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Sesriem Camping: The Best Way to Visit Sossusvlei

The magical dunes of Sossusvlei are a world bucket list item, featuring magnificent, colour-shifting sand dunes, exceptional desert scenery and a macabre collection of ancient trees in Deadvlei. Spectacular, memorable and endlessly photogenic, everyone should experience this amazing part of Namibia at some point in their life. Should they all camp spend their nights in a sandy, wind-blown tent in Sesriem Camping as well? Um, that depends.

Located in Namib-Naukluft National Park, wonderful Sossusvlei is about a 4-5-hour drive from the capital city of Windhoek and it is one of the top tourist attractions in Namibia. In addition to the fantastic main dunes and iconic Deadvlei, there are also plenty of desolate desertscapes, many less touristy dunes and even a terrific, narrow canyon perfect for hiking and occasionally enjoying a little of the very rare shade found in these parts. The closest “town” to the dunes is Sesriem, which is just outside the park gate and really just consists of a park office, a few expensive lodges, a couple campgrounds and a gas station with a handy general store.

Perfectly smooth sand dune ridge

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Climbing – or at least visiting – the dunes at sunrise is one of the best things to do in Sossusvlei. Which sounds great, of course. Ah, but there’s a catch. The main gate into the park only opens at sunrise and it’s close to an hour’s drive to the main destinations of Dune 45 or Big Daddy Dune. So if you stay outside the park you can still get in some fun morning exploring but enjoying sunrise is off the table.

On the bright side, it is also possible to stay inside the park. Your visit is still limited by a second, inner gate that is only a few hundred metres farther down the road. However, crucially, this one opens an hour before sunrise, giving you an important headstart in your dark, morning journey to see the coolest stuff Sossusvlei has to offer.

Map of Sossusvlei Namibia

And if you want to stay inside the park, which we would highly recommend, you have 4 choices:

Dead Valley Lodge (pricey but beautiful), Sossus Dune Lodge (also pricey and beautiful), Sesriem Camping and Sesriem Oshana Campsite.

We were not interested in shelling out the amount of cash needed to live the high life in one of the lodges, so camping it was!

Pros of camping

You get early entrance to the park

You are close to everything

It is much cheaper than staying in the lodges

Cons of camping

Basic, baby

Sand everywhere, all the time

Hot during the day (up to 38C during our April visit) but cool at night (15C)

At the mercy of your fellow campers which, if they happen to be an obnoxious French group, can be quite loud

So the choice is yours. We aren’t huge fans of camping but we usually end up doing it a couple times per year in order to facilitate other stuff we really enjoy such as backpacking in the mountains, climbing sand dunes at the crack of dawn or discreetly peeing on the ground while gazing in awe at the clear, starry sky. And it is definitely a great choice when visiting Sossusvlei because of the enticing combination of affordability and convenience.


At the time of writing the exchange rate was roughly $US1 = $N19 (Namibian dollars)

Scrubby desert and sand dunes in the distance

Namib-Naukluft National Park Info

Entrance to the park costs $N175 per person, per day, just under $US10. You pay at the inner gate, can pay for multiple days at once and only have to show your receipt when coming in and out of the outer gate.

A paved road runs from the gates for 60 km, passing several of the top dunes (including Dune 40 and Dune 45). However, to get to Big Daddy and Deadvlei you need to navigate a sandy path for another 10-15 minutes. This section is only passable for 4×4 vehicles with good clearance, and even then it’s probably not a great idea (we saw multiple vehicles stuck).

The better option is to take one of the park jeep shuttles. They cost another 180 per person round-trip and must be paid for in cash. There are always several shuttles waiting by the time the first visitors arrive and they go back and forth all day with no need for scheduling.

Sossusvlei jeep shuttle

It is also possible to arrange a shuttle all the way from the park gate for around $N650/pp but not many people do this since the paved portion of the road is easily driven in any vehicle. This option is mainly for those who don’t have any vehicle at all or are biking or something like that.

Just outside the park is a gas station with a shop with camping supplies, groceries, sandwiches, drinking water (up to 5L jugs), ice and an ATM. Keep in mind, it closes at sunset.

There are balloon tours available.

It is hot. Pretty much all year-round. So hot that I couldn’t even get my sunglasses to fog up by blowing on them.

Sossusvlei Camping

Now, as to the campgrounds themselves. There are two inside the park – Sesriem Camping and Sesriem Oshana. They are both located just inside the main gate, side by side, connected, jointly run and share facilities. Sesriem Camping is the original and it features the restaurant and shop, both of which are open to the public, as well.

