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Sossusvlei is best known for its red sand dunes

Namibia is home to the biggest sand dunes globally. Each year, a vast number of travelers climb the red sand dunes in Sossusvlei, accompanied by much laughter as they slide all the way to the bottom.

In Nama language, “sossus” means a dead-end or a place of no return. Whereas “vlei” refers to a shallow lake or marsh. It is estimated that the sand dunes, surrounding the salt and clay pan, are over 5,000,000 years old.

With all that said, Sossusvlei is a must-do bucket list destination for 4×4 enthusiasts. That is if you don’t mind sand between your toes!

Namibia Sossusvlei Desert Sand Human Hiking
Sossusvlei National Park Deadvlei Namibia Aerial View
Sossusvlei, an aerial view.

Why the dunes are red

Sossusvlei is a salt and clay pan and the main attraction of the Namib-Naukluft National Park. 

This area, in the southern part of the Namib Desert, is characterized by high sand dunes of vivid shades of red color, an indication of a high concentration of iron in the sand and consequent oxidation processes. 

With age, the dunes’ color intensifies and becomes redder.

You will also experience the color change of the sand closer to the sea, getting more light and whiter.

Timeless

Many of the dunes are more than 200 meters high.  The dune named “Big Daddy” is about 325 meters in height. However, it is not the highest sand dune. Dune 7 is all of 388 meters in height!

You sure get the feeling that time simply stands still, knowing the age of the dunes, and that they hardly move. The dunes are also referred to as “star dunes”. This is because of the shape they form when the wind blows in from all directions.

Namibia Desert Sossusvlei Dune Sand Landscape

Not exclusive to humans

Have your camera ready for when you spot antelopes, ostriches, rodents, and birds.  Clearly, water is not freely available. How do these animals survive on limited water supplies? Reptiles and mammals have adapted to desert-living with fog, coming in from the Atlantic Ocean, as the major water source. 

Namibia Desert wildlife Oryx Antilope Group Sossusvlei Dune
Oryx antelope group roaming the Sossusvlei dunes.

Stargazing at its best

It is hard to look down at night because of the spectacular sight of the Milky Way in the skies.

Best time

March until May (autumn) or August to October (spring) are popular for great photography opportunities. The skies are clearer and the temperatures are much milder.

Namibia Star Stars Milky Way Milkyway Namib Desert Sossusvlei

Plan your trip | Stay at Sesriem

Sesriem is close to the southern end of the Naukluft Mountains. It has significant importance because the “Sesriem gate” is the main access point to the Namib-Naukluft National Park, from where you explore Sossusvlei. There are no shopping excursions to write home about. You will only find essential items (water and a limited range of food products) at Sesriem, which is essentially a filling station.  

Accommodation peace of mind

You will be tired of traveling and need accommodation that suits your needs. Comfort has a different meaning to different people, but the good news is that there is a choice of accommodation for every taste. 

For instance, lodges, campsites, and many more. Here are a few recommendations:

  • Desert Quiver Camp provides self-catering units with a spacious bedroom and en-suite bathroom with a shower. They cater to groups too and is only 5 km away from the entrance gate to Sossusvlei.
  • Sossusvlei Lodge is luxury tented accommodation with a 4-star-rating.
  • At Sesriem Oshana Campsite you get campsite space to set up your tent for the duration of your stay.

I strongly believe I can handle anything, as long as I have a good night’s rest. Click on Booking.com and simply type in “sossusvlei” or alternatively “sesriem”. 

Most suitable transport

You will cover a lot of kilometers in this vast desert landscape. Subsequently, it’s wise to rent (if you don’t already own one) the best 4×4 vehicle you can afford so you are comfortable during your road trips. Air conditioning is a no-brainer. Don’t go without it.

And if you’re considering ignoring our advice, know that you will not be able to access Dead Vlei or the Sossusvlei Dunes. Furthermore, some gravel roads can be pretty nasty after rain.

Cautionary notes on car rentals

Don’t take it for granted that your rented vehicle is already set up for Sossusvlei.

  • Ask about the different tire pressures and if you can, …
  • Book a vehicle with tires that have thicker walls to reduce the nasty surprise of getting a flat tire on the rocky off-road conditions.
  • That said, it does not exempt you from taking a spare wheel, or two.
  • Also, don’t speed and drive with your headlights on. If your rental vehicle has a fitted black box, you may risk a declined insurance claim.
  • Register 2nd or 3rd drivers so you can alternate. The long roads can be boring.
  • In terms of communication, a mobile connection with a reliable service provider, as well as a good GPS is essential.
  • If you plan to drive into South Africa or Botswana, be sure to ask for a letter of permission to cross the borders from the rental company. The letter must clearly state that you are permitted to cross the borders. Without it, you won’t be able to cross the border(s).
  • Another tip worth noting is that the rental companies are not responsible for your border-crossing fees. It is not part of the package deal.

Why car rental through Economy Bookings is the sensible choice

Economy Bookings guarantees the best car rental prices and has access to reputable agencies, such as Alamo, Avis, Budget, Enterprise, Europcar, Hertz, National, Sixt, Thrifty, and more.

If something is wrong, at any time, Economy Bookings support service is there for you. Whether you have a question at the time of booking, renting, or returning a car, you’ll receive full support.

Map, location(s) & directions

As mentioned earlier, it is a long road trip. From Johannesburg’s (South Africa) O R Tambo International Airport it will take you just over 18 hours to reach Sossusvlei. The 1,651 km is best done with a few stopovers, and co-drivers.

Nearest airport

An alternative well worth considering is to fly to Walvis Bay Airport (WVB / FYWB), the nearest airport to Sossusvlei. The 375 km from Walvis Bay to Sossusvlei is much less than a full-on road trip.

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