Destination Tips: Namibia

Namibia is truly the African continent's best kept secret. Namibia is only second to Mongolia as the least densely populated country on the planet. You know what that means - plenty of open space, full of beautiful landscapes, exotic animals, and few tourists!

Namibia was formerly called South-West Africa, and upon independence from South Africa in 1990, took a new name and a new, more democratic political system. The word “Namibia" means “enormous" in the local Nama tongue and is derived from the Namib Desert, which stretches along the entire Atlantic coastline. As Namibia was once colonized by Germany, you can find occasional German touches around the capital and port-cities.

Windhoek is located in the dead center of the country, and serves as the social, economic, and cultural headquarters. Though it may not be the largest city on the planet, Windhoek has a lot to offer travelers of all types, so get tripping!

Check out the Music Scene:

Namibians just love to dance! Admittedly, I was mesmerized at first by how the locals can swing their hips in all sorts of weird directions. It was fun to not only watch, but to also join in! Great dance spots include Funky Lab and El Cubano, prepare for house music with a little reggae infusion. You'll also hear a slew of American pop songs, so I hope you like wearing “Apple Bottom Jeans" as you get “Down down down."

If you want to partake in the music making, warm up your vocal chords and head to Dylan's on Thursday nights for Karaoke. This is more of an expat-filled bar and the music reflects the crowd. If you're not up for dancing or singing, watch a live performance at “The Warehouse," which serves as a platform for local groups to share their talent.

Shop til you Drop:

If you're looking to pick up a souvenir or two while on the road, Windhoek has a variety of shopping centers for you to peruse. For your basic needs, including supermarkets and clothing stores, be sure to check out the Wernhill Center in downtown Windhoek. Just outside of the mall you will find a small market that pops up every afternoon - great steals and a good opportunity for chatting with some local merchants.

Many sellers of small handicrafts congregate in Zoo Park, just north of downtown Windhoek. You can even catch a glimpse of the Himba Tribe here, who often use this space to sell hand-made African products. The Namibia Craft Center is located in an old Brewery Building (Windhoek Lager, anyone?) and is a combination of craft stores, souvenir shops, art galleries, and small cafes. All products are fair trade and directly benefit the Namibian economy - another initiative working to help locals can be found at Penduka, which supports women's employment.

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry:

As former colony of Germany, it's no wonder that the drink of choice around the capital is the locally brewed Windhoek or Tafel Lagers. These beers taste especially good when having a braii, or barbecue, or while catching the Namibian rugby team's match at your favorite watering hole (I recommend the Cardboard Box!).

If you are interested in doing the more touristy-thing, try chowing down on zebra, oryx, ostrich, or crocodile, at Joe's Beer House. Definitely not recommended for vegetarians (who will probably find restaurants like the Blue Olive more inviting).

If you're looking for something a little on the fancy side, consider the Windhoek Wine Bar - take in beautiful views of the city lights while sipping on Pinotage.

If you're wanting to try more local eats, consider checking out the single quarters in Katatura, which is famous for “kapana," barbecued meat (typically kudu, beef, and springbok). Be sure to try Namibian jerky, “biltong," while you're at it!

Things to see in Windhoek:

Windhoek has a lot to offer to individuals less interested in shopping or nightlife. For a more German flair, check out the old Lutheran church, Christuskirche. You can choose to go inside and climb the steeple or just take in the pretty view from the outside.

For more interesting architecture, visit the Parliament of Namibia and Heroe's Acre - the parliament building is the current home of the National Assembly and the Heroe's Acre serves as a testament to the individuals who lost their lives fighting for Namibia's independence, freedom, and democracy.

Things to See Outside of Windhoek:

Moving westward towards the coast, you will come across some heavy duty sand dunes - the tallest in the world, in fact. The red sands are mesmerizing (or maybe it's the desert heat?) but either way, you can catch some pretty amazing and unique landscapes. Be sure to check out Soussesvlei and Fish River Canyon if you are heading further south.

If you desire to see Africa's “Big 5" - black rhino, elephant, lion, zebra, and giraffe, look no further than Namibia's Ethosha National Park. You can either drive through this game park with a tour group/guide or rent your own vehicle. I recommend visiting the game park in the dry season, as the animals are easier to spot!

If you want to get a pulse for the life in a port town check out Swakopmund, which maintains a stronger German influence than many other places in the country. Located on the coast of the Atlantic, this city offers fun activities for land-lubbers and sea-farers alike. (Hint: you can even kayak the ocean in the nearby seal colony!)

Namibia has many unique things to offer travelers and unfortunately often gets overlooked. Whether you're en route to Cape Town or nearby Victoria Falls, be sure to make some time to hang out in this cool, under-rated country. I'll see you there!

Go Overseas Study Abroad Director Megan Lee lived in Namibia in the fall of 2008. She enjoys travel writing, and is constantly in search of spicy food, dark beer, and new cities she's never heard of. Keep up with Meg on Twitter (@peglegmeg) and Google+.