Luderitz, Namibia

In 1883, a German businessman, Adolf Luderitz, purchased a parcel of land enclosing a small bay for purposes of speculation. The so-called Skeleton Coast had limited potential in many ways, being largely made up of the shifting sands of the Namib Desert. Then, in 1906, a local railway worker noticed an oddly sparkly stone beside the tracks. It proved to be a diamond, and it became clear that there were many like it lying literally on the surface of the sands. By 1909 a diamond rush was in full sway, and a thriving, German-styled town called Kolmanskop sprouted out of the desert to house the gem-seekers. When the easy pickings ended, the townspeople simply walked away, and the desert climate preserved the town as it was slowly engulfed by the shifting sands. Today it makes an evocative and haunting place to visit. The bay still hosts a bounty of wildlife as well, including seals, whales and flamingos. Other endeavors have started, too, such as the culture of delicious oysters in the clean, cold ocean waters.