A surreal, stark, and surprising destination for your Namibian trip
Known once as the Gates of Hell, and the Land God Made in Anger, the Skeleton Coast has hardly had the best PR of all tourism destinations, yet it still holds irresistible appeal for the curious and the brave.
If you’re among those travelers who’d rather ‘’see for themselves’’ when it comes to out-of-the-way destinations, you’re in for a treat when you visit Namibia’s Skeleton Coast. Keep reading to find out how to make the most of your trip to this incredible place.
Revel in the Amazing Scenery
Namibia has no shortage of scenic spots and incredible geology, and the Caprivi area and Skeleton Coast certainly represent polar opposites on the spectrum of things to see here.
The 40 km wide and 500 km long swathe of land occupies almost the entirety of the country’s west coast where the cold green waters of the Benguela current smash into a desert that’s aglow with towering, desolate dunes of ochre sands.
This clash of hot and frigid air results in foggy mornings which only enhance the mysterious, haunting appeal of the park which is dotted with the remains of around 500 ill-fated ships.
Photographers delight in capturing the play of light on land and sea; vast horizons stretching for thousands of kilometers, stark desolate scenes and fascinating minutiae, while explorers find pleasure in unforgettable memories of this incredible place.
Some of the don’t-miss sights you’ll find among the sands include long-forgotten towns, colonies of seals and birds, and even rare desert-adapted ungulates.
The Skeleton Coast National Park is split into a northern and southern part, both offering their own attractions.
The south comprises a popular recreation area, while the supremely scenic northern part of the park from Torra Bay to the Kunene on the Angolan border is inaccessible without the services of a licensed and qualified tour operator. No vehicles are allowed in this area, and access is via fly-in safaris only.
While you’re free to explore many parts of the Skeleton Coast on your own, a guided tour makes the trip all the more fascinating thanks to running commentary on the history, geology, and biology of the area.
You can also embark on cultural tours to visit the local Ovahimba people who’ve made the most of these desolate spaces for centuries.
Most guided tours depart from Swakopmund, along the south eastern boundary of the Skeleton Coast National Park. These trips take place in 4×4 vehicles fit to take on these sandy expanses and include an experienced guide to lead the way and help you maximize your visit.
In the south of the park, the 180 km long National West Coast Tourist Recreation Area welcomes day trippers and overnight visitors on self-drive excursions.
Self-drive enthusiasts can enter and exit the park at one of the following gates and may only remain in the park between sunrise and sunset:
You can get permits for the gates when you arrive, or in advance at Windhoek and Swakopmund.
The Ugab River Hiking Trail takes parties of up to 8 people on foot through 50 km of this fascinating area. The three-day trail offers fitness enthusiasts a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spend the night camping in the desert, under unspoiled skies filled with glittering stars.
Scale New Heights
During this hiking trip, you might get the chance to walk along some of the tall dunes for panoramic views of your surroundings, but scenic flights are the best way to get an overall picture of Skeleton Coast National Park.
Flights depart from Swakopmund’s airstrip and traverse the entirety of the park, allowing passengers a chance to enjoy the scenic northern half of the park.
The National West Coast Recreation area is a top attraction for anglers, offering excellent surf and rock fishing, as well as deep sea charters.
Torra Bay and Terrance Bay are the main fishing areas and consistently yield catches of black bream, kob, bronze whaler sharks, tope sharks, cow sharks, spotted gully sharks, smooth-hounds, lesser guitarfish, rays, kabeljou, steenbras, and more.
You need an appropriate license to fish these and any other Namibian waters.
Discover Life Among the Shifting Sands
Although this desolate environment is by no means a big five destination, it still offers occasional sightings of arid-adapted wildlife species. These include oryx, kudu, zebra, giraffe, jackal, and brown hyena.
Specialized safaris also offer the option to view unique desert-adapted rhino, lion, and elephant.
A large colony of Cape Fur seals occupy rocky parts of the coast, especially at Cape Cross and aquatic birds flock in their hundreds to Sandwich bay in the south.
You should also look a little deeper in search of life among the sands, and desert tours can help you find amazing otherworldly spiders, geckos, and other insects.
Although sparse, there is plant life evident among the sands, too, including the weird and ancient welwitschia plants native to this area. Lichens, lithops, ink bushes, succulents, and !nara melons (an unusual melon endemic to the Namib desert) make up the balance of the flora on the Skeleton coast.
Ponder the Passage of Time
While you meander among this arid environment, filled with shipwrecks, skeletons, and little else, your mind will wonder about the history of this place and the fate of the ancient mariners who once found themselves stranded here.
Today, all that remains of these sailors who went in search of distant shores are the rusted relics of their vessels, some buried miles inland over the decades.
It’s mind-boggling to wonder what went through their minds as they reached the safety of land amid terrifying Atlantic storms, only to discover there was no way out.
If you’re lucky enough to overnight at the campsites of Torra Bay, the chalets at Terrace Bay, or in any of the luxury accommodations on offer at Hoanib Skeleton Coast, you’ll have plenty of time to ponder these aspects and many more in tranquil windswept silence.
Explore More on Your Trip to Namibia
Like so many of Namibia’s attractions, the Skeleton Coast will surprise you with the depth of experiences it offers, from an exclusive 100 kilometre hike to the Forbidden Land to scaling new heights that overlook this diverse and desolate landscape.
Browse our travel guide to find out about the other incredible activities and sights on offer in Namibia.
Please Note: The details shared herein were correct at the time of publishing. However, with time some of this information may change. We recommend confirming information with suppliers prior to making final travel arrangements. If you do happen to find an issue with any information we’ve shared here, please feel free to contact us so that we can make the relevant changes.