My Favorite 15 Things to do in Namibia – Windhoek, Walvis Bay & Swakopmund
My Favorite 15 Things to do in Namibia - UnderstandThis was my first time in Namibia - an enormous country twice the size of California and with just 2 million citizens. Namibia is located northwest of South Africa. It is a former German colony and still has many Germanic roots and signs, though English is the de facto language besides Afrikaans. Namibian cities are surprisingly developed and feel more like an extension of South Africa than the more chaotic Angola. It has a generally good infrastructure and there are lots of good roads and many relaxed and easygoing people around. The country is mostly empty as it's desert and brushland. Expect long drives along one-lane or gravel roads (all well-maintained) and the occasional gas station in-between places. Namibia is all about views from a car; there is little other culture or food to explore. Namibia has little mass tourism but lots of adventurers riding their 4WD's through the desert.
My Favorite 15 Things to do in Namibia - Get AroundThere are taxis in Windhoek but really you want to have a car in Namibia, even in the capital city. The distances are long and tiring, with Walvis Bay a solid four hours away from Windhoek.
My Favorite 15 Things to do in Namibia - SafetyUnlike South African cities like Johannesburg, Namibia struck me as rather safe. It's not a good idea to go out alone at night (or park your car in a dark alley) but generally you are safe or very safe depending on the neighborhood.
My Favorite 15 Things to do in Namibia - WindhoekWindhoek is a mix of Albuquerque, a small German town and a bit of Johannesburg. It's surrounded by lots of small canyons and just has a small city center. Windhoek has a the odd German church like Christuskirche, but no real sights to see. Windhoek has a lot of options if you just drive in from the desert towns of Namibia, but it's still very much a frontier town.
My Favorite 15 Things to do in Namibia - Windhoek - Eat & DrinkCraft Cafe I liked the Craft Cafe for its location in a craft market, though the food and coffee weren't to my liking. The balcony overlooks the industrial part of Windhoek. Lemon Tree Restaurant For breakfast, I tried the Lemon Tree Restaurant (the Old Fresh 'n Wild) at The Village complex. It's a pretty spot but again I found the food to be underwhelming. Joe's Beerhouse Joe's is the local hangout after sunset. It's a huge beer garden in a more Hawaiian style that will convince you with the outdoor design but not with the quality of food or beers.
My Favorite 15 Things to do in Namibia - Windhoek - Where to StayI opted for a stay at the Marriott Protea Hotel Windhoek Thuringerhof, which is old but has a great location and free parking across the street. The Hilton Windhoek is clearly the best place in town; it's newly-built and has a gorgeous Skybar that is worth visiting after dark.
My Favorite 15 Things to do in Namibia - Walvis Bay and SwakopmundAbout 250 miles west along the coast lie Walvis Bay and Swakopmund - the largest settlements outside of Windhoek in Namibia. You guessed it - they are both rather small, with a combined 120,000 people. However, they are located right along the beautiful Namibia coast, where the Atlantic Ocean waves crash into the huge sand dunes. Walvis Bay has the stunning Esplanade - a sea promenade that is so sophisticated you won't see it coming. Pretty residential houses give way to the Protea Pelican Bay and The Raft bar and bistro along the lagoon. Right behind Walvis Bay is one of the highest sand dunes in the world, just called Dune 7.
It's a somewhat exhausting 20-minute climb to the top to enjoy the views from the dune.Swakopmund is dominated by the Strand, which is a modern hotel right at the beach. The area around it is mildly touristy, but the palm-lined streets look superbly pretty on a clear day. The Atlantic Coast suffers from the same fog as the San Francisco Bay Area, but summer gives a few hours without fog each day.
My Favorite 15 Things to do in Namibia - Walvis Bay and Swakopmund - Eat & DrinkSlowtown Coffee Roasters Slowtown Coffee Roasters in Swakopmund is likely the best coffee shop in Namibia, with great coffee and plenty of indoor and outdoor space. It's cheap and the staff make you feel welcome. Village Cafe Just around the corner is Village Cafe. It doesn't sell too much coffee, but instead has awesome food with many organic ingredients, making use of the plentiful fresh produce (that never seems to make its way into other eateries and restaurants in this country). From Swakopmund, paved roads go 6 hours north. The roads can be a bit boring as they are set back from the beach. However, just before Hentiesbaai you will see the Zeila shipwreck, stranded there since 2008. There are more shipwrecks along the Skeleton Coast further north.
My Favorite 15 Things to do in Namibia - Walvis Bay and Swakopmund - Where to StayI chose the Protea Hotel Walvis Bay Long Beach, which is a small property. It's cozy and located directly at the beach, with most rooms having direct beach access. However, the breakfast is dull and the WiFi is slow and is only working in the lobby. It's seen a good amount of neglect over the years. The beds are great and the rooms are spacious, though, and the shower pressure is striking.
I only saw a tiny fraction of this country. There are more dunes (like Sossusvlei), safari parks (including Etosha), tribal regions and waterfalls up north. To enjoy Namibia properly it is a good idea to have a few weeks to spare and a 4WD - ideally a car that you own instead of rent as the roads exert heavy wear and tear. Namibia is fascinating with its stunning landscape, easygoing locals, completely absent racial tension and the good state of infrastructure.