Review: Audley Travel’s Self-Drive Namibia Tour

On the eve of a milestone birthday, I packed for a monumental trip: a 1,200-mile solo drive from Windhoek, Namibia, to Victoria Falls, Zambia, during which I would experience eight safari camps and explore five major rivers and four countries over the course of two weeks. 

I’d never been to Africa before, so I decided to put myself in the hands of Boston-based custom tour operator Audley Travel. Here’s what it’s like to book and helm a self-drive Namibia tour with Audley. 

Qualifying Clients

Flexibility on the traveler’s part is crucial when it comes to Africa travel, and particularly on a self-drive trip. River levels, wildlife migrations and driving distances place limitations on what’s practical in any given season. Audley is equally flexible, though, and will switch lodges or adjust the number of travel days upon request.

Ideal clients for this trip are independent, well-traveled, adventurous and happy to drive long distances in sometimes difficult terrain — in a word: unflappable. (I got lost several times as well as briefly stuck on sandy trails more than once.) One morning, I took a cold outdoor shower because my indoor tap hadn’t heated up properly. The food was uniformly excellent, but rarely was there more than one entree selection at dinner. Lions roaring outside a tented “chalet” might unnerve some clients.

Travelers should be fully mobile and active, too, as there are few, if any, accommodations for disabled clients. Generally, an open mind, a sense of humor and an eagerness to explore will lead to great memories.

Preparing to Drive in Namibia, and Beyond

Audley contacted me several times to finalize my itinerary and answer my handful of questions. However, advance phone calls, emails and online brochures will never capture the reality of the trip: The amount of wildlife bowled me over (I managed to see four of the Big 5), and the famous rivers (Okavango, Chobe, Zambezi) — full of hippos and crocodiles — were thrilling. No amount of planning could have prepared me for wild ostriches racing my car on the side of a jungle-edged highway.

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Primary roads in Namibia, mostly two-lane blacktops, are well-maintained, but the plentiful gravel roads and sandy paths require a four-wheel drive vehicle. Audley hired a 4×4 Toyota Hilux for me (right-hand drive, automatic transmission), complete with two spare tires in case of blowouts.

At The Weinberg, the homey hotel in Windhoek where I began my journey, Audley’s local representative gave me a detailed itinerary, printed driving directions and an old-school paper map (“More reliable than GPS,” she said), as well as a prepaid flip phone programmed with numbers for Audley headquarters; their local rep, Europcar; and each game lodge. Most of that information was also contained in the personalized Audley app I had downloaded. She also gave me a cooler with ice packs and two bottles of water.

“You don’t want to break down in Namibia without water,” she said.

Review: Audley Travel’s Self-Drive Namibia Tour
Camp Kala guests have their own private game-viewing deck with a cold plunge pool and wood-fired hot tub.
Credit: 2024 Mark Orwoll

Activities to Expect

Lodges (often called “camps”) have a similar menu of excursions: bush walks, game drives, river cruises and cultural visits to local villages. Although it’s not guaranteed, clients are likely to spot elephants, Cape buffalo, hyenas, giraffes, rhinos, wildebeest, zebras and scores more species. At some camps, the wildlife often enter the grounds, requiring employees to escort guests to their lodgings after dark for safety.

Most lodges include one game drive per day; some include breakfast and dinner, others breakfast only. Audley provides specifics in the itinerary about what’s included and what’s extra.

The dining room and upstairs lounge at the elegant Waterberry Zambezi Lodge are surrounded by lush gardens on the banks of the Zambezi River.
The dining room and upstairs lounge at the elegant Waterberry Zambezi Lodge are surrounded by lush gardens on the banks of the Zambezi River.
Credit: 2024 Mark Orwoll

The Ups and Downs of Road Tripping in Africa

There were some minor snafus on my trip. For example, because of the bureaucracy in taking a rental car into Zambia, I was directed by Audley to return my car at the Immigration Jetty in Kasane, Botswana, then go with a driver to my next lodge. But my Europcar contact had said to drop off the 4×4 at Kasane International Airport. It all worked out — a friendly, uniformed Europcar employee met me at the pier, after all — but I felt it was a needless bit of anxiety that should have been straightened out beforehand.

RELATED: A Complete Guide to Travel in Zambia

Audley’s choice of lodges was well-informed and even had a sort of musical rhythm, with luxury camps on my first and last nights, which helped ease me into and out of the bush, with rougher yet comfortable camps in between.

My 13-night itinerary included one night each at The Weinberg (B&B) and Onguma The Fort; two nights at Onguma Camp Kala; one night each at Taranga Safari, Riverdance and Nambwa Tented Lodge; and two nights each at Nkasa Lupala Tented Lodge, Serondela Lodge and Waterberry Zambezi Lodge. The trip also included transfers, the rental car and safari activities at Onguma Camp Kala along with a jet-boat ride on the Zambezi, flight-seeing over Victoria Falls and breakfast on Livingstone Island at the very edge of the falls during the stay at Waterberry. Airfare, additional activities, gratuities and fuel for the rental car were extra.

Audley’s on-the-ground representative was helpful over the provided flip phone whenever I had questions, and made me feel that — if anything had gone south — I would have had their immediate support. Overall, I enjoyed a bucket-list trip that was deployed smoothly and featured great communication, lovely hospitality, incredible wildlife and plenty of adventure.

There was one time, while on a boat in the Chobe near Serondela Lodge, that a hippo attacked us (no one was hurt) — but I doubt that even Audley, as capable as they are, could have come to the rescue in that case.

Get In Touch With Audley Travel

Audley Travel’s standard U.S. commission rate is 10%. Travel advisors can reach Audley via phone, at 855-435-1768, or through its online agent hub, where direct marketing opportunities are also available. Advisors will also find additional information about this Namibia self-drive trip and other excursions in the country online.

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