The “Discover” series offers quick travel tips on things to do, what to eat and where to stay in cities (and the occassional country) around the world. Today, Tracey, founder of the expat travel blog Journal of a City Girl, will be sharing her guide to Namibia, a country in Southwest Africa. If you’re interested in contributing to the series, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Namibia is Africa’s little secret – tucked away in Southern Africa lies a country where the sun shines almost 300 days a year, and the landscapes are harsh and diverse but awe-inspiring. Yet few think to venture there when planning their great African adventure.
A few years ago I, along with my husband and cat, moved to the heart of Namibia, Windhoek, the country’s capital city. Both originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, relocating just north of the border was a minor adjustment but was the stepping stone that lead us to our now semi-nomadic life of working and travelling our way around the globe.
After living in the country for two years, and numerous thoroughly planned road trips later, here are my suggestions, tips, highlights and hidden gems. This guide is not here to share the obvious like go on safari, see Fish River Canyon (the second largest canyon in the world), and visit the quaint German town of Swakopmund – those are all already on the first page of any Namibian guidebook.
Whilst most countries have their iconic city’s that are destinations in themselves like London, Paris, New York, and Bangkok, Namibia as a whole is the destination. Rarely do you find tourists making the great trek into Namibia just to visit one region of the country.
Do & Explore
The best – and almost only – way to see the country is to road trip. If you want to cover everything from north to south, it will take about 17 days. Namibia truly is the ultimate road trip destination with endless open roads that lead you through desert dunes, bush veldt, mountainous terrain, wild coastlines and then to areas that look remarkably like Mars.
Tip: During peak season (June – end August) ensure you book your hire car early.
Sandboard and quad bike tour (Swakopmund) – There is no better way to acquaint yourself with the dunes than to speed up and down them on your own quad bike. Then let loose, lie down and slide down the massive peaks on your sand board (although the trudge back up is less exhilarating).
Quiver Tree Forest and Giants Playground (Keetmanshop) – When travelling between Windhoek and the south make a quick pit stop and visit the century-old Quiver trees. Then hop over to Giants Playground in the neighbouring park to walk through the maze of naturally formed cube boulders that seem to have played a giant game of Tetris.
And oobviously, no trip to Namibia would be complete without seeing their number one attraction:
Deadvlei and Sossusvlei – It is without a doubt a must see. Dune 45 is the first major (and most popular) dune in the park as well as being the most conveniently placed to see the sunrise. Make sure to drive deeper into the park (some off-roading will be required) in search of the Big Daddy Dune. You will need to take the 2-hour climb to the top to find the rewarding 360 degree panoramic outlook over the entire desert and an eagle eyes view straight down into Deadvlei.
It’s at this point you will want to ensure you capture every towering terracotta dune blazing against the clear sky and every parched skeleton Acacia tree. But don’t forget to take a moment, put the camera down and absorb the vastness and the haunting silence.
Eat & Drink
Namibian cuisine is hearty, with a strong German and South African influence. If you are a meat lover you have found your place. There are some really good restaurants, but you can count them all – from across the country – on your fingers and toes, so you have to know where to go.
Anchors @ the Jetty (Walvis Bay Waterfront) – Along the tiny harbour lies the best seafood restaurant. Go hungry as they are not shy with their portions. Booking is essential, especially on the weekends.
Corner of 62nd (c/o Fidel Castro & 62 Bismarck Street)- This is hands down the finest restaurant in the capital city, Windhoek. The lamb shank is their signature dish and it is well worth the praise.
Hotel Heinitzburg (22 Heinitzburg Street) – Towering above the capital city is a 19th century castle that now serves as a hotel and the perfect place to have a drink and watch the sunset.
N/a ‘an ku se Lodge – A 45-minute drive out of Windhoek brings you to a haven of amazing cuisine, intimate surroundings and tranquillity. It is a wildlife sanctuary, a luxury lodge and restaurant. They are open 7 days a week, but their Sunday buffet is well worth the drive out. Booking is essential.
Moose McGregors Bakery (middle of nowhere) – In a town with less than 100 residents that comprises of literally just a gas station, a post office and a bakery, you’ll find a bakery renowned for having the best apple pie. Make sure to stop in at Solitaire for some pie when on route to Sossusvlei.
Relax & Sleep
Gondwana Collection has affordable and conveniently located lodges near all the main tourist attractions. As a city girl who does not rough it, I have stayed in many of their lodges across Namibia and was never disappointed.
Tip: If you are a citizen of a SADC country you can apply for a Gondwana card which entitles you to huge discounts on accommodation, meals and activities at all their lodges, all year round.
One of our most memorable lodge experiences was at their Dune Star Camp just outside of Sossusvlei national park. It is like glamping taken to the next level. Each eco-friendly cabin has a comfy queen size bed on wheels which you can roll onto your private veranda and sleep under the stars. And since you are situated in the middle of the desert there are no bugs, mosquitos and rarely the threat of rain to interrupt your sleep.
One (or three) Things Not To Do
Don’t bother eating at Joe’s Beerhouse in Windhoek. By all means, pop in for a local beer as it’s rather eclectic but the food is average and overpriced.
Don’t forget to fill up with gas at every available opportunity as you never know how far the next station will be and if they will even have gas.
Don’t forget to carry some cash with you as gas stations across the country don’t accept cards.
We have seen and lived in our fair share of countries and cities, but every now and then we experience a place that takes our breath away in the true sense of the word. A place photos don’t do justice. You need to experience it, feel the soul of the land to understand its beauty – Namibia is one of those places.