No trip to Namibia is complete without setting foot in the Namib desert. This sea of sand stretches for more than 2000km along the Atlantic coast of Angola, Namibia and South Africa. Deadvlei in the Sossusvlei area is without a doubt the most iconic and accessible place to visit in this starkly beautiful region.


About Deadvlei

Deep in the heart of the Namib desert, lies the Sossusvlei area, known for its sculpted red dunes and crusted salt pans. The pans are quite a unique phenomenon. They lie at the end of the Tsauchab River, which literally peters out in the sand and never reaches the sea.

There are several pans in the area, some of which, including Sossusvlei, occasionally receive water and some are now permanently dry due to a change of the river course. Deadvlei is one of the latter. It is by far Namibia’s most photographed landmark. When you get here in the late afternoon or early morning, you’ll understand why. As you climb over the rise of a low dune, you’ll set eye on an outlandish scene. A geometrical pattern of smooth white clay stretches out across the pan. Sprouting from this are black skeletons of ancient trees, some of them more than 500 years old. Their dead branches throw long shadows across the white expanse. This monotone scene is starkly offset by the huge red dunes rising up into the blue sky.

Nearby Sossusvlei lacks the dead trees and is therefore less interesting photographically. But not always so. Very sporadically, perhaps every decade, flash floods fill Sossusvlei and when that happens, the pan transforms miraculously. For a short time Sossusvlei comes alive with lilies floating on the water and birds settling in for the season.


How to get to there

The journey to Deadvlei is part of the attraction. The gateway to the Sossusvlei area is Sesriem, a settlement about 360km southwest of Windhoek. The drive from Sesriem is 60km on a good 2WD road. This ends in a parking area where you might have to leave your car if you’re on a self-drive safari (even if you have a 4x4). If you’re on an organised excursion, your guide might be able to drive to the 4x4 parking area further along the track. Alternatively, there is a hop-on-hop-off shuttlebus available which does the circuit between the first parking area, Deadvlei and Sossusvlei. From the drop-off point at Deadvlei, the walk to the pan takes about 20 minutes.


Planning your time visiting Deadvlei

Dead tree on saltpan in Deadvlei, Sossusvlei, Namib Naukluft National Park in Namibia

Deadvlei is best visited in the early morning or late afternoon. Not only is this the most beautiful time of the day, it is also advisable to avoid being out in the heat of the midday sun. As it is more difficult to plan for late afternoon, with the time cap of the sunset, a visit at sunrise is very popular.

Deadvlei is located within Namib-Naukluft National Park, which has opening times that depend on the time of the year (around sunrise and sunset). There is only one campsite and lodge within the park and most visitors stay in and around Sesriem. If aiming for a sunrise visit, it is recommended to get to the gate shortly before opening time, which is between 6am and 6.45am. If coming in the afternoon, you need to take note of the closing times between 5.15am and 6.15pm.

Dune 45 on route to the sossusvlei area Namib Naukluft National Park in Namibia

Note that early mornings are very cold in the desert, so bring plenty of warm clothing, especially when travelling in an open vehicle. The road to Sossusvlei is flanked by high dunes. They get more impressive as you get closer to the pans and some of them are numbered, referring to their distance from Sesriem. Dune 45 is particularly known for a great climb; you can follow the crest to the top for a fantastic view over the surrounding sea of sand. Moving on, you’ll get to the parking area of the Sossusvlei area from where you’ll walk or drive further along.

Whether you visit Deadvlei in isolation or you take your time exploring several pans in the Sossusvlei area is up to you. Either way, you’ll have to do some walking through thick sand, so make sure to come well prepared with water, sunscreen and a hat.


Where to stay

Sossus Oasis Campsite, Namib Naukluft National Park in Namibia

There are several wonderful lodges and camps in the Sesriem area. Some of the small establishments offer a very exclusive, all-round, desert experience, while others are more down to earth basic accommodations.

Deadvlei is incredibly photogenic and many people try to get to the pan as early as possible to get those special photos at sunrise. So, it makes sense to consider your location and the distance you have to cover to get to Deadvlei. Sossus Dune Lodge is the only lodge located within the park entrance gate. Staying here has the huge advantage of not being limited to gate opening times and having to deal with the paperwork on your way in. The campsite inside the park is usually booked up long in advance for the same reasons.

By Ariadne van Zandbergen
South Africa ZA

Ariadne is a renowned African wildlife photographer whose work is featured in many well-known guidebooks and magazines.

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