Any trip to Namibia is all about getting out into the wilderness. There’s world-class safari action, iconic desert dunes, and everything – I mean almost every conceivable landscape – in between. More on that story later.
But you’ve got to start somewhere, and international flights land in the capital, Windhoek, surely one of the easiest African cities to get to know on a short visit. I highly recommend at least one full day here. Read on to find out why.
We were supposed to begin our family trip with two nights in Windhoek, at the supremely easy Hilton, to give us time to collect our hire car, catch up on some western-style shopping, fuel up for the camping days ahead, and just catch our breath following some busy weeks for our family.
But it wasn’t to be. Chickenpox arrived in our family, and hit the second child just days before our long-awaited holiday, meaning we had to delay our departure by three days. So we just had one night in Windhoek, and would be skipping the first nights of camping and driving straight to our first safari lodge. (Guess who was least disappointed about that change!)
Mind you, there’s a always a silver lining: itching aside, we gained three quiet empty-calendar days at home, with MT off work, to pack and get ready for our travel much more calmly than usual!
So our first night in Windhoek was all about the car, a quick (local, excellent) beer and then an early morning start for some shopping essentials before hitting the road in time to arrive at our first destination before dusk. Downtown Windhoek is very compact, and from the Hilton it was just a short walk along one of the main shopping streets to a pedestrianised area of shops and cafés, which itself led to a large shopping mall.
You can spot the Congo-dwelling expats on holiday in a developed city: we’re the ones waiting for the shops to open so our children can have new shoes! But there was no time to linger in the boutiques, chic coffee stops, or relaxing parks I kept spying as we set off to explore the country.
Which is why I was so glad I had already organised the last night of our holiday to be one more night in Windhoek, rather than one of the lodges I had looked at outside of the city. This time I was keen to be in the Eastern Suburbs area, so when we were invited to try out the family-sized apartment Suite 9 @The Village, it seemed like the ideal rest-stop: space enough for us to collapse and spread out after two weeks on the road, and close enough to stylish cafés and the renowned Joe’s Beerhouse to let us make the most of one more night in Windhoek before leaving Namibia.
If I suspected that this was the up-and-coming hipster part of town, the interior of our apartment certainly proved me right, down to the oh-so-chic brushed concrete floor. Both double bedrooms were fully en-suite, decorated with homely touches in a boutique hotel style. The kitchen was stocked with the essentials: not just the Nespresso machine, but the milk frother too! In the fridge there was a thoughtful mini-bar set up, saving short term visitors from having to plan ahead for their nightcap. There was even a yoga mat in the corner, perfect for my daily asanas. (That’s right, I did my sun salutations every morning as the sun rose over the desert…or maybe not.)
Much as I was looking forward to sinking into the HUGE bed with its immaculate linen, after our nights of camping, it was only lunchtime. Downstairs in the courtyard of ‘The Village’ we were able to choose from a selection of welcoming foodie cafés, and enjoyed a relaxed lunch (with free mothers’ day cocktail!) in the company of some koi carp. There’s more evidence of hip Windhoek in the surroundings of this charming development, with fashion boutiques, offices occupied by designers and financial startups, and meetings taking place over a flat white. This urban-loving girl felt very at home.
The great thing about self-catering as a family option, is that it gives you the space to do your own thing. While the boys (ahem…all of them) got their cartoon network fix, I was able to spend the afternoon repacking our luggage ahead of our two-flight, two-day journey home, without any of us getting in each other’s way.
Joe’s Beerhouse had come recommended to us from multiple sources, so I had made sure to phone earlier in the day to make a reservation for dinner. It’s pitched as a warm, welcoming, authentic pub experience, so I was a little disappointed to find it ensconced behind high walls topped with security fencing. That’s African living for you, but Windhoek had almost made me forget I was in Africa! Once inside it was clear that Joe’s Beerhouse was the place to be – a big draw for tourists keen to sample local game from the braai, but there were plenty of locals there too.
Less hip was the moment when I read the drinks menu…which was not the only time on this holiday when I felt like I’d stepped back into the 70s:
But with my LARGE beer in hand I was able to relax and enjoy a fun meal.
Back at the apartment, the bed felt as comfortable as it looked; I was beyond grateful to stretch out in those high thread-count linens after our camping adventures. (And especially knowing that a different kind of adventure was on the cards with our overnight layover in Ethiopia – more on that story later too!)
We were back downstairs in the courtyard for breakfast, watching young hip Windhoek get Monday started at a leisurely pace; we spotted at least one long-bearded twentysomething with messenger bag headed for (probably) his design studio.
Windhoek reminded me of a smaller-scale Cape Town: a European-style city surrounded by African adventure. We were able to make the most of its easiness, for shopping and relaxing. But I wish we’d had more time to see more of what the city has to offer, for example the Old Breweries Complex, and the National Art Gallery. I definitely recommend at least one full day in Windhoek.
And whether you’re stopping in Windhoek for a work trip, a city break or, like us, on your way home. I can definitely recommend Suite9@TheVillage as a spacious and relaxing base.
My top Windhoek tip: Getting Around
Despite years of living in Africa, we still look at maps like Europeans: ‘Oh, that’s just round the corner, we can totally walk there!’ And then we start walking, and only then remember that modern developed cities are built around cars. Although much of Windhoek is walkable, our walk to Joe’s Beerhouse, for example, only took a few minutes, but it didn’t feel totally comfortable, and we definitely didn’t want to walk back that way after dark. Some tourist advice cautions against flagging down taxis in the street (although living where we do, and regularly taking taxis with questionable suspension on roads where rules are for breaking, we thought this might be more a question of expectation management). Still, we followed the advice, and, happily, phoning for taxis in Windhoek is quick and easy, via CityCab, for example, and a low flat rate is charged within the city. At Joe’s Beerhouse they even phoned for us, and the driver came right to our table to pick us up. Another large beer please!