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Shipwrecks on the Skeleton Coast, Namibia

Over a thousand shipwrecked vessels line the Skeleton Coast in Namibia. This wasteland comes courtesy of the Benguela Current, dense fog and rough surf, the cause of many seamen’s doom.

The most famous wreck – the Dunedin Star – sank here in 1942. And while some of its cargo was salvaged in 1951, much of it remains visible on the beach to this day.

At one time the entire coastline of Namibia was referred to as the Skeleton Coast. Today, however,  it’s just the northern section. The Skeleton Coast National Park covers 6,200 square miles (16,000 km²) of northeastern Namibia. Protecting a third of Namibia’s coastline, the park stretches from the Kunene River in the North 310 miles (500km) south to the Ugab River.

The Skeleton Coast is growing increasingly accessible. Despite common misconceptions, the park landscape is quite diverse ranging from dunes to vast mountain ranges to canyons with rich volcanic rock.


Animals of the Skeleton Cost

Although it appears arid – and deadly – this area has the greatest variety of life in Southern Africa.

Namibia’s famous desert elephant calls this area home – these unique creatures are known to surf sand dunes like snow-boarders. Other popular species include the black rhino, lion, cheetah, giraffe, gemsbok, zebra and springbok.

Turtles over 3 feet (1m) in length frequent the mouth of the Kunene River. Nile soft-shelled turtles, with their extra long necks are also seen here (watch out, though, they can be aggressive!).

Credit: Jenny Varley
Credit: Jenny Varley

Skeleton National Park Highlights

There are two unique areas of the park – differentiated by how you get there. The southern section is available in 4×4 vehicles, while the northern area is available for use exclusively by high-end lodges.

There’s only one way to get there – by plane!

Southern Section

Open to the public, the southern area of the park runs between the Ugab and Hoanib rivers. South African fishermen frequent this area, which is known  for its superb fishing. Come from November to March and you’ll see anglers lining the coast.

Day visitors in 4×4 vehicles are allowed in the park between sunrise and sunset. Permits are available at two entry gates (the Ugab River in the south and Springbokwasser in the east).

Credit: 5lab
Credit: 5lab

Northern Section

Between the Hoanib and Kunene rivers, the northern part of the park is only accessible by light aircraft (per government regulations).

If you’ve got the time and money, visiting the Skeleton Coast this way is well worth it. It’s full of remarkable sites and – for now, anyways – there’s hardly anyone else around. You’ll stay at a secluded, exclusive camp surrounded by unique flana and flora in this wild and remote area of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Popular activities include:

  • Viewing shipwrecks from the air
  • Listening for the “roaring dunes” – the dune produce a strange acoustic effect
  • Tracking the desert black rhino in Damaraland
  • Bird watching
  • Full day safaris
  • Visiting a Himba Village
  • Walking along the windswept shores
  • Seeing the elusive desert elephant surf down the sand dunes

Of course, this exclusivity comes at a price: fly-in safari’s start at about $6,500 per person.

When To Go

The Skelton Coast is remarkable anytime of year because of the temperate climate. However, fishing is best in the Namibian summer, from November – March.


With temperatures ranging from 44-95°F (7-35°C), you’ll want to pack layers, and plenty of sunscreen.

Getting There & Around

The southern part of the Skeleton Coast is accessibly by 4×4 (they are available for hire out of Windhoek). The only way to get into the north is by small aircraft book through a safari company.

Average Costs

Safari all inclusive packages start at $6500.


  • Go on an ecological walk and explore the desert wildlife.
  • Have you camera read to catch photos of the elusive desert elephant surfing (no one will believe you otherwise!).
  • Prepare to be pampered if you’re on a fly-in safari, you’ll experience desert luxury at it’s best.


  • You may find a semiprecious stone in the park – but be sure you don’t take it with you.
  • Forget recovery equipment if you’re driving 4×4 – the sand is deep!
  • Forget sunscreen. The desert sun can be brutal.

Fun Facts

  • The Portuguese called the Skeleton Coast the ‘Gates of Hell’.
  • 247 species of birds call this area home.
  • Evidence from the 1000+ shipwrecks still litters the beaches.

Feature Image Credit Sara&Joachim

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