Walvis Bay is the main Namibian port city. Ideally located in the center of the state, it creates a single elongated settlement with its twin city Swakopmund. Windhoek is “only” 4 hours away, a relatively short distance in Namibian perspective.
Much of the modern history of this country passed through this city. Walvis Bay is a fundamental resting point before the final (and most dangerous) stage of the circumnavigation of the African Continent via the Cape of Good Hope, a haven where ships could get the last reparation and necessary provisions before entering the Indian Ocean. This is the main reason that triggered a complex series of diplomatic exchanges and battles between Germany, UK and South Africa for ensuring the ownership of this strategic point. Nowadays, this is one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country, where several members of upper middle class bought their second home to enjoy a weekend at sea.
The name of the city honors its biggest citizen: the area is famous for its yearly migration of whales, which can be seen roaming in the calm and plankton-rich waters of the bay between July and November. A cruise in the bay is a mandatory experience at any time of the year. Even if it’s not the whale-watching season, dolphins are among the primary residents of the gulf. They enjoy staying in the boat wakes, playing with the waves, and they can be seen all year round.
Another famous citizen in the area and a familiar presence on boats are pelicans. This large species of birds is the biggest flying creature in Namibia. They may not look beautiful on the ground, but in the air, they become one of the most elegant flyers in the sky, usually adopting a V formation reminiscent of Second World War bomber planes. The tip of the peninsula creating the bay is named after them, Pelican Point, demonstrating the profound relationship between this species and this place.
The lagoon offers shelter to another crucial symbolic bird of the area. The Greater and Lesser flamingos are a common sight here, especially during winter. These long-living birds spend their lives between Walvis Bay and Etosha Pan, where they can find nourishment and the right condition for breeding. Flocks of flamingos can be seen In the calm waters of the bay at a very short distance from the coast, creating a beautiful subject for landscapes pictures, especially at sunset.
One more animal living in the area needs to be mentioned. Every guide we read to prepare our trip suggested a trip to Cape Cross Seal Reserve, one hour and a half north from Swakopmund. This is home to the largest colony of Cape fur seals in the world. We are not sure to recommend this view unless you have a specific interest in these animals. The sight of tens of thousands of animals basking in the sun may be impressive, but the stink of seal poop and rotten fish is overwhelming. There are other smaller colonies in the bay where we could take some beautiful pictures of these animals. If you really want to plan a visit here, come without any food in the stomach, bring a bandana or a scarf to cover your nose and try to get to your hotel as fast as possible afterward to change your clothes.
The most important geological feature in the area is the coastal Sand Sea on the southern border of the bay. It is part of the Namib desert, considered the oldest desert in the world. Here, enormous dunes are directly in contact with the water of the Atlantic Ocean, creating spectacular landscapes.
We recommend exploring the area in two different ways. There is the possibility to rent a quad bike or to have a tour of the desert on a 4×4, riding up and down the dunes. This allowed us to explore the area from inside, with breathtaking views of the ocean.
Our personal highlight, however, and one of the best memories we carry from our trip in Namibia, is the flight over the Namib Desert. Several societies are offering this service. The activity lasts about a couple of hours, crossing over the different parts of the desert. Exploring this land from such a privileged point of view is a unique opportunity. Over the course of our flight, we could admire the bed of the ephemeral rivers, the shipwrecks of many vessels which were caught by offshore rocks and fog and got stuck in the desert, groups of seals relaxing on the beaches, and gemsboks traveling across the desert.
One word of caution: the airplanes are small and noisy, fit for this kind of low altitude flight, but we wouldn’t recommend this activity for anybody suffering from airsickness.
There are just so many things to do in this area we do recommend to stay here at least a couple of days, maybe three. This is a perfect opportunity to rest a bit after the safari in Etosha, ready to start the exploration of the Namib desert and the Southern region of Namibia. Next stop, Sossusvlei!