Namibia  is in Southern Africa, bordering South Africa, Botswana, Angola, Zambia and the Atlantic Ocean. Formerly a colony of Germany, Namibia was administered by South Africa under a League of Nations mandate after WWI, and annexed as a province of South Africa after WWII. The South-West African People's Organization (SWAPO) launched a guerrilla war for independence in 1966, but did not gain independence until 1990.
Namibia boasts remarkable natural attractions such as the Namib desert, the Fish River Canyon Park, Etosha National Park and the Kalahari desert. Its people speak nine different languages, including some of the Khoisan languages which include the 'clicks' that present an enigma to most native English-speakers. Namibia produces some of the world's highest quality diamonds.
Inhabited from the dawn of time by the San, also known as the "Bushmen", invaded by the Bantu, colonized by the Germans (who called it "South West Africa") and taken over by South Africa after WWI, Namibia is in many ways quite similar to South Africa. Since it was ruled under the apartheid system, Namibia also has many of the problems resulting from that system.
It is important to be aware that race is a common part of Namibian discourse. Namibians will refer to the race of others more frequently than travellers from places where race is typically not an issue. Because of apartheid, race is an issue in many spheres of life, so it comes up a lot. In spite of this, the various races do get along well in Namibia, and it is fairly uncommon to find racial tensions flaring. Apartheid was never implemented as strictly in Namibia as in South Africa, so racial tensions are generally lower.
Namibia is similar to South Africa, and if you're used to travelling in one country, travelling in the other country is quite easy. There are some subtle differences. For example, in South Africa a non-white person may choose to speak English rather than Afrikaans (as a political choice) whereas among Namibia's mixed-race population (who call themselves 'colored' in Namibia and South Africa) Afrikaans is a proud part of their culture, and many people still speak German. Overlooking these differences isn't going to cause offence, but they're handy to know.
The public holidays in Namibia are:
Nationals of Angola, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States, Cuba, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Lesotho, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, New Zealand, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Seychelles, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Turkmenistan, United Kingdom, United States of America, Venezuela, Zambia and Zimbabwe may enter Namibia visa-free for up to 90 days.
Visitors not from the above countries need to apply for a visa from the Namibian consulate in their country of origin or the Ministry of Home Affairs, Private Bag 13200, Windhoek, ☎ +264 61 292-2111 (fax: +264 61 223-817). edit.
If you require a visa to enter Namibia, you might be able to apply for one at a British embassy, high commission or consulate in the country where you legally reside if there is no Namibian diplomatic post. For example, the British embassies/consulates in Al Khobar, Jeddah and Riyadh accept Namibian visa applications (this list is not exhaustive). British diplomatic posts charge £50 to process a Namibian visa application and an extra £70 if the authorities in Namibia require the visa application to be referred to them. The authorities in Namibia can also decide to charge an additional fee if they correspond with you directly.
All visitors require a passport valid for at least 6 months after exit from Namibia.
Always verify the dates stamped into your passport, because there have been cases where corrupt officers stamp wrong dates to fine people for overstaying when they leave, and these fines are huge.
Hosea Kutako International Airport, located 45 minutes east of Windhoek, is the main entry point for air traffic. Air Namibia  operates flights from Frankfurt, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Victoria Falls and Maun to the international airport. Flights between the smaller Eros Airport and Cape Town are also available. South African Airways  and no-frills Kulula.com  operate flights from South Africa, too. See Discount airlines in Africa for more options.
There are 9 commonly used border posts with neighbouring counties:
The most convenient international bus service into Namibia runs from Cape Town and Victoria Falls. There is also service from Johannesburg. See Intercape Mainliner  for schedules and fares. Using a combination of buses, hitchhiking and kombis you can also get to Namibia from anywhere in Botswana.
Despite the vast distances in Namibia, most people get around by land, and not air. If renting a car, plan to have plenty of cash on hand to fill the tank with petrol. Petrol stations typically do not accept any form of payment except cash. A small tip for the attendant pumping your petrol of NAD 3-5 is quite common. If you are on the back roads of Namibia, it's always wise to stop and top-off your tank when you see a service station. Fuel shortages are also common so always be prepared for the possibility of not being able to buy as much petrol as you may like.
Namibia's roads are very good, with primary routes paved, and secondary routes of well-graded gravel. An all-wheel drive vehicle is not necessary except on tertiary roads and the Skeleton Coast. Driving at night is very dangerous because there is a lot of wildlife on the roads. Traffic drives on the left. Namibian roads eat tires. Always check your spare and inspect your tires often. Its a good idea to purchase the tire insurance that your rental car company might offer, too.
Namibians often estimate the time to drive between places according to their experience driving quickly on dirt (untarred) roads. Add a third and you will arrive alive with kidneys intact!
Before you reserve a car let the rental company send you a copy of it's rental agreement. Most of them have many (and sometimes absolutely ridiculous) restrictions. Take your time to compare them according to your needs.
