And absolutely unique and extremely atmospheric place, and the crown jewel in Angola
’s dark-tourism portfolio – the only problem is that it is very difficult to get there.
It’s a ca. 20-mile (35 km) long desert island off Angola’s southern coast in its part of the Namib Desert (most of which lies to the south in the country named after it: Namibia
). On the island is a ghost town
like no other, complete with an abandoned cathedral! In the desert! And that alone makes it beat the better known and far more accessible Kolmanskop
The name, Ilha dos Tigres, obviously means ‘”Tiger Island’, but since there are no tigers in Africa, of course, this is just a metaphor, allegedly taken from the stripes in the yellow sand made by shadows or darker hewed soil. That apparently was enough to trigger the association with tigers.
In the centre of the island used to be a fishing and fish processing town called São Martinho dos Tigres. Sometimes the whole place is also referred to as Baía dos Tigres, although that is strictly speaking the name of the body of water between the island and the mainland. That used to be a bay but is now a strait. And what is now an island used to be a sandy spit, a peninsula.
That changed in a dramatic fashion when a violent storm in 1962 destroyed the isthmus connecting the then thriving fishing town thus cutting it off from the mainland. It also destroyed its fresh water supply. So the already super-remote town became untenable and was given up. It has been deserted and almost forgotten ever since.
You can get to it, but it’s more an expedition than a tourist ride. For starters you have to first get to Tômbua, the southernmost of Angola
’s coastal towns, south of the province’s capital it shares its name with, Namibe. Making the trip to the Baía dos Tigres can only be undertaken at low tide, and only a convoy of sturdy 4x4s should attempt the long drive along the coast, with desert dunes on the one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. And you have to take a boat along, to be able to cross over from the mainland to the island. There are zero facilities here, so camping on the island or on the mainland shore is required before embarking on the long journey back. There are, however, adventure tour operators that sometimes take visitors to this forlorn place in relative safety and with all equipment and supplies. Yet it’s still a serious adventure.
But from what I’ve seen online (e.g. in this marvellous account
– external link, opens in a new window) it must be one hell of an atmospheric place and an absolute dream for photography
. The unlikely sight of a cathedral in the desert is probably the highlight. But some of the lager fish-processing buildings and houses for the management staff look impressive too.
I sincerely hope the vague plans of turning this into a resort and proper touristified destination with new buildings never come to fruition (the remoteness makes such ideas seem really outlandish). I likewise hope that I can one day make it to this outstanding place while it is as it is now. But I realize that it’s not the most probable of dreams to come true for me …