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Guide to Seeing Sossusvlei


Sossusvlei was our favorite place during our two week Namibia roadtrip.  It is one of our favorite places we’ve been to in our past six months of travel.  Sossusvlei is one of the most unique places in the world. 360 degrees of contrasting colors everywhere you look: Brown and grey 500 year old petrified trees, ashen white dry river beds, towering orange and yellow sand dunes set against a clear blue sky.  If you’re going to Namibia, Sossusvlei is not to be missed.

Where to Stay

There are many lodging options in the area surrounding Sossusvlei. Without a doubt there is only one great option: STAY IN THE PARK. There are two options inside the park: the Seisrem Campsite ($, camping) or Sesreim Lodge ($$$$, luxury accommodation). By staying inside the park, you have access to the dunes 1 hour earlier can leave one hour later. Those extra hours are sunrise and sunset, the best 2 hours of the day. To stay in the lodge or the park campsite, book your stay well in advance, especially during high season. We traveled to Namibia in December during low season and were lucky to have our pick of campsites even with last minute bookings. Here’s Quan at our campsite:

We stayed at the campsite inside Sossusvlei, you can book here. This is by far the most economical option at $20/ person / night for a campsite which includes access to a swimming pool, hot showers, indoor toilets, and an onsite bar. Your campsite also has a braai (barbecue) and an area for your own campfire.

Planning Your Sossusvlei Day

You’re in the middle of the desert, so the middle of the day in Sossusvlei is HOT. Mornings and late afternoons are your prime hours to explore the area comfortably. Afternoons are best spent cooling off at the campsite pool or napping under the shade of your tent.

In the morning, be sure to leave the campsite right when the gates open at 5am. By this time in our trip we were really efficient at breaking down our car tent and the 4:30 am wake up and drive in the dark was well worth it for the sunrise views in the park!

When you make your visit to the dunes in the afternoon be sure to account for the driving time so you make it back before the gates close (opening and closing times are posted on the gates each day). From the entrance to Sossusvlei it’s a straight drive down a paved road to the various spots within the park. The length of the drive ranges from 15 minutes for Elim Dune to an hour and a half to the farthest parking lot at the base of Big Daddy sand dune and Deadvlei.

Plan at least two nights which gives you 2 sunsets and sunrises.

Best Sossusvlei Sunsets & Sunrises

Some of the most epic sunsets and sunrises of our trip were at Sossusvlei. Here’s a list of all the great spots and what we’d recommend:

Hiddenvlei – Sunset

After an afternoon visit here, Hiddenvlei became Jesse’s favorite place in the world. It’s best to not bring it up when you’re around him because you’ll be stuck hearing about rocks, old trees and endless sand for 30 minutes.  This might sound interesting to some, but if you haven’t seen this place, it’s hard to understand.

This is not really a sunset because you will be in you car driving back to camp during sunset to get there before the gates close. If you arrive after the gates close we heard that you have to pay a fine.

But afternoon is still the time to go because its devoid of people.  Here’s Quan arriving to the peak overlooking Hiddenvlei:

We came to Hiddenvlei our first afternoon. It’s a lot farther of a hike to reach than the other highlights in Sossusvlei. Park your car at the end of the 60 km paved road. It’s about a 1.25 miles/2 km to Hiddenvlei, hiking in sand, so it will take 1-1.5 hours each way and we did not see another person the entire time. Just remember the hike back is as far as the hike there and then you have a 60 km drive to the gates before it closes so be sure to schedule at least 5 hours for this journey.

The trail is not well marked (and not marked at all the first 15 minutes). After the initial flat section, the trail is marked with wooden sticks in the ground as shown below:

The last 2/3rds of the hike is slightly uphill until a peak that looks down into Hiddenvlei. There you see what looks like the remains of a dried up Lake, surrounded by Sand Dunes with cracked rocky grounds perfectly placed as if they were tiles. You will also see leave-less 500 year old trees.  But best of all, you will have the place to yourselves, as you can see below.

Jesse for the first time on the trip made Quan leave and walk back by herself so he could have some time alone with Hiddenvlei. It is truly one of the most amazing places we’ve been on our 6 month Shabbatical thus far.

Sunrise #1 – Dune 45

This is what the guidebooks recommend and it is worth seeing. There will be a lot of people because as every guidebook says “it’s what you should see at sunrise.” We enjoyed the morning at Deadvlei more than Dune 45, but that’s only because the Deadvlei sunrise is out of this world.  Sunrise at Dune 45 is still one of the most amazing sunrises in the world. To get to the top of the dune before sunrise you need to stay inside the park and be at the gate before it opens. You then need to race up the dune.  It’s a great workout and very fun to climb the dunes.

After sunrise the weather will still be cool and it’s a great time to drive the 20 minutes to Big Daddy and Deadvlei.

Late Morning – Big Daddy & Deadvlei

In the late morning after one of your sunrises, its a great time to climb Big Daddy. It’s known as the tallest dune in the area, lots of people climb it but even if you’re in good shape it is quiet the workout. The views at the top are amazing. To climb Big Daddy without unnecessarily climbing more than you need to (as we did) after you park your car, turn left and walk across what looks like a dried up lake then climb from there (on your right). The climb takes 30 minutes to one hour but the views from the top overlooking Deadvlei are amazing.

When you’re done, and if you like running down sand, head straight down the dune into Deadvlei.  You will get to the section of the Deadvlei with the least amount of people. Here is a picture of Jesse running down Big Daddy to Deadvlei:

Sunset #2 – Elim Dune

This is what guide books recommend for sunset and for good reason. It’s located less than a 10 minute drive outside the gates. You don’t need to climb the entire dune, just walk part of the way up, go off the trail and find a quiet spot where you can be alone to watch the sunset. We brought with us some wine and cheese and had a nice relaxing sunset.

One thing to note is the trail for Elim dune is not well marked. When you arrive, park your car on the right side of the parking lot.  Then walk up the sand and you will find the trail after a few minutes.

Sunrise # 2 – Deadvlei

This is what makes Sossusvlei so amazing. Be sure you have enough storage on your camera as you’ll want to take nonstop photos.  If you’re traveling with Quan be sure to bring extra storage. We came here twice.  The first time in the early afternoon after climbing Dune 45 and Big Daddy when there were a lot of other people around. The second time at sunrise on our second day when we had the place to ourselves. It’s massive, much bigger than Hiddenvlei with a lot more trees surrounded by taller dunes.

This was the ultimate sunrise. While everyone goes to Dune 45 in the morning head to Deadvlei if you only have 1 sunrise. Here’s Jesse arriving at Deadvlei for sunrise, the only person there:

If you leave the campsite when the gates open and can drive the 3 Miles/5 km 4WD sandy road, you can get to the top of a small dune overlooking Deadvlei for sunrise. Here’s the 4WD sandy road:

Sunrise at the dune:

You can then run down the dune to Deadvlei and have the place to yourself for 30-45 minutes and catch a second sunrise as the sun rises above the dune that you came from.

Here’s some of our favorite pictures for a “private” Deadvlei sunrise,the pictures that aren’t black & white it’s just the color of the landscape on our iPhones at sunrise there:

Thinking about seeing more of Nambia? This is our two week Namibia itinerary:

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