Sossusvlei : It’s Like Another Planet

Sossusvlei | It's Like Another Planet

Self drive through Namibia

Sossusvlei in Namibia, Africa
Sossusvlei in Namibia, Africa

Sossusvlei in Namibia, Africa

If that didn’t make you start Instagram searching #sossusvlei and start looking up flights to Namibia, keep reading! Sossusvlei is a must-see, can’t-miss-it, one-of-a-kind place to visit while in Namibia. It was my number one place to visit during my service and was made a TOP priority when my family came to do their self-driving tour of Namibia during my May holiday. Keep reading to find out where to stay, when to visit, and tips on visiting.

 

Three Quick Facts

Three Quick Facts

  1. Sossusvlei is located inside the Namib-Naukluft National Park, the LARGEST game park in Africa and fourth largest in the WORLD! The park covers an area of 49,768 square kilometers (19,216 square miles).
  2. “Namib” means open space and the desert gave Namibia it’s name, which means “land of open spaces.”
  3. The trees of Dead Vlei are in fact dead, not petrified. They died due to the lack of a water source and just turned black

5 Reasons to Visit Namibia

Photography

Sossusvlei in Namibia, Africa

Sossusvlei in Namibia, Africa

Sossusvlei in Namibia, Africa

If you are a photographer, this place has “Take my picture!” written all over it! Sossusvlei is both easily accessible and well-protected, as it lies inside of Namib-Naukluft National Park. With its rolling apricot sand dunes, white salt pans, and the haunted trees of Dead Vlei, this place is nothing short of picturesque. You are sure to capture a plethora of amazing photos!

Night Sky

Night Sky in Sossusvlei

Night Sky in Sossusvlei
© Jessalin Henry @ghostlycat

The night sky will leave you in reverence. If you love to stare up at the stars even half as much as I do, then this will be a vision to your eyes. Although you are far out from civilization, the sky is naturally lit by oodles of stars and the Milky Way stretched across the sky. For night photographers, it can offer some mind-blowing shots. You can even visit the neighboring NamibRand Nature Reserve to experience one of the darkest places on Earth, certified by the International Dark-Sky Reserve!

Get a workout in nature!

Get a workout in nature

Climb the dunes! One step forward, three steps back — it’s a great workout. When you get to the top, you’ll have some amazing views to look upon before heading back down. If you are feeling extra adventurous, wake up early to head up a dune to watch the sunrise. I’m not a morning person and I can tell you that it is WORTH IT!

It’s out of this world

Deadvlei Namibia

Deadvlei Namibia

Deadvlei Namibia
Deadvlei Namibia

It feels like landing on another planet. If you visit Deadvlei, you can meander through the dead, leafless trees scattered throughout the pure white salt pan with rusty dunes rising all around you. It is truly an out of this world experience. Since I don’t think I’ll be taking on the role of an astronaut visiting Mars anytime soon, this will have to satisfy any desire to visit a different sphere in space.

Wide open spaces

Wide open spaces Namibia

Namibia is the second least densely populated country in the world after Mongolia. Just take a second for that to sink in…second least populated country in the WORLD in relation to land size. I come from Los Angeles, the second most populated city in America, with a population of 3.9 million people living in 1,302 square kilometers (503 square miles). It is INSANE to think that here in Namibia there are only 2.1 million people living in 825,615 square kilometers (318,772 square miles).

That fact blows both my mind and the minds of the Namibians I tell. Driving to Sesriem will make this fact very apparent. We only saw a handful of cars on our trip there. While visiting the dunes and vleis you will see just how much open space there is in this country. When it says “crowds line up at the gate,” take it back about 10 notches from what you are thinking. This is no Beyoncé or One Direction concert. So don’t let that shake you one bit.

Getting There

Sossusvlei is more than a couple hours drive south west of Windhoek. The route starts out as a tar road, but quickly turns into a gravel road about an hour into the drive. Make sure to allow enough time to drive carefully on this rough terrain during the daylight hours. Once the sun goes down it can get eerily dark and it’s not as easy to drive at night.

If you are coming from Windhoek…

coming from Windhoek

Our car hire company recommended for us to take the paved B1 south to Rehoboth. Just after going through town you turn onto the C24, a gravel road on the west. Continue on C24 until you reach the C19, just before Soltaire. Take the C19 for the last stretch of the drive before turning west again at a T-junction onto the C27. This will take you right to the gate of Sesriem.

