ULTIMATE TRAVEL GUIDE: HOW TO BEST VISIT SOSSUSVLEI, NAMIBIA
Sossusvlei is located within the Namib-Naukluft National Park in the South West of Namibia and makes up the world’s oldest desert dating back 55 million years. The Namibia Desert can however be quite overwhelming when trying to plan how to best visit Sossusvlei as it is very remote, despite being Namibia’s most popular destination.
The area is famously characterised world-wide by its landscape of red-orange dunes and white dead pan spaces which can be explore from the small secluded town of Sesriem. The area is also well known from countless images on postcards, nature documentaries and magazines.
Experiencing the rising and setting of the sun in this landscape plus the numerous dunes, canyons and wildlife, on foot, in a four wheel drive (4WD) or getting a Birdseye view, Sossusvlei is an iconic destination that simply does not disappoint, in fact it maybe even better than you thought possible.
The incredible chameleon like changing of the desert landscape and its shift from day to day is literally one of the most mesmerising things you’ll see in Namibia, it’s no wonder this area is the most popular tourist attraction in Namibia. This guide aims to provide all of the necessary information to allow curious travellers the best possible visit to Sossusvlei, making it as simple and seamlessly as possible.
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- Where is Sossusvlei Located
- When is the Best Time to Visit Sossusvlei?
- How Long To Stay in Sossusvlei
- How To Get To Sossusvlei
- Things You Need to Know To Best Visit Sossusvlei
- The Best Things To Do In Sossusvlei
- #No 1 The Sossusvlei Dunes
- Where to Stay in Sossusvlei
- Where to eat & Drink in Sossusvlei
- Be-lavie Pro Tips For Sossusvlei
- #No. 1 Purchase Your Entry Permit On Arrival.
- #No. 2 Sesriem Has Limited Facilities
- #No.3 Equip Yourself For The Heat
- #No. 4 Be Aware Of Park Rules & Guidelines
- #No. 5 What To Wear When Climbing The Dunes
- #No. 6 Take A Back Pack & Only What You Need
- #No.7 Protect Camera Equipment
- How To Best Visit Sossusvlei Round-up
- Other Useful Information To Best Visit Sossusvlei
- Pin & Save
Where is Sossusvlei Located
Sossusvlei is situated approximately 350 km South West of the capital city, Windhoek and positioned in Southwestern Namibia. Sitting in the impressive Namib-Nauklauft National Park which is defined by the large red and orange sand dunes and the acclaimed clay pan, known as Deadvlei.
Be-lavie Tip: If you’re taking a road trip around Namibia, it’s good to note, that from Windhoek it should take no more than 6-8 hours travel time to get to Sossusvlei. It is also around the same time to travel from Swakopmund.
When is the Best Time to Visit Sossusvlei?
Sossusvlei is blessed with around 300 days of sunshine, making it a great place to visit year round. However, the area is much more comfortable to explore between the months of May-October as the temperatures are a little cooler and bearable, making this the best time to visit Sossusvlei.
It’s good to note that school holidays in Southern Africa are classed as peak travel periods which will essentially make it pretty difficult to book your preferred accommodation or camp site options as they will fill up in advance.
Be-lavie Tips: When considering the best time to visit Sossusvlei, please note, Southern African school holidays typically fall around, a two-week break in March/April, a three-week holiday in June/July, A one-week break in September/October, around five to six weeks in December/January.
How Long To Stay in Sossusvlei
A good length of time to stay in the area is around three days. In this frame of time you can easily see the sights, points of interest as well as use the time to relax from your journey as well as prepare for your onward journey, especially if you are partaking in a road trip.
Related Article: How to Plan the Best Self-Drive Namibia Itinerary
How To Get To Sossusvlei
This is by far the best option and the most flexible, especially if you’re combining Sossusvlei as part of a Namibia road-trip. As Sossusvlei is located approximately 350 km from Windhoek, around six to eight hours (leaving a day for the entire journey is sufficient).
When it comes to car hire, it is possible to rent a two wheel drive (2WD) but a high clearance car such as a sport utility vehicle (SUV) or 4WD will make the journey a lot easier and more comfortable as some parts of the route can be quite slippery and unstable. There will most certainly be episodes of driving slowly through several depths of sand.
Related Article: What You Need to Know About Driving in Namibia.
Best Route To Take From Windhoek To Sossusvlei
Windhoek – B1 to Rehoboth – C24 to Solitaire via Nachos and Spreetshoogte Pass- C19 to Sesriem
This is the simplest road to follow but a 4WD is needed and make all the difference.
