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How to Visit Himba, Damara, San & Herero Tribes in Namibia

How to Visit Himba, Damara, San & Herero Tribes in Namibia

One of the highlights of an African trip is the possibility to meet the people of the indigenous tribes of Africa. When we were preparing our Namibia trip itinerary, we knew that we would want to meet the people from at least a few of the many local indigenous tribes in Namibia.

However, it was not very easy to find detailed information about where to see the Himba tribe, Damara, Herero, or San people in Namibia.

We all want to try and avoid the feeling of visiting a human zoo, yet we long to get to know other cultures and learn more about the habits of people whose lifestyle is so very different from ours. So in this article, I want to share our experience visiting the indigenous Namibian tribes.

Good to know: If you have something against nudity, you shouldn’t read this article further. In that case, I also urge you not to visit the indigenous tribes of Africa, as there is really no way around it. This is who those people are and how they live. For this article about the Namibia tribes, I tried to select the pictures without too much nakedness in them, but it was not always possible. 

Overview of the indigenous tribes we visited in Namibia:

 
Meeting the Himba, San (Bushmen), Damara, and Herero tribes in Namibia
 

Himba Tribe

The Himba are semi-nomadic indigenous people living mainly in the Damaraland region in Northern Namibia.

Himba tribe managed to avoid too much outside influence and preserve the traditional lifestyle. It’s the only people from the indigenous tribes we visited in Namibia who really still live the way their ancestors did centuries ago. They do not put up a show for the tourists. Well, at least not the Himba people we visited.

If you see a travel brochure with pictures from Namibia, the chances are high that you’ll see pictures of the Himba. But how and where to find Himba tribes in Namibia? Read on!

Himba tribe women in Damaraland Namibia
Himba tribe women
 

Where to see Himba people in Namibia

When preparing for our Namibia trip, we read about a Himba orphanage, Otijkandero Orphan Village, that one could visit on the way from Twyfelfontein to Etosha National Park (somewhere between Kamanjab and Outjo). But this was not really the authentic experience we were looking for.

I also read that one could take a day trip to visit the Himba North of Palmwag, but the reviews were talking about a long day trip of 10 hours on bumpy roads, so this option wasn’t for us either.

If you read more about our trip to Namibia, then you know that we were traveling in Namibia with three young kids, so long day trips with not much to see were out of the question for us.

And then there was an option to see Himbas that our travel agent proposed to book for us, but it was such an expensive day trip that we didn’t even look into it further.

Himba boy in Namibia
 

So where to find an authentic Himba tribe in Namibia?

We were staying in Palmwag for a couple of days, and we knew that there are a lot of guided safari rides and also Himba tours available from there. As I said before, we thought that a long day trip of over 10 hours was the only option to see the Himbas near Palmwag.

But upon arrival at the Palmwag Lodge, we found out that there was a Himba village nearby and that the lodge was organizing a day tour that included a visit to the Himbas North of Palmwag.

It appears that the Himba village was not that far at all. Furthermore, the road to get there was a regular gravel road like anywhere else in Namibia. In addition, the day tour was more about safari and visiting the Himba village and did not involve that much driving and spending endless hours in the car. So after talking to the guides, we decided to give it a try and booked this day trip.

I don’t remember the exact price of the tour anymore, but I know that it was 1/4th of the price of the Himba tour that travel agents wanted to sell to us. On top of that, the kids under 6 were free of charge, so we would need to pay for 2 adults only.

Later on, they came back on this and said that we should pay a bit more because we had three kids under 6 and there was nobody else going on the same tour that day. And so if we wanted to do it and have the whole jeep to ourselves, we had to pay an additional price of one child. It was still more than worth it.

Himba woman in Namibia
Himba woman
 

Visiting Himba and Damaraland safari day trip with kids

Our day started with a guided Damaraland safari morning tour, followed by a visit to the Himba village, more safari, lunch, and then again safari drive till sunset. We started at 7 AM and were back around 5-6 PM. We had an amazing day.

Yes, it was a lot of time spent sitting in the car, but we were mainly looking for safari animals along the way. Also, before our Namibian trip, we bought binoculars for all three of our kids so they were very engaged looking for animals every time we went on a safari ride. We saw a lot of wildlife which helped to keep the kids entertained.

