In Sossusvlei in the Namib-Naukluft National Park, the supposedly highest sand dunes in the world can be found amidst a spectacular dune landscape.
Sossusvlei is located southwest of Namibia and is one of our top 10 sights of Namibia as the main attraction of the Namib-Naukluft National Park. Sossusvlei is surrounded by the highest sand dunes in the world and should be on the program of every Namibia traveler. Since 2013, Sossusvlei has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the Namib Sand Sea.
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PICTURES: Sossusvlei, Namib-Naukluft National Park
What does Sossusvlei mean?
Vlei" is the name given to a salt-encrusted clay depression, "Sossus" means "blind river" in the Nama language. Sossusvlei refers to the place where the Tsauchab River percolates into the eternal sands of the Namib, about 50km before it would have reached the Atlantic Ocean. About every ten years it rains enough for the salt pan to fill with a few centimeters of water, forming a beautiful turquoise lake. Most of the time, however, Sossusvlei is completely dry.
Just near Sossusvlei are other "dead river ends", Deadvlei at the end of Sossusvlei and Hiddenvlei at the end of the road. What makes these vleis special are the dead acacias on their banks. Due to the extreme dryness, they decay extremely slowly and their black branches still stick out of the desert sand like spindly fingers.
And yet there is also life on the vleis. The red sand is covered again and again by the thorny bushes of the Nara plant and now and then lizards, insects or snakes scurry through the sand. Also the one or other oryx gazelle can be seen.
The highest sand dunes in the world at Sossusvlei
Around the Vlei, the supposedly highest sand dunes in the world rise to the sky at over 300 meters. The constant westerly wind blowing across the Namib from the Atlantic causes the sand to pile up into these gigantic dunes, which are blown further and further inland. The highest of the dunes is called Big Daddy or Crazy Dune and reaches a fabulous height of 380 meters.
The endless dune landscape is about 300km long and about 140km wide. By the way, the name "Namib" is derived from this emptiness, because "Namib" means "place where nothing is" in the language of the Nama. However, the wind also brings the moisture from the sea, which causes the iron in the sand to oxidize, resulting in the rust-red color that is characteristic of the Namib. The darker the orange, the older the dune.
Tip: If you are in the dune landscape of Sossusvlei, you should definitely take the chance and climb a dune! The undertaking is extremely sweaty (have enough drinking water and sunscreen with you!), but the unforgettable view over the gentle red slopes will reward any effort!
What is the best way to get to Sossusvlei?
To get to Sossusvlei, take the entrance to the Namib-Naukluft National Park at Sesriem on the eastern border of the national park (fee required). The entrance is only open from sunrise to sunset. The times when the gates of the park are opened and closed again can be read at the entrance. If you want to leave for Sossusvlei as early as possible, you have to stay at the campsite in Sesriem. Here the gates into the park are opened already before sunrise, for the visitors who stay overnight outside, the gates into the park open only approx. one hour later.
Tip: In high season the accommodations and campsites in the Namib-Naukluft National Park are booked out quickly, so book early!
From Sesriem, an approximately 65km long asphalt road leads to Sossusvlei, where you can already marvel at the breathtaking sand dunes. If you don't have much time, turn right a few kilometers after the park entrance. After about 15 minutes of driving you reach the Elim dune, which gives a small foretaste of the spectacular dunes of Sossusvlei. The main route leads to the famous Dune 45, which can be climbed from a parking lot.
Tip: In the morning the dune landscape around Sossusvlei is usually very busy, but shortly before sunset the landscape is just as beautiful and less crowded. The only disadvantage is that then the air is no longer so wonderfully clear.
The drive from the park entrance to Sossusvlei takes about one and a half hours. Until about 5km before Sossusvlei you can drive by car, after the parking lot under camel thorn trees it goes through deep sand only on foot or with 4WD (deflate!). If you don't have a 4×4 vehicle and don't want to hike through the heat, you can use the paid shuttle services.
Sossusvlei excellent photography
The sand dunes at Sossusvlei are best seen in photos when the sun is low, as they then cast spectacular shadows. This clearly speaks for an overnight stay in the national park, as you can leave early enough to experience the dunes at Sossusvlei at sunrise or sunset. By the way, protect the cameras well against the omnipresent sand, otherwise the last shots may be taken in the Namib.