Surrounded by lush forest, overlooking the majestic Zambezi, tropical Katima Mulilo – usually shortened to Katima, and meaning “to quench the fire” in SiLozi, referring to some nearby rapids – has more in common with towns in Zambia and Zimbabwe than most of Namibia. Indeed, located 1200km away by road from Windhoek, Katima is nearer to the neighbouring capital cities of Lusaka and Harare than to its own. Predominantly populated by Mafwe and Masubia residents, the Zambezi Region’s capital has become increasingly cosmopolitan since the Katima Mulilo Road Bridge opened in 2004. Connecting the Zambian Copperbelt and even the distant Democratic Republic of Congo with Namibia’s deep-water harbour at Walvis Bay, the re-emergence of this trade corridor has resulted in significant investment and development, though, as with any busy frontier town, it has fuelled its share of illicit business (including an increase in wildlife trafficking), sprawling shanty towns and accompanying social ills.
The town centre, such as it is, primarily centres on Hage Geingob Street and its junction with Hospital Road, where there are several large supermarkets, banks and other shops and services. While here, be sure to call in at the Zambezi Arts and Cultural Association to browse their excellent selection of crafts and take a wander around the adjacent open market.
Once the multi-million dollar Zambezi Waterfront Park finally opens (due in 2015), Katima may finally make the most of its lovely waterside setting. Currently, you have to stay at one of the lodges out of town to fully experience the magic of the Zambezi.