I want to prove to you that I didn’t have a Namibian heat stroke when I put Swakopmund at the top of my “Best Places in Namibia” list. Spoiler: it’s not just because I like snakes and lizards, I promise. My fingers aren’t crossed behind my back right now or anything!
I know what you’re thinking: This place whose name sounds like a made-up word is the bee’s knees of Namibia?! You betcha! There’s so much to do within a small area! In Namibia, where hundreds of km/miles of driving per day is the norm, having things close by is a luxury.
Tip: If you’re researching Swakopmund, you’re probably planning a trip to Namibia, right? Better come prepared: read up on self-driving in Namibia before you do something stupid like rent a 2WD or forget your international driver’s license.
Swakopmund Namibia map and overview
Swakopmund has the 3rd highest population in Namibia, a whopping 45,000 people. It is a coastal city with strong German influences in its architecture—one of the most famous buildings is the public library, which is a half-timber house a couple of blocks from the beach.
The city is a popular beach resort and adventure center. I’ll explain all about the adrenaline-pumping and other more chill Swakopmund tourist attractions.
We stayed in a fantastic hotel in Swakopmund, too, so I’ll tell you about that to save you the frustration of finding accommodation that looks great in the online photos but turns out to be a semi-dump in real life. A common occurrence in Namibia!
My top tips for Swakopmund: 🌫️ The city gets almost no rain whatsoever. Instead, it gets thick fog—the reason there are so many shipwrecks in the area. Fog can make driving on the coastal roads dangerous, too! More about driving in Namibia. 🏨 There are a lot of things to do in Swakopmund, which is unique in Namibia. Stay at least 3 nights. Our favorite Swakopmund hotels: Desert Rendezvous, Driftwood Guesthouse, The Stiltz 🐍 Even if you don’t love snakes as much as I do, seeing serpents is one of the best activities in Swakopmund. Definitely take the Living Desert Tour, it was spectacular!
Swakopmund activities and tourist attractions
Besides being a great base for other Namibian hotspots like the Namib Naukluft National Park and the Skeletal Coast, Swakopmund pulls out all the stops in the activities department, too. And a few snakes and other cute critters.
These places are must-visits on any Namibia itinerary:
1. Tommy’s Living Desert Tour—Meeting my beloved sand snakes
First up and my personal favorite thing to do in Swakopmund: the Living Desert Tour. Get ready to meet some of the cutest sand snakes and lizards in their natural habitat. Don’t you just love the thought of a sand viper hiding in the sand right in front of you? I do.
And the guides? They’re the desert gurus, making the tour both informative and entertaining. Everyone is trained by Tommy, the owner, and you can tell they know their stuff and love what they do.
After you find every living thing in your vicinity, you get to prance around on the dunes, and end your morning with a view out to the Atlantic. Epic. One of the best tourist attractions in Namibia.
Make sure to bring a hat, because you’ll be in the sun non-stop.
The tour takes 4–5 hours during which they take you into the desert a little south of Swakopmund and then proceed to look for and find all kinds of creatures. They have a tour every morning and sometimes in the afternoons, too, depending on the weather (read: if it’s hot as heck, they aren’t going).
- Tommy’s Living Desert Tour
- Tours run daily at 8 am
- Tickets cost NAD 850 (USD 45) per person and include drinks and snacks
It’s hard to describe just how cool this tour was! Luckily, photos exist! Here are some more:
2. Skeleton Coast (Cape Cross specifically)
The Skeleton Coast is one of the must-see destinations in Namibia, and it’s best visited while being based in Swakopmund.
And yes, this next tip on things to do in Swakopmund is a little ways away from the city, but I feel it still counts, because, well, distances are relative in Namibia! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the fact that these places are within a couple hours’ drive make them count as “in” Swakopmund.
Read more about the distances in Namibia in my self-driving guide.
Cape Cross is to the north of Swakopmund, so if you’re staying at the charming Driftwood Guesthouse, you’re in a great spot to head out there. We stayed in Desert Rendezvous, which is about midway on the drive from Swakopmund to Cape Cross.
For me, Cape Cross is the highlight of the Skeleton Coast. I didn’t care much for the northern bit of the Skeleton Coast, the part with the dead ship carcasses. It’s just a bunch of sand and some shipwrecks, that’s it, and I see no reason to see more sand in Namibia.
Cape Cross, on the other hand, is a big YES in my book! It’s in the southernmost part of Skeleton Coast, 120 km (74 miles) from Swakopmund to be exact, which is basically next door by Namibian standards. The drive Swakopmund to Cape Cross will take you about 1.5 hours.
The massive colony of seals that awaits you there will have you mesmerized as they frolic in the waves and nap all over the beach. Especially the little pups and the more menacing-looking mothers.
Another stunner? The smell! In a 100,000+ member colony, there’s quite a few deaths and no clearing away of the carcasses, and I’m not lying when I say that it took us something like 4 days to wash out that gnarly smell from our hair. Maybe don’t wear your fancy clothes, either, because I don’t know what y’all wash your clothes in, but death is a tough stain to tackle.
