A large and sparsely populated country (in fact the world’s second most sparsely populated sovereign state, after Mongolia) located in south-west Africa between Angola
to the north, Botswana to the east, South Africa
to the south and the Atlantic
Ocean to the west.
For the dark tourist, the main attractions, apart from the empty and beautifully desolate desert scenery, are a few atmospheric and photogenic ghost towns
, some remnants of the German colonial era, including its darkest aspects, as well as sites related to Namibia’s more recent history and struggle for independence.
The following are the separate chapters for Namibia featured on this website:
I had originally planned to travel to Namibia in the summer of 2020, but then came the global coronavirus pandemic and the trip had to be cancelled, or rather: postponed until 2021. But then the pandemic threw a spanner in the works again and the travel plans had to be deferred once more. But in 2022 I finally made it there. And it was a great trip. For once the dark-tourism aspects didn’t play the predominant role they normally do on my travels. In fact, for a good proportion of the trip it was rather some healthy escapism. Just being in the desolate, silent and wide-open scenery almost devoid of people, and staying at places without Internet or mobile reception, helped in creating a feeling of really “getting away” from all the increasingly disturbing goings-on in Europe and much of the world at the time.
But of course, for the purposes of this website, the dark aspects are the focus. For their historical background see also this short account of Namibia’s history
Other than the sites given their own chapters, as listed above, one dark element that Namibia is known for is shipwrecks
. In fact much of its desert shores along the Atlantic
is known as “Skeleton Coast
”, due to the numerous wrecks of ships that got beached there. However, since the introduction of GPS navigation, hardly any new wrecks have joined the older ones. And those old ones are slowly being eroded by the ocean’s waves and/or “eaten” by the desert dunes. Before too long, very little will be left of those wrecks.
One exception of a relatively recent wreck is that of the “Zeila
” [location: -22.2412, 14.3536
]. This was a decommissioned fishing trawler that was being towed to India where it was meant to be scrapped when en route off the Namibian coast its towing line came off and the vessel ended up running aground by the shore between Swakopmund
and Henties Bay in the southern part of the Skeleton Coast (nobody got hurt in the incident). This wreck is quite easily accessible from the main C34 road going north. Unfortunately, however, the place is used by local vendors desperately trying to sell semi-precious rocks to tourists, so there’s a lot of uncomfortable hassle. Hence I only shot a couple of photos (including the one below
) out of the car window and quickly made my departure.
Wrecks further north on the Skeleton Coast are by now quite dilapidated, though one notable wreck is that of the “South West Seal” north of the Ugab dry river mouth. Further north still, and on dry land, the rusting remains of an abandoned oil rig from the 1960s can be seen. I didn’t make it this far north, however, and hence cannot produce any images of those sites. Note that the whole of the northern half of the Skeleton Coast is only accessible to a few moneyed tourists on extremely expensive fly-in safaris.
The furthest north I got was Cape Cross
[location: -21.7719, 13.9529
], so named after a cross erected by Portuguese explorers sometime in the fifteenth century. They landed only briefly, though, seeing the bleak desert inland they quickly left again. Today there is one of the world’s largest fur seal colonies at the cape. This is anything but a tranquil place. The colony is noisy, full of stress and occasional aggression and to the human nostril incredibly stinky. At first it really takes your breath away and you almost have to retch. You need at least a good five minutes to slowly adjust to the olfactory onslaught. To prevent too close animal-human encounters, wooden walkways with protective railings have been constructed for safe viewing of the colony. A bit further away is Cape Cross Lodge [location: -21.7555, 13.9709
], which in addition to offering great coastal accommodation and a good restaurant, also features a small museum about the history of the place and a section about whaling, and outside whale bones and various pieces salvaged from shipwrecks are on display.
