Sossusvlei – Namibia’s not-so-secret gem

Posted by Sarah Isaacs on 8 August 2011

Sossusvlei in Namibia‘s Namib-Naukluft National Park is one of those places all South Africans should try and visit. To beat the crowds, stay away from Dune 45 at sunrise (especially during the popular winter months). Deadvlei is far quieter in the early morning and the dunes surrounding the vlei (the highest in the world) offer panoramic views of the famous Namib Desert. After a long day in the sweltering sun, Sesriem Campsite is a comfortable retreat, offering everything from clean bathrooms to ice-cold drinks.


Spiritual awakening?

When my alarm went off at 04h30 I didn’t jump for joy. Climbing into my sleeping bag the night before, I was like a kid before Christmas – so excited by the prospect of watching sunrise from Namibia’s famous Dune 45 that I couldn’t get to sleep. Now I couldn’t get up. A cold wind and the high-pitched voice of a neighbouring tannie bombarded me as I stumbled from my tent, worsening my already foul mood. The gates to the Namib-Naukluft National Park opened at 05h45, by which stage I was still cold and grumpy, wondering where the hell sun was.

Climbing up Dune 45 was no picnic. The howling wind, steep ascent and soft sand slowed me down to a crawl. To make things worse there were forty or so other visitors to the dune, sand flying off their heels and into my face. ‘So much for a spiritual awakening,’ I thought miserably, ‘this dune is totally overrated.’ When eventually I reached the top, I plopped down, exhausted, and sat in silence waiting to be enlightened. Thankfully the sunrise was spectacular. The Namib’s simple colour palette – yellow, red and lichen green – sprang to life, offering more vivacity and depth than any water-rich landscape I’d seen. Unfortunately it wasn’t long before a loud bunch of Dutch travellers cut through the silence, detracting from the view and my sense of contentment. Somewhat irritated I ran down the dune, jumped into the car and headed toward Deadvlei. The sun was still in its infancy and no one else seemed to be leaving Dune 45. Maybe, just maybe, Deadvlei would be mine to savour alone.


Solitude atop the Deadvlei dunes

I found the peace I was looking for at Deadvlei. Thanks to the 4×4 I was in, I didn’t have to wait to be shuttled to the Deadvlei parking area (2×4’s and less can’t drive all the way) so there was nobody else there when I arrived. Sunlight was just starting to pour into the clay pan, its illustrious trees casting long, charismatic shadows across the cracked floor. For a full hour I sat in the amphitheatre alone, soaking up the silence and warm morning light. When people started arriving I started trekking. The dunes surrounding Deadvlei are the highest in the world, a record I could only appreciate once I sat down. It wasn’t just the climb up that turned my legs to jelly but also the walk along the lip. Each step was exhausting thanks to an awakened sun and soft sand that swallowed my feet whole. The two kilometres up and along took me two hours to cover, stopping every 20 metres to catch my breath. I envied the scarabs scuttling along at high speed, their tiny tracks wiped clean by the slightest breeze. My feet, by comparison, flattened the knife-edge rim of the dune and sent avalanches of sand down either side of the steep incline.

The view from the top squeezed the last bit of air from my lungs. Giant red and yellow dunes set against a cloudless blue sky, green grass struggling up their smooth walls. Deadvlei stretched out below me, the cluster of petrified trees taking up a mere fraction of its sprawling surface. It was noon and the sun was merciless but my physical comfort melted away in favour of the ‘oh-wow’ moment I’d been seeking. I felt wonderfully small in the never-ending landscape of sand and sky, an ideal antidote for big city claustrophobia.


Sesriem revamped

Back at Sesriem Campsite, I took advantage of the fully stocked bar serving ice-cold drinks at decent prices. Sesriem has been revamped in recent years and now offers everything one could want: from hot showers and clean toilets to power points and water taps at every campsite. The campsites are spacious and most are shaded. The entrance gate to the Namib-Naukluft National Park is at Sesriem and park fees (R60/person/day) can be purchased at the Sesriem payment office at the same time as paying for your accommodation (R125/person/night). The campsite is a popular choice for visitors to Sossusvlei, so be sure to book in advance.



Sesriem Campsite

Namibia Wildlife Resorts Central Reservations Office:
Tel +264-61-285-7200
Email [email protected]

Swakopmund Office
Tel: +264-64-402-172
Email [email protected]

Cape Town Office
Tel +27-21-422-3761
Email [email protected]


Sossusvlei has also been touted as one of the most romantic places in Southern Africa to propose.

Click here for accommodation options in and around Sossusvlei.


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