If you are planning to travel; to Swakopmund as we did after Sossusvlei, it’s approximately 350 km and it’s best to leave five to six hours time for a comfortable and relaxed journey.
Related Article: How to Spend 24 Hours in Namibia’s Capital, Windhoek
Be-lavie Tip: If self-driving, make a stop at Solitaire to fill up on fuel but also try the local coffee and the famous apple pie whilst enjoying some rest and recovery (R & R) before your onward journey. Read a little more about Solitaire at How to Plan the best Self-Drive Namibia Itinerary.
Book An Organised Tour
Self-driving is not going to be for everyone so unless you have the budget to complete a Namibia road trip by charter flights as each major district will have a small air strip, (super expensive option) or you can hire a driver (will most certainly increase your budget) then booking onto a small group organised tour is a fantastic option.
10-Day Namibia Highlights Tour With Lodging From Windhoek
This tour involves pick-up and drop off back to Windhoek and incorporates ten days of seeing the best of Namibia with an English speaking guide and very comfortable lodging options. Dinner is included in many stays as well as excursions which makes this a perfect itinerary if you don’t wish to drive.
Things You Need to Know To Best Visit Sossusvlei
It will come as no surprise that Sossusvlei is Namibia’s most popular tourist attraction but if you’re expecting to see hoards of crowds and queue in kong lines, you can display a sigh of relief.
It is remote, even on a busy day, the steady stream of visitors at the remarkable red dunes will be hard to spot.
The famous Big Daddy Dune. Dune 45, Deadvlei and Hiddenvlei are famously located in the Namibia desert which stretch over 2000 km right along the Atlantic Coast of Angola, Namibia and South Africa. The area is very remote but contrastingly, the area is not a challenge to visit thanks to the dried riverbed which has formed a lane through it which in turn has made way for a road like passage through the dunes. This allows vehicles to drive through and is relatively easy.
Be-lavie Tip: The Sossusvlei entrance opens at 07:00 am everyday at sunrise. It’s best to be here a little before sunrise and join the queue of vehicles. There’ s no need to get to the gates super early as once the rangers open the gates everyone can head straight in. Park fees are usually paid on exit and not entry but you can buy a permit the day before should you wish.
Facilities At Sossusvlei
The area following the gates into the park are essentially a collection of small buildings and huts for park rangers and wardens, as well as doubling up as ticket and permit offices.
There are conveniences in the park dotted around and close to the main car park areas. They are open air but private with a wooden gate around them. Best to be prepared before you climb the dunes.
Sossusvlei Entry and Access Permits
If you’re self driving inside the Namib-Nauklauft National Park, you will require a permit to get in. Buy your permit via the park office, inside of the Sesriem gates and cost around USD $5 per person per day for non-residents of the country. There’s an additional USD $10 per vehicle.
If you’re aiming to make it at the park for sunrise then purchasing your permit the day before is a good idea.
Be-lavie Tip: You can only enter the park between sunrise and sunset if you are not staying with the appropriated park boundaries.
Mobile Telephone Reception
Sesriem and individual lodges will have 3G reception as well as WIFI however outside in the Namib-Nauklauft park there will be no reception whatsoever.
Be-lavie Tip: Ensure any Google maps you may need have been downloaded in advance of visiting the park
The Best Things To Do In Sossusvlei
Activities from Lodges – What You Need To Know
If you are self-driving, then you can easily visit most places in Sossusvlei solo but it’s good to note that if you are staying at one of the lodges in the area, all activities can be booked by them and you can join in with guided small group or private excursions through the lodge itself. The price of each tour generally includes transport to and from the destination, a local guide who doubles up as the deriver, lunch out in the desert. You can sit back and relax and let someone else do the driving.
This is actually a great way to see the points of interest as the itinerary is pretty relaxed with lots of time to wander and do what you fancy with the added bonus of having someone do the driving and direct you to exactly where you need to be. If you are short of time this is a great option. You’ll be guaranteed to have the best Sossusvlei visit with no extra logistical hassle.
The prices may be a little higher and it will involve early starts, such as getting to the National Park Gates when they open – but this is all in your favour as you’ll be amongst the first to see some fantastic sights.
The small group size also means you’ll be ale to meet some like-minded travellers. With a local guide also means you’ll hear authentic stories.
The guides will ensure you’re back at the lodge at a decent hour to still enjoy afternoon tea and head out for a sundowner drive too.
