Fun Times In Namibia: A Top Notch Travel Guide To Windhoek
Planning a trip to Namibia or just curious about what it has to offer as a travel destination? You’re in the right place!
If you have a bit of time to spend in Namibia, I suggest splitting your time between the capital city of Windhoek, and Swakopmund, a coastal city in the east. Windhoek offers insight into the culture and history of Namibia, while Swakopmund offers activities centred around the beach, the desert and relaxation.
The guide is quite comprehensive (read: long) so feel free to jump to whatever sections interest you the most using the links below, or right to the last section to read about my thoughts on what to expect on a visit to Windhoek. Questions? Please leave a comment below!
Things To Know About Namibia
Destination: Windhoek (pronounced Veen-Tuk) is the capital city of Namibia, which gets it name from being the home of the Namib Desert, one of the oldest deserts (~55 million years old) in the world.
Visa Requirements: The list of countries with Visa Exemption Agreements with Namibia include Canada, UK and USA. Nigerians and Ghanaian passport holders will need to obtain visas in order to be granted entry into Namibia. View the requirements here.
Population: With a population of 2.6 millon as of 2017, the entire population of Namibia is lower than those of Lagos, Nigeria (over 20 million people) , London and New York City ( both roughly about 9million). It’s the second least populous country in the world, the first being Mongolia.
Tribes: There are about 12 major ethnic groups in Namibia including the Owambo (which is the most populous), Damara and Nama. Also worth highlighting are:
The Himba tribe located in the northern region of the country and is known for being one of Africa’s most authentic tribes. Largely uninfluenced by modernism, the Himbas still live nomadic lives and cling strongly to their traditional customs.
Basters, who are descendants of Cape Colony Dutch settlers and native African women and were historically rejected by both blacks and whites. Although the name Baster is derived from bastaard, the Dutch word for "bastard" or "crossbreed", the Basters use the term as a source of pride and a way of claiming their ancestry and history. Take that, haters.
Languages: Major languages are English and Afrikaans, but there are up to 30 other languages spoken in Namibia.
Weather: Namibia is generally fine to visit all year round but in the east of the country (Swakopmund, Walvis Bay) it can get quite chilly in the early mornings and evenings. Be sure to pack a cardigan or light jacket if you plan to travel east.
Currency: Namibian Dollar $NAD which is used interchangeably with the South African Rand in Namibia (the reverse does not apply). 1 GBP is about 18 NAD. For current rates, click here.
Banks and Cards: Although most establishments will accept major debit and credit cards, it’s a good idea to have some cash on you for markets and small souvenir shops. If you don’t have cash, ATMs are not too difficult to find. Watch out for those withdrawal fees though! If you’re based in the UK, you might want to consider getting a Monzo bank account to save on international transaction fees.
Plugs: Namibian plugs are a Type M. It was my first time seeing one of these and my “universal” travel adaptor failed me! Tsk. I guess it isn’t so universal after all. Check if your accommodation provides adaptors in advance of your trip.
Security: For a capital city, Windhoek is extremely quiet and calm. I was out in different areas (main city, township) at all sorts of times of the day and found there was nothing to be unduly concerned by. You should however take all the regular precautions you would while travelling (keep money out of sight, pay attention to your surroundings, etc.)
Getting To And Around Windhoek
There are direct flights to Windhoek from multiple cities such as Accra/Lagos, Cape Town, Johannesburg and Frankfurt. A round trip economy ticket booked sufficiently in advance from London to Windhoek would cost under 500GBP. Not bad for a 15hr+ journey including stop over. The stop over from London will be in Johannesburg, so you could use the opportunity to see another country. Two for the price of one and so on. You’re welcome.
Uber doesn’t operate in Namibia *womp womp*, so the easiest ways to get around are to walk, hire a private driver/car, or use city taxi’s. I opted for the second option and used Eric of Mwiya Tours. I highly recommend him. If you ever get in touch, tell him I sent you.
