April 15, 2024 | Allison Robertson

The Skeleton Coast, Namibia


The Deadliest Shoreline on the Planet

Where the Atlantic Ocean meets the desert in Namibia, lies one of the most dangerous places on Earth: The Skeleton Coast.

woman on sand dunes and skeletons split image

The Skeleton Coast

From shark infested waters and extreme ocean currents to intense climate conditions and terrifying land predators, there’s good reason why the coastline is named what it is.

Skeleton CoastSmelov, Shutterstock

The Land God Made in Anger

The Skeleton Coast is a 976-mile-long coast that stretches between the Kunene River and the Swakop River in Namibia. It is known by the locals as “The Land God Made in Anger.”

Kunene RiverPavel Špindler, CC BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

The Gates of Hell

Portuguese explorers dubbed the coastline as, “The Gates of Hell”, when it was first discovered in the 15th century.

Today, it is known as the Skeleton Coast—and for good reason.

Skeleton coastmuratart, Shutterstock

Skeletons

The name “Skeleton Coast” comes from the thousands of skeletal remains of whales, seals, turtles, and elephants scattered along the coastline that have been piling up for centuries.

Skeleton Coast in Namibia in Africamaramade, Shutterstock

A Dangerous Place

The Skeleton Coast is where rough seas and rough deserts meet—creating a treacherous climate all around. In fact, it has been named one of the deadliest places in the world.

Skeleton Coast, NamibiaDomenico Convertini, Flickr

The Benguela Current

The Benguela Current, a broad northward flowing ocean current, is extremely strong, and it flows right next to the Skeleton Coast. This current is so powerful it would instantly sweep any swimmer 100-miles away from shore.

Skeleton Coast currentLukas Bischoff Photograph, Shutterstock

Thick Fog

Along with the powerful current, this stretch of the ocean is often covered in a thick fog, making visibility almost impossible. In fact, many vessels are warned to steer clear of the surrounding area completely.

fog rolling over the desert landscape of Skeleton coastKertu, Shutterstock

Shark Infested Waters

To make matters worse, the terrifying waters are also filled with 11 species of sharks that patrol the coastline, looking for prey that gets stuck in the current.

Great White SharkJsegalexplore, Shutterstock

Shipwrecks

The unpredictable current, plus the impossible fog is responsible for thousands of shipwrecks that also scatter along Skeleton Coast—adding to its name.

Namib Skeleton Coast Park, NamibiaJoachim Huber, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Years of Shipwrecks

From wooden galleons hundreds of years old to modern steel-hulled vessels, the coastline holds ships from every era.

Skeleton CoastTxanbelin, Shutterstock

Shipwreck Survivors

If any person were to survive the initial shipwreck in the shark infested waters, it is said that they don’t make it far once they reach land—meaning the coastline isn’t just littered with animal bones, but human bones as well.

Skeleton CoastLukas Bischoff Photograph, Shutterstock

Desert Climate

Once on land, survivors may find themselves among sand dunes towering behind the ocean for as far as the eye could see. The climate is scorching, and the harsh desert surroundings is home to terrifying predators like lions and hyenas.

Lion at Skeleton CoastThomas Retterath, Shutterstock

An Inhospitable Environment

With the harsh climate—near constant winds, minimal rain, dense fog, and high temperatures—the area is known to be highly inhospitable.

Skeleton coastmuratart, Shutterstock

An Unknown Shipwreck

One particular grisly story surrounds the wreck of an unknown ship that washed up on Skeleton Coast back in 1860.

Skeleton CoastStephanie Periquet, Shutterstock

Headless Skeletons

The shipwreck was not found until 83 later, in 1943. The crew’s headless skeletons were buried in the sand, along with a weathered stone slab that read: “I am proceeding to a river 60 miles north, and should anyone find this and follow me, God will help him.”

Skeleton Coast of NamibiaJ Roode, Shutterstock

The Mystery Remains

To this day, it’s a mystery who left the message, and the inscribers remains have never been found. This is only one of thousands of unexplained shipwrecks off of Skeleton Coast.

skeleton coast shipwreckPete Niesen, Shutterstock

The Sand Dunes

The desert sand dunes that meet the ocean tower a whopping 300 feet, and stretch for miles in every direction—an intriguing sight that is rarely seen anywhere else in the world.

Skeleton Coast, NamibiaDimitri Lisitsyn, Shutterstock

Wildlife

And although the area is deemed inhospitable for humans, there are several wildlife species that call it home, including lions who stalk seals along the coastline.

seals  at Skeleton CoastMaurizio De Mattei, Shutterstock

Wildlife Loss

The animal graveyard that scatters the coastline is largely due to the circle of life. Lions, hyenas and other predators often find elephants wading along the shoreline, and turtles who make it to shore but cannot get back out to sea.

Elephant at Skeleton CoastHenk Bogaard, Shutterstock

Skeleton Coast National Park

In 1971, Namibia declared 16,000 square kilometers (6,200 square miles) Skeleton Coast National Park, with the northern half of the park designated as wilderness area.

Skeleton coast parkGunter Nuyts, Shutterstock

Seal Colony

There is a large seal colony at Cape Fria—an area only accessible by air due to its remote location. There is said to be about 250,000 Cape fur seals that can be seen there daily.

seal colonies at Skeleton CoastLouieLea, Shutterstock

Inland Wildlife

Further inland, past the towering sand dunes, you’ll find riverbeds that are home to baboons, giraffes, lions, black rhinoceros, spotted and brown hyena, as well as springbok.

Springbok at Skeleton CoastBrian Stuart Nel, Shutterstock

Human Life

Though the Skeleton Coast is largely barren desert, is it not completely uninhabited. One particular indigenous tribe has adapted to the harsh climate, and continues to thrive among the deadly predators.

Skeleton CoastRobert Harding Video, Shutterstock

The OvaHimba Tribe

The Himba tribe, which has a population of around 50,000 live in the northern part of Namibia, and are said to use the large whale bones to build their dwellings, and gather parts of shipwrecks to make tools.

Himba tribe villageRepina Valeriya, Shutterstock

Tourism

As with most of the coolest places on Earth, tourism has found a way in to Skeleton Coast, which includes safaris, ATV explorations, aircraft tours, and even surfing expeditions.

fishing in the ocean at  Skeleton CoastMichelle54, Shutterstock

Skeleton Coast Park

Day visitors are welcome at Skeleton Coast Park, but with restrictions. There are many areas where people are not permitted to go, and no one is allowed in the park after dark.

Skeleton coast parkGunter Nuyts, Shutterstock

Guided Tours

The most interesting parts of Skeleton Coast—where you’ll find the majority of the skeletons and shipwrecks—can only be seen through guided tours, and usually by aircraft.

small plane at Skeleton CoastBrian Stuart Nel, Shutterstock

The Edge of the World

Many people refer to the Skeleton Coast as the mythical “end of the Earth,” and most shipping companies do not allow their vessels to even go near this “no-go zone.”

Skeleton CoastMichelle54, Shutterstock

Final Thoughts

Skeleton Coast is known as one of the most dangerous places in the world due to several factors, including treacherous waters, intense climate conditions, high concentration of predators, and unforgiving ocean currents.

Even so, extreme tourism allows people the adventure of a lifetime.

car at Skeleton Coast ParkGunter Nuyts, Shutterstock

Sources: 1, 2, 3


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