The Namib Desert: Sossusvlei or rather Dead Vlei
No real surprise here since the Namib is a coastal desert and just about the whole country is ‘deserted’ with only 3.13 people per square kilometre. I mean, the country’s name in itself means “vast place” and quite frankly the name could not be more fitting. It’s no wonder it tops the search results and just about every bucket list, of anyone who seeks adventure, in a world so unlike their own.
Ancient trees on a cracked dry pan beneath crisp blue skies overshadowed only by the world’s highest sand dunes. This is also the world’s oldest desert. Impressive but not nearly as impressive as it actually is in real life. Dunes upon dunes and then more dunes as far as the eye can see, stopping only where they meet the white crested waves of the dark Atlantic Ocean. It is simply surreal. Seeing really is believing in this case.
It could be because it was my first Namibian travel experience, that I fell in love with the desert, but if I’m honest, I think it comes down to the fact that I’ve really never experienced anything quite as beautiful. Sounds cliched, but that’s the truth. I’ve been back numerous times since and I’m blown away every. single. time.
If you talk about the Namib Desert then most people refer to Sossusvlei as a must see and I have to agree, although Sossusvlei itself is somewhat less impressive than Dead Vlei, which for me, is the ultimate. (Note here that I am talking about the actual pan inside the park and not the general area). Don’t be mistaken, if your itinerary includes Sossusvlei, it refers to the area, however you won’t be sleeping on the pan itself. In fact, there are only two lodges and two campsites inside the park, all of which are close to the Sesriem entrance gate. There are plenty of other lodge options in the area, just none as close to the dunes themselves. From here you still have to drive 60km into the park along the dune belt to reach Sossusvlei. Strangely enough getting here from any direction would have seen you travel gravel roads, yet the road in the park is tarred, except the last 5km of thick sand. By thick sand, I mean you will get stuck if you don’t have a suitable 4WD. Don’t worry if you don’t though, you can always stop at the parking area and take a shuttle into the dunes (by shuttle, I mean a tractor with a hitched trailer of fashioned seats) or if you’re up for it, it’s a 5km walk in that very same thick sand.
I am yet to tackle that last 5km on foot and to climb Big Daddy or even Dune 45. It’s still on my list of things to do. I like to keep a few things for the next trip plus some fitness training before hand would be ideal since these are some of the world’s highest dunes. That’s right – some of the highest dunes in the world’s oldest desert. The sheer size of them from the base is a reminder that it’s going to be quite a climb. With sand under your feet, it’s like the distance doubles or at least the effort has to. I think this may well be where the saying “one step forward and two steps back” originated. It’s a feat for sure, but one that’s worth it, or so I’m told and I’ve seen pictures. The view from the top is surreal. ‘Breathtaking’ is an adjective always used to describe an amazing view but, in this case, it truly is breathtaking and the view is equally as impressive. Perhaps you can join me?
This area of the desert, is but a small portion of it all (all: being 81,000 square kilometres) and trust me when I say there are many other incredible places to go in the Namib Desert that are rightfully destinations on their own, but if we’re talking popularity, this has to be it. For any first-time visitors to Namibia, Sossusvlei (or rather Dead Vlei) is a must and just like for me, I know you will fall in love with it as well. Perhaps you too will leave some things on the list to go back and tick off the next time around and if you don’t, you’ll go back again anyway. You can take my world for it.
My top tips:
- On entering the park (unless you are staying at a lodge inside the park gates) head all the way to Sossusvlei and Dead Vlei first so that you can be there before the sun is up. It’s cooler to climb the dunes to get to the vlei, the sand isn’t hot yet and the lighting is better for photographs. You can head back to Dune 45 and stop for other pictures on your way back out again.
- Pay the park entry fees on your way out. It’s possible and it’ll save you time on entering so that you can get to the dunes sooner. Trust me, the dunes lose dimension when the sun is up. They’re still ginormous and impressive but they almost look flat.
- Do the dunes as early as possible. Let’s not forget this is the desert and being out there during the heat of the day is far less appealing than chilling at the lodge swimming pool with an iced drink, relaxing. Bliss.
- Book a hot air balloon safari. Soaring silently over the endless dunes of the Namib Desert is truly out of this world and a champagne breakfast on landing certainly tops the experience. Save up for it, it ain’t cheap but it is worth it!
- If you’re travelling to include most of Namibia’s highlights, do the south first. Seeing a lone Oryx against the backdrop of a red sand dune, is far more impactful when you haven’t already seen numerous antelope in Etosha National Park.