Text and photos by ©Sharri Whiting De Masi – All photographs copyright of the author
Re-printed with permission of the author
Stand on Independence Avenue in downtown Windhoek to see a vibrant mix of cultures, the modern high-rise buildings, parks, and street markets full of handmade crafts. The sidewalks are crowded with a myriad of colourful clothing and styles, from Herero women with their striking headpieces to safari guides in khakis. High up on the hill above the city is the historic Schwerinsburg Castle, where the tricolore flies above the residence of the Italian Ambassador.
A tour of the capital city offers a glimpse of the wonderful diversity that Namibia enjoys. Begin with a visit to Katutura, the township first established under South African apartheid rule, today a suburb inhabited by Namibians of many different tribes and backgrounds. Here the marketplace hums with buyers and sellers of natural remedies, grilled meat, mopane worms (usually fried and eaten as a delicacy), hairdressing services, tailor-made clothes and souvenirs. Nearby is the John Muafangejo Art Centre, where the best of Namibian art and crafts can be viewed.
Back in the town centre the architecture marks both German colonisation (1890s–World War I) and contemporary Namibia. Stop by the National Art Gallery, which houses historical and modern Namibian art, and the Alte Feste, the old German fort, to see the Independence Collection. Nearby is the Christuskirche (Christ Church), built in 1910 and adorned with stained-glass windows donated by Kaiser Wilhelm II.
A sojourn in Windhoek is the best way to sample the wide variety of Namibian foods – icy Swakopmund and Lüderitz oysters, tender game, and freshly caught seafood from Namibia’s cold Atlantic waters. There are restaurants specialising in traditional foods and you have a choice of settings, from the raucous to the refined. Naturally, there is an Italian restaurant for those pining for pasta or pizza. The selection of South African wines is excellent, and the regional and local beers are well worth tasting.
The Namibia Crafts Centre in the Old Breweries Building is a shopper’s paradise, where 2 000 artisans from all over Namibia display their wares. The centre’s two floors are chock-full of high-quality handmade baskets, ostrich eggshell jewellery from the Bushman (San) people, painted or embroidered fabrics designed by women in remote regions, karakul rugs, carved wooden sculptures, paintings and much more. The terrace of the charming Craft Café is a good place for lunch.
The Penduka Women’s Craft Co-operative on the outskirts of the city offers rural women the opportunity to sell their hand-crafted products near the capital. Penduka has a tearoom and restaurant.
Distinctive fine jewellery made from Namibian diamonds, tourmalines, gold and semi-precious stones is designed and created in stores and studios in Windhoek. Elements such as elephant hair, antique ivory ekipas, and ostrich eggshells make these pieces unique mementos of Namibia.
After a week or two in the bush, what better way to relax before the long trip home than having a massage at the luxurious spa a few hours from town, sinking into a hot scented bath at one of the comfortable B&Bs, or being treated royally at a castle-turned-hotel? And, there are several excellent casino and resort hotels, where full service includes the chance to win big at the slot machines, or play a round of golf.
Windhoek isn’t just a place where you get on and off a plane – it’s a vibrant destination that will add spice to your stay in Namibia.
This article was originally published in the December 2007 Flamingo magazine.