Like many travelers, ogling Sossuvlei's endless ochre sand dunes has sat high atop our "must see" list for years.
The abiding mystical shapes, stretching far into the distance, always seem to conjure up feelings of exploration and romanticism at the same time. It's hard not to fall in love with Sossusvlei after all. From sunrise till sundown, on foot and from up above, over the world's highest dunes and into arid canyons - Sossusvlei never seizes to catch our breath. It felt like a privilege to witness the splendor of such a majestic and stoic landscape, made out of five million years old tiny grains of sand, and which has hardly moved ever since. It's hard to fathom that wanderers who explored this area hundreds of years ago, looked at almost the exact same dunes like we did on our 2 days in Sossusvlei.
Oh falling in love we did with this imposing piece of nature.
And you will too.
For those wanting to visit Namibia, Sossusvlei is unmissable and we recommend to spend two days in Sossusvlei. Here’s our Sossusvlei two day itinerary and our comprehensive list of Sossusvlei activities to explore this natural world wonder.
MORE FROM SOSSUSVLEI IN OUR HOT AIR BALLOONING IN SOSSUSVLEI GUIDE
HOW TO SPEND 2 DAYS IN SOSSUSVLEI
Morning: Hike Dune 45 & stroll through Deadvlei
Midday: Swimming with a view
Afternoon: Descent into Sossusvlei Canyon
Evening: Chasing the sunset
Morning: Fly in a hot air balloon over Namibia's dunes
Midday: Swimming with a view
Afternoon: Safari and nature drives
Evening: Stargazing from your rooftop bed
Where to stay in Sossusvlei
Sossusvlei is a white salt pan, situated in the southern part of the Namib Desert, in the Namib-Naukluft National Park of Namibia. But Sossusvlei has been lending its name often to the expanded surrounding area of orange and red sand dunes.
Most people will stay near Sesriem, on the outskirts of the Namib-Naukluft National Park. While the desert town caters mainly to tourists, we weren't looking for a tourist town experience and opted for a secluded hideaway promising a Namibian desert immersion. So, where to stay in Sossusvlei? Unlike many hotels, which were plainly located on the main dirt road leading to Namibia's tourism star, the Kulala Desert Lodge was planted in the desert, just a few kilometers from the national park itself.
Set in an amazing desert paradise, the Kulala Desert Lodge has a private gate accessing the Namib-Naukluft National Park. Access hours to the park remains the same as for the other hotels we the drive to the dunes is significantly shorter, leaving you plenty of time to savor breakfast, admire the sunset or enjoy your rooftop bed for a little longer (yes, you can actually sleep on the rooftop of your Kulala and enjoy the stars from your bed!)
Our recommended accommodations near Sossusvlei
Wilderness Safaris Kulala Desert Lodge - $$$ - Where we stayed - Stay here for informal luxury in the Namib Naukluft National Park. With a private entry way into the park, staying at the Kulala Desert Lodge guarantees a sunrise visit to the dunes as their private gate allows you to enter the park 1 hour before sunrise, which means 1 hour before all the other tourists arrive! Staying at Kulala Desert Lodge means all activities are included, with exception of the hot air balloon rides above the desert.
Desert Homestead Outpost - $$ - Intimate with only 12 houses, the Desert Homestead Outpost is a fantastic lodge in the Namib Desert with amazing desert views. Located 30km from the Namib Naukluft National Park, it means you'll have to get up a bit earlier and spend some more time in transit to get to the amazing surrounding points of interest but you get an amazing affordable stay in return.
Sossusvlei Lodge - $$ - Close to the entrance gate of Sossusvlei, this lodge enjoys a prime location for all Sossuvlei activities. You sleep in individual units which are part safari tent, part permanent structure (the bathroom), and open to the most glorious balcony overlooking the desert.
Dead Valley Lodge - $$$ - A unique lodge that seems to be perfectly nestled into the desert. Situated right next to the entrance gate of the Namib Naukluft National Park, you're conveniently close to all of Sossusvlei's main attractions. Admire the stars and spectacular desert landscape from your private deck!
2 days in Sossusvlei: our recommended Sossuvlei activities
#1 Hiking Dune 45 at sunrise
For those who are physically fit, the Sossusvlei area offers the possibility to climb the amazing dunes and as a reward for your efforts, enjoy the spectacular desert scenery. The most visited dune in the Sossusvlei area is, without a doubt, Dune 45. Located about 45 km from the Namib Naukluft National Park entrance gate, it is conveniently located next to the main road and 20 km closer to the entrance gate than Big Daddy dune, meaning you won’t have to wake up quite so early to get here in time for the first light.
