Driving a rental car in Africa

Is it possible! Can you really drive a rental car in Africa on your own?


Many gates to open and close on the way down to Fish River in Namibia.
Many gates to open and close on the way down to Fish River in Namibia.

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.

Our blue rental car safely parked outside our house in Madagombe, Zimbabwe.
Our blue rental car safely parked outside our house in Madagombe, 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!

We had one puncture but it was nicely fixed at the hotel we stayd in that night. Namibia.
We had one puncture but it was nicely fixed at the hotel we stayd in that night. Namibia.

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.

Namibia had many nice places where you could stop along the road.

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.

We hoped to spot a rhino! Rental car in Africa, Namibia.
We hoped to spot a rhino! Rental car in Africa, Namibia.
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  • Great post on driving in Africa. More people should try doing it, and not be afraid. The big cities in strange countries are just the places to avoid. That applies the world over!

  • This is absolutely on my list of things to do, and I’ve pencilled it in for 2016 so it was great to stumble across this post (there’s so little written about it on the net!). Namibia is top of my ‘bucketlist’ and I will not rest until I’ve been there!

  • @merylurson You can drive in South Africa for sure! Avoid dodgy areas and keep your doors locked and windows closed though.

  • I rented a car and drove from South Africa to Namibia and around Namibia for a week by myself. I had a great time, however, travellers should be warned–90% of the roads in Namibia are not paved. Before I went to Namibia I read that driving on these roads is similar to driving in snow because of the ability to skid. I read a statistic that said one tourist flips their car on these roads every day.

    When I got there and started driving on the roads, I scoffed at that and thought, whoever wrote that post maybe had never driven on actually snowy roads. Which was a bad attitude to take. Snowy roads feel slippery and encourage you to drive carefully. Unpaved roads in Namibia feel stable and secure, which allows you to let down your guard down. First piece of advice: DONT hit the brake and swerve (except for rhinos or elephants or something). I did this. Embarresingly to avoid a bird about the size of a football and rolled my rental car off the road into a ditch. Luckily I was completely uninjured and despite being 30km from anywhere a local family driving by stopped and helped me within minutes.

    Second piece of advice (which luckily I did do): If you have an american express card get their car rental insurance policy before you go and use the card to rent the car. It is only $25 and covers you and the car for $100,000 each. From the moment I got in touch with them and told them I totalled the car, they handled the whole problem and I didn’t have to worry about it. Best $25 ever!

    I think that driving around Namibia yourself is a great idea and I loved it except for the car totalling part. Definitely do it, but also be careful driving and be prepared.

    • Thanks for great tips. So good to hear that you was not hurt in the accident. We are used to drive on snow and my husband loves driving on unpaved roads. So he had a great time in Namibia.

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