The Etosha National Park shares a name with the greenish-white, vast Etosha Pan that it surrounds. The pan was once a lake served by the Kunene River but dried up when the river changed course. The lake eventually dried up leaving the dusty pan that only briefly contains water when it rains.
At more than 7,700 miles, the Etosha National Park in Northern Namibia is home to more than 110 mammalian species, over 300 bird species and several amphibian, reptile and fish species. The park also has plenty of African moringa trees which are often referred to as ghost trees due to the grotesque shape. Familiar to the indigenous San community for centuries, the area the park now occupies welcomed its first European visitors in the mid 19th century.
But the area did not capture tourist imagination until the start of the 20th century when the governor founded a 38,600 square mile reserve to protect the fast diminishing wildlife. At the time, it was the world’s largest reserve. Over subsequent years, the reserve’s borders would be drastically revised several times bringing it down to its present size.
Today, the park is divided into two parts – the western third and the eastern two-thirds. The western side is limited to authorized tour operators only while the eastern side is open to the public. The roads on eastern Etosha are relatively good and most two-wheel drive vehicles have no problem navigating it. This side of the park has four rest camps where visitors can find accommodation, buy maps, fuel and obtain basic information. The camps have floodlit waterholes where visitors can watch wild animals come to quench their thirst at night. Here are the best ones to visit.
Halali Rest Camp
South of the Etosha Pan and midway between the Namutoni and Okaukuejo camp, its waterhole is often considered the most scenic. It is also the hole where you are most likely to see the leopard. It is easily assessable and guests can enjoy their drink as they watch the animals drink.
Namutoni Rest Camp
Just off the park’s eastern gate, Namutoni is on what was the location of a colonial fort that was razed to the ground following a raid by natives. The fort itself has since been converted into a hotel. Visitors can buy food and essential supplies at a shop within the camp’s compound. Unfortunately, Namutoni’s waterhole does not see as much wildlife as it has to contend with two artesian springs nearby.
Okaukuejo Rest Camp
Close to the park’s southern gate, there are several small huts at this camp served by a pool and restaurant. While Halali is popular for its scenic views, Okaukuejo is renowned for the well planned camp layout and the excellent vantage points for watching the animals drink. Rhinos and elephants are the star attractions here.
Completed in 2008, Onkoshi is the first development within Etosha Park in several decades. It has a panoramic view of the Etosha pan which can be particularly fascinating in the rainy season when flamingos descend on the pan in their thousands.
New ground was broken recently following the opening of a camp on the heavily-controlled western side of the park – Dolomite Camp. Since it is in what is virtually virgin territory development-wise, Dolomite camp has access to the highest and most varied wildlife within the park. The key drawback with the new camps – Onkoshi and Dolomite – is the absence of floodlit watering holes.
All visitors enter the park either through Andersson or Von Lindequist where they can purchase a day permit. The permit must be produced at any of the 3 rest camp where pre-booked accommodation or camping fees are paid. During the peak season, visitors can stay for no more than 3 nights.
Note that visitors to Etosha do not have to stay within the park. In fact, many guests prefer to stay in the lodges situated outside the park. One of the main reasons for this is the better quality of accommodation and access to a richer range of facilities.