There is nothing to prepare you for the profusion and mixture of scenery, wildlife, and the sheer enormity of elemental landscapes that await you in Namibia. Animals gathering around watering holes in Etosha National Park. The huge granite intrusion of Spitzkoppe dominating the endless desert landscape. Miles and miles of windswept beaches along the Skeleton Coast, or the enormous burnt-red sand dunes at Sossusvlei. Namibia is truly a land of vast, untold beauty.
The people here are equally incredible. Namibia, like most countries in Africa, was colonized in the late 1800s, first under German control until 1915, and by South Africa after that. A guerrilla war against the South African occupation started in 1966, and the country eventually gained its independence in 1990. Since then, Namibia has done remarkably well, due largely to the commitment of its eclectic mix of peoples to making the unified country work.
If you visit Namibia, you may come across and meet the Himba people who have maintained their traditional nomadic ways, as well as the San Bushmen. There’s also the (incredibly!) German colonial feel of Bavarian Swakopmund, complete with half-timbered houses. You’ll pinch yourself if you visit the town—as you may think you are actually in Bavaria! German is still widely spoken in Swakopmund, along with Afrikaans and English.
Namibia’s people consist of 11 major ethnic groups scattered throughout the country, with a general acceptance of diversity. From the nomadic Himba to the urban elite, Namibia today is largely free of tribal conflict. At a 1993 conference on tribalism, Prime Minister Hage Geingob summarized the issue by saying, “for too long we have thought of ourselves as Hereros, Namas, Afrikaaners, Germans, Ovambos. We must now start to think of ourselves as Namibians.” The Namibian population is estimated to be just under 2.5 million. These days, Namibia is renowned for its diverse cultures. It is also one of the least populated countries in the world. All those vast, open spaces with little traffic makes it perfect for biking—all roads leading us to a wonderful variety of peoples and landscapes.
Windhoek: Namibia’s Capital
In precolonial times, this area was known to the Khoisan people for its hot springs, which are still a feature of the town. Jonker Afrikaaner established the first settlement in the Klein Windhoek valley in 1840. Two missionaries were invited to the flourishing settlement in 1842, and reported back that a church big enough to seat 500 people had been built here, as well as established gardens and irrigated fields. For the next 20 years, the community prospered as the centre of commerce between the Herero and the Oorlam/Nama. After Jonker Afrikaner’s death, his followers dispersed and the settlement was abandoned.
In 1890, the Germans were being given the runaround by another powerful Nama leader, Hendrik Witbooi, whose face adorns the country’s banknotes. The Germans serendipitously retreated to Windhoek, an area that was under no particular rule at the time due to the death of the ruling Herero leader. By the time the next Herero chief had been anointed and the clan returned to the region, the Germans had already half-completed a fort. The settlement went from strength to strength and, with the completion of the railway line from Swakopmund to Windhoek in 1902, things were figuratively and literally “full steam ahead” for the Germans to expand and make Windhoek the commercial and cultural centre of the colony.
In the 1960s, the capital was further developed to pursue the apartheid policies of South Africa, who saw Namibia as their fifth province. Forced removals were instigated and the Katatura (“the place we do not like to live”) and Khomasdal townships were created with black and coloured townships respectively. Today, these divisions are still largely in place, albeit solely along economic lines.
Things to Do in Windhoek
You can literally spend half a day here! The quality of the craftsmanship is outstanding and one will definitely do some shopping as they have some beautiful and unusual things. From handmade Himba perfumes to prints that replicate San rock art, to contemporary artwork, baskets, weaving and textiles, beading—you name it, and you are likely to find whatever craft at one of the stalls! If you have only one day in Windhoek, this is where you should go.
This museum will be of interest to anyone remotely fascinated in geology & palaeontology, featuring rocks, fossils, minerals and even meteorites. Even better, admission is free!
Worth visiting to get a handle on the more recent history of the country—from the anti-colonial struggle to its independence.
Where to eat in Windhoek
Our favourite place to stay in Windhoek, this hotel features a great in-house restaurant featuring seasonal ingredients in a well-appointed, yet informal setting.
Also home to the Namibian Institute of Culinary Education (NICE), you will find a great restaurant and bar here, a popular choice in town.
With lovely piazza-style setting, complete with a central courtyard fountain. With excellent food and a tremendous diversity of wines (mostly South African). This is another popular local spot to frequent!
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This article was originally published by Private Trip Adviser, Michele Hervey from our good friends and Virtuoso partner – Butterfield & Robinson. Butterfield & Robinson designs and runs the world’s most immersive, inspiring and unforgettable journeys. Crafted from the finest ingredients (exceptional lodgings, incomparable insider access, stellar food and wine, and more than 50 years of experience), B&R trips combine adventure with unparalleled cultural immersion in the world’s greatest destinations. For more information on Butterfield and Robinsons products and services please contact Travel Masters today!