Sossusvlei located in Namibia’s Namib-Naukluft National Park is one of the most spectacular and best-known attractions in Southern Africa. An absolute dream to visit with a camera, the incredible scenery makes anyone look like a professional photographer! The name Sossusvlei is often used to refer to a large area in the park including famous sites such as Dune 45, Deadvlei, Big Daddy, and Sesriem Canyon, this is one of the major visitor attractions of Namibia. Big Daddy is the highest dune in the park.
The large red sand dunes in the park have always been high on my world travel bucket list and the unreal landscape did not disappoint! Sossusvlei is a large, white salt and clay pan surrounded by massive red sand dunes, located in the Namib Desert.
Documentaries, photos, and magazines always left me with the idea most of Namibia is a desert, covered in these majestic dunes. On our honeymoon we explored Namibia driving and camping for more than two months. Driving thousands of kilometers we were wondering where are the sand dunes. We finally found these spectacular landscapes at Sossusvlei. See our Complete Namibia Road Trip Itinerary for plenty of tips on planning a trip to Namibia.
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What is Sossusvlei?
The name “Sossusvlei” roughly translates into “dead-end marsh”. A vlei is a marsh in Afrikaans. This is the place where sand dunes come together and prevent the Tsauchab River to flow any further, in the dry Namib Desert the River however seldom flows this far resulting in a dry pan most years. Even though the area is called Sossusvlei, the Deadvlei is probably the main attraction to visit in the park. Sossusvlei is definitely one of the best places to visit in Namibia.
How to Visit Sossusvlei and Sesriem Canyon
Sesriem is a small settlement close to the southern end of the Naukluft Mountains in the Namib Desert. To visit Sossusvlei, Sesriem Canyon, Dune 45, the Deadvlei, and the other Namib attractions you have to enter the Namib-Naukluft National Park at the Sesriem gate and drive about 60 kilometers.
Getting to Sesriem Gate
Driving to Sesriem the roads in Namibia are unpaved, gravel roads. You do not need a 4×4 vehicle, but a car with good ground clearance helps and I will recommend not driving fast on these gravel roads. Flat tires are very common and under-car insurance for rentals is worth looking into. Most people travel to Sesriem from Windhoek or Swakopmund, both these trips take around 5 hours, and there are several different route options to drive.
Tours to Sesriem and exploring Sossusvlei are available from Windhoek and Swakopmund. You can also join an overland truck on a Namibian expedition from Cape Town or as part of an overland tour exploring more of Africa!
If after visiting Sossusvlei and spending some time driving through the desert you feel like chilling by the beach I can recommend spending a couple of days in Swakopmund. It’s a great place with many amazing things to do.
Vehicle required to Visit Sossusvlei
From Sesriem gate, there is a good tar road for about 60 km into the park that can be driven with any vehicle. After 60 km you will reach a parking area for Sossusvlei, only 4×4 vehicles can continue from here to the Dead Vlei parking area on a sandy track for about 5 km. If you do not have a 4×4 vehicle, you can park here and continue by a shuttle run by Namibia Wildlife Resorts. We explored Namibia in our little Terios 4×4 vehicle and were fine in the sand. Many people renting vehicles are not experienced in driving in the sand and get stuck there. Remember to deflate your tires to about 1.5 bar and try to drive without stopping in the 4×4/low range in the same gear.
Sesriem Gate Entrance and Fees
There are two different gates to access the park; the outer gates and the inner gates. The Sesriem gate (outer gate) to enter the National Park and the campsite opens at sunrise and closes at sunset. The Sesriem campsite has its own entrance (inner gate) to the park which opens one hour before the main gate. Visitors staying inside the park can thus drive before sunrise to the dunes. The drive to Dune 45 is 45 km on a good road from the entrance. The only way to see the sunrise from the dunes is thus to stay inside the park. We stayed outside the park, we were at the gate more than an hour before opening and were the first car through the gate. They opened the gate at dusk so we arrived at Dune 45 during sunrise as you can see in our sunrise pics. For the best sunrise and sunset pictures, it is worth staying inside the park.
