By Namibian standards, Swakop is expensive ...
Generally speaking, Namibia is not overly expensive for most international tourists - once they've shelled out the considerable cost of their air ticket. However, for budgeting purposes, you should be warned that this rule of thumb does not necessarily hold for Swakop ...
So, why is Swakop so (relatively) expensive? Well, firstly it's the playground for well heeled Namibians, who flee the hot, arid interior for the relative cool of the coast over weekends and holidays. Swakop is quite a small place, with limited accommodation, so visiting over peak periods (particularly the long school holidays which start in early December and extend through to mid January) is particularly costly.
Secondly, Swakop is the nearest town to several of Namibia's big uranium mining projects. Rio Tinto's Roessing uranium mine has been going for several decades and in recent years, there has been a proliferation of other uranium projects (notably Areva's Trekkopje and Paladin's Langer Heinrich mines) that have come into production to capitalise on the worldwide energy shortage. Although the Fukishima disaster in 2011 somewhat dented enthusiasm for nuclear energy, other energy sources which are cost competitive and low in greenhouse gas emissions are few and far between, and it seems unlikely that the uranium sector in Namibia will downscale any time soon.
With mining comes high wages, and most staff choose to live in Swakop and commute daily to the time: this is encouraged by the mining companies, as they would rather invest in a town that has a viable post-mining future rather than build and equip mine villages in the middle of nowhere that will become ghost towns on mine closure. This has pushed up Swakop's already inflated property prices, and has also placed considerable pressure on hotel and guest house accommodation who often have virtually full occupancy due to construction crews, contractors and consultants servicing the mines.
Having said all that, if you're used to travelling in major first world cities, the cost won't seem outlandish ... so rather than complain about Swakop's high prices, focus on being pleasantly surprised by the comparatively lower costs elsewhere!
If you're looking for cheaper accommodation options in the area, the more down-to-earth port of Walvis Bay just down the coast is usually more affordable and also offers its own wonderful attractions, including the brilliant harbour tour and excellent birding, but then factor in the fuel and time cost of a 30 minute drive to and from Swakop.
Make sure you travel with plenty of water
The Namib's not for cissies, and even if you take the main B2 road from Windhoek to Swakopmund, the final stretch passes right through the desert.
It may sound obvious, but in such an arid environment, you need to keep hydrated, and you must travel with sufficient water to tide you through an emergency. Even driving in an air conditioned vehicle will dehydrate you, so aim to drink two litres of water a day to counteract this.
Despite taking every reasonable precaution, there are also times when you may find yourself stranded because your vehicle's broken down, the road is impassable or - most often - you've miscalculated the huge distances (and the impact the aircon has on fuel consumption) and have run out of fuel. Under these circumstances, it's important not to panic - virtually all of Namibia has cellphone coverage, so you should be able to call for help to either the car hire company or the accommodation you're heading for - but make sure that you have enough water to be able to comfortable sit out what might be quite a wait. In case of the vehicle overheating, it's also sensible to have water available to top up the radiator.
My rule of thumb is to travel with about 20 litres of water - all supermarkets and petrol stations will sell water very affordably in 5 litre plastic containers (sometimes larger) which you can then refill en route.
Beware of livestock and wildlife on the road
Forget the charming whimsy of this warning sign ... this is a serious risk if you're self-driving in Namibia (or in virtually all of Africa for that matter).
The risks are threefold: people, livestock and wildlife. Fortunately Namibia is very sparsely populated and villages tend not to be located right on the road (with the exception of the more densely populated Owamboland in the north, which is away from the main tourist centres) so your major risks are livestock and wildlife.
Let's deal with livestock first and step through the hierarchy of traffic cluenessness from the bottom up. By far and away the most random and stupid livestock you are likely to encounter are sheep: my experience is that sheep have suicidal tendencies, and if given a choice, will almost invariably put themselves into the situation that poses greatest danger to its welfare! Fortunately there aren't too many sheep in Namibia ...
One step up from sheep are cows and donkeys have precious little road sense, but tend to be a little slower moving and slightly more predictable in their movements (admittedly this is fairly faint praise). There are lots of donkeys in Namibia and they love to stand in the middle of roads.
Despite the fact that they wander across roads with gay abandon, goats are generally nimble and canny, and in 25 years of driving in Africa, I have never come anywhere near to running over a goat or known anyone who has (although I have seen many accidents caused by people swerving to avoid one). My personal feeling is that goats are well able to look after themselves, and so you’re much more likely to do greater damage to yourself, your vehicle and other bystanders by trying to avoid them. Goats are by far the most numerous domestic animals in Namibia.
Next, onto wildlife (probably one of the reasons you decided to come to Namibia in the first place). One of the many charms of travelling in Namibia is that you will encounter all sorts of wildlife along the roads, even outside of the established game parks, much of it quite large.
By far the most dangerous times to travel are dawn and dusk (driving after dark is downright stupid, so I'm not even going to elaborate on that). The animals are generally more active in the cooler hours, and also become dazed and bemused by headlights, which mess with their distance judgement. So if you decide to travel after dark - which I would strongly recommend you don't - the chances of a kudu - which is about the size of a small cow - misjudging your proximity and trying to leap over your bonnet (and defaulting to join you in the front seat via the windscreen) are very real and potentially catastrophic. This is not just a myth and happens regularly.
By the way, your caution shouldn't just be restricted to the large herbivores - a collision with a substantial tortoise (hard to make out on a dirt road) could cause substantial damage to you, your car and him, and I wouldn't recommend hitting large birds either.
Thus, because of the risk of colliding with pedestrians/livestock/wildlife on unlit roads after dark, I would strongly advise that you simply don’t even consider venturing out on the roads after sundown and exercise extra caution in the early morning and late afternoon.
DO NOT DRINK AND DIVE
Swakopmund is THE place to go skydiving in Africa. Only here do you get the ocean, desert and mountains all in one long fast drop! You are not allowed to drink before you jump – so don’t do it. They have a bar inside that is only 50 meters from the Drop Zone. That’s when you need a drink!
Also – no hook turns. I don’t know what they are, but they are dangerous.Related to:
- Romantic Travel and Honeymoons
- Sky Diving
- Adventure Travel
One way streets!!!
Town centre in Swakop has many one way traffic roads and they're not very clearly marked. So before you just turn into a street, just make sure you're allowed, otherwise you'll see a bunch of cars coming toward you and you'd be like "What the....!!!!??"
Don't step on the Welwitschias!!
The Welwitschia Mirabillis are a unique kind of plant, one of the oldest in earth (around 2.000 years some of them). They get the water thet need from the morning mist, through the leaf, as it hardly rains in this desert. They are so sensible that if you step near them, you may hurt the roots. There are some stone enclosures around them, but anyway, people step into them to make the photo near the plant ;-(((
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