Zebra, giraffe and wildebeest at a waterhole in Etosha

Central & Eastern Etosha

February 8, 2024

Expect exceptional wildlife sightings at the park’s many waterholes and floodlit waterholes at the camps for nighttime game viewing.

Situated in northern Namibia, Etosha National Park is renowned as one of the most accessible game reserves in Southern Africa – a sanctuary that captivates visitors with its otherworldly beauty and spectacular wildlife. The word ‘Etosha’ is said to have originated from the language of the Ovambo tribe, Ndonga, and means ‘great white place’ – an apt description of the chalky, stark landscape.

Proclaimed as a protected area in 1907, Etosha was once the largest game reserve in the world, estimated to cover around 80,000km² – four times the size of South Africa’s Kruger National Park. Boundary changes throughout the 20th century reduced the park to its current size of just over 22,000km² – which is still larger than Paris, Berlin, and Vienna combined.

The park has four gates through which you can enter – the two main gates being Andersson’s Gate in the South and the Von Lindequist Gate in the East.

The Mighty Etosha Pan

Etosha East encompasses the eastern and north-central part of the park. It is dominated by the enormous Etosha Pan, a natural mineral pan that covers approximately 4,800 square kilometres, is 130km long and 50km wide in places, and spans roughly 25% of the park. To put that into perspective: it is so vast that it can be seen from space.

The bare, open expanse of shimmering white and green makes for a dramatic introduction to the park. It is believed to have formed over 100 million years ago, and was originally a lake before climate changes forced the waterways that once fed the lake to change course towards the Atlantic instead, leaving behind a mineral-rich salt pan.

Today, only the Ekuma and Oshigambo Rivers feed the pan with seasonal water, when it turns into a breeding ground for thousands of flamingos and great white pelicans – a natural spectacle of pink that usually reaches its heights in January and February. But for most of the year, only the glittering, dry-baked pan remains.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that this chalky, desolate landscape doesn’t create the best living conditions, and yet, it is teeming with wildlife. The park’s most famous inhabitants are its 300+ lions, but you might also spot sleek leopards, herds of elephants, and thirsty giraffes. Of the Big Five, only buffalo are absent – in their stead, you’ll be rewarded with exceptional sightings of rare black rhino.  

While nothing except algae grows in the salty, lime-rich pan itself, it is surrounded by semi-arid savanna and grasslands, dotted with waterholes.

Best Waterholes in Central & Eastern Etosha

You’ll find the park’s ‘locals’ tend to congregate around its main waterholes to quench their thirst. Each one has its own distinctive characteristics, and is known for particular sightings. Here are some of our favourites.

1. Okaukuejo

Located next to the Okaukeujo rest camp, this floodlit waterhole is widely considered the best place in Africa to spot the endangered black rhino, as well as elephants, who visit its shores almost every night, especially between June and December. Get there just before sunrise for the most brilliant light, and to avoid the masses.

2. Okondeka

Located on the west side of Etosha Pan, just north of Okaukuejo, this natural fountain is King of the Jungle territory. If you’re lucky you might spot lions and other predators with a kill, but you’ll also be able to observe game, giraffe, and zebra on the surrounding plains.

3. Halali and Goas

While there’s no guarantee of a sighting, man-made Halali and natural spring Goas – both located roughly mid-way between the southern Andersson’s Gate and the Von Lindequist Gate on the eastern edge of the pan – are likely your best bet to catch a glimpse of Etosha’s most reluctant ‘celebrity’, the shy leopard. The oasis-like natural spring at Goas is also a favourite for bird species, black-faced impala, and elephants, as well as wildebeest and zebra.

4. Salvadora

Boasting scenic vistas of the pan stretching away to the northern horizon, this waterhole is a cheetah hotspot. Switch off your engine, lean back, and wait for them to make an appearance. In the meantime, you can also expect to find huge dazzles of zebra jostling for space.

5. Klein Namutoni

An artesian spring, this waterhole outside Namutoni rest camp attracts a host of animals, including hyena, black-faced impala, zebra, elephant, leopard and giraffe, as well as the tiny Damara dik-dik antelope.

6. Fisher’s Pan

Renowned as one of Etosha’s top birding spots, Fisher’s Pan is a sight to behold in January and February, when rainfalls attract pink clouds of flamingos, who descend in their thousands to breed. Watch them wade through the shallow waters, surrounded by a host of other bird species such as storks, African openbill, and great crested and black necked grebe.  

Lodges within Central & Eastern Etosha

  1. Okaukeujo
  2. Onkoshi
  3. Namutoni
  4. Halali

Campsites within Central & Eastern Etosha

  1. Okaukeujo Campsite
  2. Namutoni Campsite
  3. Halali Campsite

Did you know?

  • Etosha Pan was originally inhabited by the Heli/ om- people who were well known hunter gatherers and co-existed in harmony with huge herds of wildlife in the area. It was only in 1851 that the huge pan first became known to Europeans, thanks to explorers Charles Andersson and Francis Galton, who came across this ‘immense hollow’ with the help of travelling Ovambo traders.
  • San Legend has it that the formation of the Etosha Pan resulted from a small village being raided and everyone slaughtered except for the women. One of them was so grief-stricken by the death of her entire family that she cried until her tears formed a massive lake, which eventually dried up and left behind a huge white pan.
  • Etosha Pan is designated as a World Wildlife Fund Ecoregion.
  • It was used as a backdrop during the filming of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
  • It is the only known mass breeding ground for flamingos in Namibia. At times there can be around 1 million flamingos in the pan.

More Areas to Explore in Etosha

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