Skeleton Coast – Namibia Desert

The Skeleton Coast extends from the Ugab River in the south, 500 km to the Kunene River in the north. The attraction of this remote area lies essentially in the colour, changing moods and untouched landscapes. The climatic conditions are not necessarily what you would expect in a desert; due to dense morning fog from the cold Benguela current it can be damp at dawn, but soon warms up to the intense heat of a desert. Many shipwrecks give it an aura of mystery and impenetrability.

Springbok, oryx, ostrich, hyena and ostrich are fairly common, while Namibia’s famous desert elephant, black rhino, lion and giraffe are found in the dry river beds. Visitors to the Skeleton Coast Park are only allowed in the park between sunrise and sunset, and permits are available at the two entry gates. The ecologically sensitive area north of Terrace Bay is inaccessible to the general public and entrance to this area is restricted to a few fly-in safaris operators. It’s best to visit the Skeleton Coast Park either on one of the fly-in safaris to the Skeleton Coast or alternatively take a scenic flight from Swakopmund.


Ugabmund Gate (Ugab River Gate) of the Skeleton Coast National Park; note the skulls and crossbones in the gate. Namibia has declared the 16,000 square kilometres (6,200 sq. mi) Skeleton Coast National Park over much of the area, from the Ugab River to the Kunene. The northern half of the park is a designated wilderness area. Notable features are the clay castles of the Hoarusib River, the Agate Mountain salt pans and the large seal colony at Cape Fria. The remainder of the coast is the National West Coast Recreation Area. The national park would be part of the proposed Iona – Skeleton Coast Trans-frontier Conservation Area.

The coast has been the subject of a number of wildlife documentaries, particularly concerning adaptations to extreme aridity, including the 1965 National Geographic documentary Survivors of the Skeleton Coast. Many of the plant and insect species of the sand dune systems depend on the thick sea fogs which engulf the coast for their moisture and windblown detritus from the interior as food. The desert bird assemblages have been studied in terms of their thermoregulation, colouration, breeding strategies and nomadism.

The riverbeds further inland are home to baboons, giraffes, lions, black rhinoceros, spotted and brown hyena, as well as springbok. The animals get most of their water from wells dug by the baboons or elephants. The black rhinoceros population was the main reason why the CBBC show Serious Desert was filmed in the region.