The largest commercial centre on the national road to Windhoek from the south and geographical midway between the two largest Southern African desert environments – the Kalahari in the north east and the Namib in the northwest – makes Keetmanshoop a natural staging post for tourism across the Karas region.
Centuries-old San and Khoi/Nama history marks this town as the site of a spring called #Nu#goaes or Black Marsh/Swartmodder, though its later name celebrates a 19th Century German benefactor, Johann Keetman, whose largesse helped found the Rhenish Mission and town here in 1860. Keetman would never visit this place, whose German influence is still evident in much local architecture, custom and history.
The true success of the mission post in converting local Nama Captain Hendrik Zeis’ clan to Christianity remains doubtful. The building of a garrison and fort is but one testament to the colonial authorities often brutal attempts to quell the Nama nation’s persistent resistance to dispossession and domination over the centuries.
Through a history of floods, droughts and rebellions Keetmanshoop has nevertheless remained the region’s capital – a centre for the massive Karakul sheep farming boom of yesteryear and the heart of stock farming across the region. The region’s road, rail and air transport hub, it still sports a picturesque German-style railway station, which as early as 1908 was the departure point for a narrow gauge line to Lüderitz on the coast. Its busy, modern airport makes it an important entry point for foreign visitors.
There are many resorts in the area, situated in both urban and rural Keetmanshoop, and in towns in the southern vicinity, with others along the main national roadway to the north.
Resorts in the town itself include well-established B&B’s, pensions, backpacker venues and campsites, including the Chapel Inn, Gessert Guesthouse and Central Lodge. Large, well-known accommodations such as the Bird’s Mansion Hotel and the international 3-star Canyon Hotel boast major conferencing facilities, along with high standards of comfort, convenience and service for business and tourism travellers.
Just 14 km outside Keetmanshoop are examples of smaller tourism havens such as the Quiver Tree Forest Rest Camp, situated near this famous national monument, include facilities such as self-catering bungalows, luxurious full board suites and serviced camping sites, all in the setting of a rich geological landscape.
45 km from the capital, along the B4 roadway to Lüderitz, old world hospitality can be found at lodges like the classic Seeheim Hotel, the dramatic setting for 3 feature films, while a half hour’s drive from here takes the visitor to the beautiful thatch and stone Vogelstrausskluft Country Lodge set overlooking an ancient riverbed, with nature drives to the Fish River escarpment and accommodation in an exclusive Canyon bush camp also offered.
The Naute Dam Nature Reserve, as yet undeveloped in terms of tourism resorts is a unique setting which promises to be a vibrant future prospect for tourism ventures, closely linked to Keetmanshoop, some 40 km away.
Ecological, geological, cultural and adventure activities abound in this area. To the west of Keetmanshoop, on the farm Gariganus, visitors can see the famous Kokerboom/Quiver Tree Forest (unofficial plant symbol of the region), featuring a large natural plantation of this unique giant aloe plant, which can achieve ages of 300 years or more and whose trunk was once used by San hunters to fashion quivers for arrows.
On the farm Spitskop Ost there’s a chance to look back in time to the region’s most ancient history some 280 million years ago at the Mesosaurus Fossil Site, where one can see fine examples of a crocodile-like reptilian found only in the Permian shales of Namibia and Brazil and evidence of the earth’s drifting continents. For an encounter with one of Africa’s newer animal species, a unique Cheetah Project in the area affords the visitor a rare face-to-face with these amazing big cats.
For lovers of cultural heritage, Keetmanshoop itself has a variety of treasures. The Rhenish Mission Church, built in 1895 in Gothic style from regional stone is a well-known landmark, which now houses an exceptional museum on the history of the area. A trip through the town, with its Poinciana trees reveals other architectural delights in distinctive 18th/19th Century German Colonial style, including the railway station and post office.
For lovers of more convivial pursuits, the area boasts many famous watering holes, taverns and eateries (like the German Club in Keetmanshoop) many of which are renowned for locally brewed beers, and other local fare such as venison, ostrich, beef and lamb from the meat capital of the region.
Adventure enthusiasts are well catered for, with offerings like aerial hops over the region from Keetmanshoop airport. The area is also popular as a departure point for guided excursions and 4 x 4 overland safaris, such as those to the Kalahari and Namib deserts. A well organised tourism infrastructure and various local operators and authorities can ably assist almost every tourism need.