The best time to hike Dune 45 is at dawn, when you are able to avoid the worst of the scorching desert sun and get the full benefit of the glorious morning light. Dune 45 is about 170 meters high, and looks small compared to Big Daddy (390 meter high) but do not underestimate the effort required to climb it.
The sand is soft and powdery and you'll undoubtedly sink ankle-deep into it. Every two steps forward means you'll slip back one. It will exhaust most tempting to climb it and is most likely more challenging than you'll anticipate. When fit however, you should be able to hike Dune 45's top in around 20-30min. The dune is tackled by travelers of all ages and fitness levels, meaning most other visitors will take anywhere between 45 min to 1 hour to reach the top. Take this into account when you're traveling in group or joining a tour. If you attempt to hike Dune 45, no matter your fitness level, do not forget to bring along plenty of water, sunscreen and a hat!
Dune 45 is one of the standard Sossusvlei activities on any organized tour through the Sossusvlei area and is also part of the Kulala Desert Lodge all inclusive tours. The main advantage of staying at the Kulala Desert Lodge is their private entryway into the park. They're allowed to enter 1 hour before sunrise -the standard opening hours of the park- meaning you'll enjoy 1 hour in the park without the other tourists! When traveling independently into the park, you are free to skip Dune 45 of course and perhaps take a head start on the other visitors to explore famous Deadvlei!
#2 Taking in Big Daddy dune
The highest dune in the area, but not of the entire Namib desert, is called Big Daddy and stands 390m high. The dune is a massive beast and can easily be spotted as it towers over the surrounding dunes. Big Momma stands opposite it and can also be climbed, though often skipped by the tourist crowd.
We went about half way up Big Daddy dune and descended into Deadvlei by running down one of its flanks. The slowly rising sun proved too hot for us to attempt our climb any further, we were traveling in low season -the hottest time of year in Namibia- after all.
We amused ourselves by watching the silhouettes of others zigzagging their way to the top. Judging by the amount of times we stopped to catch our breath, it was going to take us quite some to reach the top, time we rather spend strolling through Namibia's famous Deadvlei. Given the impressive views from where we sat on Buig Daddy, the views must have been even more magnificent from the top!
#3 Strolling through the ghostly forest of Deadvlei
Many of the images associated with Sossusvlei are actually taken at Deadvlei. Skeletons of camel thorn trees stand in the cracked white clay pan with ochre-colored towering dunes in the background. Blackened by the sun over an estimated 900 years, the trees of Deadvlei form a ghostly forest to stroll through. Dead but unable to decompose in this dry inhospitable environment, the dead forest of Deadvlei is undoubtedly Namibia's most mystical draw. And it was the highlight of our 2 days in Sossusvlei!
The remaining dead trees remind us of a time long ago when the Tsauchab River filled the different pans or 'vlei' in the area. While we're bracing the heath of the desert sun, it seems so unfathomable this used to be a true desert oasis.
From the parking area many people walk straight through the relatively flat sand to Deadvlei (around 1km walk, so a 2km round trip). We opted to take on the ridge of the small dune on the left and started our climb towards Big Daddy dune. While we didn't reach its top -it was too late in the day to start that endeavor- we would recommend scaling the smaller dunes encircling Deadvlei for sunrise or sunset. A perfect spot to soak up the views and the mystical world of Deadvlei's dead forest. If you only have time for one Sossusvlei activity, make it this one.
A visit to Namibia is just so incomplete without making the long trek into Sossusvlei, attempting to climb Big Daddy and looking out over eerie trees and a sea of equally big dunes disappearing into the horizon.
Visiting Big Daddy Dune and Deadvlei on your own:
Opening hours | sunrise to sunset. You’ll need to drive for about 20min from the Dune 45 parking lot.
How to get there| in order to get to the Deadvlei parking lot, you'll need a 4x4 WD high clearance vehicle (which we recommend in Namibia). If you do not have a 4x4, about 5km from Deadvlei, here is a dedicated 2WD parking area to park all non 4x4 cars. From there, you can either walk the 5km to Deadvlei or take one of the safari shuttles for around NAD150 (US$12) for a round trip.
Stay safe | always take plenty of water, sunscreen and a hat with you!
#4 Learning about the actual Sossusvlei
Sossusvlei is often used to refer to the entire area of the National Park, containing Big Daddy dune and Deadvlei. But Sossusvlei is actually another dried up oasis, a giant salt pan. Big Mama sits opposite Big Daddy, on the other side of Sossuvlei and can also be climbed. The entire salt pan is surrounded by some of the highest dunes in the world!
