Probably the most iconic area of Namibia, Sossusvlei is a (normally) dry pan surrounded by the highest dunes in the Namib Desert, some over 300m tall and among the highest in the world. The rust-red dunes of bewildering variety of form are magnificent, and their colours particularly striking at sunrise and sunset. The dunes, pans and mountains – together with occasional acacia trees and wildlife such as gemsbok (oryx), ostrich and springbok – make this a photographer’s paradise. On very rare occasions after heavy rain, the Tsauchab River floods into Sossusvlei creating a temporary inland wetland to the excitement of wildlife, locals and visitors alike. The enormous dunes reflected in water are indeed a rare sight to behold.
Whilst visiting this area there is the opportunity to climb the 170m Dune 45, not only for the incredible views it offers but also the thrill of walking on sand which, 5 million years ago, made its way down the Orange River on the southern border of Namibia with South Africa to be deposited into the Atlantic Ocean. From there it gradually moved northwards with the Benguela Current, to be washed ashore with the pounding surf before being blown inland, creating the immense dune ‘sea’. The high iron content has meant that as time progressed, oxidisation turned the sand from a yellowish colour by the coast to the dramatic red of the ancient ‘rusted’ sand beneath your feet at Dune 45. Of course, this history continues with the dunes continually evolving with the shifting sand.
Other vleis (pans) in the area include !Nara Vlei, Hidden Vlei and Dead Vlei, with its ancient dead trees creating an eerie spectacle.