The Tsauchab River, Namibia. The Water Source of Sossus Vlei

The Tsauchab River is an intermittent river nestled within the arid landscape of the Namib-Naukluft National Park in Namibia, southwestern Africa.

The most well known stretch of the river is where its path meanders through the spectacular red dunes of the Sossusvlei region, culminating in an endorheic basin (a land-locked drainage basin) at Sossusvlei itself where its path is blocked by sand dunes. 

Given the harshness of the surrounding desert, the river understandably plays an essential role in the ecosystem of the area.

Geography and Route

Originating from the eastern slopes of the Naukluft Mountains, the Tsauchab River flows for approximately 100 kilometers before terminating in a dry lake at Sossusvlei, 60 km from the ocean further to the west. The river’s journey is characterized by stark contrasts, from the rocky terrain of the mountainous regions, across the plains of dried earth and gravel to the expansive vistas of some of the highest sand dunes in the world as it gets closer to the Atlantic sea. 

Relation to Sesriem Canyon

The Tsauchab is intrinsically linked to another notable geographical feature in the region – the Sesriem Canyon. The Canyon, situated approximately 4.5 kilometers from the Sesriem settlement, has been carved by the strong river over millions of years.

The term Sesriem means “six belts” in the Afrikaans language, referring to the number of belts that settlers had to use to draw water from the bottom of the canyon. Sesriem Canyon is one of the few places in the area that holds water all year round, thanks to the Tsauchab River.

This makes it a crucial resource for local wildlife and has likely played a significant role in the survival of early human and animal inhabitants.

The Canyon is a narrow gorge, about a kilometer long and up to 30 meters deep in the middle. Despite the harsh conditions, it supports a wide range of life, including various bird species, reptiles, and insects.

It also exhibits a variety of rock formations and different layers, each telling a unique story about the area’s geological past. Overhangs and caves in the canyon walls also bear marks that provide evidence of the river’s higher flow levels in the past.

Flora and Fauna Within The Tsauchab River

Despite the unforgiving environment, life has adapted and thrived along the course of the river. The river’s banks and surrounding areas are home to an array of plant species, the most famous of which is the Vachellia erioloba or the camel thorn tree, an iconic image of the Namibian landscape and southern Africa as a whole.

Several other desert-adapted plant species grow in the area, including the Nara melon, which serves as a critical water and food source for wildlife.

The dry river bed and its surrounding environment host various fauna, including mammals like the oryx, springbok, and ostrich, which have adapted to the harsh desert conditions. The region also supports a wide variety of bird species and small desert-adapted creatures such as geckos, snakes, and insects.


The climate of this region is typified by extremely low rainfall, intense heat during the summer months, peaking in December, and relatively cold winters. Rainfall in this area is sporadic, with most precipitation occurring in the form of isolated thunderstorms between January and April.

Despite its aridity, when the river does flow, usually due to the rainfall in the Naukluft mountains, it brings a surprising amount of life to the otherwise parched desert.

Human Interaction and Tourism

The Tsauchab has seen minimal human influence over time, which has allowed its natural ecosystem to remain largely intact. In recent years, the area has become more popular and is currently a significant attraction for tourists seeking to find and experience the unique desert landscape.

The river’s end point, Sossusvlei, is a sought-after destination renowned for various, aptly named, towering red dunes and the striking Deadvlei – a large clay pan with dark, fossilized camel thorn trees contrasting against the bright white pan floor. These landscapes have become iconic images of the Namib Desert.

It is safe to say, the Tsauchab River, though flowing intermittently, acts as a literal lifeline through the Namib Desert. It is not only a critical element of the local ecosystem, but also a stunning geographical feature that attracts visitors from around the world.