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Kolmanskop Ghost Town
Kolmanskop Ghost Town lies just to the southeast of the windy coastal town of Luderitz and is one of the most remarkable places to visit in Namibia.
In its heyday, in the early 1900s, Kolmanskop diamond mining town was one of the wealthiest towns around. No expense was spared on many of its German architectural homes and top-class facilities.
This visitor’s guide has all the information you’ll need, along with many photos showing how the Namib desert sands are slowly yet surely, repossessing the abandoned diamond mining town of Kolmanskop.
Quick Guide to Kolmanskop Ghost Town
Kolmanskop Visiting Times
Opening times at Kolmanskop are daily from 8 am to 1 pm.
- Standard ticket (8 am – 1 pm) N$130
- All day, including sunrise and sunset N$330
You can buy tickets at Kolmanskop Gate or at Luderitz Travel Information Centre (on the main street in Luderitz at Bismarck Street).
If you are buying a ticket for access before sunrise, you will need to buy it the day before.
Kolmanskop Guided Tours
Your Kolmanskop ticket price (both standard and all-day) includes the cost of the guided tour.
- 9.30 am and 11.00 am Monday to Saturday
- 10.00 am Sundays
In a hurry? Jump ahead by clicking the links below for the information you’re looking for:
VIDEO: Kolmanskop Ghost Town, Namibia
Kolmanskop Namibia Map
Tips for Visiting Kolmanskop Ghost Town
- Wear sturdy shoes or sandals because there is lots of broken glass scattered in the sand.
- Be prepared to get lots of sand in your shoes.
- Arrive at 8 am if you have a standard ticket – we had the place to ourselves until the tour group arrived at about 9.20 am
- The tour groups tend to stay around the main building at the car park, so you still have the far end where the hospital and school were to explore without masses of tourists.
- Do take the tour — it’s included in the price and you learn so much about the town.
- If the 9.30 tour has too many people from tour groups, wait for the 11.00 tour instead – It’s likely to be quieter. We only had 6 others on our 11.00 am tour, compared to around 30 that we would have had on the 9.30 tour.
- We recommend having a bite to eat at the Kolmanskop restaurant. We indulged in a late breakfast at 10 ish (before all the tourists finished the 9.30 tour) and had a Little Digger (toast, egg, fried tomato and bacon) for N$630 each and then a huge slice of delicious apple cake between us.
Kolmanskop History – In Short
Kolmanskop got its name from a transport driver, John Coleman who had to abandon his wagons in a sandstorm in 1905. The wagons became a reference point for local navigation, with locals calling it Coleman’s Hill — hence the name Kolmanskop, (Kop means hill).
In 1908, Zacharias Lewala, a railway track worker, handed a shiny stone to his boss August Stauch. Stauch, the German railway manager, immediately suspected that it was a diamond. And his hunch was right.
Once the German colonists, in what was then known as German South West Africa (now Namibia), discovered the potential for finding diamonds, so began the interest in diamond mining at Kolmanskop and the development of one of the wealthiest towns of its time.
Between 1908 and 1914, around five million carats of diamonds were mined at Kolmanskop.
By the end of the First World War, however, the diamond reserves dwindled and more profitable diamond sites were found further south. The mining efforts at Kolmanskop were therefore abandoned.
The community gradually declined and the last resident left Kolmanskop in 1954.
Today, the desert sands inch their way into the town, consuming it one doorway at a time.
Our Kolmanskop Experience
We were staying in Luderitz, so it was only a short 15-minute drive to Kolmanskop. We arrived at the gate just before eight, a few seconds before the gate attendant arrived.
Signs everywhere remind you that it is prohibited to enter without a permit.
Kolmanskop Ghost Town is within the Sperrgebiet National Park, most of which remains private land. Even though the area isn’t mined any more, it is still illegal to set foot on these sand dunes without a permit.
This gets me thinking that there must still be a chance of finding diamonds there.
