Windhoek is Namibia's capital and largest city (population ~400,000). It is in the geographic centre of the country at an elevation of 1,600m. This is the city where most safaris travelling through Namibia begin, and also the first point of entry in Namibia should you arrive by airplane.
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The city was spelled Windhuk during the German colonial time and is sometimes still referred to as such in German. The name is pronounced wind-hook, as "oe" in Dutch and Afrikaans is pronounced like "u" in German.
English is spoken throughout Namibia (it is the country's official language and is also the medium of instruction in most schools), although in many urban areas Afrikaans (similar to Dutch) is used as a lingua franca, as 50% of the Namibian population speak Afrikaans. German is widely used in tourism. Oshiwambo is spoken by 50% of Namibians as a mother tongue.
Radio and television are also predominantly in English.
Other languages include Otjiherero, Damara/Nama, Setswana, SiLozi, and Rukwangali.
The B1, which runs from the north to the south and the B2 (Trans-Kalahari) which runs from the east to the west through Namibia are the primary land routes into Windhoek. Northern towns served by the B1 include Oshakati, Otjiwarongo, and Okahanja. Southern towns include Rehoboth, Keetmanshoop and Lüderitz. From the west the B2 connects Swakopmund and from the east it connects Gobabis.
This is the easiest way to get to Windhoek for people without a car. Minibuses run from everywhere in Namibia, and through some combination of different routes, one can always find their way to Windhoek. The Engen petrol station north of downtown (Rhino Park) is the rank for southern and western destinations such as Mariental, Swakopmund, Keetmanshoop. For northern destinations such as Otjiwarongo, Oshakati and Rundu go to Hakahana Service Station, Katutura. However, it is easier to arrange for a minibus to take you (check opposite SAA in Independence Avenue).
If you're arriving in Namibia by airplane, this is most likely to be via Hosea Kutako International Airport. It's a relatively small airport, with a handful of gates and no aerobridges. Airside there are a few souvenir shops, and a bistro with fairly average food in a large common waiting hall for all flights. Landside there is a nice cafe outside of departures with good coffee, burgers, toasties and at reasonable prices. There is a official taxi booth landside in arrivals. Even though the airport is small, the queues can still be fairly long for security and immigration clearance - both incoming and outgoing. Car hire is available at the airport with all the majors. The airport is approximately 45 km (28 mi) out of town, so give yourself plenty of time to travel to the city centre. A taxi to the city will be about N$300 per person and will drop you at your doorstep. If you are travelling in a group you can negotiate a bulk price. For a similar price you can probably book a transfer through your hotel to be met at the arrivals. The road between the city and the airport is tarred, but there are no services. Fuel is available at the airport and in the city - there is not much between. Watch or baboons and other wildlife if you are driving in Namibia for the first time.
Travelling between international and domestic airport will take about half a day, due to customs, passport control, road time, and another check-in. Luggage will not be routed from one airport to another!
TransNamib, via their StarLine passenger service, operates trains from Windhoek to a few destinations in Namibia. All trains depart in the late afternoon or early evening (between 4 and 8 PM) at a time when the ticket office is already closed. You cannot buy a ticket on the train; in fact, you cannot enter the platform without a ticket. Trains are scheduled 2-5 times per week, depending on destination and season, on the following routes:
- Windhoek-Swakopmund-Walvis Bay
- Windhoek-Keetmanshoop; this train used to split and continue on to Upington in South Africa and Lüderitz on the Atlantic coast, but no longer does so.
These are not dedicated passenger trains but convey passengers via special coaches hooked on the back of freight trains. They are therefore a relatively slow method of transport, as the train will stop at every tree to hook and unhook freight cars. The trip Windhoek-Swakopmund (360 kilometres (220 mi) by road) takes a scheduled 9 hours, the 500 kilometres (310 mi) trip to Keetmanshoop takes almost a day. Tickets are cheap, though, even in business class, and the passenger coaches are comfortable and have an airline-style seating. Their air-conditioning, video entertainment, and vending machines are not often operational, though. Most trains travel at night; bring a sleeping bag against the cold.
The Desert Express is a luxury tourist train that traverses Namibia regularly, taking tourists to such destinations as Walvis Bay, Swakopmund and Etosha National Park. Buses are used to transport visitors from train stations to the various sights.
- 3 Windhoek railway station, Bahnhof St.
