A prosperous town in the middle of the desert that was abandoned overnight. A German town to be exact. In a Namibian desert. This mysterious abandoned town in Namibia called Kolmanskop is now slowly disappearing into the sand dunes of the desert. A unique and spooky place! And even better: the ghost town Kolmanskop is open to visitors. Make sure to add this abandoned town close to Lüderitz to your Namibia itinerary and join the free Kolmanskop tour to learn more about its history.
How to get to this ghost town at Lüderitz?
Kolmanskop is located in the south of Namibia, near the coast. The ghost town is a day trip away from Aus or – closer – Lüderitz. It is about 115 kilometers from Aus and only 15 kilometers from Lüderitz. Combine a visit to Kolmanskop therefore with a visit to Lüderitz. Read in our Lüderitz blog about the best things to do in this German coastal town!
The history of the abandoned diamond town
It is impossible to tell something about Kolmanskop without mentioning the history of the desert town. Not such a history freak? Scroll quickly to our practical tips for your visit to the ghost town below!
Kolmanskop is the result of the short-lived diamond fever in the area around Lüderitz. When the German entrepreneur Adolf Lüderitz bought the area around Lüderitz at the end of the nineteenth century, he could do this for a very good price. Almost the whole of Africa was already in colonial hands at the time, but there was simply nothing worth claiming in this area. Until a diamond was found.
Not much later, it turned out that there was actually a lot to be found in the desert near Lüderitz. In 1908, a railroad worker found a diamond lying in the desert sand. There turned out to be many more, just lying there on the desert surface! A diamond fever arose, after which Germany proclaimed the area around Lüderitz to a restricted ‘Sperrgebiet’. It still is today; it is not possible to visit this area without permission.
Diamonds are still found in the south of the Sperrgebiet, but there is also a diamond industry in Lüderitz itself. The diamonds are no longer fished from the desert, but from the sea. Many diamonds from the desert had of course already been blown into the sea in the decades before the diamond fever, where they still lie on the seabed. While in other coastal towns fishermen are busy with nets and fishing rods, they dive for diamonds in Lüderitz. That may sound like an easy job – after all, the diamonds are on the bottom for the taking – but the ice-cold water and the heavy currents make the work very difficult. That is why there are boats that dig up the seabed and then search for the diamonds between the sand and the stones on the deck.
Kolmanskop nowadays: an abandoned ghost town in the desert
Because to the flourishing diamond industry, Lüderitz prospered and a small town was built about 10 kilometers away for German staff of the diamond company and their families. This village – Kolmanskop – was equipped with every possible luxury and had facilities that were not even available in most German cities at that time yet.
The prosperity of Kolmanskop did not last long, as only a few years later, more and especially larger diamonds were found more to the south. After the diamond fever had moved further south, the luxurious town was abandoned. Although the last inhabitant would only leave Kolmanskop in the 1950s, most people abandoned it overnight. You can still visit the bowling alley, auditorium, ice cream factory and the enormous hospital; even some furniture was left. Now, the desert is slowly taking over the old German houses.
Visit Kolmanskop: free tours and permit
It is unique to see how a once prosperous town is slowly being eaten by the sand dunes of the Namibian desert. In all buildings, there is at least a few centimeters of sand on the ground, but most houses have already been partly taken over by the desert and the sand comes in through the windows and doors. A photogenic sight to walk through endlessly.
Kolmanskop is nowadays an open-air museum. A ticket costs 90 Namibian dollars which you can buy at the gate. From the gate, you drive to the old auditorium building, where you park your car. The auditorium is part of the largest building in Kolmanskop. It has been completely restored and is protected against the desert. There is a souvernir shop and a restaurant for coffee and tea. There is an exhibition in the back explaining the history of Kolmanskop. We particularly loved the room showing methods the diamond workers used to smuggle the diamonds off the site and the techniques that were used to prevent this. One of the first x-ray machines in the world was used in Kolmanskop and that was not (only) for the hospital.
Plan your visit in the morning, as the ghost town is only open between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. If you want to be there sooner or later, probably to take pictures at sunrise or sunset, you should buy a separate photo permit. Also coordinate your arrival time with the times of free tours around Kolmanskop. The tour of the auditorium, the ice factory, the bakery and the butcher’s shop and more, gives you an even better idea of the old luxurious town and it is included in the price of your ticket. They are at 9:30 AM and 11:00 AM from Monday to Saturday and at 10:00 AM on Sundays and public holidays.