The Skeleton Coast of Namibia, doesn’t that sound impressive? This rugged coastal strip in the north of Namibia is named after the many ships that have stranded on the cliffs over the centuries. If the crew already survived the shipwreck, the chances were high that they wouldn’t survive this rugged area anyway. The Skeleton Coast National Park is a fascinating coastal strip with high sand dunes, empty beaches, mysterious shipwrecks and Africa’s largest seal colony. A road trip through this national park is absolutely a must on your Namibia travel itinerary! We will tell you all about in, including a map of the Skeleton Coast o find all the shipwrecks.
How to get to the Skeleton Coast in Namibia?
Stranding on the Skeleton Coast in the past wasn’t the best thing to survive, but nowadays the coast is much better accessible. The northern part of the coastal strip is part of the Skeleton Coast National Park. The park has two entrances: the Springbokwasser Gate and the Ugab River Gate. The Springbokwasser Gate is located on the C39 from Damaraland; the Ugab River Gate is in the south on the coast. From there the C34 will eventually lead you to Swakopmund via Hentiesbaai.
At the gate you pay the usual park entrance fee of 80 Namibian dollars per person and 10 Namibian dollars per vehicle for a 24-hour permit. Please note that to mention at the gate whether you only purchase a transit permit or a permit for an overnight stay. The prices above are for a permit with an overnight stay (you can read more about the accommodation options below!). Please mind that you will not get a permit for an overnight stay easily if you have not actually booked an overnight stay. The park guard at the gate will ask you about it. We did not have a booking, but luckily we got a permit anyways, as the park guard knew it was quiet at the campsite in January and we would be able to camp there without a booking.
There is only little traffic along the Skeleton Coast. So there is no public transport and hitchhiking is not recommended. The Skeleton Coast can therefore only visit you on an organized tour or – much better – with your own transport.
What do you need?
The roads in the park and at the southern part of the Skeleton Coast as well are easy to drive. A 4WD is not really necessary here. Nice detail: in the southern part, so below the Ugab River Gate, there are mainly salt roads! Salt roads are very smooth, so easy to drive, but beware: they can become very slippery the few times a year it rains in Namibia.
There is not much traffic and only little cell reception along the Skeleton Coast. Make sure you have enough spare parts for the car, water and food with you. As there is only little traffic the Skeleton Coast is even more impressive, but it also means that you really don’t want to have a car breakdown here. And unfortunately, we speak from experience. The battery of our Toyota Hillux died right next to one of the shipwrecks along the coast. How dramatic, dont you think? Although we had not seen any other traffic that day, we were lucky that already after one hour someone passed by.
Do you want to go even further north than Terrace Bay? That requires a lot of preparation and can only be booked with a local organization.
Skeleton Coast accommodation: camping and chalets
Do you want to fall asleep with the murmur of the ocean? Then add an overnight stay to your road trip along the Skeleton Coast! There are two possibilities to spend the night in the national park. Terrace Bay Resort has chalets and double rooms, but even more exciting to us was camping on the beach of Torra Bay. The campsite is only open in December and January. Nobody could explain us why. In December, the campsite can get relatively busy because of the Namibian holidays, but in January the campsite was quite deserted.
The site seems pretty basic, but it has electricity on the spots, free wifi at the reception, a small shop, running water and warm showers from 4 pm. The place mainly attracts fishermen. We didn’t come here to fish, but the vastness of the Skeleton Coast overwhelm us and to take a deep in the freezing ocean with the seals. A campfire to cook our meal at the beach only added to this feeling.
You book both Torra Bay and Terrace Bay via the NWR. For the campsite, we paid 230 Namibian dollars per person and 55 Namibian dollars for electricity.
The seals and shipwrecks of the Skeleton Coast (+ map)
The highlight of the Skeleton Coast is the fascinating environment. From the sand dunes that run to the coast in the north, to the salt plains more in the south. It is an almost unearthly landscape! The beaches are deserted and the ocean invites you to take a dive, but the water here is ice and ice cold. We gave it a try and went into the sea. Together with a seal, we dived into the waves. Extremely cold, but so cool!
The coastal strip is said to be a great place to fish. The Skeleton Coast is mainly visited for this reason, so you will spot many trucks with huge rods driving around. Not our cup of tea, so we skipped this activity.
But whoever goes to the Skeleton Coast, obviously wants to see some of those mysterious shipwrecks stranded here on the coast. Unfortunately, many shipwrecks are not accessible, or they simply have perished through time. On the map below we marked three shipwrecks: the South West Sea, the Winston and the Zeila. These wrecks are easy accessible from the C34 and are still partly visible. The shipwrecks are clearly indicated from the C34 with signs.
From the north you will first drive past the South West Sea, about 15 kilometers north of the Ugab River Gate. Search online for photos of the wreck and compare it with ours from January 2019 in this article. You will see clearly that the sea and the beach are slowly devouring the ship. Already in 2019 little of it was lift, if you compare it with the impressive photos from the past. There were also whale bones near the shipwreck during our visit, so cool!
There is even less left of the Winston. Unfortunately, there are only a few loose fragments along the coast.
How different is the Zeila, just south of Hentiesbaai. The Zeila stranded on the Skeleton Coast not so long ago – on August 25, 2008 to be exact. The ship is almost completely intact and a must for a short photo stop. As the ship is located near the city of Hentiesbaai and is so well preserved, you will also see many people here, for the first since your road trip along the Skeleton Coast. Sellers of dull souvenirs though.
A final attraction on your road trip along the Skeleton Coast to the south is the seal colony at Cape Cross. There are many seal colonies in Namibia, but not one of them is as big as Cape Cross. With 100,000 seals, this is the largest in the whole of Africa. The penetrating smell and the immense noise certainly are impressive. We saw hundreds of baby seals crawling along the coast in January. It is mpressive to see how a wave against the coast could knock away dozens of baby seals, who then had to make another attempt to get on land.
Cape Cross is about 130 kilometers north of Swakopmund. The entrance fee is – as in all national parks – 80 Namibian dollars per person and 10 Namibian dollars for your vehicle. You can park you car close to the colony and then walk over wooden platforms with a fence over, through and between the seals.