To enter the Namib-Naukluft National Park at Sesriem costs 100 NAD ($6.70) per person for non-residents and 50 NAD for SADC residents plus 10 NAD per vehicle (2023). The entrance fee is valid for 24 hours, so it is possible to enter in the afternoon, see the sunset, and return the next morning for sunrise. Sunset and sunrise are the best times to visit the dunes.
What time does the Sesriem Gate open?
The gate opens at sunrise, so time will depend on what time of the year you visit Sossusvlei. The opening and closing time changes every month and stays the same for the whole month. The opening time is shifted in 30 min intervals (e.g. 06:00, 06:30, 07:00, etc). If you ask at the camp where you are staying they will be able to tell you the times during your stay.
The easiest, stress-free way to visit Sossusvlei is with a tour, they are available from Windhoek and Swakopmund. You can also join an overland truck on a Namibian expedition from Cape Town or as part of an overland tour exploring more of Africa!
- Two-Day Guided Tour from Swakopmund. Get picked up from your hotel, stay in a luxury tented camp explore Swakopmund, Moon landscape, Welwitschia Plants, Solitaire Moon Mountain, Sossusvlei, Deadvlei, Big Daddy, Dune 45, Elim Dune, Sesriem, Solitaire to Swakopmund.
- 6-Day Dunes and Wildlife Accommodated Safari from Windhoek. – Amazing Namibia itinerary including multiple Etosha game drives, exploring Sossusvlei and the Skeleton coast.
- 10-Day Namibia Highlights Guided Tour from Windhoek
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Best Time to visit Namibia’s Namib-Naukluft National Park
May to October is winter and the dry season in Namibia, this is the best time to visit with lower temperatures, no rain, and clear skies.
Autumn or spring is also a good time to visit Namib-Naukluft Park with clear skies, good photography conditions, and milder temperatures.
The best times of the day to visit Sossusvlei are during the early morning and late afternoon when the light is best for photography and the temperatures are cooler.
The Sossusvlei area in southern Namib is known for its high sand dunes of vivid pink-to-orange color, the oldest dunes are those of more deep reddish color. Dune 45 is the most photographed dune in Namibia while Big Daddy is the highest dune in Namib Naukluft Park. The dunes in the area are among the highest in the world; some higher than 200 meters. The more stable dunes are partially covered with some vegetation. Keep an eye out in the park for animals such as fog beetles, small reptiles, rodents, jackals, birds, oryxes, springboks, and ostriches. Many of the dunes are named the distance they are from the entrance, such as Dune 1 which is 1 km from the gate, and Dune 45, 45 km from the gate.
Elim Dune is the closest dune to visit the Sesriem campsite. It is a relatively isolated, high sand dune located 5 km past the Sesriem gate, on a branch of the main road to Sossusvlei. The dune is named after a farm that used to be in the area before the National Park was established. Elim is 100m high so about 30% the height of Big Daddy. It is a great dune to stop for morning photographs since you will get here early for good light and with most people driving on to Dune 45 there should not be crowds. Being close to the campsite when you arrive is ideal for sunset, you can even walk here.
Dune 45 is one of the most photographed dunes in the world and a highlight to visit in the Sossusvlei area of the Namib Desert. Photos of this spectacular red dune with its curvy shadows draw many travelers from all over the world to Namibia. It is a challenging climb for many, standing over 170 m tall, and takes about 40 minutes to climb and 5 minutes to run down. The red color is attributed to iron oxide washed from the Kalahari into the Atlantic Ocean and carried to Sossusvlei by a combination of ocean currents and wind. Most people drive here as soon as they enter the park to try to take sunrise photos.
Dune 45 is nice to climb for sunset and later in the day is a good time to take pictures of this dune with its famous shadow. Since Dune 45 is located right next to the road it is very accessible for taking photos. We entered the park at Dusk and drove straight to Dune 45 on the 45 km tar road, we ran up the dune and still had a great experience while the sun was rising.
