As one of Namibia’s most spectacular and iconic spots, Sossusvlei is not to be missed on your Namibian travels. But what makes this place, located in the southern part of the Namib Desert in the Namib-Naukluft National Park, so special? Nolene Kotze explores.
Sossusvlei – with its epic dunes, unique Mars-like landscapes and eerie feeling of complete isolation, is probably the one place all visitors to Namibia must include on their itineraries. It’s been described as achingly beautiful – and it is, without a doubt. While no words or pictures can do it justice, I will try to explain why it is so magical.
Undoubtedly Namibia’s most iconic landscape, the rust-red dunes, bleached white pans and deep blue sky are instantly recognisable and symbolise our neighbouring country’s vast, uninhabited expanses. The name is thought to originate from Afrikaans and Nama and roughly translates to ‘dead end marsh’ – pretty apt since the dunes of Sossusvlei meet to prevent the Tsauchab River from flowing any further.
The area is home to some of the highest sand dunes in the world, with the tallest dune in the area, ‘Big Daddy’, reaching a height of over 325m. There is, however, a taller dune in the Namib, known as Dune 7, which measures 383m! Visitors to Sossusvlei can climb the dunes for panoramic views of the surrounding desert and to see the contrasting colours of the dunes against the blue sky – simply breathtaking!
Apart from the impressive dunes, Sossusvlei is also known for its ephemeral salt and clay pans, which are formed when the Tsauchab River floods and leaves behind salt and clay deposits. These pans are characterised by their white, cracked surfaces and are home to various desert-adapted plants and animals. The most famous pan in Sossusvlei is Deadvlei, a white pan surrounded by dark, dead camelthorn trees, which are estimated to be over 900 years old. The area is also home to a variety of desert-adapted animals, including the oryx, springbok, and ostrich, as well as smaller animals, such as the meerkat and the chameleon.
As it is so isolated, Sossusvlei is an excellent spot for stargazing and photography, as the clear night skies and the contrasting colours of the dunes and pans make for stunning photographs. The area is accessible by road, and there are several campsites and lodges in the surrounding area for visitors to stay at. Visitors can also take hot air balloon rides over the dunes or scenic flights to get a bird’s eye view of the area.
Standing amongst the giant orange mounds of sand, some over five million years old, will leave you forever changed. With every visit (and we’ve had many), we leave in awe of this jewel of nature. You will, too. That’s a promise!
The gravel roads leading to this beautiful part of the world are not always well maintained. Take a spare tyre and allow enough daylight to travel. Distances are long, and since the roads can become very busy with tourists, drive times can be even longer. Also, remember to be on the lookout for free-roaming animals.
We recommend a 4×4 for visiting these areas as it makes the experience more comfortable. Fill up whenever you can, and always keep your lights on. Finally, do not rely on cell phone reception.
Where to stay
We recommend you stay at one of the campsites at Sossusvlei to explore the dunes in the early morning for magical photographs and to allow enough time to visit the Sesriem Canyon (at the right time of the year, you might be able to swim in it!) and Deadvlei.
One of our favourites is Tsauchab River Camp, about 70km from the Sesriem Canyon via the D845 and D854. There are private camping sites on the banks of the Tsauchab River, surrounded by the Naukluft and Tsaris Mountains. On the banks of the river (the primary source of water to Sesriem Canyon and Sossusvlei when in flood), you will find giant wild fig trees and crystal-clear water.
The hiking trails are so pretty you will forget to get tired (although some are rather challenging). Additionally, there are natural swimming pools to cool off in. For bigger groups, there is a campsite right on the river, which is ideal for enjoying sundowners in the shade of the fig trees. The lodge is quite unique, featuring local décor, antiques and art made from various materials.
Challenge yourself and climb Big Daddy to enjoy lunch under a tree at the picnic spot (we had a jackal visiting us here). Remember to take sunscreen, hats and enough water with you, though – a minimum of 3 litres per person!
The gates open and close at sunrise and sunset and permits are checked at the entrance. We usually buy ours the day before our visit to prevent queuing, which eats into your exploration time. We were fortunate on our last trip that the dunes at the picnic area still had water. The kids had an absolute blast in the ancient mud, and the scenery was breathtakingly beautiful.
Even more views
Only 7km from Tsauchab River Camp, you will find Neuras Wine & Wildlife Estate, boasting beautiful vineyards and natural fountains. Another must-stop is the Le Mirage Resort and Spa, which is en route from Sossusvlei to Tsauchab on the C23 and offers stunning architecture and magnificent views over the desert landscape.
With intimate knowledge of some off-the-beatentrack destinations in Namibia, Chasing Gravel helps you to travel like a local. They are proudly associated with About Africa Co. Find them on
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