This article was first published published in Travel Africa Magazine issue 89.
Namibia is a vast and diverse country that often feels untamed and unregulated. This is also true of the choice of accommodation establishments, which range from very basic guest-farms to expensive luxury lodges – with no easily understandable grading system to assist in differentiating. However, with a little guidance, planning and compromise, it’s possible to find accommodation in Namibia to suit both your budget and style.
The country has managed to avoid the large international hotel and lodge groups. The lodge groups that do operate here are locally or regionally owned (Wilderness Safaris, Gondwana Collection and Namibia Wildlife Resorts are among the bigger groups). However, most lodges in Namibia are privately owned and operated, and frequently somewhat eclectic. Don’t expect beige, uniform, boring hotel rooms – the owner of your lodge may have decided to decorate the room with some kudu horns a pink cow-hide and a revealing photo of herself!
Accommodation in Namibia is a lot more expensive than in South-Africa or other parts of the Southen African region (except for Botswana). Due to remote locations, high building and running costs and a hefty mortgage you are likely to spend most of your money on accommodation. Before selecting accommodation options, it is wise to have an idea of how much you want to pay. It can be heartbreaking to fall in love with a lodge only to discover that one night’s accommodation costs three times your entire trip’s budget. For instance, you might be able to splurge on lodging in more glamorous locations—like that 5-star villa in the Sossusvlei —by spending less on value-for-money accommodation in Windhoek and Swakopmund.
Erongo Wilderness Lodge
In tourist season, from July through to the end of September, lodges get very busy – often being fully booked well over a year in advance. In more popular locations – Sossusvlei, Fish River Canyon, Twyfelfontein & Etosha –finding availability during this period sometimes seem as impossible as finding a vegan meal in a Windhoek restaurant. If you’re visiting during this period, our advice is to book very early, or leave it late – as cancellations often occur within a 30-day window.
Although it is a lot easier to find accommodation out of season, it is still wise to book well in advance as excellent lodges with the best locations are often full. Namibia is not a destination that offers many ‘last-minute’ specials, and there is no gain in prevaricating.
You might like to vary the types of accommodation that you choose, so that you can experience a wide variety of accommodation types. In towns, you will find a variety of guest houses, self-catering establishments and hotels. Out of town, the guest houses morph into guest farms; self-catering establishments are rare, and up-market lodges dominate most of the better locations.
Kunene River Lodge campsite
The Strand Hotel
Barkhan Dune Retreat
A unique aspect of accommodation in Namibia are Guest Farms, which offer an opportunity to meet white Namibians in their natural environment. You will often eat with your hosts, and other guests, at a communal table and be regaled with local stories. All Namibian stories revolve around two subjects ’rain’ and ‘politics’. Both of these are very emotive subjects in our drought-stricken new democracy; the debate is often urgent and engaged. Many Guest-farms are owned by German-speaking Namibians, and if your stay coincides with a group of German-speaking guests conversations may drift into German. Hosts are aware of this and try to keep conversations flowing in English, but that is not always an easy task. If you happen to be at a table when this happens, the best advice is to order a few Jagermeisters and test your new language skills.
Community tourism is a celebrated aspect of Namibian tourism often offering accommodation in remote parts of Namibia. the conservancy system has allowed local people to profit from conservation and tourism efforts. While you may want to stay with a local community during your visit – the truth is that very few establishments are operated directly by communities. In most cases land is leased to an operator who builds and operates a lodge, employing local conservancy members. There are a large number of community campsites around the country. These vary significantly in quality, ranging from a patch of dirt to scenic and well-maintained sites. Very few of these sites have a reliable booking system (or any booking system whatsoever) working on a first-come-first-served basis.
Hoada Community Campsite
Remember that Namibia’s tourism industry is new, vibrant and evolving. Before independence, just under 30 years ago, no tourists visited the country and Etosha park closed for several months during the wet season! Owners are continually upgrading their offerings to align with international standards. While this seems like a good thing, the downside is that Namibia is rapidly losing it’s wild and quirky elements. However, it is still possible that you can find yourself sitting in the shade of a camelthorn tree eating biltong and drinking Windhoek Lager discussing the meaning of life with a gun-toting, Kafka reading farmer.
“Hospitality: making your guests feel like they’re at home, even if you wish they were.” – Justine Vogt