There is a wooden walkway that you can walk on to see the seals from—it’s right on the beach, so you’re literally right next to the animals.
- Cape Cross Seal Reserve on Google Maps
- Parking is easy and costs NAD 50 (USD 2.50)
- Tickets cost NAD 150 (USD 8.50)
3. Namibia Dune 7—Conquering the highest dune in…?
Visiting Namibia’s Dune 7 is like going to a sandbox on steroids—it’s the highest dune in Namibia (NOT in the world, as I’ve seen written elsewhere?!) at 383 m (1250 ft). It’s a big pile of sand, yes, but it’s the biggest pile of sand you’ll see in the country, so go climb that bad boy! It’s great fun!
It’s no easy feat, especially if you leave your brain at home and choose to go climbing Dune 7 in the middle of the day in the summer. Just don’t. The sand is as hot as the devil’s asshole and it’s so soft and mushy that your feet will burn and you’ll be going two steps forward and one slide back the whole time.
If you are visiting in the hotter months, go early in the morning when the sand is still cool and hard (the Namib Desert is hot in the day, but freezing at night!). I’d say be there by 9 am for the best results. OR head out for sunset, when the cold is creeping back in, cooling that sand mound the heck down.
Weather tip: The best months to visit Namibia are May to September aka the winter.
You can easily drive to parking lot that’s just a flat area under Dune 7. For example, if you’re coming from The Stiltz, it’ll take just under 40 minutes. Google Maps will take you there when you tell it to navigate to Dune 7. You’ll be asked to pay NAD 100 per person to be able to stop there and climb the dune. Bring cash.
There are toilets available, too, but you want to avoid them unless your breakfast is not staying down and it’s urgent. Avoid further frustration by BYOTP—bringing your own toilet paper.
Fun dune fact: Dune 7 is barely a blip compared to the world’s actual tallest dune—Duna Federico Kirbus in Argentina. At 1,230 m (4,000 ft), it’s just a few grains of sand shy of UK’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis. Now THAT’s a pile of sand! (By the way, we loved the Ben and all the other amazing fairyland-ish hikes in Scotland, so if you’re looking for a change of scenery—cooler, no sand in your ears—check out Scotland for your next holiday!).
4. Skydiving and Quad Biking
Swakopmund is a mecca of skydiving, which I skipped since I don’t have a death wish just yet.
If you’re not quite ready to take that leap of faith, you could try tearing through the desert on a quad bike instead. It’s not just any desert—the Namib desert is a long sliver of sand copying the entire coast of Namibia, all the way up to Angola and down into South Africa. It’s the oldest desert in the world.
Fun fact: The Namib Desert may be around 80 million years old. Compared to that, the Sahara Desert is a baby, at 5 million years max. The Atacama Desert in Chile is the only other desert in the world that can challenge the Namib’s age, though nobody has really put a number on it. Atacama is the driest place on Earth.
Quad biking is an adrenaline-pumping adventure without the risk of falling from the sky with a shit parachute (I know I’d be the one to get it). You’ll also probably see a snake or two, too, which might be more than enough excitement for some.
Quad biking was good fun, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. There are many adventure tour shops in town, most with really good reviews, so just go with whichever tickles your fancy.
Other desert activities in Swakopmund: sandboarding, dune buggies, fat biking (I don’t know if that’s the official name, but you go out on bicycles fitted with those really fat tires).
You know how after you go to the beach, you still have sand in your bag and shoes 3 days later? Vacationing in Namibia is like playing beach volleyball all day every day, only to realize there is no sea to wash off in anywhere ever. So, you’ll love coming back to your hotel room each night, fighting with your travel partner about who gets to shower first. Here are my reliable recommendations for Swakopmund hotels: Where we stayed (and loved): Desert Rendezvous Top pick in town: Driftwood Guesthouse Unique place: The Stiltz
5. Catamaran cruises: Dolphins and pelicans galore!
If you’re feeling a bit too sandy and you’re craving some watery goodness instead, I’ve got just the thing for you! Namibia’s got a whole bunch of critters that prefer the wet life, and if you want to catch a glimpse of ’em, you’ll have to say goodbye to the solid ground.
Hop on a catamaran in Walvis Bay and spend 3–4 hours being entertained by dozens of cooky pelicans and cormorants that are called to the boat by fish being held out, allowing them to swoosh by to collect their snack. You’ll also see seals, dolphins, and, if you’re lucky, even whales!
Most tour operators also stop at an oyster farm and give you a tasting of the slippery suckers.
Catamaran Dolphin Cruises and Sun Sail Catamarans Namibia are two operators with great reviews.
6. Swakopmund Snake Park
If you were a snake, you’d be calling yourself lucky to be living in Namibia—it’s snake paradise. At least the 81 snake species that live there think so! I have a thing for serpents, and since you probably aren’t going to see any of the big guys on the Living Desert Tour, we were happy to go see them at the Snake Park.
