Posted by: Tommy | February 7, 2011


In Namibia, there are basically 2 places that everyone “must” go.  Well, three if you count Windhoek, the capital, but you only must go there because it’s where all the buses, trains and rental cars are.  The two places you really must go are Swakopmund and Sossusvlei.  Our adventures in Swakopmund are well documented – we had a great time there.

To get to Swakopmund is fairly easy – there are daily buses and trains that will take you from Windhoek.  But to get to Sossusvlei, you can either rent a car and drive yourself on terrible gravel roads for 5 hours each way or pay $500/person for a 3 day guided excursion.  We opted for “rent a car” and luckily found cool people in Swakopmund who wanted to share gas/car costs and ride with us to Sossusvlei.

After I returned from sandboarding, Lynn and Stijn joined us in the car and we drove to Solitaire.  We had half a tank of gas when we left…and then didn’t see another gas station for 200 miles.  When we finally got to Solitaire, our resting point for the night, we put 49 liters in the 50 liter tank.  Scary…we’ll now be following the gas rules we learned in Montana – fill up every time you see a station.

We camped that night at the Solitaire Game Farm (They loosely define Game Farm – they’ve got 1 Springbok (small antelope thing) and 1 oryx (which we never saw) – that’s their game) and woke the next morning at 4:30 to set out for Sossusvlei, about a 90 minute drive away.  We arrived at the Sossusvlei gate just as it opened at 6:15, so we were some of the first people in that day.  Sossusvlei is part of the Namib desert, one of the harshest environments on Earth.  We got up so early because you can’t stand to be in Sossusvlei after about 10:30 am – the sun heats the sand so much that it will burn your feet through your shoes.  Getting there at 6:15, however, kept the sand feeling cool between our toes.

It’s about an hour drive from the gate to the vlei so we set out immediately.  We stopped along the way at a popular attraction within the National Park – Dune 45.  We aren’t sure why it’s called that, but we are sure that it’s a worthy stop.  We were able to climb the side of the dune to the peak and take some amazing photos.  While Lynn, Stijn and Anna walked back down the path, I decided to run, roll and jump down the steep side of the dune. I determined that the best method of descent was to long jump – the angle of the dune allowed me to jump almost twice as far as normal, plus the extremely deep sand let you plunge in to your knees.

This is NOT a Microsoft background.

After Dune 45, we continued down the nicely paved road (after 5+ hours on terrible gravel roads, it was definitely worth celebrating the paved road) to the Sossusvlei parking lot.  From there, it’s a 5 km walk or shuttle ride (for $15/person) to the vlei.  We opted for the shuttle – it was hot and getting hotter by the minute.

When we got off the shuttle, I was a bit disappointed.  We’d made a ton of effort to get here – rented a car, almost ran out of gas getting to Solitaire, got up at 4:30 and drove 2 hours, paid another $15 each for the shuttle – and it was just some more dunes.  We could see dunes in Swakopmund.  But the driver explained that we had to walk over some more dunes, just follow the flattened path, and we’d reach the vlei.

This is what we saw when we crested the last dune:

The Dead Vlei

The Dead Vlei

We just stood and absorbed this amazing sight.  I know my photos don’t do it justice – it was like standing in a Dali painting (without the melting clocks).  It was like seeing an ice rink in the middle of a desert, but with Halloween-style trees coming out of the ice.  (the “ice” is actually salt)

After digesting this sight for 15 or so minutes, Stijn and I decided that we should climb the tallest dune around.  In retrospect, a terrible idea.  I was huffing and puffing by the time we’d climbed a quarter of the way.  At the halfway mark, I was using my hands to keep from falling backwards.  We both had to stop and breathe every few steps – it was hot and walking in sand is not very fun.  It took us about 20 minutes, but we made it to the summit.  Stijn took off immediately, counting to three and launching himself down the dune.  He got about 4 jumps down before I caught my breath.  Then, we tried to time our jumps to go together and hopefully get some cool pictures.  Here’s my favorite.

Dune jumping. Stijn in orange, Tommy in blue.

We jumped all the way to the bottom, with Anna and Lynn taking pictures the whole way.  Once we were down, we were all exhausted.  The sun was already heating the sand so much that shoes were a necessity.  It wouldn’t be long before shoes wouldn’t even keep the heat out.  We hiked back to the shuttle spot and caught a ride back to the car.  We were only at Sossusvlei for about an hour – but it was worth it.

Yeah, it was a giant pain for only an hour-long experience, but what an experience.  I’ve never seen another place so starkly beautiful – it’s easily one of the 5 most interesting and most beautiful places we’ve visited so far on this trip.  For more pictures of Sossusvlei, Swakopmund or other things in Namibia (a wonderful country), check out our Flickr here.


  1. Hope that picture of you two dune jumping is one you enlarge and frame — so joyful!

  2. […] for the entire day, so it qualifies. Tommy’s Top 5 Coolest Sites: Petra Ta Prohm Taj Mahal Sossusvlei Bethlehem Anna’s Top 5 Coolest Sites: Kremlin Pyramids Stations of the Cross Corrigidor […]

  3. […] Namibian Sand dunes – Sossusvlei is challenged only by the volcano of Mt. Yasur for the most surreal landscape of the trip. […]

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