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If you’re landed on this page then you’re hopefully planning a trip to the magical Sossusvlei. Located in the heart of Namibia’s Namib-Naukluft National Park, Sossusvlei is one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Africa, and for a good reason! The park is known for its striking red sand dunes, unique wildlife, and vast desert landscapes. Before I visited, however, there was so much that I didn’t understand. This guide will cover all of the basics for visiting Sossusvlei, so your trip to Namibia can be one that you never forget.
But first let me tell you a little but about my experience. I have been so incredibly fortunate to have traveled to so many countries across the world, that sometimes I fear nothing will feel new. I am afraid that my senses have become a bit numb to travel and new adventures. I promise you, a visit to Sossusvlei will challenge all of those emotions. During the 4 days that we spent in and near Sossusvlei, I was constantly in awe. Standing on top of a dune at sunrise, strolling through the valley of Deadvlei, a scene that feels like a desktop screensaver, seeing a herd of wild zebras along the side of the road. These experiences are so magical in a way that I honestly don’t have words to describe.
So let’s dive into how you can plan your best trip yet to the magical Sossusvlei. Before you dive into the article, I’ve highlighted a few of the most popular tours around Namibia. You do not need a guided tour to visit the park, but for some it may make the experience more enjoyable.
Popular tours in Namibia
How to get to Sossusvlei
The first thing to cover is how exactly to get to Sossusvlei, a destination in the middle of the desert. You’ll be navigating yourself to Sesreim, the tiny village right outside of the park. This village is essentially the gateway to Sossusvlei. The most common way to get to Sossusvlei is by flying into Namibia’s capital city, Windhoek. From there, most people rent a 4WD truck and drive 4-5 hours to reach Sossusvlei, either immediately or as part of a larger Namibia road trip. We found the drive to be easy and enjoyable. Another option, however, is to fly on a small domestic plane directly from Windhoek, or Walvis Bay, to the Sesriem Airstrip inside the park.
It is important to know that although Sesriem is the closest village to Sossusvlei, as it is located at the park entrance gates, you still need to drive quite a bit once you enter through the gates. The closest main attraction through the gates is Dune 45, located exactly 45 kilometers from the entrance. The Sossusvlei parking lot, however, is located 60 kilometers from the entrance, approximately an hour drive down a paved tar road from the entrance, if you are adhering to the local speed limit. From the parking lot you can drive another 6 kilometers through a deep sand road if you have a car with 4WD, otherwise you will need to pay to hop in a safari jeep shuttle. However, we’ll go into more detail on this below!
Best time to visit Sossusvlei
Lucky for you, Sossusvlei, like most of Namibia, is a year-round destination. That said, a trip during Namibia’s winter, which lasts from April to October, will be considerably more enjoyable. During these months the weather is still hot, but much more manageable.
You will find more crowds during this time, however we still found that the sites never felt super crowded, even during the busiest season. You will, however, need to make sure to book your campsite or lodge in advance, especially if you are trying to stay within the park. We booked 4 months in advance and found that most days were already sold out.
Prepare for your trip to Namibia
Cost to visit Sossusvlei
In addition to your lodging costs, there is a daily fee per person and per car for visiting the park. For a two-night stay in the park for two people with one vehicle you can expect to pay 350 Namibian Dollars, or around $19, as of July 2023. This is a recent price increase.
Once you’re in the park, all of the sites are free to visit.
How many days in Sossusvlei?
This question really depends on how much you want to see and do. Technically you could see all of the main attractions in one full day, but I wouldn’t recommend it. At a minimum I would spend 2 days in Sossusvlei, ideally within the park.
We chose to spend four days – the first was at Little Sossus Campsite 35 minutes from the park entrance, then two nights at Sesriem Oshana Campsite within the park, and finally an hour away at We Kebi Lodge for some wildlife. For us this was the perfect amount of time.
Things to do in Sossusvlei
Dune 45 is probably my favorite place that I visited in Sossusvlei, and maybe all of Namibia. I have previously visited Morocco so I had experienced sand dunes before, but in my opinion those pale in comparison to the dunes in Namibia.
The red color that glows when the sun hits the sand is truly magical.
When to visit Dune 45
We visited Dune 45 for sunrise and it was seriously a magical experience. You make your way up the dune when the temperatures are still chilly (and windy) and the sun has yet to make an appearance. Once the sun rises you’ll have front row seats to the red, glistening dunes as the sun hits them.
