“Loose lips, sunk ships, I’m getting to grips with what you said” – Robbie Williams.
A Shipwreck Graveyard by the Atlantic Ocean in Angola? Are you serious?
This place was a surprise to me. I didn’t expect to find it fascinating, interesting or in any way spectacular. I certainly didn’t expect to write a blog post about it or take over 100 photos and over 5 videos. It just seemed like a curious and peculiar place to go.
But this place was so crazy, more zany than I could believe, so I had to write about it. In fact, this is the sort of wacaday travel adventure that I typically built this blog upon in days of yore. Off the wall stuff, off the wheaten craic madness, being the only tourist for miles and minutes. Joyous in the glory of rusty metal on a beach that only Alvaro (my driver) and I were walking on.
So I heard that there is a shipwreck beach in Angola. I have seen shipwrecks and ruins aplenty before and this place was a bit of a trek, hard to get to so at the start I wasn’t totally sure to even add it to my list of must-dos in Angola. I was based in the capital city, Luanda for a few days and needed to work out how to get there – easily, cheaply and safely. It turns out, this place is definitely off the wheaten craic as I was the only tourist there and there is certainly no bus route here!! There are certainly no signs and it is definitely not advertised by anyone. It is pretty difficult to get to!
The Shipwreck Graveyard is barely even on the map or in any tourist brochure, mind you Angola is still not a popular tourist destination compared to neighbouring Botswana or Namibia. The beach is hard to find and even hard to explain to others – it is often known by locals as Praia da Santiago, Panguila or Praia do Sarico. Some locals have never even heard of it, as I discovered.
To many others, the 2.5km stretch of beach is often known as Shipwreck Beach, Shipwreck Graveyard, Luanda Shipwreck (confusing as it is NOT in Luandu) or Karl Marx Beach, named after the biggest shipwreck on the beach. For the basis of this article, I am calling it Panguila, as this is the name my driver Alvaro referred to it as.
How to get to the Shipwreck Graveyard in Panguila, Angola
By aeroplane? No. By ship?? Hahaha well in theory yes. But actually no. By train or bus? No. None of those options will work.
The Shipwreck Graveyard in Pangella /Pangello/ Panguila (I didn’t even know how to spell it!) is not even near any town, village or settlement. So public transport is simply not an option. And guess what? Car or taxi is also not even an option!! You couldn’t jump in a taxi and ask a driver to take you here, even if you speak fluent Portuguese. Nobody really even knows about it, nevermind knowing the location and how to get there.
Car and taxi are not options because of the bumpy terrain you need to drive through in order to get to the Shipwreck Graveyard in Panguila. They cannot handle it, so you need a 4×4 jeep. If you are a tourist, don’t be hiring one yourself and driving here – you might not find it. So after some research, I found out through fellow blogger and traveller Ric Gazarian (Global Gaz) that there are a few tour companies aware of the Shipwreck Graveyard in Panguila, and as such you can book a tour here.
I emailed two of them. Neither of them replied. No surprises really. One of them was offering the tour for about 300 US Dollars anyway, so well out of my budget and a ridiculous price. One of these tours was organised by a hotel and art venue down by Luanda harbour and beach – Thomson Art House.
I had previously emailed that hotel about staying there and hadn’t heard back. So on my first afternoon in Angola, I headed to the Thomson Art House in person to see if the tour could be sorted face to face instead. Thomson Art House in itself is well worth a look for its rooftop bar and views and its colourful art. Not to mention to use their WiFi (the only decent WiFi I had in Angola, outside the international airport) and enjoy the beach promenade. It’s pricey to stay in for what you get, but makes for a good bar and Wi-Fi spot.
In the Thomson Art Hotel, I met Andre the manager to discuss doing a tour to the Shipwreck Graveyard in Panguila. I was there in February 2020 which is off season, and there would be no mission of finding other tourists to also backpack the Shipwreck Graveyard with me. Therefore, I could do the tour but I would be alone and it would cost $100 US Dollars for the trip there and back. If I had another person to share it would have cost a mere $50 US, three to share $33 US and 4 of us bargainic on $25 US each. So $100 US it was for a sight which costs ZERO Kwanza to get into! Ouch!
On my journeys like this, I rarely return to the same city so I thought I have to book it and see it, even if it might not be that interesting. So I booked the trip through Thomson Art Hotel and I recommend you do the same.
My driver, Alvaro collected me at 8 am the following morning from my hotel Afilux Residencial on Rua L in Palanca. We headed straight north out of the chaos of Luanda and into the province of Bengo.
The drive to the Shipwreck Graveyard in Panguila
The drive is scenic and full of photo opportunities. Not just in Luanda itself but along the coast and the few villages we pass through. It takes about an hour and a half to get from my hotel to Panguila beach. Traffic in the capital is notably chaotic so it’s basically 30 minutes to get through that, then a 30 minute drive on decent roads, then a 30 minute meander through the rocky sandy beach “road” down to Panguila.
The final thirty minutes of the trip here perhaps justifies why you need a 4×4 jeep to get here. The road is bumpy and rocky and could not be done in a “normal” car. (I hate the word normal as everything is normal, but I mean the more common road cars).
This final stretch has arduous parts and you could get stuck in the sand or mud if you are not in a 4×4 jeep.
On arrival at Panguila beach, you will see the shipwrecks ahead of you, sandy beaches beneath and sandy, grassy cliffs overlooking the bay. If you can ignore the litter, the place looks beautiful. There is a lot of plastic and glass waste here sadly, so not one for the green guys, earth savers to admire on the way in.
Touring the Shipwrecks of Panguila
You tour the shipwrecks on your own. There will be nobody else here. No locals, no villages, no other tourists – nothing. Yes this is off the wheaten craic. There is no entrance gate, no guidebook, no entrance free, no souvenir shop, no toilet, no fridge magnets, no Wi-Fi and no postcards! There will probably be nobody else here! The place was deserted!
There are simply loads of shipwrecks here!! I was shocked. Before my trip, I thought it was one shipwreck. On arrival, I thought it was about 10. While touring the beach, I soon realised there are over 50 shipwrecks here, many of them are huge. Over the years, since the 1960s, this seems to be “the place” to dump your abandoned ship! The largest shipwreck is the Karl Marx. Many others have broken into pieces down the years.
So head here, admire at your leisure, get snap happy then get on your way again. That’s all there is to it, though it doesn’t make it any less inspiring!
View of the Beaches and Cliff Sides
As well as the shipwrecks, the views of the beaches and cliffs are also worth savouring. That alone, would also make this a worthwile trip. It’s really obscure, obscure and wacaday!
Details of Thomson Art House for organising the tour
AVENIDA MURTALA MOHAMED NO 260, ILHA DO CABO LUANDA, ANGOLA
T: +244 918 001 001 / 933 694 600
Here are some videos from my trip to the crazy Shipwreck Graveyard in Panguila: