The Namibian Sossusvlei: Plan The Perfect Visit
Updated February 2023, The Namibian Sossusvlei: Plan the Perfect Visit was originally published in December 2020
It’s easy to see why the Sossusvlei is Namibia’s most-visited destination with its alluring rust-orange dunes and beguiling petrified Deadvlei forest. In fact, it’s a place I’m dying to revisit myself, especially now that I’m confident in astrophotography.
Located in southern Namibia, the Sossusvlei sits within the Namib-Naukluft National Park and is home to some of the tallest sand dunes in the world. A trip to Namibia would just be incomplete without a visit to the Sossusvlei.
In this travel guide to the Sossusvlei, you’ll find everything you need to know to plan your own visit, from where to stay, the best things to do in the Sossusvlei, permits, how to get there, and more.
Planning to travel in other parts of southern Africa? Check out my 3 day guide to Cape Town
Things To Do In The Sossusvlei
Climb The Dunes
Of course, scaling these monstrous sand dunes is a must when visiting the Sossusvlei. Once to the top, you’ll have gorgeous views of what seems to be a never-ending sea of dunes as far as the eye can see.
Two popular dunes to climb when in the Sossusvlei are Big Daddy and Big Momma.
Personally, my favorite of all the things I did in the Sossusvlei was visit the Deadvlei, meandering around the petrified acacia trees that litter the landscape.
The Deadvlei is a white salt clay pan that was flooded by the Tsauchab River over a millennia ago. When the floods came it allowed for marshes to form in this area of the Sossusvlei, leading to a forest of Camel Thorn Trees (Acacia erioloba) to sprout.
Over time as drought spread across the land these marshlands dried up as the sand dunes encroached on the pan, killing these trees roughly 600-700 years ago. What remains now are their beautiful skeletons, set to an iron-orange backdrop.
Dune 45 seems to be the favorite of visitors among all the dunes in the Sossusvlei and it’s easy to see why. Dune 45 is incredibly photogenic.
A popular time to go is sunrise and sunset, so do expect a little crowd to join you at that time of day.
Plan for the hike up Dune 45 to take about 30 minutes to reach the summit.
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The Hidden Vlei is a smaller pan than the more popular Deadvlei, located about 2 kilometers drive from the 2WD car park.
While not as expansive as the more popular Deadvlei, it’ll be a more intimate experience since many travelers skip over it. Bring a GPS, or at very least have the Namibia map on maps.me downloaded on onto your phone.
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Shaped by the Tsauchab River over the centuries, a visit to Sesriem Canyon is well worth your while if you have the time.
The limestone canyon is accessible by a 1 kilometer trek from the main car park near the Sesriem gate. Sesriem Canyon still has pools of water within it, which are an important feature that helps sustain the local wildlife population.
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How To Get To The Sossusvlei
The nearest major city to the Sossusvlei is Swakopmund, Namibia, a 5 hour drive away, though the village named Sesrium is close by the entrance to the park.
Getting around on public transport isn’t the easiest feat in Namibia, so most who visit the Sossusvlei will either do so by an organized tour, or by renting a car and self-driving.
Many travelers who visit Namibia do so by organized tour. If arriving in the Sossusvlei on a tour you’re going to visit in one of two ways: either on a longer package tour of Namibia or on a 2-3 day tour from Swakopmund or Windhoek. Here are a handful of options that come recommended for longer southern Africa overland tours and for short 2-3 day trips.
Africa Overland Tours
- 41 day Cape Town to Zanzibar tour with Intrepid Travel: This longer overland trip takes in some of the best highlights of southern and eastern Africa, including a journey across Namibia from north to south and into the Sossusvlei.
- 18 day Victoria Falls to Cape Town tour with G Adventures: This epic overlander takes in some of the best that South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Namibia have to offer, including a trip into the Namib-Naukluft to explore the Sossusvlei.
Tours From Swakopmund & Windhoek
- 3 day Sossusvlei tour from Swakopmund: This adventure-packed tour will take you from coastal Swakopmund and across Ghaub Pass and to the Sossusvlei. Includes desert camping in Sesriem.
- 4 day Sossusvlei & Walvis Bay Tour from Windhoek: This tour will take you from the capital city of Windhoek to see the famed flamingos of Walvis Bay, and to the Namib Conservation Center to track wild cheetah before heading to the Sossusvlei. Includes all accommodations.
If self-driving, I recommend renting your car in advance on Expedia, Skyscanner, or Rentalcars.com. Likely if you’re going this route, you’re probably self-driving for all or the majority of your trip to Namibia. If this is the case, I’d definitely recommend a 4WD because of the large amount of time you’re going to be driving on dirt roads.
