Etosha. Namibia National Park

Etosha. Namibia National Park

Don’t think that Namibia is just endless sands and ocean. There is a lot to see in this country. One of the most interesting sights is the Etosha National Park located around the salt lake of the same name in the northern part of the country, 130 kilometers from the border with Angola. The protected area is located in the northwestern part of the Kalahari Desert.

Etosha Park on a map

  • Geographic coordinates of the center of the park ( -18.972927, 16.357889 )
  • The distance from Namibia’s capital city Windhoek is approximately 410 kilometers
  • The nearest airport is Namutoni (original Namutoni Airport) located within the park at the eastern end of the Etosha salt marsh. But this airport is designed mainly for light aircraft
  • Ondangwa Airport about 100 km to the north

Etosha was designated a nature reserve in 1907 and a National Park only in 1958. The final boundaries of the park were not defined until 1970. The area of the park is now about 22,000 km2 , of which 23% (about 4,800 km2 ) is occupied by Etosha Salt Lake, located at an altitude of 1030 meters above sea level. Both the solonchak and the surrounding savannah are of great interest to scientists and tourists alike.

This is one of the few places on the planet that has preserved its pristine charm, natural landscapes and, despite the desert nature zone, a variety of fauna and flora.

Lions in Etosha Nature Reserve

Where does the name come from?

To the local tribes, Etosha has been known for a long time. Its name from the Ovambo Aboriginal language means literally “The Great White Place.” In the Heill language (one of the local dialects), the salt lake was called Khubus, which means “a completely bare, white place with a lot of dust. The place was also called Chums. This is due to the sound made by human feet when walking on the dried bottom of the salt marsh.

Etosha salt marsh in the dry season

This is what the Etosha salt marsh looks like in the dry season

The first Europeans, Englishman Francis Galton and Swede Carlos Johan Anderson (sometimes called Charles John in English because of the similar spelling of his name), visited here in 1851 accompanied by traders from the Ovambo tribe. The explorers learned that the lake was called Etosha and also heard the legend of its appearance from the natives.

The legend of the Etosha salt marsh

In ancient times there was a small village here. People lived there peacefully and in harmony with nature. But one day, warlike tribes came to these lands and slaughtered all the inhabitants. One girl miraculously survived. When she saw her native village destroyed, she could not hold back her tears. She cried so long that her tears filled the whole savannah, forming an entire lake. After a while, some of the water evaporated and some soaked into the ground, leaving only a salt crust on the surface.

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Etosha. Namibia National Park

History of the reserve

Since Europeans first came to these places, for several decades the history of the region has been filled with periodic conflicts between Europeans and the Heill and Ovambo tribes who lived here.

In 1896 German troops sent by the German Reich occupied the area of Namutoni and built a fort there in 1899. But in 1904 it was destroyed by the Ovambo people. The following year the fort was rebuilt and is still a landmark in the park and declared a national monument.

After Germany actually occupied this part of Africa in 1902. The governor of German Southwest Africa (as Namibia was then called), Dr. von Lindquist, proclaimed Etosha a national reserve in 1907. Its area at that time was more than 100,000 km2 and extended all the way to the Skeleton Coast. At that time it was the largest National Park in the world. But after various border disputes and political changes, the park was reduced to its current size (recall, about 22,000 km 2 ) in 1970.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the vast majority of the animals in the park were destroyed either by severe drought or after being caught in the crossfire of the border war that engulfed Namibia, South Africa and Angola at the time. Thanks to determined conservation efforts, the population of many animals has increased significantly in recent years, and today Etosha is once again one of the best places in the world to see Africa’s unique wildlife in all its glory.

Elephants in Etosha National Park

Etosha Park Climate

The national park is dominated by a desert savanna climate. The average annual temperature is 26 o C. Temperatures can drop to 6 o C in the winter and exceed 45 o C in the summer. There is a large daily heat amplitude. That is, it can be very hot during the day and quite cool at night. The amount of precipitation varies from 0 mm (that is, not a drop of water falls from the sky) in July and August to 110 mm in February. In some places, it doesn’t rain for several years at a time.

Etosha is located at a latitude where the classic wet and dry seasons alternate. The dry season is in winter (May through October – don’t forget, this is the southern hemisphere). This is considered the best time to observe animals, as pools of water decrease in size and consequently the concentration of animals per unit area increases. In addition, the grass and bushes are already fading and do not hide animals as much. The view during this period is the best.

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Pandemonium at a waterhole in Etosha Park.

If you want the lush greenery of the tropics, you should probably visit, for example, Tijuca Park in Rio de Janeiro, or Laucala Island.

