The Skeleton Coast is one of the most infamous stretches of coastline along the west coast of Africa - it receives its name from the rusting skeletons of hundreds of ships that met their doom in the heavy fog and rocks offshore. The sun-bleached bones of whales and seals also haunt the expanse of sand and waves; relics from the days of extensive whale hunting.
Part of the Namib Desert, it is found along the northern part of the Atlantic Coast of Namibia, and much of the area is covered by the Skeleton Coast National Park.
Sand rivers that bisect the Namib Desert reach the sea in several places along this coast, giving the end point of green, lush ribbons that randomly streak the land. These would have been a shipwrecked sailor’s only hope of living if they had found themselves on the stark beach of the Skeleton Coast. Supporting whole ecosystems, the rivers that are running underground in these areas are sometimes forced out of the sand by impermeable rock, giving valuable sources of water that are important to many different animals living in the area.
Animals that are supported include desert elephant and black rhino, as well as gemsbok (oryx), kudu, springbok, steenbok, jackals, genets and small wild cats. The brown hyena is also common in these areas, although it is hard to see. Sometimes giraffe, zebra, lion and cheetah will appear, with the predators using the valleys as hunting grounds. In the past the lions strayed onto the beach to hunt seals, but lions haven’t been seen on the beach for many years.
Beside the sea, highly specialised vegetation such as lithops and lichen thrive on the moisture on the air, giving an extremely eye-pleasing variety of colours on the ground. To the south, brown and red gravel plains are covered in lichen gardens; a stunning array of colours including reds, oranges, vivid greens, dark browns, greys and blacks that will captivates the eye. These lichens are not actually plants, but a symbiotic partnership of algae and fungi, the latter acting as a foundation upon which algae can grown on - whilst algae serves as an easy food supply for the fungi. In the desert they can take on the form of plants, or just cover the gravel, whilst on the beaches they coat the sand.
Damp early mornings are the best time to look at these fields, as the lichen will be moist and lively; for those who want to see them at their best during the day, stopping and pouring some water over a patch will bring about a miraculous transformation as the seemingly flat flakes uncurl and come to life before your eyes! An alien planet almost...
The gemsbok (oryx) has very limited sources of water from either the scarce rivers or by collecting moisture in their nostrils from the sea fog which comes inland overnight and settles on the land. Many of the reptiles and insects collect moisture the same way.
Other highlights of this area include the large seal colony at Cape Fria - birthing time is late November to early January when the great, smelly mass of seals can be seen fighting, fishing and rearing their pups at close quarters. Jackal hang around on the fringes with vultures circling vicariously overhead.
Enormous sanddunes are to the north of the coast which include the Roaring Dunes and the dunes provide many hours of entertainment in a 4x4 Landrover as the photograph on the Destinations page shows.
There are only two small, exclusive camps in this area and the best way to experience this unique landscape is to take a 4 day fly-in safari.
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Our Recommended Tours
Embark on a mobile safari to explore the Skeleton Coast, Damaraland and Kaokoland, spotting desert elephant and meeting the Ovahimba while discovering the Kunene River and Epupa Falls.
A world unlike any that you may have seen before.
Skeleton Coast, Damaraland, Kaokoland in Namibia - 12 days/11 nights
A fun and affordable, photographic adventure in Namibia taking in Damaraland, Etosha National Park, Kalahari, Skeleton Coast, Sossusvlei, Swakopmund and Windhoek. Customised vehicles with professional guide and expert in photography.
Spectacular scenery with incredible color and light.
Highlights of Namibia - 10 days/9 nights
One of the most inhospitable and hauntingly beautiful places, the Skeleton Coast in Namibia is unforgettable and is home to seal colonies, penguins and desert adapted hyaena.
Rugged, harsh and delicately balanced.
Skeleton Coast, Namibia - 5 days/4 nights