Sossusvlei is a mud pan created by the Tsauchab River that flows through the Namib every 5 to 10 years. Even in very wet years it does not reach the Atlantic Ocean but gets blocked by sand dunes, and then slowly evaporates. The clay that the Tsauchab deposits has created Sossusvlei and, centuries ago with a different river course, the Dead Vlei. Sossus means “place of no return” (note: there are other explanations, this is the one given by local guides), and a vlei is Afrikaans for ‘clay pan’.
The mud from the river stacks up at Sossusvlei and after some 1000 years the river searches its way through the next row of dunes. This is how the place called Dead Vlei (map) was created, here the river used to drain away many years ago. Because of the lack of water all the trees in this valley have died, so the meaning of “Dead Vlei” becomes clear.
What makes the sight of the Dead Vlei so remarkable is that there is not even moisture enough for normal decomposition to occur. So all the trees here, though dead, have been nearly perfectly preserved for centuries.
Sossusvlei is inside Namib-Naukluft National Park so a permit is required to enter. Permits can be purchased at the park office just inside the gate at Sesriem (map).
The road from the accommodations in Sesriem to Sossusvlei is 65 km and tarred for all but the last 5 km. The road is well maintained, and driving is easy.
Numerous places of accommodation are found along the border of the National Park, between Sesriem and the nearest settlement, Solitaire.