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Quick Facts
CapitalWindhoek
Governmentrepublic
CurrencyNamibian dollar (NAD); South African rand (ZAR)
Areatotal: 825,418 sq km
water: 0 sq km
land: 825,418 sq km
Population1,820,916 (July 2002 est.)
LanguageEnglish 7% (official), Afrikaans common language of most of the population and about 60% of the white population, German 32%, indigenous languages: Oshivambo, Herero, Nama
ReligionChristian 80% to 90% (Lutheran 50% at least), indigenous beliefs 10% to 20%

Namibia is located 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, 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.

Regions

  • Northern Namibia -- Known as "Ovamboland" under the South African regime, this area is now divided into several administrative regions. It is Namibia's most densely populated area (though still primarily rural), and home to the Ovambo, Namibia's largest ethnic group.
  • The Caprivi Strip -- With two major rivers, the Caprivi is one of the few areas of Namibia that has water.
  • Kunene -- The land of the Himba, and where you can find Epupa Falls.

Cities

  • Windhoek -- Namibia's capital and largest city.
  • Swakopmund -- Coastal town, a mecca for Namibians on holiday.
  • L´┐Żderitz -- old German coastal town
  • Keetmanshoop-- Small town on the rail lines and highway, jumping off point for treks in the Fish River Canyon.
  • Tsumkwe -- rural desert town surrounded by San (Bushmen) villages
  • Etosha National Park -- Namibia's largest game park
  • Waterberg Plateau Park -- Another good place to watch wildlife
  • Sossusvlei -- The most popular entry point for people wanting to visit the Namib desert
  • Skeleton Coast -- The northern half of the Namib desert, named for the dozens of ships that were beached in the thick fog that is frequent where the desert meets the Atlantic.
  • Fish River Canyon--The second largest canyon in the world

Understand

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 WW1, 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. That is to say, Namibians will refer to the race of others more frequently than travellers from places where race is typically not an issue, would expect. 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 offense, but they're handy to know.

Get in

By plane

Hosea Kutako International Airport, located 45 minutes east of Windhoek, is the main entry point for air traffic. Air Namibia Frankfurt, London, 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 [2] (http://www.flysaa.com) and no-frills Kulula.com [3] (http://www.kulula.com) operate flights from South Africa, too.

By car

The B1 is the main highway entering Namibia from South Africa. The Trans-Kalahari (which becomes B2 in Namibia) gives access from Botswana in the east. The B8, which crosses through the Caprivi Strip gives access from Zambia, Zimbabwe, and the northernmost points in Botswana.

By bus

The most convenient international bus service into Namibia runs from Cape Town and Victoria Falls. There is also service from Johannesburg. See hitchhiking and combies you can also get to Namibia from anywhere in Botswana.

Get around

Despite the vast distances in Namibia, most people get around by land, and not air.

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.

It is quite easy to get around using the combies (aka 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.

Talk

English is the official language and is spoken by everyone. Afrikaans (the South African child of Dutch) is spoken by everyone, except in Northern Namibia. German is also spoken by a large number of people of German descent, though they tend to be mostly in Windhoek, Swakopmund and various farms scattered through the country. There are about nine other main languages spoken in Namibia, the largest of which are Nama/Damara and Oshiwambo.

See

Namibia is a country with great national parks where you can see some of the finest African flora and fauna and you can see some mammals that have adapted to the extreme heat.

Buy

The currency is the Namibian Dollar (NAD) which is pegged 1:1 to the South African Rand (ZAR). Either can be used in Namibia; change will usually be given in Namibian Dollars. Bank Windhoek in downtown Windhoek (and probably other branches throughout the country) will change NAD to ZAR without any charge or paperwork hassles. Since any bank or currency exchange outside Namibia (including in South Africa) will charge a service fee, it is advisable to make use of the Bank Windhoek service 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, just in case.

Automated teller machines are available in Windhoek and Swakopmund. It is best to use only teller machines that are inside a mall or other building. 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).

Prices in shops are fixed, but prices in open markets or from street vendors are open to barter.

Eat

Vegetarians need not apply. :) Namibians have a very high intake of meat. It is possible to be a vegetarian in Namibia, as there are some PeaceCorps workers who live there for two years and remain vegetarian throughout.

Drink

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. http://www.nambrew.com

Work

It is extremely difficult for foreigners to get work permits in Namibia. With 40% unemployment, the government is not enthusiastic about letting people in who would take jobs from 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.

Stay safe

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 north-eastern Namibia is no longer an issue.

Namibia has relatively high crime rate. See the warning for ATMs above. 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 9pm. Pickpockets can be a problem. All these warnings should be taken in context, because the threat is not as serious as it might sound. If you are alert and take some commonsense precautions then you will have no problems.

Travellers should have no problem visiting the townships, though it's advisable not to visit the townships alone unless you're familiar with the area. If you have been travelling in Southern Africa for a few months, you probably know what you're doing.

Namibia has a serious problem with driving under the influence of alcohol. The problem is aggravated because most people don't consider it a problem. When driving/walking on weekend evenings, be extra alert.

Stay healthy

The HIV infection rate in Namibia is about 25%. Do not have unprotected sex!

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.

The northern part of Namibia is in a malarial zone, so take standard malaria precautions when travelling in these areas. There are different strains of malaria and different habits of the mosquitos that carry it, so consult a doctor before leaving.

Namibia's water supply is safe to drink, except where labelled otherwise.

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 (http://www.cdc.gov/) web page. Make sure you satisfy yourself of the safety of anything you're getting into.

Respect

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. Don't show up wearing khaki shorts and a safari hat; people will laugh. In fact, Namibians refer to this kind of tourist as The Khakis in a derogative manner. And if you ask where the 'real' Africa is (i.e. the Africa of Tarzan), Namibians may very well be offended.

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).

Contact

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 and Swakopmund, and hostels often have access as well.

MTC is the Namibian cell phone network. SIM cards can be purchased at MTC stores as well as many other cell phone shops. All mobile phones have the area code 81, regardless of where you are in the country. Sometime in 2004 a second company is going to be granted a licence to operate a mobile network.

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