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.
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.
Travellers with special dietary requirements, for example coeliacs, should be sure to notify the various hotels and lodges well in advance. While restaurant options have improved in recent years, the situation is patchy, so do bring glutenfree breads and snacks if you are likely to be away from the main centres. 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.
Traditional foodstuffs eaten in a Namibian home may include the following:
eedingu, dried meat
eendunga, fruit of the makalane palm, rather like a rusk
mealiepap, form of porridge, most common in South Africa
omanugu, also known as mopane worms (Imbrassia belina) – these are fried caterpillars, often cooked with chilli and onion
oshifima, dough-like staple made from millet
oshifi ma ne vanda, millet with meat
Because of a strong German brewing tradition, Namibia’s lagers are good, the Hansa and Windhoek draughts being particular favourites. In cans or bottles, Windhoek lager and Tafel – from around N$30 – provide a welcome change from brands such as Castle that dominate the rest of the subcontinent, and now the occasional craft brewery is putting in an appearance too.
Although wine served in restaurants is mainly South African, an increasing number of drinkable wines are being produced in Namibia. The top South African wines match the best that California or Australia have to offer, and at generally lower prices. You can get a bottle of palatable wine in a restaurant from around N$175.
Canned soft drinks, from Diet Coke to sparkling apple juice, are available ice cold from just about anywhere – which is fortunate, considering the amount that you’ll need to drink in this climate. They cost about N$10 each, and can be kept cold in insulating polystyrene boxes made to hold six cans. These cheap containers are invaluable if you are on a self-drive trip, and not taking a large coolbox. They are available from some camping stores such as Cymot for about N$50.
In an Ovambo home you may be offered oshikundu, a refreshing breakfast drink made from fermented millet and water.
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 river-beds 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).
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.