Drive Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes Distance: 111 km
Solitaire, A Quintessential Supply Stop
Our drive from Barkan Dune Retreat to Dead Valley Lodge was a relatively short one. At the midway point, you will stop at a town named Solitaire. This is a stop that pretty much all tourists make. It is a great spot to get fuel, have a snack and take some pictures of the rusted antique cars. They are known for their apple pie. While very delicious, it really is very hard to beat American apple pie! We would still highly recommend grabbing this snack for the road.
It is very helpful to have some local currency for small tips, and for the few places that do not except credit cards. However, note that many of the ATMs are frequently out of cash as was the case in Solitaire. Therefore, grab some in the city before you leave and you’ll have another opportunity to get some in Swakopmund.
Dead Valley Lodge
We stayed at the Dead Valley Lodge which was a little more costly, however, we did it for the ability to stay inside the gates of Sossusvlei. For those few accommodations located inside the gates, you are allowed to enter one hour before sunrise and one hour after sunset. We felt the additional cost was worthwhile so that we have the opportunity for some better photos. Admission to the park is 100 NAD per person each 24 hours.
This lodge was beautiful, located in the middle of the dunes with oryx roaming freely right outside. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were all included. Dinner was a buffet, however, breakfast and lunch were from a small set menu. The accommodation itself was a luxury tent with its own bathroom, shower, and large, air-conditioned bedroom. Views here were amazing with the sun setting right outside your tent. While we did love being able to get up and into the park early, the most value was being able to exit after sunset. It was empty at this time, and we often felt like the only ones in all of Sossusvlei. Beyond that, this accommodation was slightly over priced for what you received. For a cost of around US$500, there was some lack of attention to detail and the food was not spectacular. Small gripes…for the middle of the desert! We mention this, however, because there are some really great looking accommodations that are just outside the park gates.
Sossusvlei is located in the Namib desert, the oldest desert in the world. There is one paved park road from the gates into a parking area at Sossusvlei and Deadvlei. These are dried marshes that you can hike to for some really spectacular photos in the midst of the red orange dunes. Deadvlei in particular, is a photography hotspot. Here you will find petrified acacia trees on a white salt pan surrounded by giant orange dunes.
We regret that we only had essentially an afternoon and morning here. If we had more time, we would have definitely done a few more of the hikes up the sandy dunes. Once you enter the park, you can identify major sites by mile markers. The drive is simply gorgeous, with towering dunes on each side of the road.
The Massive Dunes of the Namib Desert
The more well-known dunes are Dune 45, Big Daddy Dune and Big Mama Dune. You can hike up each one, but be prepared for a bit of a work out as hiking in the sand is its own challenge. We spent the majority of our time in Deadvlei. Once you reach the end of the paved road, there is a parking lot for 2 wheel drive cars who do not want to make the final journey on the sandy road to the 4 x 4 parking lot. If you didn’t have a 4 wheel drive vehicle, there is a shuttle that will take you from the 2 wheel drive parking lot to the 4 x 4 parking in front of the short hikes to Deadvlei and Sossusvlei. The cost was around 10 USD.
We deflated our tires to 1.3 bars of pressure (my husband brought a tire gauge to make this easier) and made the trek the final 30 or so minutes in deep sand.
The Surreal Deadvlei
We arrived at Deadvlei about 2 hours before sunset and had the entire area to ourselves for about an hour. Spectacular. The two things we did not have time for given we were fighting against the sunset were the hike up Big Daddy Dune and visiting the dried pan at Sossusvlei. We did get to see Big Daddy Dune looming large at Deadvlei and having this special area to ourselves was a worthwhile trade off. We also had the drive out of the park on the paved road to ourselves with the sun casting warm light over the dunes, making them almost glow a red orange.
The next morning, we joined an impressive line of cars to enter the gates, an hour before sunrise where we and many others hiked up Dune 45 to watch the sun peek out over the horizon. This is the desert, so it was quite chilly. Dress warmly. It’s worth it.