Skeleton Coast Trails:
Skeleton Coast Overview
The name Skeleton Coast seems rosy only in the context of what other words have been used to describe this stretch where the Atlantic Ocean meets southwestern Africa and the Namib Desert. Portuguese sailors—who no doubt suffered plenty of shipwrecks along this rugged coastline—dubbed it the "Gates of Hell," while the bushmen of the Namibian interior called it "The Land Gods Made in Anger." And the landscape today bears witness to that stark nomenclature; the remains of ships and large animals litter the sands. But don't let this spook you. The Skeleton Coast is one of Africa's most dynamic environments, which says a lot. The waves of the Atlantic literally crash into a vast desert that's 976 miles long and 25 miles wide, host to a surprising array of wildlife, including giraffes, elephants, lions, cheetahs, black rhinos, jackals, antelopes, zebras, hyenas, seals, penguins, flamingos, and ostriches.
That list of residents may inspire thoughts of a safari. But this landscape will exceed expectation. The near-golden sand and constantly shifting dunes make for exquisite photo subjects. Some dunes reach up to 800 feet in height and stretch for more than 20 miles, with colors shifting from yellow to gray to red. Heavy coastal fog, formed by the Benguela Current slamming into the warm desert, envelops the coastline and drifts as much as 50 miles inland, reinforcing the sense of isolation. Aurally, things are also in constant shift, with the sand emitting sounds that range from musical to thundering. Sit on a sand dune in the right spot, scoot gently down, and you can create a cacophony.
In addition to exploring the sand dunes and shipwrecks littering the coast or heading out on a 4x4 safari, the park also boasts great fishing, from snagging a bronze whaler shark on the coast to heading inland to try your luck on the Ugab and Hoanib Rivers.
The Skeleton Coast was once officially just a 300-mile stretch of Skeleton Coast National Park, but in early 2011, the government expanded the park to encompass the entire coastline of Namibia. The expansion aimed to both encourage tourism and protect native animals whose numbers have dwindled because of poaching. This commitment is not posturing—the government strictly regulates access to the park. As such, a guided trip may be the best option. Companies like Skeleton Coast Safaris have packages that include local flights, Land Rover explorations, and fully equipped tented camps. The company is owned and operated by the children of Louw Schoeman, one of Namibia's ecotourism pioneers and an attorney and conservationist who advocated for the creation of the park. Other operators can cater to specific interests like fishing or arrange for an aerial tour of the coast—a fantastic way to take in the collage of dunes, canyons, mountains, and shipwrecks.
If you yearn for a bit more independence, sign up for a safari self-drive tour with an outfitter like Safari Drive. Explore on your own in a fully equipped Land Rover while the company takes care of your flights, itinerary, camping equipment and/or hotels, park reservations, and safety concerns on the road.
Budget-minded travelers do have options here. Ck Cck ck The weather is typically 43 to 97 degrees year-round, so there's no off-season in which discounted rates are available. But the nearby Namibian capital of Windhoek does have a few backpacker-friendly hostel accommodations, and all hotels can help you locate day trips into the desert. Full DIYers, meanwhile, can consider renting a 4x4 and exploring on their own. Namibia Wildlife Resorts, which runs the campsites and lodges inside the park, charges just over $10 U.S. to enter the park. There are a few bare-bones accommodations that cater to fishermen (Torra Bay Campsite and Terrace Bay Restcamp), while the mid-range Cape Cross Lodge is near the beach and a neighboring seal colony. And the upmarket Skeleton Coast Camp demonstrates how plush desert living can be—provided you fly in.