The wet season is in summer (November to April). In summer, the average temperature during the day ranges from 25 o C to 35 o C, and on really hot days it can reach +40 o C! During this time, Etosha takes on water and turns into a lake, attracting wetland birds and many flamingos. During this season, many large mammals move north to the Namutoni area, as there is more rainfall in this area than in Okakuejo to the south.

Elephants in Etosha Park.

Nature of Etosha Park.

In 1876, an American merchant named McKiernan visited the vicinity of Lake Etosha and said that “all the beasts of the world have paled and cannot be compared with the wildlife” he saw here. That vast number of animals was beyond anything he had ever seen. He couldn’t believe it, but there were thousands of them.

Animals at a waterhole in Etosha Park

The most important thing in the park is the presence of ponds scattered throughout its territory. Watering places concentrate a lot of animals around them. All the “color” of the African savannah gathers here. Huge elephants love to swim in the local waters. Herds of zebras and saber-tailed oryx antelopes, lions and hyenas, leopards and rhinoceroses. All come to the watering hole.

Etosha National Park is home to four species of animals from the Big Five of Africa. They are elephants, lions, leopards and rhinos.

A little clarification. The Big African Five are the 5 most difficult and dangerous species to hunt. The five also include the African buffalo, but the latter was eaten by lions in the 1950s, and this species is no longer found in Etosha.

The park is home to a very rare species of black rhinoceros. In addition to these “prominent” animals, Etosha is home to giraffes, wildebeests, cheetahs, hyenas, mountain and plains zebras, gazelles, and kudu. Smaller species include the jackal, long-eared fox, warthog, badger, and gopher tortoise. In all, there are 114 species of mammals in the park.

Animals in Etosha Park

Zebras in Etosha National Park

Plant life blooms during the rainy season. Etosha transforms during this season from a dry, dusty white landscape to a green paradise overflowing with lush vegetation. But it’s mostly grasses and small shrubs. Of the trees, there are mopane (80% of all trees in the park), acacia, and terminalia.

Etosha solonchak.

We will highlight separately the Etosha Salt Lake, around which the park of the same name is located today, and its bird world.

It is believed that a deep basin was originally formed here, more than 100 million years ago. And about 16,000 years ago, the Cunene River in Angola seeped into Etosha and formed a huge and deep lake for a time. But the river later changed its course because of tectonic plate movement and headed into the Atlantic, causing the lake to slowly dry up and leave behind only a salt surface. As a result of the shifts, the basin disappeared, and now there is quite a flat savanna landscape with small knolls of clay and salt. In the rainy season in these areas are formed pools of rainwater, and in particularly wet periods, the entire surface becomes a lake, a fairly impressive size (about 130 by 50 kilometers). However, the depth of this body of water rarely exceeds 10 cm.

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We could not help but remind you of another interesting salt marsh on the planet. This is the famous Uyuni salt marsh in Bolivia. Not only is salt extracted there, literally scraping it off the surface, but the sky literally merges with the earth, depriving you of the horizon.

There are more than 340 species of birds in the national park, about a third of which are migratory. Thirty-five species of birds of prey and eight species of owls inhabit the reserve. Flocks are especially numerous here during the rainy season. Huge flocks of flamingos and storks can be seen here at this time. This is the only known mass population of flamingos in Namibia. From time to time about 1 million flamingos gather here.

Flamingos in Etosha National Park

It is worth recalling another corner of our planet where flamingos gather in flocks, though in slightly smaller numbers. It is the Colorado Lagoon in Bolivia. And the flamingos are not the biggest attraction of this place.

The reserve is also home to the world’s largest birds, the ostriches, and the heaviest flying birds, the corydropha.

Ostriches in Etosha Nature Reserve Cory bustard in Etosha Nature Reserve

The main sites of Etosha Nature Reserve

The national park has numerous natural springs and fountains, as well as artificial bodies of water. Some of the recreation camps in the park offer unique illuminated ponds for nighttime animal watching. This is especially true during the dry winter months, when more animals come out of shelters to drink water.

Each such spot has its own personality, and the animals that come here can vary, even from season to season. Here’s a quick rundown of the best spots.


It is next to Okaukuejo rest camp and is lit up. Black rhinos and lots of elephants come here almost every night, especially between June and December. Many consider it the best place in Africa to see the endangered black rhino.


This is one of the best places to see lions. Okondeka is a natural fountain and is located on the west side of the salt marsh, slightly north of Okakuejo.

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Halali and Goas.