We opted to stay at The Desert Homestead Lodge where sundowner drives, horse-riding, hiking and many other activities could be arranged as well as the dunes of Sossusvlei, Sesriem Canyon, Home air balloon flights as well as romantic private excursions.
#No 1 The Sossusvlei Dunes
It’s no secret, you come to Sossusvlei to see the dunes, they are your number one reason for coming, see for yourself if those red hued photos you see actually live up to the real-life ever-changing sand dunes of Sossusvlei.
If you are taking a road trip and have your own vehicle, going to see the dunes is pretty straightforward and the majority of dunes of interest can be accessed via the paved road from the small town of Sesriem.
You can use any type of vehicle to drive from Sesriem to the Sossusvlei car park however, the portion from the Sossusvlei parking area will require a 4WD. If you are not on an organised tour or don’t want to drive the more sandier journey, then you can always use the shuttle service. If you fancy walking then it will take approximately 90 minutes
What Is The Best Time To Visit The Dunes?
The best time would be first thing in the morning when the gate of the Namib-Nauklauft National Park open or later in the afternoon up to sunset. The main reason for this is to witness the more vibrant colour of the dunes and additionally the heat and humidity is a little less overbearing. Also the number of people visiting will be less as many organised tours will have not arrived or left early to head back to their base.
When it comes to Dune 45, you’ll probably recognise it as it is the most photographed and is located about 45km from Sesriem via the paved road.
If you fancy some exercise, you can climb the 170 m high dune, but definitely do it first thing in the morning when it’s not too hot as it really is pretty hard work otherwise. The dune is a pretty easy climb. The views once you reach the top are incredible.
If you’re not a morning person, then plan to go late afternoon as the dune has a shadow in the late afternoon light which is great for a photography perspective.
- Location: Dune 45, Sossusvlei
- Approximate time to climb: 40-60 mins
Be-lavie Fun fact: It’s called Dune 45 as its located 45 km from the Sesriem Gate.
Big Daddy Dune
Big Daddy is the second highest dune in Sossusvlei, standing at 325 metres high. The highest being Dune 7 that measures 388 metres in height.
When the entrance opens to Sossusvlei via Sesriem, head straight to Big daddy first as the climb will be a lot more comfortable plus it has the best view. It is pretty hard going to climb as each step you take, especially at the steepest points can feel like taking two steps back. You can access Big Daddy from the parking area
The hike up Big daddy takes around 1 hour and I found it much easier to do in bare feet however the sand can be pretty warm. In total leave around two and a half hours to hike up the dune, enjoy the views at the top and then run or slide back down facing Deadvlei with some time to explore the dead plan.
- Location: Big Daddy, Sossusvlei
- Approximate time to climb: 1 hour
Be-lavie Tip: Hiking Big daddy is no mean feat so take plenty of water in a back pack and sunscreen too
#No 2 Experience the Arid landscapes of Deadvlei & Hiddenvlei
The first sight of Deadvlei (meaning ‘Dead Marsh’) is usually experienced when stepping over the lip of Big Daddy Dune and seeing a white clay pan known for its 900 year old fossilised Acacia tress dotted around the pan with red sand dunes surrounding.
It’s quite an experience taking in the sheer site of Deadvlei and leaving enough time to absorb the enormity of the pan is a must.
Deadvlei once had a river flowing through it which flooded the area on occasions. The water allowed the camel-thorn trees to survive, which now resemble skeletons in the pan. The way the trees stand in the pan is interesting – some are bending over to the side whilst others form black fork-like structure against the vibrant orange and red dunes which contrast against the bright blue sky.
The pan was full of soft clay but has now baked into the centre with fracture-like breaks which makes Deadvlei one of the most fascinating and striking places witnessed in the world.
- Location: Deadvlei, Sossusvlei
- Approximate time to spend 30-45 minutes
It’s possible to hike from the Sossusvlei car park to Hiddenvlei in 40 minutes and is about a 4 km walk. The sign for Hiddenvlei at the car park is a little confusing but take the path to the left of the sign in a South East direction.
The landscape is pretty barren much like Deadvlei but there fewer visitors here and again, the dead clay pan looks an incredible sight against the bright blue skies and orange dunes.
- Location: Hiddenvlei, Sossusvlei
- Approximate time to spend on whole hike: 1 hour 4o mins
#No. 3 A Sunrise Hot Air Ballon Ride
If there is one splash out activity you partake in your time in Namibia, let the sunrise hot air balloon flight be one of these. Get a birds eye view of the dunes of Sossusvlei from the sky.
