Namibia is in Southern Africa, bordering South Africa, Botswana, Angola, Zambia and the Atlantic Ocean. Formerly a colony of Germany, Namibia was administered by South Africa under a League of Nations mandate after WWI, and annexed as a province of South Africa after WWII. The South-West African People's Organization (SWAPO) launched a guerrilla war for independence in 1966, but did not gain independence until 1990.
Namibia boasts remarkable natural attractions such as the Namib desert, the Fish River Canyon Park, Etosha National Park and the Kalahari desert. Its people speak nine different languages, including some of the Khoisan languages which include the 'clicks' that present an enigma to most native English-speakers. Namibia produces some of the world's highest quality diamonds.
Inhabited from the dawn of time by the San, also known as the "Bushmen", invaded by the Bantu, colonized by the Germans (who called it "South West Africa") and taken over by South Africa after WWI, Namibia is in many ways quite similar to South Africa. Since it was ruled under the apartheid system, Namibia also has many of the problems resulting from that system.
It is important to be aware that race is a common part of Namibian discourse. That is to say, Namibians will refer to the race of others more frequently than travellers from places where race is typically not an issue, would expect. Because of apartheid, race is an issue in many spheres of life, so it comes up a lot. In spite of this, the various races do get along well in Namibia, and it is fairly uncommon to find racial tensions flaring. Apartheid was never implemented as strictly in Namibia as in South Africa, so racial tensions are generally lower.
Namibia is similar to South Africa, and if you're used to travelling in one country, travelling in the other country is quite easy. There are some subtle differences. For example, in South Africa a non-white person may choose to speak English rather than Afrikaans (as a political choice) whereas among Namibia's mixed-race population (who call themselves 'colored' in Namibia and South Africa) Afrikaans is a proud part of their culture, and many people still speak German. Overlooking these differences isn't going to cause offense, but they're handy to know.
The public holidays in Namibia are:
Tourists may enter Namibia for up to 90 days ( note that this is not 3 months!).
Citizens from the following countries do not require a visa to visit Namibia: Angola, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States, Cuba, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Lesotho, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, New Zealand, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, Singapore, Spain, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States of America, Zambia, Zimbabwe
Visitors not from the above countries need to apply for a visa from the Namibian consulate in their country of origin or the Ministry of Home Affairs, Private Bag 13200, Windhoek, ☎ +264 (0)61 292-9111 (fax: +264 (0)61 22-3817)..
All visitors require a passport valid for at least 6 months after date of entry into Namibia.
You need a return or onward AIRticket when you fly to Namibia, if you don't have one the airline will not take you there (Air berlin will inform you about this at check in Time!). Saying you will take the Bus to Southern Africa will not do.
They will not let you in if you don't have an Address where you are going, be sure to have one.
Always verify the dates stamped into your passport, because there have been cases where corrupt officers stamp wrong dates to fine people for overstaying when they leave, and these fines are huge
Hosea Kutako International Airport, located 45 minutes east of Windhoek, is the main entry point for air traffic. Air Namibia operates flights from Frankfurt, London, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Victoria Falls and Maun to the international airport. Flights between the smaller Eros Airport and Cape Town are also available. South African Airways and no-frills Kulula.com operate flights from South Africa, too. See Discount airlines in Africa for more options.
There are 9 commonly used border posts with neighbouring counties:
The most convenient international bus service into Namibia runs from Cape Town and Victoria Falls. There is also service from Johannesburg. See Intercape Mainliner for schedules and fares. Using a combination of buses, hitchhiking and kombis you can also get to Namibia from anywhere in Botswana.
The regular overnight train from Upington in South Africa to Windhoek, operated by TransNamib , has been discontinued. It is no longer possible to get into or out of Namibia by train.
Despite the vast distances in Namibia, most people get around by land, and not air.
Namibia's roads are very good, with primary routes paved, and secondary routes of well-graded gravel. An all-wheel drive vehicle is not necessary except on tertiary roads and the Skeleton Coast. Driving at night is very dangerous because there is a lot of wildlife on the roads. Traffic drives on the left.
