Hiring a vehicle
Think carefully about what kind of vehicle to hire, and where to get it from, well before arriving in the country. It is usually better to organise this in advance. Check out the deals offered by overseas operators before
you buy your flights. Arranging flights, car and accommodation with one operator, based in your home country, can sometimes be cheaper and easier than making all the bookings separately. The normal minimum age to hire a car is 23, though the occasional operator will accept drivers of 21.
Hiring a car in one city and dropping it off elsewhere is perfectly possible with the major car-hire companies. Expect to pay a drop-off fee. Although these vary widely, you'll probably be looking at somthing in the region of N$200.
There are four big car-hire companies in Namibia: Avis, Budget, Europcar and Imperial (which is associated with Hertz). Their prices tend to be similar, as do their conditions of hire, which leaves quality and availability as appropriate criteria for choosing between them.
Having used all three, I now generally hire from Avis. They have the youngest and largest fleet, as well as a wide back-up network in Namibia, so any problems get sorted out fast. There is the further advantage that they are well represented throughout the subcontinent, so it is easy to arrange one-way trips between South Africa or Botswana and Namibia – which adds a lot of flexibility to your choice of route.
Aside from these three large firms, there is a plethora of smaller, local car-hire companies in Windhoek some of which are good. Others have more dubious reputations, and even buy their cars from the big companies, which dispose of their vehicles after one or two years. This makes their rates cheaper. However, compromising on the quality of your vehicle is crazy when you rely upon it so completely. Economise on accommodation or meals – but rent the best vehicle you can.
Hiring a 4WD requires similar logic to the above, but more money. Most car-hire companies offer 4WDs, but because of their expense fleets are often much smaller, and so they must be booked even further in advance.
Typical 'per day' on-the-road prices from the more reputable companies, based upon unlimited mileage and their maximum insurance are: Group A
Toyota Corolla 1.3 or similar £31/US$46Group B
Corolla 1.6 £35/US$52Group C
VW Jetta £44/US$65Group J
Single cab 4WD £66/US$98Group N
Double cab 4WD £76/US$113
Slightly cheaper deals are available from smaller local firms, but none has the same back-up support as the big companies. Neither will you have the same chance of redress if there are any problems. The cost of adding in a second driver is usually N$50.
If time is not in short supply but money is, consider just hiring for a few days at a time to see specific sights – which would not be too expensive if you are planning on sitting by waterholes in Etosha all day.
No matter where you hire your vehicle, do give yourself plenty of time when collecting and dropping it off to ensure that it is properly checked over for damage etc. Make sure, too, that you get the final
invoice before you leave the vehicle, or you may return home to an unexpected credit-card bill.
2WD or 4WD?
Whether you need to hire a 2WD or a 4WD vehicle depends on where you want to go. For virtually all of the country's main sights and attractions, and many of the more off-beat ones, a normal saloon 2WD car is ideal.
The only real exception to this advice is if you're travelling anywhere during the rains, around January to March, when you might consider taking a 4WD, just in case you need to ford any shallow rivers that block the road. Additional advantages of a 4WD vehicle are:
• You relax more on gravel roads, knowing the vehicle is sturdier.
• You may be higher up, giving a slightly better view in game parks.
• It's easier to cross shallow rivers or sand patches if you encounter them.
• At Sossusvlei, you can drive beyond the 2WD car park into Sossusvlei itself (if you're proficient in sand-driving techniques!).
However, the main disadvantages are:
• The cost of hiring a 4WD is about double that of hiring a 2WD.
• 4WDs are generally heavier to handle, and more tiring to drive.
• A 4WD's fuel consumption is much higher.
• 4WDs have higher centres of gravity, and so tend to roll more easily.
• There's usually no secure boot (trunk), where luggage is not on view, so you can't safely leave bags in the 4WD when you are not there.
Despite the disadvantages, if you want to get up to the northern Kaokoveld, further than Tsumkwe in Bushmanland, or to any of the really offbeat areas in the Caprivi – then you'll need
a high-clearance 4WD. The main point to remember is that in most of these areas, just one 4WD vehicle simply isn't enough. Your party needs to have a minimum
of two vehicles for safety, and you should have with you a couple of experienced bush-drivers. These areas are very dangerous if you drive into them alone or ill-equipped.What kind of 2WD?
This is really a question of budget. A simple 'Group A' – usually a basic 1.3 or 1.6 VW Golf, Toyota Corolla or Mazda Midge – is fine for two adults and most trips. (The harder suspension of the Golf is probably best on Namibian roads.)
If you've any flexibility in your budget, then get one up from the basic car if you can. A 'Group B' normally comes with air conditioning and a radio/tape player, both of which can be useful. A larger vehicle is superfluous for two people, unless you need an automatic gearbox, want the sheer luxury of the space, or plan to drive huge distances.
For three or four people, look to a larger saloon, typically a Group C, like a VW Jetta 1.6. This has a cavernous boot (trunk) for luggage, and power steering is added to its refinements. If budget allows, then the Toyota Camry is excellent – and in many ways better than the more expensive Mercedes 220 which is sometimes offered.
Five or six people on a budget should consider a Toyota Venture, which is very spacious, or something similar. However, do get the more recent 2.2, rather than the older 1.8 model, as the latter are lamentably under-powered. If your budget is flexible, then consider either two small cars, or a VW Microbus (combi). Two cars will give more flexibility if the group wants to split up on occasions. These combis have lots of space to move around, and six window seats for game viewing. Their main disadvantage is that they lack a secure, hidden boot. Like most 4WDs, you can't safely leave the vehicle alone with any luggage in it.What kind of 4WD?
In order of increasing cost, the choice normally boils down to a single-cab Toyota Hilux, a double-cab Toyota Hilux, or a Land Rover 110. Occasionally you'll find Mazdas used instead of Toyotas, but their design and limits are very similar. The only relevant difference is that Toyotas are more common, and hence their spares are easier to obtain.
For two people, the single-cab Toyota Hilux is fine. This has just two seats (sometimes a bench seat) in the front and a fibreglass canopy over the pick-up section at the back. This is good for keeping the rain off your luggage, but it will not deter thefts. It's worth noting that a twin-cab will afford you a lot more space to move around and enable you to store cameras and drinks within easy reach.
For three or four people, you'll need the double-cab or the Land Rover. The double-cabs are lighter vehicles, generally more comfortable and faster on tar. However, the Land Rovers are mechanically more simple, and easier to mend in the bush – if you know what you're doing. Further, your luggage is inside the main cab, and so slightly safer, easier to access, and will remain a little less dusty. Five or more people will need the flexibility of two vehicles – more than four people in either of these is really quite squashed.