Africa Leaders Magazine

SOSSUSVLEI DUNES, Namibia – Africa’s Sand Dunes

SOSSUSVLEI DUNES, Namibia – Africa’s Beautiful Sand Dunes - African Leaders Magazine

Sossusvlei located in Namibia’s Namib-Naukluft National Park is one of the most spectacular and best-known attractions in Southern Africa. An absolute dream to visit with a camera, the incredible scenery makes anyone look like a professional photographer! The large red sand dunes in the park have always been high on my world travel bucket list and the unreal landscape did not disappoint! Sossusvlei is a large, white salt and clay pan surrounded by massive red sand dunes, located in the Namib Desert. The name Sossusvlei is often used to refer to a large area in the park including famous sites such as Dune 45, Deadvlei, Big Dadddy and Sesriem canyon, this is one of the major visitor attractions of Namibia.

Waking over the claypan, The Deadvlei, filled with dead trees is the highlight of visiting Sossusvlei.

The name “Sossusvlei” roughly translates into “dead-end marsh. A vlei is a marsh in Afrikaans. This is the place where sand dunes come together and prevent the Tsauchab River to flow any further, in the dry Namib Desert the River however seldom flows this far resulting in a dry pan most years.  Even though the area is called Sossusvlei, the Deadvlei is probably the main attraction to visit in the park. Sossusvlei is definitely one of the best places to visit in Namibia.

SOSSUSVLEI DUNES, Namibia – Africa’s Beautiful Sand Dunes - African Leaders Magazine

Documentaries, photos and magazines always left me with the idea most of Namibia is a desert, covered in these majestic dunes. On our honeymoon we explored Namibia driving and camping for more than two months. Driving thousands of kilometers, we were wondering where are the sand dunes? We finally found these spectacular landscapes at Sossusvlei. See our Complete Namibia Road Trip Itinerary for plenty of tips on planning a trip to Namibia.

Sesriem is a small settlement close to the southern end of the Naukluft Mountains in the Namib Desert. To visit Sossusvlei, Dune 45, the Deadvlei and the other Namib attractions you have to enter the Namib-Naukluft National Park at the Sesriem gate and drive about 60 kilometers.

Driving to Sesriem the roads in Namibia are unpaved, gravel roads. You do not need a 4×4 vehicle, but a car with good ground clearance helps and I will recommend not to drive fast on these gravel roads. Flat tires are very common and under-car insurance for rentals is worth looking into. Most people travel to Sesriem from Windhoek or Swakopmund, both these trips take around 5 hours, there are several different route options to drive.

Tours to Sesriem and exploring Sossusvlei are available from Windhoek and Swakopmund. You can also join an overland truck on a Namibian expedition from Cape Town or as part of an overland tour exploring more of Africa!

If after visiting Sossusvlei and spending some time driving through the desert you feel like chilling by the beach I can recommend spending a couple of days in Swakopmund. It’s a great place with many amazing things to do.

From Sesriem gate, there is a good tar road for about 60 km into the park that can be driven with any vehicle. After 60 km you will reach a parking area for Sossusvlei, only 4×4 vehicles can continue from here to the Dead vlei parking area on a sandy track for about 5 km. If you do not have a 4×4 vehicle, you can park here and continue by a shuttle run by Namibia Wildlife Resorts for NAM$ 150 ($11) return. We explored Namibia in our little Terios 4×4 vehicle and were fine in the sand. Many people renting vehicles are not experienced driving in sand and get stuck here. Remember to deflate your tires to about 1.5 bar and try to drive without stopping in the 4×4/low range in the same gear.

The Sesriem gate to enter the National Park and the campsite opens at sunrise and closes at sunset. The Sesriem campsite has its own entrance to the park which opens one hour before the main gate. Visitors staying inside the park can thus drive before sunrise to the dunes. The drive to Dune 45 is 45 km on a good road from the entrance. The only way to see the sunrise from the dunes is thus to stay inside the park. We stayed outside the park, we were at the gate more than an hour before opening and were the first car through the gate. They opened the gate at dusk so we arrived at Dune 45 during sunrise as you can see on our sunrise pics. For the best sunrise and sunset pictures, it is worth staying inside the park.

