Things to do in Namibia
Namibia. An African gem that is overshadowed by her neighbours’ extravagance. She is not often spoken of, not seen on the news in most Western countries. I could bet if I were to stop 50 people in Time Square and ask where Namibia is, very few would know. My bet would be on 5 or less people knowing.
Namibia is not Zimbabwe, whose president, Robert Mugabe often grabs international news. Namibia is not South Africa, the land of one of the world’s most popular statesman ever, Nelson Mandela. It is not Africa’s leading economy. She is neither Nigeria, nor Egypt no Somalia. Namibia is that shy, pretty, reserved girl that goes through high school largely unnoticed. She just doesn’t make enough noise for her cause. As such most people will never visit this land, the rest will hardly hear of her. That alone is a tragedy. To do her some justice, I will start this by acquainting you to Namibia. We will then look things to do in Namibia, as well as things to see in Namibia.
Interesting Facts About Namibia
The one thing that everyone, well everyone who does some sort of reading will know about Namibia is the famous Kalahari Desert. It is one of the largest deserts in the world, an area in which the Khoi San people still reside in. The conditions of this desert would be a death sentence to the ordinary human being, but not to the San people! They have become masters of their land.
As we travel further north of the country, the desert gives way to greener surroundings, tarred roads and cities. Within the cities, Namibia is just like any other African country. There is a distinct gap between the rich and poor, but a thriving middle class sits pretty, in between the two extremes. The poor would reside in largely high densely populated areas of the country.
These places are where accommodation is cheaper. The wealthy reside in plush residential areas in prime parts of the country. Such is the beauty of these places that you would never guess that they are in Africa, if seen on a photograph. Those who have decided to shun the huff and puff of Western cities tend to come down to Africa to buy their own piece of paradise.
World War 1 saw this German colony taken back by South Africa, who was entrusted with her keeping after the war. As with other countries, Boers and other European settlers took most of the good land, leaving the natives to settle in the desert regions. When the Second World War ended, South Africa’s exploitation of Namibia was challenged by the UN, their settlement was declared illegal. The result of this was a revolution that saw Sam Nujoma become the first recognised leader of Namibia of African descent in 1990.
Perhaps as a direct result of the apartheid system in neighbouring South Africa, Namibia is divided into about 12 groups of people. These are made up of how people settled in the regions that they did as well as how they look.
Trevor Noah describes a similar phenomenon in South Africa as follows, “The genius of apartheid was in convincing people that they are all different.” That is not a word for word quote, but to the same effect. Like most other African nations, Namibia is blessed with natural resources, these include copper, lead, uranium, gold and of course, diamonds!
Namibia has a population of just under 2.5 million, as of 2015, per WorldBank. Chances are, if you are not a keen historian, some of this does not interest you so I will move on to what you are here for.
Namibia Travel Checklist
- Camera (There will be some pictures to be taken)
- Insect repellent cream (just in case, Namibia is quite low on Mosquitos but we are better safe than sorry.
- Passport (Don’t usually need a visa)
- Driver’s license (I always recommend car hire when travelling)
- Handy Cash (not too much, just a bit of cash $300 or so).
- Medical Aid
- Emergency Contact (can be someone within a neighbouring country i.e. South Africa, Zambia, Angola and Botswana)
- Personal hygiene items (sanitary pads, toothbrush, toothpaste, shower gel etc. especially if you have specific preferences).
- Hair Products
- Vaccinations (check with your doctors a few months before you are due to travel.
- Printed Booking confirmations (accommodation, airport transfer and such)
- Facial Tissue
- Hand sanitisers and wet wipes
- Unlocked mobile phone (to use local sim card for internet access and to stay in contact with people, as well as for emergency calls).
- Hiking Boots
Windhoek: Things to do in Namibia
As I have already mentioned, Windhoek is the capital city of Namibia. I have heard it referred to as the “City of Many Faces”, for reasons I have yet to establish. When arriving in Windhoek, I expected it to have a very significant resemblance to South Africa, where I had gotten my connecting flight from. I have ventured into and around South Africa on several occasions, so my view of the country is a very balanced and well researched one.
The people look somewhat similar, in mannerism and skin texture. I honestly cannot explain what I mean by skin texture. There is just a caramel, milky look to both South African and Namibia populations. This is not to say that everyone in the nations looks identical, however there is an evident resemblance. Historically, there are several reasons that could explain this, but I will avoid the temptation of going off on another tangent. Back to Windhoek.
There are less than 300 000 inhabitants in the city, which is quite a small population for any capital city. Like most African countries, the colonial culture permeates and become quite prevalent, long after the colonisers have left. This is true for Windhoek and other parts of Namibia. The hand of the Germans and their heritage is still about for all to see, and I must say there is some charm to it. Over the last few times I’ve been to Namibia, it has grown as a more and more cosmopolitan feel.
