I am spending one incredible year working with students in Africa, where I’ve had the opportunity to take some time off and explore its beautiful regions. Recently my friends and I decided to visit Namibia on holiday – It’s the least densely populated country in all of Africa and contains hundreds of miles of spectacular, untouched scenery. After we flew into the small capital city of Windhoek, we decided to check out the Sossusvlei Desert, which is home to some of the tallest sand dunes in the world. It was a long hike beginning down a gravel road that led into the desert, but the photos we captured are breathtaking and the experience was one of my favorites so far on this diverse continent. Check out the surprising photos below to learn why Namibia’s Sossusvlei Desert is surreal.

On-the-road-from-Windhoek-Namibia-to-the-Sossusvlei-DesertThe desolate road to the desert goes on for miles and miles.  After a long day of driving we decided to set up camp for the night at the campgrounds of Betesda Lodge, which is less than an hour’s drive from the desert.

Namibia-Naukluft-Park-NamibiaWe rose about an hour before dawn the next morning to try to make it to the dunes by sunrise.  As the morning clouds lifted, we could spot the colossal dunes in the distance.

Sossusvlei-DesertAs we drew closer, the paved road gave way to a sandy trail leading to the massive dunes.  We climbed up to the top of “Big Daddy” which is one of the tallest dunes in the area.

Sossusvlei-Desert-Namibia

Sossusvlei-Desert-Namibia-DuneThe serenely smooth curving edges of the dunes led the way to its peak.

Sossusvlei-Desert-Namibia-Dune-With-MikeAfter the climb, we descended into the Deadvlei salt pan which lies adjacent to “Big Daddy.”

Deadvlei-Namibia-ClayThe ground is covered in a naturally occurring clay-rock pattern that resembles a cobblestone walkway and goes on for hundreds of meters.

Deadvlei-Namibia-Painted-TreesAt the furthest edge of the pan, we found an ominous gathering of bare camel thorn trees.

Deadvlei-Namibia-Painted-Trees-DaliThe towering dunes in the distance shifted to a bright orange as the sun set (Yes, they really are that colorful in person and no, these images have not been altered).

Deadvlei-Namibia-Painted-Desert-Trees-Salvador-DaliWe couldn’t help but feel like we were placed right in the middle of a painting by Salvador Dali.

Deadvlei-Namibia-Epic-SunriseAfter an amazing day of hiking on the dunes, we retired to our campsite for the evening.  We returned to Dead Vlei early the next morning to catch the most spectacular scene of our journey. Seen above, the sun is rising to greet the east facing dunes while the trees remain in the shadow of the dunes facing west.

Deadvlie-Namibia-Shadows-Over_TreesAs you can see, the contrast between the trees, the dunes, and the floor is absolutely surreal.

Deadvlei-Namibia-Shadows-Over-TreesThe rolling mountains of sunlit sand are the perfect backdrop for the trees as they rest in the shadows.

Deadvlei-Namibia-Shadows-Over-Trees-MikeSitting in the peaceful quietness of the valley of the sands, we took in the views one last time before returning to the long road out of the desert.

This year in Africa has been more beautiful than I ever imagined. If you ever have the opportunity to do some exploring, I would definitely recommend a trip to the Sossusvlei Desert in Namibia.  It is a long journey into the dessert, but the views you will encounter will be well worth the wait.