Exploring Tourism in Angola
icon Worldwideicon
Places to Visit Details

Ship Cemetery

Bengo, Angola

About 30 minutes’ drive North of Luanda, Angola, is an otherworldly sight: A barren beach with as many as 50 rusting ships on or near the shore. It’s like being on the set of a post-apocalyptic Hollywood thriller. Some of the ships are close enough that you can wade out to them at low tide, while others are further out with not much more than a rusting bridge or masthead above the surface of the ocean.

The spot is officially known as Santiago Beach, near the town of Santiago. But the locals call it cemitério de navios, or the ship cemetery. A few like to call it “Marx Beach,” after the Karl Marx, one of the largest ships there.

Parts of the ships have been taken away, and we can look into them, see staircases, pipes, ropes, the inside of the hulls. But surprisingly, much of the ships is still there, waiting for the elements to take them apart with time, slowly, very slowly. We wait for waves rolling in, and see some crashing hard into the rusting vessels, the spray towering above the huge ships. Some wrecks have their bow cutting into another wreck. Some wrecks lie on the sand, some in the surf, some are still further away. With time, the ocean will push them ashore as well, or will make them capsize. There are, in fact, several wrecks lying on their sides. One wreck has a thin, rusting wall left, with holes and cracks, still standing.

There are a number of stories as to the background of the ship cemetery at São Tiago Beach. Some say that prior to the construction of the Port of Luanda, Santiago Beach was the spot where ocean-going freighters would offload cargo bound for the country’s capital. According to this narrative, the spot was not ideal, and many ships blew or were washed aground during storms or heavy seas. When the Port of Luanda was opened after the end of the Angolan Civil War in 2002, the ships that had run aground were simply abandoned.

Others say that the spot has been a designated ship cemetery since the 1960s. Damaged or derelict vessels were towed to what was, at the time, an uninhabited stretch of beach and left to rust away. According to the locals, some of the ships at SãoTiago Beach were damaged or destroyed during the war.

Check out more Places to Visit