9 Tips for Visiting Sossusvlei in Namibia

The Sossusvlei in Namibia is a unique place in many ways. About 900 years ago, this valley was completely underwater due to a river several hundred meters (feet) wide. This came to an end when the area was ravaged by drought. The fiery red sand dunes shifted with the wind, blocking the river from reaching the Sossusvlei. The trees died and turned almost black from the sun, but they couldn’t decompose due to the drought. These trees are therefore 900 years old! The marshes dried up, leaving behind the white clay soil. The combination of colors makes this the most photogenic place in Namibia. To make the most of your visit to the Sossusvlei, we share the 9 most important tips here.

#1 Choose Between the Best Spots of Sossusvlei in Advance

There is a long list of attractions in Sossusvlei, but if we’re being honest, there are only three spots that truly stand out: Deadvlei, Dune 45, and Big Daddy. The rest is more of the same but less impressive. The highlight of a visit to Sossusvlei is Deadvlei, the famous valley with the dead trees. Then there are a few less impressive valleys like Hidden Vlei.

In addition to the valleys, you also come here for the world’s highest sand dunes. Dune 45 (170 meters (558 feet) high) is a very popular sand dune because it’s relatively easy to climb and the view is priceless during sunrise or sunset. The climb to the top through the loose sand takes only 30 minutes but quite a lot of energy. If you’re looking for a bigger challenge, there’s also the sand dune Big Daddy (350 meters (1148 feet) high) or Big Mamma (250 meters (820 feet) high). Both are located next to Deadvlei and will take you about 1.5 hours to reach the top. Going down takes no longer than 5 minutes as you can run down the dune. In addition to these sand dunes, there are a few other less impressive ones like Elim Dune, a popular spot for sunset. Below we share how we would approach planning for Sossusvlei.

#2 How to Avoid the Crowds in Sossusvlei

Temperatures in Sossusvlei rise rapidly after sunrise, and you probably won’t want to wander through the valley after 10:00. Plus, you’ll likely want to avoid the crowds. Therefore, we chose to climb Dune 45 during sunset on the first day and encountered only two other couples. Most people drive to Elim Dune for sunset because it’s closer to the entrance, but the view is less spectacular, and it’s much busier.
Then, the next day, we woke up 1.5 hours before sunrise to drive to Deadvlei. It’s about a 40-minute drive, so you really have to be early if you want to see the sunrise here. So early in the morning, there were again only a handful of people. After about 30 minutes of taking photos, we climbed a small part of the nearby sand dune Big Daddy, and we saw many cars parking, and it quickly became much busier. It was magical to wander around here virtually alone. This way, we were back at the campsite before the worst heat hit, and we had seen the most beautiful spots without the crowds.

What most people do:

  • Day 1: Climb Elim Dune at sunset
  • Day 2: Climb Dune 45 at sunrise and then visit Deadvlei

How we did it:

  • Day 1: Climb Dune 45 at sunset
  • Day 2: Visit Deadvlei at sunrise and then climb Big Daddy as far as you want or can

#3 Stay at These Accommodations and Get Early Park Access

Sesriem serves as the base for Sossusvlei, and there are several lodges and campsites in the area. It’s advisable to stay at Sesriem Campsite or Sossus Dune Lodge because guests staying here are allowed into the park an hour earlier than other visitors. This allows you to leave extra early and visit Deadvlei or another spot in Sossusvlei before the crowds. It’s wise to book your accommodation well in advance because the campground and lodge are often fully booked months in advance. If you’re traveling with Namibia Nomads, your stay at Sesriem Campsite is included, so you can enter the park early.

#4 Don’t Forget to Obtain Your Permit Upon Arrival

The Sossusvlei is part of the Namib-Naukluft National Park, and to enter the park, you need to purchase a permit. You can buy this permit at the reception of your campground or lodge during check-in, and it’s wise to arrange this upon arrival. You’ll need this permit to enter the park, and ideally, you don’t want to deal with it when you’re eager to enter the park. The permit is valid for 24 hours, so you can enjoy the sunset in the park on the same day and visit the Sossusvlei again the next day with the same permit.

#5 Lower Your Tire Pressure to 1.5 bar for Deadvlei

The road from the entrance of the Sossusvlei to Deadvlei is paved and in excellent condition. However, the last few kilometers (miles) are covered in loose sand. Here, you can park your car and take the shuttle or choose to drive with your 4×4. The shuttles operate from sunrise to sunset and cost about $10 per person. If you opt to drive yourself, you need to lower the tire pressure to 1.5 bar, and the trick is to avoid driving in deep tracks or getting stuck. Many travelers get stuck in the loose sand, and it costs around $50 to tow them out. The best choice depends on you. We took the shuttle but felt afterward that we could have easily driven ourselves.

Extra Tip: The speed limit is 60 km/h, and it’s wise to adhere to it because there are many animals in the park that can suddenly cross, especially in the dark.

#6 Respect the Ancient Trees in Sossusvlei

The ancient dead acacia trees in Deadvlei are about 900 years old. They have turned black from standing in the sun for hundreds of years, and only the thick branches remain intact. You don’t want to damage these unique trees, so it’s essential to refrain from touching them. This is also described on all signs, but still, you’ll see people posing against the trees or climbing on them. The same goes for the white clay soil in the valley. It may seem obvious, but it’s best to leave it alone so that others can enjoy the beauty of the Sossusvlei for another 900 years.

#7 Wear Closed Shoes When Climbing the Dunes

The fiery red sand of the dunes in the Sossusvlei can become very hot from the sun beating down on it for hours. If you climb the sand dunes just before sunset or just after sunrise, you can do so barefoot. However, if you’re slightly too early or too late, your feet will burn. We managed to climb Dune 45 barefoot just before sunset, but if we stood still for too long, it quickly became too hot under our feet. Running down the hill barefoot is a wonderful feeling and definitely recommended after the steep climb!

Tip: Follow in the footsteps of the person walking ahead, and you’ll find that the climb is much less strenuous.

#8 Take the Steepest Route at Big Daddy

If you choose to climb the nearby sand dune Big Daddy after or before your visit to Deadvlei, you can choose between two routes. The first one you’ll encounter as you walk to Deadvlei from the parking lot. The path starts on the left side of Deadvlei. This is a quite long and challenging route, so it’s better to choose the steeper path. You’ll also find this on the left side of Deadvlei but starts halfway through the valley from Deadvlei. This route is much shorter and therefore much faster. The route itself is slightly more intense, but due to the shorter distance, it’s less strenuous than the route most people take.

#9 Don’t Forget to Visit Sesriem Canyon in Sossusvlei

After your visit to Sossusvlei, it’s nice to also explore Sesriem Canyon. This is located just inside the gates of the park, so don’t exit the park, and take the turnoff to the canyon just before the park’s entrance/exit. This small canyon is lovely for a short walk, and during the rainy season, some parts may be underwater. Don’t leave for the canyon too late because it can get very hot here too. You can choose to walk a bit through the canyon or just take a look at the narrow passage in the rocks from below.