The Namib Desert is a coastal desert which is found in Southern Africa. The Namib stretches for over 2000 kilometers along the Atlantic coasts of South Africa, Namibia and Angola. It covers an area of approximately 81000 square kilometers. The word ‘Namib’ is of Nama origin and is believed to mean ‘open space’. The most arid regions of the Namib Desert annual precipitation is between 2mm – 10mm. Some areas in the Namib Desert do not receive any rain at all for a number of years. It is considered to be the oldest desert (some 43 million years old) in the world and contains some of the world’s driest regions. The Atacama Desert in South America is the only other desert in the world that is as possibly as dry and as old as the Namib Desert. Temperatures in peak summer months can reach over 45 degrees Celsius whilst in winter it can get freezing cold during the nights. Due to its considerable age the Namib Desert may be home to more endemic species than any other desert in the world.
The geology of this desert consists of sand seas near the coast and further inland one finds gravel plains and mountain outcrops. These sand dunes can reach a height of 300 meters and are considered the second largest dunes in the world after the Badain Jaran Desert in China. In the Sossusvlei area, several dunes exceed 300 meters (980 feet) in height. The highest dune being the one nicknamed ‘Big Daddy’ which is about 325 meters high. This is however not the highest dune in the Namib Desert, Dune 7 just outside of Walvis Bay is considered to be the highest dune in the Namib Desert and reaches a height of 386 meters.
The complexity and regularity of the dune patterns in this dune sea have attracted the attention of geologists for decades, but it remains poorly understood. Fogs that originate from the cold ocean frequently envelopes parts of the desert and have been known to creep up to 50 kilometers inland. This fog provides mush needed moisture and water for the creatures and plants of the Namib Desert without which they would probably die.
Sossusvlei is the major attraction in the Namib Desert. Sossusvlei is a clay and salt pan surrounded by high red dunes, located in the southern part of the Namib Desert in the Namib Naukluft National Park of Namibia. It provides otherworldly scenery and is a must see for the visitor to Namibia. Scattered around this dry clay pan are the remaining blackened skeletons of trees which are estimated to be between 600-700 years old. These trees are black as they have been scorched by the sun. These dead trees have not petrified as the wood is not able to decompose due to the extreme dryness of the surrounding area.
The name ‘Sossusvlei’ is often used in a general manner to refer to the surrounding area (including other neighbouring vleis such as Deadvlei and other high dunes such as Big Daddy, Big Mama, Dune 45 and Elim Dune).
Click here for accommodation options in the surrounding area of Sossusvlei/Sesriem.
A popular activity is to go hot air ballooning over Sossusvlei and the surrounding area. It is an experience never to be forgotten.
A scenic flight over Sossusvlei is another popular option if you are looking for activities to do in the area. You will be in awe of the majestic beauty of the Namib Sand Sea and its gigantic dunes!
UNESCO World Heritage Site – Namib Sand Sea
‘The desert scenery, natural beauty and large dunes of the Namib Sand Sea as well as the diversity of life form that have evolved and adapted to the Namib Sand Sea are unique in the world. Hence the nomination” – Marius Kudumo, The Secretary General of the Namibia National Commission for UNESCO.
In 2013 the Namib Sand Sea was declared a World Heritage Site. It was the first natural site in 10 years that met all of the criteria required by UNESCO in order to be granted this status. That puts the Namib Sand Sea on a par with the Great Barrier Reef off of Australia and The Galapagos Islands off the coast of South America that also fulfilled all four criteria.
Namib Naukluft National Park
The Namib Desert is well protected by the Namib Naukluft Park which covers an area of about 49768 square kilometers of the central part of the Namib Desert. The park extends from Swakopmund in the north to Luderitz in the south. The Southern section of this park is controlled very strictly and public entry is not permitted. This area is known as Diamond Area No. 2. The Naukluft Mountains are part of the Namib Naukluft National Park and the southern part of this mountain range forms the easternmost part of the Namib Naukluft National Park. The northern section of this mountain is owned by private farms. These mountains are known for their wildlife which includes healthy populations of mountain zebras and leopards. This mountain has many small waterfalls and small streams and is considered Namibia’s premier hiking and walking trails destination.
Animals and Plants in the Namib Desert
There are a number of animals and unusual species of plants and that are found in this desert. Many of these have made incredible adaptations to survive the extreme and harsh climate and many of these creatures are endemic. One of the most well known endemic plants is the weird looking Welwitschia. The Welwitschia is known for its survival in the extremely arid conditions in the Namib, mostly deriving moisture from the coastal sea fogs. An area where Welwitschias are a common sight is found in the surroundings of the Moon Valley (just outside of Swakopmund), including the eponymous Welwitschia Plains.
Fauna in the Namib Desert mostly consist of arthropods and other small animals that can live on little water. There are however a few species of bigger animals that are also found, including antelopes (such as oryxes and springboks), ostriches, zebras and in some areas even desert elephants and desert lions. All these species have developed techniques to survive in the harsh Namib environment. The black backed Jackal is known to lick humidity off stones in order to get some much needed moisture into their bodies. The Gemsbok (known also as Oryx’s) is able to raise the temperature of their bodies to 40 degrees C during the hottest hours of the day. There is also a type of beetle (known as fog beetles) that has special adaptations to its body which allows water to roll down the beetles back and into its mouth. These beetles will place their bodies in an almost upside down position in order to achieve this.
Travelers to Namibia are able to undertake excursions into the Namib Desert as half or full day tours from Swakopmund. This tour is recommended and a very popular activity for international visitors to Namibia. You will be amazed by the wildlife that exists in the desert.
For accommodation options in Swakopmund please click here.
Another popular activity is to go quad biking in the Namib Desert to discover and explore the dunes. These quad bike tours are mostly conducted from Swakopmund and are done in a professional and sensitive manner in order not to disturb any of the wildlife.