Dead Vlei is a clay pan deep in the Namib Desert, sitting alongside the Sossusvlei sand dunes. Both are located inside the Namib Naukluft Park, a 35-minute flight or 5-hour drive from Windhoek. Aditya Mowgli Shah stopped there on his overland expedition through Southern Africa to discover its beauty for himself. Here are his five tips:
Photos: Aditya Mowgli Shah
1. The Sossusvlei Dunes are amongst the highest in the world! Big Daddy, its highest peak, towers at 325m above the salt pan. We climbed the popular Dune 45 which is 85m high. Climbing it is a serious challenge – it takes approximately an hour under a scorching sun. Each footstep sinks you more than ankle deep into silky soft sand. I recommend climbing barefoot; the sand feels really cold and it is almost therapeutic. Shoes will weigh you down anyway and slippers will cause blisters. Running back down the side of the dune, which takes around 5 minutes, is simply exhilarating.
2. Breathtaking desert landscapes with nothing around for miles but sand, rocks, dunes and the occasional tree. The sunrise over the dunes is incredible too, a kaleidoscope of shifting colours and shadows. You can only catch it if you stay overnight inside the park so book early as spaces tend to fill up fast.
3. Dead Vlei was formed when the Tsauchab River which flowed into the park allowed the camel thorn trees to thrive. Encroaching sand dunes cut off the river and with a climate too dry for decomposition, the trees were scorched black by the sun to create this surreal and timeless landscape. We experienced a sandstorm; the sand was very fine and it got everywhere. Carry a ziplock bag to protect your phone and camera- I didn’t and my phone has never been the same since.
4. The contrast between the bleached white salt pans, red of the dunes, black of the trees and orange trails of windswept sand make for incredible images of this barren forest. Truly a photographer’s paradise, and a wide angle lens is essential.
5. A wide variety of accommodation options are available ranging from campsites to luxury lodges. The entrance fee for non-residents is currently 80 Namibian dollars (approximately Ksh 600) per day. Activities include balloon safaris, guided walks, 4×4 safaris and star gazing. The best time to visit is between March and May (Autumn), followed by between May and August (Winter). October to February (Summer) can get excessively hot.