Review: Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp (Namibia)
Wednesday newsletters always feature a hotel or flight review.
Last November, I enjoyed a fabulous holiday in Namibia. You can read my trip reports here:
- Review: Concorde Room at London Heathrow Airport
- Review: British Airways Boeing 777 First Class from London to Johannesburg
- Review: Airlink E190 Business Class from Johannesburg to Windhoek
- Review: &Beyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge
- Review: Zannier Hotels Sonop
- Review: Zannier Hotels Omaanda
- Review: Little Kulala by Wilderness Safaris
- Review: Damaraland Camp by Wilderness Safaris
- Review: Hoanib Skeleton Coast by Wilderness Safaris (today)
- Review: Onguma The Fort (Etosha National Park)
Today: Review of Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp by Wilderness Safaris (Namibia)
- Location: Google maps
- Hotel website: Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp by Wilderness Safaris
Managed by Wilderness Safaris, Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp occupies a glorious spot in a remote corner of one of Earth’s last untouched wildernesses: the Namib Desert’s famed Kaokoveld, an otherworldly and remote landscape hewn over the ages into immense dunes and rocky mountains. The lodge’s eight luxury tented suites peak like whitecaps on an ocean of sand, looking out on a wide, rugged valley that slopes down to the usually dry Hoanib River. Highlights include a spectacular dry-and-fly excursion to the Skeleton Coast and dining under impossibly starry skies, perhaps at the firepit as a jackal cries or a lion roars, punctuating the stillness of the inky night. The property also doubles as a center for research and conservation of the desert-adapted predators of this harsh region: the desert-adapted lion and brown hyaena.
Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp features in my top 10 lists of the best hotels in Namibia and the best desert lodges in the world.
Have you ever stayed at Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp? If so, what was your experience? Leave a comment.
In this review (more info and photos below my Youtube clip & slideshow):
- Pros & things I like
- Cons & things to know
- My verdict
- Tips for future guests & save money
- Best time to visit
- How to get there
PROS & THINGS I LIKE
- Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp is located in a private concession along the Skeleton Coast inside the Namib, the oldest desert on earth. Stretching over thousands of miles, the endless dunes of the Namib span the entire the length of Namibia, from the Uniab River in the north to the town of Luderitz in the south. The Skeleton Coast lies in between; it’s a hostile but fascinating wilderness area where the cold and unpredictable Benguela Current of the Atlantic Ocean clashes with a spectacular dune and desert landscape. The name Skeleton Coast derived most probably from the huge numbers of stranded whales that lost their life here and whose skeletons could be seen all over the place. The coast is also dotted with shipwrecks, as numerous ships have stranded here due to the thick fog, the rough sea, unpredictable currents and stormy winds. Large parts of the Skeleton Coast are protected as a National Park.
- Located roughly 50 km (30 mi) from the shoreline, Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp enjoys a spectacular setting in the otherworldly landscape of the Namib Desert’s famed Kaokoveld. Surrounded by rust-colored crags and vast gravel plains, the camp looks out over a small waterhole (often visited by desert adapted elephants) and a wide, rugged valley that slopes down to the Hoanib River. This river bed is dry most of the time (the river only flows during rare rains which might hit the area every few years) but the region’s subterranean water as well as some springs ensure that vegetation grows along the river banks, creating a lush oasis that runs as a green line through the stark desert landscape. The scenery is at its most beautiful and surreal in the early morning hours when the rocks are blanketed by a layer of fog created by the cold Benguela Current, which only lifts as the desert warms up during the day.
- Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp is one of the most remotely located lodges on earth (which is part of its appeal). The camp is only accessible by light aircraft and the transfers are taken care of by Wilderness Safaris through its partner Wilderness Air. Wilderness Air began operating in 1991, with one aircraft based in Botswana servicing two camps in the Okavango Delta. Today, Wilderness Air is also based in Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, operating over 26 aircraft and employing over 40 pilots. Throughout its time, it has maintained a reputation for steadfast, safe operations. For most guests, the trip to Hoanib Skeleton Coast will start at Wilderness’ airstrip near its Doro Nawas lodge in Damaraland (although guests can be flown in from other areas in Namibia as well). The 40 minute flight from Doro Nawas to Hoanib skeleton Coast is a sightseeing adventure in itself, with gorgeous views of Damarand’s majestic and cinematic landscape.
- Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp’s pale olive, luxury tented pavilions peak like whitecaps on an ocean of sand. There are nine tents in total: eight accommodations (more on that below) and one double canvas structure housing the public facilities. The latter features a large lounge area with several linnen sofas arranged around coffee tables and an open fire place where guests can relax, unwind, and enjoy the incredible views. Behind the lounge area is a lovely bar, where afternoon tea is laid out (prior to the evening activities) and pre- or post-dinner drinks are served. Next to the lounge area is a light-filled, minimalist dining room, with simple wooden tables and white ‘nest’ design chairs. To the side of main pavilion is a wooden deck with a lovely swimming pool and a few sunloungers under a shaded canvas, offering respite from the desert heat in the summer months. A camp fire is lit each evening in front of the main area, where guests can warm up and socialize prior to dinner.
- Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp features eight suites, seven of them standard twin or double rooms and one a double bedroom family unit. Spread out in a semi-circle on both sides of the main pavilion, the accommodations are constructed from a double layer of canvas, which keeps the rooms cool in the summer heat (there’s no A/C) and provides insulation during the colder winter months. All the suites have a minimalist, contemporary design, with a soothing color palette reflecting the surrounding desert and large floor-to-ceiling glass windows bringing the outside in. Covered in polished concrete floors, the bedroom features a large kingsize bed (or twin beds), a sitting area along the large window, a writing desk, and open-sided closet areas. The ensuite bathroom is equipped with twin stone basins, a large rain shower, and a separate toilet. Outside, there’s a shaded lounge area with minibar, overlooking the spectacular surroundings.
- Despite the remote location, Hoanib Skeleton Camp’s chefs prepare delicious meals, which are included in the daily rate. For breakfast, a small continental buffet is set up in the main dining room and guests can also order a hot dish (e.g. eggs, pancakes). When in camp, a light lunch is served, comprising a starter, a choice of two main dishes, and dessert. During day excursions (such as the trip to the coast), a hearty picnic lunch is provided. Evenings mostly start with a drink around the campfire, followed by an excellent three course dinner, either served inside or al fresco on the gravel plain in front of the main lodge (depending on the weather). During my stay, main options included dishes like grilled beef fillet with Hasselback potato, pork loin with pineapple chutney, apple sider braised chicken, and venison served with sweet potato fondant, corn, baby marrow. Vegetarian options such as aubergine stew or Dahl curry are offered as well.
- Hoanib skeleton Coast is one of the few lodges in Namibia that offers not only a desert experience but also a coastal experience. The lodge’s activities make the most of the diverse landscapes, with guests exploring the area on foot, by vehicle and by air along with expert Wilderness Safaris guides. Unique attractions include true desert oases found in the Hoanib floodplains, as well as unique game-viewing opportunities. The area is home to desert-adapted elephant, as well as gemsbok, giraffe, springbok. Hoanib also doubles as a scientific center for research and conservation of the desert-adapted predators of this harsh region: the desert-adapted lion and brown hyaena which roam the area around the camp. Much has been written about a pride of desert lions from this area, affectionately known as the ‘musketeers’ from the film Vanishing Kings. I was lucky to see an offspring from this pride, a lioness named Charlie eyeing up passing prey in the dry river bed and eventually killing an orynx.
- The highlight of any stay at Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp is a day excursion to the coast, across the wild Hoanib River floodplain and rolling dunes to the frigid Atlantic Ocean, where the cold Benguela current collides with the warmer desert and generates the region’s famed fog. The first part of the trip involves an exciting drive in a 4WD vehicle over the dunes to the Skeleton Coast, with a stop at an oasis en route, then a drive along the beach to see seal colonies and other sights, followed by a picnic lunch at the seaside, enjoying the ocean breeze. The trip ends with a scenic flight back to the camp, wowing guests with views of the dunes and the topography below. For me what stands out from the trip is that one moment you are driving in the endless desert, and the next moment you are at the rugged coastline, where the desert meets the ocean! The excursion also is interesting historically: there’s a brief stop at a small museum exhibiting whale skeletons – one of the reasons it’s named the Skeleton Coast.
- Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp is managed by Wilderness Safaris, my favorite safari company. Wilderness Safaris was founded in 1983 in Botswana by two young guides, who wanted to ensure both conservation of wildlife areas and that the financial benefits of their safaris flow to Botswana and its people. Today, Wilderness Safaris is widely acclaimed as the continent’s foremost ecotourism operator, dedicated to conserving and restoring Africa’s wilderness and wildlife. They do this by creating life-changing journeys in some of the most remote and pristine areas in Africa, hereby helping to conserve Africa’s spectacular biodiversity and share ecotourism’s benefits with the local communities. Hoanib can be combined with a stay at Wilderness Safaris’ other lodges in Namibia to create an authentic and evocative desert experience, from Damaraland Desert Rhino Camps to Serra Cafema in the far north.
