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SOSSUSVLEI NAMIBIA and the Dunes. The Magnificent Red Dunes are amongst the highest in the world. A must see.


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Sossusvlei Namibia and the Dunes

The Magnificent Red Dunes are amongst the highest in the world. A must see.



If you haven't already done so, please visit Sesriem Canyon page which serves as introduction for these 2 attractions.


The 65km road from Sesriem to Sossusvlei is under repair in several areas, so the gravel service road must be used. The road is flanked by the highest range of Star-Dunes in the world. It is a most impressive sight to watch the colours of the sands change through varying shades of red as the sun rises. The most photographed Dune of all is Dune 45, which is marked at being 45km from Sesriem. Many tourists take an early morning climb to the top of this Dune, it's about 85 meters in height, for a panoramic view of the Dune Valley. If you are fit, it's worth the effort.  The only facility at the small car park is a dry field toilet.
Sossusvlei Location Map
Sossusvlei The red sand dunes in the valley

Section of the roadside view to Sossusvlei

Sossusvlei Dune 45

Dune 45

Hardap Region
2442'S - 1520'E
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Map & Directions



It is a further 15 km drive to the general parking area . There are a couple of picnic areas and two dry field toilets, but no water. The parking area is the muster point for visiting:

Hidden Vlei which is  2km over the dune to the south. Access by foot only.

Sossusvlei, Naravlei and Deadvlei which are about 5km to the west along a soft sand track. You will need to travel in a 4 x 4 to these sites. If you are driving a 2 x 4 vehicle there is a regular shuttle service that charges about N$100 for the return journey.


4 x 4 Driving in Sand: This is a whole lesson and we don't have time for it here, but the basics are to ensure all wheels are engaged, reduce your tyre pressure to about 50%. (Most locals who drive in sand regularly also carry a compressor for re-inflating their tyres after their escapade in sandy or soft terrain, so think on this). You must select the right gear for the conditions. The sand at the Sossusvlei trail is usually a bit churned up and the sand soft and aerated so be careful not to get stuck. You'll need lots of torque, so select 4x4 low range and a suitable gear range. 2nd or 3rd depending on your engine's power. Maintain your speed and power your way through deep sand. Do not try changing gear, or you may come to a speedy halt. If you have any doubts about your sand driving capabilities take the shuttles into the area. If you get stuck, try not to spin your wheels thus digging yourself deeper into the sand. For sand recovery you should be equipped with a shovel, a high-lift-jack (Beware. These can prove to be quite dangerous if you have no, or little experience of using them) Sand tracks etc. Please do not try walking in or out of the area. Temperatures regularly reach in excess of 40c and the sand can heat up to over 70c.


Sossusvlei Shuttle Service from car-park to dune area

Shuttle service

about N$120

Sossusvlei Map road from Sesriem to Vlei area

Sesriem to Sossusvlei

Sossusvlei Map of various vleis

The Vleis


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Self Guided Only: Unless you are on a tour with a private company, you will have to find your own way around the various dunes and vleis as there are no guides at the site.

Safety Note:

Always Carry Enough Drinking Water for the hike. Budget 1 - 2 hours time

The temperature of the surface sand on a hot summer's day can reach 70c

Timing of Your Visit: To avoid the mid-day heat and for the best lighting for photographs the time that you have to get out of your bed will depend on as to where you over-night. Visitors staying at Sesriem should plan to arise about one and a half hours before sunrise.

Temperatures: Winter months are preferred by most visitors as the daytime temperatures are usually below 30C. (unless the east wind is blowing). However, during winter the night time temperatures can go below freezing. The Temperatures in the summer months are often in excess of 35C.

The Sun: On a cloudless day in the desert you will be subjected to 90% of the sun's radiation. In humid areas you would only experience 40%. You can become sunburned very quickly, even during the winter months. The sun also reflects upwards from the sands. Wear sensible head covering and a high factor sun-block. This is not the time or the place to be trying to improve your tan. You can buy 100 factor in Namibia.

Equipment: Ideally, you should wear good quality hiking or trail boots. If you intend hiking to Hiddenvlei cross trainer or running type shoes are not really suitable and will take in a lot of sand. On a hot day the sand temperature can be 70c plus.

Health: Please be advised that you should be reasonably fit to take the hiking trails to either Hiddenvlei or Deadvlei. Walking through soft sand is tiring. The best times for these hikes is in the winter months. During the summer months try to complete your visits before 10h00 by which time the temperatures are getting quite high. You should



Following rains in the nearby Naukluft Mountains the waters run into the Tsauchab River and begins its journey with a relatively high volume rate of flow which can wash deep cuts through the C19 road. If visiting Namibia during the rainy season you must always be careful not get caught in a river-bed in the path of a flash-flood. The results could be fatal. Only 2 years ago the Sesriem Camp was flooded as the river banks are shallow in that area. The wide and shallow deluge carried with it light coloured silt the 60km plus to Sossusvlei before being completely consumed by the desert.


The word 'Sossus' is from Bushman and  Nama origin and is thought to mean,    'A gathering place of water'. The word Vlei is Afrikaans meaning a shallow lake, or a shallow area that becomes flooded during the rainy season. Following a good inflow, the vleis can hold water for some months. There is 4 x 4 parking area at Sossusvlei where you can get some shade sitting under some of the enormous camel thorn trees, of which the area has plenty.