You can either book this from your lodge (in which case you’ll be driven to the base and back) or book it solo and drive ether in your own vehicle.
This is one early start, you will be glad you made. You need to be present and ready at the base camp at 05:00. This is mother nature at her finest, treating you to one of the most awe-inspiring spectacles you’re likely to witness in life!
The experience involves the team driving you from Namib Sky base to where the balloons start their flight. A full safety briefing is given before having the opportunity to watch the balloons being prepared for the one hour long flight, the pilot will take you through landing positions as well as a commentary of the area and what to watch out for.
The flight is followed by an ‘Out of Africa’ style champagne breakfast in a secret location with the most incredible views.
Namib Sky Safaris Eco-Tourism
Namib Sky Safaris are the only company in Sossusvlei that do Balloon flights and have a great sustainability tourism policy which includes a early years children’s school trust, a vegetable garden supporting the local community and their on-going commitment to reducing their carbon footprint.
- Location: Namibia Sky Balloons, Sossusvlei
- Approximate Time Frame: Leave around four hours for the whole activity, including breakfast. You will be dropped back off at Namibia Sky base.
- Website & Bookings: Namibia Sky Balloons
- Pricing N$7800.00 ($523.83) per person.
- Important: Due to insurance purposes, this activity is unsuitable if you’re pregnant.
Be-lavie Tip: Do not forget your camera, the baskets in the balloon are designed so that everyone gets a window seat and think about wearing layers of clothing as the temperatures can start off cold but it soon becomes very warm.
#No. 4 Explore Sesriem Canyon
Sesriem Canyon is definitely worth a visit and has been shaped over millions of years by the river Tschaub. It’s one of the very few places in Sossusvlei which holds water all year round.
It’s location is approximately 4.5 km from the National Park gates towards the left. It’s also possible to leave your vehicle in the dedicated parking area.
You can walk through the canyon but it does have some steep spots to climb up and down, just to mention as a precaution.
Be-lavie Tip: The name ‘Sesriem’ was given to the canyon by some of the first Afrikaans explorers who visited it. They had to use six (ses) leather straps (lien) tied together to lower into the canyon to obtain water.
- Location: Sesriem Canyon, Sossusvlei.
- Approximate time to spend: Less than an hour
Where to Stay in Sossusvlei
Sossusvlei has a number of lodges and camp sites to suit a variety of budgets. Most accommodation will feel remote and like you’re the only dwelling in the vicinity.
Andbeyond Lodge Sossusvlei // Luxury
The epitome of luxury in the desert, Andbeyond is a modern lodge, set in a private 37 acres reserve in the Namibia desert with an eco-friendly design. The ten standalone stone and glass villas comprise of wrap around verandas, opening up onto unobstructed desert views. En suite bathrooms and outdoor showers plus private plunge pools come with all villas. Each vill is split-level (bedroom and living area) with fireplaces.
The food is knock out and dining can be arranged on the communal verandah or in room. The dining area has the added touch of an interactive kitchen.
Activities and amenities at AndBeyond include, an observatory with resident astronomer and state-of-the-art telescope, in-room massages, a gym and wellness centre, quad biking, nature drives in a 4×4 safari vehicle, excursions to Sossusvlei, Sesriem Canyon, rock art sites and hot air ballooning as well as scenic flights.
- Location: AndBeyond Lodge, Sossusvlei
- Website:AndBeyond Sossusvlei Lodge
- Price Range: (Suite: Per person, per night): Jan-May – USD $1127, June-Oct – USD $1947, Nov-Dec – USD $1127, Late Dec-early Jan – $1947
Desert Homestead Lodge // Mid-Range
Set in a wide grassy valley, this 20 white-washed thatched huts, en-suite accommodation look stunning set amidst the backdrop go the Nubib, Tsaris and Naukluft Mountains. The vibe is relaxed, the decor is rustic and African and there’s a great outdoor pool with incredible views.
The main lodge has an open plan feel with a large restaurant, cosy bar and comfy leather seating surrounded by local artefacts and fabrics. There is even a small shop at the front near reception.
The cuisine is delicious with fantastic vegetarian and vegan options being served as well as other dietary requirements being noted.
There are a huge number of activities that can be done at the lodge as well as in the sossusvlei areas. There is an onsite farm, horses for riding with an experienced trainer as well as hiking, sundowner and gam drives to mention a few.
Small group and private tours can be booked from here to see the dunes as well as hot air balloons. In our opinion, this was one of the best lodges during the whole road trip and contributed greatly to having the best Sossusvlei visit.
