A must-stop on many iconic Namibian road trips, Swakopmund is a colonial porthole back into the country’s German history.
Bavarian-style buildings with wooden outlined windows line the streets and the seaside town is an oasis planted between the eerie skeleton coast and vast Namib desert. Here’s how to spend the perfect weekend in Swakopmund.
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18.00 – Make your escape
There are regular flights with Air Namibia and South African Airways that leave from Cape Town and Johannesburg landing in Walvis Bay, a half-hour drive from the delightful town of Swakopmund.
Interesting to note is the origin of the town’s name. According to Namibweb, ‘Swakopmund is derived from the Nama word ”Tsoakhaub”, which can be translated as ”excrement opening”. An offensive, but accurate description of the waters of Swakop River at the time of coming down in floods carrying masses of mud, sand, pieces of vegetation and animal corpses. The masses of dirty and muddy water were emptied into the ocean and the indigenous name described it very well’.
20.00 – Dinner
The Mole, or the Swakopmund ‘waterfront’ is within walking distance of many Swakop stays. I highly recommend The Delight, which is part of the Gondwana Collection and offers South Africans really great value-for-money rates. It’s a contemporary, comfy stay with loads of Namibian detail – look closely at the patterned walls. This echoes the Shell furniture that could be found in many Namibian homes in the 1930s depression-era – tables and cupboards made from petrol and paraffin tins. You can find more info on this in the Swakopmund Museum tomorrow.
For dinner, walk to one of the restaurants overlooking the sea. There are three restaurants to choose from – the Brewer and Butcher pub-style restaurant, a luxe sushi bar and seafood restaurant called the Ocean Cellar and a more relaxed bistro called the Farmhouse Deli. I recommend the brewery, where you can sample some of Swakop’s homemade beer.
08.00 – Breakfast
Kick-off your stay at The Delight with a champagne and oyster breakfast (which is included in your stay). A Namibian speciality, these oysters are farmed right here in the Atlantic Ocean and thrive off all the nutrients that float in these cold currents.
09.00 – Shop
Walk in the direction of The Mole on Theo Ben Gurirab road. You’ll find various stores on the way, I love NamCraft and always come home to South Africa with a new piece of wooden jewellery or a beautiful beaded necklace. If you want real leather veldskoen, visit African Leather Creations (although you may need to drive for this one). They’ve got a great range, including low cut vellies, Kudu boots, Zebra vellies and Funky vellies too.
10.30 – Coffee
Continue browsing and walk towards Slowtown Coffee Roasters, at the bottom of Daniel Tjongarero Ave, which operates with a 100% Namibian team and is a chic, trendy addition to the touristy strip of shops with a wonderful view of the town lighthouse. They’ve got fresh cakes and if it’s hot, opt for the refreshing iced coffee.
11.00 – History
Once fuelled, tackle the Swakopmund Museum, which is just behind the lighthouse and facing the beach. The largest privately-run museum in Namibia occupies the site of the old harbour warehouse and there’s plenty to see. My favourite was the natural history section, but the reconstructed colonial-era homes were very interesting and included an example of the Shell furniture mentioned earlier. I also loved learning about more contemporary subjects such as the Devil’s Claw medicinal uses and issues around the production. There are also guided tours available, but book these in advance.
If you’re brave, go for a swim in the fresh waters afterwards.
13:30 – Lunch
Find cheap eats at the sidewalk cafe, Bojos Cafe. The food is fresh, wholesome and delicious with tables outside near little birdhouses set up in the trees.
14.30 – Walk
This town is perfect for pedestrians. Wander the streets and find some of Swakopmund’s historic buildings. From the lighthouse, walk along Tobias Hainyeko street and Bismarck to see the Woermann Haus (climb to the top for wonderful views) and Haus Hohenzoller (built in 1906 and initially served as a hotel). Then make your way towards the Jetty, which was first built from wood in 1905. I also loved rooting out German goods and groceries at the Woermann Brock supermarket nearby.
18.00 – Sunset
Watch the sun set over the ocean at Tiger Reef Beach Bar and Grill at the other end of town. It’s right on the beach, offers a super variety of seafood and is the perfect way to wind down the day with a G&T.
A lot of places are closed on a Sunday in Swakopmund so it’s the perfect time to explore the desert.
09.30 – Sand
After another heavenly breakfast, it’s sandboarding time with Alter Action. Once the evening dew and moisturising fog have evaporated from the sand, it becomes a picturesque playground. For the energetic, there’s Stand Up Sandboarding (which is basically snowboarding without the snow) and then there’s the easier Lie Down Sandboarding (which is like an upgraded version of sliding down the dune on a tray). I found the ‘moonboots’ heavy to trek up the dunes in, but the exhilarating slide down made it all worth it.
For those after less adrenaline, book a Living Desert Tour instead and discover some of the intriguing creatures that live in the sand.
Then, sadly it’s time to head home.
Words and Photography Melanie van Zyl