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The Best Way to Visit Sossusvlei, Deadvlei and the Dunes

In this Namibia travel guide, we will tell you everything you need to know to make the most out of your trip to Sossusvlei, Deadvlei, and the Dunes - which was our favourite thing to do in Namibia!

We visited Namibia in November 2023 as part of an 80-day trip from Nairobi to Cape Town - and our 2-week road trip around Namibia was an unforgettable highlight.


I Dream of Mangoes climbing Big Daddy at Sossusvlei
Climbing 'Big Daddy' at Sunrise


About Sossusvlei, Deadvlei and the Dunes

Sossusvlei is a salt and clay pan surrounded by high red sand dunes, located in the southern part of the Namib Desert, in the Namib-Naukluft National Park of Namibia.

The name 'Sossusvlei' is often used in an extended meaning to refer to the whole area - and it literally means 'the marsh of no return'.

Deadvlei is a clay pan characterized by dead 900-year-old Camel Thorn trees, which due to the very dry climate cannot decompose.

The actual sand dunes are among the highest in the world; many of them are higher than 200 metres, the highest being the one nicknamed Big Daddy, about 325 metres high. The red colour comes from a high iron content, and the redder the dune - the older it is.

The view from the top of Big Daddy dune in Sossusvlei
The Dunes


Not sure what to pack for your trip to Namibia? Check out my article:


The Best Way to Visit Sossusvlei, Deadvlei and the Dunes

Getting to Sossusvlei/Sesriem

The best way to get to Sossusvlei, Deadvlei and the Dunes is to drive. Coming from Windhoek, the first hour or so will be on tarred roads, and then it's a bumpy gravelly adventure from there!

It is possible to drive in a small car (we had a Suzuki Swift) – it's also much cheaper – but you would be more comfortable in a 4x4 so it's down to your personal budget.

Google Maps gives very clear directions to Sesriem (a settlement where I recommend you camp), but as always in Namibia you can add a couple of hours buffer to the estimated journey time.

It took us 6 hours to drive from Windhoek to Sesriem.

For more details and very up-to-date information on the conditions of the roads, there is a fantastic Facebook Group called Namibia from the Roadside – which I highly recommend joining before your trip.

Sunrise at Sesriem Camp in Sossusvlei
Sunrise at Sesriem Camp in Sossusvlei


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Where to Stay Near Sossusvlei

When planning your visit to Sossusvlei, Deadvlei and the Dunes, choosing where you stay will make or break your experience.

If you decide to stay outside of the national park, where most of the camps are located, you are permitted to enter at 6:15am at the earliest. There WILL be a queue of cars at the gate at this time, all waiting to race the 50-minute journey down to the dunes to catch the last semblance of sunrise.

Staying INSIDE the park is the best way to visit Sossusvlei, Deadvlei and the Dunes. There are only two accommodation options here, and we chose to stay at Sesriem Camp by NWR, the cheaper one.

It was still much more expensive than other campsites, and like all NWR camps, not a very high standard. We pitched our own tent and paid 550NAD (£30) per person per night. This is 3x the price of what we normally paid in Namibia. There is also a daily park fee of 100NAD per person per day plus 50NAD per day for a vehicle.

However... by staying in the park you have the benefit of being able to drive to the dunes one hour before sunrise, at 5:15am, that's one hour before everyone else, and it's SO WORTH IT.

Our pitch at Sesriem Camp
Our pitch at Sesriem Camp

The tent we use is the Robens Boulder 3 - and we love it. It is super-easy to assemble, it is reliable in strong winds and heavy rains, and it only weighs 3kg!


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Starting Your Day at Sossusvlei, Deadvlei & the Dunes

So what happens at 5:15am?

If you're camping, you need to pack up your campsite before you leave (unless you plan to stay another night). I did this by torchlight whilst Joe built a small fire to make coffee, it would not have been a good day without coffee.

At 5:15am you can exit the campsite and turn right on the gravel road, where a gate would have been opened for you, and from there, it's a 50 minute drive to Big Daddy. Some people choose to stop at Dune 45 first instead, about halfway along, which is the most beautiful dune and takes less time to climb.

Having heard the 'outside-gaters' all flock to Dune 45 at 6:15am, we decided to go the whole hog to Deadvlei and Big Daddy.

The drive is stunning, and once you reach the end point there is a small car park where you can leave your car and take a 10-minute shuttle to the dunes for 160NAD. This is run by NWR and is very efficient.

We were amongst the first there and we passed three 4x4s stuck in the deep sand here – unless you have lots of experience driving in deep sand, even if you have a 4x4 it's probably best to take the shuttle!

I Dream of Mangoes driving to the dunes at Sossusvlei at sunrise
Racing to the dunes before sunrise!


Climbing Big Daddy

The driver of the shuttle gave us a quick orientation, and so we decided to climb Big Daddy first whilst the sand was cool (it was actually a bit chilly at this time!)

We did this barefoot - which I think is the best way to visit Sossusvlei, Deadvlei and the Dunes, and at the steeper parts we put our flip-flops on our hands and bear crawled! It was very challenging, and because of this most people stay to wander around the lower levels.

If you can muster the strength to climb up, you will be rewarded with views that are out of this world. We ended up being about 8 people at the top, watching the sunrise move over the dunes – it was truly breathtaking.

Running down the dune afterwards was one of the most fun things I have ever done, and took a mere 10 minutes!

The sand starts to heat up at around 10am so you really need to be in and out before then.



You may recognise those iconic pictures of Deadvlei, which is essentially a dead forest with white cracked earth and red dunes in the background. Once you run down Big Daddy this is where you will land, and it is very photogenic. It takes about 15 minutes to walk through Deadvlei - but you could spend much longer there taking pictures.

The dead forest of Deadvlei
The dead forest of Deadvlei


The Other Dunes

We only stayed for one night at Sesriem as we were in a bit of a hurry, but we could have easily spent longer there and gone back to watch the sunset over Dune Elim, and then climb Dune 45 the following morning.

Your park permit allows a 24-hour window so if you plan your entry and exit carefully you can really make the most of it.

Visiting Sossusvlei, Deadvlei and the Dunes was our favourite thing we did in Namibia, to read more about our time here check out my article: A 2-week Namibia Road Trip Itinerary.


Thank you for reading my post: The best way to visit Sossusvlei, Deadvlei and the Dunes. If you enjoyed the read, please consider subscribing to my blog where I post articles once a week about my and Joe's current travels.

For more Africa inspiration, check out my articles: A Backpacker's Guide to Northern Malawi – or - Is it Possible to Backpack Botswana on a Budget?

Happy Travels




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