Although accommodation can seem expensive compared to many parts of Africa, standards are usually high and the value for money often excellent, especially if you’re coming from a country with favourable exchange rates. Moreover, there’s a lot of variety to suit a range of budgets, from basic campgrounds to all-inclusive luxury lodges and tented camps, or moderately priced B&Bs and guest farms on private reserves. Backpacker hostels outside Windhoek are fairly thin on the ground but staying at community-based tourism lodgings is another budget alternative, with greater cultural rewards. Self-catering options are also widespread. Note that most lodges and guesthouses require you to check out by 10am.
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Hotels, B&Bs and guesthouses
Hotels are generally confined to the major urban centres, and by law hotel rooms must all be en suite (with a bath or shower and toilet) and have windows. More common – even in Windhoek – however, are family-run guesthouses and smaller B&Bs, both of which are also sprinkled around the smaller towns in Namibia. They are owner-managed, offer more personalized hospitality and on average charge between N$400 and N$1300 for a double room, including breakfast. Some of the guesthouses also provide evening meals and/or packed lunches on request.
Many lodgings still follow the German tradition of preferring twin beds, rather than doubles, though the two beds will often be arranged side by side. If having a double bed is important to you, make sure you ascertain the bed configurations before booking.
Lodges and tented camps
Namibia’s lodge scene has grown substantially over the last fifteen years, particularly at the luxury end of the market, where you can pay over N$10,000 per person per night for an all-inclusive package. Although lodges inside the national parks are almost exclusively run by the parastatal Namibia Wildlife Resorts, there are many on private concessions that border the parks, catering to a range of budgets. Several tour operators manage a portfolio of lodgings within Namibia. The Gondwana Collection (w gondwana-collection.com), for example, owns fifteen diverse and distinctive properties right across the country, characterized by efficient, friendly service; a strong emphasis on sustainability; excellent buffet food; and good-quality but affordable accommodation, including upmarket campgrounds. Wilderness Safaris (w wilderness-safaris.com), which has ecotourism operations in several other African countries, and is based in South Africa, owns a dozen exclusive camps (from 6–23 units) in Namibia, predominantly in the northwest, including the pioneering Damaraland Camp, which is jointly owned, and largely managed, by the local community conservancy.
Guest farms are generally run by Namibians of German or white South African heritage; they are large working farms that look to supplement their income to a greater or lesser extent through tourism. They often combine the family-style hospitality of a guesthouse, which often includes communal dining with the hosts, with the advantages of being surrounded by nature. Some guest farms include reserves stocked with large mammals, offering good opportunities for wildlife viewing; they may also be involved in conservation work; others (though none listed in this guide) are hunting farms. Other activities provided by guest farms include self-guided hikes, farm tours, 4WD trails, stargazing, sundowner excursions and horse riding.
Hostels and budget accommodation
The country’s few backpacker hostels are concentrated in Windhoek and in the coastal resorts of Swakopmund and Lüderitz, charging from around N$100–150 for a bed in a dorm, and N$300-400 for a double or twin with shared bathroom. Camping is another option for budget travellers, especially at the cheaper community-run campgrounds. Restcamps, which by law have to offer at least four types of accommodation, also tend to be good value, usually providing inexpensive self-catering units and camping pitches among other no-frills options.
Camping is by far the best way to experience Namibia’s wilderness scenery, the sounds of the bush and the country’s magical sunsets. What’s more, it doesn’t have to be the unforgiving endurance activity of guide or scout camps. On the contrary, camping can be pretty luxurious in Namibia, and at very little cost. Bank on paying N$100–150 per person per night, though some campgrounds also charge for the vehicle and/or have a site charge. Increasingly, campgrounds are offering private ablution blocks, particularly in the case of lodges that also cater for campers. Hot-water showers are the norm, though in a few cases, the water may be heated by a “donkey” (wood-fired water heater), and you may need to buy the wood and build the fire yourself. Electricity is usually available, as are power points to charge electrical equipment, as well as private braai stands or pits, space for food preparation and sinks for washing up. Larger places, such as the NWR camps, will have communal ablution blocks and a camp shop that sells basic provisions, including “braai packs”, which usually comprise a couple of steaks, pork chops or kebabs and a piece of boerwors with which to kick-start your BBQ.
Several places also rent out tents that are already equipped with beds (or mattresses) and bedding for little more than a campground fee.
Community-based tourism (CBT) in Namibia, especially through the country’s progressive conservancy system, has rightly been championed across the world. Though it’s not without its share of challenges, it offers the traveller a way of engaging with rural populations while helping to support communities, without threatening their lifestyles, which more conventional tourism does not. That said, it takes various forms: most notably there are a number of excellent community-run campgrounds across the country, usually comprising only a handful of sites, which sometimes lack electricity. The outstanding success story in CBT is the international award-winning Conservancy Safaris Namibia (w kcs-namibia.com.na), which is completely owned by Himba and Herero communities. In existence in the Kunene Region for a number of years, it is starting to expand its operations into the Zambezi Region. Increasingly, conservancies are entering into joint ventures with more experienced lodge operators; there are now thirty such ventures.
Another way some communities are benefiting from tourism, which is not without its critics, is through the “living museum” experience.