Time to head south! I woke up on my third day in Namibia after returning from the north the night before. The Cheetah Conservation Fund fulfilled my desire to see big cats in Africa. Now I was ready to feast my eyes upon some beautiful, Namibian desert landscapes.
The Namib-Naukluft National Park is home to the Sossusvlei (pronounced SAH-soos-vlie) Region of Namibia. Sossusvlei is particularly famous for its ultra high sand dunes and photographic dead trees. But those details (and epic photographs) are coming later.
In this post, I share highlights from the 6+ hour guided drive I took to get there. I map out my path—literally, I include an interactive map! With it, there's information and photos on how I got there, the road conditions, sights along the way, and where I camped at Sossusvlei.
Arranging & Meeting My Guide
My Canadian friend Roo (from my roadtrip in Australia!) recommended to me an independent tour guide—Tracey Bock. Tracey offered to take me on a 3-day tour to Sossusvlei for the same low-cost price of other major tour companies. She agreed to do it for the same price (R5720/~$470) but I would have her as my personal guide!
Tracey picked me up with her girlfriend, Lisa. Surprise! I was delighted to have a couple of fellow queers as my guides in Namibia. Of course there are many cultural differences between me and them. But there's an automatic camaraderie in queer communities—even when you're from different parts of the world!
Tracey agreed to pick me up from Tashia's home outside of Windhoek. She arrived with a 4x4 filled with camping gear in the back with Lisa.
On the way out of Windhoek, she took me on a mini-tour passed the State House. We also drove through the rich neighborhood of Kleine Kuppe. I recommend checking out both these spots!
We also made 2 major pit stops: Wimpy's and Shoprite.
Wimpy's is a very common and popular fast food restaurant. Lisa and I had a typical (not very appetizing) American-looking breakfast there while Tracey went to run a few last minute errands.
At Shoprite in the town of Rehoboth, I was able to help choose some of the food we would cook at camp. I also bought some African snacks and candies to try. Junk food and camping go hand in hand. And I love doing this in new countries. To me, there's nothing like eating like a local than eating the junk food they enjoy!
A Vast Place
We drove for a couple of hours and stopped for lunch under a tree on the roadside. Otherwise, there was not much worth stopping to look at.
Much of the landscape at the start of the trip was pretty unremarkable. Namibia is filled with large, vast stretches of land with nothing in sight but a random farmhouse here and there. No wonder Namib means "vast place" in nama!
Sometimes you'll spot a donkey cart on the road, though.
Namibia is covered in farmland aside from its protected parks, towns, and cities. The farms are mostly owned by White farmers of German descent. It's quite sad and frustrating to see.
The poverty is bad in Namibia. While White farmers live in big farm houses on 1500 hectares of land (that their ancestors' stole), they employ Black Namibians to tend to the farms for next to no wage. The farm workers are housed in the typical tin-roofed township homes seen periodically throughout the drive.
I couldn't help but think this is a kind of modern day indentured servitude.
How Long The Trip Is To Sossusvlei
Injustices aside, you'll want to budget your time right for the trip to Sossusvlei. There are some great things to see at certain points and the road conditions will impact your timing. Google Map will tell you the travel time to Sossusvlei is about 4.5 hours. But you'll want to budget about 6 hours for the stops and the bad road conditions.
Typically, I love doing self-drives, especially in new places. I drove over 2500km (1500 miles) across Australia before. So 6+ hours to the Namib desert should not be a big deal to me, right?
If I were to drive myself, it would have been to save money. But it would not have worked out like that in this case. The cost of the tour was a deal because the cost to do it myself would have been about the same. Plus the drive there is very dangerous to do alone, without a (more costly) 4x4, and without experience on Namibian roads.
The Bad Road Conditions
I'm not going to exaggerate too much here. There are plenty of tourists who drive all over Namibia and never experience any major issues. But that means they likely did their research. Unless you're a local, plan ahead if you plan to self-drive. Allow enough time to get from point A to B and be very careful.
The road out of Windhoek is a mostly well-paved road. When you make that first right turn onto C24 after the town of Rehoboth, it's a different story. Get ready for dusty, bumpy trails!
Again, Google Maps will say it takes 4.5 hours. But that's if you drive a little crazy. The recommendation is not to exceed 80kph (50mph) or you're asking for an unwelcomed off-road experience. And that's with a 4x4. If you have anything else, you should be staying under 60kph (37mph).