You can easily reach the first parking lot inside the outer gates of Namib-Naukluft National Park in a 2WD, but you will need a 4WD to go beyond.
Not to worry if you’re not comfortable driving on the sand to reach the inner gate car lot at Sossusvlei or if you drove a 2WD. There are park shuttles that operate and can bring you the remainder of the way for N$ 180 per person.
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Driving Distances From Other Points In Namibia
- From Windhoek: 320 kilometers and 6 hours
- From Swakopmund: 345 kilometers and 6 hours
Entry permits for Namib-Naukluft National Park can be purchased at the Sesriem office. They are valid for 24 hours. Permits will be checked at the inner gate upon arrival.
Entrance for foreigners and non-SADC citizens is N$ 80 per person and N$ 10 per vehicle. Namibian citizens and residents pay N$ 30 per person and SADC citizens pay N$ 60 per person. Kids under the age of 17 are free.
Namib-Naukluft Park Hours
The outer gates to the Namib-Naukluft Nation Park near the Sossusvlei are open from sunrise to sunset, seven days a week. The inner gates closer to the Sossusvlei open an hour before sunrise and an hour after sunset.
There are lodges and accommodation within the park, so staying at one would give you an advantage on perfect lighting, but these options are a bit more expensive.
The Best Time To Visit The Sossusvlei
The best time of day to visit the Sossusvlei is in the morning hours when lighting is best and temperatures are still cool. If you are visiting during the Namibian summer months of November-April, I’d recommend getting your dune climbing and gallivanting out of the way before midday to avoid the harsh sun.
Namibian winter is the best time of year to visit the Sossusvlei, the months of May-October as temperatures are a bit more comfortable.
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Where To Stay In Sesriem
Inside Namib-Naukluft National Park
I stayed at the Sesriem Campsite, which is located between the outer and inner gates of the national park. Campsites cost N$ 200 per person per night when I visited, but it appears on the website that it has gone up to N$ 490 per person. All campsites have power and a fire pit. You’ll also have a toilet and showers nearby, and there is also a restaurant/bar and shop on the grounds.
Since the Sesriem Campsite is located between the gates, you will still need to wait for the inner gate to open just before sunrise, but this gives you a head start and the chance to reach the dunes just in time for dawn.
The campground can fill up in the high season, so you may want to reserve ahead of time. Reserve your campsite.
Sossus Dune Lodge
Sossus Dune Lodge is the only accommodation that is inside the inner gate of the park, so with its access to the dunes and luxurious rooms, it’s one of the more expensive options in the area with rooms starting at N$ 2,800 in the offseason and N$ 5,040 in the high season.
The obvious upside to staying at the Sossus Dune Lodge is to have the ability to get to the Sossusvlei well before sunrise and stay after sundown. Book your stay at the Sossus Dune Lodge.
Outside Namib-Naukluft National Park
Desert Quiver Camp
Situated just outside the outer park gates, Desert Quiver Camp is another great option in Sesriem. Rooms are in the form of chalets (they look really cool from what I’ve seen). Check Desert Quiver Camp rates on booking.com and hotels.com.
Desert Camp is also situated just outside the outer park gates, offering up luxurious chalet-style rooms, and has an awesome pool from the photos I’ve seen. Check Desert Camp rates on booking.com and hotels.com.
Hoodia Desert Lodge
Hoodia is one of the more luxurious options around Sesriem, located a few kilometers away from the outer gates into the park. The rooms look superb (if you’re curious, look up pictures), though Hoodia Desert Lodge does come with a fairly steep price tag- though this also includes a guided day tour into the park for each night you stay. Check Hoodia Desert Lodge rates on booking.com and hotels.com.
Important Info For Visiting The Sossusvlei
- Bring plenty of water and sunscreen. It gets boiling hot out here by midday and the sun is intense.
- Protect your electronics from blowing sand. The dunes can wreak havoc on camera equipment, so I’d recommend grabbing a dust protector. A dry bag can work well for protecting electronics as well.
- Wear closed-toe shoes, especially if visiting in the summer months. The sand can get burning hot by midday.
- Facilities are limited in the Sossusvlei. There are toilets at the Deadvlei parking lot, but aside from that, there isn’t a whole lot.
- Opening and closing times are strictly enforced, there are park rangers on duty that look out for people trying to sneak in early or stay late).
- Grab a copy of Bradt Namibia before you leave to help you plan your time in the Sossusvlei and beyond in Namibia.
Have Any Questions About Visit The Sossusvlei?
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