Where to stay in Namibia
Until a few years ago, accommodation in most Namibian towns was a choice between a characterless hotel and a municipal campsite. Only visitors with their own transport made their way to the few isolated guest lodges and game farms. However, in the past five to 10 years, the standard and range of accommodation has improved enormously. Many hotels have been refurbished and a number of new top-end options have appeared. There is a wide variety of options from top-of-the-range game lodges and tented camps (US$300-1000 per couple per day), mid-range safari lodges and coastal guesthouses with self-contained air-conditioned double rooms (US$75-150), to simple guesthouses and B&Bs (US$40-60 for a double room), and dorm beds or camping (US$10-15 a day).
Since 2004 it has been a requirement for every hotel, lodge, guest farm, campsite and backpackers hostel to be graded and registered by tourism inspectors to ensure minimum standards are met and that the establishment deserves the right to be registered with Namibia Tourist Board and promoted to tourists. If they don't meet the standards, establishments are not permitted to operate . As a result, the quality of the tourism establishments in Namibia in every price bracket is very good. Reservations, especially in the parks, should be made well in advance if possible, particularly around the southern African school holidays, the longest of which is in December and January. Accommodation booked through a European agent tends to be more expensive than if booked directly with the hotel or lodge. Almost all of Namibia's hoteliers have embraced the age of the internet, and an ever-increasing number can take a reservation by email or through their websites.
Namibia Wildlife Resorts,
who manage the accommodation in the national parks, now offers a very useful online booking service.
Apart from camping, hostels provide the cheapest accommodation in Namibia. Budget around US$13 for a dorm bed and US$35 plus for a double room. Most are well-run communal houses. There is usually a well-equipped kitchen (with utensils, stove, fridge and cupboards), bar, lounge with library and TV, a noticeboard for travellers, and often someone who can arrange budget safari tours and car hire. For independent travellers, these places are the best source of information, companionship, parties and advice. The down side is that, far away from home, you may be tempted to remain within the isolated 'comfort' of a hostel; do not succumb, you came to Africa for more than this!Bed and breakfast
Once confined to Windhoek, the B&B concept has really begun to take off in the past few years. Most operate along conventional lines and provide a full cooked breakfast. As with all B&Bs you will be staying in someone's home, which can be a good way to meet local (white) people and gain an insight into their lives and sentiments. As they represent an ill-defined category, in most sections of this book B&Bs are not separately identified. A useful resource is the
B&B Association of Namibia
's website, www.bed-breakfast-namibia.com.
Camping is not a neglected end of the market as a good number of domestic and South African tourists spend their annual family holidays in caravans or large tents. In the most popular game reserves, even the tent and caravan pitches get booked up to a year in advance, so if you are in Namibia during the school holidays don't automatically assume there will be space at a campsite.
The popularity of camping has meant that there are good facilities at many parks, most game farms have their own private campsites and there are some excellent NACOBTA C
ampsites scattered around the country. Even the most basic site will have a clean washblock, many with electric points, lighting and hot water. For a small extra fee you can use electricity points at your site, particularly useful for caravans. Many will also have self-catering rooms, of varying quality and facilities, ranging from a single room with a couple of beds to chalets with several rooms and fully equipped kitchens. Be sure to stock up on provisions in the supermarkets and bottle store of the major towns. Officially bush or
free camping in Namibia is illegal, although in extremely isolated spots, campers can get away with it. Nevertheless its recommended to camp in formal campsites whenever possible.
Camping equipment can be bought in Windhoek and Swakopmund; look for
, in particular, although supermarkets often stock useful supplies. Some items are rather dated and can seem heavy and cumbersome when compared to the latest hi-tech products from the USA and Europe. We recommend that you bring your own tent and sleeping bag . The cooking side of camping can be the most awkward for overseas visitors; however, many car hire companies hire out vehicles with everything you need including bulky items such as tables, chairs and cool boxes to small items such as cooking utensils and towels. If cost is no concern you can hire one with a built-in refrigerator, water tank, solar-heated portable shower, roof tents, long-range fuel tanks and all the smaller items necessary for a successful and safe journey into the bush. To save time do not leave the hire of a vehicle and camping equipment until you arrive in Namibia, you could easily have to wait for several days at the busiest time of year. Arranging everything in advance will enable you to head straight off from the airport, not wasting a minute in town.