By minibus taxi
It is quite easy to get around using combies (shared or long-distance taxis). Just ask around to find out where the taxi rank is (sometimes there are several taxi ranks, each one with departures to different areas of the country). Drivers are not in the habit of overcharging foreigners.
The national railway company of Namibia, TransNamib , operates trains (and buses) to destinations all over Namibia via their StarLine passenger service. Some routes available are
The StarLine scheduled service conveys passengers via special coaches hooked on the back of freight trains. These passenger coaches offer comfortable airline-style seating with air-conditioning and (sometimes) video entertainment. Vending machines provide refreshments on long journeys. StarLine, +264 (0)61 298-2032, (paxservices@transNamib.com.na, fax: +264 (0)61 298-2495). edit
Other rail services operating in the country are:
Several tour companies operate in Namibia. Each is unique in services offered but most operate with safety in mind.
Major indigenous languages include Oshiwambo, Otjiherero, Nama, Damara, Rukwangali, various San languages,and Silozi.
English is the official language and is widely spoken. However, the majority of older Namibians (those educated before independence) speak English only as a third language; therefore, the standard is fairly poor. English is more widely spoken in the north, as it was adopted as a medium of instruction earlier than in the south. Older Namibians in the South are more likely to speak Afrikaans or German.
Afrikaans is spoken by many and is the first language of the Coloureds as well as the Afrikaners. English is spoken as a first language by the remaining English families, and German is spoken by the Namibians of German descent, who tend to be in Windhoek, Swakopmund and various farms scattered through the country. German is one of the leading commercial languages as well. Portuguese is spoken by immigrants from Angola.
Namibia is a land of much natural beauty. To truly appreciate the country, you need to get out in the countryside, either on a tour or by renting a car, and take in the deserts, the mountains, the villages and all that Namibia has to offer.
One of its most dominant features, and the one for which the country is named, is the Namib Desert that stretches for nearly a 1000 km along the Atlantic coast. As one of the oldest deserts in the world, its sand takes on a distinctive rust colour and it has some of the highest sand dunes in the world. Sossusvlei is the most accessible part of the desert and is a magical place with its towering dunes that shift hues as the sun rises and sets. Further south, near the South African border, is Fish River Canyon, one of the largest canyons in the world. Stretching for 160 km, it is reaches 27 km across at its widest and nearly 550 m down at its deepest. In the north of the country is the empty and mostly inaccessible Skeleton Coast National Park. It's a seemingly barren expanse of stone and sand famous for its fog and the number of shipwrecks along the coast.
Perhaps not as plentiful as neighbouring Botswana or South Africa, Namibia still has plenty of African wildlife to see. This includes some local subspecies, such as desert lions, desert elephants and the Hartmann's Mountain Zebra, which are adapted to the harsh desert climate. Grazing animals like gemsbok, ostrich and springbok are also common. Namibia's national parks are an excellent place to start and one of the most famous is Etosha National Park in Northern Namibia. The park surrounds the Etosha salt pan, which attracts animals, particularly in the drier winter months, because it is a source of water in a very dry land. Other notable spots to view wildlife are Waterberg Plateau Park, the parks of the Caprivi and the remote Kaokoland.
Namibia has a German influence from colonial times that is still reflected in some of its buildings. Windhoek has a number of interesting buildings like the Christuskirche, the train station and the castle-like Heinitzburg Hotel. Lüderitz is a colonial-era town with distinctive German Imperial and Art Nouveau styles. Nearby is the abandoned mining town of Kolmanskop. Once a thriving center for diamonds, the miners moved on and the sand dunes have moved in, but tours are still available.
The official currency of Namibia is the Namibian Dollar (N$), which is subdivided into 100 cents. Namibia (along with Lesotho, South Africa and Swaziland) is a member of the Southern African Common Monetary Area, and as such the Namibian Dollar is pegged 1:1 to the South African Rand (ZAR). Both the Namibian Dollar and South African Rand are legal tender in Namibia, though change will usually be given in Namibian Dollars.
Banks in Namibia will convert Namibian Dollars for South African Rand and vice versa without charge or paperwork. Since any bank or currency exchange outside Namibia (including other members of the Common Monetary Area) will charge a substantial service fee to change currency, it is advisable to make use of a Namibian Bank before leaving the country.
It is also advisable to carry proof (for example, ATM receipts) that money you are taking out of the country is money that you brought into the country in the first place.
Automated teller machines are available in Windhoek, Swakopmund, Luderitz, Tsumeb, and other towns and cities. It is best to use only teller machines that are inside a mall or other building. Many machines have guards in the larger centres. Always be careful to make sure no one is watching you enter your PIN, and be vigilant about typical scams (e.g. machines that seem to eat your card and won't give it back after you enter the PIN).
