An early visit to Namibia’s most famous ghost town: Kolmanskop
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Kolmanskop’s unique history
During the early years of the 20th century, the small town of Kolmanskop, which originally was just a train station, became the richest town in Namibia during a diamond boom. However, after mining over 1 ton of diamonds during World War I alone, the resources soon became depleted, and the mining stopped. What is left of this significant historical landmark today is a ghost town of incredible beauty. This place is not your typical bunch of left-behind sheds. Due to the German influence from colonialization and the wealth of Kolmanskop, the ghost town offers unique architectural buildings, such as a hospital, a ballroom, a school, and a theater room.
Getting to Kolmanskop
Kolmanskop is located about 15 km inland of the port town of Lüderitz, which offers a variety of accommodations—from campgrounds to nice hotels with pools. It is also quite easy to navigate the area around Lüderitz and reach Kolmanskop with an easy 15-minute car ride on well-maintained roads. Regardless of where a journey in Namibia begins, the main destinations are always easily accessible on paved streets. Hence, a 4-wheel-drive car is not necessarily needed, but it is still highly recommended in order to see some of the amazing off-the-road destinations.
There are two main permits that grant access to the ghost town of Kolmanskop. The first and most popular one is the general visitor’s permit, which costs about 6 USD. This ticket allows entrance during official opening hours (8 AM – 1 PM). This ticket is good enough for anybody that just wants to learn about the ghost town and have a great time exploring. However, for anyone bringing in legit photography gear, a “photography permit” must be purchased for roughly 17 USD. Although you may still be able to take pictures without this permit (there are no people walking around to enforce the photography regulations), I recommend being respectful and investing in the ticket.
Enjoying the ghost town without tourists
Not only does the “photography permit” allow picture-taking for non-commercial purposes, but it also allows for early entry. As a photographer, being able to enter the ghost town before sunrise was the ultimate selling point for me. Tickets can be purchased through the official Lüderitz Safari Tours company or in different places on the town’s main street. I purchased my ticket the day before my intended trip to Kolmanskop and left at around 6.30 AM. Once I arrived at Kolmanskop, I walked to the ghost town’s main entrance, which, at this point, was closed off for tourists arriving with cars by a barrier. Since I was the only guest with a reservation at the time, I was told to find the key to unlock the barrier in a small box right next to it. Once I retrieved the key, lifted the barrier, and proceeded to the parking lot with my 4×4 rental jeep, I made my way toward the deserted buildings that were peacefully nested in hills of beach-like sand.
Planning for perfect picture-taking
If your intention is to take awesome pictures during sunrise, there are two main things to consider. First, it is important to get a feeling of the ghost town’s size and building distribution. The “golden hour” only lasts for an hour, after all. The “perfect golden sand” could only be captured for about 30 minutes. I had scheduled one hour of exploring with my flashlight between 7 AM and 8 AM, and I still hadn’t figured out the entire area. The second thing that was important was getting familiar with the sun’s location during sunrise. There is nothing worse than having found that perfect room with that perfect framing only to realize that the sun comes up at an angle that leaves the photography scene entirely unaffected.
Beware of the wind
The Namibian west coast is known to be one of the harshest shorelines in the world. This means that there is a very high chance of strong winds all year around. This may affect not only your overall experience but also your camera gear if not properly protected. During my visit, I got lucky and had a very peaceful morning.
However, 15 minutes after I left, I had to stop the jeep on the side of the road due to an incoming sandstorm. Make sure to be prepared and plan an extra day if needed.
Learn about Kolmanskop during a guided tour
If you want to learn more about the ghost town of Kolmanskop from locals, there are guided tours that start at 9.30 AM and 11 AM from Monday through Saturday and at 10 AM on Sundays. This tour was included in the purchased ticket, so I highly recommend utilizing this unique opportunity.
Book your stay near Komanskop
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Thomas Später, PhD, is an experienced backpacking traveler that specializes in adventurous trips around the globe. He has traveled to remote and exotic places, such as Namibia or Mongolia and focuses on landscape and wildlife photography to share the beauty of our planet with others. In 2021, Thomas published a (German) book about Overpopulation and Over-consumption (Die Überbevölkerung). With his awareness of current global issues, he uses his travels to support particularly local hotels and restaurants to raise awareness for the nature and culture of his destinations. Follow Thomas´ adventures on Instagram as well as on his website, World In Frames.