Looking more tips? Check our post with all kinds of practical information and tips for your first safari.

We spent about an hour at the Himba village, followed by some serious off-road driving over the dry river bed and a very bumpy savannah following a herd of desert elephants.

Herd of desert elephants in Namibia
We saw this herd from the Himba Village and tracked and followed them for a couple of hours in the afternoon
 

We then had one of the most memorable meals that you can only have in Africa: a picnic lunch in the savannah while watching the elephants from a safe distance.

In the afternoon we continued looking for animals, and the day was over before we knew it. Our kids of 3, 3, and 5 years handled this day tour extremely well. Although the kids were a bit too wild and too enthusiastic with the goats of the Himba… But luckily the Himba people were super understanding, patient, and friendly with our kids.

Our picnic lunch in an African savannah on a Himba tour in Northern Namibia
Our picnic lunch in an African savannah on a Himba tour in Northern Namibia
 

Our visit to the Himba tribe in Damaraland

The Himba village that we visited was more of a family farm. The family consisted of a man, his mom (the father was dead), his three wives, and their 27 (yes, you read it right!) children.

We understood that every ‘village’ is actually just one family’s home. And since the Himbas are semi-nomadic, they move and build new ‘villages’ every time.

The Himba clans are led by the eldest man, sons live with their father’s family and the daughters move to live with their husband when they get married.

The leader of the Himba clan we visited had three wives and twenty seven children
The leader of the Himba clan we visited had three wives and twenty seven children
 

The Himba village itself was not more than a collection of tiny mud huts, a fireplace in the middle where everyone seemed to be hanging around the whole day, and a small fenced area for the goats and the chicken.

We were told that they had more cattle a bit further away, but we didn’t see it. That’s pretty much all they have, and all that counts.

Meeting Himba tribe in Damaraland Namibia
The Himba people were extremely friendly with us
 

The Himba women were all dressed in traditional clothing and most attention seems to be given to the jewelry and the hair.

Hairstyle and jewelry are very important for the Himba. It indicates the age and social status of each person within the community.

The hair of the women is covered in red mud and they also use some kind of a red substance to protect their skin from the sun.

The hair style of Himba women depends on their social status
The hair style of a married Himba woman
 

The visit to the Himbas was very relaxed. Our driver/guide was very familiar with the family and helped us all communicate. Afterwards we found out that he also came from the Himba tribe.

The Himba people were extremely friendly, their kids showed our kids some goats and chicken, and they had just about as many questions for us as we had for them.

It really felt like a very genuine visit to a very special family.

Our kids playing with the Himba children in Namibia
Our kids playing with the Himba children
 

Of course, we were expected to buy some hand-made souvenirs they presented to us at the end of the visit, which we did. That’s probably the only source of income that the family had, apart from some cattle which serves more as a way to feed the family.

So if you are visiting any indigenous tribes in Africa, think of how you can support them without giving charity. People really appreciate it if you genuinely like a hand-made souvenir that they or their kids made.

If you are looking for unique gifts to bring home, this is a great opportunity to get something truly special!

Himba women in Namibia selling traditional hand-made souvenirs
Himba women showcasing the hand-made souvenirs
 

Can you still see the Himba near Palmwag?

Since Himba are nomadic people, it can very well be that the village we visited is long gone by now. Or maybe there are many other new villages to be visited nearby…

TIP: If you want to be sure you can see Himba North of Palmwag, you best contact the Palmwag Lodge in advance for more up-to-date information. Alternatively, try some other lodges in the area too. It can very well be that they also offer similar day trips.

I can recommend the beautiful Grootberg Lodge. It’s not that far from Palmwag and has similar day trip possibilities, but it’s a much nicer lodge and it’s better managed.

Alternatively, check out the Etendeka Mountain Camp – it’s a beautiful tented accommodation in the same area as the two lodges I mentioned before, and it has really amazing reviews.

Visiting Etosha National Park as well? Check our guide to the best places to stay in Etosha National Park.