While Deadvlei is undoubtedly the most beautiful dead tree forest, you can find the smaller and more tranquil Hidden Vlei about 2 km off the road near the 2WD parking area. A stop at Sossusvlei is standard and included in all organized trips, a stop at Hidden Vlei on the other hand is not. If a hike to Hidden Vlei ranks high on your to-do list, traveling through the park independently is your best option. It is definitely one of the lesser known Sossuvlei activities you can schedule on your Sossuvlei itinerary.
Visiting Sossusvlei and Hidden Vlei on your own:
Opening hours | sunrise to sunset.
How to get there| Drive about 5km from Deadvlei, to the dedicated 2WD parking area to park all non 4x4 cars. From there, you can explore the Sossusvlei area on your own and take in the dunes or walk the 2km (4km round trip) to Hidden Vlei.
Stay safe | always take plenty of water, sunscreen and a hat with you!
#5 Swimming with a view at the Kulala Desert Lodge
Set in a private reserve with direct access to the Namib Naukluft National Park and the famous red dunes of Sossusvlei, the Kulala Desert Lodge is located at the heart of Namibia's Namib Desert. The lodge is stylishly designed using neutral colours and organic material so that it blends into the landscape and is cleverly positioned to maximise your views of the dunes.
The cool waters of a non-heated pool have never been felt so indulgent than after spending an entire morning in the dusty Namibian desert under the scorching African sun. Order a cocktail and sip the afternoon away in your own little turquoise oasis in the middle of the desert!
Other Sossusvlei lodges offering amazing swimming opportunities in the desert are: Little Kulala, Sossusvlei Lodge, &Beyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge.
#6 Searching for water in Sesriem Canyon
A less visited Sossusvlei attraction in this area is the Sesriem Canyon. Many visitors do not have the time to visit this beautiful gorge with its beautiful rock formations and head on to the next leg of their trip after having ticked off Deadvlei from their bucket list. A shame in our opinion. If you have two days in Sossuvlei, I would recommend you go!
Located 5km from the town of Sesriem the canyon holds the only permanent water source in the area, carved out by the Tsauchab River. 30 meters deep, the canyon is a fun to explore on foot and the narrow canyon floor offers plenty of shade which means its a fantastic activity to do when temperatures are still high. Though you'll have to search hard for it, there is still water in the canyon.
Visiting Sesriem Canyon on your own:
Opening hours | sunrise to sunset (located inside the National Park gates)
How to get there| It’s located 5kms within the National Park gates, on your left. There is a large parking area next to the canyon. You can freely walk through and explore.
Stay safe | do not hike on flip flops but wear sneaker or hiking boots
#7 Chasing an unforgettable Sossusvlei sunset
When you've had your fill of Sossusvlei's endless sea of rust-red dunes, a sunset drive in order to discover the fossilised dunes and the many wonders of the Namib Deser plateau in Gondwana Namib Park might be the perfect way to end one of your two days in Sossusvlei.
Sundowners might be undisputedly associated with bush safaris, but they prove to be equally enjoyable in the Namibian desert as well. Part of the Kulala Desert Lodge included activities in Sossusvlei, your driver will find a perfect rocky lookout point to watch the sun go down in style!
Going on a Sossusvlei sunset drive:
Where | almost every lodge situated on a private reserve will offer a sunset drive excursion.
Do it on your own | there are no dedicated sunset drives in the Namibian desert, most such drives take place on private reserve lands and you have to stay at one of the lodges to experience it. For a DIY sunset experience your best option is to apply for a permit to stay overnight in the National Park and experience sunrise or sunset at Dune 45 or Big Daddy dune.
#8 Floating above the Sossusvlei dunes in a hot air balloon
Nothing says romance then sipping champagne in nature's finest restaurant: the open Namibian dunes. The finest ending to a morning being gently wind swept in a hot air balloon over the rusty colored sand dunes. The most incredibly romantic experience on our travels so far, a present to celebrate Kristof's birthday.
When staying two day in Sossusvlei, a sunrise hot air balloon ride is an opportunity to create memories that will be etched in your memory for a lifetime. You'll have plenty of time to schedule this in your two day Sossusvlei itinerary without having to skip any of the major highlights!
Read all about our experience with Namib Sky Balloon Safaris here in our dedicated Namibian hot air balloon flight post.
MORE FROM SOSSUSVLEI IN OUR HOT AIR BALLOONING IN SOSSUSVLEI GUIDE
#9 Going for safari and nature drives
While nature drives are included in the activities offered by most premium lodges, such as the Kulala Desert Lodge, the chance of spotting some type of wildlife while driving through the Namib-Rand Nature Reserve is extremely large. The Oryx, being Namibia's national animal, can be spotted in the most inhabitable of places, like Sossuvlei.
