Ilha da Baía dos Tigres​, trip to the southern Angola

Ilha da Baía dos Tigres​

A few days ago we travelled to the desert coast of the Namib in southern Angola (March 2024) for one of the most spectacular scenic drives in this part of the African continent: Ilha da Baía dos Tigres and the forgotten city of Sao Martinho dos Tigres ….

Photo credits: Morgan Painter / Text: Austerio Alonso

São Martinho dos Tigres is a mysterious town that was frozen in time after independence. The old ruined buildings covered in sand in this remote corner of southern Angola tell the fascinating story of the Ilha dos Tigres and the people who lived there.

Ahh, you may wonder why it is called “of the tigers” (dos Tigres), not because there are tigers on these shores, nor perhaps huge wild dogs, but because of the roar of the wind that blows so strongly here…

Let’s go back in time

It is said that just before Angola’s independence from Portugal, back in 1973, the then village of São Martinho dos Tigres had 400 houses, inhabited by just over a thousand people. All these people lived from some of the activities related to fishing such as salting, fish drying and fishmeal factories. After independence and the subsequent departure of the Portuguese settlers, all this was forgotten, as the harsh climatic conditions and lack of drinking water made life here unviable.

The “Great Bay of Fish”, as the Portuguese and English have known the island for centuries, has one of the largest fishing grounds in the world and is a top destination for fishing enthusiasts.

Perhaps it was for this reason that, around 1860, a group of fishermen from the Portuguese Algarve decided to stay and live on this island, founding São Martinho dos Tigres and later creating an important fishing industry.

Travel to Baia dos Tigres

From Tombua, the last town, a three-hour drive through the desert to Baia dos Tigres awaits us. A spectacular drive through dunes and desert beach to reach one of the most remote and isolated places on the West African coast. You have to drive half of the famous Doodsakker, a treacherous stretch that can only be done at low tide.

Visiting Ilha dos Tigres, a passion for abandoned places

After taking a boat from the Namib coast to the Ilha dos Tigres we drive through the deserted town with its old colonial buildings.

At the southern end of the town, the most prominent building is undoubtedly the Catholic church with the Latin inscription at the entrance “Hic Domus Dei” (House of God). This church was once a regular venue for celebrations and processions. Now destroyed, this church was built by Portuguese settlers with shells and other natural materials found on these shores.

An old hospital with Portuguese coats of arms, the administrator’s house, a school and the old salt water distillery are other historical traces that the desert sand has not yet completely covered. Right in the centre, between all these buildings, we can see a large main artery that we sense once also served as an airstrip for aeroplanes.

At the time, the water desalination plant installed in 1922 produced more than 22,000 litres of fresh water daily for the fishermen of the village of San Martinho dos Tigres.

Travelling to Angola

If you want to discover some of the most fascinating places in Angola, do not hesitate to ask us for information and consult our next scheduled departures.

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