Whether you are on a self-drive tour or on an organised safari to Namibia you will most certainly want to include a visit to Sossusvlei in your itinerary.
Sossusvlei is undoubtedly southern Namibia’s most popular tourist attraction and forms part of the Namib Sand Sea World Heritage Site. 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). Sossusvlei is a salt and clay pan and has the most spectacular scenery one could possibly imagine. Huge orange coloured sand dunes under wide blue skies, gnarly old trees and springbok and the odd gemsbok. It is recommended to visit Sossusvlei either early morning or late afternoon as it can get very hot during the day. The rising or setting sun also provides a magical effect on the dunes and the shadows that are created by the moving sun.
One would enter Sossusvlei via the Sesriem Gate. Remember that this gate opens at sunrise and will close again when the sun sets. Unless you are staying at the Namibia Wildlife Resort (NWR) lodge or Sesriem Campsite you will have to ensure that you are out of the park before the gate closes. As you start driving towards Sossusvlei you will almost immediately notice the dunes starting on your right side with Elim Dune. These huge sand dunes continue all the way on towards Sossusvlei. Dune 45 – at the 45 km mark, is a favourite for climbing. It is well worth the climb as the surrounding scenery consists of a sea of huge sand dunes as far as the eye can see. You will then cross the Tsauchab River, which is usually dry except for when there is good summer rainfall. This only happens every few years so it is unlikely that you will encounter the Tsauchab River in flood. Visitors to Sossusvlei are required to drive a distance of 60 km’s from the Sesriem entrance along a tarred road through the park to reach Sossusvlei. Please note that a permit is required and can be obtained from the nearby park office.
While it may be tempting to rush ahead to your destination, keep your speed down and drive cautiously as Springbok often cross the road. You may even see Oryx (locally known as Gemsbok) resting under the odd tree or dune. Once you reach the Sossusvlei parking lot, if you have a 4×4, and have experience driving on soft sand, you could deflate your tyres and navigate the last 5 km to the vlei. Everyone else has the option to use the NWR shuttles which travel to and from the vlei.
The shuttle stops at the onset of the 1 km walk to Dead Vlei through soft sand and a final climb up a small sandy slope. Here you will be greeted by an other-worldly and surreal scene and undoubtedly one of the most photographed locations on the African continent. Camel-thorn tree skeletons thought to be between 600 to 700 years old embed the cracked white pan. Due to the lack of water and the harsh heat of the sun the trees appear blackened. Take your time and stroll around the Dead Vlei – it is unlikely you will ever see another environment like this anywhere else in the world. The majestic giant dunes rise behind and around the pan giving many visitors a feeling of other-worldliness. This desert area is home to some of the world’s highest sand dunes. Big Daddy being the highest of them at 340 meters. The Big Daddy Dune is the seventh dune past the Tsauchab River before Dune 45 located on the right hand side going towards Sossusvlei. It faces another very high dune known as ‘Big Mama’.
Back on the road, the shuttle takes you to Sossusvlei – you could walk this if you really wanted to. The best views over the vlei can be seen after a short walk up the Big Mama dune (if the wind isn’t blowing). The pan only really fills up in times of heavy rain.
As with most desert safaris, the experience of the area and the beautiful landscape is what the trip is really about and while you may see wildlife, you may not necessarily see much.
There is a good variety and selection of accommodation near Sossusvlei/Sesriem. Whether you intend staying at a lodge, guest farm or camping it is advisable to book in peak season. Many of these lodges offer day trips into Sossusvlei if you don’t feel like driving yourself.
The Sesriem Canyon
The Sesriem Canyon is located about 4.5 kilometers from Sesriem itself. A permit is required to visit this attraction and this can be obtained from the same office as the permit required to visit Sossusvlei. It is well worth visiting the Sesriem Canyon – it is a natural canyon which gets up to 30 meters deep and is approximately 1 kilometer long. In some places the Sesriem canyon is only 2 meters wide. The Tsauchab River is responsible for carving out this canyon over a period of millions of years. The name Sesriem (six belts) is an Afrikaans word used to describe the number of leather belts that the settlers from the Dorsland Trek had to tie together to use in order to lower down buckets to replenish their water supplies.
There are often pools of water found in the canyon which is a valuable source of water for animals to drink from. One can however usually walk through the entire length of the Sesriem Canyon.
There are great activities you could partake in on your visit to Sossusvlei and surrounding area:
- Dune-top Picnics
- Climb Big Daddy Dune
- Visiting Sesriem Canyon
- Walking/hiking around the Naukluft Mountains
- Desert Walks
- Hot Air Ballooning
- Horse Riding at Buellsport
- And many more
Tips for Your Visit to Sossusvlei
Dress in layers – Mornings in the desert tend to be chilly, colder than you might think. Once the sun is up, it gets warm quickly and the afternoons are hot. It helps to wear multiple layers you can take off as the day wears on.
Wear appropriate shoes – While you might be tempted to wear lightweight shoes because of the heat, you may find yourself perpetually having to remove your socks and shoes to get rid of sand if you do. Make sure you wear closed shoes that will block the sand from pouring in. While you are bound to still get tons of sand in your shoes, you will at least be able to remain relatively comfortable.
Bring refreshments – Once you get to the park, you can’t pick up any snacks so plan ahead. Prepare your refreshments the night before and always pack in extra water.
Book your campsite early – If you intend camping at the Sesriem camp site make sure you book early as the campsite is really popular. Plan ahead and secure your spot.
Don’t forget your camera.
Please respect the area and remove all litter with you.
Parting tip: Enjoy the changing colours of the mountains and sky in the late afternoon as they turn pink.