Self drive through Namibia
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
- 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).
- “Namib” means open space and the desert gave Namibia it’s name, which means “land of open spaces.”
- 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
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!
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!
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
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
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.
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…
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…
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
- 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.
- 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!
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.
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
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.)
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.