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Swakopmund

"The heartbeat of the Namibian coast – where adrenalin junkies come to experience the desert"

Swakopmund is the home base for exploring the coastal desert. There are a ton of opportunities for adventure here, but the town also offers a bit of respite for weary, desert-blasted travellers at the midway point between the southern and northern circuits.

This is where you’ll discover Sandwich Harbour where the white dunes rise up against the huge Atlantic swells; the eerie Moon Landscape and corpse-like Welwitschia plants; and the pink flamingos and pelicans in neighbouring Walvis Bay. During December, Swakopmund is full of local holidaymakers as the weather is the best it’ll be all year and the beachfront location proves too good to resist. The wind and mist can impact dune activities, so be sure to check the forecast before heading into the sea of sand!

Swakopmund

The town of Swakopmund is more than just a stop-over. The coastal hotspot is 400km from Sossusvlei (to the south) and about the same distance to Damaraland in the north. Windhoek is 350km eastwards and the Skeleton Coast stretches northwards from Swakop itself. It is the perfect halfway point if you’re doing the whole country. We recommend taking a couple of days here to enjoy the salty sea air, stretch the legs, and get the blood pumping on one of the many adventurous activities on offer.

There is an array of accommodation options to choose from and with both sea and desert views available, you’ll be spoilt for choice. Two of our favourites are Desert Breeze for dune views and The Strand Hotel for ocean-facing luxury.

Swakopmund, is often steeped in an early mist which clears by mid-morning revealing the deep blue sea and big fishing vessels idling in the bay. The streets are broad and lined with tall, old German buildings, many of which have been preserved from the colonial days. Visiting the museum is a great idea for history buffs. After hours, the town is blissfully quiet (unless you’re looking for a dance, in which case, hit the Desert Tavern)!

There are a couple of really great seaside restaurants. Our top choice is The Tug – an old Scottish tugboat that’s been reinvented as a fancy eatery – serving quality battered fish and hand-cut chips. Get the oysters to start and be immersed in the Namibian coastal experience.

Walvis Bay

When you emerge from the endless desert landscape in the south, en route to Swakopmund, the first glimpse of industry you’ll see will be Walvis Bay. The airport here is the primary access to the Erongo region and passengers can fly from and to Cape Town and Johannesburg via Airlink and from and to Windhoek and Cape Town on Air Namibia.

Walvis Bay is just a thirty-minute drive from Swakopmund and is the gateway to Sandwich Harbour (we’ll get to that in a minute). It has a unique “pink water” salt refinery, which matches the colonies of pink flamingos quite nicely! The Lagoon has a pretty sweet selection of water birds that will keep bird watchers entertained, and if you’re there at the right time of year, you’ll see the water blanketed by masses of greater and lesser flamingos.

Kayaking at Pelican Point is a superb opportunity to get amongst it all and paddle between playful seals with fantastic, environmentally conscious guides. There are bottle-nosed dolphins too, as well as terrestrial predators like the black-backed jackal!

You can grab a bite to eat at a number of really good places along The Esplanade where you can watch oyster catchers on the beach and see the mirage of flamingo-pink on the water. Anchors @ The Jetty and The Raft both come highly recommended not only for good grub, but for their chilled seaside vibes and salty sea views.

Sandwich Harbour

A Swakopmund must-do! This is a 4×4 adventure into the coastal region of the expansive Namib-Naukluft National Park. We would recommend using one of the excellent, experienced local guides to take you on this dune driving adventure, but it is permitted for self-drivers. If you do attempt it yourself, you have to have plenty of dune-driving experience (most Namibians are born with it). The tracks are in thick sand and are washed away every day so you won’t see them and can easily get stuck – you don’t want to blow your holiday budget on a tow!

Heading out with a tour guide will be exhilarating. You’ll drive along the beach if it’s low tide and watch the waves come crashing up on your right side, while the wind-whittled desert dunes rear up on your left. Seals sun themselves all over the beach and jackals take their chances at hunting the pups, which is incredible to see. As you head into the dunes and lose sight of the sea momentarily, your world will turn upside-down as all you’re surrounded by is the white, undulating sand.

Get out, get into it, walk, run, bury yourself in it; it’s a totally unique place to be. If your guide’s any good, he’ll give your nerves the test of their lives on the ascents and descents – and trust us, you’ll smile for hours!

Surrounding Desert

The desert surrounding Swakopmund is made up of sandy dunes that are seemingly devoid of life but are in fact far from it. There’s a “little 5” in the desert, which are five uniquely adapted species you’ll be able to see on a guided tour of the rolling dunes between Swakopmund and Walvis Bay. The cartwheeling spider, sidewinder snake, Namaqua chameleon, shovel-snouted lizard, and the palmato gecko are just five of many desert critters you can look for. They aren’t easy to find, though!

One of the most popular activities in the surrounding desert is quad biking. Most local residents own two-wheelers and four-wheelers and plenty of folks spend weekends zooming through the dunes on bikes, so it likely won’t be an exclusive experience. It’s a lot of fun and gives you the adrenalin kick you’re looking for. For an alternative kick, head for the skydiving centre and look at the dunes and the ocean from above before free-falling towards them and ultimately getting the best view in the house as you sail down with a parachute.

Moon Landscape and Welwitschias

About 35km from Swakopmund, following the dry course of the Swakop River, you’ll find yourself on the moon. Well, you’d be forgiven for thinking you had! The renowned “Moon Landscape” is an expanse of lifeless fossilised hills and canyons, devoid of living colour, but so beautiful all the same. Its otherworldliness is what makes it so spectacular.

You can take yourself on a self-guided excursion or jump in with one of the excellent local guides to see this super desert view – the roads are easy, and it isn’t far. In the morning, the mist from the sea brings moisture to the weird and wonderful Welwitschia plants, which thrive here. The road you’ll travel on is called Welwitschia Drive and these strange desert plants are as much a feature of the area as the Moon Landscape.

If you aim for sunset, you won’t be disappointed. While you will miss the morning fog blanket, you’ll get that stunning sunset glow over the jagged surface of the “moon”. Bonus suggestion: make sure you play a little jingle on the “musical rocks” which are 450-million-year-old dolerite boulders that produce a variety of gong-like sounds when you knock them.

Travel tip:

Don’t plan for just one night in Swakopmund. This is the perfect place to access special places in the desert and on the ocean, so we recommend you take a couple of days to see the pelicans or drive the dunes or jump out of a plane!

When to Go

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Why we like it

  • A blended seaside town that is loved by Namibians and tourists alike.
  • The epicentre of adventurous and adrenalin-pumping activities, like dune driving, quad biking, skydiving, and fat-biking in the Namib.
  • Admire the preserved German architecture and history in living colour.
  • You can get your fix of excellent seafood at a couple of on-the-water restaurants you’ll love.
  • You’ll find convenience, comfort, and a place to dust off the desert sand while never losing sight of the vast landscape.

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