About a 30-minute 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 SãoTiago 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.
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.
In any case, the ships at São Tiago Beach were put or left there intentionally, which makes the place a true ship cemetery despite the varied accounts of its origins.
Reaching this spot typically requires access to a vehicle and the help of a local who knows the area, as it is not a well-known attraction at this time. Sao Tiago Beach is located near the town of São Tiago, about a 30-minute drive north of Luanda. As you cross the border from Luanda into Bengo Province, there are a number of turn-offs to the left just south of town, nearly all of which will eventually lead to the beach.
Know Before You Go
At this time there are no tourist services or infrastructure in the area. You should bring whatever you’ll want to eat or drink as there is nothing available on-site. There are reports of some tourists being robbed at São Tiago Beach, and it is not advisable to go there alone or after dark.
The most common point of access to the beach is here. Park near the nondescript concrete structure just above the high-tide line. The ships are directly in front and scattered along the coast in either direction. The site is quite expansive, stretching more than 2 km along the beach, so plan on at least an hour or two to see all of it.