The area of Sossusvlei, situated within the Namib-Naukluft National Park in the southern corner of Namibia, is characterised by its famous red/pink/orange sand dunes and white salt pans. Like many wanderers, these seemingly endless dunes have sat atop our bucket list for years. The enduring images from photos, postcards and nature documentaries led us to the isolated desert town of Sesriem, ready to explore this natural wonder of the world.
And explore we did. From sunrise till sundown, over dunes, into canyons, on foot, and via 4WD. The magnitude and splendour of these technicolour landscapes, with their ever shifting shapes and colours left us speechless, and will you too.
Despite being the most popular tourist attraction in Namibia, we felt completely isolated during our stay. Perhaps because it’s difficult to spot a human on the 325m orange sand dunes, or the fact that, regardless of it’s popularity, Sossusvlei is damn remote.
For those wanting to visiting Namibia, Sossusvlei is unmissable and we recommend staying at least two days. Here’s our comprehensive guide to this wonder of the natural world, Sossusvlei, and Sesriem.
THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN SOSSUSVLEI
#1 ADMIRE, THEN CLIMB THE DUNES
Obviously, the main attraction of Sossusvlei is the incredible and ever changing sand dunes. If you have your own vehicle, it’s easy to access most dunes along the paved road from Sesriem.
The dunes are best visited in the morning or later afternoon. At this time, the colour are more vibrant, the heat is less oppressive, and the crowds are diminished. At times, you’ll feel like the dunes are all yours to explore, so make the most of it. Hike (or try) to the top of one and admire the Mars-like landscape from above – it’s incredible.
In our opinion, there are a few dunes you really must see:
Probably the most famous and photographed dune in Sossusvlei, Dune 45 is easily accessible; it lies 45km from Sesriem, just off the paved road.
Standing at 170m in height, Dune 45 may seem easy to climb, but take our word for it, it’s a tough workout. The views from the top are well worthwhile.
The best time to visit is later afternoon, on the left side of the dune is in shadow, creating extreme contrasts and incredible photo opportunities.
Elim dune is located 5km inside the park gate and is an easily accessible option. It’s partially covered in vegetation, making it more distinct to other dunes in the area.
It’s a perfect location for sunrise, where you can watch the daybreak over Sesriem and the mountains to the east.
#2 EXPLORE THE SURREAL LANDSCAPES OF DEADVLEI AND HIDDEN VLEI
Located about 3 km’s (6km round trip) from the Sossusvlei 4wd car park is Deadvlei, famous for its 900-year-old fossilised Acacia trees which dot an expansive white clay pan.
We can’t stress enough how incredible this place is. We we’re literally gobsmacked as we stepped over the lip of a dune and laid eyes on Deadvlei for the first time. It’s completely surreal to sit and we really recommend taking the time to soak it all in.
A word of warning though – the walk is quite tough, so take enough water for at least a few hours.
Hidden Vlei, is a 4km round walk from the 2WD car park. For us, the walk in itself was the most rewarding part of our visit. Lone trees are scattered across the barren landscape, while the unearthly clay pan nestled amongst giant dunes is awe-inspiring.
While the walk is signposted, it can be easy to get lost. So follow the footsteps and keep your bearings! And take extra water.
If you’re keen to visit Deadvlei, you’ll need follow the paved road from Sesriem to the 2WD car park, then jump aboard the national parks shuttle for a 4km drive to the hike starting point. For Hidden Vlei, the hike commences from the 2WD car park.
#3 FLOAT ABOVE THE WORLD’S OLDEST AND DRIEST DESERT
Like most great attractions around the world, it’s possible to go ballooning over the dunes of Sossusvlei. Flights depart before sunrise, where you’ll be treated to an epic live show of mother natures beauty.
Booked through Namib Sky Balloon Safaris, flights cost around N$5,950 ($450 USD) and include a champagne breakfast.
#4 SEARCH FOR WATER IN SESRIEM CANYON
If you’ve got the time, Sesriem Canyon is worth a visit. Shaped over millions of years, it’s one of the only places in the area which holds water all year around.
It’s located 4.5km’s within the national park gates, on the left.
LEARN MORE: OUR DEFINITIVE NAMIBIA TRAVEL GUIDE
WHEN TO VISIT SOSSUSVLEI
Given it’s location and climate, Sossusvlei can be visited at anytime of year. We recommend visiting from May – October, when the cooler winter temperatures make exploring the area enjoyable.
It’s important to note that southern Africa school holidays are peak travel periods, so accommodation and camping options can fill up.
