Windhoek is the capital city of Namibia. Windhoek means “windy corner” in Afrikaans and its location on a relatively flat plateau at an altitude of 5600 feet (1700m), may explain the origins of the name. Windhoek was founded in the 1890’s by German soldiers who appreciated the natural springs the area offered and its location between two of Namibia’s main tribes at that time, the Nama and Herero.
Population in Windhoek Namibia
Windhoek has a multi-ethnic population of around 300,000 residents. Windhoek is the largest city, as well as the commercial capital of Namibia. Windhoek is located bang in the middle of Namibia. Windhoek is a pleasant city; the city center is clean and well planned out. Most notable is its German architecture. It is home to the University of Namibia. The crime rates are not very high, but watch out for pickpockets. It can get very hot during the midday, especially in summer (up to 40 C), but it’s usually dry, and it always cools down at night. You’re likely to hear people speaking Afrikaans, German, English and a variety of local languages.
Where is Windhoek Namibia
Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, is located in a basin between the Khomas Highland, Auas and Eros Mountains. It is 1,680m above sea level, 650km north of the Orange River and 360km from the Atlantic seaboard. Whether due to pure luck or a brilliant stroke of Germanic planning, the city is situated in almost the countries epicenter. This location has obvious benefits when it comes to governing a country the size of Namibia, and also makes it the ideal place to start and plan any Namibian travel.
During the day the city centre has a European cafe culture, German cuisine dominates, but Namibian influence can be found in the quantity and quality of meat on offer, (vegetarians be warned, Namibia is carnivorous country!) Saying that, the streets are choc-a-bloc with people of all ages and cultures, all bearing a wonderful sense of pride, hope and ambition.
Nightlife in Windhoek
Nightlife in the city centre has grown with the population, with a decent amount of restaurants, bars and night clubs. There is still a fair amount of nightlife happening outside of the city centre, in the suburbs and in township areas. During South African occupation the city was divided into three areas; the central suburbs for the whites, Khomasdal for the coloreds and Katutura for the blacks. Katutura and Khomasdal have a vibrant nightlife and over the weekends the partying is non-stop. For the uninitiated visiting one of these disadvantaged areas can be extremely daunting (and unsafe), but with a little local guidance you could be in for the time of your life.
Most importantly Windhoek is home to Namibia’s brewing industry, and for the less active Windhoek is a great place to while away the time while sipping (or gulping) a cold beer. There are also a number of private hospitals, a state run hospital, doctors, surgeries, banks, (with 24hr ATM’s) pharmacies, supermarkets, bakeries, and clothes shops. There is a large shopping mall at Maerua Mall, (complete with indoor swimming pool and gymnasium) and a smaller one on Post Street Mall, (Town Square) and at Wernhill Park, all worth a visit, especially if you’ve had enough of looking at curios. There are also 2 industrial area, Northern and Southern, handy for bulk buying or car parts and repairs.
Windhoek’s (and Namibia’s) sense of progress since Independence, is emphasized by the presence of new offices, combined with expanding and bustling building and commerce industries.
History of Windhoek, Namibia
Theories vary on how the place got its modern name of Windhoek. Most believe it is derived from the Afrikaans word wind-hoek (wind corner). Another theory suggests that Captain Jonker Afrikaner named Windhoek after the Winterhoek Mountains at Tulbagh in South Africa, where his ancestors had lived. The first known mention of the name Windhoek was in a letter from Jonker Afrikaner to Joseph Tindall, dated 12 August 1844.
In 1840 Jonker Afrikaner established an Orlam settlement at Windhoek. He and his followers stayed near one of the main hot springs, located in the present-day Klein Windhoek suburb. He built a stone church that held 500 people; it was also used as a school. Two Rhenish missionaries, Carl Hugo Hahn and Franz Heinrich Kleinschmidt, started working there in late 1842. Two years later they were driven out by two Methodist Wesleyans, Richard Haddy and Joseph Tindall.
Gardens were laid out and for a while Windhoek prospered. Wars between the Nama and Herero peoples eventually destroyed the settlement. After a long absence, Hahn visited Windhoek again in 1873 and was dismayed to see that nothing remained of the town's former prosperity. In June 1885, a Swiss botanist found only jackals and starving guinea fowl amongst neglected fruit trees.
In 1878, Britain annexed Walvis Bay and incorporated it into the Cape of Good Hope colony in 1884, but Britain did not extend its influence into the interior. A request by merchants from Lüderitzbucht resulted in the declaration of a German protectorate over what was called German South West Africa in 1884.
The borders of the German colony were determined in 1890 and Germany sent a protective corps, the Schutztruppe under Major Curt von François, to maintain order. Von François stationed his garrison at Windhoek, which was strategically situated as a buffer between the Nama and Herero peoples. The twelve strong springs provided water for the cultivation of produce and grains.
Colonial Windhoek was founded on 18 October 1890, when von François fixed the foundation stone of the fort, which is now known as the Alte Feste (Old Fortress). After 1907, development accelerated as indigenous people migrated from the countryside to the growing town to seek work.
More European settlers arrived from Germany and South Africa. Businesses were erected on Kaiser Street (presently Independence Avenue), and along the dominant mountain ridge over the city. At this time, Windhoek's three castles, Heinitzburg, Sanderburg, and Schwerinsburg, were built.
Since independence in 1990, Windhoek has remained the national capital, as well as the provincial capital of the central Khomas Region. Since independence and the end of warfare, the city has had accelerated growth and development.
Things to Do in Windhoek, Namibia
If you are planning for a Namibia safari tour, it’s more likely that your vacation will begin and end in the capital, Windhoek. This is home of Hosea Kutako International Airport, the main entry point.
