A delicious game dinner — oryx paired with a boozy sticky sweet concoction — at Joe’s Beerhouse is the highlight of my time in Windhoek. The indoor-outdoor restaurant and its unique theme of bizarre treasures, walls lined with Jägermeister bottles and antique phones, lamps crafted from local fishing tools, and trees dangling pots, pans and Cuckoo Clocks, is certainly worth the trip to the capital; and I depart for the rest of my journey feeling satisfied yet hungry for more.
Luckily, I have nine days of Namibia exploration ahead of me.
The next morning we head north about 170 miles (274 kilometers) to Swakopmund, a coastal city founded in 1892 by the Germans as the main harbor for German South-West Africa (Namibia spent time under German rule). The thought of laying on a desert beach surrounded by German colonial architecture helps get me out of bed for my 6am wake up call, as I’m excited to see such contrasts I never knew existed.
Along the drive my Namibian guide George from Vulkan Ruine Tours & Transfers is full of stories and knowledge, constantly pulling out books filled with photographs and information about the things we see along the way: baboons, camel thorn trees, termite mounds higher than my body. I don’t need to wait for our destination to start enjoying unique scenery, as the van becomes enveloped in lush green landscape hugged by trees, the surrounding peaks soft and wavy, almost like forest-colored whipped cream dollops topping a cake.We become enveloped in lush landscape, wavy peaks like whipped cream dollops on a cake. #namibia Click To Tweet
We make a stop in Okahandja to visit the local handicraft market, where woodcarvers from up north head to sell their wares. Pitched tents with individual booths sell handmade jewelry, salt and pepper shakers, housewares and other items crafted from kudu horns and local trees. It’s interesting to look at, and George informs us haggling is okay as he helps keep the pushy hawkers away; however, the real shopping treat takes place about an hour further as we enter the Erongo Region, named after the prominent Mount Erongo.
A Dramatic Landscape Detour
Here we also turn off the main road of B2 into Spitzkoppe, a group of bald ancient granite peaks — the highest of which stands proud at 1,784 meters (5,853 feet) above sea level. They look extra dramatic against the flat surrounding plains of the Namib Desert between Usakos and Swakopmund. At the base of these mountains are campsites for outdoor and adventure enthusiasts, as well as the settlements of the Damara people, thought to be the original inhabitants of Namibia after the bushmen and the Nama peoples. The local women and their children set up tables filled with “Big 5” safari dioramas, jewelry and gemstones — Namibia is known for its mining — that glisten under the strong sunlight.#Women sell gemstones — #Namibia is known for mining -- glistening under the sun. Click To Tweet
To support the locals we buy their handmade goods and, pockets full of stones, head into the campsite area to visit what looks like a garden of otherworldly rocks. It reminds me of Wadi Rum in Jordan or the sandy version of the Remarkable Rocks on Kangaroo Island. What’s awesome is we’re able to climb onto the rocks to explore their beauty up close, ducking into caves, posing with atypical natural structures and doing yoga moves under backlit archways.
After crawling and rolling over the rocks like secret agents — some of the most photogenic spots are a bit tricky to get to — we refuel with a packed lunch and continue the journey to Swakopmund, about an hour and a half more to go. When we finally begin to approach the landscape completely changes once again. Without trees and shrubs in sight it’s amazing how far the eyes can see, and the scenery is enhanced by the colorful parachutes of the paragliders immersing themselves in the local adventure offerings.
A salty mist over the desert further lets us know we’re getting close to the Atlantic Ocean-side city, as does the dirt “massage road” — George’s name for the bumpy terrain — by turning to palm tree-lined pavement littered with expensive houses that remind me of the African version of Phoenix, Arizona. Within this mix is well-preserved German colonial architecture, with its reinforced stone arches and exposed half timbering, mixed in with German chocolate and lederhosen shops. Landscaped yards, pastel residences with picket fences and playful pups, supermarkets and shop-lined avenues envelop us, with the crashing of waves onto the beach straight ahead.
