Sossusvlei is a salt and clay pan surrounded by high red dunes, located in the southern part of the Namib Desert, in the Namib-Naukluft National Park in Namibia. Sossusvlei is one of the highest sand dunes in the world rising as high as 570m above sea level and stretches to a great expanse of the mighty Namib Desert to almost 500sq km. Sossusvlei literally interprets ‘a gathering place of water’, and actually it’s a clay pan which holds rainwater to form a lake. This pan retains water for a long time due to the high clay content which makes it a rare tourist sight.

Sossusvlei Namibia

Sossusvlei Namibia

What makes the area even more extraordinary are the color compositions and enormous dunes. The presence of iron oxides in the sand coupled with innumerable particles of garnet gives the dune its brilliant hue. The shades vary according to the age of the dunes, and the older the dune the brighter the sand’s color.

The dunes are often referred to as star dunes because of their crescent shape. Best seen from the air, Sossusvlei offers one of Namibia’s top tourist destinations. The multiple merging crests meet at the highest point resultant of multi-directional winds that blow the sand back and forth. The monumental red sand and the glorious display of diverse shades, colors, and depressions create a spectacular sight for photographers. The dunes display vibrant colors of orange, maroon, and pink, and the Tsaris Mountains show blue and deep purples. The dunes surrounding the vlei are some 350m high when measuring from the base up; having a reputation as some of the highest in the world.


This circular-shaped depression filled with water in the heart of the Namib Desert has an exciting history of formation. It has been said that the residue or sand from the Orange River was drifted towards Africa’s western coast and deposited into the mighty Atlantic Ocean. The powerful ocean currents pushed the material towards the north and deposited them back on to the land. By this constant re-deposition, dunes began forming on the coast and the interplay of the coast winds shifted them further inland. The sand deposited on the windward side makes the dune flat, while the leeward side is considerably steeper. However, the patterns on the dune vary according to the direction and speed of the wind and these dunes have taken a million years to be developed. The Sossusvlei today is ever changing and evolving.

Sossusvlei Namibia

Sossusvlei Namibia

Sossusvlei Tourist Activities

  • Game Viewing – Sossusvlei is home to ostrich, springbok, and Oryx which roam the area.
  • Self-Drive Excursions – Sossusvlei is one spectacular place for self-drive excursion tours with 4WD vehicles in Namibia.
  • Photographic Safaris – Sossusvlei is lined by exotic, brightly colored dunes. The monumental red sand and the magnificent display of several shades, depressions, and colors, fading, and Deeping, throughout the day create amazing patterns for photographers.

Covering an overall area of 49.768 sq km, the Namib-Naukluft National Park is the largest game park in Africa and the fourth largest in the world.

The present boundaries of Namib-Naukluft National Park came into being in 1978, the year of its establishment by the merging of the Namib Desert Park, the Naukluft Mountain Zebra Park, some sections of Diamond Area 1 plus some other bits of government land in the neighborhood. The habitat of this massive conservation area has Rocky areas stretching over 26%, Grassland covering about 12% and the Desert covering 61%.

Sossusvlei Sand Dunes

Sossusvlei Sand Dunes


This is a stunning pan situated in the Namib Desert. It is surrounded by the massive red sand dunes in awesomely enormous patterns. It covers over 32.000 sq km stretching between rivers Koichab and Kuiseb. It is also a habitat for some animals such as rodents or jackals and reptiles of the Park. During the wet season, several migrant birds are seen along the marshes and rivers of the area.


Gemsbok, springbok and Hartmann’s Zebra occur widely in park and Leopard, Brown and spotted hyenas are available although not so common. The black-backed jackals and spiraled-horned Oryx are more visible. There are also many snakes in the Park. On a good safari day, over 15 species of different snakes can be spotted.

There are also hundreds of beetles, termites, fishtails and other insects which feed on vegetation blown into the desert or deposited by the few plants which grow in the sand.


There are many bird species that have been recorded in the Namib Desert and many of them are common to Namibia but there are species that common to this the desert areas only. Raptors available include the African Penguin, Lesser Flamingo, large bustards, ostriches, sand grouse, Crowned Cormorant, Bank Cormorant, African Oystercatcher, Monteiro’s Hornbill, Gray’s Lark are very common. Rare birds are best found around the beds of the two main rivers, the genab waterhole and the northern section of the park around the Naukluft Mountains. Flamingos constitute the largest percentage of water birds in Namib-Naukluft National Park. The chestnut-banded plover; white pelican and black-necked grebe are some of the endangered Red Data species commonly spotted around Sandwich harbor.

Other Attractions

Include Walvis Bay and Sandwich Harbor just outside on the coast, the moonscape of the Swakop Canyons – smoothly carved tunnels from the sandstone resulting from the meandering Tsauchab River. Naukluft Mountain is massive rock formation and heavenly vegetated with riverbeds. It provides perfect shelter and covers for the mountain zebra, springbok, kudu, rock, rabbits and black eagles. The Tsauchab River which meanders into the middle of the desert is also another beautiful sighting.

Springboks in Namib-Naukluft National Park

Springboks in Namib-Naukluft National Park

Getting To The Namib-Naukluft National Park

Most of the park is inaccessible although some minor access roads are at times in poor conditions. The most common way to access the park is on 2WD to the entrance. A few gravel roads traverse the northern section of the park and another leads into the middle dune area of Sossusvlei and Sesriem Canyon. There are also possibilities of using a light aircraft or hot air balloon, for the best view of this rippling desert park.

Best Time to Visit

The period between the months of September and March is the best time to visit Namib-Naukluft National Park.

Where to Stay

There are several safari camps and private lodges in Namib-Naukluft National Park where you can relax or retreat and even enjoy viewing wild animals. They are well-maintained and fitted with facilities for a comfy stay. The most prominent are Naukluft Camp and Sesriem Camp. There are also five other camping sites and lodges including Wolwedans Private Camp, Wolwedans Boulders Camp, Wolwedans Dune Lodge, Wolwedans Dune Camp and Sossusvlei Desert Lodge. Most of them offer walking trails and guided trips into the national park.


The highlight of a visit to the Namib Naukluft National Park is usually a trip to the Sossusvlei.

  • Desert Walks – along sand dunes of Sossusvlei and to Dead Vlei
  • Photographic Safaris
  • Flying over safaris – using a light aircraft or hot air balloon
  • Bird watching – especially the water birds around the Sandwich Harbour
  • Night gazing – Because of the heat most of the animals operate by night and sleep or burrow during the day. So some visitors opt for night gazing.