For many visitors, Windhoek is simply a point of entry, a place to meet up with your Namibia tour guide, or pick up your self-drive rental car. However, if you have the time to spare, it’s worth planning an extra night or two in the capital, as it's home to some interesting sights in its own right. Here are six of the top things to do in Namibia when in Windhoek. They range from historical attractions to unique nature areas.
Christuskirche, or Christ Church, stands on a traffic island in front of the parliament buildings on Robert Mugabe Avenue. Construction began in 1907 to house Windhoek’s German Lutheran congregation, which was established in 1896. The church was completed and consecrated three years later, making it the oldest Lutheran church in Namibia. Designed by Gottlieb Redecker, its unique blend of neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque architecture makes this national monument the city’s most recognizable landmark.
Building plans necessitated the construction of a railway line to bring local sandstone from Avis Dam. Other materials came from much further away. The portico is constructed from Italian Carrara marble, while materials for the roof and church clock came all the way from Germany. Kaiser Wilhelm himself donated three of the church’s stained glass windows. The church opens for German-language services at 10 a.m. on Sundays. Otherwise you can request the keys or a guided tour at the church office on nearby Fidel Castro Street.
Namibia Craft Center
Located near the center of town in the Old Breweries Complex, the Namibia Craft Center is your one-stop shop for authentic souvenirs. Admittedly, the prices are higher than they would be at a roadside stall, and it’s not really an appropriate place to practice your haggling skills. However, the covered market is safe, clean, and community minded. There are more than 40 independent shops, and together they provide around 4,000 jobs for artists and artisans living in the country’s most remote areas.
Amidst the cornucopia of colorful stalls, you’ll find traditional Namibian crafts ranging from hand-carved tree roots to jewelry fashioned from copper and ostrich eggshell. There’s a bookstore, and a gallery with regularly changing exhibitions by local and international artists. When you’ve stocked up on mementos and gifts, stop for refreshments at the Craft Café. Specializing in locally sourced Namibian produce, the café is loved by visitors and residents alike as a vibrant place for breakfast and lunch.
To the north of Windhoek city center lies Katutura township, whose name translates as “the place where people do not want to live” in native Herero. The district’s history is an unhappy one. In the late 1950s, black residents living in the suburb now known as Hochland Park were forcibly relocated to Katutura under apartheid law. Here, they were made to pay high rent for barely habitable homes, and to commute long distances to inner city jobs. Today, 60% of Windhoek’s population still lives in Katutura.
Poverty is rife but the township is also a center of vibrant culture, and a visit to the area is a must for those that want to gain a true insight into the lives of Namibia’s urban people. One of the safest and least divisive ways to experience township life is on a bicycle tour safari in Namibia. On the 3.5-hour excursion, you will have the chance to meet Katutura’s residents, to purchase local crafts and to taste traditional kapana meat at the township’s lively marketplace.
Independence Memorial Museum
Learn about the end of apartheid at the Independence Memorial Museum. Here, an impressive range of paintings, artifacts, and informative displays tell the story of resistance to the colonial regime and the struggle for racial freedom. In front of the museum, there are two important statues—one of the first President of Namibia, Sam Nujoma; and the Genocide Memorial, which commemorates the atrocities carried out against native Namibians by German troops in the early 20th century.
The museum is free to enter, and remains open seven days a week. If you have the time, consider combining your visit with a tour of the next-door National Museum of Namibia, which includes fascinating displays about Namibia’s San rock paintings. These are especially worthwhile if you’re planning a trip to sites like Twyfelfontein and Spitzkoppe, where you can see the paintings in situ. The building that houses the National Museum is also of interest; it’s an old German fort dating back to 1890.
National Botanic Garden of Namibia
Located off Sam Nujoma Avenue, the National Botanic Garden of Namibia spans 30 acres of land and provides a good introduction to the country’s natural beauty. It isn’t your typical botanic garden; instead of landscaped lawns and exotic flowerbeds, the garden has been left largely in its natural state—both to conserve water, and to showcase Namibia’s incredible indigenous flora. As a result, it can seem parched in winter, although there’s beauty to be found all year round.
Keep an eye out for desert-adapted species including aloes, succulents, acacias, and a beautiful quiver tree forest. Information boards can be found along the garden’s self-guided trails, and you can pick up bird and plant lists from reception. This is a worthwhile destination for birders, providing a home for 75 species, many of which are attracted by the garden’s dam. Indigenous wildlife also thrives, including the charismatic rock hyrax or dassie. The garden is open Monday to Friday, and admission is free.
Daan Viljoen Game Reserve
Those with a full day to spare should pay a visit to the Daan Viljoen Game Reserve. Located 15 miles from the city center, it can’t compare to the sheer size and biodiversity of Namibia’s iconic Etosha National Park; yet it also can’t be beaten for close-to-the-capital convenience. There are no large predators here, which means that you can safely explore on foot (via two well-marked hiking trails), on a mountain bike, or in a vehicle along the park’s 4x4 route.
Instead, the park is a haven for ungulate species, including the desert-adapted oryx, steenbok, and klipspringer; as well as better known African animals like the giraffe and zebra. It’s also a popular birding destination, with over 200 resident species. Scan the trees for endemics like the Rüppell’s parrot, and near-endemics like the Monteiro’s hornbill. If you feel like extending your Namibia safari tour stay, check out the Sun Karros lodge with its chalets, restaurants, and swimming pools.
|Languages spoken||Afrikaans, German, English|
|Currency used||Namibian Dollar (NAD)|
|Area (km2)||645 km²|