- Location: Desert Homestead Lodge
- Website: Desert Homestead Lodge
- Price Range (based on 2 sharing per night): USD $350
Little Sossus Lodge // Good Value
Located around 35 km Southeast from Sesriem lies Little Sossus Lodge. The main portion of the lodge is farmhouse converted into a friendly communal space for all guests. The veranda area is where meals are served (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and you can relax in the cosy ethnic-African inspired cosy lounge with sink in leather sofas.
The 16 chalet style accommodation are built from local rock and all come with mosquito nets, en suite bathrooms with showers with the lodge placing emphasis on eco-friendly practices. The lodge is run via wind generator where possible.
The main activities offered here are day trips to see the giant dunes of Sossusvlei, sundowner and nature drives as well as guided trips to the Nauklauft Mountains
- Location: Little Sossus Lodge, Sesriem
- Website: Little Sossus Lodge
- Price Range (based on 2 sharing, per night): USD $250
Related Article: The Best Luxury Eco-Friendly Lodges in Namibia
Where to eat & Drink in Sossusvlei
Restaurants in Sesriem are pretty limited. First off if you are staying at a lodge, the rate generally includes 3 meals and a host of other activities such as game drives.
Be-lavie Tip: Go for the full-board option at lodges as choice of places to eat in Sossusvlei are very limited.
It is possible to eat at other lodges if you are camping or staying at a basic level lodge, but booking ahead is a must and priority is given to guests. Additionally this would involve driving back in the dark to your accommodation and driving in the dark is not recommended for tourists due to the unfamiliar landscape and wildlife.
If you are camping or have opted for self-contained accommodation then use all the facilities onsite such as barbecues and you can pick up groceries at the Engen Service Station in Sesriem. The small store is great for essentials as hot and cold snacks but nothing that will be good for dinner or lunch.
Be-lavie Pro Tips For Sossusvlei
Some additional tips that will help ensure you are all set for the best visit to Sossusvlei as possible.
#No. 1 Purchase Your Entry Permit On Arrival.
For each night or day you spend in the park, a permit and fee must be paid; $80 (US$6.50) per person and $10 (US$0.80) per vehicle, This is payable at the Sesriem entry gates. If you plan to head in at sunrise then purchase the permit the day before.
#No. 2 Sesriem Has Limited Facilities
Sesriem comprises of a few lodges, a filling station and a small shop. It is strongly advisable to pick up all your supplies, such as food and water prior to arriving here either from Windhoek or Swakopmund.
#No.3 Equip Yourself For The Heat
Carry plenty of water to sip on whilst climbing the dunes and hiking, Slather yourself in plenty of sunscreen and keep reapplying regularly.
#No. 4 Be Aware Of Park Rules & Guidelines
The park is patrolled by officials and wardens so make sure you leave the park and know the times of closure as stated on the boards and paperwork.
#No. 5 What To Wear When Climbing The Dunes
The sand can be very hot, unless you’re walking first thing in the morning or at sunrise, don’t climb the dunes in flip flops or sandals. Bring closed toes shoes like sneakers. Climbing barefoot is a great way to get up the bigger dunes but not in the midday or afternoon sun. Shorts or cut-off trousers are perfect for climbing dunes, dresses can be a little trickier, especially on the way down!!
#No. 6 Take A Back Pack & Only What You Need
Be careful not to drop anything as the last thing you want to do when you’ve just come down a steep dune like Big Daddy is to find you’ve dropped your hat, sunglasses or any other possession. Keep everything in a back pack or hold onto it all.
#No.7 Protect Camera Equipment
There is a lot of sand at Sossusvlei as you will have guessed! Carry your camera around your neck with the straps and make sure the lens cap is on to avoid sand flying into the lens cavities. If you have a dry bag with tapered seams, this is a great idea to store your camera in when not in use to throughout Namibia, not just Sossusvlei.
How To Best Visit Sossusvlei Round-up
Sossusvlei is certainly one of the most incredible wonders of the world with it’s awe-inspiring sand-dunes, canyons and sheer magnitude of the 55 million year old Namib-Nauklauft desert, It is a once in a lifetime destination and therefore a visit must be curated with care as not to avoid missing some of the most precious elements of the area. From lodges to suit all budgets, remote plains to the eerie skeleton-like structures set amongst a backdrop of vibrant orange dunes and bright blue skies, Sossusvlei is a destination that can’t quite be real until you witness it’s enormity for yourself. The content and tips in this guide should ensure you have the best visit to Sossusvlei
Other Useful Information To Best Visit Sossusvlei
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