The magnificent red dunes of the Namib Desert surround the clay pan of Sossusvlei, making it one of the most spectacular (and photogenic) places on the planet. If you’ve seen any photographs of Namibia, then you’re sure to have seen several taken in this area. The area is now one of the two major attractions in the country, so expect to see a lot of other tourists, but a short walk over the nearby dune and you will almost immediately feel the solitude that makes a holiday in Namibia so unique.
Conventional wisdom is that the best time to visit the dunes is early in the morning. And we do agree that this is an excellent time to be in the dunes, the downside is that the queue of cars waiting at the park gate gets longer and longer every year. While we used to adamantly subscribe to the ‘get to Sossusvlei early’ school of thought, we’ve come to realise that there is no time to be in this beautiful place, the light changes throughout the day, and if you are brave enough to endure the midday heat you’re likely to see shimmering desert mirages, while a late afternoon visit is likely to bring a sighting of a lone oryx in the shade of a camelthorn tree.
Warning this paragraph is boring and functional! If, like me, you don’t care about details skip it – the rest of the article is probably more fun. If you’re more like Rachael, then read on… There are two main ‘destinations’ that encompass the Sossusvlei experience.
Sesriem (named after a small canyon nearby) is a campsite but also the entrance gate to the Namib Naukluft Park and Sossusvlei.
Sossusvlei is a large pan surrounded by massive dunes and in all probability why you are in the area.
If you overnight at a lodge, you will (with two exceptions) be staying outside the park, and will need to enter via the Sesriem gate, which opens at sunrise. If you are staying at Sesriem campsite or one of the two lodges inside the park you can get a jump start on everyone else as the second (inner gate) at Sesriem opens 45 minutes before sunrise.
There is a distance of 60km between Sesriem and Sossusvlei (on a tarred road through the most spectacular scenery).
Sossusvlei (and the 4×4 car park) will always hold a special place in my heart when we were young and dating this is where the game ‘watch out Rachael’ originated; it’s a simple game and still keeps me amused – I shout ‘Watch out Rachael!’ and then push her (reasonably gently) in the hope she might fall off a cliff, slide down a dune or fall into a lake. She then beats me to within an inch of my life – and then we fall about laughing.
I’ve been visiting Sossusvlei (and Sesriem Campsite) for over 40 years– and never tire of the dunes splendour. If I’m honest, the crowds of people annoy me and while it is a must-see, once in a lifetime, place – but there are other less crowded, different but still spectacular parts of the Namib which now appeal to me more.
Accommodation – There are many lodges in the Sossusvlei area, these range from the spectacular to the downright awful. Expect to pay a premium on accommodation closer to the park entrance gate.
Food – You will almost certainly end up eating at your lodge, as there are no independent restaurants in the area. Most properties will do you a breakfast pack so you can get an early start into the dunes. If you are camping, bring supplies with you – the shop at Sesriem is minimally stocked.
Drink – There is a small bar at the Sesriem campground. But other than this you will be drinking at your lodge. Some lodges offer a fully inclusive rate (which may include drinks) – but do check to see which drinks are included as they usually only stretch to local (South African & Namibian brands)
Transportation – Several lodges offer guided transfers into the dunes, but if you’re an independent traveller, we recommend driving yourself. The last 4 kilometres into the dunes is down the sandy Tsauchab River and is 4×4 only. It is a fun and easy drive (but do deflate your tyres). If you don’t have a 4×4 or are not up for the challenge NWR run a shuttle from the 4×4 car park into the dunes.