Lying on the Tropic of Capricorn, Namibia is a vast but sparsely-populated country that is predominantly defined by its beautiful and eerie desert landscapes. For example, the country’s fertile central plateau, which stands at 2,000 metres above sea level is sandwiched on either side by the coastal Namib Desert, and the Kalahari, which lies inland.
A German colony until 1915, Namibia was invaded by South Africa and Britain during the Great War, after which the League of Nations issued a mandate for South Africa to administer the country, under the name South West Africa. Thanks in part to the increasing popularity of Sam Nujoma’s South West African People’s Organisation (SWAPO), the UN passed a resolution to revoke the mandate in 1978. However, South Africa held on to the country for more than a decade, before, finally, Namibia won independence in 1990.
Diamond mining remains vital to Namibia’s economy, but tourism is playing an ever-greater part – with many visitor attractions, both natural and man-made, existing up and down the country.
English is the official language of Namibia, although Afrikaans is still spoken fairly widely. Bantu and Khoi-San are the most common ethnic languages.
Namibian Dollar (NAD or N$):100cent. GBP1.00:NAD13.32. USD1.00:NAD7.03. Note: the Namibian Dollar is virtually on a par with the South African Rand, which is accepted for all transactions. (Although Namibian dollars are not, conversely, legal tender in South Africa.)
Namibia has a predominantly arid/semi-arid climate. During the hottest months (November-February), temperatures can reach the late 30s. During the colder months, the average temperature is about 20°C.
Along Namibia’s extensive coastline, there is often fog, particularly at night. Humidity is generally low, although in the far north of the country, humidity can reach 80% during the summer.
Windhoek, Namibia’s capital, boasts a delightful mix of German colonial architecture and tasteful contemporary developments, particularly along the main street, Independence Avenue. Swakopmund and Lüderitz are both similarly pleasant coastal towns, whilst the ghost town and mining museum at Kolmanskop, near Lüderitz, offers an insight into the diamond-rich colonial days.
More spectacular than its man-made attractions are Namibia’s superb array of natural landmarks. These include the vast landscapes of the Namib Desert, which reach their spectacular best among the dunes at Sossusvlei; Fish River Canyon, which claims to be the third largest canyon in the world; and the martian landscapes of Twyfelfontein.
Proudest among Namibia’s attractions, however, must be its incredible diversity of flora and fauna. Included among these are the Weltwischia Mirabilis, which is one of the oldest plants on earth, seal colonies and practically every species of game that you could wish to name, especially in the Etosha National Park.
Traditional bush arts and crafts abound throughout Namibia. Leather goods made from the hides of kudu and other animals are commonly found, as is jewellery, especially diamonds. More conventional shopping centres are found only in major towns such as Windhoek and Swakopmund.
The best bars in Windhoek include Funky Lab (very popular among the locals), Joe’s Beerhouse (run by photographer Joe Gross; as much a curio shop as a local drinking hole), and The Wine Bar (excellent for a drink at sundown with its views over the city). The most popular nightclub in Windhoek is La Dee Das.
Recommended bars in Swakopmund include Tiger Reef (a beach bar), Rafters (a sports bar) and Grunerkrantz (which is open late).
Drivers are required to have an international driving license. Traffic drives on the left. Speed limits, unless otherwise stated, are 60km/h in built-up areas and 120km/h outside built-up areas. Seatbelts must be worn at all times. Namibia is cracking down on drink-driving, although the problem is still believed to be widespread. You can easily park on the roadside, but most hotels offer secure overnight parking.
Food and Drink
Most international food is available in the major cities. However, Namibia specialises in German-influenced food, seafood, especially shellfish, and game meats, including kudu, buffalo, zebra and crocodile. A wide range of fruit and vegetables are in plentiful supply.
Windhoek Lager is brewed to traditional German standards and is available nationwide. South African wines are also freely available. Alcohol cannot be bought in supermarkets; instead you must go to the local off-license, or drankwinkel. Namibia’s water supply is safe to drink, except where otherwise stated.
Recommended restaurants in Windhoek include Abyssinia (Ethiopian food) and Cattle Baron (steakhouse). In Swakopmund, the seafood at both The Tug and The Lighthouse comes highly recommended.
Directorate of TourismPrivate Bag 13306WindhoekLevinson arcade, Capital CentreNamibiaT: +264 61 284 2178F: +264 61 221 email@example.com
AirportWindhoek’s Hosea Kutako International Airport, which is 45 kilometres (28 miles) from the city centre, welcomes Air Namibia flights to and from London, Frankfurt, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Victoria Falls and Maun in Bostwana. South Africa Airways and the budget airline Kulula.com also offer flights to and from Cape Town and Johannesburg.
Eros Airport, which is a mere 5 kilometres (3 miles) from the centre of Windhoek, offers internal flights and flights to and from South Africa.
Regional airports, for example in Swakopmund and Walvis Bay, also offer flights to and from Cape Town and Johannesburg – as well as internal flights, although these are rare.