Namibians often estimate the time to drive between places according to their experience driving quickly on dirt (untarred) roads. Add a third and you will arrive alive with kidneys intact!
Before you reserve a car let the rental company send you a copy of it's rental agreement. Most of them have many (and sometimes absolutely ridiculous) restrictions. Take your time to compare them according to your needs.
It is quite easy to get around using combies (shared or long-distance taxis). Just ask around to find out where the taxi rank is (sometimes there are several taxi ranks, each one with departures to different areas of the country). Drivers are not in the habit of overcharging foreigners.
The national railway company of Namibia, TransNamib , operates trains (and buses) to destinations all over Namibia via their StarLine passenger service. Some routes available are
The StarLine scheduled service conveys passengers via special coaches hooked on the back of freight trains. These passenger coaches offer comfortable airline-style seating with air-conditioning and (sometimes) video entertainment. Vending machines provide refreshments on long journeys. StarLine, +264 (0)61 298-2032, (paxservices@transNamib.com.na, fax: +264 (0)61 298-2495).
Other rail services operating in the country are:
Several tour companies operate in Namibia. Each is unique in services offered but most operate with safety in mind.
Namibia is a country with great national parks where you can see some of the finest African flora and fauna and you can see some mammals that have adapted to the extreme heat. In the northern part of the Kunene region you can see the rare desert elephants.
Major Indigenous languages include Oshiwambo, Herrero, Nama, Damara, various San languages,and Silozi.
English is the official language and is widely spoken. However, the majority of older Namibians (those educated before independence) only speak English as a third language; therefore, the standard is fairly poor. English is more widely spoken in the North, as it was adopted as a medium of instruction earlier than in the South. Older Nambibians in the South are more likely to speak Afrikaans or German.
Afrikaans is spoken by many, and is the first language of the Coloureds as well as the Afrikaners. English is spoken as a first language by the remaining English families, and German is spoken by the Namibians of German descent, who tend to be in Windhoek, Swakopmund and various farms scattered through the country. German is one of the leading commercial languages as well. Portuguese is spoken by the immigrants from Angola.
Namibia (along with Lesotho, South Africa and Swaziland) is a member of the Southern African Common Monetary Area and as such the Namibian Dollar (NAD) is pegged 1:1 to the South African Rand (ZAR). Both the Namibian Dollar and South African Rand is legal tender in Namibia though change will usually be given in Namibian Dollars.
Banks in Namibia will convert Namibian Dollars for South African Rand and vice versa without charge or paperwork. Since any bank or currency exchange outside Namibia (including other members of the Common Monetary Area) will charge a substantial service fee to change currency, it is advisable to make use of a Namibian Bank before leaving the country.
It is also advisable to carry proof (for example ATM receipts) that money you are taking out of the country is money that you brought into the country in the first place.
Rough conversion rates (January 2010) are: 7:1 (USD), 11:1 (EUR) and 13:1 (GBP). Current official exchange rates are available from the Namibian Central Bank
Automated teller machines are available in Windhoek, Swakopmund, Luderitz, Tsumeb, and other towns and cities. It is best to use only teller machines that are inside a mall or other building. Always be careful to make sure no one is watching you enter your PIN, and be vigilant about typical scams (e.g. machines that seem to eat your card and won't give it back after you enter the PIN).
Prices in shops are fixed, but prices in open markets or from street vendors are open to barter.
In most towns you will be approached by many locals to buy souvenirs, when this happens a 'no thanks' will usually suffice and they will leave you alone. It is common to haggle. Try to buy as much as possible from small shops instead of bigger ones, it's the best way to help the poor local population
The cross border money transfer facilities are limited and expensive with one of the poorest currency buying and selling rates, because government does not want the money to be sent out of the country. There are no Western Union Money Transfer offices in Namibia.
Vegetarians need not apply. Namibians have a very high intake of meat. It is possible to be a vegetarian in Namibia, however, as there are some Peace Corps workers who live there for two years and remain vegetarian throughout.