Credit and debit card fraud is a major problem in the country. Make sure you get a receipt for all processed and cancelled transactions. When entering your pin for a purchase, it is often customary for clerks to navigate past the sale price confirmation screen on POS terminals by clicking "ok" to the total sale amount on your behalf. While not a best practice for electronic financial transactions, it's *usually* not an ill intended manoeuvre on the part of the cashier. If you remain aware while completing transactions, you shouldn't have any problems.
Prices in shops are fixed, but prices in open markets or from street vendors are open to bargaining.
In most towns you will be approached by many locals to buy souvenirs. When this happens a 'no thanks' will usually suffice and they will leave you alone. It is common to haggle. Try to buy as much as possible from small shops instead of bigger ones -- it's the best way to help the poor local population.
The cross-border money transfer facilities are limited and expensive, with one of the poorest currency buying-and-selling rates, because government does not want the money to be sent out of the country. There's a western union office across the street from the US embassy in Windhoek.
Namibians have a very high intake of meat. It is possible to be a vegetarian in Namibia.
Namibia's nightclubs are always happening and always open late (pretty much until the last person leaves). They are mostly located in bigger cities: Windhoek, Swakopmund and Oshakati. There are not many bars, though there is very good beer, and there are a lot of shebeens. The flagship beer of Namibia is Windhoek Lager , an easy-drinking filtered beer, not dissimilar to many German brews.
There are a number of Hotel chains that operate nationally
It is extremely difficult for foreigners to get work permits in Namibia. With over 51% unemployment, the government is not enthusiastic about letting people in who would take jobs from Namibians. All semi-skilled and unskilled positions must be unconditionally filled by local Namibians. It is possible to get a work permit to volunteer, though this requires going through the same drawn out process as the normal work permit.
An employee's salary is normally paid in Namibian dollars and income tax (Maximum Rate is 37% and is based on different income slabs) is deducted by the employer. Its Capital city, Windhoek is currently ranked 150 overall, most expensive place in the world for expatriates to live.
Namibia is a peaceful country and is not involved in any wars. With the end of the Angolan civil war in May 2002, the violence that spilled over into northeastern Namibia is no longer an issue.
Namibia does, however, have a relatively high crime rate. Be careful around ATMs. For men, it is not prudent to walk or ride taxis alone in Windhoek or Oshakati after midnight. For women, it is not prudent after 9 p.m. Pickpockets can be a problem. Lately, there are many armed robberies reported; in most cases, tourists get robbed of belongings carried with them in a bag. For home security, electric fences are installed in almost every house in Windhoek.
Most reported robberies take place just outside of the city centre. The police report that taxi drivers are often involved: they spot vulnerable tourists and coordinate by cell phoning the robbers. Take these warnings in context; if you are alert and take some common sense precautions, you should have no problems.
Travellers should have no problem visiting the townships, but do not visit the townships alone unless you are familiar with the area. If you have been travelling in Southern Africa for a few months, you probably know what you are doing.
Namibia has a serious problem with driving under the influence of alcohol. The problem is aggravated because most people consider it no problem. When driving or walking on weekend evenings, be especially alert.
Be aware of tourist robbery in the Walvis Bay, Swakopmund and Henties Bay areas. This problem is larger than commonly reported in the media.
The HIV infection rate in Namibia is about 25%.
Namibia's medical system is modern and capable of attending to whatever needs you may have. Staff are well trained and so HIV transmission in hospitals is not an issue. This applies to government and private hospitals alike, though line-ups are often shorter at private hospitals, and there have been cases of incorrect diagnosis in government hospitals.
Namibia's water supply is usually safe to drink, except where labelled otherwise. Campsites next to rivers often get their water directly from the river, so do not drink it!
Having said all this, make sure you consult a physician specializing in health issues of Southern Africa, as well as things like the Centre for Disease Control  web page. Make sure you satisfy yourself of the safety of anything you're getting into.
Namibians are very proud of their country. It is a well developed country (albeit still a developing nation) with all the modern amenities and technologies. Namibians have been exposed to a surprisingly wide variety of peoples during the United Nations supervising of the elections, as well as from various volunteer organizations. They are not offended by Westerners wearing shorts, nor by women wearing pants. It is not uncommon to see Afrikaners with thick, knee-high socks (keeps snakes from getting a good bite) and shorts walking about. It is customary when greeting someone to ask them how they're doing. It's a simple exchange where each person asks "How are you?" (or the local version "Howzit?") and responds with a correspondingly short answer, and then proceed with whatever your business is about. It's a good idea to do this at tourist info booths, in markets, when getting into taxis, even in shops in Windhoek (though it's normally not done in some of the bigger stores in the malls).
Namibia's country code is 264. Each city or region has a two-digit area code. When calling long distance within Namibia, prefix the area code with a '0'. Mobile phones are very common and run on the GSM network, using the same frequency as Europe and the rest of Africa. There are Internet cafes in Windhoek, Swakopmund and Opuwo, and hostels often have access as well.