Namib Desert & Sossusvlei Dunes Travel Region
Sossusvlei epitomizes the exquisite desert experience of Namibia, with its endless sea of dunes. The blazing-ochre Sossusvlei dunes rise up over 320m tall, making them some of the world's highest sand forms. These forever-shifting dunes are constantly reshaped by the winds into the sandy valleys, slopes and peaks of the ancient Namib. The reds, oranges, yellows and caramel browns of the soft dunes, and the bleached whites and washed-out pastel shades of the pans, are continuously transformed as the seasons turn and the light plays on the desert landscapes - glowing at dusk and dawn.
* Namib Desert & Sossusvlei Dunes Highlights
- ∞Ancient, desert terrain
- ∞Ever-changing colours and shifting shapes
- ∞The world's tallest orange dunes at Sossusvlei - iconic Dune 45, Elim Dune
- ∞A silent, spacious, still landscape
- ∞Incredible photo opps - like dramatic Dead Vlei landscape with its skeletal trees
- ∞Wealth of different, unique and unusual flora and fauna
- ∞Fascinating Sesriem Canyon
The Namib-Naukluft National Park in Namibia encompasses part of the world's most ancient desert - the Namib - and the Naukluft mountain range. Spanning an area of almost 50,000 km² (just short of 20,000 miles²), the Namib-Naukluft is the largest game reserve in Africa and the fourth largest in the world. Its best-known and main attraction is Sossusvlei - home to the world's highest sand dunes. Their distinctive burnt-orange hues signify their ancient age: the orange color develops over time as the iron in the sand is oxidized, rather like rusty metal; the older the dune, the brighter the color.
‘Namib’ means 'open space' in the local dialect, giving its name to the country, Namibia, meaning 'land of open spaces'. The Namib-Naukluft was established in 1907 when the German Colonial Administration proclaimed the area between the Swakop and the Kuiseb Rivers as a game reserve. Its present boundaries were established in 1978 when the Namib Desert Park, the Naukluft Mountain Zebra Park, parts of Diamond Area 1 and certain other government land were merged.
Fauna & Flora Survive Here
A surprising collection of creatures survive in this hyper-arid region, including snakes, geckos, unusual insects, hyenas, gemsboks and jackals. The moisture-laded fog off the Atlantic Ocean provides more moisture to the area than its average rainfall: scarcely more than 100 mm per year, usually falling between February and April. The winds that bring in the fog also shape the massive Sossusvlei dunes, the world's tallest, which rise to over 300 metres (almost 1000 feet) above the desert floor. The dunes thin out towards the coastline, replaced by lagoons, wetlands and mudflats that attract hundreds of thousands of birds.
Sossusvlei Dunes & Deadvlei
Probably Namibia's most popular tourist attraction, the iconic Sossusvlei dunes (Dune 45 is the most famous) are accessible by road from Sesriem Campsite. For avid photographers, the best time to capture the dunes is early morning or late afternoon when the shadows are stark and dramatic. The entire landscape is 'flattened' by the midday sunlight.
Every few decades, the cracked, parched earth of the Dead Vlei is flooded by the Tsauchab River, forming a shallow, turquoise lake, fringed with green vegetation. When water reaches the open pan, it transforms to a short-lived oasis attracting an array of thirsty animals and birds, in an otherwise arid and inhospitable land. A climb to the top of Dune 45 is a must-do when you visit Sossusvlei, providing endless panoramic views over the striking desert surrounds.
Exploring the desert on foot is the best way to fully absorb the stunning desert imagery. Short walks include a hike to Hidden Vlei (4 kms from the parking area and back) and to Dead Vlei (6 kms from Sossusvlei and back).
The 5 km walk to Elim Dune makes a good early morning or late afternoon walk, as does the climb up well-known Dune 45, away from the heat of the day. Remember to talk plenty of water with you.
Also worth a visit, this canyon is about 4 km from Sesriem itself. Carved by the Tsauchab rivier into the local sedimentary rock, it's about a kilometre (0.6 mile) long and up to 30 meters (100 feet) deep. Only two metres (6.5 feet) wide in some places, it has a section which permanently contains water, providing a much-needed water source for many animals.
Exploring the Area
One of the most spectacular ways to explore the Namib Desert is by hot-air balloon – drifting over the endless sea of red-orange dunes. Flight safaris are also an excellent way to realise the sheer vastness and incredible landscapes of this unique country. You can drive to Sesriem, the solitary gateway to Sossusvlei Dunes, in a 2WD vehicle. The road to the parking area 4 kms from the heart of Sossusvlei can also be navigated by 2WD, but from there you'd need to walk or get a 4x4 shuttle or ride. Elim Dune, Dune 45 and Hidden Vlei can all be reached by 2WD but walking is the most rewarding way to soak up the spectacular desert scenery.
By air: The three commercial airports closest to Sesriem/Sossusvlie are at Walvis Bay (207 km), Luderitz (214 km) and Swakopmund (242 km). There are also numerous airstrips for chartered flights.
By road: It's a good 4½ hours' drive from Windhoek (306 km). Buses are available and road transfers by request. Roads are in good condition.
When to Visit Namibia Know when is good to go…
A guide to the seasons of Namibia and the best times to visit.
When to Visit Namibia