Etosha Village game drive with zebra

Etosha: How to Plan Your Trip

July 16, 2024

Etosha National Park. Where should you stay? Which areas should you focus on? We’ve done the legwork on how to plan your Etosha trip by summarising the park’s many appeals.

At 22,000km², and only four gates, the sheer size of Etosha National Park can make planning a visit an almost overwhelming task. Where should you stay? Which areas should you focus on? And how much time should you dedicate to exploring this northern Namibian sanctuary, known for its mythical beauty and thriving wildlife?

We've done the groundwork for you by summarizing the park's attractions below, so you can jump right into making your decision. And if you need more details or just want to chat, our knowledgeable team is only an email or phone call away!

Etosha National Park highlights

Etosha Pan: the park’s star attraction  

  • You really can’t miss Etosha Pan. Taking up approximately 4,800 square kilometres of the eastern and central part of Etosha National Park – roughly 25% of the entire park – it is so expansive that it can be seen from space. Depending on your accommodation and itinerary, you’ll approach this mesmerising space either from Andersson’s Gate in the South or the Von Lindequist Gate in the East.
  • For most of the year, the glistening salt pan stays dry – but visit around January or February to witness it being flooded by the seasonal waters of the Ekuma and Oshigambo Rivers, and turned into a breeding ground for thousands of flamingos and great white pelicans.
  • The salt pan is home to Four of the Big Five. You won’t find buffalo here, an absence that is made up for by the presence of the rare black rhino. The stark landscape is surrounded by semi-arid savanna and grasslands that are sprinkled with lush waterholes. Game drives are the best way to follow wildlife to these life-giving oases, where you might also spot elephants, leopards, giraffes, and some of the area’s most famous locals – 300-odd lions. Find out more about Central & Eastern Etosha.

Western Etosha: for those in the know  

  • Often overlooked in favour of the dominant pan, and with a contrasting landscape that features wooded, rocky hills and darker soil, the park’s least developed area is still a bit of a hidden gem that is well worth a visit for those keen to get away from the crowds.
  • There are only two accommodation options in the Western part: a rustic fenced camping-only site, and Dolomite Camp, an unfenced NWR eco camp that sits on a wooded ridge of hills and features 20 chalets, an infinity pool, and a restaurant.
  • To make the most of the lower animal density, it pays to hire a private guide, who can lead you to the best sightings at one of about 15 waterholes. On your outings, you might be able to spot members of the Rateldraf lion pride, cheetahs, and rare bird species. And with less human footfall, you’ll often feel like the park belongs to you, and you alone. Find out more about Western Etosha.

Private reserves: for a touch of luxury

  • Sitting on their own land, with their own game, Etosha’s private reserves are often only a short drive from one of the park’s gates. Home to small luxury lodges and camps, they’re perfect for those wishing to stay in close proximity to the park’s waterhole action, yet able to retreat for more wildlife sightings on private grounds, and the comforts of a lodge at the end of the day.
  • The private lodges also have the advantage of being able to offer a tailor-made, exclusive itinerary. You’re not bound by regular park rules, so can keep tracking wildlife to your heart’s content on private game drives, and can also take advantage of additional activities such as guided bush walks, sundowners and picnics, night game drives and rhino tracking.
  • Our favourite private reserves – Onguma, Ongava, Etosha Heights, The Mushara Collection, and Hobatere Lodge – offer a range of accommodation options, from luxury tented camps and family-friendly lodges to romantic hideaways and exclusive-use villas. Find out more about Etosha Private Reserves – and don’t hesitate to contact us for further details on the above, as well as the additional tried-and-tested private Etosha lodges in the area.

The verdict

With such contrasting options, and an expansive terrain to cover, it seems almost impossible to choose. We may be biased, but if time and budget allow, we highly recommend combining Etosha Pan, Western Etosha, and the Etosha Private Reserves for the most immersive, soul-stirring experience.

Try to spend at least one night within the park near Etosha Pan – we love the floodlit waterhole at Okaukuejo close to Andersson Gate. Contrast that with a couple of nights at a private lodge just outside of the park for excellent guiding, luxury sundowners, and extra activities, followed by a drive to Western Etosha to witness the contrasting landscapes and wildlife sightings. Chat to us to figure out the perfect route and options for you.

And whatever you do, don’t attempt to cross the entirety of Etosha National Park from east to west in one day – this extraordinary wildlife hub deserves to be experienced at a leisurely pace!

More info:

For the best insights on when to visit Etosha National Park, be sure to check out our 'Best Time to Visit Etosha' page.
Discover how you will spend your time in Etosha with our A Day in... Etosha guide.

Sample safaris that include Central & Eastern, Western and Private Reserves of Etosha

19-Day Ultimate Namibia Safari - Guided
19-Day Ultimate Namibia Safari - Self-drive
16-Day Classic Namibia Safari - Guided
16-Day Classic Namibia Safari - Self-drive

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