Endless sand dunes, mysterious dead acacia trees against an unearthly backdrop and magical sunsets make the Sossusvlei National Park one of the most visited places in Namibia. Near the same-called white clay plain Sossusvlei and along the road thereto you will find many unique highlights. But what is the best way to visit them and which ones are the most beautiful? With these tips your visit to this special place will be unforgettable!
How to visit the Sossusvlei from Windhoek
The entrance to the national park can be found near the town of Sesriem. It’s about a 4-hour drive to Sossusvlei from Windhoek.
The gates of the park open at sunrise and close at sunset. At the entrance, you pay the usual park permit of 80 Namibian dollars per person and 10 Namibian dollars per vehicle, after which you drive to a second gate where your permit will be checked.
From there, a road stretches for 60 kilometers towards the famous Sossusvlei, one of the white clay plains between the enormous sand dunes. The road is asphalted and therefore easy to drive with any car. The maximum speed is 60 km/h, which actually feels very slow on such a good road. With a bit of luck you will spot some wildlife here. We saw an oryx, ostrich and hyena. You will also notice some acacia trees already. A preview of what you will see later in the Dead Vlei!
While driving down the road, the huge sand dunes are getting closer and closer to the road. At 60 kilometers from Sesriem you will be surrounded by dunes and you will find a parking space for 2WD vehicles. From the 2WD car park you can visit the Hidden Vlei, but not yet the Sossusvlei or Dode Vlei. So you will want to continue for those highlights of course. A sandy road leads from the 2WD car park towards the Sossusvlei. For this road you definitely need a 4WD, although we also saw someone with a 2WD plowing through the sand. Did you not rent 4WD? Then you go on foot or pay for the shuttle bus.
Accommodation in Sossusvlei: the Sossusvlei campsites and lodges
The Sossusvlei accommodation is both in and outside the national park. The Sossusvlei campsite and lodges in the park itself are located right after the first gate and before the second one. We highly recommend you to boo your stay there to ensure you’ll have the best moments to visit the immense dunes of Sossusvlei. Because when spending the night in the park, you are allowed to enter the park earlier and stay there longer, so you can be there the most unforgettable sunrises and sunsets! We were allowed to stay in the park until 20: 45h because of our stay at the Sossusvlei campsite and were allowed to enter it already at 5:15. Yes, that was an early rise in the morning. But the sunrise was totally worth it!
A stay in any national park can only be booked with the state-owned Namibian Wildlife Resort. After the park entrance, you will find the Sossus Dune Lodge with spectacularly beautiful lodges (from 2000 Namibian dollars per person) and the Sesriem Campsite (350 Namibian dollars per person). You can make a booking by telephone, via the site (www.nwr.com.na) or by e-mail (email@example.com). Both are more expensive than accommodation outside the park, so if you prefer to skip the sunset to save some money, we advise you to look for a nice place outside.
The highlights of Sossusvlei: sand dunes, vleis and acacia trees
The Sossusvlei is not the only highlight in the national park. In fact, we were not particularly impressed by it. The other vleis and the sand dunes were so much more impressive!
Elim dune. This sand dune is located near Sesriem and is therefore the place where almost everyone collects for the sunset at the sand dunes. Do you want something more peaceful? Then choose any other sand dune. Especially if you spend the night in the national park, you have enough time to drive further into the park for a sunset and return before the fence will be closed.
Dune 45. At 45 kilometers from Sesriem – gosh, how would this dune get its name? – you will find Dune 45. This is one of the highest sand dunes and the place where people go for the sunrise. The reason for this is that the dune – with a distance of 45 kilometers from Sesriem and a location directly next to the asphalt road to Sossusvlei – can be reached quickly and easily, so that after a heavy climb to the dune top you are well on time for the sunrise. But also for this applies: you can choose any other dune for a beautiful sunrise. We would certainly recommend that, if you want to avoid the crowds.
Hidden Vlei. From the 2WD car park 60 kilometers from Sesriem, a route runs through the dunes to the Hidden Vlei. The route is about 2 kilometers long. You can of course go straight through the dunes, but poles mark the easiest route to the Hidden Vlei. Can not you find (all) the posts? Then use the maps.me app, which clearly shows the walking route as well. We visited this valley at sunset, but were somewhat disappointed. Although it was a special experience to visit the vlei without any other tourist, we were prepared for the famous spectacle of a white clay ground, red sand dunes and fossilized trees. But you will not find that here. In this valley, there are only two old acacia trees. So you will not have the special view you may know from the photos here.
Dead Vlei. But you do have that on this plain! The dead acacia trees are hundreds of years old. They died when the Tsauchab River chose a different route. What remains in the Dead Vlei are the skeletons of the old acacias. They are a beautiful sight: dark silhouettes against a white clay ground and brightly colored dunes. Depending on the light, the dunes are bright yellow, orange or even red. For us, this spectacle was the highlight of our visit to the national park. It also attracts quite a lot of tourists who have extensive photo shoots between the special trees (guilty!). We therefore decided not to experience the sunrise on Dune 45, but to head with our 4WD straigth to the 4WD car park and go to the Dode Vlei. We climbeb a high dune next to the vlei before sunrise to enjoy a spectacular view of the rising sun – so much sweat and sand, but stunning! – and then decended into the Dead Vlei. We were one of the first to absorb the unearthly atmosphere here! Not much later, despite the low season, we saw more and more tourists in large groups coming towards the plain. We therefore strongly advise you to go here early, if you want to be able to visit the Dead Vlei without the crowds.
Big Daddy. The Big Daddy and Big Mama are two of the higher dunes near the 4WD parking. The Big Daddy is 350 meters high, so it takes a lot of sweat and effort to reach the top. The dune is right next to the Dead Vlei, so if you have made the hellish journey to the top, you will be rewarded with a great descent into the valley. Beware: you will notice two routes to the Big Daddy on maps.me. We advise you to take the shortest, but steepest. Climbing through the sand is heavy, so if you take the longer and less steep route, you will soon deplete yourself. So start as early as possible in the cool morning and go up steeply to reach the top as quickly as possible!
Sossusvlei. A little further than the 4WD parking close to the Big Daddy and Dead Vlei, lies the Sossusvlei. A white plain stretches between the yellow and orange dunes. A beautiful sight, but because we had already seen the Dead Vlei with the unique acacia trees, it was a bit less impressive than we thought. You can see the Sossusvlei plain and the dunes surrounding it the best from the Big Mama.
Big Mama. The Big Mama is ‘only’ 100 meters high and therefore a lot smaller than the Big Daddy. It is located right next to the Sossusvlei. Although the Big Mama is easier to climb, the Big Daddy seems to attract a lot more people. Do you want to sit more quietly on your dune top? The Big Mama is your spot!
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The My Maps map above summarizes all our tips. The menu on the menu has separate layers that mark the best coffee spots, sleeping places and highlights. Click on the star to save the map to your own Google Maps or open the map in a new window for a larger version. Enjoy!