Swakopmund, known as Swakop in Namibia is the country's biggest coastal town and a resort for Namibians on holiday. The city's German origins are quite pronounced in beautiful old German colonial buildings throughout the city, making an even starker contrast for this town sitting at the edge of the Namib Desert. Swakopmund is like a German North Sea town with an African flair (or vice versa).
The first European explorers of the area, Dutchmen Sebastian van Reenen and Pieter Pienaar described the area in 1793 as one with lush vegetation and elephants and rhinos. Nowadays the area can be described as ocean on one side and desert on the other, featuring some shrubs as the only natural vegetation.
About a century after the Dutch exploration, the area was a colony of the German Empire, and was chosen as a second port for German Southwest Africa after Lüderitz. The architects decided that Swakopmund should resemble the German homeland as much as possible, wherefore the city now looks at it does. The boom period of the city continued until the outbreak of World War I. This also interrupted the construction of the massive pier, nowadays one of the city's main sights. After the war, the colony became a League of Nations mandate, later a de facto part of South Africa and Swakopmund mostly a city in decline.
Since the independence of Namibia in 1990, the city has established itself as a resort town. It's the fourth most populous city in the country, and popular among domestic and German vacationers.
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Swakopmund has a mild desert climate, with the temperature varying only a little during the year. The town sees only about 20 mm of rain around the year, but instead thick fog is a frequent occurrence. This is also why the Namibian coast is infamous for its shipwrecks. In addition to bringing needed moisture for the vegetation, the fog is also able to drop the temperature below +10°C in the winter.
Swakopmund was used as the setting for The Village in the 2008 production of The Prisoner by AMC and ITV. Its quaint buildings and unusual appearance made a perfect replacement for Portmeirion where the original 1960's series of The Prisoner was set.
The best way to get to Swakopmund is by road from Windhoek. The B2 is the main road from Windhoek (362 km inland), and takes 4-5 hours by car. Walvis Bay, the closest major city, is 35 km to the south, also next to B2. The road is paved and in good condition.
From elsewhere, you need to take a "C"-road. C34 goes north along the coast from Skeleton Coast National Park, and is a dangerous drive due to the aforementioned thick fog. There are also two roads that are more of dirt tracks, but interesting if you want to see some of the Namibian outback and have a 4WD vehicle; C28 coming in from Windhoek via the Namib-Naukluft National Park and C14 connecting to Walvis Bay.
Swakopmund does have an airport, but it's just used by the local skydiving club and for some charter flights. The closest airport for with passenger traffic is 35km away near Walvis Bay, and you can fly there from Johannesburg and Cape Town by South African Airways and Air Namibia; the latter also has flights from the capital Windhoek. Some hotels and guest houses will provide a shuttle service to/from the Walvis Bay airport. Otherwise, there are a couple of local shuttle services — The Flying Coffee Pot (+264 811 287455) and Raiwin Shuttle Service (+264 81 273 9309) — that do the trip between Swakopmund and the airport for around N$200. Bookings can be made through the shuttle service's website.
If you have more money to spend, there are numerous small aircraft charter operators in Namibia, and flying from destination to destination on a tour through Namibia is an effective way to minimize the time spent travelling the long distances.
Minibuses operate from Windhoek almost every 2-3 hours, ask the taxi drivers where the buses leave. There are multiple minibus ranks in Windhoek for different destinations, so make sure you find the right one. For about N$120 you can have a ride in an minibus. The ride will take about 4-6 hours. Pay immediately and try to get yourself a seat next to the driver for a bit more space.
Although the minibuses are slightly cheaper and are an experience, they have no fixed time schedule and are often overloaded. So check out these operators:
- Intercape operates a service from Windhoek via Okahandja. Intercape service also extends to South Africa and Zimbabwe.
- Econolux Tel +264 64 205935.
- Town Hoppers Shuttle Service - Based in Swakopmund, they travel daily 08h00 from Swakopmund and 14h30 from Windhoek. This is a mini bus, 14 seater, air conditioned bus with all necessary insurances. Friendly and helpful drivers and office staff. You can contact them - +264 64 407223 or email@example.com
The StarLine service between Windhoek and Walvis Bay runs on weekdays. Trains leave Windhoek in the evening and arrive in Swakopmund early in the morning, if they are on time. Bring a jacket, as it can get quite cold in the night. There is a first and second class but no sleeper.
The RMS St Helena makes regular round-trips from St Helena Island to Cape Town via Walvis Bay. Catch a taxi from Walvis Bay to Swakopmund. However, as the airport on St Helena will open in May 2016, flights will entirely replace the ship route.
