Hiking the Majestic Sand Dunes at Sossusvlei, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Sesriem, Namibia


One of Namibia’s greatest attractions are the towering sand dunes at Sossusvlei in the Namib-Naukluft National Park. Home to one of the world’s greatest salt pans, the sand dunes tower over visitors at heights of over 400 meters. A self guided visit through the park was among the highlights of our trip to Namibia.

This post is one chapter on our trip to South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mauritius and the United Arab Emirates. This trip was redeemed through American Airlines AAdvantage & Alaska Mileage Plan. For more information on how this trip was booked, please see our trip introduction here. For other parts of the trip, please see this index.

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Activity: Hiking the Majestic Sand Dunes at Sossusvlei, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Sesriem, Namibia

“The Sossusvlei Sand Dunes are among the most photogenic sand dunes in the world; towering over the highway against deep blue skies”

We’ve been fortunate enough to have visited sand dunes in the Empty Quarter, United Arab Emirates and the Sahara Desert at Erg Chigaga, Morocco. The sand dunes at Sossusvlei are different from these in that they tower over you as among the highest sand dunes in the world.

Getting to Sossusvlei:

Sossusvlei in the Namib-Naukluft National Park contains the highest sand dunes in the world. The appeal of the Sossus Dune Lodge is that it is the only hotel within the national park gates that are locked at sun down. The advantage is that you can potentially get up early and self drive to the dunes to see them at sunlight.

The Deadvlei dunes are approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes from the Sossus Dune Lodge, or about 65 kilometers. While there are some limited tours in the area, we decided to go with a self drive option to be able to stop whenever we felt like it and spend as much time as we wanted at each site.

We slept in a little after first day’s light until about 8:30 AM and woke up to light streaming into the hut. The curtains are a little transparent but it was a beautiful view to wake up to looking out over the park.

We had a camping style breakfast included with our stay (think a bush breakfast – more cold cuts, less salmon and capers) and headed out for a day of sight seeing. There was an option to get up early at 4 AM (and have a breakfast box packed to go), but after more than 4 early morning flight wake ups, Gaansbai Shark Diving and the like, we just preferred to catch up on sleep and get adjusted to the long journey down to Southern Africa.

We headed out on the paved road in the national park, which was in the middle of nowhere. It was a bit strange since all the roads to get to this point were gravel and unsealed and here we were barreling down a paved highway at 80 km/h. You could again look for miles and see not a soul. The park was designated a UNESCO heritage site for the largest dunes in the world. We headed straight out to the Deadvlei, which was situated 65 km from the entrance gate of the hotel. The plan for us today was to get as far out as possible, then work out way back slowly.

Spotting the Dunes:

We didn’t have to wait long to see some sights. Just a few minutes down the Namib-Naukluft National Park road, the dunes started towering over us.

Setting Out on the Namib-Naukluft National Park Roadway
San Dunes Towering Over the National Park
Giants Towering Over You

Arriving to the Deadvlei Parking Lot:

The tarred road ends at the 2WD car park photographed below. Since it is the main attraction, it contains a bit of a round up of coaches and other groups that were staying outside of the park gates. The last 4 km of the road towards the Deadvlei is 4WD only. We shifted the Toyota into H4 and trucked through to the last parking lot. Everyone else took local tractor shuttles which appeared to be readily available at the 2WD car park (a fee was likely).

The road was pothole like semi soft sand and I kept the truck moving at about 20 – 30 km/h and didn’t attempt to stop the vehicle to see if we would have trouble getting it started again. I didn’t see anyone stuck there, but there were reports at our hotel of those that there were some that trucked in by 2WD car in the morning (thanks to tighter and firmer sand due to condensation) got stuck trying to get out.