The restaurant was quite good and reasonably priced, if a little bit slow (no need to rush, anyway, right?). It stays open until 9 or 10, depending on the day.

Their shop also has all the basics but isn’t as well-stocked as the one at the gas station and it also closes at sunset (although you can still buy water from the restaurant after that).

Then there is also a small pool, cold but refreshing on a hot day (which is most of them), with a few loungers and a bit of shade.

Woman entering a small desert pool

There is free wifi in the restaurant but we found that our Namibian SIM cards (see below) worked perfectly fine wherever we were.

As you’ve probably noticed, the list of modern buildings is pretty sparse in Sesriem, which means light pollution is almost nonexistent, making this an amazing place for stargazing. On one of my late-night bathroom excursions I got sidetracked just staring at the Milky Way, glowing plain as day in the sky.

Sesriem Oshana

Truck and tent next to private toilet at Sesriem Camping

We camped at Sesriem Oshana campsite so I’ll start there. The big difference between the two from a camping perspective is that each site at Sesriem Oshana features a small private toilet building and a large wooden cover for shade.

The toilet has running water (non-potable, though), a sink, a hot shower, electric lighting and a few small shelves. On the outside of the building there are 2 electrical outlets and a larger washing sink. There is a fire pit just off to the side.

Woman standing in toilet/shower/storage area at Sesriem Camping

The Oshana sites all have the dirt road leading to Dead Valley Lodge on one side and the last of the Sesriem Camping sites on the other. The restaurant and pool are only about a 5-10-minute walk from any of them.

Sesriem Camping

The Sesriem sites, on the other hand, are your more standard, empty dirt lots. They do each have a single tree for shade and there are fire pits, but everything else is communal, including nice, modern washroom facilities located basically right in the middle of the campsites.

The main draw of staying here is to be closer to the pool and restaurant, although the sites farthest out aren’t much different than those at Oshana.

Park Highlights

Now, since you’re reading up on the gritty details of Sesriem camping you probably already know why you want to visit Sossusvlei but, just in case, here is our quick and sandy list of the area’s highlights.

Big Daddy Dune

Perfect ridge of a sand dune

As you may have guessed, it is the biggest dune in Sossusvlei. But what you may not realize is that there are dozens more all around it and the entire area is full of incredible sights. Not least of which being Deadvlei, with its macabre collection of really old, really dead and really photogenic trees. Basically, if you’ve come all this way, don’t miss them.

Woman peeking out from behind the dead trees of Deadvlei Namibia

As for whether or not you want to climb to the top of Big Daddy, that depends on your time, fitness and tolerance for shoes full of sand. For a detailed read on our dune climbing adventure, check out:

The Sand and the Fury: The Day We Climbed Big Daddy Dune

From a logistical perspective, sunrise was obviously a great time to be there and the early morning sun is amazing among the dunes. Although if you’re not actually climbing the dunes and mostly there for Deadvlei, keep in mind the trees were completely in shade until 8 am and it took until 9 for the entire mud flat to be in sun. Of course, that’s also when the tour groups start showing up so somewhere in between might be your best bet.

Dune 45

Woman walking along the top of Dune 45 at sunset

First of all, the 45 refers to the number of kilometres from the park gate, not the actual number of dunes (I’d say there are far more than 45). This is the second-most popular dune in the park and is a great place to go for sunset. There were probably 20-30 people around when we arrived but most just enjoyed the colours from the bottom and the few that were up top either headed down before actual sunset or stopped shortly after reaching the ridge so we were able to be completely by ourselves at the far end.

Dune 40

Woman posing in front of a perfectly shaped sand dune in Namib-Naukluft National Park in Namibia

Obviously, not far from Dune 45 but much quieter because it requires a 5-10-minute walk from the parking lot to reach it. It is a bit smaller but still very impressive with its pristine wind-swept ridge, contrasting green trees and undulating hills.

Sesriem Canyon

Narrow rocky canyon

For a complete change of pace, head over to this spectacular canyon roughly 5 km from the gate (head south just after entering the park). The canyon itself is only about a kilometre long, varying from extremely narrow to wide and rocky. There are lots of cool rock formations, arches and one small fetid pond that isn’t too appealing except for the reflective photos. A good place to come in the middle of the day when it is too hot for dune climbing.

