This is part 13 of my series exploring my March 2017 trip to South Africa and Namibia, which started here.
Swakopmund is one of the weirdest places I’ve ever been, as it is a complete anachronism. Nestled on the Atlantic Ocean, due west of Windhoek, it is probably the second-most visited “city” in Namibia. (Walvis Bay, 40 miles to the south, is a larger city, but less touristed.) Swakopmund was the main port for German South West Africa, and still retains a very strong German influence – both in terms of architecture and people. Although English is the official language of Namibia, you’re far more likely to hear German, and the city remains a tourist/seaside destination for Germans. I’ve never been to a North Sea beachtown in Germany, but I imagine it feels like Swakopmund. There’s not a ton to see, but I’m glad I spent a day there, as it was a quiet, relaxing day and a very different experience than everywhere else I was in Africa.
There are lots of well-reviewed hotels in Swakopmund, though no major chains. (There’s an African Pride by Protea hotel halfway between Swakopmund and Walvis Bay.) I decided to “splurge” a little bit and stay at the Strand Hotel, a new property (opened 2015) on the waterfront in the heart of downtown. I put splurge in quotes because it came to only $126, including breakfast, after an 18% Cheaptickets coupon. It was a great decision and I highly recommend the hotel.
When my safari vehicle pulled up to the Strand, the other people in the van and the driver made fun of me saying I must be rich. Check-in was very personable, and I was brought a welcome drink of iced tea. I was in my room at around 5pm. My room was not an ocean view, and was a bit of a weird shape as one of the hotel’s basic level rooms, but it was still really nice, with hardwood floors, a small couch, and a small sitting area. There was a minibar with complimentary water and coffee and tea, and the room had lots of wall hangings and other décor that gave it great character. There was a small little veranda, with a view of the spa and an outdoor sitting area.
The bathroom had a stall shower which was wonderful for a refreshing shower after safari and a long day on the road.
The whole hotel is only 3 stories, but they’re each quite large and a bit labyrinthine. The entire property was spotless and well-maintained, though. In terms of facilities, there was a spa, which I didn’t use, and a gym, which wasn’t huge but was better than expected for Namibia. The free wi-fi was the only thing that didn’t work that well, but it wasn’t a big deal for me since I had plenty of data left on my Namibian sim card. There were also a number of restaurants which I’ll get to.
I kind of rushed out of the hotel in an attempt to explore the city a bit before dinner. On my way in, I saw a little craft market right next to the hotel. I went there first and got ripped off twice, the only two true scams of my trip in Africa. As I approached the goods arrayed on the ground, a man came over to me and started talking to me. I was polite but not really engaged, and was looking at various crafts. At first I thought he was the guy selling the crafts, but when I indicated I was interested in a set of salad tongs, he called over the guy who was actually the salesman. I was very confused and a bit disoriented, and so when he said they were 600 Namibian Dollars, I countered back with 500 – not stopping to think that that was still over 40 dollars. He of course said okay. Then guy one had apparently been carving some sort of nut with my name and Namibia 2017 on it and wanted me to buy it from him. Ugh. I didn’t have much money left and he was very aggressive, and ended up giving him a few dollars in Namibian currency, and then a few US dollars and he seemed to leave me alone.
From the craft market, I walked into town, where the exact same salad tongs were being sold at many souvenir stores for about half the price. I wandered a bit in and out of standard touristy stores, mostly just taking it all in. The architecture was really the most interesting part, given the German design of the low buildings that filled the town.
I thought about checking out one of the many restaurants in town for dinner, but there are a few attached to the Strand itself. They had good reviews, and were right on “the Mole” – which is basically a jetty that the hotel has built on that forms a kind of boardwalk along a small beach. I figured that Ocean Cellar, the seafood restaurant, would be a great place for a quiet dinner, especially since my whole body was sore after safari. I was right, and it was really a lovely evening with a perfect view. I had a salad, fish dish, glass of wine, and a bottle of water, and, with tip, it came to about 20 USD. (There was also plenty of security walking the boardwalk at that time.) After that, I had a decaf cappuccino at the bar in the lobby and relaxed before an early bedtime.
The next day, my pickup for the trip to the Walvis Bay Airport wasn’t until noon. I had originally planned to check out the Swakopmund Museum and the Lighthouse. But my back was really hurting. So I started with a leisurely breakfast at the hotel, which was phenomenal. The restaurant is called the “Farmhouse Deli,” which during the rest of the day has pastries and sandwiches. At breakfast it was a huge spread with tons of hot items, cold salads, made to order eggs, dozens of breads, pastries, smoothies, etc. I ate that meal outside too, just listening to the waves crashing and reading. It was pretty crowded, and the hotel clientele seemed to be a mix of Brits and Germans.
I then headed to make an appointment for a massage at a place I’d seen in town the evening before that was a bit cheaper than the hotel. It was 68 degrees but it felt a lot warmer and was very humid. I was able to get a 30 minute appointment for 11am, which kind of killed any plan for the museum, but I did walk around and check out some of the churches and other landmarks of the city, and then headed back to the hotel and packing up, before returning for a pretty good and much-needed massage.
Swakopmund is a great place to unwind after a safari in Etosha. It also is definitely a quaint place to spend a few nights as part of a greater exploration of the Atlantic coast of Namibia. As for hotels, the Strand is highly recommended.