Sossusvlei is one of Namibia’s main attractions, and certainly it’s most photographed one. Located in Sub-Saharan Africa in the southern part of the Namib Desert, Sossusvlei is part of the expansive Namib-Naukluft National Park, the fourth largest park in the world.

“Vlei,” in the Afrikaans language, means marshy area and “sossus” means “dead end.” The geological formation thus described is a rounded clay pan capable of holding water from the Tsauchab river—although there is very seldom sufficient rain to make this necessary. The pan itself is surrounded by magnificent sand dunes that are the most remarkable feature of the arid landscape. The name Sossusvlei is commonly applied to the entire river basin region as well as the nearby dunes and encompasses an area of roughly 500 square kilometers.

The sand dunes of Sossusvlei are some of the largest in the world, and are especially noteworthy for their coloration. In shades ranging from bright pink-to deep orange to burnt red, these dunes are a photographer’s delight. Their enormous size—many are more than 200 meters high—and shifting shapes lend a dramatic element to the landscape.

The desert climate in Sossusvlei makes the hours around sunrise and sunset the optimal time to visit, both to capture the intense and changing hues of the sands and to avoid the midday heat.

There are numerous accommodations in the Namib Desert area, including lodges, camps, and homesteads that offer rooms and campsites in every price range from budget to luxury. Some accommodations offer additional services such as horseback riding, guided tours, restaurants, and spa services.

The Sossusvlei dunes are accessed by entering the Namib-Naukluft National park at the Sesriem Gate and following a hard-top road suitable for 2x4 cars for 60 kilometers. The last four or five kilometers before reaching the Sossusvlei area can only be reached in a 4WD vehicle or on foot, however 4WD vehicles can transport visitors who arrive in 2x4 cars the last few kilometers for a small fee.

The massive and otherworldly Sossusvlei dunes are a must-see on any trip to Sub-Saharan Africa.