Kolmanskop: A Ghost Town in the Namib Desert

by | Feb 4, 2023 | Namibia | 22 comments

I have so much to tell you about Namibia. Our weeklong trip to this weird, wonderful country provided enough content to fill a book, and my head is throbbing with all the words (and pictures) clamoring to get out. But I can’t tell you everything at once so I’ll start with our visit to Kolmanskop, a ghost town in the Namib Desert.

Kolmanskop from a distance
A portion of Kolmanskop, seen from the entrance off the B4 highway.

Kolmanskop, which is about ten kilometers from the coastal town of Lüderitz, was founded in 1908 when an African railway worker named Zacharias Lewala discovered a diamond and handed it over to his German boss. The German boss, August Stauch, made a fortune buying up land around Kolmanskop before the diamond rush began, while Lewala received nothing for his discovery. But that is a story for another blog.

The area quickly became a diamond-rush boom town, filled with raucous mine workers, stately homes, a huge hospital, a bowling alley, an ice factory, and a tram frequented by well-to-do ladies wearing Victorian hats and hoop skirts.

Mine manager's house at Kolmanskop
The mine manager’s house, which is “lightly renovated” and in much better condition than the other buildings, provides a hint of Kolmanskop’s former grandeur.

But the town’s heyday was short-lived. Kolmanskop’s diamond supplies were in decline by the 1920s, which also coincided with the discovery of much richer diamond fields a few hours to the south. The town emptied over the years and was totally abandoned by the mid-1950s, when the paint began to fade, doors and windows dropped off their hinges, and rooms slowly filled with drifts of sand. The town is now a museum of sorts, part of the Tsau ǁKhaeb (Sperrgebiet) National Park, and open to the public for a modest admission fee.

Ghost town
The house in the middle was the doctor’s house.
Falling-down building in the desert
Some buildings have held up better than others.

Kolmanskop probably isn’t the only abandoned desert mining town to be turned into a tourist attraction, and I haven’t been to any others so I have nothing to compare it to. But this place is on my list of the top five travel experiences — right up there with flying over an erupting volcano on Réunion. If you’re traveling anywhere near Luderitz, Kolmanskop is not to be missed.

How to Visit Kolmanskop

Kolmanskop sign
Welcome to Kolmanskop — or Kolmannskuppe in German. The town was founded in the early 20th century, when Namibia was a German colony called German South West Africa.

Kolmanskop is easy to get to by Namibian standards. It’s just outside a town with decent accommodation and tourist services, and it’s accessible via a very smooth, paved highway. You can buy a permit in Luderitz in advance. Or do what we did and just rock up at the gate during the museum’s opening hours of 8:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. and buy a permit on the spot. We paid N$260 (the equivalent of R260, or about US$15) for two people and a car. Be sure to bring cash — there is a card machine but it wasn’t working on the day we went.

I can’t seem to find an official Kolmanskop website. But for more information about how to visit, especially if you want to arrive early to take photos at sunrise, check out this handy blog post by Travelationship.)

The admission fee includes a one-hour guided tour, offered in both English and German; tours take place at 9:30 and 11:00 a.m. daily (except Sunday, when there is one tour at 10:00 a.m.). The tour covers a couple of the main town buildings, and then guests are encouraged to walk around and check out the rest of the buildings at their leisure. There is also a historical museum exhibit, a gift shop, and a nice-looking café. (We didn’t have time to eat there.)

Abandoned building shot through an archway
The doctor’s house again.

I enjoyed the tour — it was informative and provided a great overview of the town’s history. I recommend doing it. But I also fidgeted for the entire hour, counting down the minutes until Thorsten and I could head out on our own and I could photograph the crap out of this eerie, sand-filled relic.

Exploring the Ghost Town

Thorsten in the ghost town
Tiny Thorsten in the hot, bright desert. This goes without saying but bring sunblock, closed shoes, and a hat.

I found Kolmanskop incredible in many ways. The whole place is such a surreal combination of colors, textures, and light. Strange angles play with your eyes and mind in a way that’s difficult to describe.

Windows and doors with sand
I often found it hard to make sense of what my eyes were seeing.

Doorway and light

Room full of sand
I particularly enjoyed rooms like this, where sand blew in through a single, narrow window pane and created pyramid-shaped mini-dunes inside.

