Is Sossusvlei a rightful namibian highlight?
Every country has its touristical highlights and although they don't become so popular without a reason, their fame sometimes grows so big, that the actual experience doesn't live up to the expectations...
We were so eager to visit the magical dunes at Sossusvlei and deadvlei in Namibia, that we did worry about getting disappointed. Was it going to be overcrowded? Too touristy? Fake? Not what we expected at all?
On the contrary, it was better than we expected, more beautiful than we had imagined and as authentic as it should be!
The best tip we could give you is to take your time here and maybe book an extra night. (you'll thank us later)!
Really, don't rush it. There's more to see than Big Daddy and Deadvlei. You'll want to witness a sunrise or a sunset (actually you'll want to experience both on multiple spots, but one has to compromise sometimes ;))
The first thing we did when we arrived at the park, was visit the Sesriem Canyon (Technically the first thing I did, was freak out about our camping spot, but that's a whole other story that might appear on the blog one day!)
So back to this natural canyon. It was carved out by the Tsauchab river a long time ago and is very accessible. To get there, you enter through gate N°1 (where you register your car and pay your total of days when you leave), you turn left immediately (if you pass the second gate to go to Sossusvlei you're too far) and follow the wide dirt road up to the parking lot. You're now standing next to the canyon!
Take a peek down into the canyon (if you're not afraid of heights) and then follow the small path down to access it.
The hike inside the canyon is not long, nor difficult, so it would be a shame to leave it unexplored as it is quite nice!
Upon our check in at the Sesriem Camp Site, we received a map of the park and some advice about where to watch the sunset or sunrise. We decided to trust the word of the locals, so once the sun began to set, we got out of the canyon and drove up to Elim Dune.
Have you ever hiked up a dune? Man it's hard! It's a 1 step forward, 3 steps back kind of game. The sand is so soft that you keep sliding away. The top might not seem that far, but I can assure you, it takes forever to actually reach it. Up to the point where you think you'll never make it in time.
There were quite a few huffs and puffs involved from my side, but the struggle was quickly forgotten once I finally reached our chosen viewpoint (well in time, mind you)!
Then we waited for the magic to happen...and got our socks knocked off by an incredible african sunset.
Just make sure you're out of the park by 19h, because that's when they close the gate.
Now if you're a guest at one of the facilities inside the park (check), you can enter the park gate (N°2) and start chasing the sunrise from as early as 5:15, allowing you to actually climb Dune 45 (a popular sunrise spot) or drive even further to capture it. The people who sleep outside of the park have to wait untill 6:15 and therefore will never make it in time.
But make no mistake, even if you sleep inside the park you have to hurry, because despite the impeccable tarmac road, it takes you more than half an hour to get to Dune 45 (located 45 km from gate N°2) and in no more than a few minutes, the sun rises and you're too late...
More and more people started to roll in and tables were set at the foot of Dune 45 to serve tourist groups their breakfast. Our cue to leave and try to discover deadvlei before the big crowd did.
It took us another 20 km of paved road to get to the final parking lot. People driving a 2x4 vehicle need to leave it here and (for a small price) hop on to one of the guided trucks. Those who drive a 4x4 car can either do the same or go on a little adventure and drive the last 5 km up to Deadvlei themselves.
How often do you get the chance to drive in the desert? Buckle up, we're going in! Off we went, in low gear (upon advise). This was going great! How exciting! We took a bend and OH MY GOD how deep is this sand? Hesitating if we should go left or right we slowed down and...got stuck!
Our trustworthy Toyota refused to move an inch. Forwards, backwards, it was no use. Time to start digging...if we could only get that shovel off the car. After a furious fight with the damn thing, we started to clear the tires. Soon one of the guided trucks stopped and the driver came over to help. He was friendly, but I can't help the feeling that he was a little frustrated too. They probably get to deal with stubborn, unexpierenced 4x4 drivers like us every day :D!
He suggested to leave our car behind and take his taxi, or, if we really wanted to proceed, to hit the gas! Before we knew it, we were blazing through those final kms, looking straight ahead of us (missing out on all the surroundings), dodging the deepest parts, screaming 'left!' or 'right!' to each other and holding that foot on the gas no matter what!
And without getting stuck again, we made it to Deadvlei. We parked our car and full of adrenaline we rushed over to the dunes. Enough time wasted. ;)
You don't have to climb over a dune to get to Deadvlei, but the view from above, overlooking the entire clay pan is really worth the effort! (unless you arrive there at noon, then it might be too hot)!
Another fun thing about going up is that you'll have to go down at one point. No, not the same way you came! Simply take off those shoes and run down! Its extremely fun, fast and efficient!
The Tsauchab river used to run nearby and when flooded, it made this area fertile enough for camel thorn trees to grow. Beautiful as the dunes surrounding the pan may be, they are responsible for cutting off the pan from its water supply and thus leaving the trees to die. The dry climate has kept them from decomposing so far (they're estimated to be about 900 years old).
The combination of the red sand dunes, the white clay pan, the pitck dark trees and the deep blue sky, make for a photographer's paradise.
Nevertheless we were happy to have some clouds drifting in, because the heat was building up!
Dry as a bone....and yet there is still life here in the desert.
No further than the other side of the dune, there were even some of those camel thorn trees flourishing, offering a bit of shade to the Oryx roaming around the area.
How was it possible that these trees got to keep their leaves? Have a look at Bernd's gallery (here) and learn how clever nature truly is.
We didn't want to leave, but there was another adventurous 5km bumpy sandroad back awaiting us with possible delays and the entire drive back to the gate.
We slept outside of the park the second night and left for our next destination in the morning, but would we have known what we know now, after the entire trip, we would have opted for at least an extra day at Sossusvlei. We would have had the time to pull over wherever we liked, maybe catch a sunset in the canyon, climb Elim Dune by day, head back over to Deadvlei without so much stress, actually enjoy the short 4x4 experience and get to witness the beauty around us, .... the options are endless!
So yeah...take your time here, or regret it later ;).