There are also more shipwrecks
further south between Walvis Bay and Lüderitz. Some are accessible overland on long 4x4 desert beach excursions, some necessitating a night’s camping in the desert. But I saw two of those wrecks briefly on a scenic flight
with a small 12-seater aircraft from Swakopmund
. This first flew over the inland desert, including Sossusvlei (see below), as well as a few more abandoned former German diamond mine settlements in the remote desert, and on the return towards Swakopmund cruised along the desert coast and past two shipwrecks – where the pilot made a couple of loops around the wrecks so that everybody on board could get decent photos. The first of these wrecks was that of the “Eduard Bohlen
” [location: -23.99596, 14.45746
], an over 300 feet (100m) long wreck of a ship that stranded on the coast in 1909. Meanwhile the desert has shifted further so that the wreck is now over a thousand feet (300-400m) inland from the current beach. It is quite a spectacular sight to behold, though part of the wreck is by now covered with its own sand dune that has formed over the years. The other wreck I saw on the scenic flight was that of the transport tug “Shawnee
” [location: -23.67296, 14.50398
], which beached north of Conception Bay in 1976 under mysterious circumstances (allegedly involving some insurance fraud). At low tide it is entirely on the beach, at high tide surrounded by water.
Other types of wrecks that can be encountered in various places in Namibia are truck
and car wrecks
. A place well known for this is the indeed solitary spot of Solitaire
[location: -23.8939, 16.0058
], mainly a fuel station, shop and bakery, but now also offering accommodation. Several vehicle wrecks are dotted around including one very old one from the 1920s or 30s. But I’ve also seen such car wrecks at the remote service station of Betta [location: -25.3828, 16.4243
] near Duwisib. See also under Aus and environs.
The Namib Desert, the oldest and one of the driest deserts on Earth, also has a certain dark appeal, due to its inhospitable nature – in fact flying relatively low over the vast sea of sand on that scenic flight can be a little unnerving at times: You really don’t want to go down there in this waterless deadly maze of sand dunes far from any civilization …
The most famous aspect of the Namib are the huge red dunes around Sossusvlei
, which has become one of the most must-see tourist attractions in Namibia. It is these days, unlike much of the rest of the desert, quite easily accessible by road. It can hence get a bit busy, almost crowded. Many people feel the need to climb the dunes, especially the really high “Big Daddy
” dune [location: -24.768, 15.303
], reputedly the highest in the world at ca. 1150 feet (350m – that’s higher than the Eiffel Tower!). Having seen the dunes from the air on that scenic flight from Swakopmund I spared myself the exertion of such a climb, also because there were just too many people forming a human chain for the summit along the crest. Instead I concentrated on what I considered the main attraction here: Dead Vlei
[location: -24.759, 15.292
]. This is a clay pan that developed when there was a river here, which however dried up or changed course centuries ago. The trees that the river’s water once supported all died and now form a surreal sight that is one of the most iconic things to see in Namibia.
One highlight I had looked forward to especially when I first planned my Namibia trip for 2020 was a visit to the Rössing uranium mine
[location: -22.4798, 15.0607
] some distance inland from Swakopmund
. This is one of the world’s largest open-cast uranium mines, and given its links to the nuclear industry, and the sheer size of this brutal huge hole in the ground, would have been a dark attraction too. There used to be tours by coach every first Friday of the month organized by the Swakopmund Museum
. However, these tours were suspended with the onset of the pandemic. Meanwhile the mine has been taken over by a Chinese company and they prefer to keep the mine out of public view, and so there is little chance of these tours ever resuming.
As perhaps a small consolation prize, as it were, I visited the abandoned former tin mine
[location: -21.218, 14.881
], which was also quite something to behold.
And speaking of mining and its dark aspects, the giant salt mining
works [location: -23.0252, 14.4529
] near Walvis Bay (for industrial rather than cooking salt) now pose a grave danger to the original Walvis Bay Lagoon
and its colonies of flamingos.
Another perhaps slightly dark aspect revolves around a bizarre folly in the middle of the Kalahari Desert, Duwisib Castle
[location: -25.2572, 16.5414
]. This astounding sandstone edifice with its turret and battlements was built in 1909 as the home for Hansheinrich von Wolf, a German former Schutztruppe officer (see history), and his American wife Jayta, as they took on horse breeding in the area. The couple could enjoy their stately home for only a few years, before WW1 ended it all. For Hansheinrich the end came soon quite literally: he fell in battle at the Somme in 1916.
