The dunes in this area are some of the highest in the world, reaching almost 400 metres, and provide photographic enthusiasts with wonderful images in the beautiful morning and evening light. The characteristic red dunes of the Namib Desert have developed over many millions of years. The red sand that forms the dunes was deposited into the Atlantic Ocean from the Orange River further south. The Benguela current then carried this sand northwards, to be deposited back onto the land by the ocean’s surf. From here the wind carried the red sand inland to form the dunes over time.
Sossusvlei literally translates to “dead-end marsh”, as it is the place where the dunes come together preventing the Tsauchab River from flowing any further, some 60km east of the Atlantic Ocean. However, due to the dry conditions in the Namib Desert the river seldom flows this far and the pan remains bone-dry most years. During an exceptional rainy season the Tsauchab fills the pan, drawing visitors from all over the world to witness this spectacular site. Photographic enthusiasts are spoilt with a glassy “lake” holding reflections of the surrounding dunes. When the pan fills it can hold water for as long as a year.
Despite the harsh desert conditions in the area, one can find a wide variety of plants and animals that have adapted to survive. These include insects, reptiles, birds, mammals and many desert adapted plants, flowers and fruits, like Namibia’s national plant, the welwitschia.
There are a number of attractions around Sossusvlei for visitors to explore, including
• the spectacularly carved-by-water Sesriem Canyon
• Dune 45, the most photgraphed dune on earth, situated 45 km past Sesriem on the road to Sossusvlei
• Hiddenvlei, perfect if you are looking for solitude in the desert
• the magnificently tall Big Daddy dune
• Deadvlei, a paradise for photographers, as it is punctuated by blackened, dead acacia trees, in vivid contrast to the shiny white of the salty floor of the pan and the intense orange of the dunes.
Accommodation around Sossusvlei ranges from camping, through self-catering and mid-range lodges, to the ultimate-in-luxury private lodges. This allows visitors to the area to find accommodation that meets their needs. No matter where you stay, the vastness of the desert allows for ample space and privacy.
As a consequence of its fascinating and surrealistic landscapes, Sossusvlei is one of the most photographed places in Sub-Saharan Africa. The area has been the setting of a number of commercials, music videos, and movies, especially of the fantasy genre.