It is the absolute best reptile exhibit I’ve ever seen. They’ve got all kinds of Namibian snakes, including the deadly Black Mamba, the stunning Cape Cobra, the Zebra Snake, and my favorite, the Puff Adder. These snakes are both adorable and dangerous, which makes them all the more captivating to stare at from a couple of centimeters away (through glass, obviously).
There are also other critters such as big lizards and turtles, but I was too fascinated by the snakes to give them the time of day.
- Snake Park on Google Maps
- Open daily 9 am–7 pm, 10 am–4 pm on Sundays
- Tickets cost NAD 100 (USD 5) for adults
7. Relax at the amazing Driftwood Guesthouse
Swakopmund isn’t just adventure and thrills—or it doesn’t have to be. Life is your oyster, right? Make the best of the relatively large range of accommodations available and choose a hotel that you’ll be happy to come back to after a day of adrenaline.
But, let me tell you, if you thought choosing a good hotel in Namibia was easy, think again. It’s not just a matter of scrolling through a bunch of pretty pictures and booking the one that catches your eye. It’s all a big, fat lie! Those pictures may be worth a thousand words, but they’re coming from a lying liar who lies!
Trust me, I’ve been there, done that, and bought the T-shirt. The photo editing I’ve seen in Namibia is like none other.
Here is a great option of where to stay in Swakopmund that looks at least as good in person as in the photos:
I don’t know how they do it, but you feel so welcome at Driftwood Guesthouse you’d think you own the place! As soon as you step through the door, it’s almost like they’ve been expecting you, and boy are they happy to see you!
The breakfast is amazing, the small central courtyard provides a place to relax, and the rustic wood furniture adds character. One of the best Swakopmund hotels, hand down.
Driftwood Guesthouse is located a couple km to the north of central Swakopmund right by the beach in a quieter area, making relaxing (and parking) a breeze.
8. Flamingos in the bay
If you’re more of a nature buff, don’t feel like falling from the sky, hugging snakes OR driving like a maniac (if you’re self-driving in Namibia, you’re already doing plenty of that), head over to the pretty bay in Swakopmund to see flamboyances of flamingos. Yes, a group of flamingos is called a flamboyance. They are so extra I just can’t even with them.
Head out to Walvis Bay or Sandwich Harbor for some pink bird spotting.
Personally, I’m not a huge fan—I mean, they’re just pink birds, right? But I get it, they’re an Instagrammable sight, so snap away. It’s still worth seeing them up close (maybe I’m just overflamingo’d from Paracas National Reserve in Peru).
Another fun fact: The flamingo’s knees aren’t their knees—that joint you see when they’re chillin’ on one leg is actually the ankle. They do have knees, just way higher up, hiding under their pretty pink feathers.
9. See Swakopmund town and boardwalk
Thanks to its German colonial roots, you’ll spot traces of history all around town, from the charming, restored houses and the Lutheran Church, to the iconic half-timber Woermannhaus. Once a hub for German traders, this spot now houses a library and art gallery, and offers some pretty decent views from its (not-so-tall) tower.
You might stumble onto the craft market in the center of town and even catch a glimpse of some Himba tribe women offering handmade jewelry and a photo op (for a fee, of course).
And what’s a beach town without some good old-fashioned beach bummery? Whether you’re a local or a tourist, soaking up the sun and taking leisurely strolls on the jetty are Swakopmund must-dos. Oh, and don’t forget to make your way to the tip of Palm Beach to catch a glimpse of the lighthouse.
Speaking of the lighthouse, there’s some beer-tasting to be had closeby…
10. Find the best restaurants in Swakopmund
I’m all about eating great food in restaurants, but Namibia does not make it easy. You’ll be able to find some good spots in Windhoek (the capital), possibly in or near Etosha National Park, and Swakopmund. That’s about it. Namibia’s population is so sparse that you should generally be prepared to eat full meals in your hotel as its usually the only place with a decent restaurant in a radius of 50 km.
That said, Swakopmund has some of the best restaurants in Namibia, though that obviously doesn’t mean much since restaurants are few and far between. The German influence rubs off on the restaurants in Swakopmund, which can only mean one fabulously hopsy thing: beer!
If you’re a fan of beer, you’re in luck: there’s a restaurant in Swakopmund that has its very own brewery—Brewer & Butcher, a cool spot close to the lighthouse. You can imagine we were regulars there! You could mistake it for a real-life hipster German beer hall if it weren’t for the sea views and light fixtures made of animal horns (and not dear antlers). Beer was great, food was great, service was a little slow, but we didn’t really mind. Brewer & Butcher is part of the Strand Hotel.
Another good choice is The Tug (because it’s made from an old tugboat). This is the place to have seafood in Swakopmund, but it’s not like they don’t have anything else. The beauty of this place lies in its location, too-if you were any closer to the sea, you’d actually have to be on a (tug) boat.
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