Sossusvlei, Namibia

Crazy Dune, the Deadvlei pan, Sossusvlei National Park, Namibia

Crazy Dune and the Deadvlei pan in Sossusvlei. The main track goes to the top of Crazy Dune.

Sossusvlei: How to best experience the dunes

The two best sights in Namibia are, without question, the wildlife in Etosha Park and the dunes at Sossusvlei, though if time was short the Namib Desert dunes just outside Swakopmund could work as a junior attraction.

Getting to Sossusvlei is a pain. It’s a very long drive from the nearest serious attraction – Swakopmund – and entry to the park is only from sunrise to sunset so visitors will need to stay at least a couple of nights nearby. Most visitors overnight at a lodge, though lodges very near to the park gates are very expensive.

Places to stay

A Solitaire bungalow front door, Sossusvlei, Namibia.

A Solitaire bungalow front door.

Two of the more economical accommodation options are to stay around the ‘village’ of Solitaire that is about an hour’s drive from the park gate, or to camp in a site outside the gate at Sesriem, though nights get extremely cold and days are quite the opposite. Also, try to book a space ahead as the campsite is popular.

After entering Sossusvlei Park at Sesriem, preferably at sunrise, there is 75km (50mls) of potholed tarmac road – and potholed tarmac is way worse than regular dirt road – along a flat valley floor between monster dunes like Dune 45 above.
The dunes range from 100m to a staggering 600m high, the highest in the world apart from some in Saudi Arabia that you couldn’t see even if you wanted to, as general tourism is not permitted there.

How to see the Sossusvlei dunes

Sossusvlei National Park main road, Namibia

The only road into Sossusvlei National Park, and not a good one!

When you enter the Sossusvlei Park, make sure you carry a lot of water and a snack as you will definitely want to climb a dune or two and that is very thirsty work. The park road is terrible, requiring either a lot of pot-hole avoidance or many bumps and potential tyre blow-out, but the monster pink and yellow dunes are totally awesome so hassles are soon forgotten as you enter the magnificent dreamspace.
Namibia signage generally is, shall we say, minimal, so half the time unguided missiles, such as ourselves, have no clue as to which vast dune is which.

Dune 45 in Sossusvlei National Park with climbers, Namibia

Dune 45, popular with overlanders as it’s a magnificent dune relatively near the park entrance and offers immediate action.

Megadune after megadune roll by on the 75km (48 miles) trip down the valley floor to the actual Sossusvlei dune, which is, ironically, less impressive than most others, including the neighbouring Deadvlei (dead pan) and its attendant Crazy dune.

Deadvlei seen from Crazy Dune, Sossusvlei, Namibia

Deadvlei seen from Crazy Dune. Crazy dune is 220m high.

The 1km long Deadvlei can be fully appreciated from the Crazy Dune summit. The curving ridge immediately to the right is the easiest track up Crazy Dune. But it is not easy, the sand slides continuously and the heat is horrendous. In the distance just beyond Deadvlei to the right is the low (150m) nake shape of Sossusvlei dune.

After bumping 75kms down the road you will either need 4WD to get the last 5 kms to the Deadvlei dune or for a small fee park rangers ferry tourists without 4WD to the final point. Deadvlei is arguably the most interesting dune due to the pure white, 1km long salt pan at its base, and the very dead trees therein – trees that have been carbon dated at 900 years old.

Deadvlei petrified trees, Sossusvlei, Namibia

Deadvlei’span dried out 900 years ago, leaving the trees without water, so they’re dead but still standing because the dunes and heat protect them from wind and insects.

People walking on Deadvlei in front of Crazy Dune, Sossusvlei, Namibia

Crazy Dune seen from Deadvlei’s salt pan.

Do some research beforehand and make a clear plan of attack for your day in the Sossusvlei sun.
You almost certainly will only have time to climb one dune. Dune 47 is a lot closer to the gate so overland expeditions tend to head there, but Deadvlei is arguably the most interesting.
We were at the gate at 6 am, the drive – including changing to a ranger 4WD for the very rough end section – took about 2 hours. We started walking/climbing at around 8am and were completely exhausted and dehydrated (but exhilarated) by 11am. We then drove slowly out, stopping for photos, but the low-light magic had gone, the harsh sun bleached the dunes out and the sinuous shadows disappeared. It was the end of the day for us though tougher types could have hung out, picknicked until late-ish afternoon (4pm? ) then done another quick climb?