Visiting the Namibian Desert Ghost Town of Kolmanskop on a Cruise

The ghost town of Kolmanskop near Luderitz in Namibia has been on my bucket list since I first discovered what a bucket list was …or discovered that Kolmanskop existed (I’m not sure which came first). 

I was recently given the opportunity to tick this item off my bucket list while on a cruise of Southern Africa with Norwegian Cruise Line. This is what my experience was like:

eerie photo of sand filling room in Kolmanskop, Namibia
*I was hosted by Norwegian Cruise Line but all thoughts and opinions are my own.

My Kolmanskop dream:

As I said, it had been my dream to visit Kolmanskop for decades. With the advent of Instagram — and the abundance of influencers insisting on photographing themselves in evening wear in places where you would be unlikely to be wearing evening wear in the middle of the day — my dream evolved. And I decided that I wanted to do just the opposite! 

It became my dream to visit this place and instead of looking absurdly glamorous, I would dress to match it and style myself not for a glam Instagram but for a post-apocalyptic dystopia gram. (That is not a photo-sharing platform as yet but it could be a hashtag.) 

Sunlight hits the sand filling a room in the ghost town of Kolmanskop

I never dreamed that I would get to experience this place on a cruise, especially a cruise that was part of a sponsored media trip. Obviously, as a travel writer, I was there to work, not play, but when I first found out that the cruise was going to Luderitz and that NCL offers a shore excursion to Kolmanskop, I was unprofessionally excited with uncontainable unprofessional excitement. 

Something that you probably did not know about me is that I have, on one or two occasions in my life, worked as a casting assistant. (Because when it comes to acting, those who can, do, and those who can’t, become casting assistants.) Anyway, fo realzies one of the very few projects I worked on was casting for young girls for the movie Mad Max (the one with Charlize Theron). That movie was set in a post-apocalyptic dystopian wasteland and shot on location in Namibia (but not in Kolmanskop).

Desert sand fills abandoned home in Namibian ghost town

I tried to remember what those aspiring post-apocalyptic dystopian child stars wore on the day of that casting, but it was a very long time ago. All I can remember is they had messy hair (the Namibian wind will style your hair like that for you anyway) and the really committed ones looked dirty. 

I also asked my Facebook friends if anyone knew where I could get a gas mask but no one did. It did occur to me though that if I took a gas mask on a cruise ship, it may raise a few eyebrows among the security team. As someone who worked on cruise ships for six years, I learnt that the number one rule is always 'be nice to security'.

Once opulent home reclaimed by desert in African ghost town

Then I decided that if there were to be an apocalypse, I’m not sure I would even want to survive it. So I realised the logical thing to do would be to just be a ghost in the first place  put the “ghost” in “ghost town”. 

I thought about dressing like one of the twins from The Shining but currently, the only dress I have with a doll’s collar on it is black, and with my dark hair, I would just look like an out-of-place mid-life crisis Wednesday Adams. So, in my mad rush to get myself together, I somehow found time to go to Wynberg Fabrics to buy a sheet with the intention of just cutting two eye holes in it and calling it a day. 

Girl looks out of window in ghost town of Kolmanskop
Photo credit: Andrew Svk
Normal people in Kolmanskop

Ghost sits in bathtub in ghost town in the desert
Me in Kolmanskop

As I returned home though, this Millennial ran into her Gen Z neighbours. When I told them about my purchase, they assumed I was planning to do the “#ghosttrend”. I had no idea what that was so I asked them to educate me. After seeing a number of #ghosttrend videos,  I still don’t get it. I am just too old for TikTok. But I decided to attempt it anyway. (Keep scrolling for the result.)

The History of Kolmanskop 

In 1908 a railway worker named Zacharias Lewala, who had previously worked in the diamond mining town of Kimberly in South Africa, discovered stones that he believed to be diamonds. He passed them on to his German supervisor who had the stones confirmed to be diamonds, shortly before acquiring a large sum of land and ultimately starting something of a diamond rush. 

You know how people always talk about the lady who designed the Nike Swoosh and got paid almost nothing for it? Well, that story is a complete lie! According to Wikipedia, Carolyn Davidson was paid $35 and then later gifted with 500 shares (estimated to be worth a LOT of money) and a gold diamond ring engraved with the Swoosh. Do you know who didn’t get any shares or diamonds? Zacharias Lewala, that’s who! 

It wasn’t long before the town was established by people hoping to build a shiny fortune. 

Kolmanskop sign at entrance to abandoned town in desert

Why was Kolmanskop abandoned?

By the 1930s, the numbers of the once-abundant minerals were diminishing. When bigger diamonds were found further down the coast in more abundant supplies, the town was abandoned as quickly as it had been built. By the mid-1950s, there was no one left.

