Etosha National Park: The Best Place to See Wildlife in Namibia

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Etosha Park is located in the sparsely populated Namibia and is one of the best places in Africa to visit for adventure and wildlife.

An array of animals at the waterhole

Where is Etosha Park, Namibia? 

Etosha is a 22 750km² wildlife sanctuary and is home to 150 mammal species. The semi-arid savannah grassland and thorn scrub landscape means that water is in short supply at Etosha.

Approximately 64% of Namibia is covered in Savannah, while another 16% is covered in desert, like the Sossusvlei which has the highest sand dunes on the planet. It’s also a great place to try sandboarding. As a result of the arid landscape that means Namibia is really dry.

Zebra observing elephants at a water hole in Namibia.

That’s one of the reasons it’s, one of the top places in Namibia to spot wildlife. Because it’s so dry, all the animals congregate at one of the park’s few waterholes, like the Okaukuejo waterhole since there aren’t many places they can drink from.

What is a Night Safari Like in Etosha Park?

Do you think you would be brave enough to go on a night safari? I hadn’t really thought about it before visiting Etosha Park. I must admit though that the experience is something you probably want to do at least once in your life, especially if you fancy a night under the stars with wildlife.

We’re talking the darkest skies I have ever seen.  Namibia is the world’s second least densely populated country, meaning at night the sky is blacker than black. We’re talking lions that could creep up on you and well…….Let’s just say that lions hunt at night and leave it at that!

Rhino seen on a night drive in Etosha National Park in Namibia.

Stepping into my safari jeep, I shivered as I snuggled into my blanket. Night safaris are a completely different experience than day safaris and a lot colder.  

Travel tip:  Dress warm.  Wear long pants, a warm coat and bring a hat, and maybe even gloves if you have them. Etosha may be in Africa and surrounded by desert, but man it really does get colder than you expect.

Lion staring back at us on a night safari in Namibia

This lion was invisible until the guide shone the light on him. There was also another lion 2 meters away, but you can’t see him as he’s in total darkness.

Etosha park gave me the opportunity to experience some epic wildlife sightings, but as I learnt the day before, my survival skills in the Namibian bush were not up to standard – even in daylight.  Heck if I got out of the jeep, I likely wouldn’t survive for more than 5 minutes.  

Travel tip:  Go to the bathroom before you start your night safari. Somehow I didn’t think I would fare too well with lions. You know with them being exceptionally quiet, creeping up on you until by the time you see them you don’t even have time for a quick last-minute prayer.  That sort of thing.

What Else Should You Know About Night Safaris?

Fortunately, our driver did have a red spotlight as to cause minimum disturbance to the animals. There are also only limited hours for night drives in Etosha so that for the majority of the night the animals are undisturbed. But beyond the spotlight and the two beams of light from the jeep headlights, I gazed into blackness.  

There’s something rather scary about not being able to see in a place where you know there are wild animals.  I LOVED the feeling of knowing there was a whole lot happening out there, probably right in front of my face, but I could only see a wee bit of it.

 Night safaris are perfectly safe, it’s just your mind playing tricks on you, trying to psyche you out.  My guess is that it’s a survival mechanism.   While I loved the thrill it provided, it may not be appropriate for small children. Although I think older children would love it.

You are also not as likely to see as many animals as you would on a day safari, but you will likely see different ones.  I saw a couple of large elephant herds in my earlier game drive that day but didn’t see a single one on the night drive. But what I did see a lot of on the night drive was the Black-backed jackal.  I hadn’t seen a single one during the day drive but saw over 10 of them on the night safari.

Black backed jackal seen on a night safari drive.
Just one of many Black backed jackals I saw on our night safari.

You may also see some of the same animals, but observe them doing different activities.  The highlight of the night safari for me was seeing the lions.  I had seen lions earlier in the day, but under the hot mid day sun, they had been seeking shelter under a tree near a water hole.  They were so lethargic that they barely even bothered to glance up when a zebra cautiously approached the watering hole.

But lions hunt at night, or rather the lionesses do, the males are rather lazy when it comes to putting food on the table.  I wish I had a really good story about how I saw a lioness hunting, well actually I do, but that’s for another post….. I digress.  

Day or Night Safari? 

If I had to choose a day or night safari I would still choose the day safari as you do get to see a lot more wildlife.

 BUT, and this is a big BUT, I also highly recommend the night safari.

 It might not be as action-packed, although admittedly not all-day safaris are either, a night safari somehow seems more spiritual.  It made me recognize how defect humans really are in some respects. We can’t run very fast, have poor night vision, we’re not really good climbers and we can’t smell very well either.  

Somehow acknowledging my defects made me feel more connected to the animals and to the landscape. I guess you could say that comparing the two safaris is like comparing night and day.

Finally, unless you’re a professional photographer, it’s really hard to get good night-time shots, but I see that as a benefit of a night safari.  You can put your camera down and just focus on enjoying the experience, rather than trying to get the perfect picture.

Know Before You Go on a Night Safari in Etosha

  • My night safari was organized through Okaukuejo Rest Camp, the same place that has the incredible water holes.
  • Book your spot in advance.  I heard several guests trying to make a reservation for that same day, but they were already full.
  • Check out this  3-day tour from Windhoek that will take you to Okaukuejo where you can book your night safari.
  • Dress warmly. It can get really cold and its always good to be prepared.

