Situated in the remote northwestern corner of Namibia, the Skeleton Coast and the adjoining Kaokoveld are among the most scenic areas of southern Africa. It is home of the Himba and a sanctuary to desert-dwelling elephant and black rhino. An open-air art gallery can be viewed at Twyfelfontein, which is considered to be one of the largest collection of rock engravings in Africa and is also home to elephant, lion and rhino.
The windswept dunes and flat plains give way in places to rugged canyons with walls of richly coloured volcanic rock and extensive mountain ranges. Elephants are animals that you would least expect to find here, but they have become specially adapted to their desert home and have even been filmed surfing down sand dunes. Brown hyenas patrol the shoreline and the ubiquitous black-backed jackal maintains a constant lookout for any opportunities. This strange land is worth a visit for the intrepid explorer.
Best times to visit
The coast is often blanketed in fog, mostly in winter. Summers are sunny, although the annual average temperature is low and rain is rare. Very hot summers are recorded in the Kaokoveld. Winter days are warm, but evenings are chilly and the east wind brings higher temperatures. Most rain occurs between January and March with cooler temperatures between May to August.
The arid Skeleton Coast environment is within the northern reaches of the Namib Desert. The cold sea breeze caused by the Benguela Current helps to moderate temperatures here and also brings life-sustaining moisture to the desert from the coast. Most mornings, the cool ocean mist collides with the hotter desert air producing a moist coastal fog that envelops the coastline, creating a sense of mystery and impenetrability as well as providing precious moisture for the inhabitants of this area.
This area is not teeming with big game species, but rather offers a cultural journey exploring the smaller desert wonders. Freshwater springs permeate through the barren sands to create rare oases in the desert that sustain pockets of wildlife. Springbok, gemsbok (oryx), the rare desert-adapted elephant, brown hyaena, black-backed jackal, and occasionally even lion and cheetah enter this rugged domain. The famous Cape fur seals are present in their thousands on the beaches, attracting predators as well.
In the extreme and remote north of Namibia, mountains of largely folded metamorphic rock are cut through by rivers, including the Kunene River that forms the border between Namibia and Angola. In rainy years, the large Marienfluss and Hartmann's valleys become grassy expanses, but generally their flat topographies are covered by sand broken only by a few tough grasses, shrubs and mysterious 'fairy circles'. In this isolated region, the Himba people continue their nomadic, traditional way of life.
The reliable, yet minimalist source of water here is the famous Namibian fog created when the icy Atlantic water meets the warm air of the Skeleton Coast. This moisture drifts far inland along the river valleys and is eagerly harvested by plants and animals before the sun burns off the remnants.
Game viewing in this area is limited to herds of gemsbok, springbok and Hartmann's mountain zebra. The Kunene River has a large population of Nile crocodiles, an anomaly in a desert. Burchell's Courser and Benguela Long-billed Lark are among the characteristic bird species to be found in this area. There are also a number of endemic reptiles, the desert chameleon being a particular specialty.