My Experience of the Kolmanskop Tour

Together with some other people in my media group, we went ashore a bit early. Luderitz is a tender port which means you don’t dock there. The ship drops anchor and you have to take tender boats to the shore. We wandered around exploring the town and some of its German architectural gems before meeting up with the rest of the tour by the port and being transferred to Kolmanskop in a convoy of minibuses. 

The tour started in the shopkeeper’s house which was disappointingly devoid of desert sand and decorated to look like it had been back in the day. The tour guide directed our attention to a book that indicated that the storekeeper had been ordering caviar and champagne for the townspeople when it was in its wealthy heyday.

Storekeepers house in Kolmanskop

I was trying really hard to pay attention to the tour but I knew we had limited time there and I so badly wanted to go explore the abandoned houses but also hear about the historical significance of the mostly still intact communal buildings. The tour guide promised me that there would be plenty of time after the tour to go exploring. (And just like the person who told you that Carolyn Davidson got paid nothing for designing the Nike Swoosh, she lied.) 

She explained (the tour guide, not Carolyn) that the town was established on the wealth that was generated by the diamond mine, and as diamonds are expensive, it was quite a lot of wealth. Elaborate homes were constructed in a German architectural style similar to other towns in Namibia. (For those unfamiliar with Namibia, its history has a lot of German in it.) It had all the basic amenities a town could have back in the olden days like a power station, a school and a hospital. 

House lies abandoned being reclaimed by desert in Namibia

I remember the tour guide mentioning that the first x-ray machine in the Southern hemisphere was found here. It was used not to diagnose broken bones but rather to ensure that no one was smuggling any goods off the property in their colons.  I really wish I had had the time to find and explore that hospital. If it still had beds inside it, like the storekeeper's house had furniture (it probably would not have), together with the addition of desert sand like the other buildings, how eerie would THAT be?

We did get to see the cold room where they kept the meat; a cold dark room with no windows, only meat hooks suspended from beams. I think I was one of the first people in the group to follow our tour guide in there (who had already aroused my scepticism with her scheduling lies) and I remember thinking, “So, this how I die?” 

eerie cold room in abandoned ghost town

Fortunately, I survived (and with a great idea for the next post-apocalyptic dystopian movie that gets made in the Namibian desert). 

Learning how they made ice to keep everything cold with water that they imported from miles away was also very interesting. 

Kolmanskop also had the first tram in Africa. And a railway:

Weather-beaten Kolmanskop train
(Not exactly the Blue Train — That post is still coming)

Then, because the people of Kolmanskop had lots of money and they lived in the desert, they had to find ways to entertain themselves. So they built a bowling alley, a theatre and sports hall (I believe I saw that), a ballroom (I wish I had seen that), a swimming pool and obviously a casino. Basically, a little Las Vegas but smaller and more German.

Bowling alley collects dust in abandoned ghost town of Kolmanskop

Our tour ended in the theatre/sports hall.  Then I made a beeline for the houses on the hill. We (some of the other members of the media group and myself) had less than an hour to explore before we had to leave to make it back to the ship on time. And I had so much adventuring and haunting to do!

Kolmanskop really is one of the most eerie and surreal places on earth. I’ve looked at so many pictures of this town over the years and while I was disappointed that I couldn’t see all of it, maybe that was a good thing? You can never fully experience a place like that. 

When you see other people’s pictures of it and they’re vastly different from your own, you can conclude that they saw different houses and spaces than you did, but I choose to believe that Kolmanskop exists in some other surreal dream-like dimension, and you only get to experience the version of it that your subconscious mind enables you to experience and your camera magically captures as the laws of that dimension dictate. (I might have to start writing fantasy novels instead of travel blogs). 

I escaped into a dream once and found myself in a town disappearing in desert sand,
desert sand reclaims ghost town of Kolmanskop in Namibia

where I took a bath

woman sits in deteriorating bathtub in abandoned ghost town

And then I was a ghost. 

Ghost runs through abandoned ghost town of Kolmanskop

And there was this weird plastic flamingo.

travel toy in Namibian ghost town

And then, I woke up, convinced that it had just been an elaborate construction of my imagination ...except for the fact that I kept finding sand in strange places. 
(So worth it!)

I hope the Kolmanskop maintains its disintegrating magic and I hope to return one day before the scorching desert sun, howling wind and abrasive sand take too much of a toll. I look forward to the day I get to come back in a red satin gown. Just kidding - Maybe a gas mask.

