The Sossusvlei area belongs to a wider region of southern Namib with homogeneous features (about 32,000 km²) extending between rivers Koichab and Kuiseb.
This area is characterized by high sand dunes of vivid pink-to-orange color, a consequence of a high percentage of iron in the sand and consequent oxidation processes. The oldest dunes are those of a more intense reddish color. These dunes are among the highest in the world; many of them are above 200 meters, the highest being the one nicknamed Big Daddy, about 380 meters high.
Sossusvlei is a clay pan in the central Namib Desert, lying within the Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia. Fed by the Tsauchab River, it is known for the high, red sand dunes which surround it forming a major sand sea. Vegetation, such as the camelthorn tree, is watered by infrequent floods of the Tsauchab River, which slowly soak into the underlying clay. The Deadvlei and Hiddenvlei clay pans lie near Sossusvlei. Dune 45 is a well-known viewpoint about half way from Sesriem Camp to Sossusvlei enjoyed by many a visitor for the spectacular sun rise.The highest and more stable dunes are partially covered with a relatively rich vegetation, which is mainly watered by a number of underground and ephemeral rivers that seasonally flood the pans, creating marshes that are locally known as vlei; when dry, these pans look almost white in color, due to the high concentration of salt. Another relevant source of water for Sossusvlei is the humidity brought by the daily morning fogs that enter the desert from the Atlantic Ocean.
Fauna in the Sossusvlei area is relatively rich. It mostly comprises small animals that can survive with little water, including a number of arthropods, small reptiles and small mammalians such as rodents or jackals); bigger animals include antelopes (mainly oryxes and springboks) and ostrichs. During the flood season, several migrant bird species appear along the marshes and rivers. Much of the Sossusvlei and Namib fauna is endemic and highly adapted to the specific features of the Namib. Most notably, fog beetles such as the Namib Desert Beetle have developed a technique for collecting water from early morning fogs through the bumps in their back.
Access to the Sossusvlei area of the Namib-Naukluft National Park is from the Sesriem gate, which is located in the surroundings of the eponymous canyon. From Sesriem, a 60 km concrete road leads to Sossusvlei proper.