Sossusvlei One of the most photogenic landscapes on earth is situated on the West coast of Africa, where towering mountains meet the sands of the Namib Desert. Most know it as Sossusvlei or Deadvlei, but those are both just small clay pans in the greater Tsauchab Dune Valley, which is part of the Namib Naukluft National Park. The area within the park that is so famous is the valley that the Tsauchab River cut through the colossal dunes on its journey to the Atlantic. Many millennia ago, the dunes blocked this river’s path to the sea and today the result is a wetland amongst the world’s highest dunes. This culmination of geographic and meteorological circumstances has resulted in one of earth’s most unique and interesting landscapes. It is the last life of a landscape, dying a slow death on a timescale much too large for us to appreciate. Photographer or not, thousands of people make the journey every year to see and photograph the dunes and dead trees. If you visit this popular tourist attraction at the wrong time it can spell disaster for photographic intentions. Choosing the right accommodation is crucial, a lesson I’ve learnt over almost 250 days spent in Namibia since 2010. The critical insider tips shared in this guide will go a long way in aiding you to get your own brilliant photographs of Sossusvlei and its surroundings.
If you go halfway across the world to visit this location, don’t just go for two or three days. This park offers so many different shots and it takes a while to understand how the play of light and weather works in this special location. It has taken me many visits over nearly 20 trips to get all the photos that I have. Every day you spend there will be a lot more productive than the previous ones as you get to know the place. The most popular method of travelling through Namibia is to rent a 4×4 vehicle that is well equipped for camping. If you’re doing this and you’re on a budget, then stay at the campsite (mentioned under travel tips) for a couple of days while getting to know the place. Then book the lodge for the last couple of nights in order to gain better access hours to the park. Sossusvlei is an exhausting destination and your body will appreciate a decent bed after a few days of shooting in the sand and dust. The most special element of Deadvlei is the silence, but as it gets more tourists every year, the silence is becoming increasingly difficult to experience. Due to the extreme afternoon heat, Deadvlei is usually empty in the afternoons, so if you want to experience this place at it’s best (alone and silent) then brave the heat and visit in the afternoon.
Choosing the right month of the year to visit Sossusvlei is of utmost importance – peak season is May-August and the place is totally overrun during those months. Don’t even think about enjoying the silence of Deadvlei as it simply won’t happen. From November to February the temperature rises to 45 degrees centigrade on most days, so those are also months to avoid. The best time to go is March and April, when tourism traffic is still low. It is also the months that one is most likely to see plenty of cloud and perhaps even some green grass amongst the dunes in a good rain-year. Accommodation Choosing the right accommodation is even more important. If you stay outside the park, you’ll only be able to enter at sunrise and you’ll have to be out at sunset. Once you’re inside the park gate, reaching Deadvlei requires a 60-minute drive and then a 30-minute hike. Do the math and you’ll realize that you won’t even be able to shoot golden hour in Deadvlei. This is a nasty tactic devised by the park authorities to give their own accommodation facilities a competitive edge. Camping One way to get better access is to camp at the NWR Sesriem campsite, situated just within the park gate. Guests of this campsite are subject to another inner gate, which opens an hour before sunrise and closes an hour after sunset. This gives you more time, but there’s an even better option. Hotel/Lodge The NWR Sossus Dunes Lodge is situated about 3km into the park and its guests aren’t subject to any gate. There are only poorly enforced earliest departure and latest arrival times for guests of the lodge. In the mornings they usually allow guests to leave the lodge 90 minutes before sunrise, but you can push your luck to two hours. This will give you enough time to reach Deadvlei well within blue hour. In the evenings the rule is usually also 90 minutes, but you can again push your luck a bit and see how the lodge responds. If they are friendly, push your luck a bit more the next night. If you get in trouble, rather not test their patience as you might get fined.