How To Plan The Perfect Deadvlei and Dune 45 in Namibia Daytrip Guide

During our time in Namibia, the Namib Desert gave us some of the best views, pictures and videos that we have ever had while travelling. The whole area is a photographer’s paradise, with every angle showing up beautifully on the camera, and amazing scenery everywhere you turn. We had heard only rave reviews about this area of the world and, after visiting, it is not hard to see why.

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Few people have heard of Deadvlei and Dune 45 in Namibia, but they’re two of the most incredible sights in the country. During our time in Africa, the Namib Desert and Dune 45 gave us some of the best views, pictures and videos that we have ever had while travelling.

The whole area is a photographer’s paradise, with every angle showing up beautifully on the camera, and amazing scenery everywhere you turn. The rolling sand dunes of the Namib desert expand for miles, especially from the top of Dune 45.

This is the perfect daytrip from Sesriem, and we highly recommend visiting both Dune 45 and Deadvlei together for a truly unforgettable experience.

If you’re visiting Namibia, definitely take a look at our post: 15 unique things to see and do in Namibia, or if you’re in the stages of planning your trip, check out our full 2 week guided itinerary here.

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Murray is walking across an enormous sand dune. He is only noticeable because of the long trail of footprints behind him. The clouds are striking and there are only dunes in the background.
Murray hiking across Dune 45

What is Dune 45 in Namibia?

Dune 45, as the name suggests, is a sand dune. Its name comes from the fact that it is 45 miles away from the nearest town, Sesriem. This is where most people will choose to stay when visiting. What makes Dune 45 unique is that the view from the top is a perfect panorama at sunrise.

It’s actually not the biggest sand dune in the area. This is actually a ginormous 325m high dune called Big Daddy! At 170m high, Dune 45 is not exactly small itself, and it’s also one of the most photographed dunes in the area, because of its unique shape.

To climb it, you need to be pretty fit, as it’s a hard hike up. If you’ve never climbed a sand dune before, we’ll cover what you need to know below, but needless to say, you need a degree of physical fitness and some determination to get to the top!

Getting to Dune 45

As mentioned, Dune 45 is around 45 miles away from Sesriem. You therefore need to drive for around 45 minutes from Sesriem to get there. The best time to get to the top of the dune is at sunrise, so you need to work backwards to get there at the right time.

You can use this link to find out the time the sun will be fully up. Allow around 20 minutes before to watch the sun come up, 45 minutes or so before that to climb the dune and 45 minutes before that to drive from Sesriem.

For example, for us, the sun was due to rise at 6:45m, which meant we had to set off from Sesriem 4:30am. This was an unappealing start, but totally worth it!

If you’re visiting this area from Windhoek, and don’t want to work all of these times out yourself, you can also book onto this three day tour with Viator, which hits all the same spots.

A pre-sunrise shot of the group about to hike Dune 45. They have their backs to the camera and there is a tree covering the dune. The sky is dark and atmospheric.
The team about to climb the dune
The group are at the very top of the dune. There is a trail of footprints behind them and it is still dark.
Reaching the top of the dune

Hiking Dune 45

If you set off at the right time before sunrise, it will still be pretty dark. The dune hike is extremely tough going – every couple of steps, you will slip back a little because the sand is quite soft. The best way to do it is to go slow and steady. We watched a few people begin to sprint up and we can say with some certainty that they regretted their choices!

Everyone walks up in single file, and you can overtake but it is quite difficult. You lose pace slipping down the sides, and have to walk much faster (very taxing) to get ahead. Walking at the front of the line (as we found out) is the worst place to be, as you are treading a path for everybody else – a bit like ploughing fresh, untrodden snow.

Your footprints form the solid surface for others to step in. Needless to say, no matter what position we were in, everyone was very out of breath at the top, but the resulting sunrise was definitely worth it, and happily, we did make it in time!

Coming down

Arguably the best bit of the whole climb is then getting to run down the dune after having climbed it. There is something very fun about destroying untrodden sand (again, think fresh, untrodden snow!) and running down a hill knowing you’ll be fine even if you fall on your bum.

We had an absolute blast racing each other down and taking bigger and bigger steps to get to the bottom, but unfortunately, we had come down the wrong side of the dune. That meant we had to shamefacedly walk round the bottom barefoot (a bit painful actually as there were lots of cacti and the path was all gravelly!). Basically, check where you’re walking and make sure you come back down the way you came.

