What to see and do
If you are staying at one of the private lodges then you may have the choice of walking trips on their land. That aside, most visitors come to Etosha to explore the park for themselves by car.
Organising your own safari
The best times for spotting animals are in the early morning and the late afternoon, when they are at their most active. So, if you can, leave your camp as the gates open at sunrise, for a few hours' drive before breakfast. Before you leave, check the book of recent sightings in the park office, as animals are creatures of habit. This record may help you to choose the best areas to visit for that particular day.
Use the middle of the day for either travelling or relaxing back at camp. Dedicated enthusiasts may park beside one of the more remote waterholes. Excellent sightings are occasionally reported in the midday heat – though photographs taken in the glare of day are disappointing.
Finally, check when the gate to your camp closes, and then leave for a late afternoon drive. Aim to spend the last few hours before sunset at one of the waterholes near your restcamp, or the entrance gate if you're staying outside the park. Leave this in time for a leisurely drive back.
Most of the roads in Etosha are made of calcrete and gravel, which gives a good driving surface, without tar's unnatural appearance, although they can be slippery when wet. Be warned that most of the park's accidents occur near sunset, as people try to dash back to camp before the gates close.
The excellent map of Etosha available at the park shows the roads open to visitors, and the names of the waterholes. Obviously the game seen at each varies enormously. One day you can sit for hours watching huge herds; the next day the same place will be deserted. However, some waterholes are usually better, or at least more photogenic, than others. Here are a few brief personal notes on some of the main ones:Adamax
A dry waterhole in acacia thickets, notable more for adjacent social weaver nests than for its game.Andoni
As far north as you can go, through some elephant-damaged mopane woodlands, this isolated spot is a manmade waterhole in the middle of an open vlei. I've never seen much game up here.Aus
A natural water-level spring here is supplemented by a solar pump, in the middle of woodlands of stunted mopane. As you look from the parking area, the sun rises directly over the pan. It is said to be a good, busy spot for animals – though the author has never had much luck here.Batia
Away from the side of the pan, near Springbokfontein, the road to Batia is often better than the waterhole itself, which is a very flat and almost marsh-like collection of reeds with puddles dotted over a large area.Charitsaub
Away from the pan, Charitsaub is in the middle of a huge area of grassy plains. It has a small spring below, and close to, the parking area. Likely game includes zebra, wildebeest and springbok.Chudop
An excellent artesian waterhole, which usually hosts good concentrations of game. There's lots of open space around the water, and I've spent many hours here on several occasions. Don't miss it.Etosha
, just north of Halali, is not a waterhole, but is a most spectacular lookout place. There's a short drive across the pan, joining a circle where you can stop and admire the flatness. It is often closed when wet.Fischer's Pan
The road from Namutoni skirts the edges of this small pan, and when there's standing water in the pan it is the area for waterbirds. Take care of the road across the pan, between Aroe and Twee Palms, which often floods. When dry there will be less around, though the palm trees remain picturesque.Gemsbokvlakte
In the middle of a grassy plain, dotted with the odd stand of Acacia, Combretum and mopane bushveld, this permanent (with a solar-powered pump) waterhole attracts plains game species like springbok, gemsbok, zebra, giraffe and ostrich.Goas
This is a large, flat, natural waterhole and cars can view it from several sides, which is good as there's often a lot of game here. Elephants drinking here can be spectacular, and it is big enough to attract a constant buzz of bird activity.Groot Okevi
The parking area is a super vantage point, overlooking the waterhole which is about 25m away. There is some thick bush around the water. This is a known haunt of black rhino and conveniently close to Namutoni.Helio
A small, flat manmade waterhole near Halali, just a few hundred metres from one of the kopjes. Its position is marked incorrectly on the national park map, and the author has rarely seen any game there.Homob
A small spring in a deep depression, quite far from the viewing area. Just a few springbok and oryx were present when last visited. There is also a long-drop toilet here; bring your own toilet paper.Kalkheuwel
A super waterhole which often has lots of game. There's a permanently filled water trough, and usually also a good pan, which is close to the car park.Kapupuhedi
On the edge of the pan, with the parking area above it, this is often dry.Koinachas
A very picturesque artesian spring, perhaps 100m in diameter, with a large thicket of reeds in the centre. It's an excellent birding spot, but seldom seems crowded with game.Nebrowni
A small waterhole on the edge of a side-channel to the main pan. This is just 200m from the main road, but often omitted from maps. With bush to one side, and grassy plains to the other, it can attract a wide variety of game, though is often deserted.Noniams
Though it's convenient for Halali, I've never had much luck seeing any game here.Nuamses
A very deep water-level spring with a large clump of tall reeds in the centre. Quite photogenic with lots of rocks around – though the foreground is obscured by a lip of rock in front of the waterhole. Not known for its prolific game.Okerfontein
is right on the edge of the pan. The viewpoint is slightly elevated, and the nearer parts of the water are hidden from view by a lip of rocks.Okondeka
This waterhole often attracts large numbers of wildebeest, zebra, oryx, springbok and ostrich. On the edge of the pan, Okondeka often has streams of game arriving and leaving it, which stretch for miles across the surrounding grasslands. The water is a little far from the car-parking area for close-up photos, but shots taken from the road just before the parking area, with vistas of the main pan in the background, can be spectacular.Olifantsbad
Literally 'elephant's bath', this is another natural water-level spring helped by a solar pump – making two good waterholes in a large arena for wildlife. It is notable for elephant, kudu, red hartebeest and black-faced impala.Ombika
Despite its proximity to the Andersson Gate, Ombika shouldn't be underestimated as it is often a busy waterhole. Unfortunately for photographers, this water-level spring is far from the viewing area, inside a deep natural rock cavern, allowing even zebra to almost disappear from view when drinking.Ondongab
Like Kapupuhedi, this is on the edge of the pan but recently dry. Its view is spectacular.Ozonjuitji m'Bari
A small waterhole filled by a solar pump. This is the furthest point west that private visitors are allowed to drive themselves. Flat, grassy plains surround it, and the game varies greatly. Sometimes it is deserted, and on other occasions you'll find one of the park's largest gatherings of gemsbok. In the dry season, likely sights include ostrich, wildebeest, zebra, springbok, perhaps the odd giraffe and lots of dancing dust devils in the background. (One correspondent recently spotted a black rhino here during the day.)Pan
On the edge of the pan, the waterhole is not obvious, and there is often little game. This road becomes a mess of sludge in the wet season.Rietfontein
A large, busy water-level spring, with quite a large area of reeds in the water, surrounded by much open ground. There's a wide parking area with plenty of space, and at the waterhole giraffe, zebra and springbok were drinking when last visited.Salvadora
On the edge of the pan, Salvadora attracts columns of zebra, wildebeest and springbok. The viewpoint is higher than the spring, and close to it – so is perfect for photographs, with the main pan stretching off forever behind it.Springbokfontein
Shallow collection of reeds to one side of the road, which often has little game at it. However, look to your right as you drive to nearby Batia, as there is often game at a spring there.Sueda
Away from the pan, and just west of Salvadora and Charitsaub, Sueda has a large area of reeds, and rock-like clay outcrops, around a spring on the edge of the pan. Again, parking is above the level of the spring.Wolfnes
A location where you can appreciate the vast expanse of the pan. Just switch your motor off, and listen to the silence.