If you’re interested in strange spaces, abandoned places or unusual experiences, you can find some inspiration here)

Girl looks through window in an abandoned home reclaimed by desert

Things to do in Luderitz

The town of Luderitz in Namibia and the closest big town to Kolmanskop (just 13 km / 8 miles away), is a strange combination of German architecture in a desert in Africa. If you have time time to kill before or after your tour, here are some things you may want to experience: 

Brightly coloured German buildings in Luderitz

The Goerke Haus

Travel toy in front of the Goerke Haus in Luderitz

This house, dating back to 1910, is a German house known for its impressive architecture. It was once the home of Hans Goerke who made his fortune on the diamonds at Kolmanskop. It’s known for jugendstil designs (a German artistic style) and a fair amount of art nouveau. 

The views are quite spectacular. 

View from the Goerke Haus in Luderitz

Rodrigo appreciated what he concluded was Rodrigo fan art (even though it was created long before plastic came into common use - Rodrigo is a bit narcissistic like that). 

Travel toy in front of flamingo stained glass window at the Goerke Haus

The Felsenkirche church /Church of the Rock 

This elaborate neo-gothic German church looks quite out of place on a hill in the desert. Built in 1912, its stained glass windows are quite spectacular and the altar window was a donation from German Emperor Wilhelm II.

The Felsenkirche church / Church of the Rock, Luderitz

The benefits of visiting Kolmanskop by cruise

While there are some incredible experiences to be had in Namibia such as the magnificent dunes of Sandwich Harbour, exploring the eerie shipwrecks of the Skeleton Coast and visiting game farms, Namibia’s best attractions do seem to be fairly spread out. In my opinion, there are few good reasons to spend a prolonged period of time only in Luderitz and a day trip seems quite adequate. 

A port visit allows you the opportunity to visit Kolmanskop and see the best of Luderitz's other highlights. Then, if you’re on an itinerary like the one I experienced with NCL, after a night’s sleep you may wake up in another destination like Walvis bay with its own incredible attractions to explore. 

The biggest reason to visit Kolmanskop by cruise, however, is that it is simply the most convenient way. Currently (at the time of the posting of this blog), there are no commercial flights that travel to Luderitz. International visitors would have to fly into Windhoek or Walvis Bay and travel 7 - 8 hours by car to visit Kolmanskop or charter a private plane to Luderitz.

Doorway between rooms filling with desert sand in Kolmanskop


Related post:


Should I book my Kolmanskop tour independently or through the cruise line?

While I admit that you may be more limited with time on a group tour with the cruise line than if you go on your own, I still maintain that it is the best way to experience Kolmanskop for a number of reasons:

  • If you go on an official cruise line shore excursion, you will be collected from and returned back to the ship which is very convenient. 
  • If you go off on your own and you return late, it’s possible that the ship may leave without you but if you’re on an official shore excursion, the ship has to wait for the tour to return.
  • Everything is included in the tour and you don’t have to worry about attaining permits (as permits are required to visit Kolmanskop), or even educating yourself on how they work. 
  • Transport is included in the tour ticket. This may also not be reliably attainable in port from a trustworthy source. 

Girl in abandoned house in Namibian mining ghost town

How do I book a Kolmanskop tour on a cruise?

You can do this through the shore excursions desk when you arrive on board, through the cruise line app, or through the website. Be sure to book as soon as possible as these tours do sell out.

Do I need a permit to visit Kolmanskop on a cruise?

While ordinarily, you would need a permit to visit Kolmanskop, if you go on a cruise line-organised tour, they take care of any permits for you.

Are there still diamonds in Kolmanskop?

While the town of Kolmanskop was abandoned because of diminishing supplies of diamonds, I don't know that the area had run out altogether. I think it's quite telling that the town is in a restricted area managed by the Namdeb Diamond Corporation and you need special permits to visit it if you go there independently. #justsaying

The real question is why would you even go looking for diamonds when you can take #postapocalypticdystopiagrams instead?

Paint chips off walls in abandoned Namibian mining town

What to bring for your Kolmanskop tour:


  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Comfortable walking shoes or sandals - Either way, the sand will get in them.
  • Water - The tour operators may provide this but bringing your own never hurts. 
  • A hair tie - The Namibian wind will do a number on your hair.
  • A hat - Ideally one that won't get blown off.
  • A jacket or jersey - The Namibian wind can be surprisingly chilly.


  • A plastic lawn flamingo or other travel toy.  
  • A sheet with two holes in it.
  • A gas mask or (if you're that kind of Instagrammer) a big flowy dress. 

Didn't you promise us a #ghosttrend video?

Yup, here it is:

What was the rest of the Southern African cruise with NCL like?

The article I wrote about my experience will be featured in The Sunday Times in the coming weeks. I look forward to sharing a more personal version of the experience here soon too. (Watch this space!)

I would like to say thanks to Norwegian Cruise Line for the experience. If you would like to visit Kolmanskop on a cruise, you can find out more at

Cruising to Kolmanskop pin

Visiting Kolmanskop by cruise pin

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