Kolmanskop is an abandoned diamond mining town located in Southern Namibia in the Namib Desert. It is about 10 kilometers East of Luderitz on the B4 highway.
Zacharias Lewala, a railroad worker, discovered the first diamond in 1908. Once word got out diamonds were in the area, Kolmanskop grew into a prosperous mining town. The wealthy residents designed and built the town with German architecture in mind. The buildings were large, lavish and decorated with color and style in mind.
The town’s residents prospered for years, but after World War I, their luck started to collapse. The mines were eventually stripped dry and depleted of their resources. Families had to move and find work elsewhere.
The records state the town was officially abandoned in 1954. Since its abandonment, the property has slowly been reclaimed by the desert elements. The buildings sit in various degrees of decay and are filled with different levels of sand; some as high as the ceiling.
The location is popular with photographers and travelers passing through to nearby Luderitz. We enjoyed Kolmanskop so much; we consider it a must see destination when in Namibia. Frankly, you are nuts to miss it!
Website: We weren’t able to find an official Kolmanskop website. Most of the valid information we found was through speaking directly with Luderitz Safaris and Tours in the neighboring town of Luderitz.
How to get there: We drove from Sossusvlei, which is roughly 500kms/311miles, and took us under 6 hours. The B4 highway is the only way in or out of Luderitz by road, so it’s pretty much impossible to get lost. Flights are also available from Windhoek to the neighboring town of Luderitz via Air Namibia.
Where to Stay: No lodging is available in Kolmanskop (it’s abandoned after all). The closest lodging is in Luderitz located 10kms/6miles to the West.
Prices and Permits: A permit is required to enter Kolmanskop. Four different permits exist and can be purchased at the Kolmanskop gate or Luderitz Safaris and Tours located in the neighboring town of Luderitz. We bought our ticket the day before from LST, which we felt saved us some time and possible hassle at the gate so early in the morning.
The below rates and descriptions are valid through February 2017:
- Photo Permit: N230; contrary to the name non-commercial photos can be taken using any of the four permits. The photo permit should actually be called Early/Extended Entrance fee. This license allows you to enter just before sunrise and stay all day to just after sunset. The 9:30 am guided tour is also included with the Photo Permit. ***If you are into photography or abandoned buildings, we can not stress enough to purchase the photo permit.***
- Adult: N85; The adult pass allows entrance to Kolmanskop between 9 am to 1 pm. The pass includes a guided tour, which you can take at either 9:30 am or 11:00 am, Monday – Saturday. Sunday tours are available at 10:00 am and should be confirmed ahead of time through the LST office.
- Child: N50; Children 6-14 and free for under six years of age
- Special: Prices are subject to request. Additional tours time are available for 8:00 am, 8:30 am, 14:00 and 1500 (all weather permitting) and need to be arranged ahead of time through LST.
Restaurant and Museum: A restaurant and museum are on the premises and open between about 9:00 am to 13:00. The food/drink prices were a little higher than “normal” local prices, but the food was good. Breakfast and lunch type items, chips, a few pastries and hot and cold drinks.
Weather: Kolmanskop is part of the Namib desert region; therefore, all desert weather applies. We visited in their winter month of June. The morning was briskly cold, but once the sun rose, the temperature heated up quickly. This website gives a good overall idea of weather during the different months.
Language: We had no issues finding English speakers in Kolmanskop or Luderitz. We also found Afrikaan and German speakers.
When to Go:
Most of the town sits on the East side of a hill making for extra fantastic shadows and light at sunrise. I have no doubt sunset provides some equally spectacular lighting inside some of the taller buildings. For a more dramatic visit and photos, we recommend visiting at sunset or sunrise. We particularly recommend purchasing the Photo Permit and arriving before dawn. We arrived about 20 minutes before sunrise and were the only visitors. The darkness and the stillness enhanced the feeling of abandonment and creepiness, and once the sun came up the beauty of Kolmanskop shined.
We visited during June, which is winter in Namibia. It was warm when in the sun by 8:30 am, but most of the buildings stayed cool with a few exceptions to specific rooms. I can only imagine in the middle of the dry, hot months and the rainy season this place could get mighty uncomfortable.
What to Bring
- Your permit to enter. If you purchase a Photo Permit and arrive before 9:00 am limited parking was available near the entrance gate. You may move your vehicle after 9:00, but it is not required.
- Water and carry it with you.
- Camera with charged extra batteries. If you plan to spend more than an hour at Kolmanskop, your camera batteries will get a workout. My battery died a lot faster than I expected. I had a portable charger with me, but the last two hours I had to take a more conservative approach to capturing snaps.
- Bring a scarf or handkerchief for a few reasons. If it’s windy, you will want to cover not only your face at times, but you will also need it to wipe off your camera. Sand can be detrimental to camera equipment so take extra precautions and clean your camera throughout your visit. Matt’s Canon 5Ds started to act wonky and wouldn’t take any photos for about twenty minutes. We were convinced it was because sand got stuck in a sensitive place.
- Common Sense! These buildings are in various stages of disrepair. Floors, ceilings, stairs, and walls can collapse at any time. Use your brain before you start crawling on or in the different nooks and crannies inside and outside of the buildings. Also, watch where you walk. Rusty nails, barbed wire, and slivered wood were scattered throughout the compound. I highly recommend wearing trainers or closed toed shoes not only for safety, but it is much easier to walk through the hot sand without it burning your feet.
While at Kolmanskop
I would recommend giving yourself at least 3 hours if you are meh about abandoned places. If you are at all into this sort of thing, give yourself way more time. We spent 5 hours at Kolmanskop and could have easily spent more time. We did not take the guided tour because we lost track of time.
We found the best lighting to be just before sunrise and sunset for outside photos and inside some smaller buildings. For inside the bigger buildings, we felt the light within 2 hours after sunrise was best.
The place got busy at about 9 am and continued through 13:00. The buildings closest to the parking lot and museum were the busiest.
Your first instinct may be to walk through the biggest house, Minenverwalter, on the hill. It looks to be in the best shape (it is), which ends up making it the least intriguing. The colors are possibly the most vibrant (depending on the light) because they haven’t faded or been worn away as much. For us, it wasn’t the highlight we expected.
Make sure to walk around the outside of the buildings. Don’t just stick to the main entrance/exit points. Some have hidden doors or rooms in the back or underneath. I can’t say we had a favorite building, but each building was unique in color, texture, lighting and energy.
The Buchhalter house nearest to the Minenverwalter house was pretty cool. Lots of character and a heavily decrepit second floor.
The Architekt house is drenched in pink, blue and yellow hues.
I won’t tell you which houses have the bathtubs, sinks or furniture pieces because part of the fun was discovering the furnishings as we moved along.
The best hallway is located in the Krankenhaus, the longest building sort of near the center. Try to enter while the sun is hanging low in the sky; otherwise, it can be pretty dark in the building.
The red, rusted metal building located on the opposite side of the parking lot from the museum is filled with great colors and textures.
Don’t forget about the series of worker houses located on the back (South section) of the property. Some of the wreckage is quite severe; be extra careful. We saw a few rabbits and other creatures in this area, which lent for some unexpected noises and shadows racing by us.
The toilets are located next to the museum/restaurant building. They are clean and during our visit had running water, toilet paper, and soap.
5 out of 5 Travelationship High Fives. Kolmanskop is one of our top 5 favorite locations we have EVER visited. Type of traveler rating – adventure, historical, bucket lister, photography, abandoned locations