Photo: Oleg Znamenskiy/Shutterstock

Namibia's Sossusvlei Is Full of Skeleton Trees and Neon Orange Dunes

Namibia National Parks Adventure Travel
by Matador Creators Jan 10, 2023

Sossusvlei is a salt–and-clay-pan (a section of desert covered in minerals) in the heart of Namibia‘s Namib Desert. It’s considered to be one of the most iconic and beautiful desert landscapes in all of Africa, with giant sand dunes that are some of the tallest in the world. Sossusvlei is also home to some of the oldest living plants on Earth, including over 2,000 year old Welwitschia mirabilis trees.

Visitors can witness the spectacular, bright-red-and-orange desert on foot or via four-wheel drive vehicles. With its unique combination of red sand dunes, dusty salt pans, ancient fossils and soaring mountains, the desert offers a chance to explore one of the most sweeping areas of the planet. And Hollywood agrees — you may recognize it from movies like Mad Max: Fury Road.

Famous sites in Sossusvlei

Sesriem canyon in namibia

Photo: Beate Wolter/Shutterstock

Sossusvlei is home to many famous sites, including Sesriem Canyon, Deadvlei and Sossusvlei itself. Sesriem Canyon is a steep gorge carved by the Tsauchab River over millions of years. The canyon walls reach heights up to 100 feet and can be explored on foot or with a 4×4 vehicle. Deadvlei is an ancient clay pan filled with dead acacia trees whose white trunks stand out against the surrounding red sand dunes, and Sossusvlei itself is a sparkling clay pan surrounded by some of the tallest sand dunes in the world. (The whole desert area is referred to as Sossusvlei, by the way).

Visitors can climb these dunes for breathtaking views of the otherworldly landscapes, or take advantage of adventure activities like sandboarding and hot air balloon rides.

How did the desert form?

Namib desert dunes of sossusvlei

Photo: R.M.Nunes/Shutterstock

Sossusvlei was formed by the Tsauchab River which carved Sesriem Canyon, creating an isolated basin of salt and clay. Over time, winds blew sand over higher areas of land and deposited it at the bottom of the pan. As this happened, the area gradually became filled with sand dunes that are now some of the tallest in the world. Sossusvlei has also become home to numerous species of plants and animals, including 2,000 year old Welwitchia mirabilis trees that can only be found in this unique desert environment.

How to get to Sossusvlei

The best way to get to Sossusvlei is by car or 4×4. Sossusvlei is inside Namib-Naukluft National Park, accessed via the B2 (main highway) from Windhoek or Swakopmund. The drive takes about five hours and visitors must pay an entrance fee at the Sesriem gate before entering the park. There are also guided tours available from various tour operators in Windhoek or Swakopmund that include Sossusvlei as part of the itineraries. Once at Sossusvlei, visitors can explore the area on foot, by vehicle, or by hot air balloon.

The Sossusvlei entrance fee is N$80 (about $7 US) per person, and there is an additional vehicle fee of N$30 if you’re driving in. The fees help to fund conservation efforts in Namib-Naukluft National Park, so visitors can be sure that their money is going towards a good cause. You also need to get a  Sossusvlei permit from the Sesriem gate (the only way into the park) for any overnight trips into the park; this costs around N$100 ($9 US) per person.

The best time to visit Sossusvlei is between April and November, when temperatures are cooler and rain is rare. This will also yield the most vibrant colors in Sossusvlei’s unique desert landscape. During the summer months (December to March), temperatures can get very hot, so visitors should be sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen and try to avoid the early morning or late afternoon. .

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