If you read our previous post that covers Zimbabwe, you will follow the format that we used on that one. We will map our way around the city to some of the best places available. I will give tips on how to best enjoy your time in each place, as well as what you ought to look out for. Let’s start right from the airport.
As you can see from the map, the airport is not out of reach from perhaps the first thing I always advise travellers to get (car rental). My belief in this is that you will not fully experience most parts of the world you travel to unless you have your own wheels. In most parts of Southern Africa, the transport system is largely privatised, which makes it a lot harder to travel for someone who doesn’t know the system well. That being said, it is also a great way to meet the locals, and truly experience a city.
Rent a car
When you get out of the Hosea Kutako International Airport, there are a few car rentals that are conveniently placed within walking distance from the airport. We took a taxi, for the less than 3 minute drive down the road. Sadly, my travel companions and I do not agree on where we rented the car from.
I’ll ignore their version and go with my own. As far as I am concerned the taxi driver recommended that we go with Avis Car Rental as they were a brand name. I am usually up for supporting small businesses, but when I am travelling, I can hardly afford for things to go wrong, so when it comes to such decisions, I usually go with the safe option.
For that reason, I cannot say for certain which of these car rentals is the better one. You also have Bitvest Car Rental, Hertz Rent a Car (another brand name) and Thrifty Car rentals. For a bit of fun, you can get your cab driver to take you to each of these for you to pick the ideal one for your trip. There are a few things that I always consider when going into this:
- Does it come with a full fuel tank
- What do they offer for road side assistance?
- Are there other locations to drop off the car?
There may be other things that are equally important, but whoever satisfies these four questions should the ideal one to go with. Make sure you get a 4×4, anything else won’t do the trick.
I used to love hotels, but nowadays I prefer to be in the thick of things. Hotels are for storing stuff and getting a warm bed at the end of each day’s adventures. There are hotels in London, New York, Oslo, Barcelona and any other part of the world that you may travel from.
The reason why you don’t frequent those is that you are busy actually living. If there is a good time to let your hair down and just live, this is it. Try one of the local lodges, or better yet look for a house to rent for the period of your stay. It usually works out cheaper and places you in the thick if things.
Now that you have settled in we will start our expedition by exploring the capital city, Windhoek. Like most countries, the capital city of Namibia is a melting pot of cultures. This is where people from across the country travel to, to try and make a life for themselves.
People from neighbouring countries also venture here in an attempt to find the proverbial green pastures. I have heard Namibia called Africa for beginners, and it is indeed. The sort of place where you romanticised vision of the continent can be nurtured without the inconvenience of a culture shock, or a reality that deviates from that which was shown on television.
The story of Katutura Township is similar to that of some townships in neighbouring, South Africa. Katutura was founded in 1960 as a forced resettlement area for the native population. The colonial government would pick the choicest land for the white population.
If the land was already occupied, the black occupants would be forcedly relocated to another shitty land. In theory, it maintains a dependency on the white population. If you have bad land, you produce poor crops, you don’t make much off them if they are even enough to feed you. You will then have no choice but to go and work for the guy with better land.
Minus the back story, modern day Katutura township attracts most Windhoekers. This is where you would go and live if you have just moved to the city on a low budget. Accommodation is very cheap, although for the most part it can also be substandard.
This is where 90%+ of the population reside. Here is where you find the masses, and really experience Windhoek. A city is only as good as its people. There are various tour providers. These guys will take you into the place and tell you about the place. On average the tours last up to 3 hours. I am not against this at all, however I like an authentic experience.
We drove down to Katutura, parked our car and roamed for hours, while we had food, danced, had some drinks at a local bar, had an open-air barbecue at the market, chat to locals and ended up playing football on a dusty street to cap it up. We had no cameras, they create an unnatural atmosphere; I have come to believe.
The locals are at their natural best when they are not being photographed to be shown to friends overseas. Again, that’s just me. Take a camera if you would like. Any photos you see posted here will not be taken by me, except on occasions where we are joined by a keen photographer who later sends us the photos.
The rule of thumb when spending time in any township is to not be flashy. Dress down, blend. Become a local for the few hours that you will be there. Roam down to the market, drink at any of the multiple makeshift bars, get some meat from the market and get it barbecued, indulge in the fresh fruit and veg that is on sale.
They also have great fish (sadly I had just developed a seafood allergy prior to my last visit). Instead of photos, get yourself a souvenirs. If it is not a monument, don’t let it steal your moments. Something that will really mean something to you. Something that really says “KATUTURA”. There is a bike tour as well. That’s something that would certain pick my interest.
Christus Kirche translates to Christ’s church. There is one of the same name in Mainz, Germany. The one in Windhoek was officially consecrated in 1910. That was about 14 years after the founding pastor, Heinrich Siebe had started the ministry there.
The version you will see today is a result of some extensive renovations that were done in 1967. The place is a beauty, pure German architecture. In 1974, Christuskirche was officially recognised as a national monument. In my book, it was long overdue.
