The bustling capital of Namibia is a city that proudly wears its history on its sleeve. Buildings, monuments and neighborhoods not only weave a narrative of the local histories and cultures, but it also makes for fascinating sightseeing.
Welcome to Windhoek!
The city is clean, well organized and fairly easy to navigate, making it ideal for walking tours and casual sightseeing. There are few must-visit sites in Windhoek that are all the more interesting when you know a bit of their back story.
This bustling main road cuts through the city centre and on it you will be able to take in the Gibeon Meteorites. 31 of the original 77 meteorites that fell near the town of Gibeon in Southern Namibia have been crafted into an unusual but beautiful piece of municipal art near the Sanlam Building on Independence Avenue. Thought to be over 4 billion years old, the 150 tons of space debris fom part of the largest meoteorite shower in the world.
At the intersection of Independence Avenue and John Meinhert Street, you’ll find the bronze kudu statue, one of Windhoek's best loved statues. This popular landmark and meeting place was unveiled in 1960 and symbolizes a “spirit of hope” and a “shared passion for the beautiful abundance of the country's wild.”
The Christus Kirche
Head up the avenue toward the iconic Christus Kirche church, located on a traffic island in the middle of Robert Mugabe Drive. Take in its curved gables, quartz sandstone walls and elements of Neo Gothic and Art Nouveau, and you will understand why it is often used as the face of Windhoek, on countless postcards and brochures.
The church’s clock and three bells were imported from Germany, as was the stained glass that was manufactured in Nuremberg and was a gift from the Emperor Wilhelm II.
The Christus Kirche.
Visitors to Windhoek are increasingly taking the opportunity to visit the thriving township of Katutura, which itself has a fascinating history linked to the country’s colonial past.
When the League of Nations made Namibia a South African protectorate, many of the apartheid policies and strategies were applied to the city of Windhoek, such as the policy for “separate development”, and in the 1950’s, township areas for the various ethnic groups were created, with a view to keeping the city segregated.
The local black population was relocated to the township of Katutura, a name that means "the place where we do not want to settle". The plans ignited great opposition, eventually culminating in a bloody confrontation on Dec 10, 1959, a date that is today commemorated as “Human Rights Day” in memory of the 13 people who lost their lives.
The Katutura of 1968 consisted of about 4000 standardized rental houses without water and electricity organized into sections of five different ethnic groups. Each house had a living area of 45qm and a large letter on the door symbolizing the tribe (D = Damara, H = Herero etc.). If you look carefully, you can still see some of the letters on the walls to this day.
Jerusalem street, Katatura.
Windhoek's total population is currently around 300 000 people, about 60% of these people live in Katutura. There are many suburbs of Katutura with poignant names such as Soweto, Havana, Babylon and Wanaheda. But residents of the townships have built these neighborhoods into vibrant, prosperous locales that can give visitors a unique insight into Namibian life.
Meat markets and craft centres
Take a guided tour through the lively meat market at Single Quarters, where visitors can have a taste of “kapana”, the local road-side barbecue that is the snack of choice for many Namibians. Or drop in at Soweto market, a commercial centre where small businesses such as seamstresses, vendors and hairdressers thrive.
A local vendor preparing kapana.
Another popular stop is the Penduka Women’s Centre. This non-governmental development organisation aims to empower disadvantaged or disabled women in Namibia by giving them a place to make beautiful hand-crafted souvenirs. In the Oshiwambo and Otjiherero languages the word Penduka means “wake up”.
Arts and crafts...
...made by the women at the Penduka Women's Centre.
For the more daring, visit the infamous Eveline Street – the street that never sleeps. Lined with an array of shebeens (bars), hairdressers & other informal traders, its worth the visit if only to see the quirky names of the bars.
Eating out in Windhoek
Windhoek offers its visitors a plethora of dining options- the international cuisine at places like Stellenbosch Wine bar or the ethnic fare to be found at Xwama in Katutura and the “Penduka” restaurant.
Xwama- fusion culture, fusion food!
While in Namibia, visitors can step out of their gastronomical comfort-zones and get a taste for the local cuisine- from mopane worms, to the local brew omalodhu or more hearty foods like springbok and kudu steaks.
For more great food ideas, take a look at our post on where to eat in Windhoek.
Mopane worms- in a tin.
Go on, try one.
For those who find themselves in Windhoek en-route elsewhere, it can be so much more than just a stopover. Whether you prefer to explore with a guide or on foot, with family or alone, it can offer a memorable, enjoyable Namibian experience.
Picturesque- Parliament Gardens in Windhoek.
