Sossusvlei is one of Namibia’s most popular tourist destinations. The name ‘Sossusvlei’ is often used as a blanket term for the area in which Sossusvlei is located, a part of the Namib Desert situated in the Namib-Naukluft National Park, in Southern Namibia. Sossusvlei itself is actually one of the famous ‘vleis’ in the area, the others being the Deadvlei and the Hiddenvlei. The word ‘vlei’ comes from the Afrikaans word meaning ‘marsh’. The vleis are so named because they have formed after being storage basins for the Tsauchab river, with no outflow points, creating wet and marshy basins during times of rain, and drying out to form white salt pans when it is dry (which is the majority of the year).
The gateway to the Namib Naukluft National Park, leading to Sossusvlei, is called Sesriem. About 4kms away from Sesriem, is the Sesriem Canyon. The Sesriem Canyon is a small but magnificent canyon, carved out by the Tsauchab River, stretching for about one kilometer. It gets up to 30 meters deep, and some parts of the canyon are only about 2 meters wide. The name ‘sesriem’ comes from a combination of two Afrikaans words; ‘ses’ meaning ‘six’, and ‘riem’ meaning ‘rawhide thong’. This name originated from the Dorsland Trekkers who settled in the area. They discovered that it would take the length of 6 rawhide thongs tied to a bucket to reach water at the bottom of the canyon at one specific point. This part of the canyon still has water that is enjoyed by the animals of the area.
Just beyond the entrance into Sesriem, you will need to stop at the permit office, and purchase a permit for the number of people in your group, and for the amount of days that you will be visiting the park. The payment for this permit is important as it goes towards ensuring the upkeep of the national park facilities, as well as the conservation efforts for the landscape and the wildlife. Once you’ve acquired your permit, you will continue towards the actual gate of the national park, which opens at sunrise, and closes at sunset. The specific opening and closing times will be on display at the gate, and will vary around 7am and 7pm. Once in the park, after a 5km drive you will reach the iconic Elim Dune, which is a tall orange sand dune and is popular to climb and visit for sunsets, as it isn’t too far from the gate. Further into the park, you will find Dune 45, which is so named because it is found 45 km after the gate, and it is also a popular dune to climb. About 60 kms into the park, you will reach a parking spot where 2×4 cars will need to stop. Sossusvlei is about 6km further from this stop, but a 4-wheel drive vehicle is required to reach it because from this point onwards, the tarmac road changes to a thick sand road. The Hiddenvlei is a 4km walk from the 2×4 parking spot, and the Deadvlei is about 2km away from Sossusvlei. All the beautiful vleis are therefore in the same vicinity, making it easy and convenient to visit them all. And trust me, it would be worth it.
Remember to always be mindful of the environment! The Namib Desert is the oldest desert in the world, and has a fragile and unique ecosystem. There is a reason that Sossusvlei is Namibia’s most visited tourist attraction: because it is an absolutely beautiful landscape, and a sight to behold like no other. However, we need to work together to keep it that way! When visiting, make sure to leave no trace by keeping your rubbish and discarding it responsibly back at your accommodation, as well as respecting the fauna and flora. No matter how tempting it is to climb the dead trees in the Deadvlei, please don’t! These trees are hundreds of years old, petrified in time, and they are integral to the beauty of the Deadvlei – a symbol of strength to withstand time, but without human interference.
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