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Sossusvlei (map) is the main attraction of the *Namib-Naukluft National Park. The word vlei is an Afrikaans word that means “pan” and Sossusvlei is a clay pan between large sand dunes. The name of the ‘town’ (i.e. petrol station) is Sesriem (map), also the name of a nearby canyon.

The Namib Desert is the oldest desert in the world and stretches over 1,500 km from the Orange River in the south into Angola in the north. There is a wide range of landscapes in the Namib, from gravel, to rocky mountains to huge dunes in varying colours of sand. The sandy part of the Namib is a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Namib Sand Sea.

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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.

Public transport

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 BUS >   –

 RAIL >   The national railway company of Namibia, TransNamib, operates trains (and buses) to destinations all over Namibia. The Desert Express is a luxury tourist train that traverses Namibia regularly, taking tourists to such destinations as Walvis Bay, Swakopmund and Etosha National Park.

 AIRPORTS >   Hosea Kutako International Airport, located 45 minutes east of Windhoek, is the main entry point for air traffic.