For many visitors to Namibia, its vast desert landscape is the subject of striking photos, a backdrop for wildlife watching, a giant playground for off-roading, sandboarding and trekking. But for those who have lived here for centuries, the desert is their larder, their hardware store, their pharmacy… and even their cosmetics counter.
Strewn throughout the arid terrain are valuable plants which produce scented resins, moisturising oils and soothing balms. Himba women – widely regarded for their beauty and incredible hairstyles and body adornments – favour a myrrh resin from the commiphora plant, which they call omumbiri. The resin is gathered during the dry season, mixed with red ochre and animal fat, and stored in small containers made of cow horn. The women rub this paste into their bodies, giving them their characteristic red skin, and the rich, warm aroma of myrrh.
The Himba women stain their skin with the red paste, scented with myrrh, Photo by Mikael Castro
But now the secrets of the Himba perfume are being shared with the world. The Namibian Essential Oil Challenge competition was launched in order to encourage Namibians to create cosmetic products from omumbiri. Working with communities including the Himba, who know how to harvest the resin sustainably, the innovative participants produced an enormous range of products just from this one essential oil, including lip balm, soap, body scrubs, skin oils, body butters, incense and air fresheners.
In order to bring these delicious smelling products to a wider audience, a small factory has been opened in Opuwo, Kunene, to extract the myrrh oil. A visitor’s centre is also under construction, which will educate visitors about the harvesting and extraction process and offer a tour of the factory. There will also be a shop selling cosmetics, oils, incense and soaps produced by Namibian artisans.
A Himba woman grinds ochre to make the traditional perfumed red paste, Photo by Mikael Castro
The project continues to monitor the harvesting process to ensure that it is being carried out sustainably and that the plants are not being over-exploited. At the same time, the income supports local communities who have little other means of income generation, and encourages them to manage their natural resources and environment so that harvesting can continue into the future.
More cosmetics to sample in Namibia
!Nara seed oil: The !Nara melon is harvested as a valuable food source by the Topnaar people living along the Kuiseb River. The seeds of the melon are pressed to extract the rich oils – which have been used for centuries by these desert-dwellers to protect their skin against the harsh, arid climate. !Nara oil is now available in various products such as soaps, creams and skin peels – so you too can benefit from the ancient moisturising secrets of the Topnaars!
- Baobab oil: This characteristic African tree is more than just a pretty sight – the oil extracted from its seeds is rich in vitamins and extremely moisturising. It is also used to treat mild skin complaints, and some women in Africa may use it to treat their hair.
!Nara seed oil products on sale in Swakopmund
The competition was organized with financial support from the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA-Namibia) and the Natural Resources Institute at the University of Greenwich.
The winning products – Sophia Snyman’s “Desert Secret” and Tamarind Nott’s - ‘Rare Scent” will be handed out to delegates during the 2013 Adventure Travel World Summit, held in October in Namibia.
Shop for Namibian essential oil and resin products in Windhoek’s Craft Centre and Maerua Mall, and Swakopmund’s Kubatsirana Arts and Crafts Shop.
Swakopmund is known as Namibia's adventure tourism capital - but in between surfing down sand dunes, kayaking with seals and quad biking across the coastal desert, it's worth taking a day to explore some of the town's more urban pleasures. Here's five of our favourite:
1. National Marine Aquarium of Namibia
Main tank at the aquarium, where sharks swim above your head
The newly-renovated attraction showcases the marine species that thrive in the South Atlantic's chilly Benguela Current. The centrepiece is a large aquarium filled with fish and sharks, and the walk-through tunnel that allows visitors to get scarily close to these fearsome creatures.
Colourful panels give information about Namibia's fishing industry and local species such as Cape fur seals. There is a tank containing rays, and at 3pm each day the fish are fed. Try and visit on a Tuesday, Saturday or Sunday - and you'll see divers in the large aquarium feeding the sharks by hand!
Open: Tuesday - Sunday, 10am - 4pm
Closed: Mondays, Christmas day and New Year's day
Feeding: Daily at 3pm
Feeding by divers: Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays
2. Living Desert Snake Park
Though feared by many, snakes are actually surprisingly hard to spot in Namibia. So it'll be a relief for serpent fans to know that many of Namibia's native species can be seen - and photographed - in Swakopmund, at the Living Desert Snake Park. This compact reptile house has aquariums containing numerous venomous and non-venomous snakes, as well as geckos, scorpions, and even a couple of huge monitor lizards. Stuart Hebbard, who founded the Snake Park almost two decades ago, is happy to chat about the various species he cares for, and visitors can see the snakes being fed each Saturday.
