The coastal desert "Namib" in Southern Africa is often referred to as the world's oldest desert and it stretches for more than 2,000 kilometers along the Atlantic coasts of Angola, Namibia and South Africa. In the heart of the Namib the Namib-Naukluft National Park is located, the largest game park in Africa and the fourth largest park in the world. The most famous and scenic attractions of the park are the red sand dunes at Sossusvlei, which are the tallest sand dunes in the world with an altitude up to 300 meters. "Sossus" is from Bushman and Nama origin for "gathering place of water", while "Vlei" is the Afrikaans word for a shallow depression filled with water. Basically "Sossusvlei" is only the name of the huge clay pan covered in a crust of salt-rich sand. But the name is also commonly used in an extended meaning to refer to the surrounding area of the high red dunes and the famous neighboring Dead Vlei. The clay pan itself is only filled with water after a heavy rainfall, which is a rare event in this area, in average every ten years.
The best time to visit Sossusvlei and the sand dunes is early in the morning at sunrise, the red color of the sand is very strong and bright, allowing wonderful photographic opportunities. The sand dunes of Sossusvlei are about 66km past the gate, which is located in the small settlement Sesriem, a main access point to the Namib-Naukluft National Park. The gate to Sossusvlei opens at 5:00 in the morning. Since there are no accommodation facilities directly at the dunes, you have to stay in one of the lodges or camps around Sesriem. From the gate the drive to the sand dunes takes about an hour. You are certainly not the only visitor, so be sure to expect other cars or trucks waiting at the gate, especially in the high season around July to October. 45 km past the gate the Dune 45 is situated, also known as one of the most photographed dunes in the world. The dune is 80 meters high and it is not very steep, so that it can easily be climbed. If you start at 5:00 at the gate, you have all the time to reach the dune and climb up the dune before sunrise.