Kolmanskop (Afrikaans for Coleman’s head, German: Kolmannskuppe) is a ghost town in the Namib in southern Namibia, 10 kilometres inland from the port town of Lüderitz. It was named after a transport driver named Johnny Coleman who, during a sand storm, abandoned his ox wagon on a small incline opposite the settlement. Once a small but very rich mining village, it is now a tourist destination run by the joint firm Namibia-De Beers.
In 1908, the worker Zacharias Lewala found a diamond while working in this area and showed it to his supervisor, the German railway inspector August Stauch. Realizing the area was rich in diamonds, German miners began settlement, and soon after the German Empire declared a large area as a “Sperrgebiet“, starting to exploit the diamond field.
Driven by the enormous wealth of the first diamond miners, the residents built the village in the architectural style of a German town, with amenities and institutions including a hospital, ballroom, power station, school, skittle-alley, theatre and sport-hall, casino, ice factory and the first x-ray-station in the southern hemisphere, as well as the first tram in Africa. It had a railway link to Lüderitz.
The town started to decline after World War II when the diamond-field slowly started to deplete. By the early 50s, the area was in decline. Hastening the town’s demise was the discovery in 1928 of the richest diamond-bearing deposits ever known. These were on the beach terraces 270 km south of Kolmanskop, near the Orange River. Many of the town’s inhabitants joined the rush to the south, leaving their homes and possessions behind. The new diamond find merely required scouting the beaches as opposed to more difficult mining. The town was ultimately abandoned in 1956. The geological forces of the desert mean that tourists now walk through houses knee-deep in sand. Kolmanskop is popular with photographers for its settings of the desert sands’ reclaiming this once-thriving town, and the arid climate preserving the traditional Edwardian architecture in the area. Due to its location within the restricted area (Sperrgebiet) of the Namib desert, tourists need a permit to enter the town.
Visiting Kolmanskop Ghost Town
The air in the deserted streets carries no hint of moisture. Life exists solely in the form of isolated stunted shrubs eking out a living; testing the limits of survival. The only sound is the wind patiently working a pane of glass loose from its frame. The fine desert sands are blown through the town, working their way into the abandoned houses. Welcome to Kolmanskop.
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. You can buy your tickets the day before from LST, which can save you some time and possible hassle at the gate so early in the morning.
- 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. Winter mornings are briskly cold, but once the sun rose, the temperature heats up quickly.
Language: You will have no issues finding English speakers in Kolmanskop or Luderitz. You would also find Afrikaans 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. For a more dramatic visit and photos, we’d recommend visiting at sunset or sunrise. We particularly recommend purchasing the Photo Permit and arriving before dawn. The darkness and the stillness enhanced the feeling of abandonment and creepiness, and once the sun came up the beauty of Kolmanskop shined.
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.
- 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.
These buildings are in various stages of disrepair. Floors, ceilings, stairs, and walls can collapse at any time. Also, watch where you walk. Rusty nails, barbed wire, and slivered wood are scattered throughout the compound. we would 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.
Twisted Sifter (photo reference)
Visiting Kolmanskop Ghost Town (Photographers Guide)