- Intercape runs a bus service to and from Cape Town and Johannesburg in South Africa and Livingstone in Zambia.
- Insight Luxury Coaches has a bus two times a week from Windhoek to Livingstone Zambia for N$450.
- Baileys Reo Liner has a bus three times a week from Windhoek to Cape Town with a fare of N$650.
- AT&T Monnakgotla Transport has a bus two times a week from Windhoek to Gaborone Botswana.
Book a few days in advance at least to be sure that you have a seat.
Most hotels and hostels are close to the city centre, so you can easily walk to most shops, restaurants, clubs and sights. After dark it is not safe to walk, though.
Traffic in Windhoek generally flows freely, and driving is generally well ordered. Parking garages are located in the shopping centres and and some street parking is available too.
There are a number of car rental agencies operating in Windhoek:
- Okavango Car hire, 124 Andimba Toivo Ya Toivo St, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Adozu Car Hire, ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com.
- African Car Hire, ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Avis (City), ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com.
- Avis (Airport) (At Hosea Kutako International Airport), ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Budget (City), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com.
- Budget (Airport) (At Hosea Kutako International Airport), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Imperial (City), ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com.
- Imperial (Airport) (At Hosea Kutako International Airport), ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
There is no scheduled public transport in Windhoek but there is a system of shared taxis that do not have fixed routes. Everybody in the taxi is driven to their intended destination, in the order the driver thinks is best. Taxis have their registration number, a letter and up to three digits, prominently displayed. Taxis looking for passengers will hoot. To catch a taxi, point your hand into the direction you want to travel. Once the driver stops, tell him your destination. If it is not en route to his other passengers' destinations, he might refuse. Just wave down the next taxi.
As these taxis primarily run between the townships and the main industrial/commercial areas of the city, it can be difficult to find one in posh suburbs at night---over the day domestic workers take a taxi there. The standard fare for destinations that are on the "route" or close to the route is N$12, destinations more "out of the way" are charged double. After midnight every tour costs double, and people recognisable a tourists will generally not travel for the normal fee. If the driver says nothing about the price, give N$12.
Shared taxis are generally in bad technical shape, and their aggressive driving is legendary. If you feel uncomfortable with that, there are radio taxis (on-demand) that do not pick up other passengers while they drive you. Most of these taxis have to be pre-booked via telephone; they'll come and get you wherever you are. They tend to gather at popular restaurants and nightspots. Make sure you agree on the price before taking them; most will ask for at least N$80 to go anywhere around Windhoek. These taxis also can take you out of Windhoek and to the airport.
Here are some taxi company numbers:
- Parliament of Namibia. Formerly the legislative assembly during the apartheid days, this is now the home of the National Assembly. There is also a new building next door for the National Council.
- National Gallery of Namibia
- Dictator street names Though Namibia isn't a dictatorship, there are a few dictators with whom Namibia's first President was quite friendly during the days of the struggle for independence (and still is). There are two in Windhoek, both downtown: Fidel Castro St. and Robert Mugabe Ave.
- Christuskirche In the middle of a big traffic circle where Robert Mugabe Ave. and Fidel Castro St. meet, at the gates of the Parliamentary compound. The old Lutheran church. The circular stained-glass window in the facade and all the other stained-glass windows in the church were donated by Kaiser Wilhelm II, as a gift to the colony. In the 1990s, a tourist noticed that all the windows were installed with the sun protection on the inside, prompting authorities to re-install all of the windows, properly.
- AJ du Plooy Sports Fields, Socrates Street, Academia (Between Academia High School and Windhoek Technical High School. Follow the way to the University of Namibia (UNAM), it is roughly opposite.). Soccer and rugby fields, tennis courts, basketball court. Also suitable for a picnic. Not all amenities are in good shape but it is free to use for everyone. Not safe after dark.
- Archer's Land, on farm Monte Christo north of Windhoek (Leave the town northwards on the National Road B1, direction Okahandja. After about 10 km turn left onto the D1499. Drive through the farm gate after 2.5 km, Archer's Land is signposted from there. Accessible with ordinary cars.), ✉ email@example.com. Friday to Sunday 8:00-18:00. Two hunting trails (rubber animals, of course) of circa 2 km each. There's also a camp site. Fishing on the Otjiseru river is also possible but as it is the outflow of the heavily polluted Goreangab Dam you cannot eat the fish. The owners expect that you throw it back into the water, anyway. Entrance 50 N$, use of archery range 50 N$, equipment rent 60 N$, river fishing 50 N$ (kids 35/35/40/35 N$).
