Things to Do in Windhoek
In the local language of Otjiherero Katutura means “The place where people do not want to live”. In 1961, when apartheid practices took hold and black Namibians were moved from their homes into this far flung location, its name not only stung—but also rang true. Roughly 7,000 people were forced to give up land they owned and move to Katutura, where all homes were rented from the municipality and public transport was essential to travel to work.
Today, this once oppressed area of Windhoek is a thriving neighborhood that’s alive with energy, traditions and culture. Visitors can explore Sam Nujoma Stadium, tune in to Katutura Community Radio, or visit Katutura State Hospital—one of two public hospitals in the city. While the area is mostly residential, travelers will find food stalls, guesthouses and city tours throughout the neighborhood.
Petrified forests are a hallmark of any great American road trip. But in the desolate landscapes of sparsely populated Namibia, it’s the picturesque backdrop of Deadvlei that marks the overland journey of any intrepid traveler.
Located in an orange-tinted valley inside the Namib-Naukluft Park, the vast planes of Deadvlei are scattered with skeleton trees where a rushing river once flowed. This natural wonder ranks high on the country’s list of breathtakingly beautiful sights—which is no small feat in a nation known for its incredibly landscapes. Travelers say the gray clay riverbed, golden dunes and brilliant blue skies make Deadvlei like no place else on earth.
The national Museum of Namibia may house an impressive collection of historical artifacts including items that date back to when this young country was known by other names, like Southwest Africa or South Africa. But it’s not necessarily the gallery halls that make this city-center spot worth the visit. The National Museum happens to be housed in the capital’s oldest surviving building—a structure dating back to the early 1890s that was once a hub for German Schutztruppe.
Visitors to this historic landmark can learn more about the country’s struggle for independence, battle against apartheid and the genocide that took place against the Herero people. The museum also includes reproductions of some of Namibia’s most famous rock art, including San paintings from Twyfelfontein and Brandberg, too.
For all its beauty, Namibia can still be a rather unforgiving place. And while the vast deserts and arid plains of this diverse nation have challenged even the most intrepid of adventurers, few places put travelers to the test like hiking Fish River Canyon.
This impressive gorge reaches some 550 meters deep, spans 27 kilometers in width, and stretches more than 150 kilometers in length, making it the second largest canyon in the world. And while navigating the rugged terrain at the canyon’s base can make for a serious challenge, even the most experience hikers warn the descent is not for the faint of heart. The half-mile trail can take upwards of two hours to complete and while embedded chains in the mountain’s rock face alleviate some of the burden, travelers agree this is still the most difficult part of the adventure.
Still, picturesque views, incredible scenery and evening skies that put all others to shame are just part of what make hiking Fish River Canyon a truly memorable Namibian experience. The sulfur pools of Palm Springs offer a perfect place for a rejuvenating footbath. From there, the less technical trek to the Three Sisters rock formation offers a bit of a break on an otherwise strenuous journey.
The famous Kalahari Desert spans some 900,000 square kilometers of desolation between the borders Namibia and Botswana. Its semi-arid savannah is home to more vegetation than the Namib Desert to the west, so after heavy rains it’s possible for travelers to catch gazelle, kudu and springbok grazing the plains. Because the desert lacks any permanent source of water, wildlife tend to flee in search of sustenance during the dry season.
The Kalahari Desert is home to several private game reserves including the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, which is the second largest protected wildlife area in the world. Visitors to this park will find plenty of wildlife, including hyenas, jackals, gemsbok, and giraffes, as well as a number of indigenous species of birds and reptiles. The Kalahari’s limited vegetation and lack of water does little to support the existence of Africa’s Big Five, though lucky travelers may spot an elephant or two after seasonal rains.
Though wildlife may be one of the main draws for visitors making the trip to Namibia, the San people, a group of nomadic hunter-gatherers who have called the Kalahari home for some 20,000 years are part of what makes a voyage to this desert so unique. Travelers can learn about how these people have survived off this unforgiving land for thousands of years by gathering edible berries and plants and burying sparse water supplies in ostrich eggs.
Spreetshoogte Pass, a high mountain road that links the Namib Desert to the Khomas Highland, is Namibia’s steepest pass and offers travelers an impressive elevation climb, too. Created during World War II, the pass was originally created as a way to bring imported goods to the nearby farm of Nicolaas Spreeth. The rural farmer built the pass with his own hands, laying a strong foundation to support not only donkey and ox carts, but cars and trucks as well.
Today, the quartzite rocks of this famous pass can be seen winding up and down the countryside. Although the road is well-maintained, commercial vehicles and trucks aren’t allowed to navigate the steep climbs and dangerous ascents of Spreetshoogte Pass.
In 1907, the arid plains and vast savannahs in Namibia’s northwest Kunene region were designated as the country’s second game reserve. Today, what’s known as Etosha National Park has become one of the most popular attractions for travelers to this southern African destination. Visitors can spot all of the continent’s famous Big Five on self-guided tours or sunrise, sunset and night game drives. Luxurious rest camps offer modern amenities and their well-kept watering holes provide some of the best game viewing and photo ops during dry season. Massive elephants, graceful gazelle, proud lions and striped zebras sip from the same swell side by side, in what may be one of the country’s most spectacular sites.
Etosha spans slightly less than 9,000 square kilometers, with vast saltpans, natural watering holes, sweeping savannahs and expansive grasslands. The Dolomite Hills, a known habitat for predators like leopards, are located near the Andersson entrance gate, and similar hills near western Etosha are the only place in the park where mountain zebra roam.
Namibia may be a relatively young country, but there’s still plenty of history in this South African nation. Duwisib Castle, located on the edge of the Namib Dune Desert, is one of the most famous buildings in Namibia. Built in 1909 after the German-Nama War by a famous European Baron, Duwisib’s architecture gives a strong nod to military culture and looks out over an arid valley.
Although the 22-room castle was constructed entirely in Namibia, many of the materials were shipped from Germany and traveled by oxcart from the port city of Luderitz. Legend has it that the Baron’s favorite horse escaped to the wild after his death—the first of the country’s famous feral horses. Today, Duwisib Castle is open to the public and visitors can wander through the many rooms that house antiques from the 18th and 19th centuries. Shaded picnic tables and well-kept campsites make it an ideal stop for travelers en route to the Naukluft Mountains.
Located 70 kilometers north of Windhoek, the city of Okahandja is home to roughly 24,000 Namibians. Commonly referred to as the Garden Town of Namibia, Okahandja is home to several popular landmarks, making it an easy stop for those venturing to the north. The town is home to a military post that was established back in 1894, around the same time the city got its name. And famous colonists and Namibians like Maharero, Jan Jonker Afrikaner, Hosea Kutako and Clemens Kapuuo are buried in Okhandja.
In addition to plenty of western amenities like a local pizza joint, large grocery store and bustling main street, one of the largest open-air craft markets in the country lies on the road that passes outside of town. Travelers will find a wide selection of well-priced handmade works from every region of Namibia, as well as from neighboring countries in southern Africa.