The biodiversity-rich Iona National Park is situated in the southwestern corner of Angola. The Park boasts more than 200 kilometres of coastline and consists of several reserves and protected areas. It lies in the northern Namib Desert, which is regarded as one of the oldest in the world. Linked with the Skeleton Coast National Park and the Namib-Naukluft National Park in Namibia, it covers an area of some 50,000 square kilometres.
The park’s borders consist of the Great Escarpment of the Tchamaline and Cafema mountains to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the Cunene River to the south, and the Curoca River to the north. The park has a unique ecosystem consisting of desert and semi-desert regions and incorporating desert dunes, savannah areas, calcrete plains, grasslands, and mopane woodlands.
Iona’s climate and unique offshore ecosystem are characterised by heavy fog that occurs when the hot and dry air of the desert mixes with the cold and wet air of the Benguela current.
There have been efforts in recent times, by local and international entities, to resurrect the infrastructure of the park that will most likely lead to a return of tourists in their droves and renewed protection by local communities.
Iona has an abundant birdlife, with more than 110 species, including Cinderella waxbill, Rueppel’s parrot, Ludwig bustard, lesser flamingo, and the gray lark. These species have been recorded at the Curoca River, as well as in the woodlands in the park.
After a long absence, cheetahs were spotted in the park again in 2010. Other species that occur include kudu, zebra, impala, klipspringer, springbok, and ostrich.
A handful of endemic reptiles call Iona home, with two lizards, three skinks, and three gecko species among these.
The park is the ideal habitat for the Welwitschia mirabilis, or as it is sometimes called, the "living fossil” because of its ancient status. The plant leaves absorb the dew from the sea-fog for survival.
The wet season in Angola lasts from October through April and the misty season—also called the “Cacimbo”—from May to September. For the best wildlife viewing, travellers should visit the country between June and September when it is cooler and drier.
The wide variety of landscapes in Iona, including the river basin, coastal pans, and dunes make for excellent photographic safaris, while hikes are also on offer. This is, of course, besides the unique wildlife. Interaction with the local Himba, Kimbundu, and Mucubal tribes offer a cultural experience.
There is currently no accommodation options in Iona, so visitors will have to opt for lodgings in the surrounding towns and settlements. Alternatively, arrangements can be made with established tour operators.