General travel practicalities:
Travel to Namibia
will for most people (except perhaps those coming from South Africa or Botswana overland) mean flying into the capital Windhoek’s international airport. Travel around
within the country is really only possible by hire car, ideally a sturdy 4x4, given the rough gravel tracks in some parts of the country. Some areas can only be accessed on organized tours (in particular Pomona
and Elizabeth Bay
). The only alternative would be to join a group tour – but that wouldn’t get you to all the dark bits – or hiring a driver-guide with a vehicle to take you around (which is obviously more expensive). So, if you can drive, do!
in Namibia is on the left, as in all of southern Africa. Outside the capital Windhoek
there is usually very little traffic, at least as soon as you get off the main B2 trunk road that connects these two cities. Most routes off the main B roads are not tarmacked but gravel tracks. Many of these are extremely scenic routes. And given the very low volumes of traffic, driving these routes is great fun and a main component of experiencing the country. Hire cars are mostly 4x4 jeeps or pick-up trucks or all-wheel-drive cross-over SUVs, though most places covered here that you can drive to could theoretically also be reached by a two-wheel drive conventional car. When I collected my hire car at the airport I was given a 45-minute practical tutorial about how to change a wheel. In the end that was not necessary for real in my case but on my travels around Namibia I saw several others who actually had to perform the procedure. So better know how to do this!
Road traffic accident statistics in Namibia are alarmingly high; but the main rule to observe to avoid accidents is never to drive too fast (those big 4x4s easily roll over in corners when at speed). So slow down even if the track you’re on is well maintained and smooth. When you are overtaken on a gravel track, pull in to the left and slow down to let the vehicle pass without showering you with little stones, and wait until the inevitable dust cloud that every car drags behind it on those routes has settled a bit. Another important rule is: never drive after dark unless it’s absolutely unavoidable. The main risk is wildlife, especially baboons and warthogs – so stay alert. In some parts, especially between Walvis Bay and Swakopmund, drunk drivers racing each other after dark are another risk.
Also bear in mind that the distances to be covered in Namibia can be vast and fuel may not be obtainable for long stretches of road, so remember to top up your fuel tank regularly when the opportunity arises. Electric cars are not an option in Namibia (yet).
is the official language
in Namibia, even though only few speak it as a first language. In addition to various African languages, German is also still widely spoken (at least within the travel industry, and especially in Swakopmund
) as well as Afrikaans and even some Portuguese (due to people who migrated in from neighbouring Angola
The climate of Namibia is extremely arid except in the far north and north-east. Much of the territory is desert. In fact the Namib (after which the whole country is named) is one of the oldest and driest deserts on Earth. Further inland it gives way to the Kalahari semi-desert. After the short rainy season the land can burst into an explosion of wild flowers. But most of the year the reddish and yellow of sand dominates the scenery in many western and southern parts of the country, including almost the entire coast.
However, not all of the desert is as dead as one might assume, as you can learn on the Living Desert tours offered from Swakopmund
. Several species of plants and animals
have over the millennia adapted to a life in this extreme niche, including the national “tree” (actually a succulent), the quiver tree. Amongst the highly adapted fauna is the fabled tok-tokkie beetle which collects the moisture it needs to survive by performing a kind of headstand in the morning mist that often rolls into the desert from the coast (thanks to the cold Benguela Current), so that the condensation runs straight into its mouth.
Other, bigger animals you may encounter are various antelopes including the hardy oryx, kudu and the more dainty springbok. Carnivores include jackals, brown hyenas (aka “Strandwolf”, ‘beach wolf’), aardwolf, and especially cheetahs, which in Namibia are still quite numerous. You can see these speed-record felines up close at various wildlife sanctuaries, some of which also feature other big cats. Seeing such animals, as well as lions, elephants, zebra, rhino, etc., in the wild is best done on safaris
in the legendary Etosha National Park. I gave this a miss, however, as I had already been on fabulous safaris in South Africa
and other African countries and reckoned those could not be topped anyway, so I concentrated rather on what I deemed makes Namibia so special: the desert landscapes.
options in Namibia range from camping to luxury lodges. Mid-range hotels and lodges tend to be rather good too. Some at the upper end of the spectrum can be absolutely outstanding. Contact
me for recommendations – also with regard to specialist operators.
