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Dead Vlei, Namibia

dead vlei colors
Source by Matthew Beddow on Flickr – Under Creative Commons license

Dead Vlei is the perfect definition of contrast. Almost-black camelthorn trees point their skeletal branches to the bright blue sky while their dead trunks and roots pierce through the dry white expanse of the clay pan surrounded by huge deep red dunes. There even is a clear line that indicates where one begins and where the other finishes, making the stark contrast even more impressive.

dead vlei
Source by Jbdodane – on Flickr Under Creative Commons license

This stunning white clay pan is close to Sossusvlei in the Namib-Naukluft National Park of Namibia. The lifeless camelthorn trees that sprinkle the landscape are around 900 years old, however, they have been completely dry since 600 years ago due to the lack of water in the area and the scorching sun.

The location is also popular for the red sand dunes that enclose the white pan floor. These are considered the tallest sand dunes in the world. Bid Daddy is almost 400 meters tall, which makes it the tallest in the entire park.

In the Namib-Naukluft National Park, there are a total of three vleis, one of them being Dead Vlei. The other two are the biggest Sossusvlei and the smallest Hidden Vlei.

What is a “vlei”?

In case you were wondering, a vlei is a marsh pan. Dead Vlei originated when the Tsauchab River flooded and filled the usually-dry area with water, which allowed camel thorn trees to grow. Still, the climate changed again and drought hit, so the sand dunes surrounded the pan and therefore the river had no longer access to it, causing the trees to die, and eventually forming the landscape that we know today.

dead vlei clay pan
Source by dconvertini on Flickr – Under Creative Commons license

Even though there isn’t much water in the area, you can still find some living creatures within the vlei. Lanky ostriches and oryx pace around the pan or simply stand motionless under the blazing sun as if they were waiting for the day to cool down before they dare to move. If you look closer, you’ll even find small beetles burrowed in the sand, tilting their bodies to catch the morning dew that usually comes from the sea to then drink the condensation that forms on their hard shells.

dead vlei landscape
Source by dconvertini on Flickr – Under Creative Commons license

Things to do in Dead Vlei

However, this is not the only attraction on the site. You can try climbing one of the dunes, not only is it a crazy experience, but it will also allow you to get the best views of the desert, with an endless chain of dunes stretching in front of you – a sight both humbling and awe-inspiring. If you do decide to try this, make sure to bring more water than you think you’ll need – even though it’s worth it, it’s a hot and draining adventure.

We also recommend visiting the Skeleton Coast while you’re in Namibia. You’ll see shipwrecks, whale bones and maybe you’ll even find a lion on the beach along the Atlantic seaboard.

skeleton coast
Source by dconvertini on Flickr – Under Creative Commons license

How can I get there?

You can reach the Namib-Naukluft Park by road from Windhoek, the Namibian capital, or from Cape Town along the South African border. However, driving across the desert is a hard task. You can find a parking lot for four-wheel-vehicles about 4 km away from the park. Drivers of two-wheel-vehicles have it a bit more difficult since they must use a parking lot about 60 km away from the park gate and then take a shuttle bus to the four-wheel-vehicle car lot. After that, it’s a tough, 20-minute uphill hike to Dead Vlei.

tree dead vlei
Source by dconvertini on Flickr – Under Creative Commons license

Where can I stay?

Public transport to the park isn’t that good, that’s why most visitors rather stay at one of the luxury camps about an hour from the main park gate that manage their own transportation into the park. Don’t worry if you can’t afford this since cheaper accommodation near the park gate at Sesriem is available although sometimes limited. We also suggest bringing plenty of cash because gas stations in the country don’t take credit cards.

dead vlei shadows
Source by dconvertini on Flickr – Under Creative Commons license

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