Somewhat surprisingly, the
Namibia Wildlife Resorts
' sites do not necessarily work out that cheap for camping as visitors pay for entry for themselves (US$11 per person) and their vehicles (US$1.50) and then pay for the site, which at the most popular places such as Etosha National Park and Sesriem can top US$80. These sites, each with a parking place, fireplace and usually a tap, take up to six or eight people per site, so if there is a group the cost per person works out reasonably cheap, but if there are only two people it can be expensive. Most of these campsites are adequate with clean ablution blocks with plenty of hot water, and some have communal kitchen facilities with sinks for washing up and sometimes a hot plate or stove. They do, however, get crowded in high season and there is very much the feeling of everyone being on top of each other. At some resorts, such as those in Etosha, there is the added excitement of the presence of wildlife, despite the fact that the campsites are fenced. Smaller mammals such as jackals, mongooses and honey badgers regularly make their way through the fences on night-time raids of the rubbish bins and there have been many an occasion when a saucepan or shoe has been scurried away. Full details are included under the separate entries for the parks and reserves. Expect to pay US$8-15 per person in private campsites, many of which are on guest farms, depending on location and facilities; as with the
campsites, the charges may be for a 'site' that can take several people and not per person, which sometimes works out expensive for two people.
Before independence, most visitors to Namibia originated from South Africa and visiting a working farm or game ranch was confined to those who knew the owner. Today there are hundreds of guest farms (
in German) all over the country and aim to spend at least a couple of nights to enjoy the hospitality and experience. Some were opened by farmers noting a gap in the market, who now offer riding, hiking, good country food and relaxation in a tranquil, rural setting. Other farmers and entrepreneurs jumped on the bandwagon looking simply to make easy money from passing tourists. Still others, hard hit by drought, looked at it as a lifeline for survival. There is now a fantastic range of excellent guest and game farms which offer a superb opportunity to experience the bush first hand, with guides who know their land and everything that lives on it intimately.
If you are coming from Europe, it is easy to be misled by the word 'farm'. In fact, most Namibian farms are vast tracts of land, typically as large as 10,000 ha (10 km by 10 km) used predominantly for livestock farming. The basic difference between a guest farm and a game farm is that the former will usually be a working commercial farm offering visitors the chance to experience it at first hand. There may be hiking or horse-riding trails, there will usually be a swimming pool, and often the opportunity for a tour around the farm. Although most guest farms will usually have some game such as springbok, gemsbok and warthogs, the 'game drives' offered will tend to be scenic, rather than wild, experiences.
A game farm or ranch on the other hand will usually have been especially stocked with wild game such as elephant, rhino, the carnivorous cats and the antelope on which they feed. Here the emphasis will be on game-viewing drives and possibly guided hikes in the bush, offering a first-hand view of the bush, the 'spoor' (footprints and droppings) and the animals themselves. A stay at a good game ranch does not come cheap but is well worth the expense for the unique experience it offers visitors.
Most guest farms cater for a limited number of visitors and provide an intimate, personable service. Generally your hosts will be very friendly, and will be happy to discuss any and everything about Namibia with you; on the other hand it is worth noting that a small number of farms are predominantly German speaking and not really geared for the non-German-speaking visitor. If you fall in the latter category you may prefer to avoid such places; telephoning in advance is the best way to ensure all is in order.
