This rough and ready, frontier town is the hub of Kaokoland. It has shops, a good bakery, several garages, a large school, and even a short stretch of tarred road in the centre of town, despite being over a hundred kilometres from the nearest other tar (south of Kamanjab, or east of Ruacana).
Opuwo is 54km of mediocre gravel from the main Kamanjab-Ruacana road and greets you with large, irrigated maize fields on the right, and probably a couple of stray cattle in front. Soon the dry, dusty town appears, sprawling over a low hillside with no apparent centre: its buildings are functional rather than attractive, and the outskirts fade into groups of round Himba huts.
Turn right for the town's main attraction, the fuel station. As recently as 1990 there were no proper fuel supplies, just a few private entrepreneurs who sold it from drums on the back of pick-up trucks for twice the normal price. Now it is available at the BP station, which helps with logistics, being the only fuel north of Sesfontein and west of Ruacana. However, beware of depending upon it, as this station can (and does) run out. It is usually open for petrol until 17.00, though will supply diesel until 19.00.
Whilst waiting to fill up, or taking a stroll, look around – there is a fascinating mix of people, including the traditional rural Himba, who come into town to trade or buy supplies, with their decorated goatskin dress and ochre-stained skins. Strong, powerful faces speak clearly of people who have yet to trade their own culture for what little is being offered to them here. As with any frontier post, the place abounds with shady local traders. These mix with occasional businessmen, and the eccentric characters who emerge from the bush to replenish supplies, and then disappear again with equal speed.
The BP garage sells cool drinks, and the adjacent bakery has excellent fresh bread, rolls, and drinking yoghurt. For more supplies go to Groothandel Wholesale which has an excellent selection of hardware, tinned food and staples, and produces large blocks of ice for cool-boxes. If you need to change money, they may cash travellers' cheques as a favour. Forget exchanging foreign notes or using credit cards. On the right of the BP station, the brightly painted curio shop sells postcards and Himba jewellery, and is closed on Sundays. Next to that is the Opuwo Supermarket, but don't expect too much from it.