When coming from Luderitz, Kolmanskop, Aus or the Kanaan N/a`an ku sê Desert Retreat you're bound to drive through a stretch of the Nature Reserve when on the C27. While the surrounding landscape might seem inhabitable, the amount of wildlife we spotted along the way proved otherwise.
#10 Sleeping under the twinkling lights of the Milky Way
Namibia's stellar attraction is undoubtedly her recognitions as only one of two Gold Tier Dark Sky Reserves in the world. The NamibRand Nature Reserve, which includes Sossusvlei and the Namib-Naukluft National Park, is one of the world’s darkest night skies, unpolluted by civilization's electricity and urbanization.
Looking up at the sky above, a 360-degree panorama freckled with millions of brightly twinkling stars unfolds. Just like floating above ancient and stoic sand dunes which haven't moved for millions of years in a hot air balloon, you'll be staring up at the very same night-sky that our earliest ancestors saw thousands of years ago. Here in one of the world’s most ancient deserts, is where you will see the Milky Way at its brightest.
Spotting the Milky Way:
Where | The area around Sossuvlei is one of the best locations in the world for star gazing.
When | Stargazing is possible year-round but your chances for crisp clear skies are better in the Namibian winter months, from June to September.
How | Spotting the stars from Deadvlei is very difficult unless you manage to obtain an overnight permit to stay in the park. If photographing the Milky Way above Deadvlei is a must, you're best joining a Photography Tour.
The option we chose was to stay at a lodge that offered a 'sleeping under the stars' experience. Both Kulala Desert Lodge and Le Mirage Resort & Spa offer the amazing possibility to spend a romantic night stargazing from the luxury of your bed!
HOW TO GET TO SOSSUSVLEI
Sossusvlei is located about 350km south west from Namibia's capital Windhoek, your starting point for a Namibia road trip. If Sossusvlei and its surrounding activities is on your Namibia itinerary, it most likely be your first stop if you're traveling clockwise.
One of the first things we were told on arrival in Namibia is to ignore the travel times indicated by Google Maps. While Namibia has well maintained tar roads connecting the big cities, you'll be driving mostly on gravel roads in order to experience Namibia's best attractions and nature. Therefore we recommend resting a high clearance vehicle (SUV or 4WD) as parts of the route can become quite adventurous.
Windhoek to Sossusvlei | There are two ways to get to Sossusvlei from Windhoek. You can take the C26 via the gorgeous Spreetshoogte Pas and Solitaire (305km) or via Rehoboth, Klein Aub, Rietoog and Bullsport (335km). Both options will take almost an entire day of driving (count between 6-8 hours depending on your driving style and type of vehicle).
Swakopmund to Sossusvlei| 350 km | 5 to 6 hours travel time
Luderitz to Sossusvlei| 500 km | 7 to 8 hours travel time
Kanaan N/a`an ku sê Desert Retreat to Sossusvlei| 300 km | 5 to 6 hours travel time
Car rental | book your 4 x 4 on Rentalcars.com
Join a tour
Sossusvlei Short Haul | A great option is to join a 3-day tour from Windhoek. Includes transportation with A/C, guides, two nights at Namib Desert Lodge, excursion to the famous Sossusvlei and Deadvlei and an afternoon Dune Drive looking for animals and the sunset.
Essential Sossusvlei travel information
Sossuvlei opening hours
The salt pans and dunes of Sossusvlei can only be accessed during the gates’ opening hours. the park is open 7 days a week and the official closing and opening hours are published at the outer entrance gate. The main national entrance gate -Sesriem gate- opens at sunrise and closes at sunset. This entrance gate is used by all independent travellers and organized tours coming from outside the National Park. Please be a responsible traveler, after dark patrols do check for visitors who are breaking the rules.
There are also several inner gates providing access to the National Park, which open 1 hour before sunrise and close 1 hour after sunset. These gates are used by lodges owning private reserved that are adjacent to the National Park, like the Kulala Desert Lodge.
Put on appropriate footwear when in Sossusvlei
While most visitors head into the park in the early morning, while the sand is cool and temperatures are comfortable for strenuous activities, it might be tempting to head out in flip-flops. Once the sun is reaching a higher position in the sky, you might regret that decision when the sand reaches temperatures that can only be described as 'blisteringly hot'. Wearing closed shoes is absolutely essential, especially when you're aiming to conquer Dune 45 or Big Daddy dune.
Always bring water, sunscreen and a hat
It can get extremely hot in the Namibian desert, even when traveling in Namibia's winter months (June to September). Even walking across the flat sand can be quite taxing, let alone trying to hike one of the amazing dunes (which you'll probable want to do!). Always bring plenty of water to drink, wear sunscreen and bring a hat.