The stunning landscapes of the Namib Desert
Namibia is renowned for its remote areas, and during a trip throughout the country, one of the places “not to be missed” is the Namib desert, the oldest desert in the world. In the Nama language, ‘Namib’ means ‘vast’, and this desert lives up to this reputation. One of the most spectacular sights of Namibia is undoubtedly the part of the desert known as Sossusvlei, located inside the Namib -Naukluft National Park.
The high dunes of Sossusvlei
It is a large, white, salt and clay pan lined by some of the highest dunes in the world. Sossusvlei means “no return marsh, ” as it is where the dunes come together, preventing the Tsauchab River from flowing any further. However, due to the dry conditions in the Namib Desert, the river seldom flows this far, and the pan remains bone-dry most years. The rain is sporadic, but when it falls, the landscape is fantastic as the area teems with life, adorning the undulating dunes. The colours are strong and constantly changing during the sunrise and sunset, allowing for incredible photographic opportunities. If you like experiencing this magnificent place, the best option is to sleep in the small settlement of Sesriem. Above all at Sesriem Campsite, located inside the park (the only one inside the gate) and close to all the attractions.
Namib-Naukluft National Park attractions
Sossusvlei area offers the opportunity to climb up the dunes and take in the spectacular desert scenery. The closest dune is Elim dune, but the most visited is dune 45 (50 km from the camp on the main road). The highest dune of Sossusvlei is called Big Daddy; it is 390m high and can be climbed up in one hour. The best time to climb up the dunes is at dawn and during the sunset because the midday heat could be intense. Dune 45 and Big Daddy are massive, will exhaust even those in the best shape, and the climb will be more challenging than you expect (if you want to climb Big daddy, we suggest being very fit). Once you get to the top of the crest, you see another even more massive ridge that you will probably want to climb. Don’t forget to keep with you sufficient water and a hat!
Deadvlei and its incredible landscape
Leaving the Dune 45, going on the main road, after 15 minutes drive, you reach one of the most photographed sights of Namibia: DeadVlei. In this area, thousands of years ago, the Tsaucheb river used to settle into a small lake in the desert, close to Sossusvlei, and here many trees used to grow in this pan. When the climate changed, a strong drought struck the area, and the dunes blocked off the river’s route and any water. The bushes and trees in Deadvlei died, but due to the exceptional dryness of the desert conditions, they dried out instead of decomposing, and the desert sun scorched the trunks to blackened bones. The trees are estimated to be approximately 500 to 900 years old.
After leaving your vehicle at the Deadvlei car park paying a small fee, you have to jump on a 4×4 park vehicle that takes you to the starting point of the trail. From here, you’ll walk on the pan surrounded by the dunes that you have even to climb a bit to get to DeadVlei. It’s a bit tiring because of the intense heat and the walk through the soft sand (it takes about 25 min to go and 25 min back; be careful and don’t underestimate this walk on the sand under the heat). Once there, Deadvlei is a “paradise” for photographers as the contrast between the pitch-black trees and bleached-white pans and the rusty-red dunes and deep blue sky makes for incredible images.
If you still have time, the last attraction worth visiting is Sesriem Canyon, located only 4 km from the gate entrance. It is very little visited and in our opinion it is fantastic. There are two ways to visit it, either from the same level as the road or through a path that takes you to the bottom, 30m deep than the road level. Even in this case, we suggest going during the late afternoon when the heat is not so intense, and the contrast between the sun and shadows make the colours more attractive.
Need to Know about Namib-Naukluft National Park
Getting there: from Windhoek is 340 km (5 hrs); from Swakopmund 350 km (5 hrs); from Seeheim is 450 km (6 hrs). Remember that it is hazardous driving throughout Namibia because most roads are gravel and the maximum speed you should keep is around 90 km/h. The mobile phone is not working out of the tourist places and the towns.
Sesriem map: click here;
Where to sleep: the best accommodation is Sesriem Campsite because it is located inside the Namib-Naukluft Park gate. Namibia Wildlife Resort administrates the accommodations inside the national parks; therefore, you have to book through this link: click here;
You can find some more “comfortable” accommodations along the road outside the Park, like Sossuvlei Lodge, Moon Mountain Lodge, Agama River Camp Lodge, Desert Quiver Camp. If you sleep outside the Park, keep in mind that the gate open at sunrise and close at sunset (6.45 to 18.30 summertime), so if you want to enjoy the sunrise sitting on the top of a dune, you have to sleep inside the Park.
Leaving Sesriem (or coming to) and driving north towards Swakopmund, don’t miss a quick stop at Solitaire to taste the most famous apple pie of Africa!