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What to do in Sossusvlei: An Adventure Through The Namib Desert

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Award-winning safari company, World Travel Awards
James Sales Travel Director
By James S 11 July 2018

Apart from the big game of Etosha National Park and the desert-adapted species of Damaraland, Namibia is not the most wildlife-rich destination. But the country has so much more to offer than game viewing, especially if you are an active traveller who can’t sit still. During my recent trip to Namibia, I spent three days in Sossusvlei, and although I might have only seen the odd oryx and jackal the visit was one of the highlights of my holiday and I wouldn’t have wanted to have spent any less time there!

Dune climbing: Big Daddy

Obviously the main attraction is the area’s enormous dunes, and spending a day in the dunescape was definitely one of the highlights of all my trips to Africa. We started early to make sure we were in the park before anyone else, heading to Big Daddy (Sossusvlei’s tallest dune) to start our climb before it got too hot. The climb typically takes an hour. It amounts to quite a tough workout, but it is worth it once you get to the top as the views are nothing short of exceptional – endless dunes and dead vlei below. For me, this was the best way to see the dunes, and nothing beats running down them at the end – you can’t not laugh the whole way down! Big Daddy is just as impressive from the ground, and the less fit can walk to the white clay pan known as Deadvlei (10–15 minutes on flat terrain) for photo opportunities that have generated screensavers on computers for years! 

Scenic drives and nature walks

That afternoon, as we had spent most of the day at the dunes, we went on a short excursion to Sesriem Canyon. This may not have been the highlight of the three days, but the area is certainly worth a visit. The canyon formed as a result of water carving its way through the earth for millions of years. It is approximately 3 kilometres long, and walking through it reveals all the distinct geographical layers created during its formation. Still incredible scenery, but hard to beat what I’d done in the morning!

Other activities that are very commonly offered in Sossusvlei are scenic drives and nature walks. The scenery here is stunning, and the dunes look like a mountain range on Mars – you could easily spend a lot of time just walking and appreciating the beauty of this area!

Explore on e-bikes

However, some of the local lodges provide other, more exciting ways to appreciate the scenery. For example, Kulala Desert Lodge has just introduced e-bikes. I wasn’t expecting anything big from this activity, as cycling a fat bike through a desert sounded like a lot of hard work, but the tiny motor on the bike really does have an impact! Very little effort got me to speeds of 40kph, and I was overtaking the hot air balloons above my head. What makes this activity so special is how quiet it is – you are exploring this incredible environment, and you don’t have the noise that comes with a car ruining it. Although you can get to fast speeds, you really can have a very peaceful experience – one that I would opt to do again in a heartbeat!

Quad biking across the desert

Kulala Desert Lodge’s more luxurious sister camp, Little Kulala, doesn’t offer the e-bikes, but it does give you the opportunity to quad bike through the reserve – I did this in the afternoon, after my e-bike. The quad bikes were the complete opposite of the e-bikes – there’s nothing peaceful about them in any way, but what fun! Noisy, fast, and dusty, they allowed us to cover huge distances, between various viewing points and through the dried-up river bed. After a short briefing and lesson, anyone can go quad biking, and the group is split up into different speeds – there is no reason not to do it at Little Kulala, and it is something you could really regret not doing!

Other activities: Hot air ballooning and stargazing

Another popular activity in Sossusvlei is ballooning, an extra available from pretty much every camp in the area. An early start gets you to the take-off spot in time to be in the air for sunrise, when you sail over the edge of the red dunes. The views are exceptional, and you get a full hour in the air followed by a champagne breakfast.

Finally, a real highlight for me was stargazing! Africa is known for having some of the best night skies, but nothing compares to what I saw in Namibia. Also, many of the guides are trained in astrology and they can show you the various stars, planets, and constellations. I really did learn a lot, and a 10 minute lesson quickly turned into an hour of learning the night sky with the aid of my guide and her laser pointer.

It really was a full-on three days in such a stunning area, and I could have quite easily spent another day relaxing in one of the camps appreciating the views. Sossusvlei is a destination for everyone, whether you want to take it slow and admire the scenery or try out a few of the activities mentioned above. It’s a unique destination in Africa, offering something very different from big game viewing – a must to any trip to Namibia!

If you’d like more information on planning a safari to Namibia, feel free to call us on 020 8547 2305 or send us an email at [email protected] 

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