Soft Pathway to the Deadvlei Parking Lot

Hiking Into Deadvlei:

We took the short 2 km hike up the slope to the Deadvlei. It’s an absolutely scenic spot. At 12 PM, the hottest time of the day at 30 degrees, we had the place completely to our selves. I’d recommend bringing some proper walking shoes as the sandals against the desert hot sand might not be as comfortable as one would like. In addition to shoes, we also each packed a litre of bottled water for the hike.

The Trail Head into Deadvlei
Starting a Desert Climb
Following the Packed Track on the Right
The Occasional Vegetation

Exploring the Deadvlei:

Cresting the rise, we saw our first glimpse of the Deadvlei. The Deadvlei contains trees that are aged 500 – 600 years old that have died as a result of a lack of water due to climate change.

It was a pretty surreal experience to have it completely deserted to yourself. It was totally empty on our visit, like most of our other Namibia experiences.

Spotting the Deadvlei Salt Pan
Into the Deadvlei
The Deadvlei Salt Pan
Dead Trees from the DeadVlei
Trees that had lost life
Towering Dunes Make Up a Spectacular Backdrop

I could have spent hours here photographing things if it weren’t for the intense sun, heat and the lack of shade. It was simply gorgeous, a natural beauty, of which there are fewer and fewer left in the world these days. It was a unique part of the world that I thought was well worth the effort to get to.

The Track Heading Back Towards the Trail Head

Checking Out the Hiddenvlei:

We headed back to the 2WD car park and did the short 3KM walk into the Hiddenvlei. The Hiddenvlei was a pan of dead trees although it was not as pronounced as Deadvlei as it did not have the same salt pan features. Either we missed it or it just wasn’t as pretty as the Deadvlei. It was a lot larger in size from what we gathered.

The Hiddenvlei Trail Head

There were a lot less tourists here and again, the whole experience was very serene and desolate. There was lots of interesting vegetation that seemed like it had seen better days.

Dead Trees in the Hiddenvlei
Vegetation Trying to Grow Amid the Sand Dunes
Hiddenvlei Trees
Landscapes of Sossusvlei
Hiddenvlei Trees

The Towering “Dune 45”:

Having reached the end point of the Namib-Nakluft National Park roadway, we started back towards the Sossus Dune Lodge. Our next stop was Dune 45. It’s called this as as it is 45 km from the Sesriem entrance gate. It’s really close to the road, and made for some really picturesque shots. You can just see how large it is compared to the size of the truck.

Heading Back Towards Sesriem
The spectacular height of Dune 45
An absolutely massive dune
A giant sand break edge
Trees Trying to Grow at Dune 45

The Dune 45 towered against the size of our rental truck. The sand dune was probably well over 400 meters tall.

Dune 45 towering over the Parking Lot

We left Dune 45 and had a quick stop at the UNESCO Heritage Sign Certification that we had passed on the way in.

Heading North East from Dune 45
The UNESCO Sight Designation for the Namib Sand Sea

Returning to Sossus Dune Lodge:

Wow – what a full day. We returned to the Sossus Dune Lodge and headed to the pool where I took another small nap and soaked up the last of the desert sun.

Returning to Sossus Dune Lodge

We later returned to the hut for Neethingshoff Sauvignon Blanc sunset sundowner that was self catered from our villa fridge.

Sunset Over Namib Nakluft National Park
Sun Downer from the Sossus Dune Lodge Deck
Sunset Over Sossusvlei

We had another quiet night at Sossus Dune Lodge of absolutely no sounds at all around our property. It was truly an unusual and unique experience like camping in the middle of the desert, except in the comfort of a a private chalet with a rain shower.

The Bottom Line: The San Dunes at Namib Naukluft National Park

The Namib-Naukluft National Park was totally worth a visit if you happened to find yourself in this particular corner of the world. It’s a definite must visit if you are heading to southern Namibia. The sand dunes that tower over the road are spectacular and unique to the world. The ability to drive and see them at your own pace is another special treat, and allows you to take in sights as you can.

If you’ve visited the sand dunes at Sossusvlei, did you find it as inspiring as we did?

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