Is it possible! Can you really drive a rental car in Africa on your own?
We got this question many times when we told friends and family that we where going to Zimbabwe and had rented a car. We nodded and smiled, – yes it is possible! But really we were a bit nervous as well. How would this work? Per is always driving. He gets nervous and restless if he sits in the passengers seat. I do not mind, my job is to read the map.
It has to be said; I had been to Zimbabwe the year before and my friend Grete drove a car across Harare like a local. We were going south to the village Madagombe where Per and I was going to organize a workshop. A video from this event can be watched at YouTube: Workshop in Zimbabwe.
I knew that the route down to Madagombe was OK to drive but there could be some police controls along the road. In that case; jut stop, smile nicely, be polite and do exactly as you are told. So we were advised. We were staying in Madagombe without company of other travelers and were completely dependent on transport during our stay. So the choice was easy, we had to rent a car.
We rented the car on the Internet and picked it up at the airport. We tried to get expanded insurance as we always do, but without luck. Therefor we signed an additional insurance with another insurance company. A solution I recommend when you want to drive a rental in Africa. Zimbabwe is a country where it`s normally no problems driving on you own in a rental car, especially outside the big cities.
The capitol Harare was our biggest challenge. We got safely to the hotel and the next day we got a local with us in the car and got safely out of town. The rest of the trip went like a breeze. But it got worse when we got back a week later and tried to return the car at the airport. That story you can read in this post: Astray in Harare!
When we later planned for 3 weeks in Namibia during Christmas 2012/13, we had no doubts; we were going to rent a car and drive around the country by our selves. Namibia is not like any other country in Africa. It is a safe country to travel in and renting a car and camping is common among tourists. We had 3 wonderful weeks and it gave us a special feeling of freedom to be able to drive around on our own. You can read more about our Namibia trip here: Namibia – The desert country surprises!
There are not many countries south of Sahara where it is recommended to drive a rental car on you own. Some areas in South Africa are OK, especially in the southern part. In Botswana you can drive as well and in some parts of Tanzania and Kenya (not recommended in the north) and in Mozambique.
If you dream of driving a rental car in Africa you have to prepare and you need to check for each country what the conditions are there. My experience is that we often are more scared and anxious than we need to be. That does not mean that you should be foolhardy, but use your head and be sensible.