Namibia ranks high on the world’s economic disparity list, as the income gap between its richest residents and the nation’s poorest people is one of the largest on record. The difference between the haves and the have-nots is particularly evident on a visit to Swakopmund, where well-paved roads, modern streetlights and beautifully constructed colonial buildings sit next to quiet cafes and restaurants dishing up international cuisine. But just beyond the city limits lies an informal settlement called the Democratic Resettlement Community. Once a temporary holding ground for people awaiting government housing, some 6,000 people call the thriving DRC home, an area built from reclaimed trash discarded by the city’s rich.
Visitors to this impoverished but thriving neighborhood can see how the other half of Namibia’s city dwellers live—those who often work in the service industries that supply the country’s elite and international travelers with all the comforts of home. Tour the DRC’s active youth center, free health clinic and home for orphans and vulnerable children while wandering the streets of this informal settlement.
Locals refer to the nearby landfill as “the hardware store,” since most of the materials used for housing are unearthed here. DRC continues to grow as Namibians from other parts of the country migrate to Swakopmund in search of work and a better life, though employment can be difficult to find.
During apartheid, Namibia’s bigger towns were divided between the “town,” where wealthy whites lived, and the “location,” where blacks were forced to stay. While independence and the end of apartheid rule have banished these now archaic laws, it’s still possible for visitors to Namibia to take a location tour to learn how life used to be.
Visitors to Mondesa, a location in Swakopmund, say that owners of these small houses tend to offer travelers a very big welcome. Exploring the streets of this famous location put visitors up close with history, and expert guides can explain how segregation—not only based on skin color, but also based on culture and tribe—determined the lay of the land. See the traditional dress, sample traditional food and even hear the Khoe-Khoe, the famous clicking language spoken by Namibia’s Damara and Nama people.
Modesa is located a few kilometers from the center of Swakopmund in the Erongo region of the country. It is home to the Owambo, Herero and Damara tribes, making it an ideal place to experience a number of Namibia’s diverse cultures.
In the local language of Otjiherero Katutura means “The place where people do not want to live”. In 1961, when apartheid practices took hold and black Namibians were moved from their homes into this far flung location, its name not only stung—but also rang true. Roughly 7,000 people were forced to give up land they owned and move to Katutura, where all homes were rented from the municipality and public transport was essential to travel to work.
Today, this once oppressed area of Windhoek is a thriving neighborhood that’s alive with energy, traditions and culture. Visitors can explore Sam Nujoma Stadium, tune in to Katutura Community Radio, or visit Katutura State Hospital—one of two public hospitals in the city. While the area is mostly residential, travelers will find food stalls, guesthouses and city tours throughout the neighborhood.
Katutura is located in the Khomas Region of Namibia, just outside of Windhoek. Travelers can take taxis from the city center to the Township. Because few tourists venture to this destination, visitors should be mindful of their belongings—and their person—while wandering the streets here.
Namib-Naukluft National Park"”one of the most photographed (and visited) destination in the entire country"”straddles the Namib Desert, what's considered by many to be the world's oldest desert, and the Naukluft Mountain Range. Its bright orange dunes, ever-changing towers of sand, arid landscape and impressive collection of African wildlife make it a destination among travelers. And while dune boarding, sand-surfing and 4x4-riding prove popular activities for adrenaline junkies who venture to this part of the coast, it's Sossusvlei that's the real show stopper of the Namib-Naukluft. This well-known area of the park is home to some of the tallest dunes in the world, and a favorite activity among travelers is a sunrise or sunset drive and hike to this incredible natural wonder.
While iconic pictures juxtaposing dark shadows with sun-kissed sands are available in every town in the country, travelers agree nothing is more breathtaking than seeing the real thing.
The Namib-Naukluft National Park is located in the Namib Desert off the C28 highway and is part of the Naukluft mountain range. The gate to Sossusvlei opens at 6 a.m., but it's best to arrive earlier if you plan to catch sunrise, as long lines can make it easy to miss.