Occasionally cruise liners visit Walvis Bay, and passengers may take a tour to Swakopmund.
On a tour or safari
Swakopmund is a frequent one or two night stop on most tours around Namibia. There are many tour operator doing tours both from Namibia and from outside, such as South Africa.
As with other Namibian cities, there is no public transport in Swakopmund. But the city is small enough to get around easily on foot. All the major attractions and facilities are downtown. It´s hard to get a taxi in city centre (there are no taxis on a Saturday after 7PM), but once you get one it takes you wherever you want for the same rate as the Windhoek Taxis. A trip to Walvis Bay shouldn´t be more than N$40.
Much of the downtown is built in early 20th-century German style.
- Woermannhaus, Bismarck Street. A German half-timbered house in the colors of the desert with a 25m high tower and arcaded inner yard. Built by the German trading company Woermann in 1905 as their headquarters for German Southwest Africa. In 1972 the building was declared a national historic landmark and nowadays it functions as a public library.
- Swakopmund Jetty. Jutting 300m out in the Atlantic Ocean. Originally it was smaller and built out of wood. Later on, the current concrete jetty was built, but after WWI it fell into disuse. Renovated in 2005, it is a popular attraction, especially for viewing the sunset.
- Old railway station and casino, Bahnhof Street. Built in the Wilhelminian style in 1902 as a railway station for the new line to Windhoek, it nowadays hosts the Swakopmund Hotel, exhibition centre and casino.
- Altes Gefängnis. Built in 1909, it still functions as a prison. However, it's built in the same style as much as the rest of downtown (much prettier than a modern prison) and has been a national historic landmark since 1973.
- Haus Hohenzollern, Moltke and Brücken street. An Art Nouveau building constructed in 1906 as a luxurious hotel, today it is an apartment building.
- State House (Kaiserliches Bezirksgericht), Am Zoll Street. Built as a courthouse in 1902, nowadays it is the Swakopmund residence of the Namibian president.
- Lutheran Church. Built by the Germans in 1912, this Evangelical-Lutheran church is another building which looks like it has been transplanted from somewhere in Germany.
- Barracks (Kaserne), Bismarck Street. Built in 1903 as housing for the troops of the engineer corps who constructed much of the early infrastructure. The lobby is decorated with German coats of arms. Nowadays the building functions as a youth hostel.
- Kristall Galerie (Crystal Gallery), corner of Tobias Hainyeko and Theo-Ben Gurirab Ave, ☎ +264 64 406080. M-Sa 9:00-17:00. The world's largest quartz crystal and many other gems and minerals are on display. The gallery also has two shops where you can buy some crystals as souvenirs. N$20.
- Martin Luther Steam Engine, Hwy B2. A road locomotive abandoned in the desert just outside Swakopmund. Imported in 1896 to pull freight in the region, replacing oxens, it wasn't even able to travel the way from the port of Walvis Bay to Swakopmund, where it was supposed to be based, before breaking down in the desert. It was left there and soon became an odd attraction. It has been renovated a couple of times, and a protective building was built around it.
- The National Marine Aquarium of Namibia, Strand St (near the corner of Swakop St & Strand). Tu-Su 10:00-16:00. Rays, turtles, sharks and other marine life can be seen here. There is a daily feeding at 15:00. N$30.
- Swakopmund Museum, Strand St (between the beach and lighthouse), ☎ +264 64 402695. 10:00-17:00. The largest private museum in the country, founded in 1951. It showcases the cultural and natural history of the region from prehistoric time to the colonial period. Included among the exhibits is a reconstructed 19th-century cheimist shop - cover a child's eyes, because some of what is "on sale" is aesthetically — and historically — difficult to look at. N$25 adults, N$10 children.
- The Marine Monument. Memorial to the German soldiers who died during the campaign against the Herero People between 1904-07.
Swakopmund is Namibia's adventure capital, and there's a great selection of activities to try out on land, sea and in the air. Tours and activities may also be booked once you're in Swakopmund.
The impressive Namib Desert (the oldest desert in the world, with the tallest sand dune in the world) around Swakopmund and the Skeleton Coast to the north can be appreciated in their entirety from the air, from a hot air balloon, a helicopter or a light plane. There are several kinds of flight tours are available, ranging from a few hours to a few days. Some flights enables you to see the desert and the ocean from above, others include safaris.
If you're really adventurous, your other options are paragliding (also beginner courses available) as well as skydiving — learn to jump from concerned, compassionate professionals in one of the cheapest, best skydiving schools on earth. The tour usually starts with a scenic flight and then a tandem jump with an instructor from 3000m.
