Have you heard of Sossusvlei? It’s ok, many travelers haven’t. What matters is that you take the chance to learn what it’s all about. While the name might not sound that familiar, Sossusvlei is one of Namibia’s biggest attractions.
This nature-lovers paradise looks postcard perfect and it’s an attraction you won’t want to miss. Planning a trip to Namibia? You may want to add Sossusvlei to your itinerary. Here’s what you need to know about it.
What is Sossusvlei?
Technically, Sossusvlei is a vast pan made of clay and salt. It’s surrounded by towering, red sand dunes and is situated in the desert.
The name Sossusvlei translates to ‘dead-end-marsh,’ which is fitting since it is a drainage basin to the Tsauchab river.
It’s covered in sand that is so salt-rich that it has formed a distinguished crust. Over the years, the pan has been shaped by the Tsauchab river. While flooding is rare, the dry land fills with the river’s overflow every few years.
The natural landscapes that come together here have made Sossusvlei a tourist destination. Now, visitors to Namibia flock to the area to get a look at the stunning views.
The photo of Sossusvlei is easily recognized as its color scheme is quite unique. The scene is a mix of red dunes, white earth, and black trees. In fact, the landscape is littered with 700-year old acacia trees that have died and darkened.
While they look slightly haunting, the trees are what give this site its artistic look.
Where is Sossusvlei?
Sossusvlei can be found in the southern region of the Namib Desert. It’s located within the Namib-Naukluft National Park. Namibia’s capital, Windhoek, is only a five-hour drive away.
The site extends between the Kuiseb and Koichab rivers and is most known for the high sand dunes that are found here.
Facts About Sossusvlei
- The orange and pink colors in the sand show that there is a high concentration of iron present.
- The redder and more intense the color, the older the dunes are.
- Some of the world’s highest dunes are located here. Many of them are more than 200 meters.
- The highest dune is 325 meters and is nicknamed ‘Big Daddy.’
- There is one dune higher than this in the Namib Desert. This is Dune 7 which is 388 meters high.
- There are a number of underground rivers in the area that often flood the pans.
- Water is brought to Sossusvlei via fogs that come in off the Atlantic Ocean in the early mornings.
- Sossusvlei is one of the top photographed landscapes in Sub-Saharan Africa.
- This scene has been featured in dozens of music videos, movies, and commercials.
- The movie, The Cell, featured Sossusvlei in many of its scenes.
- The Fall and Steel Dawn were also shot in this area.
Things to do in Sossusvlei
There is plenty to do when visiting this desert attraction. When you finish photographing the beautiful scene, make sure to:
- Stargaze: As one of the most remote destinations in the world, this part of the desert has no light pollution. And, with no light pollution, you can expect some amazing star gazing. Make sure to look for shooting stars to wish on.
- Rent Quads: If you really want to have an adventure, rent some quad bikes. They will allow you to go deep into the desert and see areas that you otherwise would have missed.
- Helicopter Ride: If you want to see this site from the sky, but balloons aren’t your thing, try a helicopter ride. It will be a little faster and slightly more secure than a balloon ride. The views will still be fantastic.
- Sand Surf: While they don’t officially have sand surfing here, you could improvise. Visitors can trek up the dunes and the brave ones can take a running start before settling on their bellies and sliding down. It may not be the smoothest of rides but it sure is fun.
- Hunt For Animal Tracks: There are a surprising amount of animals wandering the desert. Spend a little time looking for their prints in the sand. You may not notice them when you’re trekking and taking in the views. So, set aside some time just for animal tracking.
- Take a Hot Air Balloon Safari: A bird’s eye view is one of the best ways to see Sossusvlei. It’s peaceful, quiet, and serene. Take some time to soak in the truly unique perspective. Schedule a balloon ride for sunrise and you’ll have the best experience possible.
Top Attractions in Sossusvlei
When you aren’t searching for activities, you can check out the main attractions in the area. While a photo opt on the pan is necessary, there are quite a few additional attractions to be seen. While visiting, make sure to check out:
- Sesriem Canyon: This canyon has been shaped by the Tsauchab River over many years (just like Sossusvlei itself.) It can be found 4.5km from the park’s main entrance. While most places in the desert dry up completely, this canyon actually holds water throughout the entire year. The canyon gets its name (Sesriem means six in Afrikaans) because it took early explorers six belt straps, tied together, to get a bucket down the canyon as they fetched water. Visitors can walk around the canyon to do a little exploring.
- Sossusvlei: This is the main attraction and one that can be enjoyed beyond a photo shoot. You can take a 4×4 vehicle or one of the shuttle buses to reach it. Guests can visit via a guided tour or just wander the area themselves.