- Hoanib skeleton Coast Camp is deeply committed to Wilderness Safaris’ 4Cs sustainability ethos of Commerce, Community, Culture and Conservation. The camp is part of a joint venture partnership with the neighboring communities, so that ecotourism is able to benefit the people of the area. This camp is set in one of the most fragile ecosystems in the world, and therefore has been built with minimal impact on the environment. It is 100% solar powered, with each guest tent having its own small solar geyser for hot water. In order to reduce the use of bottled water, reverse osmosis filtration is done on site to provide guests with high-quality drinking water. This camp is managed and monitored against very strict in-house environmental standards, so only approved eco-friendly detergents and chemicals are used. The camp also makes use of innovative eco-friendly systems to break down wastewater which can then be used by plant life.
CONS & THINGS TO KNOW
- Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp is one of the most remotely located lodges on Planet Earth, and getting there requires some efforts as it involves a flight onboard a light aircraft. If you don’t like small planes, this might be a challenge but it should not deter you from staying here. Fyi, I am a nervous flyer myself but I felt totally comfortable and safe during the flight (the pilots don’t fly very high) and I was impressed by the professionalism of Wilderness Air. Also, the flight is an incredible experience in itself: it is hard to comprehend the remoteness of the location and genuine wilderness experience until you fly in over never-ending dunes.
- Not only is Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp one of the most remotely located on earth, it’s also located in the middle of one of the harshest environments of the planet. Expect incredible hot temperatures during the day, very cold nights, and occasional sand storms hitting the area, especially during the summer months. It’s all part though of the phenomenal natural spectacle that you’ll witness when staying here and it makes you appreciate even more that Wilderness Safaris is able to operate a luxury camp here and offer incredible wilderness experiences (a stay here truly feels like being part of a National Geographic documentary).
- Similar to most other remotely located lodges in Namibia, the WiFi is intermittent (and not available from time to time, although the staff do their best to restore the internet quickly when it fails). However, that should not be much of a problem as the entire experience at Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp is about disconnecting from civilization and connecting with the splendid desolation offered by the desert environment. If you need to be online 24/7, then this place – and Namibia in general – isn’t for you.
- Due to its extremely remote location, Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp is not as lavishly luxurious as some of the other lodges in Africa. For example, there are no wellness and health facilities on site (no spa and no gym) and the swimming pool on the main lodge’s outdoor deck is rather small and filled with icy cold water (but pleasant nonetheless). Also, there is no in-room air-conditioning although the tents are uniquely designed to allow for air flow which help keep things cool during the heat of the day (and should that not help the sparkling pool in the main area is a perfect escape with a cold beverage). But don’t get me wrong: Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp is still a luxurious tented lodge, providing all the comforts and pleasures that discerning travelers may need in these climate extremes.
- Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp is not fenced off, so guests are required to be vigilant at all times. Lions, elephants, snakes and scorpions are present in the desert, and there is no physical impediment to them entering the area around the lodge. Guests cannot walk alone around the lodge at night (hotel staff escorts guests to/from their suite).
- Location: 10/10
- Design: 10/10
- Pool: 8/10
- Rooms: 8/10
- Food: 8/10
- Breakfast: 8/10
- Spa: n/A
- Service: 10/10
- Value for money: 10/10
- Overall experience: exceptional 10/10
TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
- Save money: read here my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel like Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp (and/or receive many free perks).
- Travel tip: nights and mornings at Hoanib can be cold while afternoons can be scorching. Bring layers and be ready to add or shed clothes as the day progresses. Also, bring plenty of water, sun cream and lip balm as it is incredibly dry and your skin will thank you! Also, it is dusty at times, so a scarf or kerchief to cover your mouth and nose is helpful.
- Travel tip: read or watch videos about the area before arriving. It’s an incredibly rich area for history and nature. You’ll truly appreciate it once you arrive and see it in person.
- Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
The best time to visit Namibia is from July to October, when the temperatures are comfortably warm during the day and the chance of rain is low. This is also the best time for outdoor activities and wildlife viewing, making it peak travel season. Between December and March, some days will be humid and rain may follow, often in localized, afternoon thunderstorms.
HOW TO GET THERE
Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp is situated between the Palmwag area and Skeleton Coast National Park in the remote Kaokoveld in Namibia. It is only accessible by light aircraft from different airfields in the country (including Windhoek Airport). Wilderness Safaris takes care of the flight reservations.
Below is a selection of my photos of Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp. To view more hotel photos (including meals and excursions), click here.
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