Hebbard hopes to move the Snake Park to a new, larger location this year, including a walk-in cage allowing guests to get up close to the safer species! Watch this space for more information.
Western diamond-backed rattlesnake at Swakopmund's Living Desert Snake Park
3. Swakopmund Museum
This museum, founded in 1951, has some of the most in-depth exhibits about Namibia's flora, fauna, geology, archaeology culture and modern history - all under one roof. The wildlife room exhibits stuffed specied which are almost impossible to see on safari - such as the aardvark and golden mole. Fossils and meteorites are on show in the geology department,and Namibia's many diverse ecosystems are explained in the botanical department.
Ancient culture is explored in the archaeology room, with well-preserved pots and centuries-old jewellery. Contrast this with the exhibits exploring Namibia's contemporary culture - with body decorations, weaving and clothing from the Himba, San and other communities.
Himba cosmetic boxes on display at Swakopmund Museum
Open: Daily from 10am-5pm
Entry: Adults: N$ 25, Students N$20, Children (aged 6-15) N$10
4. Karakulia Weavers
Take a trip to this workshop on the outskirts of town to see the wool of the karakul sheep being spun, dyed and woven into intricately patterned wall hangings and rugs. The talent of the weavers is astounding - as they create patterned abstracts resembling Namibia's dunes, African rock art designs or wildlife scenes on the huge hand-operated looms.
The workshop was founded in 1979, and it has now developed an international reputation. The craftspeople can make custom designs to order, and if you don't have space in your suitcase for a full-sezed rug, they will reliably ship your purchase safely to your home.
Karakulia's staff benefit from training, employment and adult education sessions.
A skilled weaver works on a rug design at Karakulia
5. Kristall Galerie
A unique way to spend your time in Namibia - at a crystal gallery. With exhibits to please the young and not-so young, Kristall Galerie houses the world's largest crystal cluster, estimated to be 520 million years old! Standing 3 metres tall, it took five years to excavate from the Namibian earth. The gallery also has a scratch pit - where you can sift for semi precious stones - and a replica of a mine.
Those looking for souvenirs will love the Gem Shop - selling rough gemstones as well as unique jewellery and carved artworks. Visit the Craft Area to see these pieces being created.
The replica cave. Image from Kristall Galerie's Flickr page.
Find the perfect place to stay in Swakopmund with our accommodations guide.
Get some ideas about more adventurous exploits in the region - download our Adventure Travel Planning Guide.
Discover other cities and towns in Namibia.
For anyone with hard-to-please relatives, in search of last-minute stocking fillers, or simply trying to shop in a more ethical way this Chrismas, a little shop in Swakopmund may just have the answer.
Kubatsirana Arts and Crafts shop sells a range of unique products, including natural creams and salt scrubs made from locally-sourced !nara seeds (used by indigenous people to soothe thhe skin for generations); !nara seed cooking oil; hand-stitched dolls; unusual Chrismas decorations; cushions; silkscreened t-shirts; jewellery; and beautiful lino prints.
But as well as being able to pick up something truly original for friends and family, shoppers at Kubatsirana are also supporting a variety of social projects based near Windhoek and Swakopmund. Kubatsirana means "helping each other", and every dollar spent here contributes to inproving the lives of the craftspeople who made these gorgeous items. Here are some of the projects supported by Kubatsirana:
- Over 4000 people live in the Democratic Resettlement Community (DRC) outside Swakopmund. This residents of this informal settlement have few work opportunities, but women from DRC are taught to make crafts from recycled materials such as newspaper and bottle tops. These are then sold to provide a small income. A soup kitchen now also feeds 120 children nutritious meals twice a week.
- Oasa Taradi means "busy women", and this group of needlework experts provide beautiful, hand-stiched and embroidered items to Kubatsira. Many are single mothers or the main income providers for their family.
- Katutura is the large township in Windhoek. Kubatsira supports various community projects here, including the Opongande Centre for disabled children; Dolam Children's Home for kids with AIDS and tuberculosis; and 40 creches which care for over 2000 children.
- Address: Libertina Amathila St and Brucken St, Swakopmund
- Telephone: +264 64 404806
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Monday-Friday: 9am-1pm, and 3pm-6pm
- Saturday: 9am-1pm
- Sunday: 4pm-6pm
There is an old African proverb which states: "If an old man dies in Africa, a whole library burns to the ground”. This proverb refers to the oral nature of the cultures on the African continent. The ancient traditional knowledge has not been written down in books, but is passed on orally from one generation to the next. His knowledge is saved in the cultural memory of the people. Without a circulation within the respective language group, this knowledge is forgotten and might be lost forever. Namibia's Living Culture Museums strive to capture and preserve this knowledge for future generations.
