How to explore this strange ghost town swallowed by the desert
Like a snapshot in time, ghost towns can offer an eerie glimpse into the past, where time has stood still, but where nature lives around them. Our fascination with these places does not come from what we see but from understanding what happened there. Why did people come here and then leave? The mystery of the ghost town is why we are looking for them. These are the stories they tell.
Where is Kolmanskop, Namibia
You will find exactly such a place, and a very good story, in the Namib Desert in southwestern Africa, Namibia. Namibia is south of Angola, west of Botswana, and shares a border with South Africa. Its western border is the Atlantic Ocean, where the coastal town of Luderitz is located.
In the early 1900s, Namibia was a colony called German South West Africa, and Luderitz was a thriving German-influenced town made up of settlers and local tribes who had lived on the land for centuries.
Kolmanskop was created after a surprising find along the railroad tracks, about 7 miles southwest of Luderitz. This is where you will find the ghost town of Kolmanskop.
A strange and disturbing story
The legend of Kolmanskop began in 1908 when a railway worker named Zacharias Lewala discovered some small diamonds while shoveling dirt on the tracks. Once the German settlers learned of the discovery, prospectors began to arrive and a small mining town developed and developed along the railway line.
Kolmanskop grew and its population became quite prosperous. In 1912, the mining town was producing around 1 million carats of diamonds per year, or nearly 12% of the world diamond market. The city has become an oasis of wealth in the middle of the desert. Large and lavish German-style buildings were built with sand, and life flourished until war broke out in 1914.
In 1915, as World War I raged in Europe, South African forces loyal to the Allies launched an attack on German forces defending the colony. In July, these forces surrendered. In 1919, South West Africa was entrusted to South Africa by the newly formed League of Nations.
But time is running out for the city of Kolmanskop. After decades of mining, the diamond deposits have started to dry up. Then, in the 1930s, diamond discoveries in South Africa pretty much sealed the city’s fate. Prospectors and mining companies moved and the city began to die.
According to National Geographic, the town that was Kolmanskop was officially abandoned in 1956. Over the years the desert has reclaimed the town in its own way, turning the once thriving community into a sand-filled ghost town, which has now become a tourist attraction.
Know before you go
Namibia gained independence in 1990 and Kolmanskop has become a must-see for tourists. The city continues to erode in real time, but ironically, a restaurant and museum have sprung up to help welcome visitors.
Visiting Kolmanskop is a bit of a challenge. The official site works, but most of the links are broken. It indicates a phone number to call, as the ghost town tour is only available by appointment. Photography permits are also required. According to the website, they can be purchased at a place called Desert Deli and Gifts in the coastal town of Luderitzbucht, located about 20 minutes west of the ghost town, as well as at Luderitz Safari and Tours. Four types of permits are offered.
The Adult Permit includes a guided tour and a photo permit. Children under six are free, but over six need a children’s permit. A photo permit is available for anyone wishing to take pictures at sunrise or sunset, which is considered the optimal time for photography and also includes the guided tour. Special permits are also offered but must be arranged in advance.
Kolmanskop is in the desert, so plan accordingly. The weather in the desert can be tricky, so check conditions before your visit and make sure you are aware of the season. January and February in Namibia are summer and the hottest time of the year.