Road Trip: Namibia’s Skeleton Coast

Road Trip: Namibia’s Skeleton Coast

September 28, 2016

Ever since the end of World War II, commercial air travel has grown in popularity. Each year flights get cheaper, planes get bigger and new airports spring up, and while this marks a fantastic progression for humanity, it also means that it’s now harder than ever to visit parts of the world that haven’t succumbed to tourism. That's part of what makes a road trip along Namibia’s Skeleton Coast so special.

With its extraordinarily unforgiving climate, and haunting landscape of wrecked ships and whale bones, this isn’t a place that appeals to your average traveler. Those that do venture here, though, will encounter some of the most untouched and breathtaking landscapes it's possible to imagine.

Getting There

The Skeleton Coast is located in northwestern Namibia and spans half the country’s coastline. To start a road trip here, fly into Walvis Bay Airport, and travel up to the city of Swakopmund where you can hire a vehicle. Swakopmund itself is a cool place to spend a few days; this old German colonial town boasts some quirky architecture, and plenty of bars and restaurants for evening entertainment. From here, you’ll be able to head north on the coastal route as far as the tiny outpost of Terrace Bay. Beyond that you’ll need to take a "fly-in" safari to explore the northernmost regions, as the road ends 14km north of Terrace Bay. Venturing further, even in the most hardy of 4X4s, is simply not an option.

En Route to the Skeleton Coast

The first thing to see coming out of Swakopmund is the collection of salt ponds just outside the city. Travel here between September and April and you should be able to see all manner of wading birds. From the salt ponds, continue north to Henties Bay, a holiday settlement notable for its beautiful beaches, and excellent driving and walking routes. North of Henties Bay you’ll also get the opportunity to see – and, unfortunately, smell – the huge colony of seals at the Cape Cross Seal Reserve. An hour north of Cape Cross you'll reach Ugabmund Gate, the entrance to the Skeleton Coast Park, where the real adventure can begin.

Skeleton Coast Park

Entry into the park requires a permit, purchased at the gate, and closes at 3pm each day. Once inside, you’ll have to head to the eastern gate at Springbokwasser to exit, or stay overnight at Terrace Bay or Torra Bay (reservations should be made in advance). Aside from that, the park is yours to explore. Expect rolling, brightly-colored sand dunes, rusting shipwrecks, ghost crabs and hungry jackals scavenging for food. And above all, prepare yourself for the isolation. This is a lonely, dream-like journey, made stranger by the mirage effect often created by the swirling fog, sand and salt. It’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but not something to take lightly. Stay safe by bringing spare fuel and plenty of water, and – whatever you do – don’t forget the camera.

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