The colonial town of Swakopmund, Namibia, lies on the coast, a four-hour drive west of Windhoek. It's a distinctly German place, populated with plenty of old German-style buildings, a number of beer gardens and a brewery (tours available with advance notice). It's also a popular seaside resort town with nice hotels, a good beach, banks and tourist restaurants.

Unlike much of the rest of the country, Swakopmund enjoys a cool, moist climate and hasprovides a good base from which travelers can enjoy all-terrain vehicle excursions through the Namib Desert sand dune landscape and marine cruises.

There are several interesting places within a short drive of the town. We highly recommend a day at Walvis (pronounced VAL-vish) Bay, an hour's drive south of Swakopmund along a well-protected road. Its protected wetlands abound with flamingos, pelicans and other birds. Walvis Bay was named for the whales that once frequented the area. It is the country's only deepwater port, administered by South Africa throughout the apartheid era.

On the way there, stop to visit Bird Island, a wooden platform built into the sea to provide a roosting spot for coastal birds (about 6 mi/10 km north of Walvis Bay). You could also spend a day traveling north from Swakopmund to Cape Cross (a two-hour drive each way) to see a huge seal colony (some 200,000 of them). The seals are fun to watch, but they're not the best-smelling creatures.

The nearby Namib Desert is one of the most fascinating (and driest) spots on Earth. There are dunes just outside Swakopmund where you can try sand boarding (similar to snowboarding). For other desert excursions, consider Namib-Naukluft National Park and the Skeleton Coast.

Swakopmund is 160 mi/260 km west of Windhoek.

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