Stencil-painted walls
Some rooms in the fancier houses have pretty stencils painted on the walls, or even peeling wallpaper: little reminders that these ghost houses were once actual homes.

Bannister on stairs

Detaching door

Heather in a sandy room
I know I’m spamming you — #sorrynotsorry. (Photo: Thorsten Deckler)

Also, it’s totally insane that dumb tourists like us can wander in and out of these old, disintegrating buildings with zero supervision — without even signing a liability form! — ascending rickety wooden stairways, climbing in and out of windows, lounging in abandoned bathtubs, etc. It’s also kind of awesome.

Inside the hospital
Rickety wooden planks, presumably positioned to discourage people from visiting a room with a collapsing ceiling.
Thorsten waiving through a hole in the wall
Heather in ghost town bathtub
I couldn’t resist this opportunity to sit in a ghost town bathtub. (Photo: Thorsten Deckler)
Thorsten outside his favorite Kolmanskop house — the architect’s house.
Sketch of the architect's house
@theThinking_Hand‘s sketch of the architect’s house.
Tourists at Kolmanskop
There weren’t many other tourists there, and we were alone in our explorations most of the time. Occasionally we bumped into one or two other people.

I think we spent about 90 minutes wandering around on our own, but I definitely could have done another hour or two if we’d had the time. I’m almost glad we didn’t though — it’s already hard enough to figure out which photos to share.

Hallway and light

I liked the rooms with graffiti. The “NIZ” tag was a recurring theme.
Red room

Vertical doorways
I also loved the many hallways and rooms with these twin angled doorways.
Kolmanskop doorways

I could go on but I’m going to reel myself in now.

One more.
Last one. I swear!

Comment if you have any questions or stories of your own about Kolmanskop. And don’t worry — I’ve got a lot more Namibia content coming your way.


  1. Maarten

    This is a real treat and we visited this place a few times as well as the desert that surrounds this Kolmanskop area. Amazing how empty and how silent this place can be. Imagine how it was during the days when the mine was stil open and busy. Amazing country, so we wil go back there in August……

    • 2summers

      Ah, I hope you have an amazing time!

  2. Albert

    Stunning photos Heather!

  3. Margaret Urban

    Fabulous photos Heather!
    Namibia is top if my bucket list; quite accessible ????

    • 2summers

      Yes! It’s amazing.

    • Xiaan Brits

      bucket list too…

  4. dizzylexa

    I’m surprised the buildings have not filled up more and presume the wall paper might have slowly disappeared as a form of souvenir. Don’t know how I feel about it becoming commercial but do understand. Glad you got to experience it and your photo’s are awesome. I would love to do a sunset or sunrise photoshoot there.

    • 2summers

      I have a feeling they MIGHT do some maintenance to keep the sand levels sort of consistent.

  5. Nancy McDaniel

    Great photos. My two favorites, however, are themed: you in the tub AND a tub on the sand (say what?)

    • 2summers

      Hahaha. Yes the tubs get around.

  6. Jane Shearer

    There’s a fine line between rubbish and history

  7. Konrad Voges

    There might be still people around who grew up there. I knew two of them but lost contact.

    • 2summers

      I got a comment from someone whose mom was born there – she’s 89 now!

  8. Konrad Voges

    Actually there probably ought to be quite a number of people still around who were born in Kolmanskuppe. I now read that people still were living there up to the middle of the last century.

  9. Leny Burge

    We were there about 50 years ago. It looks quite a bit “renovated”. The sand was already filling rooms. I assume, they must try and remove sand from time to time. What a magic place it was!

    • 2summers

      I can only imagine what it was like 50 years ago! Yes, it’s an official museum now so there is definitely some upkeep going on. But still a very authentic-feeling experience.

  10. Xiaan Brits

    your tub photos reminds me of visitors climbing into the empty sarcophagus in the big pyramid in Giza

    • 2summers

      That sounds cool!

  11. Ann

    Could you please suggest the route from Sesreim if I would like to visit Kolmanskop Ghost Town?

    • 2summers

      Hi Ann, I think there are a bunch of different ways you can go but it’s a pretty straight-forward, five-hour drive from Sesreim to Aus, where you could stay overnight. From there it’s about an hour’s drive to Kolmanskop. Or you could drive another hour from Aus to Luderitz and spend the night there — Kolmanskop is less than half an hour from Luderitz.


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