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Namibia - Eating and sleeping
Traditional Namibian cuisine is rarely served for visitors, so the food at restaurants tends to be European in style, with a bias towards German dishes and seafood. It is at least as hygienically prepared as in Europe, so don’t worry about stomach upsets. Restaurant prices are generally lower than you would expect for an equivalent meal in Europe, with a light lunch with drink at N$70–80, and main courses at N$85–110 being fairly standard in Windhoek and Swakopmund restaurants (assuming that you’re not splashing out on a seafood platter).
Travellers with special dietary requirements, for example coeliacs, should bring their own gluten-free breads, cracks and snacks – there are one or two dining options offering gluten-free meal options in Swakopmund, but elsewhere options are non-existent.
Namibia is a very meat-orientated society, and many menu options will feature steaks from one animal or another. If you eat fish and seafood you’ll be fine; menus often feature white fish such as kingklip and kabeljou, as well as lobster in coastal areas. Otherwise, most restaurants offer a small vegetarian selection, and lodge chefs will usually go out of their way to prepare vegetarian dishes if given notice.
In the larger supermarkets you’ll find meat, fresh fruit and vegetables (though the more remote the areas you visit, the smaller your choice), and plenty of canned foods, pasta, rice, bread, etc. Most of this is imported from South Africa, and you’ll probably be familiar with some of the brand names.
Because of a strong German brewing tradition, Namibia’s lagers are good, the Hansa draught being a particular favourite. In cans or bottles, Windhoek Export and Tafel – at around N$12 – provide a welcome change from the Lion and Castle brands that dominate the rest of the subcontinent.
The wine available is mainly South African, with little imported from elsewhere. At its best, this matches the best that California or Australia have to offer, and at considerably lower prices. You can get a bottle of palatable wine from a drankwinkel (off licence) for N$60, or a good bottle of vintage estate wine from N$150.
The water in Namibia’s main towns is generally safe to drink, though it may taste a little metallic if it has been piped for miles. Natural sources should usually be purified, though water from underground springs and dry riverbeds seldom causes any problems.
Hotels, pensions, lodges and camps
Namibia’s hotels are without exception fairly clean and safe. Unless you choose a really run-down old-style hotel in one of the smaller towns, you’re unlikely to find anywhere that’s dirty. Generally you’ll get what you pay for, with the level of choice outside Windhoek and Swakopmund improving year on year..
Establishments are licensed as hotels, lodges, restcamps, etc, according to their facilities, though the distinction between a hotel and a lodge depends on its location – a hotel must fall within a municipal area; a lodge will be outside. Similarly, a guest farm must be a working farm, otherwise it will be classified as a lodge. They are also graded by stars, from one to five, but the system is more a guide to their facilities and size than the quality or service. A ‘T’ alongside the star rating indicates that the place has been judged suitable for tourists, while the number of ‘Y’s reflects the type of licence to serve alcohol (three ‘Y’s being a full licence).
Most bush camps and lodges are of a high standard, though their prices – and atmosphere – vary wildly. Price is a guide to quality here, though not a reliable one. Often the places that have better marketing (ie: you’ve heard of them) cost more than their less famous neighbours that are equally good.
These are private, working farms that host small numbers of guests, usually arranged in advance. They are often very personal and you’ll eat all your meals with the hosts and be taken on excursions by them during the day. Most have some game animals on their land and conduct their own game drives. One or two have interesting rock formations, or cave paintings to visit. Their prices vary, but are rarely less than N$500 per person – and usually nearer N$850. They generally include half board, and sometimes a trip around their farm.
Wherever you are in Namibia, you can usually find a campsite nearby. Even in remote areas, there may be a community campsite, although if you’re far from any settlements, nobody bothers if you just sleep by the road.
The campsites that are dotted all over the country generally have good ablution blocks, which vary from a concrete shed with toilets and cold shower, to an immaculately fitted-out set of changing rooms with toilets and hot showers. The more organised ones will also have facilities for washing clothes, barbecue stands and electric points.
Prices nowadays are usually per person rather than per pitch, although at NWR sites in Etosha and Waterberg there is still a site fee as well. Rates vary widely, from around N$60 per person per night at a community campsite, to N$150 or more. There is sometimes an extra charge for a vehicle.