SOSSUSVLEI DUNES, Namibia – Africa’s Beautiful Sand Dunes - African Leaders Magazine

To enter the Namib-Naukluft National Park at Sesriem costs 100 NAD ($6) per person for non-residents and 50 NAD for SADC residents plus 10 NAD per vehicle (June 2021). The entrance fee is valid for 24 hours, so it is possible to enter the afternoon, see the sunset and return the next morning for sunrise. Sunset and sunrise are the best times to visit the dunes.

The gate opens at sunrise, so time will depend on what time of the year you visit Sossusvlei. The opening and closing time change every month and stays the same for the whole month. The opening time is shifted in 30 min intervals (e.g., 06:00, 06:30, 07:00, etc). If you ask at the camp where you are staying, they will be able to tell you the times during your stay.

The easiest, stress-free way to visit Sossusvlei is with a tour, they are available from Windhoek and Swakopmund. You can also join an overland truck on a Namibian expedition from Cape Town or as part of an overland tour exploring more of Africa!

Two-day guided tour from Swakopmund, one night camping in the Namib Desert. Get picked up from your hotel, explore Sossusvlei – Big Mama Dune, Dune 45, Sesriem Canyon and Deadvlei.

Two-day guided tour from Windhoek, includes 2 nights’ accommodation, meals, hotel pickup drop off.

Explore Southern Africa with G-Adventures for 12 days in a small safari vehicle from Cape Town through amazing sites like the Cederberge, Orange River, Swakopmund, Spitzkoppe, the Namib desert, Etosha, Sossusvlei and more.

40 Day Africa Overland Nairobi to Cape Town, mostly camping, awesome adventure going through Tanzania, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Zambia, Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. Experience some bucket list African adventures.

The Sossusvlei area in southern Namib is known for its high sand dunes of vivid pink-to-orange color, the oldest dunes are those of a more deep reddish color. The dunes in the area are among the highest in the world; some higher than 200 meters. The more stable dunes are partially covered with some vegetation. Keep an eye out in the park for animals such as fog beetles, small reptiles, rodents, jackals, birds, oryxes, springboks, and ostriches. Many of the dunes are named the distance they are from the entrance, such as Dune 1 that is 1 km from the gate, and Dune 45, 45 km from the gate.

Elim Dune is the closest dune to visit the Sesriem campsite. It is a relatively isolated, high sand dune located 5 km past the Sesriem gate, on a branch of the main road to Sossusvlei. The dune is named after a farm that used to be in the area before the National Park was established. Elim is 100m high so about 30% the height of Big Daddy. It is a great dune to stop for morning photographs since you will get here early for good light and with most people driving on to Dune 45 there should not be crowds. Being close to the campsite when you arrive is ideal for sunset, you can even walk here.

Dune 45 is one of the most photographed dunes in the world and a highlight to visit in the Sossusvlei area of the Namib Desert. Photos of this spectacular red dune with its curvy shadows draw many travelers from all over the world to Namibia. It is a challenging climb for many, standing over 170 m tall and takes about 40 minutes to climb and 5 minutes to run down. The red color is attributed to iron oxide washed from the Kalahari into the Atlantic Ocean and carried to Sossusvlei by a combination of ocean currents and wind. Most people drive here as soon as they enter the park to try to take sunrise photos.

SOSSUSVLEI DUNES, Namibia – Africa’s Beautiful Sand Dunes - African Leaders Magazine

Dune 45 is nice to climb for sunset and later in the day is a good time to take pictures of this dune with its famous shadow. Since Dune 45 is located right next to the road it is very accessible for taking photos. We entered the park at Dusk and drove straight to Dune 45 on the 45 km tar road, we ran up the dune and still had a great experience while the sun was rising.

