camp and help cook and everything in between. Since guided safaris and self drive safaris are not mutually exclusive, there are a lot of different options to weed through. Here’s a few of the big ones we stumbled upon:
Guided Safari Tour Options:
1. An exclusive guided safari in a 4×4: This is the most exclusive and thus most expensive option. You will have a private car and private guide and likely be staying in fancier lodges and hotels.
2. A normal guided small group safari in either a 4×4 or safari van: You will have a guide and a driver but will be traveling in a small group from one place to the next. These can involve camping, traditional lodging or some combination of the two. You more than likely won’t be responsible for set-up, cooking or cleaning. Just enjoy the ride!
3. A budget guided safari in a big group safari van: The most economical guided safari options are the bigger group tours. Many offer both camping and traditional lodging options depending on what type of experience you are looking for and budget you are playing with. The van will be large (sometimes 40-50 people) but you benefit from a driver and knowledgeable guide who can help with animal spotting and providing a background.
Self Drive Safari Options:
1. A fully self catered self drive safari: You are responsible for everything – planning, driving, cooking, animal spotting, camp set-up and cleaning. Then repeat the next day! Though the most work, you have the most freedom with this option and can freely pick and choose how you wish to spend your time and money. For this forget booking anything through a travel agent or safari booking company and go direct through a Namibia 4×4 car rental company.
2. A self catered self drive safari planned by a travel agency: This is the same as the first option, except you get to sit back and relax as an agency takes care of all the planning logistics like lodging and campsite reservations and route. Simply tell them what you are most interested in and they will craft the perfect itinerary for your needs. Of course their help comes at an additional cost.
3. A non self catered self drive safari: If you aren’t as keen on camping and cooking for yourself but like the sound of the roadtrip adventure, consider renting a normal sedan to drive from one major region of interest to the next. You can stay in lodges and eat at restaurants and save of the costs of hiring an expensive 4×4 with pop-up tent.
Hybrid Self Drive + Guided Options:
And then you could combine some version of the above. We liked the option of driving ourselves around, setting our own itinerary and camping and cooking for ourselves so a self catered self drive safari was the best option for us. However, having a guide and driver in key locations like Etosha and Onguma allowed us to sit back, relax and enjoy the ride while someone else did the work and helped us spot the animals.
So how do you choose the best option for you? First things first, do your research and decide what is most important for you to see while on your Namibian safari. Is it wildlife viewing? Exotic landscapes? Cultural immersion experiences? Adrenaline activities?
We knew we wanted to hit both Northern Namibia’s epic wildlife viewing (Etosha National Park, Onguma Game Reserve and Waterberg Plaeau) as well as Southern Namibia’s gorgeous dunes and petrified forests. And our constant pursuit of adrenaline activities led us to the coast in between to Namibia’s adventure activity capital Swakopmund.
With a rough itinerary in mind, we next had to weigh the pros and cons of a self drive safari versus an organized guided tour.
Benefits of a Self Drive
Here are a few of the benefits we identified by going on a self catered self drive safari over an organized tour:
- Gave us maximum flexibility and ability to set our own schedule.
- Could stay for as long or as short as we wanted at each attraction. If we wanted to enjoy lunch in front of the watering hole or linger a bit longer with the black rhinos we didn’t have to worry about anyone elses’ schedules.
- Easier to focus on photography from our 4×4 than in a large safari truck or van where you have to strain your neck around 20 other people to see the animals.
- Enjoyed setting up camp, cooking each night (though less the washing of dishes afterwards!), and sleeping under the stars.
- Intrigued by the challenge of navigating ourselves from one place to another.
- Generally was cheaper than even the budget safari packages of a similar length.
Benefits of an Organized Tour
We weighed these heavily against the perks of an organized tour with a guide, driver and group of new friends:
- Work would largely be done for us (including setting up camp and cooking meals).
- Guides know not just where to go, and how to read the “bush,” but also at what times of day. Sometimes they even have access to park rangers who have identified where to find the bigger game.
- Provided help with securing permits and ensuring that we get a premium campsite or lodge each night.
- No added stress driving ourselves around an unfamiliar country.
- Opportunity to make new friends with the others on your tour.
In our previous post we reviewed our Namibia self drive safari costs. In total our safari cost US$2,637 for two people for ten full days (US$264/day average) all in.
Though we initially made the assumption that a self drive safari would be cheaper than an organized tour, it would be misleading to say this is always the case. If you are strictly comparing costs of a self drive option versus an organized group tour you can find guided safaris that compete on price. (Look for budget operators like Wild Dog Safaris). However these safaris typically organize larger group tours, only depart on specific dates and follow strict set itineraries, and may only offer camping rather than lodge accommodations. Also be aware of exclusions from the price quoted such as meals and activities.
Our overall impression is that self drive safaris aren’t so dramatically different from guided safaris on cost that it should be your primary deciding factor. Instead, think about whether a self drive feels like a good fit for your holiday experience.
Based on our experience, we’d say the following characteristics are a good indicator as to whether you will enjoy a self drive safari in Namibia:
- Do you have a sense of adventure?
- Do you like glamping and enjoy being outdoors?
- Do you have an interest in wildlife?
- Do you enjoy road trips and driving long distances?
- Do you prefer independent holidays rather than guided ones?
- Do you like the idea of discovering places for yourself?
- And do you enjoy a range of experiences, and off-the-beaten track places?
So what do you think? Have you been on a self drive safari? Are you in the process of planning your own now? Shoot us a comment below and let us know how it’s going.