It’s along Namibia’s central coast that visitors can make the most of what the country has to offer, from exploring desert and marine wildlife to visiting former townships and rural communities, and from road trips through dramatic coastal landscapes to a host of adrenaline-pumping adventure sports. All these activities can be enjoyed from the colonial-era towns of Swakopmund and Walvis Bay. Both can be reached from Windhoek in under four hours via the tarred B2 that follows the railway line west, passing through the former mining towns of Karibib and Usakos. Yet far more scenic back routes take you via the dramatic, tortuous Gamsberg or Bosua passes, dropping down onto the flat gravel plains of the Namib, affording opportunities to stop off at a hospitable guestfarm or a wilderness campground along the way.
Around 350km west of Windhoek, the pretty seaside resort of Swakopmund, with its German colonial architecture and moderate coastal climate, has long been the holiday playground of Namibia’s white population. Boasting comfortable accommodation, excellent cafés and restaurants and a relaxed vibe, it has more recently acquired a reputation as a centre for adventure activities. In contrast, Walvis Bay, a thirty-minute drive down the road, is Namibia’s main port, home to a vibrant fishing industry, though its wildlife-rich lagoon is now the focus of a burgeoning tourist scene.
Both towns are surrounded by stunning dune scenery – some of which lies within the northern section of the Namib-Naukluft National Park and the contiguous, newly formed Dorob National Park – which can be explored in any number of ways: on the back of a camel, a horse or a quad bike, or from the air, in a plane, or skydiving out of one. Popular destinations include the fabulously isolated dune-enclosed Sandwich Harbour, an avian paradise south of Walvis Bay. Equally appealing is Welwitschia Drive, just outside Swakopmund, which takes in a variety of desert landscapes, as well as one of the planet’s oldest specimens of the eponymous plant. Further north, the mythical Skeleton Coast stretches 680km to the Angolan border. Most visitors only go as far as Namibia’s largest seal colony at Cape Cross, 120km north of Swakopmund, but with your own wheels and a permit, you can head inland to the explore the otherworldly Messum Crater, or follow the coast road another 200km to experience the desolate desert landscapes of the Skeleton Coast National Park.