It’s about a 14-minute drive from Katutura. Fun fact, there are two hospitals in 5-mile radius. I don’t know if that is the norm? It’s a low traffic route, so you will have no issues.
Namibia Craft Centre
Having seen some great places across the world, as well as across Southern Africa; I am a firm believer in the notion that, art is the greatest expression of any city’s soul. Namibia Craft Centre is the soul of Windhoek, and Namibia as a whole. Art and craft from across the country is collected, curated and kept at this fine establishment. You will easily get lost in it all. The crime rates in Namibia pretty low, so this really is Africa for beginners.
That being said, I have travelled across Southern Africa with no incidence or news of incidents to others. You are probably safer in most parts Africa than you are in America. Perhaps the more robust police force is the advantage that you have in the West. South Africa is the only nation in Southern Africa that comes close the US stats when it comes to crime. I digress.
What makes Namibia Craft Centre so good?
- Nearly 40 stall holders run their stalls packed with a variety of artistic artefacts from across the country.
- There are over 4000 craftspersons who contribute to this centre. That’s about 4000+ families putting food on their tables. You are not buying into a large corporation that will not see the effect of your money. You are buying into a family. Your money will truly count.
- Most traveller come here as they get ready to set off the airport. Don’t be that guy. Take your time to look at the craft, interact with the stall owners, understand the stories behind it. Get some local snacks and other fresh food while you wander.
- It’s great for buying gifts as well. The prices are very reasonable and often negotiable. I’ve seen some persuasive travellers get some cracking deals for multiple purchases.
Owela Museum: Things to See in Namibia
This is one of the two main museums in Namibia. Owela Museum focuses on natural and cultural history of this wonderful nation. This museum is located just outside the National Museum of Namibia, which displays the country’s independence and struggles. You should take time to visit this one as well if you have a chance.
As I mentioned at the start of the article, the history of any nation you visit should be important to you as a traveller. If you pay little or no regard to the history of a place, you miss a large portion of the pleasures of travel. You miss an essential ingredient for understanding the people. Travelling is not merely about seeing monuments and new places, it is more about experiencing new cultures and expanding personal horizons.
One of the reviewers on Trip Advisor who is a native of Namibia was quite pleased after her visit to the museum. Such a review shows you just how it actually is.
The items of displays are uncannily life like. The locals agree that they resemble the true form of the tribesmen on display. Just outside the museum is an amazing statue in memory of the great Sam Nujoma.
There is none more deserving of this honour than Mr Nujoma. I will post images that I have managed to gather from the web. If for any reason you feel that your rights have been infringed by the use of any of these images, please feel free to get in touch and we will remove them.
Etosha National Park
African national parks are one of my favourite places to go to. It’s not like the zoos and other enclosures. This is a place where you get to encounter wildlife in the very wild where it thrives. Etosha National Park is one of these lovely places that I hold in high esteem. It is about a 4 hour drive from the capital city. The roads are relatively quiet here, although they could be wider or better paved. Enough of my complaining already! Shouldn’t be much of a worry in a rental car.
Distance from Windhoek: 415km
Estimated Travel Time: 4 hours
You may pass through: Outjjo and Otjiwarongo
Often referred to as the gateway to Northern Namibia, for reasons I would assume to be fairly obvious. It is arguably Namibia’s most attractive tourists’ destination, if we consider the sheer number of people that it sees from across the globe throughout the year. There is no telling just how many things you can get up to once you are there.
You could expect to see:
I cannot guarantee that you will see all of these. Depending on the weather, a safari drive will help you see more of these. The cost for a safari drive is quite affordable. Get yourself some time in the wild. It’s important! Of all the places I have stayed in, the accommodation at Etosha places you right in the thick of things. There are several campsites that one can choose from.
I will resist the temptation to go on a tangent about the origin of the name. The advantage of Halali is that it places you at a vantage point to view the animals as they come to the floodlit watering hole that is nearby. There 5 honeymoon chalets, if you are bringing a significant other. I need not say that they don’t have to be used for honeymoon.
Just a bit of time out with the old lady is reason enough to get one of them. You get a queen-sized bed, a private garden area as well as a Jacuzzi. For the single ones, or ones looking for cheaper option, there is the family chalet. Well, there are actually two of these.
They are secluded, giving you the privacy that we all want when on holiday, if not every day. You get two bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchenette, lounge and a braai/barbecue area.
For bigger groups of adults, you may want to look into the bush chalets. These can contain up to 4 adults! There are usually readily available as there are ten of them to go.
For a slightly smaller group, there are smaller bush chalets that can contain 2 adults. They come with everything that the bigger bush chalets offer.
There are 40 double rooms also available. They are all ensuite.
If for any reason, rooming is not your thing and you want to really go wild, camping may be the way to go. There are several campsites arounds. Equipment is usually available to rent or purchase on arrival. If you have your own, bring it with you if you can. Saves you the extra expenses.
There are 6 waterholes near this camping site, so it’s certainly the place to be.