- Cats Unlimited, ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. They guide conservation expeditions concentrating on big cats just outside of Windhoek. N$11999.
The University of Namibia (UNAM) and the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) are located in Windhoek. There is also the Franco-Namibian Cultural Centre where you can take classes in everything from French to photography.
There is a craft market in Post Street Mall in central Windhoek, though prices are quite high. There is another in Independence Avenue outside the Hilton Hotel.
You can get cheaper prices in the craft market in Okahandja, which is about an hour north of Windhoek, if you are travelling that way.
There are a number of arcades and small shopping centres in the centre of Windhoek. Between them you can find pretty much anything you need. There is also a larger mall called Maerua Mall in the south end of the city (Jan Jonker Road), easily accessible by taxi.
For arts and crafts you can visit Jennys Place located at Bougain Villa 78 Sam Nujoma Drive, Klein Windhoek. Telephone +264 61 269152. It is the largest arts and crafts shop in Namibia. They sell everything from paints, face paints, canvases, beads, ribbons, costumes, scrapbooking supplies, brushes, spraypaint, decoupage, wooden blanks, pewter and the occasional oddity such as glow in the dark spraypaint, gifts and decorations. They also provide a variety of art classes such as painting, card making and scrap booking. It has a calm and tranquil atmosphere and a great place to meet other crafters.
Keep in mind that many places – shops, restaurants, and internet cafés included – are closed on Sundays or stay open only until 1PM. Note also that alcoholic beverages aren't sold after 19:00 (weekdays) and after 13:00 on Saturday (through until Monday morning). On public holidays only restaurants and night clubs are open, all ordinary bars have to close.
Supermarkets and other shops close in the evenings.
- 1 Cafe le Pain, General Murtala Mohammed Avenue, Eros (inside the service station). A somewhat extravagant bakery with (for Namibia) ridiculous prices but lots of interesting produce. Very friendly staff. The shelf will only fill up from around 09:00 in the morning, ideal for a brunch at home, not ideal for the early birds. Roll 1.80 N$, croissant 20 N$, small loaf of bread 35 N$.
ATMs are widespread and common throughout the city. Expect a limit of $5000 on withdrawals most ATMs, and some as low as $2000. Usage fees for foreign cards at around $25.
- Standard Bank. has master card / visa card ATMs
- Nedbank. has master card / visa card ATMs
- First National Bank. has master card / visa card ATMs
Supermarkets in Namibia have just about anything you might want from back home, though the brand names may be different.
- Checkers. There are a couple of outlets in Windhoek. The one in the city centre stocks just about all the supplies you could need
- Shoprite. Shoprite has many supermarkets in Windhoek and all over Namibia.
- Spar. There are now 27 Spar supermarkets in Namibia.
- Pick n Pay (one in Wernhill center). Pick N Pay have supermarkets all over Namibia.
There is a small outdoor market in Post Street Mall, a pedestrian street between Wernhil park and Independence Avenue. This is a good place to shop for souvenirs and wood carvings. Prices here will be a lot cheaper than in the shops. Feel free to negotiate.
- 1 Brückenhaus, opposite Avis Dam (Drive on the B6 towards Gobabis. At the edge of town, before driving under the railway bridge, the Brückenhaus (Bridge House) is on the right). Large helpings of tasty meat and chips, very few veggies, thus a very Namibian restaurant. Several really monstrous portions with kilograms rather than grams of meat will get your table a round of Jägermeister if you can finish them. One of the few places in Namibia where you can get craft beer. There is a beer garden, kids have a pool and a small playground. Very friendly staff. Burgers 120 N$, steak 150 N$, craft beer 50 N$.
- 2 Joe's Beer House, 160 Nelson Mandela Ave, ☏ . M-Th 4PM-late, F-Su 11AM-late. Windhoek's largest restaurant, seats several hundred people, and is packed essentially every day. You'll meet busloads of tourists, noisy families, local celebrities, all colors and all ages. Due to its size it can be a bit chaotic, as well as a tad impersonal. The place also features an amazing collection of odds and ends on display, from old bottles and farming equipment to a Mini Cooper that managed to cross Africa. Typical Namibian cuisine with a lot of tasty meat and not many vegetables. Huge portions; the average person will be full from a bar snack. Large beer from tap 25 N$, starters and light meals 60-100 N$, main course 150 N$, steak 200 N$. It is expected that you tip even if you are not occupying a table, that's unusual for Namibia, and the waiters will tell you when the tip is not sufficient.