This is the highest dune in the park about 325m high, it was about a 15-minute walk to the base of the Big Daddy dune from the car to start climbing. We were here in December and climbed Dune 45 first for the sunrise before moving on to Big Daddy. It was a very hot day, so take enough water. Climbing Big Daddy to the top took about 30 minutes providing some nice views, to be rewarded with the spectacular panoramic views of the Deadvlei and the Namib follow the narrow ridge on top of this massive dune. We ran down in minutes to the amazing Deadvlei a really fun experience. To walk from the car, climb Big Daddy and return through the Deadvlei to our car took more than 90 minutes, we spent some time enjoying the unreal surroundings and taking lots of photos of this amazing site in the Namib desert.

At 325 meters high, Big Daddy is the highest dune in Sossusvlei, but not the highest in Namib, the highest dune in the Namib desert is Dune 7 outside Swakopmund at about 388 meters high.

The drive from the Sesriem park entrance to the 2×4 Sossusvlei parking is 60 km and takes 1 hour. The road from Sossusvlei parking to Deadvlei parking is 4 km and can only be driven with a 4×4 vehicle. If you don’t have a 4×4 or don’t want to risk getting stuck in the sand, park your car and take the safari shuttle service provided shuttle run by Namibia Wildlife Resorts for $NAM 150 ($11) return. It is only 4 km so it is possible to walk, but in the heat and the sand allow 1h 30 min for the walk, remember you must still get back after climbing Big Daddy! carry a lot of water. Hitchhiking the last 4 km is not a great option since nobody wants to stop in the sand and risk getting stuck, if you do this stand and hitch at the Sossusvlei parking area that you can still take a shuttle if you do not get a ride.

You do not have to climb Big Daddy to get to the Deadvlei, there is a pathway to the side of the dune. After coming down Big Daddy we walked back to our car this way. It is about 1 km from Deadvlei to the parking area walking on the pathway next to the dune. There are no ‘facilities’ at the Deadvlei parking area, so take enough water and snacks. There are trees providing some shade but the toilet facilities here are very basic.

Deadvlei (Afrikaans for ‘dead marsh’) is a large clay pan characterized by dark, dead camel thorn trees contrasted against the white pan floor, surrounded by the huge rusty red dunes. The pan was formed when the Tsauchab River flooded and sufficient water allowed camel thorn trees to grow. The climate changed; sand dunes formed blocking the river from reaching the area.

The Deadvlei is a great place for taking photos. The contrast between the black trees, white pans, rusty-red dunes and deep blue sky makes for incredible images.

Sossusvlei, like the Deadvlei, is a large clay bed, it is surrounded by relatively small sand dunes. Sossusvlei is located close to the Deadvlei only separated by a narrow sand ridge and is also reached by walking from the Sossusvlei parking area. During a very rainy season, the Tsauchab fills the pan at Sossusvlei, drawing visitors from all over the world to witness the glassy “lake” holding reflections of the surrounding dunes.  On rare occurrences when the pan fills it can hold water for as long as a year. Sossusvlei only fills with water every five to ten years.

Access to the Hiddenvlei is from the 2×4 Sossusvlei parking area (60 km from the Sesriem campsite), the hike to Hiddenvlei is a 4 km roundtrip walk from the parking area. There are some signs, but it is not very well marked, just look out for footprints of previous visitors and carry enough water. We had the entire hike to ourselves, even late morning. The clay pan amongst the sand dunes is beautiful, with some trees scattered across the spectacular landscape. The return hike to HIddenvlei takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

We loved walking through the Hiddenvlei, not many people walk here so it is a dead-quiet place, awesome experience.

Sesriem Canyon is located about 4.5km from the park entrance. The canyon is not very big but is beautiful. Look for the sign inside the Sesriem campsite. The Tsauchab River has shaped the Canyon over millions of years and it is one of the few places in the area that holds water all year round. It is about a kilometer (0.6 miles) long and up to 30 meters (100 feet) deep. The name Sesriem (Afrikaans for six belts) was given by Afrikaans settlers who had to attach together six oryx hide belts in order to reach buckets down into the canyon to scoop up water. The Sesriem Canyon is very narrow, only two meters (6.5 feet) wide in some places, and has a portion that permanently contains water, which many animals use.

