Etosha National Park is located in northwestern Namibia in a dried-up lakebed known as the Etosha Pan. The name Etosha means the ‘great white area’ and comes from the huge salt pan which covers around 4,800 km² or 20% of the park’s area. The salt pan is so big it can even be seen from space! While the inhospitable conditions of the pan mean wildlife finds it difficult to survive for much of the year, when it rains the newly created pools attract hundreds and thousands of flamingos.
Outside of the pan, the park is potted with sparse, open vegetation and areas of savannah woodland. Waterholes in the area attract an astonishing abundance of wildlife including elephants, giraffes, leopards, lions, ostriches, rhinos, wildebeest, zebra, cheetah, hyenas, and warthogs. The limited vegetation and concentration of life around the waterholes mean wildlife sightings are pretty much guaranteed. One of the things which make the park so special are the floodlit waterholes at the main camps. These unique areas allow for some truly amazing night time wildlife viewing!
Average rating: 5.0 (very good)
Average cost: entrance to the park is around $6 for international visitors, with vehicles costing a further $1-22 depending on the size and number of seats. The best way to see Etosha is to hire a 4×4 and drive yourself around the park, staying at the designated campsites. The campsites have WiFi although there is no mobile signal in most of the park. Renting a 4×4 can cost around $150 per day. While this is a remote and wild place it is pretty accessible – with WildSide users reporting that they managed the trip with a one year-old in tow! It’s also worth considering a guided safari, as the local guides will know the best places to spot wildlife. Tipping of around $10 per day is generally expected. Find out more here.
Best time to visit: the best time to visit Etosha is in the dry season between May and December – although the rainy months from January to March are amazing in their own way! There is a nice guide to the seasons of the park here. It’s also worth noting that the park is extremely popular, especially during the dry season. You need to book well in advance if you’re wanting to stay in one of the main camps (Halali or Okaukuejo) but some of the camps in the western section of the park are less busy. There is plenty of choice outside the park but it means an extra early start if you’re wanting to get in when the gates open at dawn and there can be long queues…
How to get there: the closest major airport is Hosea Kutako International Airport (WDH), near the capital city of Windhoek. From here you can fly directly into Etosha or take the journey overland (~6 hours drive). The road from Windhoek to the park is good as it’s sealed all the way and not particularly busy. One thing to be aware of when driving in Namibia – you need to have your headlights on ALL the time when outside urban areas.
Typical activities: 4×4 safari, camping, self-drive safari, wildlife watching
Number of reports: 2
WILDLIFE IN Etosha
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the most popular species that can be seen here are:
AFRICAN ELEPHANT – 100% OF WILDSIDE USERS (2/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
In 1954, a total of 26 elephants were counted in the park, today there are more than 2,500. As well as being an incredible conservation success, the elephants of Etosha are some of the most studied in the world. Researchers have found that Etosha’s elephants communicate via infrasound – that’s sound below the threshold of human hearing. During certain atmospheric conditions, they can send infrasonic sounds over a hundred kilometres. What’s more, these incredible animals can also detect soundwaves underground through their feet! Foot stomping, charging, and rumbling can generate seismic waves travelling up to 32 kilometres that can be sensed by the feet of other elephants. These special skills allow them to coordinate their movements and help them to anticipate the arrival of rain.
Thanks to the huge number of elephants in the park sightings are pretty much guaranteed during the dry season – it can be tricker in the rainy season. The best spot to see them seems to be the Okaukuejo waterhole next to the Okaukuejo campsite. Although WildSide users also report that Olifantsrus is a good campsite with a lot of elephants nearby.
Leopard – 50% OF WILDSIDE USERS (1/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Leopards are secretive cats and can be difficult to spot. During the day they are usually seen lying in the branches of trees. At night they are more active and start hunting. In Etosha, the floodlit waterholes can be a good place to spot these elusive cats coming for a drink before a night time hunt. Good spots for leopards appear to be the Rietfontein waterhole and Halali camp which is next to the Moringa waterhole. The dry season is a good time to see leopards and other big cats. During this time game congregates at the waterholes to drink and vegetation is lower making them easier to spot. Check out this nice guide to big cat spotting in Etosha and this awesome video of a close encounter.
Lion – 50% OF WILDSIDE USERS (1/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Etosha is home to a large population of lions and your chances of spotting one are pretty high – check out this cool video! Reports on TripAdvisor suggest it’s not uncommon to go to sleep to the sound of lions roaring outside your tent! They are quite widespread throughout the park but the best spots appear to be the waterholes at Okaukuejo and Ongava, as well as Okondeka and sometimes Nebrownii. The dry season is a good time to spot big cats according to this guide.
