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The Sand Dunes of Sossusvlei Namibia

Sossusvlei is Namibia’s premier tourist attraction and after spending three days I can confirm why. The area is home to the highest sand dunes in the world. They are massive, a towering 300 meters plus in height. Like giants they stand guard; gatekeepers to the oldest desert in the world. Sossusvlei is where you meet face to face with these giants and a spectacular meeting it is. Whether you choose to climb and conquer or respectfully observe from below the childlike exhilaration remains the same. It is difficult to believe that one can get so excited in a place so calm. Everything about this place is serene, the slow shifting sand dunes, the tranquil red colors, the leisurely stroll of Gemsbok across the sand plains. But you cannot deny the excitement when visiting this place.

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Getting there

Route options Whk to Sesriem

Sesriem is reached from Windhoek by either taking the C26 or the B1 south to Rehoboth and then the C24. Regardless both roads eventually meet and end at the C14 close to Solitaire. The main difference is that the C26 from Windhoek is gravel throughout whereas the B1 to Rehoboth is 90km tarred before you reach the C24 turn off which is gravel. There are many smaller side roads so pay attention or you’ll end up loosing hours getting lost.

Importantly for me, is that both pass at the Namibgrens campsite where after you turn right and then proceed to Solitaire via Spreetshoogte. Stop to enjoy the view and then take the exciting drive down the pass. You drop about a 1000 meters in 4kms, the steepest pass in Namibia.

The view from Spreetshoogte pass, the steepest pass in Namibia.

After that it is a scenic drive until you reach the C14, turn left and 10kms later you are  in Solitaire. Stop to fill up on fuel, stretch legs and enjoy the best apple pie and cream in Namibia, confirmed.

From there it is another 85km gravel on the C19 before you reach the gate at Sesriem. Allow yourself sufficient time to enjoy the scenery, stop for photographs and remember the national speed limit on gravel roads are 80km/h.  

Accommodation

There are multiple accommodation options in the area. Most of them are outside the park and two are inside. I intentionally stayed inside the park for one major reason in that it allows you to do sunrise on top of the dunes. The main gate only opens at sunrise so there is no way you’ll be able to cover the distance from there to Dune 45 in time, but a bit more on this later.

Inside the park is the Sesriem campsite and the Sossus Dune Lodge. Both are administered by the Namibian Wildlife Resorts (NWR). Bookings are made with NWR online, via email or telephone prior to arrival.

Arriving at Sossusvlei

Sesriem campsite is spacious, basic and dusty but affordable. It consists of more than 40 sites with all the amenities one would require when camping. Most sites have very large trees which provide ample relief from the sweltering Namibian sun. There is good MTC signal (local cellphone provider) and Wi-Fi available at N$50/300mb. For those that prefer not to cook themselves a restaurant, bar and shop with basic supplies is offered. As you would expect at NWR accommodation restaurant meals are basic and overpriced.

The sites have:

  • Most of them large shade trees
  • Fireplace for cooking/braai/BBQ
  • Light
  • Tap with drinking water
  • Electricity point/plugs
  • Solar heating provides warm water showers from midday until the evening
The Sossus Dune Lodge, a not so budget option

The Sossus Dune Lodge is the more upmarket option and cost considerably more per night. It consists of 25 thatch roofed tented structures with a bedroom, bathroom and balcony. They are extremely spacious, have a coffee station and fridge. Please note there are no air conditioning in the rooms which is not a problem during the winter months but might be problematic during the hot summer. Also, there is no self-catering, so all meals are from the restaurant. The lodge also has a bar, large lounge and a beautiful swimming pool. Again, you can expect restaurant meals to be basic and overpriced. MTC reception is not as good as at the campsite and the same Wi-Fi is available. The accommodation is more than adequate, but not budget friendly.

Activities

There are four major attractions at Sossusvlei. They are all included as part of the park fees/permits and no additional payments will be required.

One of the majestic dunes on the way to Sossusvlei

The best place to view sunrise is at Dune 45. Called so because it is 45km from the control gate. The control gate controls access to the Sossusvlei area. It opens about 45 mins before sunrise thereby allowing you sufficient time to make it to the top of the dune. You might be surprised to find out that the road from the control gate to 5kms before Sossusvlei is tarred and in excellent condition. You’ll need to get up at 05:30 to ensure you make it all the way up the dune, don’t worry the 150m climb is one of the easier ones,  but all the effort is definitely worth it.

Dune 45. The perfect spot for sunrise. An easy 150m climb.

Sunset is at Elim dune about 4,5kms from the control gate. It is much easier to do considering the closing timesof the control gate is about 30mins after sunset. So take a beer or a good bottle of red wine and appreciate an amazing African sunset.

The view from one of Sossusvlei’s giants with Deadvlei at the bottom.

Sossusvlei is 65kms from the control gate. It is an easy and scenic drive. The last 5kms to the parking area is accessible only by 4×4. If you don’t have a 4×4 there is a NWR shuttle available at N$180 per person for a round trip. An alternative is to hike the last few kilometres and truly take in the scenery, but please if you choose to do so remember to take enough water. Once at the parking area you are surrounded by the giants. Simply choose a direction and start climbing. The views at the top are spectacular and remember your camera with a sufficiently charged battery, extra SD card, water and somebody to carry you down when you get tired😊

Deadvlei

From the same car park Deadvlei is a 1.1km hike away. If you are not sure which direction to head in, be smart and ask. There is a sign, but from there the advertised markers are long gone. Ask, don’t be like Nick. I headed in the wrong direction and ended up going over one of the highest dunes in the area to get to the vlei 😊 This is the most photographed location in Namibia and rightfully so. It is amazingly beautiful and the reason you traveled all this way. At this point my SD card was full and the adapter to use one from my GoPro was at home. Unfortunately, all my pics of Deadvlei was taken with my GoPro. Lesson learned!!!

Some more Deadvlei

Finally, there is the Sesriem Canyon situated on the road that leads to the Sossus Dune Lodge. It is clearly marked and should be easy to find. The canyon is not the most exciting, but if you an hour to kill go and spend  it there. It is about a kilometre long and 40 meters deep. You can hike in two different directions and the canyon presents some interesting geological features carved out by the Tsauchab river over thousands of years if not more. If you end up missing out on it, don’t be too concerned.

The entrance to the canyon

After spending three days at Sossusvlei I now comprehend why it is such a popular attraction. Attempting to explain its mesmerizing effect, its absolute beauty and overwhelming tranquility  is impossible. Occasionally you visit a place that cannot be described to others, it needs to be experienced to be comprehended. Sossusvlei is one of those places.  

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