Finally, many farms offer not only regular tourist accommodation and activities, but also hunting. While we don't condone hunting common antelope for meat, which is a common practice in southern Africa, trophy hunting (and in some instances canned hunting, meaning the customer is guaranteed a kill by the simple expedient of the hosts pre- capturing the animal, and releasing it into an area where the hunter can take a shot at it) is big business in Namibia. There is a pro-active lobby in Namibia supporting the benefits of
hunting, sometimes citing it as a culling control in areas where there are problems with over-
populations of animals, and in some cases citing it as contributing to the tourism revenue to the country. However, we believe that most of our readers would prefer not to be in the situation of sharing a dinner table at a guest farm with a hunter who has specifically come to Namibia to shoot and kill a leopard, cheetah, buffalo or elephant (for sport), and wherever possible have refrained from listing the establishments that offer this activity.
These tend to be a cross between a hotel and a B&B and are generally found in Windhoek, Swakopmund and the towns of the central and southern regions. Guesthouses generally offer en suite twin rooms, sometimes with phone and TV, and with a small swimming pool. A hearty cooked breakfast is often included in the price which will range from US$40-90 per double room. Guesthouses do not usually have bars or restaurants, although there may be a small fridge in your room and it may also be possible to arrange an evening meal by calling ahead. Smaller than your average hotel, guesthouses tend to offer a more personal service which some people enjoy; while others prefer the relative anonymity of a hotel where they can come and go unnoticed.Hotels and lodges
Every medium-sized town has at least one small hotel, often providing the only comfortable bar and restaurant in town. Many of these hotels are family run and have been so since they were built. Under these circumstances the owners are not always that susceptible to any form of criticism about the way things operate. As more visitors from overseas stay in Namibia so many of the small hotels are improving their facilities and image.
Most small country hotels fall into the two-star category, offering basic, clean rooms, a restaurant serving three meals a day and a bar. Prices will generally range from US$40-90 per double room and usually include a full cooked breakfast. For such places it is not usually necessary to book in advance, although during school holidays it is possible that places en route to Etosha and in Swakopmund will get crowded. The more upmarket hotels in the cities and towns provide good service and international standards, though the very large ones can feel a bit anonymous. Most have several public areas, restaurants and bars, maybe a gym, swimming pool and underground car park, and usually conference facilities. For these you can expect to pay in the region of US$90-200 per double room. Under
Namibia Tourism Board's
grading system, a
must have at least 20 en suite guest rooms, whilst a
must have at least 10 but not more than 20 en suite guest rooms. To be called a
, the establishment has to be located in a rural area or within a natural environment and must have at least five guest rooms, a dining room or restaurant, and provide recreational activities.
Namibia Wildlife Resorts
) www.nwr.com.na is responsible for management of all the services at the Ministry of Environment and Tourism's 20 declared game reserves and parks. These range from the totally untouched Mamili National Park to the fully developed Gross Barmen Hot Springs Resort, complete with accommodation, restaurant and conference facilities. Most of the parks and resorts have some form of accommodation, which can be booked up to 18 months in advance. The accommodation is a mix of self-catering bungalows with two to six beds, well-serviced campsites and simple camps with overnight huts. Payment must be made in full if the accommodation is to be taken up less than 25 days from the date of the reservation. Visitors from overseas can organize their accommodation by phone, email or online through the website, and pay in advance with a credit card. This is worth considering, particularly for Etosha National Park, if you are going to be in Namibia during school holidays. Note that there are cancellation charges. Written reservations can be made up to 18 months in advance and phone reservations 11 months in advance. Entry fees into the parks are paid separately at the entrance gates on arrival.
On the whole, the accommodation is clean and in good working order, although some are in need of minor repair. However recently, some of the accommodation has been upgraded by
, such as the former self-catering chalets in Etosha, which are now luxury units with rates that include breakfast in the restaurant and in some cases dinner too . This particular upgrade coincided with Etosha's celebration of its centenary in 2007. Other accommodation upgrades include the Waterberg Plateau Park, and the Ai-Ais Hot Springs Resort at the bottom of Fish River Canyon is currently closed for refurbishment. Overall, they represent reasonable value and in most cases the camps are located in beautiful positions. Chalets and cottages start at US$80-100 for a one-bed unit to US$150-200 for a four-bed unit. The new upgraded accommodation in Etosha costs considerably more.