Swakopmund’s proximity to both the vast Namib Desert and the Atlantic Ocean makes it the perfect starting point for both land and sea-based adventure activities.
In fact, much of Swakop’s economy has developed around adventure-seeking tourists. On most city blocks you’ll see a business or two hawking some sort of adventure activity, while advertisements for quad-bike tours, boat trips, sky dives, and scenic flights show up
everywhere from city garbage cans to hotel room nightstands. Everyone you meet knows a good pilot or a good driver who can take you to your destination (and everybody gets a cut). Guest houses and boutique hotels churn with the constant turnover of adventure tourists, and the cute cafes and souvenir shops which cater to them dot the downtown area.
Fortunately, the exchange rate in Namibia is so favorable to the Brits, Australians and Americans that flock here that most tours carry an extremely reasonable price tag; even if there’s an additional tax tacked on, or fee for a car and driver, it isn’t going to break the bank. Bear in mind, however, that the more exotic or elaborate trips can cost several hundred dollars and span several days, so factor that in when you’re doing your pre-trip planning and hotel research.
Once on the ground, there are a variety of options to choose from when selecting adventure activities. Here are some of the more popular options to provide help in the decision making process.
Exploring the Desert
You can’t travel more than a mile or so north, south or east of Swakopmund without seeing evidence of the desert. It sneaks up on the city like a lion in the night, constantly blowing sand into the streets and hampering the growth of any greenery. To the west is the vast, roiling Atlantic, which stretches all the way to South America.
This all adds up to a great playground for adventure travelers who want to explore the soaring red-brown dunes, dried-out mud flats, and flamingo-and-seal-crowded coastlines. Numerous types of tours depart every morning.
Those who want an up-close and interactive experience with the terrain can hop on a quad bike, Land Rover or camel tour. If you don’t mind getting a little dirty, try sand boarding or sand skiing down the steep dunes.
For stunning aerial views of the desert and sea, book a bush plane or a hot air balloon, both of which can whisk you over features such as abandoned diamond mines, bold-hued dunes, and the numerous shipwrecks that that give the area the nickname “skeleton coast.” All make for excellent photo ops as you glide overhead, at 4,000 feet up.
For the ultimate adrenaline experience, there’s skydiving. There’s no better way to enjoy the breathtaking dune landscape than by jumping out of an airplane at 10,000 feet and free falling for 30 seconds at 220 km/h before your chute deploys. If this is your kind of buzz, hit up the folks at Ground Rush Adventures. The price includes a 25-minute scenic flight on the way out.
One thing that you won’t see a great deal of in the area surrounding Swakop is big game. Most of the country’s larger creatures stay pretty far away from the city, so if you want to view some of the “Big Five” then you’ll need to book a longer trip to the south or east of the country.
Sossusvlei, which is located about 400km (250 mi) south of Swakop, is most famous for its stunning, towering red sand dunes. They’re exceedingly picturesque, especially in the morning light, and they’re fun to drive around and clamor across.
The two most popular dunes in the tourist circuit are Dune 45, which is 45km east of a small settlement called Sesim, and Big Daddy. The former is a bit closer to civilization and is well trafficked by tourists, especially during the early morning and very late evening. Big Daddy is located a bit further down the road, but is a bit taller and more picturesque. Both are a several-hour journey away from Swakopmund.
Most notably, Big Daddy is adjacent to Deadvlei, a stark white clay pan at the foot of the dunes and full of dried out remains of Acacia trees. The combination of the dead trees, white pan, red dunes and blue sky make for outstanding photos, and the trip over the dunes is well worth the walk. If you can make it to the peak of Big Daddy — a hike of around 45 minutes — you’ll also be rewarded with panoramic views around the area and some amazing photos.
Trips to the top of the dunes almost always leave before dawn, since temperatures can get unbearable during the day. Plan on getting on the road well before breakfast and being done by 10 or 11 am. By that time of day you’ll need sandals or shoes so your feet don’t burn.
Tours to Sossusvlei from Swapokmund run either by small aircraft or via a several hour drive through the desert. Though the flights can add significant cost to the trip, consider making the investment in order to see some of the great scenery along the Namibian coast line: shipwrecks, mines and salt flats in the stark desert 4,000 feet below.
Costs range from NAD$2500-$10,000 (US$240-$965) depending on the duration and luxury of your trip.
Walvis Bay is a utilitarian port town 20 minutes south of Swakopmund with little of interest to the casual tourist. It does, however, have a buzzing port from which numerous tours depart to troll through the surrounding waters.
Depending on the season, tour highlights include seal, dolphin and whale spotting, or a visit to a Namibian oyster farm. Of course there’s also onboard hobnobbing with bubbly and snacks. Flamingos drift around the shore near the watercraft, and at any time a stray pelican or seal may jump onto the boat, much to the delight of the passengers. Many of the seals are even docile enough to pet and feed.
Costs range based on the duration of the trip. The three hour trip that I took (on a power catamaran) cost about NAD$520 (US$50) per person, including oysters, Champagne, a full spectrum of snacks, and transfers to and from Swakopmund.
Walvis Bay is also one of the top kitesurfing destinations in the world. The best time to venture out on the water is during the windy season, which runs from August to December and peaks in September and October. However, bear in mind that Walvis is more of a place for expert kitesurfers — not necessarily newbies. The winds are so powerful that the annual Speed Fest event is held here, which attracts kitesurfers from all over the globe who break world records for speed.
If you are not a pro, try to get out on the water in the off season, and stick to the protected lagoon area. There are numerous outfitters who can rent you equipment and give you lessons.