Sunrise was at 7.15 am so Lars was itching to get going before the light became harsh.
If we weren’t on a budget, the sunrise/sunset all-day ticket would have been better. But not knowing then, that we would spend five hours at Kolmanskop, we had opted for the cheaper standard ticket.
Overwhelmed by the number of buildings that needed to be explored, we found a tour guide near the restaurant and asked where might be best to start our exploration.
The recommendation of the hospital (Krankenhaus) was indeed a good option. (See our guide below to the best buildings to visit).
The Drifting Sands of the Krankenhaus
We were wowed from the minute we stepped inside the hospital halls. The sand already almost filling some of its rooms.
In the long corridor, you could almost hear the echo of diligence pacing the passageway.
The only footsteps through Kolmanskop today, are those of tourists. Though if you look carefully, you’ll notice the tiny tracks of lizards and geckos and might even spot those of the local brown hyenas.
Much like modern-day hospitals, the calming hues of blue and green grace the walls. Colours frozen in time, preserved by the dry desert air.
Names, of people from all over the world, were scratched into the sand blown dirt on the windows and plastered over the panes.
What is it that compels us to mark our presence?
Perhaps we want to make sure we are remembered, to feel we matter.
But as surely as the earth will one day reclaim us, the sand lays claim to its territory at Kolmanskop.
The impermanence of a place is never more obvious than here.
We’d barely finished taking photos of the hospital when it was time for the 9.30 tour to start. Arriving back at the parking area, we were astounded by the sudden influx of two huge tour buses and the arrival of at least six more cars.
Checking that the 11 am tour would likely be less busy, we sauntered off again finding more appealing images to capture.
A weathered picket fence, a dead bougainvillea trunk, an iron bath; all lifeless reminders of a once thriving community.
11.00 Guided Tour – A Must Do
With the number of tourists now drastically reduced, we had a total of nine on our 11 o’clock tour, including us and our guide, Mike.
Now, if you have ever watched the popular TV series Ghosts, (the English version, not the American), picture the Captain, and you will have a pretty accurate vision of Mike. Right down to the stick under the arm.
Mike gave us a low down on the history of Kolmanskop, beginning the tour in the historical area (behind the gym, which is behind the cafe and curios shop), with old photos and history boards.
We then moved through various rooms and buildings learning more about the town and the Kolmanskop community.
According to Mike, there could still be diamonds at Kolmanskop just waiting to be unearthed. So we kept a keen eye out in case anything sparkly caught our eye.
He also recommended, that if we did so happen to find a diamond, to stand on it, surreptitiously scrape sand over it, and come back for it later;)
Despite the fact I closely examined the bucket loads of sand I seemed to be perpetually pouring from my shoes, there were, unfortunately, no diamonds on the soles of her feet.
Though to be honest, I’d be foolhardy to tell you if there was.
How to Visit Kolmanskop
Kolmanskop is a short 15-minute drive from Luderitz and is easy to get to along the main B4 tarred road.
Tickets can be bought at the Kolmanskop entrance gate or in Luderitz at Luderitz Tours/Information Centre.
Once you arrive, you drive from the main entrance up to the car park in the old town, in front of the cafe (see map).
The Best Buildings to Visit in Kolmanskop
Arriving in Kolmanskop can be overwhelming because there are so many buildings to explore, so it’s difficult to decide where to start.
We’ve therefore put together a list of the places not to miss and a suggested order to make the most of your time at Kolmanskop Ghost Town
We found the Krankenhaus, (the hospital), to be one of the most interesting buildings at Kolmanskop.
The sand is mainly encroaching on one side, and the long corridors reveal the advancing sands in an impressive way.
This is particularly so if you are an avid photographer.
The early morning light, piercing the hospital’s splintered windows makes for some great moody shots.
The sand is so deep in places that doors are almost obscured, and rooms are engulfed.