Elim Dune

The closest dune to the campground, you can actually walk there if you want (4.5 km from the restaurant). However, even though it looks small, there are lots of hidden dips and false tops among the grass and shrubs so it takes a lot longer to reach the top than you might think. Unless you’re looking to kill time, we’d recommend driving there. It took us around 45 minutes to reach the top and you can’t see the sunset at all until you do, so if that is your plan, be sure to allow enough time.

Grassy sand dunes with mountains in the distance
View back from Elim Dune

Dune 1

Not as impressive as the ones farther into the park but still nice and accessible right off the road. A good “starter dune”.

Hidden Vlei

If you have extra time, this is a great add-on, with a lot of similarities to Deadvlei but without the crowds. It is a 2 km walk (each way) from the parking lot where you catch the shuttles to Big Daddy and Deadvlei.

Getting to Sesriem Camping

Flat gravel road in African savannah

Sesriem is about 4.5 hours from Windhoek and there are a couple of different ways you can go. While Google Maps suggested the route south on B1 through Rehoboth, we were told it was better to head southwest on the C26. Both showed similar driving times and we found the C26 route quite straightforward, with very little traffic. The first half-hour is paved and then it is all gravel after that, but smooth and wide, plus you traverse the very scenic Spreetshoogte Pass (seemingly very popular with motorbikers of a certain age). Altogether the drive was quite picturesque, plus we saw quite a few baboons and a wide variety of antelope.

Antelope in the desert

Unless you are travelling through Africa in your own vehicle, you will need to rent a set of wheels. We booked a small 4×4 SUV through Europcar for about $US200 for 3 days, picking it up at the airport and dropping it off downtown (conveniently right across the street from Chameleon Backpackers).

Thankfully, they provided us with a free upgrade to a 4×4 truck (I think they were just out of the SUVs). I say thankfully, because all the camping gear we rented took up a lot of space – when we camp in Canada we have super-lightweight gear because we usually are hiking with it. Well, this stuff was neither lightweight nor small, but it was all very effective and the size wasn’t an issue thanks to the truck with it’s covered box.

Truck overlooking Spreetshoogte Pass in Namibia
Overlooking Spreetshoogte Pass

We’ve used Discover Cars in many different countries and they usually have the cheapest deals and have always been very reliable, although we didn’t find the selection as good in Namibia. It’s worth checking first, though.

So, if you’re thinking you’d like to camp but don’t have any of the gear with you, it is possible to rent everything you need in Windhoek. There are two places where you can stock up:

Adventure Camping Hire

Camping Hire Namibia

We went with Adventure Camping and got a heavy-duty 3-person canvas tent (it’s not like we had to carry it on our backs), individual mattresses, sleeping bags, a pillow, a table and a cooler box. For 2 full days we paid a grand total of just over $US50. Which is pretty crazy, if you think about it.

Tent, truck and toilet block in Sesriem Oshana campsite

It would have cost marginally more if we had remembered that we needed chairs to go along with our table but, alas, we did not. Incidentally, they do sell chairs at the shop in Sesriem but we couldn’t bring ourselves to spend another $US70 for 2 chairs we would only use a couple times.

In Windhoek, we stayed at Chameleon Backpackers, a friendly, convenient spot in the centre of the city. We spent a night on either end of our trip and it was always lively with good dinner specials, included breakfast, lots of information and even group backpacker tours to various destinations around Namibia. Plus, there’s a pool, a pool table and plenty of beer.

Full rainbow over pool area at Chameleon Backpackers in Windhoek, Namibia

Finally, we would highly recommend picking up a Namibian SIM card for your time in the country. There is an MTC office right at the airport where you can get a card with 7GB good for 7 days for just $N100 ($US5). At least that was the deal while we were there. The point is, though, it doesn’t cost much and having data everywhere you go is indispensable.

Sesriem Camping Summary

Man walking down the ridge of a sand dune in Sossuvlei Namibia

We spent 6 weeks in South Africa and Namibia and can comfortably say that the 2 biggest highlights of our time were Cape Town and the Sossusvlei sand dunes. Absolutely stunning and memorable, we can highly recommend going out of your way to visit this strangely desolate, yet popular, place.

And if you’re going to do it, you may as well do it right, which means staying inside the park for the earliest access possible. And if you can stomach the cost of staying at the lodge, more power to you, but for the rest of us, how’s a little desert camping sound?

Other posts you might like:

The Sand and the Fury: The Day We Climbed Big Daddy Dune

Things to Know Before Visiting Cape Town

Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Walking Safari: Where the Wild Things Are

Routinely Nomadic Camping Collection

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