There are many accommodation options, ranging from basic camping to luxury lodges around Sossusvlei. Options to stay inside the park are however limited. The simple Sesriem campsite is the only budget option and for a luxurious stay, book the popular Sossus Dune Lodge or the fairly new Dead Valley Lodge, both Nambia Wildlife Resort (NWR) facilities.

The campsite is located inside the Namib-Naukluft National Park right next to the Sossus vlei entrance with a central swimming pool, a basic shop for supplies, and a bar. There is not a lot of shade, but shade some shade is offered by camel thorn trees. The Sesriem Rest Camp has no rooms available, only camping, you must bring all your own camping and cooking gear. At Sesriem the campsites have their own barbeque area and electrical points, so you can braai at your tent. There is a lot of space and campsites are far apart. The Sesriem campsite offers shared ablutions.

Sesriem Campsite price – At NAD 490 ($35) per person this campsite is not cheap for what is offered, but this is the budget option if you want to see the sunrise from the dunes. We camped for 2 months around the country, see all our favorite campsites in Namibia.

Sesriem has 44 campsites available. Due to its location inside the park, this campsite is very popular, especially during the high season, and in the season, visitors should make reservations in advance with Namibia Wildlife Resorts to avoid disappointment. For room accommodation inside the park at Sesriem check out Sossus Dune Lodge or Dead Valley Lodge.

SOSSUSVLEI DUNES, Namibia – Africa’s Beautiful Sand Dunes - African Leaders Magazine

Sossus Dune Lodge at Sossusvlei offers high-quality, luxury accommodation at Sesriem Namibia inside the Namib-Naukluft National Park. Similar to the Sesriem campsite staying here allows early access to the park to reach the dunes for sunrise and sunset. With limited accommodation available in the park this is a very popular lodge and it is recommended that you make reservations in advance. The chalets are built in an ‘afro-village’ style inspired by an African village, using wooden frames, canvas walls and topped by a thatched roof. The whole lodge is built on a raised platform for minimal impact on the delicate environment.

The Lodge has 25 individual rondavel-style chalets. The chalets and facilities at Sossus Dune Lodge are all connected by a raised wooden walkway, this will take you from your chalet to the central area, restaurant, lounge, bar, swimming pool, and sunset deck for amazing desert views. The lodge offers guided sunrise/sunset drives trips to Sesriem Canyon and Elim Dune for guests.

The Dead Valley lodge is a new luxury lodge located inside the Namib-Naukluft National Park opened in 2019. Accommodation at Dead Valley Lodge is provided in luxury tented chalets on a full board basis, so all 3 meals are included in the room price. The beautiful lodge is located in-between Sesriem and Elim Dune on the D826 road leading to Sossusvlei. The lodge offers twenty free-standing chalets each with a panoramic view of the Namib Desert. The tented chalets at Dead Valley Lodge cost between NAD 3650 – 4650 ($270-340). Book The Dead Valley Lodge

Sossusvlei can be visited all year long. It is nice to enter the park and visit the dunes in the morning when it is cool and the sand is not hot yet. The light is also great for taking photos with amazing shadows. Try to avoid the heat of the afternoon. From May to October, it is winter in Namibia and temperatures are slightly lower which makes it more bearable.

The best time for taking photos is with sunrise or sunset when the shadows make the dunes spectacular. Don’t miss the amazing red dunes at sunrise!

Take enough water with you, it is hot, you might walk far and there is no water for sale at the Deadvlei.

Experience sunrise and sunset without breaking up your tent early in the morning, only paying for one night and day in the park. Here is how: pay for one night’s camping and one day (24 hours) in the park. Enter the park early (about lunch time), pay entrance+camping, explore sesriem canyon, the dunes, see Dune 45 at sunset, next morning get up early see the sunrise from Dune 45. Go and break up your tent and leave the park in 24 hours.

If you want to be self-reliant, with smaller crowds go with a 4WD vehicle.

Drop your tyre pressure to 1.5 bar for driving over sand. There is a petrol station just outside the main entrance gate at Sesriem where you can inflate your tyres again.

The 2WD car park has clean toilets, the 4WD car park at Sossusvlei has pit toilets.

Take a hat, sunscreen and a camera.



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