The elusive leopard can be seen here. Both places lie about midway between Andersson’s south gate and von Lindquist’s gate on the eastern edge of the Etosha salt marsh. Goas is like an oasis, and is a favorite spot for black-eyed impalas and elephants. Antelope gnu and zebra are generally abundant there. Halali Artificial is located next to Halali Rest Camp.

Sueda and Salvador.

Sueda and Salvador offer stunning views of the Etosha salt marsh stretching to the northern horizon, as well as good spots for cheetah watching.

Entrance to Etosha National Park is possible through four gates.

  • Anderson Gate is located at the southern end of the park. They can be accessed by taking the C38 road through the town of Outjo. The nearest camp is Okakuejo.
  • Von Lindequist Gate is to the east and connects to the B1 road. The closest town to this gate is Tsumeb, and Camp Namutoni is only a short drive from the gate.
  • Galton Gate is located at the southwest end of the park.
  • King Nehale Lya Mpingana Gate is located at the northern end of the park and 48 km from the main road to Ondangwa.

Rules of conduct in the park

There is a fee to visit the park. There are excellent accommodations within the park that meet the strictest standards.

  • Guests need to inform the reception desk as soon as they arrive
  • Lodging is available from 12:00 and must be vacated by 10:00
  • Tourists remain in the vehicle during the safari. They are not allowed to leave the vehicle.
  • Observe all road signs in the park
  • Prohibited – taking anything out of the park except photographs – visiting with pets – possession of firearms and ammunition – riding motorcycles – littering – feeding wild animals – silence is required around water oases

Interesting Facts

  1. Lake Etosha is recognized as a World Wildlife Fund ecoregion and was also used as the setting for the filming of the 2001 film A Space Odyssey
  2. When entering Etosha National Park, every visitor must show any form of identification. This is done to protect the wildlife from poaching.
  3. There is very little vegetation directly in the areas covered by the salt marshes, except for a few species of grasses that have adapted to such conditions
  4. The area of Lake Etosha varies depending on rainfall, but usually does not exceed 5,000 km 2

Etosha Park photo

Lions at a waterhole.

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Lion cubs in Etosha National Park

Running rhino

Antelope in the reserve

Nighttime rhinoceros sightings Landscape views of antelope grazing in the savanna

Etosha National Park

Etosha National Park

Etosha National Park is Namibia’s most important attraction. The total area of the park is more than 22 thousand square kilometers. The park is located in the north of the country, around Etosha Pan, a tectonic depression of enormous dimensions that was a vast lake millions of years ago.

The Great Sand Sea and the cleanest natural glass in the world

Etosha is known for its rich fauna and flora. Thus, the fauna of the national park is represented by 340 species of birds, 50 species of snakes, 114 species of mammals.

Etosha Park was organized in 1907. Until the 1960s, it was considered the largest in the world, but after it was reduced by three-quarters for political reasons. It now belongs among the largest largest national parks in Africa.

Etosha National Park on a map

The territory of the park is divided into two zones – southern and eastern. The latter is distinguished by the fact that here the salt marsh dries up longer, and pelicans and flamingos have taken a fancy to this place.

Fauna and Flora in Etosha National Park

The fauna and flora of Etosha National Park are very diverse – it is home to members of the “big five”, which include the leopard, lion, buffalo, rhinoceros and elephant, which is considered the largest in Africa.


In general, there are about 114 species of mammals in the park, among which are rare and endangered (the Black Sea impala antelope and the black rhinoceros). Southwestern Angola and northwestern Namabia are the only places where this species of antelope can be seen. In addition, Etosha Park alone is home to the largest population of black rhinos, numbering up to 300 head.


Other large mammals found in the national park include blue wildebeest, valley and mountain zebras, hyenas, and cheetahs. Etosha is also home to the giraffe, the tallest animal in the world.

Etosha National Park is one of the best places in South Africa to raise flamingo chicks. During the rainy season, flamingos congregate in great numbers to breed and nurse their young.

The park’s vegetation is composed primarily of shrubs. Typical of the savanna, they grow on the banks of Etosha Pan. Also found in the park are grazing meadows and various species of thorny plants. Open plains alternate with dense thickets.


Most of the trees are mopane, which have a characteristic turpentine odor. In the west of Etosha is the so-called “Fairy Forest”, where you can see the moringa tree . According to Bushman legend, it was thrown out of Eden by the God of Thunder and landed on earth with its roots upwards.

Elephants in Etosha Park.

Etosha National Park is open to visitors throughout the year. There are three campgrounds within the park: Halali, Namutoni, and Okaukuejo. All camps have comfortable bungalows and well-equipped sites for animal watching. There are also stores, bars, restaurants, gas stations, and swimming pools in the park.

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