Big Daddy Dune
This is the highest dune in the park about 325m high, it was about a 15-minute walk to the base of the Big Daddy dune from the car to start climbing. We were here in December and climbed Dune 45 first for the sunrise before moving on to Big Daddy. It was a very hot day, so take enough water. Climbing Big Daddy to the top took about 30 minutes providing some nice views, to be rewarded with the spectacular panoramic views of the Deadvlei and the Namib following the narrow ridge on top of this massive dune. We ran down in minutes to the amazing Deadvlei a really fun experience. To walk from the car, climb Big Daddy and return through the Deadvlei to our car took more than 90 minutes, we spent some time enjoying the unreal surroundings and taking lots of photos of this amazing site in the Namib desert.
At 325 meters high, Big Daddy is the highest dune in Sossusvlei, but not the highest in Namib, the highest dune in the Namib desert is Dune 7 outside Swakopmund at about 388 meters high.
Getting to Big Daddy and the Deadvlei
Access to Sossusvlei, Big Daddy Dune, and the Deadvlei is from the Deadvlei parking area.
The drive from the Sesriem Park entrance to the 2×4 Sossusvlei parking is 60 km and takes 1 hour. The road from Sossusvlei parking to Deadvlei parking is 4 km and can only be driven with a 4×4 vehicle. If you don’t have a 4×4 or don’t want to risk getting stuck in the sand, park your car and take the safari shuttle service provided shuttle run by Namibia Wildlife Resorts for $NAM 150 ($11) return. It is only 4 km so it is possible to walk, but in the heat and the sand allow 1h 30 min for the walk, remember you must still get back after climbing Big Daddy! carry a lot of water. Hitchhiking the last 4 km is not a great option since nobody wants to stop in the sand and risk getting stuck, if you do this stand and hitch at the Sossusvlei parking area you can still take a shuttle if you do not get a ride.
You do not have to climb Big Daddy to get to the Deadvlei, there is a pathway to the side of the dune. After coming down Big Daddy we walked back to our car this way. It is about 1 km from Deadvlei to the parking area walking on the pathway next to the dune. There are no ‘facilities’ at the Deadvlei parking area, so take enough water and snacks. There are trees providing some shade but the toilet facilities here are very basic.
Deadvlei (Afrikaans for ‘dead marsh’) is a large clay pan characterized by dark, dead camel thorn trees contrasted against the white pan floor, surrounded by the huge rusty red dunes. The pan was formed when the Tsauchab River flooded and sufficient water allowed camel thorn trees to grow. The climate changed, sand dunes formed blocking the river from reaching the area.
The Deadvlei is a great place for taking photos. The contrast between the black trees, white pans, rusty-red dunes, and deep blue sky makes for incredible images.
Sossusvlei, like the Deadvlei, is a large clay bed, it is surrounded by relatively small sand dunes. Sossusvlei is located close to the Deadvlei only separated by a narrow sand ridge and is also reached by walking from the Sossusvlei parking area. During a very rainy season, the Tsauchab fills the pan at Sossusvlei, drawing visitors from all over the world to witness the glassy “lake” holding reflections of the surrounding dunes. On rare occurrences when the pan fills it can hold water for as long as a year. Sossusvlei only fills with water every five to ten years.
Access to the Hiddenvlei is from the 2×4 Sossusvlei parking area (60 km from the Sesriem campsite), and the hike to Hiddenvlei is a 4 km roundtrip walk from the parking area. There are some signs, but it is not very well marked, just look out for footprints of previous visitors and carry enough water. We had the entire hike to ourselves, even late morning. The clay pan amongst the sand dunes is beautiful, with some trees scattered across the spectacular landscape. The return hike to HIddenvlei takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Sesriem Canyon is located about 4.5km from the park entrance. The canyon is not very big but is beautiful. Look for the sign inside the Sesriem campsite. The Tsauchab River has shaped the Canyon over millions of years and it is one of the few places in the area that holds water all year round. It is about a kilometer (0.6 miles) long and up to 30 meters (100 feet) deep. The name Sesriem (Afrikaans for six belts) was given by Afrikaans settlers who had to attach together six oryx hide belts in order to reach buckets down into the canyon to scoop up water. The Sesriem Canyon is very narrow, only two meters (6.5 feet) wide in some places, and has a portion that permanently contains water, which many animals use.