Many locals don't come to Swakopmund to hang out in the desert. Hang with the Namibians away on school holiday and go to the beach. You'll find cold water, but warm sands. The beach, just to the north of town, is ringed with museums and cafes. Beware that further south there are no breakwaters, so the beach is exposed directly to the waves of the Atlantic, which means that swimming may not be safe.
Surfing is popular too. Hit the surf spots to the north of town, such as 'Thick Lip' and 'The Wreck'. Travel further south towards Langstrad for 'Guns'. Fishing is a more relaxed sea-related activity and tour companies also offer offshore fishing tours.
Also the desert has many different activities, one local specialty being sandboarding, also known as duneboarding. You can ski the dunes just like you're snowboarding, or ride the board on your belly. Extremely high speeds — not for the faint hearted. This activity can be performed either on the world's highest sand dunes near Walvis Bay or some smaller dunes near Swakopmund. Alter Action has access to the infamous "Dizzy" hill. Tight clothing, sport shoes, sunglasses and sunblock are needed to take part in this activity. Beware that sand may damage your camera; though usually the price includes the operator taking video and photos of you performing the activity and giving you the footage.
Quadbiking is an excellent way to see the Namib desert close up. Several tour companies offer lessons and guided tours on four-wheel motorbikes through the desert surrounding the city. Breathtaking views of the dunes and the Atlantic Ocean.
- Dune 7 Sandboarding, ☎ +264 64 220881, fax: +264 64 220881, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Quadbike to take you up; Snacks and Drinks incl. N$ 350.
Just south of town on the road to Walvis Bay, there are some nice sand dunes suitable for a walk. Cross over the Swakop River, smile at the fact that there's rarely any visible water in it, and stroll through the dunes.
There are several birding locations in the town. At the Swakop River mouth there is a small fresh water lagoon which always has good birds to see. In the town there is the water treatment area. This is more for the twitcher (birders chasing rare birds) looking for rare birds. It is only open on working hours on week days. North of the town is the Mile 4 salt works. Some roads go along the open saline lakes where the salt is being extracted. This area is very important for various birds, including flamingos.
Other than this, there are also tours to the natural attractions mentioned in the Go next section.
- Outback Orange, Nathaniël Maxuilili, ☎ +264 64 400968. This company offers all sorts of activities from sandboarding and skydiving to fishing and horse riding.
- Okakambe Trails, Horse Rides, ☎ +264 64 402799. About 8km outside Swakop.
- Camel Safaris, ☎ +264 64 400363. About 8km outside Swakop.
- EHRA, ☎ +264 64 402 501, e-mail: email@example.com. Elephant Human Relations Aid, a local NGO offering desert elephant conservation trips.
In the city
Swakop has an unusual number of skilled rock musicians and an impromptu "Open Mike Night" can usually be organized at one of the local nightspots. Travelling musicians take note!
Also, in addition to being located in the beautiful Woermannhaus, the library of Swakopmund is reportedly one of the best in all of Africa; why not sit down and educate yourself?
Many Namibians travel to Swakopmund for shopping. While the selection is not as wide as in the capital, you can really buy everything you need here. There are several nice shops in Swakop selling souvenirs and art; in particular if you're interested in traditional African silver jewelry. There is also a very good craft market near the lighthouse, which has a lot of items which are difficult to find elsewhere in Namibia.
- Brauhaus Arcade. Shopping arcade with all kinds of small shops housed in typical German turn of the century buildings.
- Leder Chic (leather boutique for ostrich, kudu and buffalo leather articles), Brauhaus Arcade, (Centre of town in Hendrik Witbooi St.), ☎ +264 64 404778. from 9h00 to 18h00. Luggage and leather retail shop, the finest ostrich and kudu wallets and purses. Modern zebra skin belts, ostrich and kudu leather belts as well as designer handbags in springbok, kudu, nguni, buffalo and ostrich leather.
- Open market, Am Zoll. Traditional African street market. Bargain hard; if you're an obvious tourist the vendor typically gives you a price 3-4 times higher.
- Shoprite, Sam Nujoba Ave. Food and household item supermarket.
- Woermann Brock Mall, Ankerplatz. A more westernized mall with more expensive items (souvenirs and other products). Here you can also find an Internet cafe and a supermarket.
Typical local cuisine, insofar as it exists, is a combination of the hearty German cuisine and fish and seafood of the ocean. Being a resort city, many restaurants are located in hotels. For some of the most popular ones you will need to book a few days ahead, especially on weekends and holidays.