I imagine sunset would be equally spectacular, however we did not get a chance to experience it ourselves.
Although the sun will be hot and strong, if you visit during midday you’ll likely have the dunes completely to yourself, which could make for some epic photos. Just make sure you pack a hat and enough water.
Deadvlei translates to ‘dead marsh’ in reference to the “dead” trees. The trees in Deadvlei were cut off from their water source 600-700 years ago. During this time the trees all died. Because of the lack of water they petrified rather than decomposing.
I had seen so many photos of this location before visiting Sossusvlei, in fact it was one of the reasons I wanted to visit Namibia in the first place. But seeing it in person is a million times better than any photo. Despite being one of the most famous attractions in the country, you still have a sense of being fully alone as you wander through all of the petrified trees.
How to get to Deadvlei
If you are not driving a 4×4 vehicle, or do not feel comfortable driving in sand, then you will need to park at the Sossusvlei parking lot. From here you can hop on a safari jeep shuttle for the remaining 6 km drive for around $12 USD roundtrip. The shuttle runs frequently, starting in the early hours for sunrise. It is possible to walk but its quite a long walk in deep sand with no protection from the sun. I personally wouldn’t recommend, as the hiking views will be far better once you reach the parking lot.
If you have your own 4×4 vehicle then you are free to continue driving all of the way to the Deadvlei parking lot, which is an additional 6km. The roads are extremely sandy, so it is not uncommon for cars to get stuck, especially if you do not have experience driving in sand. Make sure to deflate your tires and do not stop throughout the ride.
From the Deadvlei parking lot it is a 1.2km walk to the petrified tree forest. While the hike itself isn’t super long, the path is sandy and slightly uphill, with no protection from the sun. Make sure that you wear sunscreen and a hat, and pack ample water.
If you’re feeling ambitious, you also have the opportunity to hike to Deadvlei via Big Daddy Dune. While this is definitely the harder option, you’ll be rewarded with incredible views from the top of the dune.
When to visit Deadvlei
The park is most enjoyable during the early morning and evening, when the sun is less strong and the lighting is perfect. I recommend either visiting for sunrise or sunset, when the sun isn’t high in the sky.
If you visit for sunrise, I would recommend hiking up Big Daddy Dune and enjoying the sunrise from the top of the dune before making your way to the petrified trees.
If you visit for sunset, please make sure to keep track of time so you do not miss the closing of the gates. As a reminder, the outer gate closes an hour earlier than the inside gate.
Big Daddy Dune
Are you ready to hike one of the highest dunes in the world? Because Sossusvlei’s Big Daddy Dune is just that! The dune is currently measured at just over 1,000 feet, however it is difficult to get an exact read as the sand is constantly blowing and shifting.
As I was mentioning above, you can reach Big Daddy Dune from the Deadvlei parking lot. From the top you’ll be able to see the basin of petrified trees below, as well as 360 views of Namib-Naukluft National Park and the Namib desert.
Just like Dune 45, this hike is a tough one as the sand shifts beneath your feet. However, this one is even taller with a longer, steeper climb! While I recommend hiking at sunrise or in the late afternoon, if you plan to hike when the sun is high then make sure to pack extra water and wear sun protection.
Elim Dune, or Elim Dune 1, is a popular spot for sunrise and sunset as it is less than a ten minute drive from the main gates. The proximity of the dunes to the entrance make it a great option if you want to capture every last minute of the colorful sky before hiking down.
The dune is not nearly as impressive as some of the others in the park, but it makes for a nice warm up. The dune is measured at approximately 250 feet, so about a quarter of the height of the Big Daddy Dune peak.
The Sesriem Canyon hike is a fun thing to add to your list of things to do in Sossusvlei if you have a few days to explore the area. It is an easy, flat hike suitable for any fitness level – but I would still recommend wearing proper sneakers or hiking boots. I saw people hiking it in flip flops, but with all of the little rocks, I would worry about twisting an ankle.
Depending on which route you take, the total hike should only take between 30 minutes and an hour to complete. It is a good option for midday as there is some protection from the sun.
