Sossusvlei (sometimes written Sossus Vlei) is a salt and clay pan surrounded by high red dunes, located in the southern part of the Namib Desert, in the Namib-Naukluft National Park of Namibia. The name “Sossusvlei” is often used in an extended meaning to refer to the surrounding area (including other neighbouring vleis such as Dead Vlei and other high dunes), which is one of the major visitor attractions of Namibia
The name “Sossusvlei” is of mixed origin, and roughly means “dead end marsh”. Vlei is the afrikaans word for “marsh”, while “sossus” is nama for “no return” or “dead end”. Sossusvlei owes this name to the fact that it is an endorheic drainage basin for the ephemeral Tsauchab river.
Sossusvlei is about 66 km past the Sesriem gate. The last 6 km can only be traversed with 4WD vehicles as the concrete road ends and sand begins (the place where the concrete road ends is known as “2×4 parking” as any non-4WD vehicle must stop there). Sossusvlei is a clay pan, of roughly elliptical shape, covered in a crust of salt-rich sand. While the pan has been shaped over time by the Tsauchab river, the actual flooding of the pan is a relatively rare event, and sometimes several years pass between one flood and the next one. The river is dry most of the year, and even when it is not, it carries relatively little water to the vlei. The vlei is surrounded by high orange-reddish dunes, partially covered by a vegetation comprising grass, bushes, and some tree (mostly of species Acacia erioloba).