Meeting the Damara people in Namibia

The Damara is one of the oldest tribes in Namibia with a quite significant population of about 100,000 people (+-9% of the Namibian population).

However, their culture and habits haven’t been preserved very well and they seem to be much more adapted to the more modern lifestyle than the Himbas.

Damara living museum in Namibia
Damara living museum
 

Damara Living Museum near Twyfelfontein

One of a few places to experience the traditional Damara culture is the Damara Living Museum near Twyfelfontein. It’s an open-air museum with a staff of some 30 people who come to work here every day showing tourists how the Damara life used to be in the past.

You have two options for a visit at the Damara living museum, both with an obligatory guide: the village tour or the combination of the village and the bush tour.

We opted for the village tour since most reviews we found on the Internet said that the bush tour was not really worth the time or the money.

The ‘village’ is a small collection of traditional huts and workplaces, each specializing in one aspect of the traditional Damara lifestyle. The guide takes you from one place to another and you can see how the Damara people make jewelry, clothing, how they start a fire using only sand and some dry sticks…

We also met the ‘medicine’ expert who explained about all kinds of plants they use for cure. At the end of the visit, we could see a little show. It was a performance of an old Damara folk tale with lots of dancing and singing. Very impressive!

Starting a fire without matches, the traditional Damara way
Starting a fire using sticks, sand, and some straw
 

It was a very informative visit and it was nice to see how the life of Damara used to be, but it wasn’t comparable to visiting a real living village like the one of the Himbas.

The Damara people we met were also very distant, not friendly at all, and you could see that this was just their job with a single purpose of making money from tourists.

If only they had done their best to at least pretend they liked what they were doing, it might have been a much more enjoyable experience. Or maybe they just had a really bad day…

Damara woman making traditional jewellery - Namibia
Damara woman making traditional jewelry
 

The ‘living museum’ concept apparently has become a big business in Namibia.

They already have six different museums, all in Northern Namibia, where you can get acquainted with all kinds of different Namibian tribes: Ju/‘Hoansi-San, also the little hunters of San, Mafwe, Mbunza, Damara, and Ovahimba.

You can find more information for your visit to one of the living museums on their official website.

READ ALSO: Best Places to Visit in Namibia

Traditional Damara tribe dance performance Namibia
Traditional Damara tribe dance performance
 

Bushmen – San people in Namibia

The San people, more often referred to as Bushmen, are one of the oldest indigenous hunter tribes in Southern Africa. They live in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Angola, Zambia, and other neighboring countries.

The San have long switched to farming now, but a lot of their traditional lifestyle appears to still be preserved. Bushmen still lead a nomadic life and live without any modern comforts.

Most San settlements were a bit out of the way on our Namibian trip, so we didn’t really plan to see the Bushmen in Namibia. But then the opportunity presented itself, and so the San were the third indigenous tribe we visited in Namibia.

Meeting the San people in Namibia
Meeting the San people
 

Visiting the San village at Erindi Private Game Reserve

Erindi Private Game reserve was one of the favorite stops on our Namibia trip. They have the most beautiful terrace overlooking a very active waterhole with hippos, crocodiles, elephants, and many other wild animals. It’s almost as good for wildlife viewing as Okaukuejo in Etosha National Park, but way more luxurious.

We didn’t know in advance that there are several San families living at Erindi. We came here for the lodge and for the fantastic game drives they offer in their huge private game reserve.

The short trip to the San Village is just one of the many activities you can do at the Erindi Private Game Reserve, and – according to their website – it’s only offered to their overnight guests.

We really enjoyed this short visit. It was nice to meet a community with so many children. I read that the San children are not expected to contribute to the community, so they have a really nice childhood with lots of time to play, explore, and learn from the elders of the tribe.

San tribe children in Namibia
San tribe children
Visiting the San tribe at Erindin Private Game Resort in Namibia
The older children take care of the younger ones
San bushmen tribe children in Namibia
Bushmen boys
Young bushmen boy from the San tribe in Namibia learning how to hunt
Young bushmen boy learning how to hunt
 

The Bushmen also had a ‘medicine man’ who explained about the plants they use when someone gets sick. They also made fire without the use of matches, just like the Damara people did. They showed us how they used to hunt and how they teach children to read the signs and follow wildlife.

