Ask anyone to describe Namibia and chances are they’ll wax lyrical about mighty sand dunes that tower above vast patches of cracked earth. They’re talking about Sossusvlei, the most photographed landscape in Africa.
Famous for its mega sand dunes, which reach as high as 325m, Sossusvlei is one of the driest and oldest ecosystems on earth. And yet the landscape here keeps changing – the wind is forever altering the shape of the dunes, creating the sense that you’re standing somewhere entirely new and, at the same time, immeasurably ancient. Colours shift according to the changing light, turning pastel-painted peaks into brooding silhouettes. If you’re one for moments of mind-boggling enlightenment, this is the place to invite perspective.
In a country lauded for its epic landscapes, Sossusvlei still manages to retain an air of isolation – and this despite its status as Namibia’s most popular tourist attraction. Its dunes form part of a 32,000 square kilometre sand sea that covers much of the country’s southern region. But to truly get the measure of this often other-worldly corner of Africa, the best way to experience Sossusvlei is to climb one of its dunes and watch the sunrise over the world’s oldest desert.
Best time to visit
Sossusvlei is a spectacular sight at any time of the year, but the dunes are best viewed at sunrise and sunset when the dune shadows are most prominent, allowing for remarkable photographs.
Combine Sossusvlei with:
- The Sesriem Canyon: navigate the narrow crevices of this great canyon in the Namib-Naukluft National Park.
- The Skeleton Coast: explore the stark beauty and haunting solitude of Namibia’s rugged Skeleton Coast.
- Swakopmund: discover the picturesque promenades and trendy bistros of this alluring holiday town.
Sossusvlei is set at the heart of the Namib Naukluft National Park.
To get to Sossusvlei, you need to enter through the remote and far-flung outpost of Sesriem and drive 65km to a parking lot.
Only four-wheel-drive vehicles can access the remaining 4km into the Sossusvlei pan itself – visitors with lesser vehicles can walk, hitch a ride or catch the shuttle to cover the remaining distance.
Permits are checked at the entrance – buy yours the previous day, so you don’t stand in a queue at the Sesriem office.
Carry enough water with you, especially if you plan to climb a dune.
Hats and sunscreen are non-negotiable.
Deadvlei: Sossusvlei’s less famous neighbour is arguably the most alluring pan in the Namib-Naukluft National Park – sprawled at the base of Big Daddy and sprouting sun-bleached petrified trees, this is one of Southern Africa’s most photogenic sights.
Elim Dune: situated just 5km north from the Sesriem Camp Site and accessible by two-wheel-drive vehicles, this dune is popular for sunsets.
Dune 45: relatively easy to climb and flanked by scraggly trees, this is not only the most accessible dune in Sossusvlei but also one of the most photographed.
Big Daddy: if you’re up for it, hike to the top of Big Daddy, the tallest dune in Sossusvlei.
Sossusvlei on the Map
TOP TRAVEL TIP: Give yourself a full day to explore Sossusvlei and Deadvlei; it’s worth it. And once you’ve seen it up close, get a look at it from a different angle, on a scenic flight or hot air balloon ride.