If you are going to/from Swakopmund…

going to/from Swakopmund

We took this path out of Sossusvlei, but you can easily reverse it. The roads are gravel the majority of the way until almost Walvis Bay. If you go this way, you will pass the sign for the Tropic of Capricorn, so make sure to get that photo opportunity in! You leave Sesriem the same way you came in, taking the C27 to the T-junction and turning north onto C19. Take C19 to Soltaire, and turn off going northwest onto the C14. This drive will take you through a wide expanse of beautiful and desolate landscapes all the way to the ocean in Wavis Bay and the B2 to Swakopmund. (I’m not positive, but I think some of the filming for Mad Max: Fury Road happened along this route. It just LOOKED like the scenery, or lack of scenery, from the movie.)

“To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, to draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”

– The Secret Life of Walter Mitty –

Signs are few, but distinct. Although the roads are gravel, you can easily tell which way to go as they are well-traveled. Our motto quickly became: “If you don’t see a sign, just keep going straight.” We never got lost, so I’d say it served us well. Feel free to adopt this tactic!

Tips for the Road

Sossusvlei | It's Like Another Planet

  1. Make sure to allow enough time to drive carefully on this rough terrain during the daylight hours. Once the sun goes down it is harder to see potholes, wildlife and the road in general.
  2. Get tire and windshield insurance! It is most likely not included in your car hire’s “excess fees.” You’ll be glad you did if something happens (which is likely on the gravel roads with locals flying by you)! JUST DO IT!

Accommodations

Accommodations in Sossuvlei Namibia

When I visited it was important to me to watch the sun as it peaked out from behind the distant sand dunes and rose up into the fiery sky. During the winter season the sun rises around 6am, which means a very early alarm.

Staying at lodging inside the park gate at Sesriem is an advantage if you want to head out early to get to the dunes. You will get to leave an hour earlier than when the gate opens to the general public. Make sure to check the gate times for the time period when you plan to visit or ask upon check-in. Obviously this is a benefit to those willing to sacrifice their morning snooze. (I reiterate… IT IS WORTH IT!)

We camped in our cartop tents at Sesriem Camp just inside the gates. The campsites are natural and barren like much of the landscape. Most of the sites had a tree providing some shade covering for the hot hours of the day. There were trash cans throughout the area and the grounds were well maintained. The bathrooms were clean and had free hot showers, although depending on the time of year you might not want to think of having a hot shower! At night you can get some great views of the sky, as there are not many lights in the camp.

Photo by Jessalin Henry. (@ghostlycat)
© Jessalin Henry @ghostlycat

Something to be aware of is that the gate closes around sunset! You need to make sure to be back inside the gate before it closes or you could be locked out.

What to Eat

What to Eat in Sossusvlei Namibia

Sesriem Camp had a restaurant, although we never had the chance to try the food. There was a very small convenience store with only the basics. A service station with essentials can also be found just outside the gate to the park. I personally would recommend bringing your own food. It worked great for us to shop in Windhoek and keep food in our small, rented fridge in the back of our rental truck. We cooked most of our own meals with the camp gear that we also rented with our vehicle.

If you want to go out for a meal, Soussvlei Lodge has a beautiful spread. As it is right next door, we walked over from our campsite for dinner one night. Though the price tag was a bit high for budget traveling, it was well worth the splurge. (At least it seemed worth it to me — a Peace Corps Volunteer who had been eating lots more canned foods than before I moved here!) The buffet had an array of salads and appetizers, wall of bread, a few hot dishes, stir fry station, cooked-to-order meat (beef, chicken, mutton, zebra, kudu, oryx, and more) and a range of desserts. It was wonderful!

What to Do

Since we only spent one full day and two nights at Sesriem, we kept it simple. We woke up early to hike up one of the tall dunes to watch the sunrise, drove out to walk to Dead Vlei, took plenty of pictures, and gazed up at the stars at night. If you have more time in the area, there are plenty of activities to do. Here are three things I wish I could have had the means and time to do.

Hike through Sesriem Canyon

Shaped by the Tsauchab River, this canyon is one of the few places in the area where you can find water year round. You can visit the canyon to explore the terrain, check out the rock formations and get in some exercise before a long day of driving.

Walk the Tok Tokkie Trail

This is a 3-day, 2 night walking desert safari that is fully catered through the NamibRand Nature Reserve. Groups are kept small in order to allow for a peaceful experience with the desert surroundings and personal attention from an expert guide. You get to walk through stunning scenery by day and sleep out under the stars at night. (I think this is SO awesome, that I am still trying to find a way to do this during one of my future holidays.)

