Deadvlei is far more impressive than Sossusvlei – Here’s why

Dead camel thorn tree with golden sand dune in the background

Deadvlei is one of Africa’s most spectacular destinations. Except most people haven’t heard of Deadvlei.

Sossusvlei is the famous destination in Namibia’s desert yet it is not nearly as impressive. Many people visit Namibia on the basis of a few incredible desert images. Those incredible desert images are usually of Deadvlei, not Sossusvlei.

This short article will show you why Deadvlei is Namibia’s ultimate desert destination, as well as how to plan a trip to Deadvlei.

Deadvlei is Remarkable

Young man taking a picture of a dead tree in Deadvlei area, Namibia

Dead camel thorn trees stand on an ancient clay bed, like sentinels to a forgotten time, their ashen frames casting shadows across the white dust.

These tree skeletons are lost in the middle of the Namib Desert, on a clay pan riveted by the ancient remains of old river channels.

Sand dunes rise majestically and glow orange in the sunrise light. They change hue through the day, meandering through reds and yellows before turning to silhouette at dusk.

There is a sense of enormity, complemented by a feeling that this landscape is ever-changing, as the wind shifts the sand on and on and on.

Photos cannot do justice to Deadvlei. Yes, they can show these ancient camel thorn trees and spectacular dunes. But photos can never prepare you for the size of Deadvlei.

The dead trees dwarf people. The sand dunes appear to dwarf an entire desert. It takes two to three hours to walk up the highest dune. When leaving Deadvlei it takes ten seconds just to pour the sand out of your shoes.

Deadvlei is not just a place of magnificence. It’s a place on a scale beyond the imagination, surrounded by some of the tallest sand dunes on the planet.

What about Sossusvlei?

Sossusvlei is a large clay bed surrounded by relatively small sand dunes. It is famous for an annual flood. When storms thrash the desert the water siphons into Sossusvlei, creating an ephemeral scene of abundance.

African animals come to drink, including desert-adapted elephants and a rich variety of birdlife. It’s a piece of desert magic and a remarkable sight.

Unfortunately, Sossusvlei only usually floods once a year. It’s impossible to time a visit that coincides with this flooding. You need a lot of good fortune to be in Sossusvlei at the perfect time.

Some people are in the Namib Desert at the right time to see Sossusvlei. But the desert turns to swamp and they cannot reach this place of abundance. Elephants can march across water but most vehicles can’t!

The good news is that you can visit Deadvlei and Sossusvlei on the same excursion. The two pans are only separated by a slither of desert so planning a trip is easy.

Planning a Deadvlei Experience

Deadvlei clay pan in black and white

Where is Deadvlei?

Deadvlei is a clay pan located in Namibia’s Namib-Naukluft National Park. This is the largest national park in Africa so you will need some better directions. Here is a complete guide to the Namib Desert and all its different destinations.

Both Deadvlei and Sossusvlei are located in the area of Sesriem, one of the desert’s most accessible locations. Sesriem is home to a large number of camps and lodges, although you will not see them all because most these camps hide behind sand dunes.

Getting to Deadvlei

Road sign to the Deadvlei in Namibia

Sesriem is about six hours from Windhoek if you have a four-wheel drive vehicle. None of the roads are sealed and the final stretch to Sesriem is joint-jerking chaos. Don’t be fooled by the pretty photos – getting to Deadvlei is time-consuming, sweaty, uncomfortable, and a wonderful adventure.

Africa Freak is all about connecting people to their wild side and you can enjoy a wonderful sense of freedom on a Deadvlei expedition.

Almost everyone stays close to Sesriem. Although you can erect a tent just about anywhere, it’s best to stay at one of the campsites.

Visiting Deadvlei is best at sunrise or sunset. Most people choose sunrise. The drive from Sesriem to Deadvlei takes about one hour and is only possible in a solid four-wheel drive vehicle (not one of those vehicles that claim four-wheel drive capabilities but are designed for the city). You will need to cross dunes and thick sand.

Most camps offer transfers and tours to Deadvlei and Sossusvlei so you can still go if you don’t have a suitable vehicle.

Take some thick clothes for the drive as it is very cold in the desert before sunrise. Pack a lot of water (minimum of three litres per person), a good sun hat, plus a shawl or something to cover your body from the sun.

Planning your time in Deadvlei

Deadvlei at dusk in Namibia

For sunrise trips you will need to leave Sesriem in the dark. Aim to be at Deadvlei by first light, so you can climb the first dune for sunrise, then keep climbing to the highest dune if you wish.

Ascending some of the world’s highest dunes is really tough. So it’s best to do the dunes before the pan and trees. Plus, you can get an incredible desert view that’s best at sunrise, before the sun bleaches the landscape.

After a dune or two you can come down onto the clay pan and wander around the dead trees, as well as take some iconic photos. Then it’s a quick walk to Sossusvlei. Be warned, after Deadvlei you might find Sossusvlei to be an anticlimax.

The early afternoon heat is insatiable so aim to be back at camp before midday.

Switch this itinerary for an afternoon excursion. Go to Sossusvlei first then explore the Deadvlei pan. As the heat fades you can climb the first dune for sunset.

Be cautious about climbing all the way up the highest dune for sunset. Most people don’t give themselves enough time, so they don’t make the summit before sunset anyway.

Plus, people underestimate how long it takes to get down and they stay on the summit after sunset. Getting down in the dark is dangerous, especially in such an unforgiving desert.

If you only climb the first dune, closest to where vehicles can park, you can stay up for sunset and quickly get down before the light fades away.

Experiencing More of Namibia

An early morning, on the way to Sossusvlei

Deadvlei is just one of Namibia’s magnificent natural attractions. The entire country is a natural art gallery, from desert dunes to ancient canyons and wandering rhinos.

This guide to Namibia safaris will talk you through all the destinations, as well as route planning and when to go. One popular option is to combine Deadvlei with a trip to Fish River Canyon.

Remember, the Namib Desert is one of the world’s great wildernesses. So treat Deadvlei as an expedition, rather than a sight to see.

Nobody who visits leaves disappointed. Just to step around the ancient trees is one of Africa’s greatest travel highlights.

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