Sossusvlei, Namibia - Unique Places in Africa

The white salt pans contrast sharply from the surrounding sand dunes.
The white salt pans contrast sharply from the surrounding sand dunes.

Sossusvlei, Namibia is among the most unique tourist destinations in the world.

5. What and Where Is Sossusvlei?

Sossusvlei, sometimes written as Sossus Vlei, is a large, white, salt and clay pan found in the southern region of Namib Desert, Namibia. Sossusvlei is surrounded by high red dunes, some as high as 400 meters, making the dunes some of the highest in the world. Located within the Namib-Naukluft National Park, the largest conservation site in Africa, Sossusvlei provides photographic enthusiasts great shots during the sunrise and sunset. The dunes are a great attraction and in essence make Sossusvlei the best-known, breathtaking site to tourists.

The name Sossusvlei originates from Afrikaans, ‘Sossus’ means no return while ‘Vlei’ means marsh. Literally, Sossusvlei roughly translates to a dead-end marsh. This name is suitable to Sossusvlei since it is a drainage basin to the seasonal Tsauchab River but it does not have a single outflow. However, because of the harsh and dry weather conditions prevalent in the region because of the Namib Desert, the river rarely flows into Sossusvlei and thus the basin remains as dry as a bone in most calendars. Sometimes during the rainy season, Tsauchab flows into the basin. The basin once full can hold water for a full year. Big Daddy holds the record as the highest dune in Sossusvlei.

4. Habitat and Climate

Having noted that Sossusvlei is located in the Namib Desert, the weather is harsh. Temperatures can rise to a record 40 degrees Celsius at daytime and fall to a freezing point at night. To couple this up, there is little to no water beneath the sand. It is therefore dazzling how flora and fauna have been able to adapt to such a harsh environment in order to thrive. Thousands of microorganisms call Sossusvlei home. Underneath the sand, spiders, beetles, and some reptiles such as geckos dwell. These organisms derive water from the little droplets which trickle between the rocks, from plants, and from the sand itself as they burrow. Droplets from the occasional fog that occurs is also a major source of hydration for the organisms.

Smaller animals such as black-backed jackal, porcupine, aardwolf, and bat-eared fox are common when the temperatures cool down. Birds are also present. Around Sossusvlei, large mammals such springbok, gemsbok, and the ostrich reside. The spotted and brown hyena predate over other animals in Sossusvlei. Camel thorn trees, with a tap root system reaching 60 meters underground, are able to derive water from the ground and hence survive. They are suited to brave frost at nighttime. The Nara Melon and Welwitschia are also present in Sossusvlei. A variety of acacia and grass also grow in Sossusvlei.

3. Uniqueness of Sossusvlei

Sossusvlei’s distinctiveness is what endears all who happen to set their eyes upon it. All the world over, sand dunes and dead trees are easy to find. What are remotely rare to find, however, is both dead trees and sand dunes in the same place. Sossusvlei combines these two rarities and therefore doubles up as truly unique spot in Namibia and the larger Africa as a continent. Hence, Sossusvlei is a quintessential for Namibia’s tourism. Sossusvlei stands out as a unique place even to the regular person accustomed to desert environment. The warm red dunes standing in stark contrast of snow-white pans is a site to behold.

The dunes tower above the regular ground, and are easily visible from afar. Many tourists have captured this rare site with their cameras. The sunrise and sunset, both beautiful in their own right, are visible vividly from the many dunes, which grace Sossusvlei. Being located amidst the desolate desert of Namib and still maintaining this kind of beauty and attractiveness is something unique about Sossusvlei. Located in the middle of Namib-Naukluft National Park, the dunes resemble an amphitheater reaching far into the sky. The white clay and sand pan once filled up with water, reflects the image of a large lake, adding the awe with which Sossusvlei contains.

2. Tourism to Sossusvlei

Sossusvlei is a tourism hub in Namibia. There are a number of eye-catching things to see in Sossusvlei. Located within the 50,000 km2 Namib-Nakluft National Park, Sossusvlei is a top tourist attraction site within this vast conservation effort. Sossusvlei is largely popular for its huge, star-shaped dunes, which defiantly stand against a stark contrast of snow-white floors of the pans. In a concerted effort to maintain the viability of Sossusvlei as a tourist destination of choice, Namibian authorities have done much to improve the accessibility of this spectacular site within a national park and a larger desert. The government constructed the asphalt road to link Sesriem and Sossusvlei.

Accommodation has notably improved inside the park to facilitate tourism. The dunes in Sossusvlei give photo enthusiasts a beautiful site to capture the best of shots. The dunes offer a magnificent venue for shooting movies. Scenic flights above the dunes in small planes or hot air balloons are a great way to enjoy. Sossusvlei, being the foremost attraction in Namibia, holds the country’s exquisite beauty. You cannot mention tourism without talking about the Sossusvlei’s beautiful dunes.

1. Threats to Sossusvlei

The large number of tourists and cars which visit Sossusvle are a threat to the conservation of the site. At the entrance area, tourists trample the clay floor on which causes it to disintegrate to dust. Tourists also ignore the rules, climb on the dead ancient plants, and break their branches in the process. Dangerous desert snakes menace Sossusvlei. The snakes are quite venomous and their poison can kill in minutes if untreated. Tourists have to brave a very hot environment in order to access the spectacular sites.

With temperatures of about 40 degrees Celsius during the day, even the organisms which live in Sossusvlei have to adapt in order to thrive. At night, the temperatures drop to freezing point so the tourists not accustomed to such kind of adversities may suffer and even fall ill. Low-flying aircraft in their scenic flights disturb the animals living in Sossusvlei. The animals may later migrate to other areas thus causing a low game population in the park as a result. Water scarcity also threatens biodiversity in Sossusvlei. High evaporation rates also leave animals and plants in the region without water. In addition, the large number of cars and tourists are a threat to Sossusvlei.


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