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Desert safaris to Sossusvlei Namibia
Sossusvlei is a perfect specimen of Namibia’s unspoiled desert beauty. It is a salt and clay pan situated in the largest conservation area in Africa, the Namib-Naukluft National Park. This photogenic area is famous for its large, red sand dunes, which are some of the tallest sand dunes in the world and is one of Namibia’s most visited attractions.The word Sossusvlei originates from two languages, Nama and Afrikaans. It literally translates to “dead-end” (from the Nama word “Sossus”) “marsh” (from the Afrikaans word “Vlei”). Strictly, Sossusvlei refers specifically to the salt and clay pan at the end of the Tsauchab River’s course; however, often the entire area including Dune 45, Deadvlei, and Hiddenvlei is referred to as Sossusvlei.
At Sossusvlei, the dunes meet preventing the Tsauchab River to flow any further, hence its name meaning “dead-end marsh”. Namibia is very dry and the Tsauchab River seldom flows as far as the pan. However, following an exceptional rainy season in the Naukluft Mountains the pan is filled and appears as a lake, drawing visitors from all over the world to witness this remarkable site.
The characteristic red dunes of the Namib Desert have developed over many millions of years. The red sand that forms the dunes was deposited into the Atlantic Ocean from the Orange River. The Benguela current then carried these sand northwards, to be deposited back onto the land by the ocean’s surf. From here the wind carried the red sand inland to form the dunes over time.
The sand dunes in Namib are dynamic and change shape with the wind. The dunes around the Sossusvlei area are known as “star dunes” due to the wind shaping them from all directions. Enquire now to visit one of Namibia’s most beautiful, natural wonders.
Top attractions in Sossusvlei sand dunes in Namibia
Big Daddy is the tallest dune in the Sossusvlei area. This magnificent dune is situated between Sossusvlei and Deadvlei and at 325 meters it dwarfs the other dunes. Should you want the ultimate bragging rights, take a lot of water and trek to the top of Big Daddy where you can look down onto Deadvlei.
At 325 meters, Big Daddy may be the highest dune in the Sossusvlei area; however, it is not the highest in the Namib Desert. This honor is given to Dune 7, which has been measured at 388m. Dune 7 earned its name by being the 7th dune along the Tsauchab River.
Close to Sossusvlei, Deadvlei is a clay pan characterized by dark, dead camel thorn trees contrasted against the white pan floor. The pan was formed when the Tsauchab River flooded and the abundance of water allowed camel thorn trees to grow. However, the climate changed and the sand dunes encroached on the pan, blocking the river from reaching the area. The trees are estimated to be approximately 900 years old, however, they have not decomposed due to the dry climate.
Deadvlei is a paradise for photographers as the contrast between the pitch-black trees and bleached-white pans, and the rusty-red dunes and deep blue sky make for incredible images. Deadvlei is at least a 1km walk from the parking lot so be sure to take drinking water with you.
Dune 45 is named for its proximity to Sesriem Gate. It is situated 45km from the gate, along a paved road, and is easily reached using a 2×4 vehicle. It’s fascinating shape and accessibility makes it the most photographed dune in the world.
The dunes of the Namib Desert were created by sand carried by the wind from the coast of Namibia. The sand here is 5 million years old and is red in color due to its iron oxide content. As the lighting changes with the time of day, so does the appearance of the dunes’ characteristic color, allowing for interesting photographs at any time. The wind in the Sossusvlei area blows from all directions, which means that the type of the dunes hare is known as “star dunes”. This is because the winds cause the sand to form a star shape with multiple arms.
Visitors are allowed to climb Dune 45, so be sure to visit early in the morning to watch the sunrise over the vlei from the top of the Dune. The Dune is 85 meters high and the climb is well worth the effort as from the top you will be spoilt with the incredible panoramic view of Dune Valley. In the morning and evening light, the floor of the pan has been described as a “moonscape” and is truly a sight to behold.
We would love to see your pictures from your trip to Sossusvlei, Please send us your images and we will add them to our guest gallery.
Hiddenvlei is a 2km walk from the end of the 2×4 track and the route is marked with wooden poles. This vlei is the least visited of all the vleis letting those who make the journey enjoy some solitude in the beautiful desert surroundings.
During your walk to Hiddenvlei, look closely at the sand to examine the various tracks of the animals that occupy the area. You should be able to distinguish the tracks of Gemsbok and Springbok quite easily. However, on closer inspection, you will be able to see the tracks of the smaller animals that generally live underneath the sand, for example, the little Namib Gecko.
Sesriem Canyon has located approximately 4.5km from the entrance gate of the Namib-Naukluft National Park. 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.
