Swakopmund, Namibia, West Africa, is a coastal town with a personality all its own, and it must be seen when visiting Namibia. One side of Swakopmund faces the desert and the other side faces the cold Atlantic Ocean.
The Germans settled Swakopmund in the late 1800’s, and it was modeled after a quaint Bavarian town, complete with gabled architecture, and the German language of course. These historical homes are now homes to restaurants, art galleries, boutiques, local shops, tour operators, and bars. On top of these buildings, you may see various apartments and lofts that may be inhabited by descendants of those brave Germans that ventured into the inhospitable Namib Desert, 125 years ago.
It may seem unusual to give the weather a paragraph all its own, but really, the weather here is rather unusual. Considering Swakopmund borders the hot Namib Desert on the east, and the cold Atlantic Ocean to the west, the temperatures here tend to be at least 10-20 degrees cooler than the rest of Namibia, depending on the season. This is why, a break in Swakopmund is welcoming, especially after spending many days in the hot desert or the bush.
The beaches, while very attractive, are very cold, though the locals do venture into the waters for a second or two, and the surfers must wear a thick wetsuit in order not to suffer from hypothermia!
Due to the mild temperatures and rare rainfall, Swakopmund generally enjoys good weather, except for those times when an easterly wind blows, and the town gets a good sand-blasting. The town seems to be in a perpetual fog and drizzle up to midday, and then the skies open up to beautiful blue skies. The fog, though annoying, provides moisture for desert-dwelling plants and animals, including 80 species of lichen, which is quite fascinating to view in its natural environment. When we went on our boat tour to Walvis Bay, the morning was dismal, with drizzle and cool temperatures. As the morning progressed, the skies slowly opened up, and by the time we were having lunch, the skies were brilliant blue!
The cold Benguela Current travels all the way up from Antarctica and brings plankton rich waters to Swakopmund’s coatline, along with impressive amounts of fish, of all sizes. This is also the current that moderates Swakopmund’s weather, keeping it nice and cool.
Where to Stay
There is no shortage of accommodations in Swakopmund, but be advised, that this is a popular town and last minute accommodations are not easy to find, especially during the summer and school holidays. We stayed in the Swakopmund Guesthouse, at a reasonable rate, and enjoyed our stay. In Swakopmund you will find accommodations to fit all budgets, and requirements.
Swakopmund does not disappoint with its palm-line streets, lovely to look at seaside, and pretty promenades. Due to the pleasant summer weather, Swakopmund attracts surfers, anglers, and beach lovers, even if they don’t go in the water!
Day trips from Swakopmund to the nearby attractions are easily carried out, either through self-driving or with the help of a tour operator. Namibia is rich in natural wonders, and the visitor can enjoy a myriad of activities, such as my recommendations:
1. Cape Cross Seal Colony: although this is a stinky proposition, as you can imagine the amount of poop one finds in the largest seal breeding colony in all of Southern Africa, it’s an interesting side attraction. Here, if you can hold your breath long enough, you can see seals giving birth, jump in and out of the water, and frolic on an enormous pile of sand. Cape Cross is 130 kilometers from Swakopmund.
2. Henties Bay: These is anglers’ haven, and while the beaches are not very attractive (in my opinion), they go on for miles, and the beaches are well-equipped with camping facilities for the hard-core angler. At best, it was interesting to see these hardy guys, set up their 7-feet long fishing rods in the sand, and then sit down next to their coolers, and chit chat the day away.
3. Sandwich Harbour: This is an ecological sensitive area in Namibia, and is home to the most important wetlands in Southern Africa. In this lagoon, you will see thousands of flamingos, and many other wetland birds; a sight to behold when the flamingos take flight hundreds are a time! A four-wheel drive vehicle is required, and because you need to have an official permit, it’s best to go with a professional tour operator.
4. Walvis Bay: Though the town is not extremely attractive, the attraction here is the boat tours offered to encounter seals (which usually board your boat for snackies), dolphins (which we didn’t see), and cheeky pelicans.
Part of the fun of going on these boat tours, which are only offered in the morning, due to the wicked wind that moves in the afternoon, are the fresh oysters (grown locally) that are served on board, as well as the sparkling wine and other yummy finger foods. Highly recommend this tour.
5. Scenic Flights: Take a scenic flight that will fly you over the beautiful Sossusvlei sand dunes, and the Skeleton Coast. You will marvel at the beauty of the Namib Desert, and also will be amazed at the number of stranded boats of long ago that crashed onto the Namibian coastland, thus the name, Skeleton Coast.
6. Desert Activities. Finally, the very popular attractions in Swakopmund are:
~ Camel riding into the desert,
~ Quad bike riding into the sand dunes,
~ Guided four-wheel drive trips (not for the faint of heart),
~ Horse-riding safaris into the nearby sand dunes, and
~ Take a day tour to see the smaller game, such as antelopes, insects and critters of the desert!
Swakopmund is known as Namibia’s playground. There are many activities to participate in, and the limit to what you can do is really the amount of money you wish to spend. While we stayed only two nights, we know of people who have spent an entire week here and never became bored. The accommodations, other than in Windhoek, are very affordable and of excellent quality.
The choices of restaurants, with extremely good quality seafood abound. To tell the truth, this town looked more like little Germany than an African town, but nevertheless, the amount of things to do make it a great stopover for a couple of days.