The Skeleton Coast National Park is a 40 km wide and 500 km long coastal stretch in a hostile but fascinating area. Here the cold and unpredictable Benguela Current of the Atlantic Ocean clashes with the dune and desert landscape of north-western Namibia.
This area has earned its name, by claiming both stranded ships and whales in the unforgiving stormy seas and unpredictable currents. The skeletons of both animals and ships can be found strewn across the very northern region of the park, in great numbers. The Ovahimba tribe who have managed to survive in this land, have used the whale bones for building their huts for centuries.
Despite the hostile character of the coast, there are quite a number of wild animals to observe and plants that are incredibly adapted to the rainless area. All that survives there depend solely on the daily fog from the Atlantic Ocean as a source of water.
Even though all the evidence points to an incredibly unwelcoming and desolate area, scores of tourists make the long journey there, seemingly to experience just that. 480 km from Windhoek Airport to the southern border of the park, and even an additional charter flight to get to the area to be able to view the wrecks, it is still regarded as worth the trek.
The park can essentially be divided into two sections. The Northern part is a wilder, desolate area that is almost inaccessible yet home to the famous beach of wrecks. And the southern, where one can venture by road, visit the year-round seal colony, and go off the beaten track.
Either way, it is easy to understand why The Skeleton Coast Park, is now acknowledged as one of Namibia’s greatest treasures, in that it is one of the world’s last great wildernesses
As many areas do not have an official fence or gate, please make sure to check and obtain permits needed for the park while in Windhoek (unless you have booked a private guided safari across the country in which case they will have taken care of this for you)
Ministry of Environment and Tourism permits can only be obtained ‘on the ground’ in Namibia – you can’t buy them over the phone prior to arrival.
MET permit costs (all prices SADC)
Permits cost N$60 a person plus N$10 a vehicle a day for the Skeleton Coast National Park.
This Skeleton Coast National Park is home to a variety of marine wildlife. Cape-fur seals are abundant. The most accessible colony is at Cape Cross, outside the park to the south. Up to 100,000 animals can be seen here at any time. Wooden boardwalks make for easy viewing and vantage points. Be prepared for an overpowering stench and high noise levels.
It is not unusual to see the otherwise very shy, brown hyena searching for beached seal carcasses. It is also worth looking out into the sea for a glimpse of the rare Heaviside dolphins.
The Skeleton Coast is a rewarding birding destination. Marine birds, as well as wetland birds that inhabit the river deltas, are the speciality here.
The Skeleton Coast National Park can be visited year-round. The seal colonies are always present and other wildlife is hit-and-miss throughout the year.
April and May are the least favourable months in this northern park in Namibia. It tends to be thick with its infamous fog and cold winds and animals usually take cover. November to April is the summer season – temperatures tend to be higher with less fog.
Wildlife in the area, other than the fur seal, is incredibly rare. So the activities available are generally designed to take in the legendary shipwrecked coastline and landscape in the far north.
Getting to that specific stretch of coast, however, is almost inaccessible by road. It is typically only be reached by a charter plane. This flight, otherwise known as a fly-in safari, will give you the famous aerial view of the whale and ship's bone-strewn coast.
Those booked into the luxury lodges in the north though, will have access to it. The lodges will generally have a private guide in a 4x4 to take you there, once flying into the area.
For self-driving travellers, they will only be able to access the very southern regions of the park. While this does mean missing out on the shipwrecks themselves, there is still much to take in. Other than getting a glimpse at the rugged coast, they will also be able to have an up-close encounter with the Cape Fur Seals at Cape Cross. These areas also have a fantastic reputation for being superb fishing spots and birders will equally not be disappointed.
Accommodations that one finds in the Skeleton Coast National Park, are incredible in the way that they mirror their surroundings. From luxury tented camps the colour of the sand, to wind-swept self-catering and B&B lodgings typical of the seaside. Torra, Terrace and Mowe Bays respectively, are tiny inhabited villages where one would find these.
Travellers will also find many designated camping spots available, dotted across the open stretch of wilderness. Probably the most incredible accommodation far in the northern territory is a 5-star exclusive lodge built to look just like a shipwreck!