What is Sossusvlei?
Located in Namibia, Sossusvlei (dead-end marsh) is a region of the south African country renowned for its ancient, towering red dunes and the flat areas (pans) that exist between them.
Some of the oldest and tallest dunes in the world, Sossuvlei’s towering sand mountains cut a striking figure against the country’s impossibly blue skies.
Nearby Deadvlei, made famous by the film Cell, is a striking mixture of bone white clay, skeletal black trees, and the eye-catching red of the dunes.
Together, Sossusvlei and Deadvlei are one of Namibia’s most popular tourist destinations.
Sunrise Over Sossusvlei
Due to the fact it lies at the heart of one of Namibia’s many sun-baked deserts, it’s best to visit Sossusvlei and its surrounds either early in the day or late in the afternoon.
With a long drive back to Swakopmund ahead of us, we opted for a sunrise drive out to Sossusvlei to see the sun as it set fire to the already crimson dunes.
Roads in the area are rough as guts, but the bouncing about will ensure you’re good and awake when the first of the dunes comes into view and you realize the scale of the things.
They’re not mountains like many of us might be used to, but they’re towering in comparison to insignificant creatures such as ourselves, and that becomes more apparent the closer you come.
With the sun cresting the horizon, we stopped the car and stepped out into the chilly dawn air to snap a few pictures of the dunes as they changed colour.
The first (and often final) stop for most visitors to Sossusvlei is Dune 45 (pictured below).
Often mistakenly labeled as the tallest sand dune in the world, this isn’t the case. In fact, it’s not even the tallest dune in Namibia.
It is, however, the most accessible of Sossusvlei’s dunes and therefore its most popular.
While we did stop off at the iconic dune to snap some pictures, we decided against joining the huge crowd of Korean and Japanese tourists clamoring for their chance to climb up the dune.
We had slightly smaller, quieter fish to fry.
Climbing the Dunes of Sossuvlei
Once we got away from the crowds with their too large cameras and too loud voices, we sought out a quieter stretch of desert to explore on foot.
This area is Sossusvlei proper – the small corner of the park that lands the entire area its name.
Setting out from the world’s bumpiest road, we trekked over the barren moonscape until we came to a dune that climbing would be within our mixed levels of fitness.
Our climb, although short, was an arduous one. Every step through the deep sand was like five or six on dry land. It was like running through the surf.
Still, the view from atop the dunes was something to behold.
Perhaps the most transformative thing of the whole experience is the near complete silence that hangs in the air. Aside from your own ragged breathing and the mournful howl of the wind as it scours the desert, there’s not a sound.
No birds cawing or cars growling.
No tourists shouting.
Just you, the desert, and the sense that we’re so small in the grand scheme of things.
Descent into Deadvlei
With our time in Sossusvlei short, we hurriedly made our way down from our lofty perch and into the baked pan of Deadvlei.
Its alien landscape is like nothing else I’ve seen in the world, the ashy bones of trees clawing at azure skies from a pan of sun-baked white set against a fiery backdrop.
We had scant minutes to take our photos and pray at the altar of the desert’s harsh beauty before it was time to return to the cars.
Bidding our farewell in reverent tones, we ended our all too brief pilgrimage and slogged back to the car.
Sossusvlei and I have unfinished business, and my camera’s brief love affair with the starkly beautiful corner of Namibia has only just begun.
I was lucky enough to tour the region as a guest of the Namibia Tourism Board along with Pack Safaris, and I’m already planning to my return trip.
Sossusvlei may not be a name everybody recognizes, but it remains one of the most hauntingly beautiful places I have ever been.