Five museums, described below, are currently located throughout the country and tell the amazing story of some of Namibia's most iconic cultural groups.Museums featuring the Ovahimba and Khwe are currently in the works. These museums are instrumental in passing down traditional skills and values, as the children of the groups are actively involved in the activities of the museum. !Gamace N!aici from the Living Hunter’s Museum of the Ju/‘Hoansi points out, "When the visitors come to see our culture, they learn but our kids learn as well. That is very important for our culture."
The museums, funded and developed by the Living Culture Foundation of Namibia, not only preserve the different cultures but also give the groups an opportunity to earn an income and benefit from tourism. Travelers can visit a Living Museum and thus actively contribute to the preservation of traditional culture in Namibia. The local population is responsible for the development of the museums content and manage the operations. Proceeds from the museums benefit the local community.
The Living Museum of the Ju/’Hoansi was inaugurated in 2004 and has developed into a cultural highlight of Namibia. The main focus lies with getting to know the hunter-gatherer culture of the Kalahari San. On the same level guest have the opportunity to learn how the Ju/‘Hoansi-San traditionally light fire, make tools and weapons, and much, much more.
In 2008 the Living Museum of the Mafwe opened in the Caprivi Strip. The Mafwe concentrate mainly on fishing and agricultural activities but also present traditional dancing ceremonies in their museum situated under huge Baobab trees.
Together with the Bushmen the Damara belong to the oldest nations in Namibia. Their original culture was a mixture of an archaic hunter-gatherer culture and herders of cattle, goats and sheep. Here the visitors have the unique opportunity to get to know the fascinating traditional culture of the Damara, thus contributing to the preservation of the culture as well as to a regular income for the Damara community that built the museum.
In 2010 the The Living Hunter’s Museum of the Ju/’Hoansi opened in the Tsumkwe region, where the San are still allowed to hunt. Here the traditional bow hunt with poisoned arrows, the digging out of spring hares and porcupines, the snare catching of guinea fowls, khoraans and other birds for the daily hunt for food has never been terminated. Visitors have the unique experience of learning the art of reading tracks and participating in a hunt.
After three years of initial building-up work the newest edition to the Living Museums finally opened at the end of October 2011: Mbunza Living Museum. An essential part of the interactive program of the Living Museum is the demonstration (and preservation) of the fishing and land cultivating culture of the Mbunza. The traditional presentation covers everything from everyday life (traditional cuisine, fire making, basket and mat weaving, etc.) to bushwalks and fishing and finally to highly specialised techniques like blacksmithing, pottery and the making of drums.
Namibia’s capital is Windhoek: a small, yet bustling city with a population of 300,000, known as the ‘city of many faces’. Here you will see people of all colors and cultures, each possessing a wonderful sense of pride, hope and ambition. It's not only the perfect place to start and finish your holiday, but well worth a visit in its own right.
Top 3 things to do in Windhoek
1. The Namibia Craft Centre
Situated in Windhoek's historic Old Breweries building, the Namibia Crafts Centre is the buzzing market and design hub for contemporary crafts in Namibia. The Centre has been a great launching pad for contemporary craft ideas, like the Pambili Association’s karakul wool and organza scarves and vibrant textile ranges incorporating contemporary San (Bushmen) artwork. Traditional crafts available at the centre range from Owambo drinking vessels to Himba milk baskets, from Herero walking sticks to ceremonial San ‘love bows’ and perfume pouches. The Craft Centre creates opportunities for artists, low-income craftsmen and communities to build profitable businesses, by offering market linkages to local and new markets. It is a must stop for grabbing souvenirs as you will be sure to find the right gift here – for yourself or friends and family back home.
Several operators give visitors the opportunity to learn about the history, development and people of Katutura. The suburb on Windhoek’s northern outskirts was established in the 1950s; today, Katutura is a diverse, lively and historical place to visit. Most tours stops at places of interest such as the Old Cemetery, Augustineum School, the Single Quarters where contract workers used to live, the open markets, shebeens and cuca shops.
Wanderzone Tours offers half- and full-day tours to Windhoek and Katutura, looking into the nature and background of the people who comprise this melting pot of cultures (contact them at email@example.com). Hello Namibia Safaris, Red Earth Sunny Tours & Transfers and Orupuka Transfers and Tours also offer excursions through Windhoek and Katutura. A relatively new initiative is Katu-Tours, which takes guests through the township on bicycles. Tours depart at 8:00, take 3.5 hours to complete and cover a distance of about 7 km at a relaxed pace.