- Dune 45: This dune is one of the most photographed in the world due to its shape and accessibility. It can easily be reached with a 2X4 vehicle and is located 45km from Sesrium Gate. The sand on this dune is about five million years old. This spot is a favorite for photographers because as the light changes, so do the colors and characteristics of the dune. Because of the wind patterns, the dunes often feature stars made out of sand.
One of the highlights of Dune 45 is that visitors can climb it. A popular trek is right before sunrise so that climbers are at the top to watch the sun come up. Again, it’s kind of a paradise for photographers. Many visitors come during the evening as well since the landscape closely resembles another planet.
- Hiddenvlei: From the finish of the 2X4 track, there is a trail marked by wooden poles. The 2km walk will take you right to Hiddenvlei. Out of all the attractions, this one is visited the least, which means your walk may be pretty peaceful. There are many animals that roam this area so make sure to look for tracks in the sand during your walk. The Springbok and the Gemsbok are most frequently seen here. However, the most popular tracks to spot are that of the Namib Gecko.
- Deadvlei: Similar to Sossusvlei, this pan is made of clay and is characterized by its white floor and dark trees. The trees here are also dead but they are camel thorns instead of acacias. The trees grew when the pan was flooded by the Tsauchab River. But over time, the sand dunes grew and blocked the pan from river access, causing the trees to die. About 900 years old, the trees still stand because of the dry weather. This is another favorite site for photographers as the natural color scheme makes a beautiful photo pretty easy to obtain. It takes about 1km to walk there from the parking lot.
- Big Daddy: This is the tallest dune in the area. It sits right between Deadvlei and Sossusvlei but since it is 325 meters tall, it’s hard to notice the other two. Visitors will get the chance to hike to the top where they can get epic views and even better photos.
- Solitaire: This small settlement is one of the only places of its kind around. It’s located at the crossroads of C19 and C14 and was built by Christoffel Van Coller and his wife. It began as only a small cottage but grew into a filling station, accommodation, a bakery, and a tiny shop. The name solitaire means remote, which is an apt name given its location. It’s located 83km from Sesriem Gate, to the north. Take a seat under the trees and enjoy an apple strudel from the bakery.
Flora and Fauna in Sossusvlei
The land here may be desert, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t interesting flora and fauna to view. Keep an eye out for the living creatures of Sossusvlei. You’ll be glad you did.
- Fauna: Regardless of the 40-degree temperatures during the day, and below freezing temperatures at night, animals are still thriving in this area.
Spiders, beetles, and reptiles can be found under the sand. If you look closely, you can probably identify some of their tracks. In order to survive, many of these animals will wait around for the morning fog and lick some of the water droplets off of plants. Other animals are well-equipped to soak in water from the sand as they travel through it.
There are larger animals around this area as well. You may see ostrich, gemsbok, springbok, the brown hyena, the spotted hyena, porcupine, Cape fox, bat-eared fox, aardwolf, and the black-backed jackal. These animals all come out during different times of day so keep an eye out for them. Foxes tend to come out at night, so bring a flashlight. Try not to scare them off though.
- Flora: While you’ve probably seen plenty of dead trees, there are actually ones that are still living in the area. The Camel Thorn trees have a tap root system which runs about 60 meters below the sand to reach water. Since there are a few underground rivers in the area, these trees are able to survive.
These incredible trees are also able to survive frost which helps them during the frigid nighttime climate. It seems that they got their name since they share their watering habits with real camels. However, their name actually means giraffe in Afrikaans. This is because giraffes are the only animals that can reach the tall leaves of the tree.
Nara Melons can also be found in Sossusvlei. They are round, yellow, and about 15cm in diameter. Their root system goes down 40 meters to access the underground water systems. The animals usually eat these since they have a symbiotic relationship. The water in the fruit helps the animals stay hydrated and their droppings help the plant spread and grow.
Another plant that can be found in the Namib Desert is the Welwitschia plant. They are often called ‘living fossils’ because they tend to be thousands of years in age. They get moisture from the air to survive the desert climate.
Tips For Visiting Sossusvlei
- Driving to the area requires a 4X4 vehicle. However, there are shuttles that will take you back and forth so don’t feel pressured to rent a 4X4.
- Be prepared for a 30-40 minute drive from the park entrance before seeing the first dune.
- You will be exploring the attraction by foot so make sure to wear sturdy and comfortable walking shoes.
- There isn’t much tree coverage so always come prepared with sunblock and a hat.
- Food and drink can be found at the park entrance but not beyond that. Make sure to stock up before you set off.
- There is plenty of accommodation within an hour of the park. So, plan ahead so that you can have an easier time getting to and from the park.
Sossusvlei is an iconic region of Namibia that just can’t be missed. Whether you stay for a day or overnight, there is plenty to keep you busy. With both beauty and natural wonder, Sossusvlei will be the kind of destination that you’ll always remember. Get in touch with us today to start planning your visit.