Where To Stay In Windhoek, Namibia
The best place to stay in Windhoek is the City Centre, for easy access to all of the major sites. There are quite a number of well known hotels to choose from such as the Hilton, or boutique options such as Avani.
I stayed in a 1 bedroom Airbnb at Freedom Plaza (right in the City Centre) which cost £70/night. The Airbnb would have comfortably accommodated three guests, which would have split the cost to ~£24/person/night.
Where To Eat And Drink In Winhoek, Namibia
Pantry at Avani: Offers your classic breakfast options and has good service
Craft Cafe: Varied and healthy menu at a location offering you great views of the city
Slow Town: For what is supposedly the best coffee in the city
Lunch and Dinner
For traditional Namibian dishes, go to Pepata Restaurant and Old Location Ohungi & Restaurant. Ask for the Mopane Worms :).
If you’re feeling adventurous, go try out some Kapana streetfood at the Katatura Township Market.
Things To Do In Windhoek, Namibia
Tour of Windhoek: Learn about Namibia’s interesting history, its colonisation, its long and arduous fight for independence. Check out Mwiya Tours, or the free city walking tour with Chameleon Safaris.
Visit Katutura, the township created for black people to live in after being forcibly removed from the main city during the colonial era. while you’re there, check out the market for some Kapana meat and street food.
Visit Heroes Acre, the official war memorial of the country which identifies heroes and heroines that played key roles in the fight for Namibia’s liberation and Kirstus Christ Church, a historic landmark and the oldest Lutheran church in Namibia.
Take a trip to Swakopmund for some beach side activities and desert adventures.
Visit the Independence Museum, which focuses on Namibia’s resistance to colonisation.
Go to the Himba Market (close to Hilton hotel, by the FMB building) for souvenirs and a chance to interact with members of the Himba tribe. During my visit, I met a white Canadian man who was making plans to marry into the Himba tribe! If you’re really curious, take a visit up north to a Himba village.
Namibia is a great place to see wild life, so go see some. You can go on a Safari or do a game drive at Etosha National Park, which even offers camping options for people who are really serious about their wild life. If you’re short on time, try the Daan Viljoen Nature Reserve instead as that is much closer to the city.
25 % of the world’s cheetahs are in Namibia, go see some of them at the Cheetah Conservation Fund.
Thoughts About Windhoek, Namibia
Prior to my trip there, Namibia wasn’t on my radar as a travel destination at all. But the minute I drove out of the airport and set my eyes on the stunning Khomas Highland, I knew I was in for a treat. I even saw some wild life during the 40 minute drive into the city, how amazing is that?
I was quite impressed and I must admit, pleasantly surprised by how modern, organised and clean Windhoek is. 24hour power supply, working traffic lights, the system actually works! Although Namibia is mostly desert land, Windhoek has a very contemporary vibe that is still African, authentic and not at all pretentious.
My delight quickly turned into displeasure once I began to dig deeper into the history of the country. I was surprised to learn how recent the colonial history was - Namibia only gained her independence in 1990 after being colonised by Germany, Britain and then South Africa. It was a long, tough fight with help from some interesting allies such as Fidel Castro and the Nigerian Government. Things didn’t get any better when I saw the township of Katutura, where blacks were forced to live during the colonial era. It’s hard to believe it’s located less than 20 minutes from beautiful Windhoek with shacks plied next to each other, no electricity and shoddy water supply. It’s been almost 30 years since Namibia gained independence yet about two thirds of Windhoek’s population still lives in Katutura. It’s one thing to read about colonialism and oppression, but it’s a totally different thing to see the lingering effects of it first hand.
Although Windhoek left me with mixed feelings, I’m really glad I visited, and would definitely recommend it as a place to go if you’re interested in visiting a destination off the beaten track, learning more about an unpublicised colonial history and appreciating some of the effortless beauty of Africa.
Have you been to Namibia? Is it on your travel list?
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Fun and Sun,