Ins and outs of Swakopmund in Namibia

Getting there

Swakopmund, the principal town on the coast, features on just about every itinerary of a trip to Namibia, so if you are on an organized tour, at least a couple of days in town will be included. It is easily reached from Windhoek along the tarred B2 via Okahandja. This route, which can be covered in half a day, is well served by the regional towns of the Hinterland with plenty of shops and petrol stations along the way. However, there are more scenic approaches from the interior to the coast on the gravel roads. From Windhoek the C28 goes to Swakopmund through part of the Namib-Naukluft Park, and this is a very scenic drive though you will require a permit for part of it. Another route that goes through the park is the C26 and then the C14 from Windhoek to Walvis Bay, 30 km to the south of Swakopmund; this route goes over the Gamsberg and Kuiseb passes and again offers a wonderfully scenic drive.
Intercape Mainliner
and
Town Hoppers
buses run a daily service from Windhoek to Swakopmund,
Air Namibia
has flights between Windhoek and nearby Walvis Bay, and there is also the option of taking the luxury (expensive)
Desert Express
train from the capital to the coast.

Getting around

Swakopmund is entirely negotiable by foot, although at night it is advisable to catch a taxi back to your hotel even over short distances . The town is dissected neatly in a grid pattern and signposts are clear. The main road that runs from east to the coast on the west and is the extension of the B2 is Sam Nujoma Avenue (formerly known as Kaiser Wilhelm Street). Many streets in Swakopmund and Windhoek have undergone a chance of name in order to reflect contemporary figures in Namibia's history rather than colonial ones. To reach the outlying regions of Swakopmund, you need to be on a tour or have a car. All the operators provide pick-ups in town (eg to the Swakopmund Airport for skydiving), which are almost always included in the price.

Tourist information 

The
Ministry of Environment and Tourism
(
MET
)
, www.met.gov.na, is the place to get permits for the Welwitschia Plains drive if you are driving independently and not on a tour. Most other permits are available at the gates of the parks. The exception is the Kolmonskop Ghost Town near Lüderitz in the south, which can be obtained once in Lüderitz. The desert is well patrolled by MET staff, make sure you observe all the regulations and respect the fragility of the local environment. Do not litter (that includes cigarette butts). There is no excuse for not having a permit. If you are caught without a permit the fine is US$65 per vehicle.

Namibia Wildlife Resorts
, www.nwr.com.na, is a helpful office where you can make bookings for any NWR accommodation in the parks, including the Skeleton Coast National Park (Torra and Terrace Bay), and the Namib-Naukluft Park.

Namib-i
, www.namibi.org, is centrally located and the best place for tourist information. Swakopmund's ambassador for tourism, Almuth Styles, has been running the office for more than 10 years, and her helpful staff can reserve accommodation, and book local tours and transport.

Best time to visit

Although the town lies in a true arid desert, the cold Benguela Current that flows from south to north along the coast acts as a moderating influence. The climate on the coast is temperate, with temperatures of 15-25°C. The sea temperature is 14-18°C, too cold for swimming for any period without a wet suit. Swakopmund receives less than 15 mm of rain per year as the rain clouds have to travel all the way over Africa from the Indian Ocean. As you walk about the town note how most buildings have no gutters or drain pipes; on the rare occasion the town gets a lot of rain it floods. The only moisture comes in the form of a sea mist that can reach up to 50 km inland . Swakopmund is fairly quiet at the weekends. Except for the large supermarkets and tourist shops, other businesses close from 1300 on Saturday until Monday morning and most restaurants are closed on Sunday nights.

Safety

On the whole Swakopmund is fairly safe, though, like Windhoek, tourists have been targeted by muggers and robbers in the past. Make use of hotel safes and try to avoid carrying valuables around. At night always take a taxi or walk home in a large group. Ensure that room windows are locked at night, especially in self-catering accommodation that is known to be let out to tourists. Always lock your car and do not leave any valuables on show. Make use of the car guards in the street who usually wear yellow work vests and an ID badge. They'll watch your car and when you return to it, a N$2 tip is about right (more at night and if you leave your car for a lengthy period of time). Since the car guards were put in place, theft from vehicles in the town is reported to have been reduced by 90% (the system also provides well-needed jobs). Try and ensure that your accommodation has secure off-street parking.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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