Interestingly, Kolmanskop was the first place to have an X-ray machine in Africa. This impressive piece of machinery’s primary use, however, wasn’t to assess an array of broken bones or to diagnose illnesses.
But to check for swallowed diamonds.
Workers were x-rayed before they went on leave to check that they weren’t trying to steal any of the diamonds. Consequently, workers could only go on leave once a month because any shorter time period would expose them to dangerous levels of radiation.
Our guide, Mike told us of a few inventive attempts to smuggle diamonds without being caught by the X-ray machine. The use of carrier pigeons was one.
But on one occasion, the pigeon stopped for a rest, (its load was obviously too heavy) and security guards found it. They then followed the pigeon, which inevitably led them to the diamond smugglers.
After that, it was illegal to own carrier pigeons in the area.
A little further on from the hospital, at the end of this jilted town, is the primary school. The four, now barren, sizable classrooms, were used to teach around 40 of the town’s children.
The Posh End of Town
At the opposite end of the town from the school, with panoramic views, you’ll find the most luxurious of all the buildings in Kolmanskop.
You can’t miss the double-storey houses of the diamond mine manager, the architect and the teacher’s house. In fact, the teacher’s house is almost completely engulfed by sand already.
The manager’s house, right on the end, still has the original bath, in the black and white tiled bathroom upstairs. This décor was all the rage back in Europe and the tiles were imported at great expense.
The Gym … and More
You’ll find the gym just past the restaurant and gift shop, towards the back.
This room wasn’t just the gym though, it was also the recreation room, entertainment room, theatre (you’ll see a stage) and cinema where silent movies were played.
This room was also used for opera. I’m sure you’ll be just as surprised as us to learn that the hall was equipped with the highest quality acoustics of the day. This was so European opera stars could be brought to Kolmanskop for grand performances.
The Bowling Alley
A favourite sport of the Germans was ten-pin bowling, so it was inevitable that there would be a dedicated alley – the Kegelclub. The bowling alley was so well built that it is still in working order today.
The Ice Factory
Obviously, being in the desert, meant water was scarce. Kolmanskop’s water was brought into the town and frozen in the ice factory, with each family being allocated a 20-litre ice block each day, to keep their fridges cool.
On the Kolmanskop tour, you will learn how the blocks of ice were made without electricity, and how the cooling system was extended to the butchery next door.
NOTE: You will see the gym (come theatre, come cinema, come opera hall), bowling alley, the ice factory, the butchery, and the post office, as part of the tour.
Kolmanskop Guided Tour
The Kolmanskop guided tour lasts between 45mins- 60mins.
It covers the history of this once thriving diamond mine community, as well as a tour of some of the buildings, including the butchery, bowling alley, post office, ice factory and the town’s entertainment area.
The tours are conducted in German, English or Afrikaans, with three different tour guides.
Times of the guided tours are 9.30 am and 11.00 am Monday to Saturday and at 10.00 am on Sundays and public holidays.
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Kolmanskop was once a wealthy diamond mining town. By 1954 however, it was abandoned and is now a tourist attraction and photographer’s delight, as it is being reclaimed by the Namib Desert sands.
N$130 Namibian dollars for a standard entry from 8 am to 1 pm or N$330 Namibian dollars for an all-day ticket including sunrise and sunset.
You can buy a ticket (which is your permit), to enter at the gate at Kolmanskop from 8 am or from the tourist information/ Luderitz Tours in the centre of Luderitz. If you want a sunrise-to-sunset permit you will need to buy it the day before.
The old diamond mining town of Kolmanskop was completely abandoned by 1954, because diamond supplies were dwindling and more profitable mines were found further south.
Kolmanskop Ghost Town, Namibia…That’s a Wrap
Kolmanskop ghost town was one of our favourite places to visit in Namibia – and if you are a photographer, this eerie abandoned town is one that shouldn’t be left off your bucket list while travelling in Namibia.
If you have any questions about how to visit the town or what to expect please drop us a line.
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