- Luigi and the Fish, 320 Sam Nujoma Dr (Klein Windhoek, on the way to the airport), ☏ . 6PM-10PM. A nice restaurant and bar, many travellers here. It describes itself as having the biggest menu in Namibia, with a mix of game, beef, pork, seafood, pizza and vegetarian dishes. On Fridays and Saturdays you need to book in advance.
- 3 Old Continental Cafe, Pedestrian passage between Lüderitz Street and Independence Avenue (Parking can be difficult here. Come on foot.), ☏ . 9AM-5PM. Small downtown eatery for breakfast and lunch. Lebanese-style cooking, dishes are somewhat spicy. Try the soup of the day. 30-80 N$.
- PepperCorn, Shop 59, Maerua Mall (opposite the cinema), ☏ . 9AM-10PM. Try to get a seat in the lounge and have a drink before and after the meal.
- Sardinia, 47 Independence Ave, ☏ . 9AM-11PM. Italian restaurant with great pizzas, hot dishes and excellent ice cream.
- 4 Taste of India, Hosea Kutako Drive (In the 'Southport' development in Southern Industrial. Not walkable after sunset as the block is surrounded by bushes and then-abandoned workshops). 11:30AM-10PM, Sundays closed. Tasty Indian food but terrible ambiente, plastic chairs and tables, next to a parking lot. Still, this is much better and cheaper than Indian restaurants elsewhere in town. Starters 10-60 N$, main 60-100 N$, side dishes extra at 10-30 N$.
- Blitzkrieg Bunker Bar A loud rock and metal bar. Despite the risqué name, a perfectly friendly place with laid-back staff and a good crowd. Writing anywhere on the walls with a marker pen is not discouraged.
- Bump Located in the Southern Industrial section of Windhoek, Bump features a spacious outdoor area, mid-sized dance floor and a large bar. Although the music is often limited to house and rave music, the service is friendly. Popular with the Afrikaner crowd.
- 1 Chez Ntemba, Dr Kenneth Kaunda Street (Off Independence Avenue. All taxi drivers know it, too). open Wed-Sun. Popular with locals and the only place to go out on Sundays because other places are closed or dead quiet. Fri-Sun entrance is N$30. Small beer for N$20.
- 2 J&J Gambling House, Luther Street (Off Independence Avenue. At the back of Chez Ntemba, walk halfway around the block). Open till 2 AM except on Sundays when it closes 10 PM. Popular bar in the town centre. J&J can get a bit rough from time to time: Hookers, drunkards, people selling contraband, but security is good. 750 ml beer N$ 23, you would have to go deep into the slums to get it cheaper.
- 3 Old Location Ohungi and Restaurant, Purcell Street, Windhoek West (Formerly the Oase, many taxi drivers will only know the old name). Till late. Frequently still operational after Police hour (2AM). One of the few watering holes that are neither shabby nor extravagant. Outside tables. The restaurant is a stall in front of the bar, offering meat until the wee hours of the morning. Small beer 20 N$.
- Warehouse, corner of Tal Street and Sam Nujoma Drive, ☏ . Closed on Sundays. Popular with tourists and the local artist's scene. Live music (Rock and Jazz) of varying quality, but often good and always entertaining and free. Tuesdays Karaoke. Occasionally there is a rock concert in a separate hall for which there is an admission fee. 0.5l beer N$25, meals and snacks N$40-80.
- The Wine Bar Located on a hill overlooking Windhoek with fantastic sunsets, perfect for that romantic occasion. The staff give excellent service and have good knowledge of the wines being served. You may also purchase wine here.
- Cardboard Box Backpackers Hostel, 15 John Albrecht St (at the corner of John Meinart), ☏ . Has a bar and a swimming pool; close to downtown. Also the site of the Cardboard Box Travel Shop. Dorm bed N$135.
- Chameleon Backpackers Lodge & Guesthouse, 5-7 Voight St, ☏ . Has a mix of dorm and private rooms with a bar, swimming pool and booking desk for Chameleon Safaris. Close to downtown. Dorm bed N$150 pp.
