The name Swakopmund comes from the German phrase, “mouth of the Swakop;” the river that flows through the town. It is found on the coast north west of Namibia, 280 km from Windhoek and was founded in 1892. The town is completely situated in the arid Namib Desert, as you will see when the Rovos train makes its way through the barren wilderness.  

Visiting Swakopmund today, you will be transported back to the colonial rule of the Germans, evidenced by their architecture and most of its citizens still speak German today. It is mainly a beach resort town but it served as a main harbour when Namibia was still known as South-West Africa. Captain Curt Von Francois was the first to recognise the area’s potential as a harbour and port for the Imperial German colony as the Walvis Bay harbour was under British rule. Swakopmund was also useful as it had an abundance of fresh water.

The city is great for tourists as it is easy to navigate on foot and many of the attractions are found downtown. Attractions include:

  • Visiting the Cape Fur seals at Cape Cross
  • Going on a desert elephant conservation trip
  • Visiting the Swakop River and exploring the dunes and desert near Langstrand
  • Many people opt to have fun at the dunes by sand-boarding and quad-biking throughout the desert. This activity is often called the “Kalahari Ferrari.”
  • Horse trails and camel rides along the dunes
  • The beach front is where the urban socialising takes place and many relax at local cafes and music clubs
  • Visit the Swakopmund Museum and National Marine Museum
  • The stark beauty of the dunes and desert as well as the glimmering Atlantic Ocean and Skeleton Coast is even more captivating by air. Sky diving, helicopter flights, micro-lighting or hot air ballooning are popular activities for tourists wanting the best view in Namibia.


The Martin Luther steam locomotive dates back to 1896. The locomotive revolutionised transport as, before it was invented, the only way of transporting goods was through the slow means of walking, horseback or by ox wagon. After the Martin Luther steam locomotive was introduced, transporting goods became marginally better, except for the fact that the locomotive would often get stuck in the sand and have to be dug out by workers in the middle of the desert. It was named after Martin Luther, the founder of the Lutheran Church. Despite this all was well until the Swakop River flooded and took the locomotive with it. It was abandoned and left to decay. It has been restored and replaced in almost the identical spot where it was flooded.

Swakopmund’s architectural history is extensive, with many buildings still standing as bastions of German colonial rule from 1884-1915. The buildings have been preserved to an impeccable standard by the town. Some notable sites include:

  • The Municipality Building. Established in 1907 as a post office, the building was later used as a magistrate’s court and is now the municipal building.
  • Hansa Hotel. Built in 1905, the hotel still runs with a wing added in 1950. It is also now used for retail stores and offices.
  • Evangelical Lutheran Church and Parsonage. Designed in the neu-Barrock style, the church was completed in 1911. Both buildings were declared National Monuments in 1978.
  • Haus Hohensollern. This stunning building was the site of heavy gambling and partying as well as being a hotel, erected in 1909. This angered the local government so much, its licence was revoked. Now it used for residential purposes.

  • The State House or Kaiserliches Bezirksgericht. This was used for local and district affairs and is now the state president’s summer residence.

Swakopmund is a place of leisure, culture and history that shows its visitors the lifestyle and natural beauty of Namibia. For more African adventures with Rovos Rail, visit our Victoria Falls Journey page.