Most travelers see Namibia’s capital city of Windhoek (an Afrikaans word meaning “wind corner”) as a blip on their radar—a point to pass through, fly into and (immediately) set out from or, in a jam, a place to spend the night before embarking on bigger, better adventures in Etosha National Park, the Skeleton Coast or some such rugged, better-known locale.
But Windhoek shouldn't be so quickly dismissed. A fascinating blend of German and African cultures, the city is the proud capital of a nation only 22 years old. The community is resilient, and it has to be—Windhoek is still recovering from apartheid, a post-World War I policy of politically-enforced segregation when the black population was moved to Katutura (a local word meaning, appropriately, “the place where we do not want to live”) to live without sanitation, electricity or gainful employment, while the whites-only Windhoek proper thrived. In 1990, following the South African Border War (more commonly known as the Angolan Bush War), Namibia gained independence and apartheid was demolished. But two decades later, Katutura’s residents still struggle, the area dotted with small shacks cobbled together from cinder blocks and corrugated metal.
To become intimate with Katutura is a humbling and, ultimately, rewarding cultural experience—and one that is best had on two wheels for its non-intrusive, modest and immediate qualities. Cycle to the lively market of Single Quarters and get a taste of kapana, the traditional Namibian street food of sliced, grilled red meat and fat, before heading to the bustling Eveline Street—a lively street lined with bars (called shebeens) that, like New York, "never sleeps," barber shops and car washing stands. End your day with traditional Owambo dance and music (paired with shopping the beautiful handmade crafts) at the women’s co-operative nonprofit Penduka Project.
Post-ride, find local flavors at Kamaya Restaurant (adjacent to Catakombe Bar), where you’ll dine on local delicacies like porridge, soup made from cornmeal, millet, or cassava, Potjie stew, or—for the brave—sheep’s head or Mapone worms. Top off your exploration with a game of pool and a Windhoek lager at Phat Boys Pub in Tauben Glen.
Logistics: Out of respect for the proud residents of Katutura, and due to the still-nebulous nature of many of the streets, hiring a tour guide is highly recommended. The (author-recommended) bike tour with KatuTours departs from the women’s co-operative nonprofit Penduka Project at the Goreangab Dam.