While it was a real community showing their daily life to us, it still felt to be much more tailored for tourists than the Himba visit. It was also not a real village where they live, just a place they come to every day, in collaboration with the reserve and their financial support.

On the other hand, the people were really friendly and we really enjoyed getting acquainted with yet another African tribe and their culture.

Bushmen San tribe male hunters in Namibia
Bushmen hunters showing how they track animals and hunt
Bushmen tribe men making fire the traditional way
Bushmen tribe men making fire the traditional way
Bushmen San tribe male portrait
San – Bushmen man
Buhmen medicine man in Namibia
Buhmen medicine man
 

Herero tribe in Namibia

We hadn’t planned to visit the Herero people in Namibia, but we saw many Herero villages and people while driving on the road from Swakopmund to Twyfelfontein.

The Herero people stand out from the other tribes because of their colonial-style clothing. This tribe also seemed to be the proudest of all the Namibia people we met on our trip.

I found this great book about the Herero tribe – check it out if you are interested in the history of African tribes: Conflict and Costume: The Herero Tribe of Namibia.

Herero woman wearing a traditional colonial costume in Namibia
Herero woman wearing a traditional colonial costume
 

In search of indigenous tribes in Namibia – our tips

  • If you are looking for a simple way to see the indigenous tribes in Namibia, then the Damara living museum is probably one of the easiest accessible places to do this. It’s very close to the Twyfelfontein UNESCO site which many tourists visit anyway, and it can easily be combined. If you are road tripping through Northern Namibia, then the other living museums might be a good option as well.
  • If you consider staying at the luxurious Erindi Old Traders Lodge, then I definitely recommend visiting the San village there.
  • If, however, you are looking for a more authentic experience, you should consider visiting a real Himba or Damara village. My best advice would be to contact the lodges to the West of Etosha National Park (see above – the Himba section – for suggestions). Ask them what the possibilities are.
  • For a truly authentic experience, you can also try to just stop at one of the Herero villages you’ll pass on your way. However, I honestly don’t know how those people would react or how you’d communicate with them without a translator…
  • If you want to visit Namibia, meet local people, see the beautiful landscapes and wildlife, but don’t know where to start, you may want to visit Namibia with an organized tour. Here you can find some of the best options for oragnized group- or self-drive trips in Namibia.

Have you been to Namibia and visited Himba, San, Damara, or another indigenous tribe? Please share your experience and the location by leaving a comment under this article. You’ll help other travelers looking for a similar experience.

READ ALSO: Namibia Travel Tips

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Everything you need to know to prepare your visit to the indigenous tribes in Namibia. Meet Himba, San (Bushmen), Damara and Hereo tribes.
All you need to know for visiting the indigenous tribes in Namibia. Meet Himba, San (Bushmen), Damara and Hereo tribes.
 

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anda

Friday 21st of May 2021

Thank you for the tips. I actually was wondering if the tribal people would like to receive pictures of themselves taken with a polaroid camera. In other parts of the world, local people were really very happy .I would like to offer them some pictures when I photograph them: plan is for next summer. What do you think, would it be a good idea?

Also, I used to shoot with a professional camera, but the weight was killing the experience. Are there light cameras that can zoom decently(200mm?) based on your research? Budget is not the issue, the weight is, Many thanks

Anda

Saturday 22nd of May 2021

@Jurga, thank you so much. 1.5 kilos for the camera is a lot. My old d700 is probably the same weight. Will check the Panasonic too. Thanks Oh and l asked in case it won’t be a good idea, not to carry the Polaroid camera on.

Jurga

Saturday 22nd of May 2021

Hi Anda, I really don't know about the Polaroid; some people might enjoy it, but why not simply ask them when you are there. As for the camera, I know what you mean about the weight. I'm not sure how light you want it to be, but the lighter ones tend to also be cheaper and likely lesser quality than what you've been used to it. Anyway, this model from Panasonic has a zoom of up to 600mm and is quite lightweight. For better quality (but also more weight, unfortunately), take a look at Nikon Coolpix p1000 series (or 900/950). These cameras are comparable to the professional DSLRs in terms of weight and quality (and the zoom is insane!), but the biggest advantage here is that you have one lens for everything. So you only have to pack one camera. It won't help you much if you find it heavy to hold, but it will help if you are mainly worried about the packing weight of the camera and all the lenses. We ourselves just bought the p1000 and I can't wait to try it out on safari. Hope this helps.

