Namibia, Africa: A Woman’s Solo Safari

Animals are everywhere on the solo Namibia journey.
Animals are everywhere on the Namibia journey.

A Solo Safari for a Solo Traveler: Lions, Elephants and Zebras – Oh My!

Gemsbok facing off at Gemsbokvlakte Waterhole in Namibia. Jeanne Block Photos.
Gemsbok facing off at Gemsbokvlakte Waterhole in Namibia. Jeanne Block Photos.

By Jeanne Block

Solo safari…the words seem to contradict each other. Doesn’t “safari” mean group travel?

Not if your destination is Namibia, a country with amazing scenery and wildlife, friendly people, and a stable government.

On the southwest coast of Africa, Namibia is bordered by South Africa to the south, Botswana to the east, and Angola and Zambia to the north.

Sparsely Populated Namibia

It is about the size of the state of California or twice the size of Germany and is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world. Namibia became an independent nation in 1990 and was the first African country to include environmental protection in its constitution.

Today, over 40% of its land is under some form of conservation management, encouraging the protection of wildlife and benefitting rural communities through wildlife tourism. It has the largest number of free-roaming black rhinos and cheetahs in the world and expanding populations of both lions and elephants.

Elephants browsing on the plains of Etosha National Park
Elephants browsing on the plains of Etosha National Park


The Cardboard Box Travel Shop is based in Windhoek, Namibia’s capital city, and is a great source of information for the solo traveler.

With a website rich in information and knowledgeable staff who love to promote their country, they can help with everything from booking lodges, campsites, or rental cars, to providing maps for self-drive tours. Using this in-country travel company has the added benefit of supporting the local economy.

Most visitors to Namibia will begin their trip to Windhoek by flying into Hosea Kutako International Airport. Many pass through quickly, but Windhoek has some interesting sights and experiences worth a few days of exploration. Here are a few suggestions:

Fusion Restaurant offers a tasty introduction to traditional cuisine from numerous African countries in a beautiful setting. It’s just a walk down the hill if you stay at Rivendell Guest House,  a comfortable and budget-friendly inn with several options for rooms.

Parade of zebras and blue wildebeest welcome visitors to Etosha National Park.
Parade of zebras and blue wildebeest welcome visitors to Etosha National Park.

National Art Gallery of Namibia is a beautifully designed gallery housing a permanent collection of traditional and contemporary Namibian art and hosting changing exhibitions. Its small gallery shop is stocked with top-quality art and handicrafts from throughout the country.

Namibia Craft Center is in downtown Windhoek in the restored Old Breweries building. It has an excellent café and houses more than 30 shops with a wide variety of Namibian arts and crafts.

Don’t miss the Omba Arts shop which features jewelry, baskets and textiles produced by craft cooperatives in rural parts of the country. Bracelets made from PVC pipe and decorated with traditional symbols are inexpensive and lightweight gifts to take home.

Etosha National Park

Just a few miles inside the Anderson Gate of Etosha National Park several cars had come to a complete stop as a long parade of zebras and blue wildebeest slowly crossed the road, headed to the Okaukuejo waterhole. It was as if this wildlife procession was saying “welcome to Etosha!”

Etosha National Park covers almost 2000 square miles in northern Namibia. Etosha translates as the great white place or the place of dry water. Millions of years ago most of Etosha was an inland lake, but today the dry lake bed is a vast, clay-covered salt pan.

Waterholes – both natural springs and man-made bore holes – dot the southern edge of the pan along the park roads. During the dry season from June through November  the waterholes provide easily accessible wildlife viewing as animals come to drink and bathe.

Being an animal lover since childhood, going on safari in Africa had been a dream for years. I wanted to see lions and elephants and giraffes and zebras in their native habitat, and now I was on my way!

Right-Hand Driving

I rented a car in Windhoek through the Cardboard Box Travel Shop and drove the 430 km north to Etosha. At first, it felt like I was sitting on the wrong side of the car, shifting with the wrong hand, and driving on the wrong side of the road, but I soon adapted and was happily zooming along the 2-lane tarred road listening to a CD of local marimba music.

Two giraffes posing for the camera.
Two giraffes posing for the camera.

The main benefit of a self-drive safari is that you set your own timeline. Early one morning I left camp when the gates opened and headed for Okondeka Waterhole where lions were known to congregate.

Watching a Pride of Lions

While I spent more than two hours watching a pride that consisted of one male, eight females and three cubs, several tour buggies came and went, each staying only 10-15 minutes.

Within the park itself, there are three main camps, two exclusive lodges, and one site for tent camping only. Okaukuejo Camp is near the southern entrance of the park and has a permanent floodlit waterhole which attracts an amazing variety of wildlife and allows for viewing 24 hours a day.

Though there is definitely a pecking order – with elephants at the top – all of the animals seem to coexist at the waterholes and share the bounty that is life in a parched landscape.

Although considered one of the premier wildlife-viewing sites in southern Africa, Etosha is relatively unknown, so not crowded with tourists. You can drive for miles without seeing another person, but can’t go far without seeing springbok, gemsbok or zebra.

AfriCat at Okonjima

AfriCat at Okonjima is halfway between Etosha and Windhoek. Founded in 1991, AfriCat is dedicated to the preservation of large carnivores in Namibia. It provides education on the importance of carnivores to the environment, works with farmers to ameliorate problems with predation of livestock, and provides rescue and rehabilitation, with a focus on cheetahs and leopards. AfriCat has rescued, rehabbed and released over 1,000 big cats back to the wild.

AfriCat has a variety of lodging ranging from a luxury villa to basic campsites. You can learn about their preservation work, hike, and experience both

Gideon trying to pick up signals from free roaming radio collared leopards at AfriCat.
Gideon trying to pick up signals from free-roaming radio-collared leopards at AfriCat.

cheetah and leopard tracking in small groups. Cheetah sighting is common, but on 55,000 acres of land, there is no guarantee you will spot an elusive leopard.

Leaving at 6 am one morning, I joined a German couple and a fabulous guide named Gideon on a 5-hour leopard-tracking marathon.

After 2 flat tires in mountainous, rocky terrain, we were rewarded with a sighting of this beautiful male leopard. We were actually tracking his mother and found him as a bonus!

Colorful Birds…and amazing Nests

In addition to a wide variety of mammals, Namibia is also a great place for birding. It is home to some unique and colorful birds and even more extraordinary bird nests.

I was particularly fascinated by two completely different types of nest, both built by Weaver birds, named for their nest-building skills. Southern masked weavers build small, tightly-woven nests that look like works of art to be displayed in a gallery. There may be dozens of individual nests in one tree.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are the large “bird apartment blocks” built by sociable weavers. These huge nests are a continuous mass of fiber housing hundreds of birds. Each nest can weigh several tons and be continuously inhabited for 100 years.

Whether you choose to travel alone, with family and friends, or with a tourist group, Namibia should definitely be on your bucket list.

By using local companies and guides and paying national park fees, you ensure unique experiences for yourself, boost the country’s economy, and help sustain the amazing wildlife of Namibia for future generations. Even though safaris are often considered a “once in a lifetime” trip, I hope to visit Namibia again in this lifetime!

Jeanne Block with a cheetah.
Jeanne Block with a cheetah.


Jeanne Block is a nurse/health educator who lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico and travels whenever possible. After years of writing curricula, grant proposals, and health-related foto novelas, she decided to try writing about her travel adventures as well.


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