Guide to Namibia’s Sand Dunes in Sossusvlei
The last thing that I’d like to write about Southern Africa is Namibia’s Sand Dunes in Sossusvlei.
What is this?
Namibia is famous for its deserts. The beauty of the deserts attracts many tourists every year. What makes this desert special, and different from others such as the Peruvian desert or the Sahara is that Namibia’s desert is comprised of red sand. The most famous desert in Namibia is Sossusvlei.
Sossusvlei has everything you might imagine what a “real” desert is like. It is often called the “Land God Made in Anger” because of its harsh environment, contrast landscapes and the crazy wilderness. Because of its surrealistic landscape, Sossusvlei is one of the most photographed places in Subsaharan Africa.
I should also mention to you that the sand dunes in Sossusvlei are gorgeous. The three main prerequisites for sand dunes are 1) plenty of loose sand, 2) plenty of wind, and 3) a flat surface with no obstacles such as mountains or trees. With all these combined, you form huge sand dunes like the ones in Sossusvlei.
These dunes can rise more than 500 metres high. These dunes can be in different shapes, different sizes, and different heights. The most famous dunes in Namibia, Sossusvlei, is “Big Daddy”. Be sure to check it out!
Where is it?
Sossusvlei is located 380 km south of Walvis Bay (middle of nowhere), just right beside the small settlement of Sesriem. Walvis Bay is located in the western coast of Namibia.
How to get there?
To get there, it is recommended that you drive there. I don’t know any other way to get there other than arranging transportation with a local tour. It is also recommended that you stay at Sesriem overnight, so you will need to arrange for return transportation in advance, since there’s nothing there other than sand.
I should also mention that the drive in the Namibian desert is fantastic. It is one of the best experiences because on your drive, the landscape is always changing.
You should take off from Walvis Bay. After leaving the city, drive south on highway C14 for 230 km, then C19 for 70 km. By then, you would reach the town of Solitaire. At Solitaire, you can get your car refueled and also enjoy a cup of tea. Afterwards, drive on highway C27 for 15 km to reach Sesriem. The total drive should be around 4 hours. By then, it is probably not ideal to visit the Namib-Naukluft National Park because it would be 1) too late or 2) too hot. It is usually recommended that you visit the sand dunes early in the morning before the rise of the scorching sun.
That’s why I recommend you to stay just outside of Sossusvlei, at Sesriem overnight.
What to pay attention?
Stay overnight - As alluded above, you should stay at Sesriem overnight and be prepared to visit the park early morning next day. It’s not ideal to visit the sand dunes during the middle of the day because it is too hot. Your feet will also burn.
See the sunrise - The park opens at 6:15am and you really want to go there early so you can see the gorgeous sunrise.
Get lots of water - Trust me, this place is so dry that you need a lot of water.
Book in advance - Since everyone is doing the same thing (i.e. staying overnight), you should book your campsite early. There aren’t many choices so the resource is pretty scarce. For your information, we stayed at Agama River Camp. It is a campsite with shower facilities. It costs about 320 Namibian dollars ($30 CAD) per night.
Car choice - When you rent a car from the car rental companies, be sure to get a 4x4 vehicle. It is imperative that you get an all four-wheel drive because the road from Walvis Bay to Sossusvlei is pure sand. Without a sturdy car, you WILL get stuck in the middle of a desert. Don’t worry, the car rental companies will teach you how to use the 4x4 gear. Trust me, it is worth the money. I should also mention that you’ll be driving on the opposite lane of the road (in relation to North America)
The drive in the park - Even after you enter the park, you will need to drive for about 60 km before you reach the sand dunes. Inside the park, the roads are paved (thank god). Towards the end of the paved road, you’ll see a bunch of cars parked at the lot. Do not attempt to drive your car for the next 5 km to the sand dune area (even when you have a 4x4). It is not worth it. You should pay the professionals instead to get you around, and it only costs 110 Namibian dollars ($10 CAD). On our way, we have seen numerous cars got stuck in the desert and need the locals to save them.
The drive to Sossusvlei - Please be careful and don’t drive above the speed limit. Even under speed limit, be careful of the twist and turns in the desert. It is recommended that you drive slow and just enjoy the scenery.
What’s the highlight?
The drive - As mentioned above, the scenery from Walvis Bay to Sossusvlei is gorgeous. If I have to describe correctly, it feels like driving on Mars. There is nothing in your view except sand. You can drive for 30 minutes and not see a single vehicle. The forever changing landscape makes your drive much more entertaining. While I was driving at the desert, I could see mini-sand dunes, and then 5 minutes later, the scenery could completely change to flat lands. (see for yourself in the video blog at the end of this blog)
Big Daddy - Big Daddy is one of the icons in Sossusvlei. It is known for being the tallest sand dunes in Sossusvlei, at a height of 350 metres. This sand dune has a nice ridge which you can walk on. Thousands of tourists every year arrive at Sossusvlei to walk on the ridge of Big Daddy. You can take nice pictures at the top of the sand dune.
Big Mama - If there is Big Daddy, of course there is also Big Mama! Big Mama is located just opposite of Big Daddy. It is slightly smaller than Big Daddy. Similar to Big Daddy, you can walk on the ridge. However, it is not as popular as Big Daddy.
Dune 45 - This sand dune is 80 metres high. It is named Dune 45 because it lies 45 km past Sesriem. It is an icon because it is near the road, therefore, it is often photographed.
Deadvlei - Deadvlei is a white clay pan right at Sossusvlei. The dry trees (or acacia trees) in Deadvlei is an icon of Namibia. Some of them are approximately 900 years old. You can probably see them in posters at Namibia. These trees were formed as a result of lack of water. They became so dry due to the intense sun that has scorched them. Some of these trees even look like rocks. The wood does not decompose because it is so dry.
Canyon - There is a canyon located just outside of the national park. Feel free to drive there (5 minutes) and check out the formation of the canyon. You can walk inside the canyon and it’s about a kilometre long.