The Skeleton Coast

The haunting and evocative Skeleton Coast of Namibia

If you drive up the West Coast of Africa from Cape Town, you eventually get to the Skeleton Coast, the northern part of this Atlantic coastline in Namibia. It is south of Angola from the Kunene River, south to the Swakop River, and many people call the entire Namib Desert coast the Skeleton Coast. In fact, this is where the beach meets the desert.

This wild section of African coastline in Namibia was once called “The Land God Made in Anger” by the indigenous San people and also “The Gates of Hell” by the Portuguese explorers. The reason? 

  • The Skeleton Coast is a hive of elemental energies where the cold Benguela current upswells and causes dense ocean fogs – called cassimbo by the Angolans
  • This is where the winds blow constantly from land to sea and rain barely falls 
  • The waves are constantly high and wild, pounding the beaches relentlessly making this region impossible for comfortable habitation
  • It is also impossible to launch or land any boats – sailors of yesteryear had to launch their boats by finding a way through wetlands kilometres long from a very hot desert starting point. 

The Skeleton Coast gets its name from: 

  1. the whale and seal bones that once littered the shore from the whaling industry, and 
  2. the skeletal remains of the shipwrecks caught by offshore rocks and fog. More than a thousand such vessels of various sizes litter the coast, notably the Eduard BohlenBenguela EagleOtaviDunedin Star and Tong Taw.

Desert Adapted Fauna And Flora

Despite the hostile character of the Skeleton Coast, there are quite a number of wild animals and fascinating plants to observe:

  • Rare animals include desert-adapted elephants, rhinos, desert lions, brown hyenas, jackals, giraffes, seals, oryx, kudus, zebras and even cheetahs
  • Intriguing plants depend on the daily fog from the Atlantic Ocean and include welwitschias, !Nara melons, several lithops succulent plants, lichen and pencil bush.

Did you know?

The name “Skeleton Coast” was coined by John Henry Marsh as the title for the book he wrote recounting the shipwreck story of the Dunedin Star. The book was first published in 1944 and has since become so well known that the coast is now generally referred to as Skeleton Coast and is given that official name on most maps today.


  • The Skeleton Coast is 40 km wide and 500 km long – where the cold and unpredictable Atlantic Ocean Benguela Current clashes with the dune and desert landscape
  • The Ovahimba people, who are settling in the far north-eastern parts of Namibia, used the whale bones lying on these beaches for building their huts
  • An exquisite orange lichen field, the largest lichen field in the world is found within the National West Coast Recreation Area near Walvis Bay
  • Rather hike everywhere as the region is pristine – then take time to visit a Himba settlement to appreciate the traditional lifestyle of these originally nomadic people.

Skeleton Coast National Park

The Skeleton Coast is mostly soft sand interspersed with rocky outcrops and most of it was proclaimed within the Skeleton Coast National Park, established in 1971 and reaching a vast 16,845 km2. The park is divided into a northern and southern section: 

  • The southern section stretches from the Ugab River up to Torra Bay. Then, from the entrance gate at Ugabmund and Springbockwater a permit is needed, open to those with 4 wheel drive vehicles. 
  • The northern part from Torra Bay up to the Kunene at the Angolan border is the most beautiful and inaccessible part, only reached with a tour operator holding the concession and qualification. 

The National West Coast Tourist Recreation Area

Find the National West Coast Tourist Recreation Area south of the Skeleton Coast Park. It forms part of the Skeleton Coast Park but is an individual coastal stretch of more than 200 km long from the Ugab mouth south to Swakopmund and Walvis Bay. This area is full of fish so is a paradise for anglers and a biodiversity hotspot.

The Cape Fur Seal also love the fish – find them in huge colonies especially at Cape Cross, one of the largest colonies, an unforgettable experience.

Family Holidays At The Skeleton Coast

Take your family on a breath-taking holiday to a wild, moody, misty and unpredictable coastal desert wilderness – a Skeleton Coast safari is the ultimate thrill for families and friends up the Namibian West Coast!   

Choose exquisite sand dune camps and lodges close to the wild ocean yet protected from the elements. Kids will feel in awe at this epic environment and want to run free in this vast magic place so take them on all the offered outings. Many of the Skeleton Coast camps offer game drives, guided walks and tracking the desert-adapted rhinos, elephants and lions that survive in these parts. 

There are even tours to climb huge sand dunes and sandboard all the way down again. Or to get on a zooty quad bike and explore the region on your own set of 4 wheels. Most Skeleton Coast camps and lodges feature swimming too and staff are kind and keen to make a difference to your kids’ holiday experience. Treat your family to this once in a lifetime experience in the Namibia wilds of the awesome Skeleton Coast – a time to be active and to be quiet, a time to chat and a time to listen. Nature beckons.  

The Best Of The Best Safaris on the Skeleton Coast

Plan a Namibia tour and safari with Voyage2Africa, the African travel experts, and enjoy signature experiences to premier wildlife destinations south of the equator. We bring you thrilling adventures in the infinite spaces of the Skeleton Coast, and in the Skeleton Coast National Park. We offer you the best of the best safari accommodation in and around this rugged coastline, in lavish sand dune lodges, splendid family resorts, eco villas and rustic wild campsites in nature.  Take a look at some beautiful sand dune and desert based camps here for starters. 

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