The Sossusvlei area belongs to a wider region of southern Namib with homogeneous features (about 32.000 km²) extending between rivers Koichab and Kuiseb. This area is characterized by high sand dunes of vivid pink-to-orange color, a consequence of a high percentage of iron in the sand and consequent oxidation processes. The oldest dunes are those of a more intense reddish color. These dunes are among the highest in the world; many of them are above 200 metres, the highest being the one nicknamed Big Daddy, about 380 metres high.
Traces in the sand, left by insects and other small animals
The highest and more stable dunes are partially covered with a relatively rich vegetation, which is mainly watered by a number of underground and ephemeral rivers that seasonally flood the pans, creating marshes that are locally known as vlei; when dry, these pans look almost white in color, due to the high concentration of salt. Another relevant source of water for Sossusvlei is the humidity brought by the daily morning fogs that enter the desert from the Atlantic Ocean.
Fauna in the Sossusvlei area is relatively rich. It mostly comprises small animals that can survive with little water, including a number of arthropods, small reptiles and small mammalians such as rodents or jackals); bigger animals include antelopes (mainly oryxes and springboks) and ostrichs. During the flood season, several migrant bird species appear along the marshes and rivers. Much of the Sossusvlei and Namib fauna is endemic and highly adapted to the specific features of the Namib. Most notably, fog beetles such as the Namib Desert Beetle have developed a technique for collecting water from early morning fogs through the bumps in their back.
Sossusvlei is about 66 km past the Sesriem gate. The last 6 km can only be traversed with 4WD vehicles as the concrete road ends and sand begins (the place where the concrete road ends is known as “2×4 parking” as any non-4WD vehicle must stop there). Sossusvlei is a clay pan, of roughly elliptical shape, covered in a crust of salt-rich sand. While the pan has been shaped over time by the Tsauchab river, the actual flooding of the pan is a relatively rare event, and sometimes several years pass between one flood and the next one. The river is dry most of the year, and even when it is not, it carries relatively little water to the vlei. The vlei is surrounded by high orange-reddish dunes, partially covered by a vegetation comprising grass, bushes, and some tree .
Deadvlei is another clay pan, about 2 km from Sossusvlei. A notable feature of Deadvlei is that it used to be an oasis with several acacia trees; afterwards, the river that watered the oasis changed its course. The pan is thus punctuated by blackened, dead acacia trees, in vivid contrast to the shiny white of the salty floor of the pan and the intense orange of the dunes. This creates a particularly fascinating and surrealistic landscape, that appears in uncountable pictures and that has been used as a setting for films and videos.
Since Sossusvlei is possibly the foremost attraction of Namibia, much has been done by the Namibian authorities to support and facilitate tourism in the area. The concrete road has been built in early 2000s (decade) to connect Sesriem and Sossusvlei’s 2×4 parking is one of the very few non-urban concrete roads in Namibia. Several accommodation structures are found along the border of the National Park, between Sesriem and the nearest settlement, Solitaire. Recently, structures have been built inside the park as well (that is, past Sesriem’s gates). All tour operators and travel agencies in Namibia, including those of Windhoek, offer trips to Sossusvlei. Some also organize scenic flights over the dunes, either with small planes (mainly from Swakopmund andWalvis Bay) or in hot air balloons (departing from Sesriem in the morning).