The early Afrikaans explorers in the region named the canyon after the fact that they had to use six (“ses”) leather straps (“riem”) tied together to create a rope long enough to lower buckets into the canyon below, in order to fetch water.
There are parking facilities so that visitors can park their vehicles and take a walk through the canyon. The canyon is narrow at places, however, it is worth exploring due to the stunning rock formations that will captivate your attention.
A tiny settlement at the intersection of the C14 and C19, Solitare started as just a single cottage in 1948. Christoffel van Coller and his wife Elsie built the cottage and aptly named it Solitaire due to its remote location. Over the years a few more facilities were added and today you will find a filling station, a small shop, accommodation, and Big Moose’s Bakery.
Solitaire is only 83km north of Sesriem Gate and, if only for a taste of Big Moose’s Apple Strudel, is well worth a visit! Take a seat outside of the bakery, in the shade of the trees, and feast on this exquisite treat, while ground squirrels and weavers fight over the crumbs that escape your fork.
15km along the paved road from Dune 45 there is a general parking area for those wanting to visit Hiddenvlei, Sossusvlei, and Deadvlei. Visitors must travel a further 5km along a sandy 4×4 track in order to reach Sossusvlei. Should you not have a 4×4, or should you not feel comfortable navigating through the soft sand, there are shuttles that run from the car park to Sossusvlei.
Exploring the area is done on foot and is self-guided unless you have hired a private tour guide. Always remember to take enough drinking water with you, as it gets very hot in the area.
Best activity at Sossusvlei sand dunes
Sossusvlei is a photographer’s dream and one of the most fascinating landscapes in the world. Red dunes, dramatic black shadows, rolling plains, and rocky-mountains meet here to provide an optical wonderland. Here, in the Namib Desert (the oldest desert on the planet), landscapes, animals, and plants create one of the most incredible ecosystems in the world.
The best way to experience the heart of the Namib Desert is in a hot air balloon.
Watch the sunrise over this stunning landscape from the silence of a hot air balloon. This is an experience you are guaranteed never to forget.
Namib Sky Balloon Safaris has flown over 55 000 passengers, over 20 years, with a 100% safety record. Your safety is their priority! Namib Sky’s pilots are all highly qualified holders of commercial pilot licenses.
Where to stay during your visit to Sossusvlei Namibia
Beyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge
Cradled against the ancient mountains & Beyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge provides guests with the opportunity to experience definitive luxury while overlooking the stark yet enchanting Namib Desert. With only 10 villas, guests are invited to enjoy the solitude and serenity of the desert.
The main lodge area’s walls fold away to provide uninterrupted views over the desert. The lodge boasts a fire-lit bar, comfortable sitting room, wraparound veranda, and Safari Shop. The pool, fed by water from an underground spring, provides the perfect refuge from the midday heat.
Guests dine by the light of lanterns and are served exquisite meals complemented by a fine selection of wines from an impressive walk-in wine cellar. After dinner, enjoy exceptional star gazing from the fully equipped observatory or from the comfort of your bed through the star-viewing skylights above.
Accommodation is provided by 10 climate-controlled villas, dotted along the curve of the escarpment. Each stone and glass villa has only the finest décor that allows you to feel part of the nature that surrounds you.
Guests are treated to their own private veranda, split-level bedroom, and living room with fireplace, ensuite glass-encased bathroom, and outdoor shower. There is also a discrete music system and a custom-stocked personal bar for your enjoyment.
- Climate controlled
- Outdoor shower
- Private veranda
- Custom-stocked bar
- Discrete music system
- The skylight above the bed
Kulala Desert Lodge
Kulala Desert Lodge is situated on the private Kulala Wilderness Reserve and in easy reach of the magnificent dunes of Sossusvlei. The lodge offers a private entrance into the Namib- Naukluft National Park.
It draws its inspiration from North Africa with the main guest area incorporating a lounge, bar, and dining area. There is a plunge pool for cooling down on simmering summer days and a wrap-around veranda boasting incredible views of the waterhole in front of the lodge.
Built on a raised wooden deck, there is a choice of 23 thatch and canvas ‘kulalas’ (including 3 family units) with private verandas, en- suite bathrooms, and a deck on the flat rooftop.
- En- suite chalets with flat rooftops for wildlife viewing and stargazing
- Situated in the private Kulala Wilderness Reserve
- Various activities on offer including hot air ballooning, nature walks, and private tours
Tucked away in the 37 000-hectare private Kulala Wilderness Reserve, Little Kulala treats guests to unmatched desert luxury. Guests are welcomed to an elegant entertainment area where they can make use of the library, wine cellar, and craft boutique, or they can sit back and relax in the lounge. The expansive African night sky makes dining under the stars a spectacular way to spend your evenings.
