The waters off Namibia’s northern coast are notorious for their strong currents, treacherous fog and shifting sandbanks, which have seen the demise of many ships, whales and other marine creatures over the centuries. The golden beaches here are littered with bleached whale bones and the skeletal remains of unlucky vessels, so the area became known as the Skeleton Coast or, for the indigenous San people, ‘the land God made in anger’.
Until recently, visits to this remote corner of the country necessitated a light-aircraft flight. While it’s still worth taking a scenic flight over this desolate coastal landscape, we can now offer trips by road in a private vehicle.
Staying in one of just a handful of luxurious lodges in this area, you can inspect the rusting wreckages while also exploring the stark, rocky landscape of the Skeleton Coast National Park. With so few lodges, you’ll barely see any other visitors, adding to the area’s eerie atmosphere.
During your time here, you can take guided trips to see otherworldly rock formations, such as the Ugab Formations, where huge chunks of strata-striped rock lie twisted and eroded in the Ugab riverbed. There are also clay formations at the Hoarusib Canyon, which resemble ruined castles.
Most lodges can arrange for you to visit the area’s wind-sculpted dunes. As you walk, run or drive on them, you might hear a reverberating roar — not the result of nearby lion, but the release of air trapped between the sand grains. For a more adrenaline-filled experience, you could slide down the dunes on a sandboard or speed through them on a quad bike.
Guided game drives take you through wide desert plains and dry river valleys, where desert-adapted elephant, giraffe and hyena roam alongside gemsbok (oryx), kudu, springbok and jackals.
Your guides will tell you about the various survival techniques the animals have learned to adopt in order to live in the harsh environment. Elephant dig in the sand to find hidden moisture from underground rivers. The deep wells they create are then taken advantage of by opportunistic giraffe, lion, hyena and baboons.
There are also a surprising number of plant and insect species, which thrive here thanks to the moisture that rolls in from coastal fog. You might come across lithops — succulent plants with a stone-like appearance, while lichen adds bright pops of red, orange and green to the landscape.
On the Cape Fria headland, you can encounter the resident seal colony. Visit between late November and early January to see them with their pups as hefty males clash blubber over females and territory. Vultures circle overhead to take advantage of any fatalities, while jackals stay on the fringes, looking to pick off the most vulnerable.
It wouldn’t be a visit to the Skeleton Coast without seeing some of the shipwrecks close up. Your lodge can take you out to some of the wreckages, such as the Suiderkus, a relatively modern fishing trawler. It hit ground near Möwe Bay on its maiden voyage in 1976, despite being fitted with a high-tech navigational system.
You can see the decaying frame of its hull, now part-buried in sand and providing a perch for cormorants drying their outspread wings.
Best time to visit the Skeleton Coast
Being a desert with no seasonal rains, the Skeleton Coast sees warm, dry days throughout the year, though nights can get cool and morning fog can make conditions damp and chilly. If you’re combining with a safari in Etosha National Park, the best game sightings are usually between June and October, but birdlife is best from November to April.
Suggested itineraries featuring the Skeleton Coast
Our itineraries will give you suggestions for what is possible when you travel in the Skeleton Coast, and they showcase routes we know work particularly well. Treat them as inspiration, because your trip will be created uniquely by one of our specialists.
Map of the Skeleton Coast
Places & hotels on the map
Our expert guides to exploring the Skeleton Coast
Written by our specialists from their own experiences of visiting the Skeleton Coast, these guides will help you make the most of your time there. We share both our practical recommendations and the best ways to appreciate the Skeleton Coast at its best.
Accommodation choices for the Skeleton Coast
We’ve selected a range of accommodation options for when you visit the Skeleton Coast. Our choices usually come recommended for their character, facilities and service or location. Our specialists always aim to suggest properties that match your preferences.