Most visitors come to Namibia for its wide open spaces, its magnificent landscapes and its abundant wildlife. But on your way across this vast country, it's always worth spending a morning taking a tour of quite a different kind - in a township.
1. See the Real Namibia
Soweto Market, Katutura
Namibia's emptiness is breathtaking - but of course, the majority of Namibians are not found in the vast desert expanses. If you really want to discover what daily life is like, you need to spend some time in town. In both Windhoek and Swakopmund, more people inhabit the townships than the cities themselves, and they are growing much more rapidly. Though their dark past goes back to the apartheid era, the townships are now thriving communities with their own market places, nightlife, restaurants - and even malls - and a township tour is a safe and educational way to discover the culture here.
2. Sample Traditional Food
Xwama Cultural Village Restaurant, Katutura
Braais, biltong and game steaks are delicious, and you are sure to have your fill in Namibia's restaurants and lodges. But for a more traditional taste of Namibia, you need to step outside the tourist hotspots. Township tours often include a some taster dishes - including mahangu (millet) porride, bean soup, and ekaka - a delicious wild spinach. The brave can try the Smiley Head (a whole goat head!) or the infamous mopane worms - spicy, fried and surprisingly tasty. Don't miss out on a glass of homebrew omalovu beer!
3. Find out What is Inside a Herero Lady's Hat!
Tour of Mondesa, near Swakopmund
A visit to a Herero home is an opportunity for a fascinating cultural exchange. The Herero follow two religions - Christianity and they traditional "Holy Fire", and they are also polygamous, although the first wife is allowed to choose subsequent wives so they are all friends (or even sisters!). During your chat, be sure to inquire about the Herero's unusual clothes - military uniform for men, and striking, colorful Victorian-style dresses for women. More importantly, be sure to ask what the strange, horned hats represent - and what is inside them!
4. Get a Crash Course in Clicks
Language lesson in a Nama household, Mondesa
The Damara and Nama people speak using clicks, and before entering their homes you will be taught how to greet them in the local language, so get ready to click away! As if remembering a new word wasn't difficult enough, there are four types of click, and using the wrong one can change the meaning of the word entirely!
5. Give Something Back
Community project in the Democratic Resettlement Community (DRC), Swakopmund
Tour companies operating in the townships support the people who live there, and part of each tour fee is invested in community projects such as kindergartens; paying the local families involved in the tour; and supporting local initiatives, such as handcraft workshops with womens groups.
On the edge of the townships there are "informal settlements" originally intended as temporary shelters for those arriving from rural areas, but many have become more permanent settlers in these areas which lack basic facilities such as electricity, and are dependent on shared water sources. These areas in particular are supported by the tour operators, who may be funding community centres, education and health initiatives for Namibia's poorest residents. Your guide will be able to tell you more about how your chosen tour company is involved.
The two tour operators below are highly recommended:
Katu Tours - Bike tours of Katutura township, outside Windhoek
Tours departs at 8:30am Tuesday to Sunday (3-12 people), clients must arrive 30 minutes earlier.
Starting/ending point: Penduka Project at Goreangab Dam, Katutura (See Map below)
Hata Angu Cultural Tours - tours of Mondesa township, outside Swakopmund
The tour incorporates visits to the houses of Nama, Damara and Herero people, a shebeen and a restaurant serving Owamb food, for a complete cultural experience.
Daytime and evening tours are available.
You will be collected from your accommodation in Swakopmund and driven to Mondesa.