Taking its inspiration from the surrounding environments, Little Kulala describes itself as an organic camp making use of neutral colors, gorgeous textures and natural light to reproduce the soothing pastel tones of the desert. The interiors are adorned with pure linens, cotton, and mohair dyed with natural vegetable dyes, creating a mood of cool serenity.
Kulala Wilderness Reserve has its own private gate into the Namib-Naukluft National Park, which makes it the closest camp to Sossusvlei providing guests with splendid views of the red dunes.
Accommodation is provided by 11 climate-controlled villas, which blend in seamlessly with their surroundings. Each thatched villa has a private bleached deck complete with its own plunge pool. They also each have both indoor and outdoor showers. The interior décor of natural fabrics and textures allows guests to truly experience the serenity of the area.
Guests are invited to take advantage of the night sky on their own private rooftop “skybed”, where they can indulge in some romantic stargazing and sleep under the stars, should they wish.
- Climate controlled
- Outdoor shower
- Private balcony
- Private plunge pool
- Rooftop Skybed.
How to get to Sossusvlei sand dunes Namibia
Sesriem is the tiny village at the entrance to the Namib-Naukluft National Park and acts as the gateway to Sossusvlei.
The most important thing to note about accessing Sossusvlei’s dunes is the opening hours of the gates – the main gate which gives access to the National Park opens at sunrise and closes at sunset, the second inner gate just a few hundred meters further into the park opens and closes about an hour before and after sunrise and sunset giving those staying within its boundaries extra time in the park and the opportunity to view the dunes in the best light before most other visitors are able to arrive.
From the inner gate, it is about 60km along a tarred road to reach a 2 wheel-drive parking area. From there, a very sandy track will take you to the final parking area and the trail to Deadvlei and the most popular dunes.
If you have a 4×4 (which we recommend for Namibia) and feel confident driving in sand, stop at the 2WD parking space and reduce your Tyre pressure to 150 kPa before continuing on to the final parking area.
We received a very thorough explanation of our car which made us confident in using the 4WD and which Tyre pressure was best for which type of road. However, we saw others that had not been told, headed into the sand without 4WD properly engaged, and ended up getting stuck 30 meters along. If you plan on driving this section and don’t have experience with a 4WD vehicle, make sure your rental agency explains it properly.
When we visited, there was one patch of the road close to the final car park that was particularly bumpy and practically a sandpit. There is another stretch of road though and if you stick right on your way in (left on the way out) you should be able to avoid it.
If you don’t have a 4×4 or are not comfortable driving through the sand stretches, safari shuttles can take you the rest of the way for around $150 (US$12) return. When we visited, these guys were ready and waiting at the inner gate and played no attention to the national park speed limits meaning they were the first ones at the 2WD car park and ready to shuttle people the rest of the way in time to reach the dunes for sunrise.
All up, if you stick to the speed limit (which few people seem to do) it takes over an hour from the inner gate to the parking area so plan accordingly – including leaving enough time to get out of the park in the evening.
Best time to visit Sossusvlei sand dunes Namibia
The best time to visit Sossusvlei is autumn from March until May or spring from August to October. The cool air offers clearer skies and ideal photography conditions and temperatures are milder both day and night.
THINGS TO DO
|Hot Air Balloon Safaris in Sossusvelei desert dunes|
|Photography Safaris in Sossusvelei desert dunes|
|Wildlife Safaris in Sossusvelei desert dunes|
|Star Glazing in Sossusvelei desert dunes|
|Self-drive Safaris in Sossusvelei desert dunes|
|Honeymoon Safaris in Sossusvelei desert dunes|
|Hiking trips in Sossusvelei desert dunes|
WHERE TO STAY
|And Beyond Sossusvlei Lodge|
|Kuala Desert Lodge|
|Sossusvlei Desert Lodge|
|Wolwedans Private Camp|
|Desert Rhino Camp|
|Serra Cafema Camp|
WHEN TO GO
|Best time to Sossusvelei desert dunes|
|3 Days Sossusvelei Dune Lodge Safari|
|3 Days Namib Desert Budget Safari|
|4 Days Swakopmund & Sossusvlei Dunes|
|6 Days Explore Southern Namibia|
|6 Days Namib Desert & Wildlife Safari|
|7 Days Cape Town to Namibia Safari|
|7 Days Big Cats, Etosha & Desert Namibia Safari|
|12 Days Highlights of Namibia Luxury Safari|