An average sit-down restaurant meal costs around N$150-300, and on top of that it's customary to leave a tip of 10%.
- BOJOs Cafe, C34. Cafe with different menus every day, updated on their Facebook page.
- Cafe Tiffany, Libertina Amathila Avenue. Fresh fish, good wine, reasonable prices. The locals eat here!
- Café Anton (at the Schweizerhaus Hotel). Great for an all-you-can-eat breakfast. In the daytime they have delicious cakes; reportedly, the Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte is even better than what you can get in Germany! Around N$60.
- Restaurant Europe (at the Hotel Europa Hof). According to some, the best fish and seafood restaurant in town, large servings too. Do book your table beforehand, because it's a popular place.
- Napolitana, 33 Nathanael Maxuilili, ☎ +264 64 402773. An Italian restaurant with both Italian food and steaks and game. Large servings.
- Namib Restaurant, 13 Luderitz St, ☎ +264 64 404896. German cuisine with great service. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- Zur Weinmaus, Poststraße. Very friendly host. Not many tables, so make a reservation.
- De Kelder, Tobias Hainyeko Street. A little bit hidden, does not look attractive from outside. But everything else is perfect!
- The Tug Restaurant, Strand Street (at the jetty), ☎ +264 64 402356, fax: +264 64 402356, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. A great seafood restaurant, with a wide wine selection. It is an actual tug with a great view of the sea - reservations are essential. Rather expensive.
- The Jetty 1905. At end of the pier, fish and chips, sushi, tapas, good wine list and whisky Don Pedro's, +264 64 5664 for reservations.
- Kückis Pub, Tobias Hainyeko 22, ☎ +264 64 404207. Warm and enjoyable atmosphere with great service. Limited menu, but interesting dishes (shark steak, etc) and very well prepared.
This is Jägermeister country and don't forget to sample the famous, locally brewed Hansa Draught.
- Bacchus Taverne, 44 Bismarck Street (opposite Europa Hof). Likely the coziest bar in Swakopmund. It has a good selection of pub snacks and is affordable too.
- Tiger Reef, Südstrand Street. Beach bar, excellent place for a sundowner on the beach. Go to the aquaruim and walk along the beach in the direction of Walvis Bay. Grab a bottle of bubbly for the amazing sunset (Locally called sundowners)
- Grunerkrantz (Gruniz Night Club), 13 Anton Lubowski street. Located above Cape to Cairo. This is where everyone comes for their late night drink.
- Alternative Space Guesthouse,, Anton-Lubosfki St 167 (Krammersdorf), ☎ +264 402713, e-mail: email@example.com. The place is out of the ordinary.If you are looking for a place with a difference stay here. N$600.
- Desert Sky Backpackers Lodge, 35 Lazaret St (at the corner of Breit St), ☎ +264 64 402339. Five minute walk from downtown and the beach; clean, friendly owner; N$30 for WiFi internet access; and camping area. N$150 camping, N$190/person for a dorm, N$540 for a double room.
- Dünenblick self-catering apartments, riverside av 37 and rhode allee no 5 (overlooking the namib dunes and close to the beach, opposite the Swakopmund jetty), ☎ +264 81 1290489, +264 81 149 0449, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 14h00, check-out: 10h00. Luxury apartments, stylishly decorated in contemporary look, with all the comforts possible. Including full DSTV and Internet , well situated with sea view or dune view. All within walking distance to the centre of town. From N$900.00 per apartment.
- Brauer & Grolms Private Accommodation Swakopmund, Fischreiherstreet 8, ☎ +264(0)64 461684, +264 81 3290 736, fax: +264 64 464198, e-mail: email@example.com. Flats with kitchen and shower. Grill garden, Internet, Skype, TV inclusive. one sleeping room three beds N$600, two sleeping rooms four beds N$800.
- The Secret Garden Guesthouse, 36 Bismarck St (in the old town), ☎ +264 64404037. Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 10:30AM. Six standard double en suite rooms, three comfort double en-suite rooms and two suites. Breakfast is included and the guesthouse has a bistro restaurant for evening meals. Secure parking is available. N$500+.
- Villa Wiese Backpackers, Cnr. Theo-Ben Gurirab & Windhoeker Street, ☎ +264 64 407105, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Another great backpackers. Plus they have their own bar. dorms R185.
- Vogelstrand Guest House, 33 Tsavorite St, Vogelstrand, ☎ +264 64 403287. Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 10:00. Intimate family run bed and breakfast guest house with six rooms. Continental or health breakfast with an array of dishes made from local produce. The outside areas are designed in a quiet country courtyard style. From N$690.