Stay at andBeyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge

If you are not a budget traveler or plan to splurge on lodging, this would be my number one choice. Although I did not get a chance to visit, I hear that this lodge caters to the stars… literally. Being located inside Africa’s only International Dark Sky Reserve means that this is the prime place for stargazing! When staying here you can spend the evenings looking up at the naturally lit sky with an astronomer in the lodge’s state of the art observatory! They also offer other excursions like game drives, hot air balloon rides, quad rides, and guided nature walks.​

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Clarice Henry

Guest Wanderer

Born and raised in Southern California, Clarice has always been a wanderer at heart since childhood. She loves helping others, eating good food, and capturing videos throughout her travels.

22 Comments
  1. Great description of the best way to go on a self-drive safari to Soussvlei in Namibia! Had the pleasure of traveling on this trip with the author. It was an amazing experience!

  2. No question about it. Namibia seems like the perfect place for stunning photography. The golden dunes are surreal. And as far as the stargazing goes, I am already having visions of myself under that twinkling sky. What’s the best season for stargazing?

    1. It really is easy to take stunning photographs in this country! Dry months are the best time for star gazing as you won’t have cloud cover. I visited in May during winter and it allowed for great star gazing and was cool enough (considering you are in a desert) to hike the dunes during the morning hours.

  3. Ever since I saw a photo when I was 15yrs old, I have wanted to visit ‘the land of open space’. Your photos are beautiful and I would love to be able to see the sky and stars so clearly. Looks like I need to plan a visit soon.

    1. Wow this is wonderful to hear! I did not know much about Namibia until I was told I would be moving here to serve as a teacher. As soon as I started researching, my excitement level went up ten-fold. I hope you are able to plan a trip soon. I’ll be posting more in the future about other places to visit in Namibia, so stay tuned into my social media!

  4. I love places around the world like this with jawdropping scenery and a real remoteness to them. But it can be a little intimidating knowing where to start exploring. This is a good breakdown on what to see and where. Really love the info on camping inside the gates. How did you ever manage to get some sleep? I’d have been out there photographing all night! 🙂

    1. Yes, these remote and less visited places are some of the most beautiful. It can be intimidating, which is why I wanted to share all these tips and tricks with people. It was not easy getting to sleep, especially here in Sossusvlei, where it is one of the darkest places in the world. Luckily, I live in Namibia, so I can see a similar sky most nights. I’ll be posting more about places to visit in Namibia in the near future, so check out my social media to see when it comes out!

  5. I love scaling dunes (but wait, “one step forward three steps back” means you’ll never get to the top ;-). Namibia tops my list of African countries to visit. I enjoy multi-day tracks, so that Tok Toki walking safari would be the first thing I’d do.

    1. Haha, it is no easy task getting to the top of some of the big dunes! Namibia is a beautiful country with so much to offer, so it is very worthy of the top of your list. I think the Tok Tokkie walk would be awesome for you then. You could also look into doing a 5 or 8-day backpacking trip in Namib-Naukluft Park. I have heard it is difficult, but very worth it!

  6. I want to visit Namibia so bad! I was just thinking about it today when I was at White Sands National Park in the US – huge sand dunes and a few dead trees, made me think of the Sossusvlei pictures I’ve seen.

  7. I never would have though of going to Namibia until I read this. It does look so beautiful, and the opportunity to see a night sky like in your pictures really appeals.

    1. I’m so glad! Namibia is a very diverse country with a lot to offer. I’ll be putting more out about visiting Namibia in the future, so check out my social media for when that will be out!

  8. Whoa! This is my kinda road trip! Amazing to read that there are only 2.1 million people living in 825,615 square kilometers (318,772 square miles). Reminds me of Mongolia >< Thanks for the extra info on what to do. I'm a really keen hiker – would love to do the Tok Tokkie Trail!

  9. Your pictures are amazing, especially of the night sky. However, I live in a city that is mostly desert (the UAE) and this has actually reduced the awe-factor of this kind of landscape for me. Initially when I moved here, I loved the golden sand dunes, endless desert and dry aridity of the landscape, it has its own charm. But after living here for a while, my eyes crave to see greenery and mountains/ lakes. Neverthless, Namibia and Sossusvlei (I wonder how it is pronounced, lol) look pretty awesome!

    1. Well, if you happen to visit Namibia there is plenty to offer. Though the country has a large desert portion, it is known for being beautiful and contrasting. If you visit the North Eastern region of Zambezi you will find rivers with hippos, elephants and crocodiles, in central region there is Etosha which is slightly more green with many of the large game animals, and on the west coast the dunes meet the sea.

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