Other spots of check out (that we didn’t have time for):
- Hidden Vlei
- Big Momma Dune
- Take a hot air balloon ride over the dunes
Where to stay in Sossusvlei
Before you decide where to stay for your visit to Sossusvlei you’ll need to decide on two things: 1) do you want to camp or stay in a lodge or glamping site? and 2) do you want to stay inside or outside of the park?
Sesriem Oshana Campsite – In terms of camping within the park, one of your only options is to camp at Sesriem Oshana Campsite. The campgrounds are a bit steep at around $50 USD per night, but each site can hold multiple cars if you’re camping with a few people. Your site comes equipped with a fire pit, toilet, outdoor sink for washing dishes, and a shower with hot water.
Sesriem Camp – this is your second option if you plan to camp within the park. Here you’ll find 44 campsites, however unlike Sesriem Oshana you won’t have a shower or toilet available. You should be able to find a shaded area and there are BBQ facilities available. There is also a pool and restaurant on-site.
Sossus Oasis Camp Site – This campground is a great option if you aren’t able to snag a spot within the campground. While you will need to wait for the public gate to open, you are as close to the park as you can possibly get as you are right across the street.
Little Sossus – If you’re looking for something a bit more secluded, and you don’t mind a bit of a drive, then I recommend checking out Little Sossus. This campground is located about 35 minutes from the park entrance. We actually stayed here for our first night, to relax a bit after the long drive. The owners are super nice and helpful.
Dead Valley Lodge – as one of the only lodges inside of the park, this is a great option for anyone looking to enjoy sunrise and sunset in Sossusvlei. The individual chalets and icy pool overlook Elim Dune.
Desert Camp: Located about 5 kilometers from the entrance gate of Sossusvlei, Desert Camp is a great option for budget travelers who would like a break from camping, or don’t have camping equipment. These individual chalets are each equipped with a kitchenette, as well as a private bathroom and a private deck with panoramic views of the desert.
Kulala Desert Lodge: Although located outside of the park, Kulala Desert Lodge offers guests a private entrance into the park, as it is located in a private reserve bordering the national park.
We Kebi Lodge – this lodge completely took us by surprise! Before arriving we had decided that we wanted to spend one more night in the general area before heading south to Swakopmund. We Kebi Lodge is located an hour from the entrance gate of Sossusvlei so while it is not the most convenient for visiting the park, it is 100% worth a visit. Located on a reserve, with a watering hole right by the lodge, you will have ample wildlife sightings. We were literally able to see rhinos and zebras from our bedroom window.
Staying inside the park
If it is in your budget to stay within the park, then I one hundred percent recommend that you do so. Even though the lodging in the park is essentially just as far from Sossusvlei as anything right across the street in Sesriem, your access to the park gate differs greatly. The biggest advantage to staying within the park grounds is that you will be able to enter the main park area an hour earlier, and stay an hour later. The exact timing differs season to season.
When visiting Sossusvlei you’ll find two gates. The first gate is what separates staying in the park versus staying outside the park. There is a second gate, even for those “staying in the park”, but it is open for longer. This extra hour in the morning and evening allow you to experience both the sunrise and the sunset in the park, which in my opinion are the most magical times to be in the park.
Dining in Sossusvlei
If you are planning to camp while visiting Sossusvlei, then you can easily cook with the facilities provided. You will find a fire pit at most of the campsites, but many of the truck rentals also have cooking gear provided. You can pick up some basic essentials just outside of the main gate at the gas station, but for more options, especially fresh produce, I recommend doing a proper grocery shop in Windhoek before heading to Sossusvlei. Our truck had a fridge that comfortably fit all of our groceries for the trip.
If you want a break from cooking, there are a few lodges in the park that offer lunch or dinner. However, I would check ahead of time and make a reservation, as some lodges only offer dining to those staying there.
What to pack for a visit to Sossusvlei
- Appropriate shoes – it is a trek up the dunes, so you’ll want to consider what shoes to bring. Many people hiked the dunes in sneakers, but I don’t love how much sand gets stuck in your socks and shoes. Personally, I found hiking barefoot or in my Tevas to be best. In fact, with the exception of the Sesriem Canyon hike, I exclusively wore my Tevas for the four days that we spent in the Sossusvlei area, and the rest of our two weeks in Namibia.
- Water – we did not see a single cloud during our time in Sossusvlei and the sun gets hot. Make sure you’re drinking lots of water throughout the day, especially during any hikes.