Shockingly, almost 50% of wild lions have disappeared in the last two decades. Thanks to its healthy lion population, the IUCN has identified Etosha as a critical landscape for global lion conservation. In the face of global lion population declines, Etosha’s lions represent an important population for the species. You can learn more about their conservation through the Etosha Lion Project.
rhino – 100% OF WILDSIDE USERS (2/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Etosha is one of the best places in the world to see rhinos in the wild. The park is home to both black and white rhinos – although the population of the latter is much smaller. The black rhinos of Etosha are one of nature’s great conservation success stories. From a relatively small population of 43 of these critically endangered creatures, Etosha is now home to one of the largest black rhino populations in the world. A custodianship scheme has even been set up which has led to over 260 rhinos being introduced to other areas.
The waterholes at the campsites are fantastic for rhino spotting – particularly Okaukuejo, Ongava, and Halali. Sightings are pretty much guaranteed in the dry season and the floodlights allow for some amazing insights into their behaviours. Check out this incredible clip from BBC Earth about some flirtatious rhinos filmed at Etosha!
Cheetah – 0% OF WILDSIDE USERS (0/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Alongside lions and leopards, Etosha is also home to cheetahs. However, catching a glimpse of these cats can be more difficult. Reports suggest that cheetah don’t tend to do as well in areas where lions and leopard are present as they are outcompeted for food. Instead, they do better in farmland areas where other large carnivores are less common or absent entirely. In Etosha, Ombika waterhole and the open plains to the east are recommended for cheetah early to mid-morning. As well as Batia, Okerfontein, and the Salvadora plains. Reports on TripAdvisor also suggest the nearby Onguma Private Reserve is a good bet for cheetahs.
Giraffe – 100% OF WILDSIDE USERS (2/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Giraffes are found throughout the dry savannah habitats of Namibia, including open grassland, woodland and scrubland, and along ephemeral rivers. To help them survive in an arid landscape they can go without water for many weeks and can even close their nostrils completely to keep out the dust. Etosha National Park is a stronghold for giraffes in Namibia and is home to two subspecies – the South African and the Angolan giraffe. One study even suggested the giraffes of Etosha National Park may form a third, as yet unnamed subspecies!
Aerial surveys of the giraffe population in Etosha record a growth from around 1,800 in 1995 to 3,100 in 2005. Their long necks coupled with low lying vegetation mean they are easy to spot in the park feeding on the tops of shrubs and trees. In Etosha, the Acacia nebrownii thickets on the edge of the plains are all the same height as a result of the giraffes’ feeding, while the Acacia reficiens trees on the road between Namutoni and Klein Namutoni have all been browsed flat on top. Waterholes are also an excellent place to spot giraffes – particularly Klein Namutoni – and you get the added benefit of observing their incredible, acrobatic drinking technique.
Ostrich – 100% OF WILDSIDE USERS (2/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Ostriches are large flightless birds with a number of unique adaptations to life in the African savannah. They are the fastest birds on land, running at 70 km/hr, and they lay the largest eggs of any animal. Ostriches can be found throughout Etosha and are well adapted to the arid environment – being able to go for long periods without water. If you are looking out for ostriches they tend to prefer plains with short grass and avoid rocky areas. Alternatively, the waterholes in the dry season are also a good bet.
Wildebeest – 50% OF WILDSIDE USERS (1/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Etosha is home to a relatively large population of blue wildebeest and they are easy to spot in the park. Unlike black wildebeest, this species has a greyer coat and black mane, and their horns curve outwards and upwards. They are grazers and are most commonly found feeding in the open grasslands or drinking at the waterholes. In the rainy season, Etosha undergoes a spectacular transformation as the pan fills with water and vegetation springs to life. With the rains and the food come hundreds of spindly-legged wildebeest calves – which amazingly are able to struggle to their feet in minutes!
Zebra – 100% OF WILDSIDE USERS (2/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Etosha is home to a large population of zebra – including both Hartmann’s and Burchell’s zebras. Numbers are high throughout the park and they are a common sight at the camp’s waterholes. A 2018 study estimated a total population of around 13,000 zebra, although this fluctuates across the year. During the wet season, all 13,000 live in the western area of the park where there is more grass. In the dry season around 70% of the population migrate east where there are more permanent water sources.
Spotted Hyena – 100% OF WILDSIDE USERS (2/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Etosha supports a population of around 340 spotted hyenas. One of the most characteristic predators of the African savannah, they were once thought to be scavengers but are actually highly effective predators. They are found throughout the area although, as with other wildlife in the park, they move according to the seasons. During the dry season, they expand the size of their territories and follow the movements of migratory species such as springbok, zebra, and wildebeest. Spotted hyenas hunt at night and there is nothing quite like hearing their haunting cries and cackles during a night in the bush!
warthog – 100% OF WILDSIDE USERS (2/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Warthogs can be seen throughout Etosha year-round. They are conspicuous and easy to spot with their upright tails, erect manes, and regal bearings. Warthogs are herbivores that spend most of the day foraging for food. Their keen sense of smell allows them to uncover roots, plants, and bulbs. Reports on TripAdvisor suggest a good place to spot them is Mushara Lodge – where a family of resident warthogs wanders the grounds and keeps the lawns neatly mowed!
Photo credit: WildSide user Andrew Isherwood