A Guide to the best Sand Dunes of Sossusvlei
Located in the stunning Namib-Naukluft National Park in the south of Namibia, Sossusvlei is one of the most incredible and well-known attractions in Southern Africa.
Characterised by its vast white salt pans and ever-evolving pink/orange sand dunes, each year, the area attracts hundreds of groups, solo travellers and honeymooners, each drawn in by the allure of this desolate yet intriguingly beautiful landscape.
The dunes in the Sossusvlei have been sculpted by the wind for centuries, creating faultless natural sand formations that rise from the valley floors and reach heights of over 300 metres. The Sossusvlei boasts some of the highest dunes in the world, cementing its status as a true bucket-list destination for adventure-seekers the world over.
Many of the dunes, such as Dune 1 and Dune 45, derived from the distance they are located from the Sesriem gate, which serves as the entrance point to Namib-Naukluft National Park. For example, Dune 1 is 1 km from the gate, and Dune 45 is situated 45 km away from the entrance.
If you’re thinking of booking a self-drive Namibia holiday or private-guided Safari tour to Namibia, then no visit would be complete without exploring at least one of these incredible natural wonders. From The Big Daddy to Dune 45, here’s our guide to the best dunes of Sossusvlei.
Big Daddy Dune
We kick off the list with the tallest dune in the area, the aptly named Big Daddy. Standing at a mammoth 325m tall, this incredible sand structure is sandwiched between Sossusvlei and the Deadvlei pan and dwarfs all other dunes in the region.
If you’re feeling adventurous and energetic, visitors can trek to the top of Big Daddy, where they will be greeted with incredible panoramic views of the Deadvlei below. Just ensure you bring plenty of water with you.
Although the Big Daddy sits as the highest dune in the Sossusvlei, it’s not the tallest in the Namib Desert. That accolade is bestowed on the iconic Dune 7, the 7th dune along the Tsauchab River and stands at a whopping 388m.
Standing at around 100m, Elim dune is a relatively isolated dune situated on the main road to Sossusvlei, 5km past the Sesriem gate. Although it may only tower at less than a third of the height of Big Daddy, Elim is still a spectacular dune to explore, and locals agree that this is the best place to marvel at the sunset in the entire Namib-Naukluft National Park.
The best time of the day to explore Elim Dune is in the morning when the early dawn sun provides excellent light for photographs. Given that Elim Dune is less frequented than Dune 45, or The Big Daddy, it’s a great place to perch down and absorb the beauty around you without the bustle of crowds.
The majestic Dune 45 is one of Namibia’s most iconic natural wonders. Standing at 170m tall, this magnetic sand structure is characterised by its striking red colour, which originates from the iron oxide that was washed from the Kalahari into the Atlantic before being transported to Sossusvlei by a mix of wind and sea currents.
Hundreds of thrill-seeking tourists trek to the top of Dune 45 to witness some incredible picture-perfect views, and a visit here ranks as one of the best things to do in Namibia.
For budding hikers, It typically takes around 45 minutes to climb to the summit and 5 minutes to emerge back down.
Dune 45 is a sight to behold whatever time of day you visit, but typically crowds gather first thing in the morning to take some epic sunrise snaps, and just before sunset, where the Dune’s famous curved shadows are in complete focus.
Dune 45 also has excellent road links, and the most reputable Namibia safari tour experts accommodate visits to this epic natural wonder year-round.
Although not technically a dune, it would be remiss of us not to mention the charming Sesriem Canyon, which is situated around 4 km from the Namib-Naukluft National Park entrance.
What the Sesriem canyon lacks in size, it more than that makes up for beauty, and the Tsauchab River shaped this stunning natural feature over millions of years. Uniquely, it is one of only a handful of spots in the area that hold water throughout the year, from which many game and birds drink.
The Sesriem canyon is just over half a mile long and 30 m deep, and the name derives from the Afrikaans term for six belts. In centuries past, Afrikaans settlers had to fasten together six oryx hide belts to reach buckets down into the canyon that retrieved water.
The best time to appreciate the canyon is at sunrise or sunset when the shifting shadows and soft light emphasise the structure’s beauty; the Sesriem canyon provides the perfect opportunity for travellers to sit back and embrace quiet reflection.
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