Namib Desert & Surroundings
The entire western section of Namibia is comprised of the Namib Desert.
The Namib Desert
The Namib Desert is the oldest desert in the world and has been around for some 55 to 80 million years, remaining unchanged in its present form for the last 2 million years. The entire western section of Namibia is comprised of the Namib Desert, which spreads beyond the borders of Namibia and flows into southern Angola and the Northern Cape Province of South Africa. Only a small part of the park is accessible for visitors: the Naukluft Mountains, the Sossusvlei as well as some parts of the Kuiseb River. The huge protected area is about 500 km long and between 100 and 150 km wide. Here the highest dunes worldwide reach a height of up to 300 m. With ephemeral rivers flowing unexpectedly across an ancient landscape, its dunes, plains, rivers and a foggy coast have all become vital components to support an outstanding and fascinating array of bizarre desert flora and fauna.
Namib Naukluft Park
The Namib Naukluft Park is an ecologically protected area and proclaimed in August 1979. The Park has an area of 49,800 km² and at the time of proclamation, it was the largest protected area in Namibia capturing a sea of sand, as well as mountains, canyons and desert-adapted wildlife. The park borders the Atlantic Coast in the west taking up almost more of a quarter of the Namib Desert. It borders the Restricted Diamond Area in the south and the Dorob National Park in the north. In the northeast the Namib Naukluft Mountains, nearly 2000 m high form a part of the park. Although best known for its spectacular dunes, the Namib Naukluft Park offers so much more.
The Namib-Naukluft Park provides a sanctuary on a very grand scale to large mammals including black rhino (reintroduced to their former range in 2007 to mark the centenary of the park), Hartmann’s mountain zebra, giraffe, gemsbok, and springbok. Predators are under protection in the park such as the spotted and brown hyaena, jackal, caracal, leopard, and cheetah. There are over 200 bird species recorded; the Naukluft massif marks the southern-most range of many northern species such as Rüppell’s korhaan parrot, rosy-faced lovebirds, and Monteiro’s hornbills. Mountain pools provide habitat for species not usually associated with a desert, such as African black ducks and hamerkop. The park is also noteworthy as a sanctuary for raptors such as black eagle, black-breasted snake-eagle, booted eagle, and lanner falcon.
Located in the heart of the Namib Naukluft Park, is one of Namibia’s most visited attraction. Find perspective and experience the tranquillity and isolated beauty of the Namib Desert. The distinctive landscape of subtle shifting burned orange and apricot coloured dunes, fashioned by the wind, towering above the desert floor will seduce any visitor and is a must see. Sossusvlei itself is a salt and clay pan encircled by sand dunes, but the name has now come to refer to the surrounding area, which includes other pans and dunes. To experience the full magnitude of this ancient 32000 km² sand, one must climb the dunes.
To enter Sossusvlei you need to buy a permit into the Namib-Naukluft National Park, and your visit is limited to the opening hours of the gates, which opens at sunrise and closes at sunset. The best times to explore Sossusvlei are in the early morning and late afternoon, when the sun is not so harsh, and the golden light makes the desert glow. The opening and closing hours depend on the season, winter, or summer. Bear in mind that it is a 60 km drive from the parking area of Sossusvlei to the gate, so leave enough time in the afternoon to drive back before the gate closes. If you want extra time before sunrise and after sunset, you can opt to stay at the state-owned campsite or lodge situated inside the park.
There are plenty of other lodging options near to the entrance of Sossusvlei in the tiny village of Sesriem and just a short drive away: take your pick from well-maintained campsites with all the amenities you would need to high-end luxury lodges set on private reserves.
The Sossusvlei is an experience read about in many travel reports, but you have to experience it first hand to understand the beauty of the place.
Close to the Sossusvlei lies the just as impressive Dead Vlei. The Vlei is cut-off from the Tsauchab River by a large sand dune. A large amount of dead camelthorn trees is preserved by the extreme dry climate, which prohibiting the trees from decay. At the edge of the Dead Vlei, one can climb the ‘Big Daddy’ also called the ‘Crazy Dune’, which is assumed the highest sand dune in the world.
This giant dune is the most accessible as an access road has been pushed across the valley floor to its base. Dozens of people are plodding up and down from its 170 m summit especially around sunrise and sunset. From the summit, it almost seems possible to see the cold Atlantic in the distance. At 325 m, it is the largest dune in the area and provides unparalleled views across the desert landscape rewarding you with the panoramic view of the haunting, spectacular Deadvlei. It is advisable to arrive in early morning hours when attempting to climb the dune as it takes 1.5 to 2 hours and is extremely strenuous. The effort rewarded with one of the most incredible views! Running down is fun and fast!
Sesriem is the small settlement known because the ‘Sesriem gate’ the main access point to Sossusvlei. It derives its name from the time when earlier pioneers tied six lengths of rawhide thongs (riem) together to draw water from the pools. Located just 4 km inside the gate at Sesriem is the subterranean wonder, the Sesriem Canyon. Some 30 m deep, the Tsauchab River carved this narrow crater out of the 15-million-year-old golden sand and conglomerate rocks. With plenty of shade and some natural swimming pools during some parts of the year, the canyon is always an extraordinary place to beat the heat of the midday. Enjoy small caves and strange looking rock formations.
Self-Drive tourists will most probably drive through Solitaire, a small, but very nice desert town. It is about 83 km away from Sesriem and used as a stopover en-route to or from Sesriem and Sossusvlei Solitaire merely consists of a filling station, a shop, a chapel, and a bakery with a café. Well known for its apple cake, this café is arguably the best in the whole of Namibia. First thing to catch the visitor’s attention when arriving at Solitaire is the abundance of car wrecks which picturesquely drape alongside the road. A lodge and a campsite complete Solitaire.
Tok Tokkie Hiking Trail
Another option to explore the Namib Rand Nature Reserve is an easy to do 3 day guided hike, the famous Tok-Tokkie Trail. This guided hike designed for walkers who prefer to experience the desert at a leisurely pace with the emphasis being on quality time with your guide, who will take time to explain the intricacies of the desert fauna and flora. It is a comfortable outdoor camp with delicious prepared meals. The starting point is close to the dunes at Sossusvlei, so spending a night at one of the nearby lodges is advisable. All is needed to bring is your hiking boots, the rest is supplied.
Scenic Flight Activities
A trip to the Namib Naukluft Park is not complete without an epic view from the sky. Weather permitting ballooning over the Namib Desert is one of the most tranquillizing adventures. Fetching you from your accommodation, this trip starts at Sesriem, lasting about an hour after which you can indulge in a champagne breakfast.
The recommended alternative is a scenic flight in a Cessna 210 departing from Sossusvlei airstrip. The flights operated by Desert Air, www.desertair.com.na offering different routes over Sossusvlei and the coast, taking you over the vast landscapes at heights varying from a few hundred feet to several thousand bringing you the most awe inspiring photographic opportunities.
Never stop exploring, your next adventure is one click away.