Setting sun during a game drive adventure.

Namibia vs South Africa

February 8, 2024

Both South Africa and Namibia offer natural beauty and thrilling adventures in spades – so which to choose? To help you in your quest, we’ve zoomed in on what sets them apart, from their landscapes and wildlife to their accessibility and cultural appeal.

Landscape

South Africa

Often described as a world in one country, South Africa really has it all. In the southern half, you’ll find cosmopolitan Cape Town, the lush Cape Winelands, vibrant West Coast, and scenic Garden Route; in the Northern Cape, Little Namaqualand with its 3,500 plant species; further east, sub-tropical Kwa-Zulu Natal, and the mighty Drakensberg near the high-altitude landlocked kingdom of Lesotho. And up north awaits urban Johannesburg, the wildlife-rich Kruger National Park, the highveld and lowveld of Mpumalanga, and the country’s northernmost province, Limpopo.

Namibia

Picture blazing red sand dunes melting into the horizon in Sossusvlei and the Namib Desert; driving through a shimmering saline desert at the heart of Etosha National Park; going in search of shipwrecks along the Skeleton Coast; hiking the mighty Fish River Canyon; exploring the golden grass plains of the Kalahari, or standing in awe of the expansive khaki plains, lofty mountains, and rugged landscape of the remote Damaraland; and you get a picture of what Namibia is all about. Sweeping arid spaces exemplify this fascinating country – it’s not unusual to drive for hours without encountering another soul. If you’re looking for space and freedom, this is the place to go.

Wildlife

South Africa

South Africa makes for an epic wildlife experience – starting with the goliath of wildlife watching: the Kruger National Park. Covering around 2,000sq km of predator-prowled bush on the Mozambique border, it is home to more than 140 mammal species – from 2,500 lions and leopards to some 65,000 elephants and buffaloes. Many private game reserves, such as the Sabi Sand, Timbavati, and Thornybush, share an open border with Kruger, allowing the Big Five to roam freely. Elsewhere, there’s Madikwe close to the Botswana border, Tswalu in the Kalahari, Samara in the Great Karoo, and Kwandwe in the Eastern Cape – a short distance from Addo Elephant National Park. And if you don’t want to venture too far from Cape Town, you’ll also find several game reserves in the Western Cape.

Namibia

It might come as a surprise to many to find that Namibia is a rewarding wildlife destination. Those in search of Africa’s most famous residents should make Etosha National Park their first port of call. While it lacks the presence of buffalos, Namibia’s biggest reserve is teeming with elephants and lions – and it’s the best place to spot black rhinos. Elsewhere, the Namib Desert is home to desert-adapted wildlife, while the semi-arid Kaokoland and Damaraland feature desert black rhino and desert elephant; and Cape Cross near Swakopmund is where’ll find the country’s famous Cape fur seal colony. Not forgetting the Kalahari, which is home to an abundance of ‘locals’, including meerkats, bat-eared fox, giraffe, oryx, and wildebeest.

Accessibility

South Africa

South Africa is easy to get to and navigate once on the ground – and the country lends itself to road trips, be it along the famous Garden Route, through the Karoo – or straight down the N4 highway from Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport into the Kruger wilderness. Having said that, when it comes to safaris, it pays to book a lodge in a private concession – highly design- and eco-conscious, they are often family-run, and offer low vehicle density, excellent guiding, thrilling up-close wildlife encounters, and remote bush dinners. In other good news: you’ll be able to balance out the cost wherever else you go – prices may have gone up in recent years, but South Africa is still incredible value for visitors from abroad.

Namibia

Namibia offers avid drivers a sense of freedom not easily found anywhere else on the continent. Renting a 4x4 and setting off on your own is one of the most adventurous, flexible and affordable ways to explore the country – and with an excellent, well sign-posted road network featuring mainly broad gravel roads, it’s entirely doable. The one thing to consider? Distances are huge, so you have to be an avid driver. As an alternative, we can also arrange a private guide to take care of the driving for you, or you can travel between destinations by plane to get the best of both worlds. Check out some of our self-drive options here, or contact us to discuss your requirements.

People and Culture

South Africa

Known as the ‘Rainbow Nation’ thanks to its vibrant mix of cultures across the country, South Africa is a true melting pot – starting with the fact there are an incredible 12 official languages (the most well-known being English, Afrikaans, isiZulu, and isiXhosa). In Cape Town, the Bo-Kaap and its vividly painted houses play a significant part in the Cape Malay’s cultural heritage. Longstanding traditions are nourished among local communities both in Cape Town and around the country, while contemporary art and global food influences further add to the mix – making for a fascinating insight into South Africa’s past, present, and future.

Namibia

From the Bantu-speaking Ovambo and Herero tribes to the country’s surprising German influences, Namibia is wonderfully diverse. Go back in time in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve to encounter its original inhabitants, the San people, or bushmen - direct descendants of Stone Age inhabitants. We can arrange a bush walk with a San for a fascinating insight into the heritage and nomadic lifestyle of these skilled hunter-gatherers. Other cultural highlights include Twyfelfontein's rock art – Namibia's only Cultural UNESCO World Heritage Site – with one of Africa's largest concentrations of ancient rock art; and a visit to a semi-nomadic, desert-dwelling Himba settlement in the Kaokoland in remote north-western Namibia.

Cost

To give you a basic idea, our 21-day self-drive adventure through South Africa and our 19-day self-drive through Namibia are very similar in price starting from +-US$3,200 (or R60,000) per person sharing (based on 2 people). There are so many options available and you can customise your trip according to your budget, duration and experiences. Contact us to find out more.

The verdict

Buzzing South Africa is an action-packed destination, while Namibia will allow you to go at a slower pace. For cosmopolitan city life, you can’t beat Cape Town, which is also a good starting point to reach other areas within South Africa; while Namibia’s glowing sand dunes and arid landscapes make for a more serene experience. And for wildlife, the Kruger is at the top of its game (quite literally), but Etosha is equally impressive. In a nutshell: it’s almost impossible to decide between South Africa and Namibia - they are worlds apart and 2 very different experiences, so if time and budget allows, we recommend a combination of both – or book two separate trips! Contact us now to enquire about a South Africa or Namibia Safari.

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