- Swakopmund Youth hostel, Lazarett street (housed in the Alte Kaserne.), ☎ 64-404164. dorm beds N$120.
- Skeleton Beach Backpackers., 14 Moses Garoeb street, ☎ 25-9485. dorm beds. N$150.
- Amanpuri Travelers Lodge, Moses Garoeb street, ☎ 64-405587. has dorms beds N$180.
- Swakop Lodge, 42 Nathaniël Maxuilili, ☎ +264 64 402030, fax: +264 64 405016, e-mail: email@example.com. Dorm beds. Popular among those travelling on overland trucks. Still, there are some quite nice and clean rooms (though ask to see the room first). Restaurant, Internet cafe, laundry service N$30, guarded parking lot, kitchen. N$150.
- By the Beach, Swanlamer 12, ☎ +264 64 405 442, +264 81 244 6336, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. A new self catering accommodation service offering affordable luxury, with sea views, coffee/tea, DSTV in master bedroom and lounge, indoor BBQ. From N$550 per unit, sleeping up to 6 people.
- Sandcastle Apartments, Woker St 4, ☎ +264 (0) 64 40 36 32, e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 10AM. N$ 450.
- Sophia Dale Base Camp, Street 1901 Plot 173, ☎ +264 (0) 64 40 3264, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Sunny and cosy camping and bungalows 12km from Swakopmund, in the lush area of Swakop River.
- Swakopmund Municipal Bungalows, Cnr Hendrik Witbooi and Swakop Street, ☎ +264 64 4104333. Selection ranging from tiny two bedroom units (approximately N$250 a night) to luxury bungalows (TV, stove, etc.) at N$650-700 a night. Walking distance to town
- Hotel Schweizerhaus, 1 Bismarck Strasse, ☎ +264 64 400331, +264 64 400332, +264 64 400333, fax: +264 64 405850, e-mail: email@example.com.
- Hotel Eberwein, Sam Nujoma Avenue, ☎ +264 64 41 44 50, fax: +264 64 41 44 51, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Strand Hotel, Vineta St, ☎ +264 64 400 315, fax: +264 64 404 942, e-mail: email@example.com. Scheduled to reopen in October 2015.
- Prinzessin Rupprecht Heim, Sam Nujoma Avenue, ☎ +264 64 412540, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Stiltz, Am Zoll. Luxurious with a very romantic setting.
- Hansa Hotel, 3 Hendrik Witbooi Street, ☎ +264 64 414 200, fax: +264 64 414 299, e-mail: email@example.com.
- Swakopmund Hotel & Entertainment Center Alter Bahnhof, Mandume Ya Ndemufayo, ☎ +264 64 410 5200, fax: +264 64 410 5360/1/2, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. It's a 4 star luxury hotel, built in and around the impeccably restored old station building. Includes casino, pool and restaurant. From N$940 per room, incl. breakfast.
Swakopmund is generally a safe city, though you should follow some basic rules:
- Don't leave valuables visible in your car.
- Park at guarded parking lots if possible. It's customary to tip the guards N$2-3 per day and N$5 per night.
- Avoid walking alone at night.
- Strangers that may come and talk to you on the street are often up to no good.
- Sunburn is a real risk for everyone (you're in the tropics!). Also, be aware of forceful waves when swimming in the Atlantic.
- Swakopmund I-cafe, Tobias Hainyeko (Woermann & Brock Mall). Mo-Sa 7-22, Su 10-22. The only Internet cafe in town.
- Swakopmund is a good starting point for trips up the Skeleton Coast. A good day-trip would be south from Swakop to Walvis Bay, Namibia's port town. The road to Walvis Bay provides good views of the Namib dunes meeting the Atlantic.
- 120 km north of Swakopmund lies Cape Cross, where every October to December about 100,000 of the Cape Fur Seals breed. The sight and the noise (and also the smell) is absolutely breathtaking! The name Cape Cross comes from a stone cross erected 1486 by the Portuguese Diego Cáo. Entry fee to the nature reserve is N$10. Accommodation at the Cape Cross Lodge.
- For hobby botanists a half day trip to the south east will take you to the legendary Welwitschia mirabilis plants. In a place where there is no rain for decades the only water source this plant uses is humidity. Welwitschia can become over 1000 years old and only live in this part of the Namib desert, 40 to 120 km away from the coast. Take the Welwitschia drive that starts 50 km east of Swakopmund. Be careful not to walk too close to the plants (roots easily destroyed) or even take plants with you, the species is highly endangered!