- 1 ParadiseGarden Backpackers (ParadiseGarden Hostel & Camping), 5 Roentgen Street (At the corner of Beethoven street and John Meinert street turn right into Beethoven street. Roentgen street is the first street on your left.), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Check-in: 2pm, check-out: 10am. Owned and managed by a German. Has travel information desk, free WiFi and secure parking, well-equipped kitchen, laundry service, a huge and always clean swimming pool, located within a 15-minute walk from Windhoek downtown. English, Spanish and German spoken. Camping N$130, dorm N $190, rooms starting from N$450.
- Rivendell Backpackers, 40 Beethoven St, ☏ . single/double rooms and dorm beds. Has a swimming pool.
- Backpackers Unite, 5 Grieg St, ☏ . Check-in: 12 noon, check-out: 12 noon. camping/dorm beds. has a swimming pool. free breakfast and wifi. Dorm N$140 pp. Caamping N$80 pp..
- Jan Jonker Accommodation, 183, Jan Jonker Road, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Okavango Guesthouse, 124 Andimba Toivo Ya Toivo St, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com.
- Hotel Casa Blanca, 52 Fritsche Street, Pioneers Park, ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Galpinii Guest House (b&b), 45, Prinsloo Street, Pioneers Park, ☏ , fax: .
- Klein Windhoek Guest House, 2 Hofmeyer Street, Klein Windhoek, ☏ , fax: .
- Jordani Bed and Breakfast, 55 Hamutenya Wanehepo Ndadi St, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 10:00.
- Protea Hotel Furstenhof, Dr. Frans Indongo Street. Luxury hotel downtown with a pool and beautiful view of the city.
- Avani Windhoek Hotel & Casino, 129 Independence Ave. Four star hotel downtown with a "casino". The Avani and Hilton are both on Independence Avenue downtown, almost across the road from each other. The rooms at Avani aren't as plush as the Hilton, but it does have the shopping centre and cafe attached which adds some amenity. Mostly guests at the Avani, where as the Hilton draws on a wider demographic of guests, locals, and ex-pats.
- Windhoek Country Club. Luxury resort and conference centre in the south end of the city.
- Heinitzburg. Boutique hotel in an old castle above the city
- Hilton Hotel, Rev. Michael Scott St. Namibia's only five-star hotel. Luxury, certainly when compared to the alternatives, well equipped, excellent service, city center location. The conference area is a hub for the city's business activities, and the pool bar buzzes with residents and visitors.
The area code for Windhoek is (061). When calling Windhoek from outside Namibia do not put a '0' between the country code and the area code.
It is cheaper to buy mobile phone starter packs than rely on roaming. Starter packs, including SIM cards and airtime, can be purchased throughout the city at less than N$20.
There are a number of well-equipped Internet cafés in Windhoek.
- Internet Cafe, Wernhill Center (2nd floor above Pick 'n Pay, near Post St Mall entrance). Large number of computers with good connection speeds. Also has a few terminals for Skype calls. N$12 for 30 min.
Due to its high elevation of about 1,600m you can be sunburnt easily, even on the (few) cloudy days. Wear a hat and sunscreen.
Windhoek is not within the endemic malaria area. The mosquitoes can still be a pest during rainy season (Nov-April). Repellents are available at every supermarket.
Windhoek is generally safe for tourists but the usual precautions should be taken. Do not walk around displaying jewelry or electronics. Take a radio taxi at night. Do not visit the townships unaccompanied, or after dark. The city centre is not very big and newly arriving tourists are quickly spotted by aggressive panhandlers who like to start conversions like "Kommen Sie aus Deutschland?", thereby targeting - and taking by surprise - the many German visitors. Just ignore them.
Be careful with the traffic. Many drivers ignore red lights, zebra crossings, and a lot more. For a car that wants to turn, a green pedestrian traffic light means nothing, and generally people in cars are deemed to be more important than people on foot, and therefore have the right of way.
- Medical emergency / Fire station: +264-(0)-61 211111
- Crisis emergency services: +264-(0)-61 303395,
- City Police: +264-(0)-61 302302, +264-(0)-61 2902018,
- Police: +264-(0)-61 10111
- Lady Pohamba Private Hospital: +264-(0)-83 3359000,
- Roman Catholic Private Hospital: +264-(0)-61 2702911
- Mediclinic Private Hospital: +264-(0)-61 4331000
- State Hospital: +264-(0)-61 2039111