Visiting Okaukuejo Waterhole in Etosha

Our day safari in Etosha took us to the Okaukuejo waterhole where we had the privilege to have some exceptional wildlife sightings. I also got all of my best elephant photos at the water holes. We saw so much from Oryx and Springbok to giraffes and zebras. These are some of my favorite photos:

Oryx at a water hole in Etosha National Park, Namibia
Oryx
Zebras drinking at a waterhole with a giraffe looking on. In Etosha National Park, Namibia
Zebras drinking while a giraffe looks on.
Springbok and a giraffe drinking at a water hole in Etosha, Namibia
Springbok and a giraffe. Watching the giraffe drink I felt sorry for how awkward she was to lower her neck to the water.
Elephant taking a mud bath in Etosha, Namibia
Elephant taking a mud bath
Elephants at the Okaukuejo waterhole/rest camp in Etosha National Park, Namibia
Elephants at the Okaukuejo waterhole/rest camp. Plan on staying here a minimum of 2 nights.

The Elephants of Etosha Park 

To be honest one of the highlights of seeing wildlife in Etosha was the number of elephants I had the chance to see. I was fortunate enough to see elephants numerous times and not just one or two but huge herds of them.

Herd of elephants at a waterhole in Etosha National Park, Namibia

Not surprisingly, the best places were at the water holes for which Etosha is famous for. They are such intelligent creatures and it’s fascinating to watch how they interact and to observe their social hierarchies.  I especially loved watching them greet each other, with younger males paying their respects to older females.  

Appearing out from the bush, heading to a water hole.

Perhaps they were on their best behavior because they know that an elephant never forgets…

As you can imagine my camera was my best friend as I tried to get as many photos as possible of these beautiful giants. I mean it’s not every day that you’ll have the opportunity to see them in their element.

Two young elephant calves.

Animal Reflections at Okaukuejo Waterhole in Etosha

You not only get incredible sightings during the day but also at night when the animal reflections are really cool. The following photos were taken from the Okaukuejo waterhole/rest camp at sunset and in the evening.

Elephants at water hole in Etosha National Park, Namibia

The viewing platform is located 50m from the waterhole and is floodlit at night. It’s such a cool experience since you get to see wildlife active at a time when you normally wouldn’t otherwise.  

Rhinos at Okaukuejo water hole in Etosha National Park, Namibia
Rhinos seen at 11:00 pm at the Okaukuejo water hole – just steps away from my bush chalet.

And even better, it was literally steps from my bush chalet.  Yep, you can safely sleep less than a 100m away from elephants, lions, even endangered black rhinos!

Giraffes at Okaukuejo water hole in Etosha National Park, Namibia
The giraffes were nervous to drink since they are very vulnerable. They waited near the water hole for about 30 minutes before drinking.

Know Before Go to Etosha National Park:

  • By now I hope I have you convinced that the waterholes in Etosha are where all the action is happening.  My favorite water hole was the Okaukuejo Rest Camp. 
  • Plan to spend at least two nights at Okaukuejo.
  • Plan to visit Etosha from May to  October during the dry season if possible.  It’s not as hot then and the dryness means that wildlife sightings are plentiful around the waterholes.
  • #1 Travel Tip:  Book early!!!! Etosha offers limited accommodation and it fills up early.  German tourists often book a year in advance.  In addition to booking your accommodation, also book your game drives early if you want a guide.
  • Also, be sure to check out the Cheetah Conservation Fund for a chance to get up close with cheetahs. They are difficult to spot in the wild.
  • Wonder how you’d survive in the Namibian bush? Click here to find out just how well you would survive in the bush.  Hint:  It’s not just the animals you have to worry about.
  • Etosha is home to 150 mammal species.  You can find a list of them here.
  • Have a little fun and test yourself to see how many of these things do you know about Namibia?
  • Bring a tripod (I didn’t) to get the best night photos.
  • There is a large wall separating you from the waterhole, so you can view all the action safely.
  • Rates for Okaukuejo can be found here.

Accommodation in Etosha Park 

If you want to stay in the park you will have to book through Etosha’s website. If you aren’t able to get bookings inside the park, there are some options on private game farms that are right outside Etosha and they offer you game drives into the park.

  • Gondwana Etosha Safari Lodge is located near Okaukuejo right outside the park. 
  • Eagle Tented Lodge & Spa enjoy the onsite pools or spend time in your luxurious bath that has views out into the savannah.
  • Mokuti Etosha Lodge is located near Namutoni and just a 5-minute drive from the Von Lindequist into Etosha.

Tours 

Experience the best of Etosha with this tour. The tour is 3 days and includes a pick-up and drop off service from Windhoek. Enjoy a thrilling experience camping out in the wild coming up close and personal with wildlife. The tour includes meals as well so just relax and enjoy the adventure.

Enjoy a  game tour through Etosha and then a visit to Namibia’s best coastal town. The tour takes you to the Etosha pan, a salt pan visible from space, where you can spot diverse wildlife and even flamingos. The tour will take you to Swakopmund where you will meet the local Herrero women and experience a little Namibian culture.

If you love wildlife as much as I do, you’ll love visiting Etosha National Park, especially the waterholes.

 

the best spot to spot wildlife in Etosha National Park is at the waterholes

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21 thoughts on “Etosha National Park: The Best Place to See Wildlife in Namibia”

  1. I’ve been to northern Africa, but I’ve never made it on safari, down south. It’s a shame to make it to the continent and not see the wildlife, the thing most people in the world can only dream about. One day, I’ll make it. Great photos and they all seem to be very happy – that’s always a plus.

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  2. You’ve brought back some wonderful memories, Laurel. These animals are so beautiful, so lovely to watch. No matter how many times you see them, it’s like the first time all over again.
    Would love to do a safari in Namibia.

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  3. Wow the amount of wildlife is spectacular and watching them all move into to drink seems to be a great experience. It must help that in Namibia there are limited places for the animals to drink so you are almost guaranteed to see many great animals. Looks like a great place to visit!

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