3. Joe's Beer House
Joe’s Beerhouse has reached legendary status in Namibia and throughout Africa. With its rustic décor, open-air, kraal-style rondavel-and-thatch seating and live music at night, Joe's is well patronised by visitors and locals alike. The restaurant is filled with relics of old and collections of new, each artifact with its very own story. Joe's is the perfect place to stop in upon your arrival and get your first sense of something truly Namibian. It doesn't take long for visitors to get lost in their surroundings as they dine on delectable Zebra steak, alligator skewer, tasty Bushman Sosatie (Kebab), or any number of world-famous plates. After your meal, pull up to the bar for an ice-cold Windhoek Lager and wait the local Namibians to brag to you about our amazing beer and equally amazing country.
Namibia is a fascinating cultural melting-pot, combining early African populations with a wide array of western explorers.
Since gaining independence in 1990, Namibians have worked on mending Apartheid-era wounds, and today they are celebrating their rich heritage.
Namibia's colourful African vigour infuses old Europe into a distinctive Namibian spirit, creating unique architecture, food, customs and art. What has emerged is a true sense of unity in diversity – the coming together of 13 ethnic groups, each celebrating their past while working together toward the future. There is a powerful bond uniting rural and urban, farmers and professionals. While each of these groups has its own rich cultural heritage, they all share one thing in common…they are Namibian and proud of it.
This harmony exists through a shared history, expressed through a common sense of hospitality. The open, welcoming people of Namibia provide guests to the country with the opportunity to experience these customs and traditions first-hand, and visitors to Namibia are likely to experience an authentic way of life. Local tour operators have taken care to develop itineraries which includes visits to communities in rural areas where villagers eagerly share their everyday lives, from the Herero women who wear distinctive Victorian-style dresses and horn shaped hats, to the semi-nomadic Himba whose women wear intricate hairstyles and ornamental jewellery artfully crafted from shells and metals. Listen to the Nama or the Damara whose complex languages feature intriguing clicking sounds. Visit the San people who are among the last hunter gatherer communities on Earth and have been able to preserve much of their ancient culture.
Community based tourism options are a large part of what makes a visit to Namibia so distinctive, providing an enriching and engaging opportunity for both the traveller and the local communities to get to discover each other. At the same time, such activities generate real social and economic benefits to the empowered communities, and ultimately provide a more authentic Namibian experience to the visitors. Community campsites provide a base from which to enjoy and explore the highlights of the country and magnificent scenery, while offering opportunities to truly delve into what makes Namibia so unique, its people, its local feasts and customs, and, perhaps make a few new friends.
Come discover what makes us so proud to be Namibian – and allow us to share our Namibia with you!
By Ginger Mauney
Because Namibia recognizes that conservation is about more than just a species or a place, I nominate Omba Arts Trust as my conservation hero. They not only help local artisans keep traditional skills alive, they also change lives.
Omba’s roots go back 20 years when founder Karin le Roux developed a range of textiles with a group of unemployed women in a small rural village in the south of Namibia. Today, Omba Arts Trust partners with over 600 producers in ten regions of Namibia and is the largest operation in the country marketing Namibian craft exclusively.
From stunning pieces of jewelry to baskets, beadwork and textiles, their unique pieces of art are rooted in culture but always with a contemporary twist. The products are developed and produced in remote villages, under trees, in church halls, and are sold at the Namibia Craft Centre in Windhoek and at high-end galleries and shops around the world.
Located in the historic Old Breweries Building in Tal Street, the Namibia Craft Centre is a haven of local creativity. Visitors are able to purchase anything from soap made from wild melon seed and marula oil, to table linen, African-style shirts, unique postcards, candles, jewelry and shoes made from kudu leather, Namibian music and dried mopane worms. The idea behind the Craft Centre is to give a platform to local Namibian businesses and enterprises. It’s about strength in numbers and has become a focal point of development for these community businesses. The craft sector contributes significantly to job creation and poverty alleviation - particularly amongst rural women.
At the recent re-launching of the Omba Arts Trust, Namibia Women's Summit President Anne Gebhardt spoke of the importance of social entrepreneurship. “Just as entrepreneurs change the face of business, social entrepreneurs like the Omba Arts Trust act as the change agents for society, seizing opportunities others miss and improving systems, inventing new approaches, and creating solutions to change society for the better."
Discover more activities for your visit to Windhoek!