How I Got There - An Interactive Map
The following is a map showing the route that we took to get to Sossusvlei and back.
What To See Along The Way
Clicking on the highlights I've marked on the map above will show you photos I took at each location. I was able to identify these locations because my camera geotags my photos. I type the coordinates of each photo into Google Maps and it gives me the exact location where I snapped them.
Pretty cool, right?
So use the map above to find the specific locations of what to see along the way. But if the map isn't working for you or you're too lazy to look (I understand!), no worries! Because I will now describe some of the highlights and their approximate locations.
Keep your eyes open for wildlife on this trip. The first bit of wildlife I saw was along the route between Windhoek and Roheboth. We spotted a herd of ostrich on the roadside!
They are so cool!
We also spotted baboons as we went through the mountainous region. This was on Route C14 before the Sesriem roadside turnoff.
There's also a very large Buffalo Weaver bird nest to the East of Route C19. The backdrop is the gorgeous Naukluft Mountain Zebra Park.
Note that all animals we stopped for ran away from the roadside as soon as we slowed down. This is a good thing! Wildlife that is truly wild should be afraid of humans. So have your camera at the ready and snap your photos quickly!
Desert Mountain Scenery
There's a lovely little photo opportunity on top of an orange rock outcrop along Rte M47.
Bring a camera up with you. The view of the desert landscape is really nice. I was sorry I didn't bring a camera to the top with me to get the shot.
The landscape changes dramatically when you drive through Naukluft Mountain Zebra Park. The following photos are from Route C14 driving northwest from Bullsport.
Keep your eyes open as soon as you emerge out the other side of this mountainous region. To the west, you'll spot a lone quiver tree in an expansive field.
The quiver tree is Namibia's national plant. I wish I had taken the time to walk out to it to get a better photo! Although, I probably would've been trespassing onto someone's farm...
There's a lot of beautiful views of mountains further along C19. The scenery often reminded me a lot of the southwestern United States (see photos from my drive around Arizona and Utah). I was able to get some nice photos from the car window without stopping.
There's also a little town that's worth going a bit off route to see...
Solitaire: A Worthy Stop
Solitaire is a tourist town and a really neat little side trip.
On our way back to Windhoek, we took a slight detour further up C19 to check it out. While its a very beautiful part of C19, I actually would not recommend taking C19 all the way to Solitaire. The road was one of the worst we drove on the entire trip. I recommend turning off C19 on the smaller road going east and west that connects to C14. Then turn left up C14 to get there.
When you arrive, you'll see why Solitaire is worth the extra drive. There's a bunch of old rusted cars there—perfect for some fun photos!
You'll also want to go inside the shop there.
McGregor's Bakery sells New Zealand-style savory pies and pastries. They're the perfect snack on any day.
Where I Stayed: Sesriem Camp
I camped inside the gates to Sossusvlei at Sesriem Camp.
This gave me access to the entire Sossusvlei region between sunset and sunrise. Note that people cannot enter Sossusvlei until after sunrise if they are not staying inside the gates!
I had a really nice time camping at this site. Sesriem Camp felt like glamping ("glamorous camping"). There was a shop with everything you might have forgotten and more. There's a bar and covered area for eating. There were bathrooms with private shower stalls. There was an electrical outlet, grill to good our food, and running water at each numbered campsite.
I was like, what is this life?!
I was used to a much rougher life from when I camped across New Zealand for 2+ months. 99% of the time I was without running water or electricity. Toilets were (if lucky) a hole in the ground with a seat over it. I washed dishes in rivers, snuck into hostels for showers, and charged my devices in libraries. Sesriem Camp may be roughing it for some but it felt fancy to me! And that's good because technically this was not free camping! I paid for it in my total tour cost.
Sesriem camp allows a maximum of 8 people per campsite. The cost is only 220 NAD ($16) per night. We stayed for two nights and it was a great experience.
Driving to the Sossusvlei area is an adventure in itself! The dusty, bumpy road conditions can make it a little dangerous. But a tour guide and/or the right preparation will get you there with no issues. With my great, well-prepared guide, I got to sit back and enjoy the amazing wildlife and beautiful views along the way!
But I have to admit...the views I saw on the road were nothing like what I was about to see. Do not miss my next post - absolutely epic photos are coming of the magnificent Sossusvlei dunes!