Running Down the Sossusvlei Dunes in Namibia

Running down a sand dune has to be one of the most unexpectedly fun things to do.

Running down Sossusvlei Dunes Namibia

Even standing at the top of one of the famous Sossusvlei dunes in Namibia, I had my doubts.  Would  I slide straight down the dune?  Would my running result in a hilarious yet dangerous “ass-over-teakettle” situation?  Would I be covered in orange sand for the remainder of the day?  Luckily, the answers were no, no and ehh…most of it brushes right off. Sorta.

Our day started early at the Sossusvlei Desert Lodge, about an hour away from the Namib-Naukluft National Park. 

View from Desert Sossusvlei Lodge Namibia

Early meaning we were on the road by 6am, beating warm temperatures.  You always hear that deserts are cool at night and scorching during the day, but I didn’t really believe it.  Turns out that is absolutely the case so dressing in layers is essential.  The drive was magnificent, passing rocky hills, yellow plains and the occasional springbok, ostrich or jackal.  Only once we approached the park could we start to see the red sand and rolling Sossusvlei dunes that make Namibia famous.

Start of Sossusvlei Dunes Namibia

The Sossusvlei dunes are accessible through the Namib-Naukluft National Park and are themselves numbered from one through forty-two.   As Ronnie, our ranger, drove us past the dunes on the way to Deadvlei, the “end” of the park, we stopped for photos.  We saw tourists climbing one of the more popular dunes along the way.  It’s important to climb in the morning or the late afternoon to avoid the heat of the day.  Note also that climbing barefoot is MUCH easier than with shoes; the sand is cool and soft…and you look like slightly more of a badass.

Sossusvlei Dune Close Up Namibia

Arriving at Deadvlei, we set out to climb two of the dunes at our own pace.  The first was quite small.  Climbing up the ridge of the dune wasn’t too strenuous but climbing up the side certainly was.  Every step up was halved as we slid back down.  The only way to make headway was to do it as quickly as possible, calves and thighs burning through the process.  The climb up the second, larger dune was more difficult, but we were met with magnificent views upon reaching the top.

Hikers climb up Sossusvlei Dunes Namibia

As we walked along the ridge, we stopped dozens of times to take photos, thus annoying everyone behind us.  The ridge itself is wide enough for maybe two people side by side, if those two people are close.  I was pretty sure that stepping aside would cause me to tumble straight down the dune (although that wasn’t the case).  We must have taken dozens of the same shot over and over, but it was impossible to get sick of the views.

Standing at top of Sossusvlei Dunes Namibia

Jumping on Sossusvlei Dunes Namibia

The sky was clear blue, the sun was in a perfect position for capturing shadows on the dunes.  All along the walk though, we kept peering down at the ground below.  How the HELL were we supposed to get down?  It reminded me of skiing a bit (note: I am miserable at skiing), except somehow maybe I’d be more in control because I didn’t have the skis to deal with – only my bare feet.  We watched a few rangers run down the dunes, but this was of little comfort.  Aren’t those dudes Namibian?  I envisioned “Dune Running” to be a separate subject in school here.

This guy aced it:

Man Runs Down Sossusvlei Dune Namibia

Finally we got brave (or rather, hungry), so we made our plan to get down.  We would play it safe, and run only a few steps then stop and reassess.  It turned out to be the easiest thing in the world!  Rather than tumbling down in some sort of amateur cartwheel, our feet sunk into the sand just enough to give us footing for the next step.  You could bounce straight down the dune with barely any effort, laughing the whole way.  If it weren’t such a complete pain in the ass to climb UP a sand dune, I imagine we would have done this all day.

Step 1:

View from top of Sossusvlei Dune Namibia

Oh hi. No thanks, I’ll just live up here from now on.

Step 2:

Running down Sossusvlei Dunes Namibia

Holy crap, I’m actually not falling straight down this thing.

Step 3:

Running down Sossusvlei Dunes Namibia looking up


As an American East-Coaster, I’ve never seen desert like this.  Maybe running down a dune is the most basic thing in the world, but in my opinion this alone was worth the trip to Namibia!  Stay tuned for lots more though, if you’d like … 🙂

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