Sossusvlei and Namib Desert Holidays
80% of Namibia is composed of desert and this area showcases the best of the country’s spectacular desert scenery, including Sossusvlei – a highlight of any trip to Namibia. Also in this region is the remarkably picturesque NamibRand Nature Reserve, a wonderful place to stay for a few days to appreciate its tranquillity and beauty.
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The Namib Desert
Commonly referred to as the world’s oldest desert, it dates back at least 55 million years. The desert is a large expanse of moving gravel plains and dunes of all shapes and sizes. The entire western part of Namibia is comprised of the desert which flows beyond the borders of Namibia into southern Angola and also to the Northern Cape Province of South Africa. Part of the desert, towards the centre incorporates the Namib-Naukluft National Park, which is the largest park in Namibia (50,000 square kilometres) and the third largest in Africa.
The Namib Desert is largely unpopulated so there is no light pollution making it one of the best places in the world to stargaze. In 2013 a large part of the desert became a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the name of ‘Namib Sand Sea’.
Located in the Namib-Naukluft National Park, Sossusvlei is Namibia’s most popular tourist attraction and boasts some of the highest sand dunes in the world reaching almost 400 metres. Sossusvlei itself is a large, white, salt and clay pan. However, the name ‘Sossusvlei’ is often used in an extended meaning to refer to the surrounding area, including Deadvlei and other neighbouring rust-coloured sand dunes.
The best time to visit is close to sunrise or sunset, avoiding the heat of the midday sun and taking advantage of the natural light to bring out the best of the strong and constantly changing colours of the dunes – warm tints of apricot, orange, red and maroon, which provide excellent photographic opportunities. A climb up the dunes is rewarded by spectacular views and is highly recommended. The most popular dunes to walk up are Dune 45 (80m), one of Sossusvlei’s most iconic dunes, and Big Daddy which at 325m is the highest dune in the area, boasting great views of Deadvlei. Better still; take to the skies on an unforgettable sunrise hot air balloon ride for breathtaking aerial views across the dunes.
Close to Sossusvlei, Deadvlei is a clay pan characterised by dark, dead camel thorn trees which stand in stark contrast against the white pan floor. The trees are estimated to have died 600-700 years ago; however they have not decomposed due to the dry climate and are now black because the intense sun has scorched them. Deadvlei is a paradise for photographers as the contrast between the pitch-black trees and bleached-white pans, and the rich-red dunes and deep-blue sky make for incredible images.
Black-backed jackal, springbok and ostrich all tip-toe across the dunes frequently, as well as oryx which can survive for weeks without drinking water. There are also many smaller creatures living in the desert such as the fascinating Tok Tokkie beetle, shovel-snouted lizard or Grant’s golden mole.
The Tsauchab River has shaped Sesriem Canyon over millions of years and it is one of the few places in the region that holds water all year round. The early Afrikaans explorers in the region named the canyon after the fact that they had to use six (‘ses’) leather straps (‘riem’) tied together to create a rope long enough to lower buckets into the canyon below, in order to fetch water. The canyon is 30 metres deep in places and only three kilometres long. You can explore the canyon on foot, admiring its stunning rock formations and cooling off in some of its refreshing pools along the way.
NamibRand Nature Reserve
NamibRand Nature Reserve is one of the largest private reserves in Namibia at almost 200,000 hectares. It is also an International Dark Sky Reserve (the first place in Africa to be given this title), boasting one of the darkest skies measured on Earth and offering unparalleled star-gazing. The nature reserve offers incredible contrasting scenery including red sand dune fields, purple granite mountains and grassy valleys.
The NamibRand experience is primarily about nature and landscapes rather than wildlife, but you are likely to see oryx, kudu, springbok and ostrich here. The best way to explore the reserve is by staying at one of the few luxury lodges located here or on a multi-day walking trip.