First 24 hours: Windhoek, Namibia
Newcomers to the African continent will find a perfect entry point in Windhoek, where rich culture and natural beauty are always at hand, says
Often dismissed as ‘Africa for beginners’, Namibia’s colonial capital is not just a gateway to the parks but a fascinating living document of the country’s history
Before you arrive
Windhoek is Namibia’s capital and international gateway, and is nestled deep in a picturesque valley in the centre of the country, flanked by the Khomas Hochland Plateau to the west and the Auas Mountains to the east. For those who have yet to visit the country, a Namibian holiday may bring to mind worrying visions of sweltering heat. But at 1,700m above sea level, Windhoek is spared the oppressive weather found in many other parts of the country, with temperatures rarely going over 30 degrees (ºc) in summer, while in winter they dip to around six degrees, on average.
Settled by the Germans in the 1890s, it has an interesting mix of European and African architecture, but it’s keen to shake off its provincial image and colonial past, and modern skyscrapers are springing up in contrast to its incongruous German castles. The city has spread over the years, but is still small for a capital, and it’s relatively safe and quiet – especially for an African city – with clean streets free of chaotic traffic and honking horns. Those familiar with some of the more boisterous areas of the continent will understand why Namibia is often dubbed ‘Africa for beginners’.
Windhoek may be short on major sights, but with comfortable guesthouses and good dining options, it makes a pleasant place to spend time at the start of a trip, stock up on supplies before driving on, or relax before your flight home.
At the airport
Hosea Kutako International Airport is located 45km and a 45-minute drive west of the city. There are no direct flights from the UK. South African Airways (flysaa.com) and British Airways (ba.com) have daily direct flights from London Heathrow to Johannesburg for onward flights to Windhoek with South African Airways or Air Namibia (airnamibia.com). Total flight time is approximately 13 hours, depending on connection times, and return fares start from around £700. In Arrivals there are currency exchanges and ATMS, car hire firms and safari company offices.
Getting into town
Arrange a transfer through your hotel or operator, or use a registered transfer shuttle such as City Cab (windhoekairportshuttle.com), rather than take a taxi. Transfers cost from around N$200 to N$300 per person.
Other ways to arrive
If you are coming from elsewhere in Africa and looking to save money, Intercape Mainliner (intercape.co.za) operates budget-friendly bus routes from South Africa and Botswana.