Namibia's nightclubs are always happening and always open late (pretty much until the last person leaves). They are mostly located in bigger cities: Windhoek, Swakopmund and Oshakati. There are not many bars, though there is very good beer, and there are a lot of shebeens. The flagship beer of Namibia is Windhoek Lager , an easy-drinking filtered beer, not dissimilar to many German brews.
A hotel provides accommodation to the traveling public, has a reception area and offers at least a "breakfast room" or communal eating area. In general a hotel makes food and beverage services available to a guest, though these may be outsourced or provided by the hotel.
There are a number of Hotel chains that operate nationally
It is extremely difficult for foreigners to get work permits in Namibia. With over 51% unemployment, the government is not enthusiastic about letting people in who would take jobs from Namibians. All semi-skilled and unskilled positions must be unconditionally filled by local Namibians. It is possible to get a work permit to volunteer, though this requires going through the same drawn out process as the normal work permit.
An employee's salary is normally paid in Namibian dollars and income tax (Maximum Rate is 37% and is based on different income slabs) is deducted by the employer. Its Capital city, Windhoek is currently ranked 150 overall, most expensive place in the world for expatriates to live.
Namibia is a peaceful country and is not involved in any wars. With the end of the Angolan civil war in May 2002, the violence that spilled over into northeastern Namibia is no longer an issue.
Namibia has a relatively high crime rate. Be careful around ATMs. For men, it is not prudent to walk or ride taxis alone in Windhoek or Oshakati after midnight. For women, it is not prudent after 9PM. Pickpockets can be a problem. Lately, there are many armed robberies reported. In most cases, tourists get robbed of belongings carried with them in a bag. For Home Security, ELECTRIC FENCE is installed in almost every house in Windhoek.
Reported robberies take place just outside of the city centre. Police report that, most likely, taxi drivers are involved and spot tourists and coordinate by cell phoning the robbers. Be careful and alert. All these warnings should be taken in context, because the threat is not as serious as it might sound. If you are alert and take some common sense precautions, you should have no problems.
Travellers should have no problem visiting the townships, but it's advisable not to visit the townships alone unless you're familiar with the area. If you have been travelling in Southern Africa for a few months, you probably know what you're doing.
Namibia has a serious problem with driving under the influence of alcohol. The problem is aggravated because most people don't consider it a problem. When driving or walking on weekend evenings, be especially alert.
The HIV infection rate in Namibia is about 25%.
Namibia's medical system is modern and capable of attending to whatever needs you may have. Staff are well trained and so HIV transmission in hospitals is not an issue. This applies to government and private hospitals alike, though line-ups are often shorter at private hospitals, and there have been cases of incorrect diagnosis in government hospitals.
The northern part of Namibia is in a malaria-risk zone, so consult a doctor before leaving, and take appropriate malaria precautions when travelling in these areas.
Namibia's water supply is usually safe to drink, except where labelled otherwise. Campsites next to rivers often get their water directly from the river, so do not drink it!
Having said all this, make sure you consult a physician specializing in health issues of Southern Africa, as well as things like the Centre for Disease Control web page. Make sure you satisfy yourself of the safety of anything you're getting into.
Namibians are very proud of their country. It is a well developed country (albeit still a developing nation) with all the modern amenities and technologies. Namibians have been exposed to a surprisingly wide variety of peoples during the United Nations supervising of the elections, as well as from various volunteer organizations. They are not offended by Westerners wearing shorts, nor by women wearing pants. It is not uncommon to see Afrikaners with thick, knee-high socks (keeps snakes from getting a good bite) and shorts walking about. It is customary when greeting someone to ask them how they're doing. It's a simple exchange where each person asks "How are you?" (or the local version "Howzit?") and responds with a correspondingly short answer, and then proceed with whatever your business is about. It's a good idea to do this at tourist info booths, in markets, when getting into taxis, even in shops in Windhoek (though it's normally not done in some of the bigger stores in the malls).
Namibia's country code is 264. Each city or region has a two-digit area code. When calling long distance within Namibia, prefix the area code with a '0'. Mobile phones are very common and run on the GSM network, using the same frequency as Europe and the rest of Africa. There are Internet cafes in Windhoek, Swakopmund and Opuwo, and hostels often have access as well.