Wim

Thursday 15th of April 2021

Dear Jurga

We're planning a trip into Nambia and like to discover the cultures like the Himba. I would like to now if it's possible to spend a night with the Himbatribe (like we did before with tribes in Malaysia and Thailand) Do you have a name or any contact details of your guide. Maybe I can reach him for further questions or details. Many thanks in advance Wim Boel Belgium

Jurga

Sunday 18th of April 2021

Hi Wim, unfortunately, I don't have any contact information for guides. We visited the Himba people with a local guide from Palmwag Lodge where we stayed for a few days. We didn't book anything in advance - just inquired upon arrival at the lodge and they arranged a day trip for us. Himba are nomadic people and I think you just have to accept the fact that it's hard to plan much in advance if you want to visit a real Himba village. I'm not sure about the possibility to stay with them either - the 'village' we visited was actually a place where one family lived and the few huts they had were hardly big enough for all of them to sleep in. Sorry, I can't help you more. Good luck!

Mandla Mdludlu

Thursday 21st of January 2021

I intend to visit Namibia with the purpose of visiting the Damara and Himba people the later being the most culturally inclined. From what I have seen the Damaras are not that different from other tribes cultural from South Africa. I would like to see mostly the Himba and Bushmen.

Please provide me with full information as I will be travelling from Cape Town. IF YOU HAVE A CONTACT FROM CAPE TOWN PLEASE PROVIDE ME WITH HIS / HER PARTICULARS.

Jurga

Friday 22nd of January 2021

Hi Mandla, all the information we can provide is already in the article. If you are looking for a tour, there are multi-day tours that visit some tribes. For example, this tour says they visit Himba, Damara, and Herero people. I can't really help you more than that. All the best!

Patrick

Monday 28th of January 2019

I have always been fascinated by Namibia. Such interesting land and culture.

Jurga

Tuesday 29th of January 2019

Agree, Namibia is surely a very fascinating country with a big mix of cultures and landscapes.

Christine Bennett

Monday 17th of September 2018

Hi Jurga What a truly wonderful report of your experiences. Thank you so much. I'm a solo female traveller (60+) from the UK & am going to Namibia for 24 days in Jan/Feb 2019. I'm interested to see the 'big ticket' places that all the tourists do. However, I am actually more interested in people/culture & getting to places where tourists don't go too much. I'll be driving a SUV (a 4 x 4 would be a problem for me as I couldn't physically change a wheel & my driving skills are definitely not up to a 4 x 4). The Himba people are definitely a 'must' for me & it looks as though Palmwag Lodge or somewhere nearby might work (roads should be OK up to this point I think). I want to get up to the river area around Rundu so I should get to see the San (Bushmen) people. Twyfelfontein is on my planned route so that will add the Damara people for me. There seem to be lots of Herero villages in Damaraland so that should be easy. Thank you again for sharing your experiences. I am starting to get excited now.......... (I'm now going to click through to your various links for other tips)

Tracy

Thursday 24th of October 2019

I enjoyed this blog. Thank you for sharing. I hope one day to experience something like this

Jurga

Tuesday 18th of September 2018

Hi Christine, your trip sounds really exciting, especially taking into an account that you're traveling on your own. I really don't know what to tell you about the car. I understand your choice for an SUV rather than a 4WD, but the areas you're planning to explore can be quite difficult to drive to, especially if you're unlucky and it has rained a lot... Even in dry season, I think a 4WD is a must in Namibia... Try to at least rent a car with high clearance, so the biggest you think you can handle... Try to read some of our other posts indeed and see if it gives you a better idea of what to expect. You might be driving for hours without meeting anyone, especially in the South and in the North, so keep that in mind. It would be great if you could come back here and share your experience after the trip. I'm sure it would help many other people looking for similar information. Thanks and have a great and safe trip!

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