There's a lot to see in the area and sadly most people just drive in have a quick look around, make a bee-line for the Dead- Vlei and leave, after which they'll blithely inform you, "Been there, seen it". But they missed so much.


On your visit you'll also see plenty of Nara plants. These have no leaves and bear a round spiky fruit once a year that grow to the size of a grapefruit. It serves as a food source for certain birds, gemsbok (Oryx), hyenas, jackals, mice, porcupines and even humans.


Camel Thorn Tree

Camel thorn Tree

Dead Vlei the most popular photography area

The Dead-Vlei

Dead Vlei clay surface

Dead-Vlei Surface


The Sossusvlei


The Dead Vlei:

There's a 4 x 4 car parking area on the route to the Sossusvlei marked Deadvlei. It's a good 1km hike to the Deadvlei marked with wooden poles. The vlei is a favorite with photographers owing to it's almost surrealistic nature. The large dead Camel Thorn trees have been dated between 600 and 700 years old. If one were to take into consideration the live period of these trees, then most of what you see would be over 1000 years old. The dry atmosphere and lack of wood boring insects help with the survival of these skeletons.


Hidden Vlei:

Some 2 km south of the main car park behind the dunes is The Hiddenvlei. The route is marked with wooden poles. The first part of the journey takes you over a clay pan. Note the changing shades of the dunes as the sun moves higher in the sky. You'll see plenty of Springbok and Gemsbok (Oryx) tracks. The vlei is possibly the least visited of all and offers you an opportunity to enjoy some solitude surrounded by a unique and impressive scene of desert beauty.

About Sand Dunes:

The Sand:  About 90 to 95 percent of the dune sand is silica (quartz). You will notice that many dunes have dark streaked areas. Feldspar with magnatite and iliminite shows as blackish stripes, while streaks of garnet sand show as a reddish maroon.


The sands in the Sossusvlei area were not carried there by ancient floods, but have been transported by east winds from the central eastern area of Namibia, where you can also see the red colored sands. The grains of sand  have a thin coating of iron oxide giving them their characteristic color.

In several of the areas around Sossusvlei you can see dual-colored dunes having the upper dune of red and the foot section a buff-grey. The latter color being calcerous silts caused by the weathering of limestone debris that the Tsauchab River long ago carried from the Naukluft and Zaris Mountains to the area. The floors of the vleis are, in areas, attractively patterned with the cracked clayey-silt.


Star Dunes: The dunes in the Sossusvlei region are referred to as being Star Dunes. The winds that blow across this area are subject to seasonal change blowing from the north-west, the south-west, the south-east and the north-east. These multi-directional winds appear to be responsible for the stability of the dunes as there appears to be little, if any directional movement of the dunes around Sossusvlei.


Dune-Slope: When airborne sand is caused to settle it forms a slope on the windward side (the dune-slope) between 0 - 20 degrees. An angle of about 14 degrees seems to be the average. The windward side of the dune retains an amount of water which helps with stability and it is on the dune-slope that plant-life can take hold.


Dune Slip-Face: Particles of dry sand begin to slide down the leeward side of the dune structure when the angle becomes greater than 32 degrees. The soft dry sand on the slip-face is better aerated than the sand of the dune-slope and it is on the slip-face that you will find the sand dwelling insects, reptiles and small mammals. The crest of the dune can be pointed, or with varying wind conditions become elongated thus forming a flattened section of the dune-crest. Such as with Dune 45.



Dune slip-face

Dune slip-face

Hidden Vlei massive sand dunes

The Massive Dunes of the Hidden-Vlei

Dune facts. Slip faces occur at 32 to 35 degrees.

Dune Law



The Highest Dune ?

Sossusvlei and Deadvlei are about 50km inland from the sea and lie at an altitude of about 570m and 610m above sea level respectively. The following heights refer to approximate heights above the desert floor.  The Sossus-Dune that lies north of the Sossusvlei vlei is about 105 meters. Dune 45 stands about 80 meters.

The highest dune in the Namib Desert is: Dune 7 which has been measured at being 388 meters. It is named so because it is the seventh dune after crossing the Tsauchab River. (Not to be confused with the Dune 7 at Walvis Bay)


There are dunes in areas of the Arabian Desert and the Takla Makan Desert of Northwest China that are about 300 meters high, and these are the nearest in size to the dunes in the Sossusvlei area.


South of the Dead-vlei is the 'Crazy Dune'. It has the highest slip-face in the area being 220 meters in height. You need to be fit to climb this dune, but the view from the top makes it all worth while. Meanwhile, those you left on the ground will call you crazy to have attempted it.


Acknowledgements and further reading:  G1, G2, T2, T3, T4,P1

Local Area Attractions & Articles of Associated Interest:



Sesriem Canyon Sossusvlei Duwisib Castle   Entry Fees Payable  Map Directions

Sossusvlei lays within a National Park area, so there are entrance fees payable to the Ministry of Environment and Tourism. The accommodation and facilities at Sesriem are managed and operated by Namibia Wildlife Resorts


Of Interest: It is thought that the first European to visit the Sossusvlei area was Lieutenant Walter Trenk (Schutztruppe) in 1908.

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