Food & drink
tends to be rather European in most restaurants and lodges. Native African ingredients are rarely encountered by tourists. In some places, especially in Swakopmund
, a German influence is still very much in evidence, with many menus featuring Germanic classics such as Eisbein (pickled knuckle of pork), Kassler (cured pork chops) or Frikadellen (meatballs). Otherwise fish and seafood are abundant thanks to the nutrient-rich waters of the Benguala Current of the Atlantic. Namibia’s rock lobsters, or crayfish, are especially prized. At lodges, game features a lot. Vegetarians need to make special arrangements in advance.
You wouldn’t think of it in a desert country, but Namibia also makes wine
, albeit on a very small scale (the ones I tried were actually quite decent – though most Namibians rather rely on imported South African wine). With regard to beer, this is still very much bland-lager land; the craft beer revolution hasn’t made much of an inroad here yet (except for one microbrewery in Swakopmund). The gin
craze, on the other hand, has gripped Namibia too – and the varieties made in Swakopmund
by Stillhouse Atlantic are world class.
As for the most essential drink, water, this is a scarce commodity in Namibia and should never be thoughtlessly wasted. Water from wells can be perfectly potable, but most drinking water usually comes in those ubiquitous plastic bottles. To reduce the amount of plastic when touring the country I’d recommend bringing some reusable drinking bottles and refilling them from the large five-litre canisters available in shops and fuel stations. A couple of the upscale lodges may provide purified water in jugs.
- Namibia 01 - flag
- Namibia 02 - dry river bed meandering between two types of desert
- Namibia 03 - red dunes of the Namib desert
- Namibia 04 - Sossusvlei, Dead Vlei and Big Daddy dune
- Namibia 05 - Dead Vlei with too many tourists
- Namibia 06 - Dead Vlei with dead trees
- Namibia 07 - Big Daddy dune
- Namibia 08 - Sesriem Canyon
- Namibia 09 - paler desert dunes
- Namibia 10 - red-capped dunes
- Namibia 11 - abandoned German desert settlement and diamond mine
- Namibia 12 - marooned old wagon
- Namibia 13 - the wreck of the Eduard Bohlen, forming its own dune
- Namibia 14 - the wreck of the Shawnee
- Namibia 15 - coastal desert
- Namibia 16 - the Zeila shipwreck on the Skeleton Coast
- Namibia 17 - Portuguese cross at Cape Cross
- Namibia 18 - seal colony at Cape Cross
- Namibia 19 - flattened ex-seal
- Namibia 20 - whale bone at Cape Cross Lodge
- Namibia 21 - seal skulls
- Namibia 22 - shipwreck debris at Cape Cross Lodge
- Namibia 23 - truck wrecks at Solitaire
- Namibia 24 - Solitaire
- Namibia 25 - ancient car wreck at Solitaire
- Namibia 26 - disused Uis tin mine
- Namibia 27 - Walvis Bay salt works
- Namibia 28 - flamingos in Walvis Bay Lagoon
- Namibia 29 - Duwisib Castle, German folly in the desert
- Namibia 30 - Spitzkoppe
- Namibia 31 - rock arch
- Namibia 32 - evening scene with an almost full Moon
- Namibia 33 - colourful Namibrand
- Namibia 34 - sand, trees and mountains
- Namibia 35 - grand view
- Namibia 36 - grass land
- Namibia 37 - quiver trees
- Namibia 38 - salt-watery desert plant
- Namibia 39 - communal birds nest
- Namibia 40 - tok-tokkie desert beetle
- Namibia 41 - scenic oryx in front of the Tiras Mountains
- Namibia 42 - scenic ostrich
- Namibia 43 - jackal in the Sperrgebiet
- Namibia 44 - brown hyena warning sign - but none are to be seen
- Namibia 45 - the bush near Windhoek with two kudus
- Namibia 46 - the Kalahari with sable antelopes
- Namibia 47 - springbok
- Namibia 48 - hissing caracal
- Namibia 49 - running cheetah
- Namibia 50 - cheetah dribbling blood after just having been fed
- Namibia 51 - crayfish dinner