If you are visiting in the summer months, the temperatures do get quite warm, so pack accordingly and always carry enough water.
WHERE TO STAY IN SOSSUSVLEI
Due to the growing popularity of Sossusvlei, there are quite a few accommodation options in Sesriem. However, due to the isolation, be prepared to pay far more than Windhoek, or other regional towns.
It’s important to make a reservation. This is something we learned the hard way when we arrived with no accommodation booked and had to fork out a week’s budget for one night!
Most of the properties are located outside the park gates, which can cause an issue if you’re keen to watch sunset within the park, or get a good position for sunrise. National park rules stipulate all visitors must be outside the park from sunset to sunrise unless utilising the park accommodation.
We recommend the following:
Sossusvlei Lodge | We may have erred by not making a reservation prior to our arrival in Sossusvlei, but the result was staying in this incredibly beautiful property. Trust us when we say it was worth every goddamn penny!
Located right on the edge of the Namib-Nauklauft National Park, Sossusvlei Lodge is in prime position for all park related activities. Rooms are part safari tent, part permanent structure, and open to the most glorious balcony overlooking the desert.
A buffet breakfast and dinner are included in the room price, with meals served by candlelight on the terrace. The property also contains a pool, bar and adventure centre for tour bookings.
Read reviews on Tripadvisor
Each unit contains twin beds and fold out sleeper couch, so can be cost effective if travelling in a group of three. The en-suite bathroom is equipped with all you need, while the patio includes a barbecue, kitchenette and fridge, perfect for a barbecue and sundowner.
Read reviews on Tripadvisor
Sesriem Camp | If you’re camping, which most budget travellers/backpackers are in Namibia, Sesriem Camp, located inside the park grounds, is a great option. Not only is it a cheap alternative to the lodges external to the park, you’ll also be inside the park and able to travel inside the park at your will; perfect for photographers aiming to capture the late sunset, or star-scapes, or those trying to avoid the crowds.
Read reviews on Tripadvisor
WHERE TO EAT IN SOSSUSVLEI
We’re afraid the restaurant options in Sesriem are very limited. If you’re staying in one of the lodges, it’s best you eat there. Some accommodation options include breakfast and dinner in the room cost.
We highly recommend the breakfast and dinner buffet at Sossusvlei Lodge restaurant. The buffet is very good quality, and a personal chef will cook your choice of game meat at dinner time (vegetarians like us, look away). Bookings are essential if you’re staying at a different lodge.
If you’re staying in a self contained unit or campsite, utilise the facilities provided and cook up a barbecue. The Engen service station in Sesriem contains a small grocery store where you can stock up on the essentials. It also sells hot and cold snacks but nothing substantial.
HOW TO GET TO SOSSUSVLEI
Sossusvlei is located about 350km south west of Windhoek. If you’re planning on to driving there yourself, a day should be enough time (6 – 8 hours).
While driving the route in a 2WD car is possible, we recommend using a high clearance vehicle (SUV or 4WD) as parts of the route can get a little treacherous. On a number of occasions we had to drive very slowly to make it through deep layers of sand.
You can take the route from Windhoek via Rehoboth, Klein Aub, Rietoog and Bullsport, however we’ve heard that this road can get quite hard to navigate if not in a 4WD. The other, slightly longer option goes via Mariental and Maltahohe to Sesriem.
As a precaution, always take extra water and food, and fill up whenever you see a petrol station.
Other destination travel times are as follows:
Sossusvlei to Swakopmund | 350 km | 5 to 6 hours travel time
Sossusvlei to Luderitz | 500 km | 7 to 8 hours travel time
Another option is to jump aboard the Sossusvlei Shuttle Safari, a 2 day/3 night all inclusive short tour from Windhoek. This tour costs start at N$5,950 ($450 USD), which is decent value in our opinion. Tours also operate from Swakopmund.
NAMIBIA BUCKET LIST: 9 PLACES YOU MUST VISIT IN NAMIBIA
Sossusvlei is located within the Namib-Naukluft National Park and as such, you require a permit to enter.
Permits can be obtained at the park office inside the gate at Sesriem, and cost N$80 per day.
Please be aware that if you are not staying within the designated park boundaries, you can only enter the park between sunrise and sunset. If you’re heading in for sunrise, get your permit the day before.
Mobile reception and Internet
In the town of Sesriem you’ll have 3G phone reception, however if you’re inside the park, forget about reception.
Most hotels have wi-fi/internet capabilities should you need it (you may have to pay at some of these).
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