Accommodation at Sossusvlei
There are many accommodation options, ranging from basic camping to luxury lodges around Sossusvlei. Options to stay inside the park are however limited. The simple Sesriem campsite is the only budget option and for a luxurious stay, book the popular Sossus Dune Lodge or the fairly new Dead Valley Lodge, both Nambia Wildlife Resort (NWR) facilities.
The campsite is located inside the Namib-Naukluft National Park right next to the Sossus vlei entrance with a central swimming pool, a basic shop for supplies, and a bar. There is not a lot of shade, but some shade is offered by camel thorn trees. The Sesriem Rest Camp has no rooms available, only camping, you must bring all your own camping and cooking gear. At Sesriem, the campsites have their own barbeque area and electrical points, so you can braai at your tent. There is a lot of space and the campsites are far apart. The Sesriem campsite offers shared ablutions.
Sesriem Campsite price – At NAD 550 ($37) per person (April 2023) this campsite is not cheap for what is offered, but this is the budget option if you want to see the sunrise from the dunes. We camped for 2 months around the country, see all our favorite campsites in Namibia.
Sesriem has 44 campsites available. Due to its location inside the park, this campsite is very popular, especially during the high season, and in the season visitors should make reservations in advance with Namibia Wildlife Resorts to avoid disappointment. For room accommodation inside the park at Sesriem check out Sossus Dune Lodge or Dead Valley Lodge.
Sossus Dune Lodge
Sossus Dune Lodge at Sossusvlei offers high-quality, luxury accommodation at Sesriem Namibia inside the Namib-Naukluft National Park.
Dead Valley Lodge
The Dead Valley Lodge is a new luxury lodge located inside the Namib-Naukluft National Park opened in 2019. Accommodation at Dead Valley Lodge is provided in luxury tented chalets. Book The Dead Valley Lodge
Accommodation outside the park
- Luxury – Sossusvlei Lodge is a 4-star luxury lodge located right outside the national park gate
- Mid Range – Tsauchab River Camp, well-rated chalets about 50 km from Sesriem park gate.
- Budget – Sossus Oasis Campsite, a very well-rated campsite with a swimming pool, $ 37 per site (2 people)
When to visit Sossusvlei
Sossusvlei can be visited all year long. It is nice to enter the park and visit the dunes in the morning when it is cool and the sand is not hot yet. The light is also great for taking photos with amazing shadows. Try to avoid the heat of the afternoon. From May to October, it is winter in Namibia and temperatures are slightly lower which makes it more bearable.
Tips for Visiting Sossus Vlei
- The best time for taking photos is at sunrise or sunset when the shadows make the dunes spectacular. Don’t miss the amazing red dunes at sunrise!
- Take enough water with you, it is hot, you might walk far and there is no water for sale at the Deadvlei.
- Experience sunrise and sunset without breaking up your tent early in the morning, only paying for one night and day in the park. Here is how: pay for one night’s camping and one day (24 hours) in the park. Enter the park early (about lunchtime), pay for entrance+camping, explore Sesriem Canyon, and the dunes, see Dune 45 at sunset, next morning get up early to see the sunrise from Dune 45. Go and break up your tent and leave the park in 24 hours.
- If you want to be self-reliant, with smaller crowds go with a 4WD vehicle.
- Drop your tire pressure to 1.5 bar for driving over sand. There is a petrol station just outside the main entrance gate at Sesriem where you can inflate your tires again.
- The 2WD car park has clean toilets, and the 4WD car park at Sossusvlei has pit toilets.
- Take a hat, sunscreen, and a camera.
Traveling in Namibia
Renting a 4wd vehicle and doing a road trip across Namibia is an extremely popular self-drive African adventure. This way you have a lot of freedom and plan your trip the way you want to do it. You can explore more of Namibia beyond the popular tourist destination. Visit the vast wetlands of the Caprivi Strip, Epupar Falls, and villages of the indigenous Himba people.
We would love to hear from you, so don’t be shy to comment give suggestions or ask questions!
The strong half of Stingy Nomads, a nomadic aquaman that would be happy to spend all his life in the water diving, surfing and spearfishing but often has to compromise with Alya and go hiking instead. Campbell is responsible for all our marine adventures and following them with write-ups. He loves traveling, braai (BBQ in South Africa), red wine and spending the day in a wetsuit.