The Namib Desert is a desert in Namibia which forms
part of the Namib-Naukluft National Park. The name "Namib"
is of Nama origin.
The desert occupies an area of around 80 900 km² (31 200 square
miles), stretching about 1000 miles (1,600 km) along the Atlantic
Ocean coast of Namibia.
Its east-west width varies from 30 to 100 miles (50-160 km). The
Namib Desert also reaches into southwest Angola.
It is considered to be the oldest desert in the world after the
Atacama Desert in Chile. The Namib's aridity is caused by the descent
of dry air cooled by the cold Benguela current along the coast.
It has less than 10 mm (0.4 inches) of rain annually and is almost
The Namib Naukluft Park is Namibia's largest nature
reserve, about 50,000 sqkms in size. Most parts of this enormous
area are not accessible to man. You can only visit a small stretch
north of the Kuiseb river: the Naukluft Mountains and the Sossusvlei
in the central dune fields.
The northern part between Swakop and Kuiseb is called the Namib
The highlight of a visit to the Namib Naukluft
Park is a trip to the Sossusvlei. It lies within
an area of about 32 000 sqkms, the largest part of the park. Sossusvlei
is the one attraction that should not be missed while you are in
Namibia, the dunes are amazing and even though this is a popular
tourist destination it is still easy to gain a sense of solitude
while climbing one of the dunes or walking to dead or hidden vlei.
The sand-dunes at Sossusvlei are some 60km from the Sesriem gate
(the entrance to the park) and the drive takes about an hour. The
gate into Sesriem only opens at sunrise, so those staying outside
of the park (which includes all
the lodges in the area with the exception of Sossus
Dune Lodge) will have to wait until sunrise to begin their journey
to the dunes. Many of the lodges outside the Sesreim gate however
have access to private areas of spectacular desert where they will
take you for the Namib Sunrise experience.
Although the road into Sossusvlei is renowned
for its rough condition it is traversable with a normal sedan vehicle
(two wheel drive). The road from Sesriem to the 2x4 car park (4
kilometres from the vlei) is tarred but is in poor condition and
is pot-holed. Because the dunes close in and the road becomes a
sandy track near the vlei itself, if you do not have your own 4x4
you will have to walk the final stretch from the 2X4 parking area
to the vlei - many people do - or use the 4x4 transfer service.
The best time to view Sossusvlei is close to sunrise
and sunset; the colours are strong and constantly changing, allowing
for wonderful photographic opportunities. The midday heat is intense
and best spent in the shade while sunset also offers excellent photo
opportunities at Sossusvlei.
'Vlei' is the Afrikaans word for a shallow depression filled with
water (well, a depression that might sometimes be filled with water!),
and the name 'Sossusvlei' should strictly only be applied to the
pan that lies at the place where the dunes close in, preventing
the waters of the Tsauchab River from flowing any further - that
is, on the rare occasions that the river does flow as far as this.
During exceptional rainy seasons, Sossusvlei may fill with water,
causing Namibians to flock there to witness the grand sight, but
normally it is bone dry. This particular 'vlei' is actually a more-or-less
circular, hard-surfaced depression that is almost entirely surrounded
by sharp-edged dunes, beyond which lies a formidable sea of rolling
sand, stretching in unbroken immensity all the way to the coast.
However, the name 'Sossusvlei' nowdays applies to the whole area
- an area that encompasses the great plain of the Tsauchab River
together with the red dunes that march along like giant sentinels
to south and north of the plain.
The second attraction of the area is Sesriem Canyon,
which is only a few kilometres from the campsite, the entrance gate,
and main Nature Conservation office.
The canyon derives its name from the fact that early Afrikaner trekkers
had to use six ('ses') leather thongs (a thong is a 'riem') so that
their buckets could reach the water far below. The canyon begins
as an almost imperceptible but nevertheless deep cleft in level,
stony ground, and then widens until it finally flattens out onto
the plain. Because it is so deep and sheltered, it often holds water
well into the dry season - an invigorating sight in such a barren
and stark environment.
Map of Namib Naukluft area showing accommodation locations
Click on lodge name for more information
A number of unusual species of plants and animals are found only
in this desert. One of these is Welwitschia mirabilis, one of the
most unusual species.
Welwitschia is a shrub-like plant, but grows just two long strap-shaped
leaves continuously throughout its lifetime. These leaves may be
several meters long, gnarled and twisted from the desert winds.
The taproot of the plant develops into a flat, concave disc in age.
Welwitschia is notable for its survival in the extremely arid conditions
in the Namib, sometimes deriving moisture from the coastal sea fogs.
Although the desert is largely unpopulated and inaccessible, there
are year-round settlements at Sesriem, close to the famous Sossusvlei
and a huge group of sand dunes, which at more than 300 meters high
are among the tallest sand dunes in the world. The complexity and
regularity of dune patterns in its dune sea have attracted the attention
of geologists for decades. They still remain poorly understood.
The interaction between the water-laden air coming from the sea
via southerly winds, some of the strongest of any coastal desert,
and the dry air of the desert causes immense fogs and strong currents,
causing sailors to lose their way.
Along with the Skeleton Coast further north, it is notorious as
the site of many shipwrecks. Some of these wrecked ships can be
found as much as 50 metres inland, as the desert slowly moves westwards
into the sea, reclaiming land over a period of many years.
The C14 also leads from Walvis Bay through the Namib Naukluft Park
and provides stunning vistas of landscapes of huge mountain massifs
and gravel plains covered in desert ink. After passing the sandy
riverbed of the Kuiseb, you exit the park.
From there the road ascends steeply to the Kuiseb Pass and then
branches out. To the left the C26 leads to the Gamsberg Pass and
further on to Windhoek. On the right the C14 goes to Solitaire and
from there, it's the C19 to Sesriem or straight on into the Naukluft
Mountains. Both destinations are part of the Namib Naukluft Park.
The scenery in the entire area is overwhelmingly beautiful.
The Naukluft Mountains with their rugged rock
massifs and deeply incised riverbeds rise up to 1000 metres above
the surrounding area. The highest peak reaches 1949 m. The mountains
are a hiker's paradise. You will find quite strenuous as well as
easy trails. The entrance gate to the Naukluft Section lies on the
D854 Pad, which turns of the C14.
The Naukluft Mountain section of the park was initially created
as a sanctuary for the Hartmann's mountain zebra. The mountainous
area is extremely beautiful as well as having an interesting history.
The Naukluft Mountains were the base of Hendrik Witbooi, an important
player in the history of Namibia, who terrorized the German Colonizers
from his well protected mountain strongholds. Hendrik is now fondly
remembered and his portrait can be found on all the Namibian bank
The Naukluft offers hikers two hiking options:
Waterkloof Trail (17 km): It takes 6 to 8 hours
and can be done all year round.
The Waterkloof Trail starts at the Naukluft parking lot and is not
guided. With a bit of luck you'll encounter Mountain Zebra, Baboons,
Oryx and Springbok.
Olive Trail (10 Km): This hike takes 4 to 5 hours
and can also be done all year (just follow the yellow footprints).
The fee for the hike is included in the camping price.