A sunrise over the many sand dunes of the namib. The sky is dark blue and the sun is peeking through the clouds.
A beautiful sunrise in the Namib

Top tips for climbing Dune 45

Go Early

It might initially feel like going at 4am is major overkill, but trust us, after the sun comes up, you will feel the sand heating up and understand why. We literally started to burn our feet as we were coming down and we were grateful we had gone so early. We also saw another group arriving just as we were leaving, and we were so glad not to be in their shoes!

The hot sand is actually really painful and we’re not sure as many of us would have managed the hike with burnt toes.

Take Your Time

We had been given two tips by our guide, this was one of them and it was advice I wish I’d taken!! I’ve climbed (small) dunes in the Middle East before and smugly thought I knew better, in the sense that running up would get it over with faster and give me some momentum. I honestly could not have been more wrong! Having eaten nothing all morning, I had no energy and very quickly was exhausted even at a moderate pace.

Pick a pace that’s slow for you and stick to it – plodding is best. Let others overtake you if they need to!

Don’t Wear Shoes

The second piece of advice our guide gave us and it also turned out to be golden! We could see that flip flops, in particular, would have been an absolute catastrophe with so much loose sand and we never would have made it up.

It might also be possible to head up in close-toed shoes, specially made for sand/beaches, but probably sand would just get in your shoes anyway and slow you down. Barefoot was the right choice in our opinion.

Don’t Go First

If you can, walk behind somebody else and take advantage of their footprints! The places they have stepped compact the sand and make it easier for you to walk. Though it is cool to be at the front, the extra slog is not worth it.

Have Fun Coming Down

This part of the trip is so fun, make sure you enjoy it to the fullest! But, trust us, come down the way you went up.

A shot of the plateau that is deadvlei,. The sand in the foreground is very orange and in the background it is lighter. You can almost see the dead trees.
Approaching Deadvlei

What are Deadvlei and Sossusvlei?

If you haven’t heard of them before, Deadvlei and Sossusvlei are two pans at the bottom of a sand valley. Both ‘vleis’ used to be part of a running river that has completely dried up, and Deadvlei is a flat area, noteworthy, as it is surrounded by dunes on all sides. Unlike the dunes in the Sahara desert, those in the Namib stay still and don’t shift too much.

This unique set of circumstances has led to an interesting phenomenon, whereby the trees that used to live in the presumably once green and luscious area that was Deadvlei, though long since dead through lack of water, can be seen still standing and totally protected from the elements by the surrounding dunes. The effect is quite dramatic and appears to all intents and purposes like a graveyard of trees in the middle of the desert. The contrasting colours and bizarre, ghostly shapes of the trees are fabulously photogenic and we absolutely loved it.

Deadvlei and Sossusvlei are a short drive from Dune 45, so you can head here after your hike up the dune. By this point, the sand will be quite hot, so you will want to have sandals! There is no real climbing (except a very small incline) to get to Deadvlei, so physically, it’s not too tiring, and the reward is the wonderful view at the end. The plain is also completely open and there is no time limit (apart from the length of time you can stand to be in the sun!) so you can take your time wandering round, taking photos and enjoying the eerie atmosphere.

Emma and Murray are standing next to a tree in deadvlei. It is charred and looks burnt/dead but makes a stark contrast against the sandy background. Emma is posing as though she is leaning against the tree, but she isn't touching it.

Tips and Info when visiting Deadvlei:

You Need Sun Protection

Though the trees are set up to survive the elements, you are not, and the sun on Deadvlei is extremely intense. All the usual precautions (covering yourself up, plenty of water, strong suncream etc.) should be taken – the plain is very open and exposed, and it’s very easy to get burnt while you’re wandering around. Murray even recommends an umbrella to keep you totally covered!

Regarding suncream, we use Amazinc, since they are completely natural. If you use one, be sure it doesn’t contain any of the chemicals on Save The Reef, as the area is quite a sensitive ecosystem, and normal creams can harm the environment. ‘Reef-safe’ is not a protected term, meaning anyone can use it, therefore it’s better to check each chemical to make sure it’s all natural.

You Can’t Touch The Trees

Human contact with the trees is limited in the vlei to keep them preserved longer, so this means you can’t sit on them or climb them, and even touching is not permitted. You can still take great pictures standing to the side or in front of them.

Put Your Shoes Back On

If you climbed Dune 45 without your shoes, now is the time to put them back on. Though the initial walk is over sand, the plain itself is flat and hard land, which gets extremely toasty – you will definitely want your shoes back on so as not to burn your feet!

So that’s it! Overall, this is a fantastic day out, and one of the best things to do in Sesriem.

If you’re visiting Namibia, definitely take a look at our post: 15 unique things to see and do in Namibia, or if you’re in the stages of planning your trip, check out our full 2 week guided itinerary here.

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    Written by Emma


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