- Warm layers – as hot as it gets during the midday sun, the nights get just as cold. The early morning sunrises can be quite cold before the sun properly rises, so layers are super important. This includes a jacket (I used my Patagonia NanoAir) and a beanie.
- Wipes – It is the desert, and a desert with a lot of sand at that. Wipes are amazing for keeping things clean.
- Binoculars – Other than a ton of oryx, there wasn’t a lot of wildlife in the park when we visited. However, on the road just up the road we saw desert zebras, baboons, ostrich, wildebeests, and so much more!
- A camera (with a zoom lens) – we invested in a 200-400mm lens for our camera before this trip and it was so so worth it. It allowed us to get clear shots of all of the wildlife. If it’s in your budget, many travelers in Namibia carry a lens up to 600mm, but that is much bulkier. If you don’t already have a lens, or don’t want to travel with one, you can rent one in Windhoek.
- Sun protection – Namibia is hot year round and the sun is super strong. Make sure to pack adequate sunscreen and wear a hat during the middle of the day when the sun is strongest.
If you are camping, your packing list will be more comprehensive of course. You’ll want to make sure that you pack extra water and groceries for cooking. The campsites each have fire pits, but you’ll need to supply your own firewood. If you are renting a truck from Savanna then you’ll have all of the cooking and camping gear that you need for a comfortable night.
Packing list for a road trip in Namibia
Our rental came with the following:
- 1 table
- 2 chairs
- 2 gas cooking tops
- a set of mugs, bowls, plates, and cutlery
- all cooking utensils (wooden spoon, peeler, sharp knife, can opener, bottle opener, spatula, grilling tongs, cutting board)
- soap, sponge, and rags
- basic spices
- camping lantern
- a large bottle of cooking water
If any of these items are not included in your car rental, I highly recommend packing them or picking them up in Windhoek before you start your drive.
- Tupperware – cooking every night when you’re camping can be a hassle. Having a few tupperware packed allows you to prep and store a few items such as cooked rice, extra produce from open cans, or leftovers. Stojo bowls are a great option that collapse to take up minimal space
- Stasher Bags – not only are these another great option for storing leftovers, but are also perfect for packing lunches. We admittedly had a lot of peanut butter and jelly lunches while road tripping in Namibia, so this allowed us to prep out sandwiches ahead of time while we were driving or out hiking.
- Garbage bags – having both small and large garbage bags is a great way to stay organized and keep things (somewhat) dust-free.
- Warm blankets – Much of Namibia is the desert, which means the temperature drops at night. It can be blistering hot during the day, but at night you may even see frost on your windshield. If you are camping then it is so important to prepare for the cold. If you are renting from Savanna then you have the option of renting pillows and sleeping bags for an additional 50 NAD per day, however you need to secure these in advance. We forgot to do this, so they didn’t have any left when we arrived. Instead we bought 2 pillows and a few blankets from a local shop, which we supplemented with our pillow cases (Blissy pillowcase) and our favorite Sea-to-Summit sleeping bag liners.
- Toilet Paper – some campsites have it, some don’t. It’s always better to be prepared.
- Quick dry Travel Towel – my microfiber towel is by far one of my favorite items that I travel with.
- Yogurt, banana, and honey
- Oatmeal with banana
- Scrambled eggs or egg sandwich with veggies
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
- Chicken sandwich with grilled peppers and onions
- Hot dogs on the grill
- Salad with mixed veggies and chickpeas
- Veggies, beans, and rice
Wildlife in Sossusvlei
While Sossusvlei isn’t known for its wildlife like other destinations in Namibia are, you can definitely have some cool animal sightings. Within the park you are most likely to see oryx (gemsbok), ostriches, and springbok. There are also some foxes, and even some snakes in the park.
Just outside the park, however, you’re likely to spot a wide assortment of wildlife. So make sure to have your binoculars ready!
Ready for Sossusvlei!
You should now have everything you need to book and plan an epic adventure in Sosussvlei. If you still have more questions or notice that any information has changed, drop a not in the comment section below.
Planning a trip to Namibia? Make sure to check out these other articles:
- Everything you need to know about Sossusvlei
- Planning a self-drive in Etosha
- Camping in Spitzkoppe
- Visiting Deadvlei, Namibia
- 35+ Things to know before visiting Namibia