Destinations Magazine

Night Safari in Etosha: What to Expect

By Monkeys And Mountains Adventure @Laurel_Robbins

Are you brave enough to do a night safari in Etosha National Park in Namibia?

We’re talking the darkest skies I have ever seen.  Namibia is the world’s second least densely populated country, meaning at night the sky is blacker than black. We’re talking lions that could creep on you and well…….Lets just say that lions hunt at night and leave it at that!

Stepping into my safari jeep, I shivered as I snuggled into my blanket. Night safaris are a completely different experience than day safaris and a lot colder.  Travel tip:  Dress warm.  Wear long pants, a warm coat and bring a hut, and maybe even gloves if you have them.

Rhino seen on a night drive in Etosha National Park in Namibia.

Rhino seen on a night drive in Etosha. She also had a baby, but I didn’t get a good photograph of it as she was hiding it.

I had LOVED the wildlife sightings I had seen earlier in the day at Etosha’s water holes, but as I had learned the day before, my survival skills in the Namibian bush were not up to standard – even in daylight.  Heck if I got out of the jeep, I likely wouldn’t survive for more than 5 minutes.  Travel tip:  Go to the bathroom before you start your night safari. Somehow I didn’t think I would fare to well with lions. You know with them being exceptionally quiet, creeping up on you until by the time you see them you don’t even have time for a quick last-minute prayer.  That sort of thing.

Fortunately our driver did have a red spotlight as to cause minimum disturbance to the animals. There are also only limited hours for night drives in Etosha so that for the majority of the night the animals are undisturbed. But beyond the spotlight and the two beams of light from the jeep headlines, I gazed into blackness.  There’s something rather scary about not being able to see in a place where you know there are wild animals.  I LOVED the feeling of knowing there was a whole lot happening out there, probably right in front of my face, but I could only see a wee bit of it.  Night safaris are perfectly safe, it’s just your mind playing tricks on you, trying to psyche you out.  My guess is that it’s a survival mechanism.   While I loved the thrill it provided, it may not be appropriate for small children. Although I think older children would love it.

You are also not as likely to see as many animals as you would on a day safari, but you will likely see different ones.  I saw a couple of large elephant herds in my earlier game drive that day, but didn’t see a single one on the night drive. But what I did see a lot of on the night drive was the Black-backed jackal.  I hadn’t seen a single one during the day drive, but saw over 10 of them on the night safari.

Black backed jackal seen on a night safari drive.

Just one of many Black backed jackals I saw on our night safari.

You may also see some of the same animals, but observe them doing different activities.  The highlight of the night safari for me was seeing the lions.  I had seen lions earlier in the day, but under the hot mid day sun, they had been seeking shelter under a tree near a water hole.  They were so lethargic that they barely even bothered to glance up when a zebra cautiously approached the watering hole. But lions hunt at night, or rather the lionesses do, the males are rather lazy when it comes to putting food on the table.  I wish I had a really good story about how I saw a lioness hunting, well actually I do, but that’s for another post….. I digress.  These lions were also just hanging out, (probably sent the lionesses of to hunt) but still you are much more likely to see a lioness hunting at night than you would during the day.

Lion staring back at us on a night safari in Namibia

This lion was invisible until the guide shone the light on him. There was also another lion 2 meters away, but you can’t see him as he’s in total darkness.

Finally, unless you’re a professional photographer, it’s really hard to get good night-time shots, but I see that as a benefit of a night safari.  You can put your camera down and just focus on enjoying the experience, rather than trying to get the perfect picture.

If I had to choose between a day or night safari, I would choose the day one since you are likely to see more wildlife.

 BUT, and this is a big BUT, I also highly recommend the night safari.  It might not be as action packed, although admittedly not all day safaris are either, but a night safari somehow seems more spiritual.  It made me recognize how defect humans really are in some respects. We can’t run very fast, have poor night vision, we’re not really good climbers and we can’t smell very well either.  Somehow acknowledging my defects made me feel more connected to the animals and to the landscape. I guess you could say that comparing the two safaris is like comparing night and day.

Practicalities of Organizing a Night Safari in Etosha National Park:

  • My night safari was organized through Okaukuejo Rest Camp, the same place that has the incredible water holes.
  • Book your spot in advance.  I heard several guests trying to make a reservation for that same day, but they were already full.
  • Dress warm.

Thank you to Namibia Tourism for making my night safari possible.  As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

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