Windhoek is the capital of Namibia and a relatively small city by global contrast. The country is a tourism success story with numerous natural attractions, an abundance of wildlife and luxury accommodation. The city is well-known for its nostalgic German architecture and relaxed atmosphere.
Not being your typical tourist destination; Windhoek is a vibrant city and home to a number of international luxury hotel brands and historic sites.
Namibia has an estimated population of 2.5 million people (0,03% of the world population), comprising 13 ethnic groups: the Herero, the Damara, the Nama, the San (Bushmen), the Rehoboth Basters, the Coloureds, the Whites, the Caprivian, the Kavango, the Topnaars, the Tswana, the Himba and the Owambo.
Windhoek, Namibia’s capital city is home to the Parliament buildings with its extensive lush gardens. Built in 1932, the gardens are located next to the Namibian parliament, uniquely named Tintenpalast meaning “Ink Palace”.
The Independence Memorial Museum defines the Windhoek skyline and is found opposite the Tintenpalast. This 40 meter tall building opened in 2014 and houses exhibitions of anti-colonial resistance and the national liberation struggle of Namibia.
In front of the museum you will find an enormous statue of Sam Nujoma, the first president of Namibia and also called the Father of the Nation, which replaced the Reiterdenkmal, which was erected in memory of German soldiers and settlers who had lost their lives in the wars against the indigenous Namibian people. The museum also features a restaurant on top of the building with 360° views of the city.
Another historic building and tourist favourite is the Christ Church, also known as Christuskirche. This Lutheran church and national monument and still delivers Sunday service in German, as it was widely used as one of three official languages in what was then South West Africa, alongside Afrikaans and English. The tower stands 42 meters high and was topped by a Gothic spire although the church was built in a neo-Romanesque style.
Windhoek is also home to Schwerinsburg castle which has been preserved to this day and now serves as the residence of the Italian Ambassador to Namibia. Another historic building is Heinitzburg Castle which currently operates as a luxury restaurant and hotel.
Relax and find inner peace in the leafy surrounds of a former zoo. The Zoo Park, which served as a public zoo until 1962, is a favourite picnic hotspot for tourists and locals.
We visited the National Museum of Namibia and to our surprise, it was not open to the public but merely a research facility on various animals and cultures of Namibia. A friendly gentlemen invited us in and showed us around the reptile section that is in possession of samples of all the reptiles found in Namibia and the rest of Southern Africa.
That’s something not many visitors can say they have witnessed!
Luxury hotels in the city centre include Avani, Hilton, Windhoek Country Club and Heinitzburg Castle. I decided on Hilton purely due to my Honors membership. The hotel was centrally located and in walking distance of all local attractions and restaurants.
The hotel provides spacious rooms with unspoiled views of the city, 4 restaurants and a coffee shop in the lobby. My favourite facility was the SkyBar located on the 9th level of the hotel which also includes an open air bar with sweeping views of Windhoek’s skyline, a heated pool, spa and executive lounge for Hilton Honors members.
The venue is popular with locals, visitors and guests staying at other hotels due to its location, views and luxury offerings. The deck get extremely busy from sunset and the SkyBar even offers a live DJ on weekends.
The city has numerous shopping malls and centers that offer international brands. The Namibian Craft Centre is located in Tal street. This complex houses numerous stalls on one premises, allowing tourists to find all their curios and memorabilia in one place.
Informal craft stalls are also found in Independence avenue, next to the Hilton hotel. These stalls are operated by Himba woman. For those who don’t plan on exploring Namibia beyond the borders of Windhoek; this is a good opportunity to see and engage with this tribe.
I found the Himba people the most fascinating of all the Namibian tribes while engaging with them was an enriching and humbling experience. The Himba are indigenous people with an estimated population of about 50,000 people living in northern Namibia. Famous for the red “clay” they apply to their body and hair; it’s made by crushing the ochre stone (hematite) into small pieces. Thereafter the fragments are mixed with butter, slightly heated by means of smoke and applied on the skin.
The red layer seems to help against the scorching sun radiation, while keeping the skin clean and moist and to some extent it blocks hair growth on the body. One of the most remarkable Himba traits is that the women are not allowed to use water for washing themselves and neither their clothes. Apart from applying red ochre on their skin, Himba women do take a daily smoke bath in order to maintain personal hygiene. They will put some smouldering charcoal into a little bowl of herbs and wait for the smoke to rise. Thereafter, they will bow over the smoking bowl and due to the heat they will start perspiring.
Another fascinating tribe is the Herero. The female members of this tribe are recognizable by their prominent Victorian dresses. These sweeping floor-length gowns make a bold and beautiful statement, allowing the tribe to be clearly identifiable in public. An addition to the dress is matching horizontal hats reminiscent of cow horns from the Herero’s cattle-herding traditions.
Joe’s Beerhouse is an institution in Windhoek and a must see for all visitors. Even if you’re just passing through, you have to have at least one meal there, or at least an ice cold Namibian beer. Countless old relics and memorabilia are on display that has been collected by the owner during his travels over the years. Every item has a story to tell. The open-air restaurant is almost always fully booked. To avoid disappointment, rather make a booking in advance. The restaurant is located 2.7km from the city center.
Windhoek’s Hosea Kutako International Airport is situated 43km from the city center. The airport is very small yet offers curio shops, a restaurant and international car rental agencies. The cheapest means of transport to and from the city centre is with TokTokkie Shuttle services.
The taxi service in Windhoek is safe and extremely affordable, yet it’s not metered. Short distances are charged between N$10 – N$50 one way. Negotiate a rate with the driver before you enter the vehicle. The drivers that I used were very knowledgeable about the city’s history and even took a detour to show us some of the city’s landmarks.
Before we left, I had to get my hands on one of the Makalani Palm nut key chains. Given the small surface of the nut, carvers craft any word, name or animal onto the nut with amazing detail. A story is often told with a landscape surrounding the wording. This makes a unique gift from Namibia that anyone would appreciate. I took a short video of how the carvers etch out your requirements.
It’s impossible to cover all that Namibia has to offer in a single trip. The vast landscape offers everything from wildlife to desert and canyons to beaches. If you wish to travel the country by road; Windhoek is the ideal location to start your trip and end it off on a high note.