Namibia’s “Adventure Town”
Swakopmund is a popular destination in Namibia for visitors, and it’s easy to see why. Simply take a walk along the beach to the local pier, go for a swim in the Atlantic or enjoy the views from one of the local hotels — I loved Beach Hotel Swakopmund — and you’ll also understand.
The stay highlight for me comes the second morning when I get a dose of what George meant by calling Swakopmund Namibia’s “adventure town,” through sandboarding in the Namib Desert’s Dorob National Park. While not Namibia’s highest dunes — that would be in Sossusvlei, salt and clay flats surrounded by red dunes reaching 380 meters (1,247 feet) — I’m told they’re the largest commercial dunes in the country where tour operators offer activities. The golden dunes reach about 100 meters (328 feet) in height, contrasting beautifully with the cerulean blue sky and white speckled clouds.Golden 100-meter dunes contrast with cerulean blue sky and white speckled clouds. #namibia Click To Tweet
Delicious German Fare(well)
Our stay in Swakopmund ends with a delicious dinner of fresh catch and German fare — hey, this is a Germanic coastal town, after all — at Kucki’s Pub. Grilled Atlantic oysters, fresh hake stuffed with smoked salmon and wiener schnitzel are enhanced by local beers and South African wines, the decor paying homage to local German tradition through old maps, historic photographs and dangling flags. Glasses clink, sides of spätzle are passed and stories are shared, the perfect evening ending before the smooth Atlantic waves drift me to sleep, resting me for the next day’s journey to Brandberg to visit Namibia’s highest mountain.
Stay: Beach Hotel Swakopmund. The beachfront location, the private balconies, the rooftop pool overlooking the city, the delicious restaurant with wine glasses and white linens already on the table. This hotel was amazing. Extremely comfortable, strong free in-room Wi-Fi, great water pressure, efficient air conditioning, wonderful hospitality. I highly recommend this property if you visit Swakopmund. Rates range from about $51 USD per person per night including breakfast for a standard room, and go up to about $90 USD per per per night including breakfast for a luxury apartment.
Local Guide: I used Vulkan Ruin Tours & Transfers and was extremely impressed with their dedication to responsible tourism and education. My guide, George, and driver, Martin, were both fun and knowledgable, helping to facilitate all activities in a way that helped our group get the most out of them. I would recommend requesting them when making your booking.
When To Go: Namibia is a year-round destination; however, for wildlife viewing June through October is best as it’s dry season.
Currency: The Namibian Dollar. As of March 3, 2016, the exchange rate is about $1 USD = $15.67 Namibian Dollars.
Language: English is the national language, though most also speak Afrikaans and German (Namibia experienced a period of German rule from 1884 under German South-West Africa).
Staying Connected: If you travel a lot a KnowRoaming Global SIM Sticker affixes to your SIM to give you local rates and eliminate roaming charges in 200+ countries. Otherwise, you can purchase a local SIM card from MTC. My starter pack cost about $5 and lasted me for eight days of pretty consistent use. Note: You’ll need an unlocked phone to be able to do this. You can call you cell phone provider to have this done if it’s not already.
Dress: Dress is casual and comfortable. While I’d read many guides saying you must cover your shoulders and knees, I didn’t find this to be the case in reality. While I’d skip dressing provocatively, shorts, tanks, tees and sundresses are totally fine.
Outlets: The four of us on my tour group ALL mistakenly brought the wrong converters. I even brought a 150+ country converter and it still didn’t work. Make sure to get this one.
Must-Pack Essentials: Along with your typical gear, make sure to have:
- Light long sleeve shirt to block sun (I love the insect-repelling NosiLife line from Craghoppers)
- A hat (I like this insect repelling one from Craghoppers)
- Scarf-shawl (great for chilly nights and plane/car blankets)
- A Telephoto lens
- Namibian/South African Converter
- Personal alarm siren (I didn’t feel Namibia was dangerous, but I always carry this)
- Pickpocket-Proof Garments (again, something I always pack)
- BUFF (for sun and dust protection)