Desert Rose has one of the most spectacular locations of any lodge in Kenya.
Desert Rose: Our full report
Kenya’s northernmost luxury lodge, Desert Rose perches in a dramatic setting amid dense forest and jungle foliage in the towering landscapes of Mount Nyiru, 50km south of Lake Turkana. The lodge is managed by its creator and owner, Emma Hedges, and her local, Samburu staff. Emma is the daughter of Dick Hedges, who pioneered budget safaris in Kenya.
Although many guests arrive direct to the lodge by chartered helicopter, access to Desert Rose using its airstrip (charter flights only) is possibly even more exhilarating. Leaving the plain, you drive through a deep valley, where the Samburu village of Ewaso Rongai lies thickly shaded by huge acacia and fig trees, and then climb for about 2km up a mountainside track cut right through the bed rock. One of the steepest motorable access roads in the world, it took Emma and her father a year to construct.
The views en route to the lodge are stupendous and the track is a test of nerve for many passengers. There’s a final, steep, short descent down to the lodge, which is located on the only terraces of reasonably flat land in the district, with beautiful lawns, towering euphorbia trees and a jungle of flowering plants all around. Across the lawns there are magnificent views towards the south-east and the Ndoto Mountains. Behind the dining terrace to the north-west, across the flank of a palm- and forest-filled valley, runs the deep rocky scar of a dramatic lugga – a seasonal stream that provides Desert Rose with one of its many assets, a natural waterslide.
The central areas of the lodge – all open-plan – include a cosy lounge focusing on a fireplace for chilly mid-year evenings. Beyond, there’s a second, less sheltered lounge area, with superb views and a wooden deck that opens out to form the dining terrace. Nearby, steps lead down to two ‘loos with a view’ perched above the lugga, while over on the lawn side the beautiful, free-form swimming pool, with its rocky surrounds and sunbathing terrace, is the perfect spot for hot afternoons.
- There are five rooms at Desert Rose, although ‘room’ is a very plain word for these inventive abodes, that seemingly emerge from the hillside in a magical mix of solid rock, stone and mortar walls, and beautifully carved and polished wood, all sheltered under roofs of cedar shingles and offering gorgeous views and complete privacy. Roller screens and shutters of split cane provide privacy, but can be raised or opened, and all the sounds of the mountains – bird song, occasional animal cries and the far-off clunking of livestock bells – percolate through them. The sculpted and polished wood carvings that are a particularly idiosyncratic feature of Desert Rose are especially creative and even mischievous: gentle hands offer loo paper or hold soap; a fish serves as a toilet flush. Unlike so many camps and lodges where the details need brushing up, here the details are at the heart of the lodge and help make a stay here delightful.
- The rooms are ranged around and slightly below the central areas of the lodge and are accessed by paths and steps. Two of the rooms are doubles, two are twins and one is a family house. The twins can be set up either as two beds or as a double. In each case a big, ceiling-to-floor mosquito net keeps the bugs out. The family house has two big single beds downstairs and one double mattress upstairs on the floor.
- The open-air bathrooms at Desert Rose, like the rest of the architecture, are quirky and very appealing, though they are best suited to guests who are on intimate terms with each other as they offer little privacy. Typically the bathroom area is in front of – and slightly downhill from – the bedroom, with the toilet off to one side. They feature sunken baths, recessed washbasins surrounded by sensuously polished stone and wooden frames, and natural rock surfaces all around.
Activities based from Desert Rose mostly derive from the lodge’s compelling location in what is effectively a mountain oasis in the semi-desert. Owner-manager Emma Hedges leads short bush walks to ‘Safaricom Rock’ whenever guests want a short hike (or need to check their phones or laptops). After many years of living in the area, Emma is an authority on the local environment and full of fascinating information about Mount Nyiru and the region’s geology, natural history and Samburu culture. It’s a glorious walk, largely under shade, through dense vegetation to a superb viewpoint with a good network signal.
It’s just a five-minute scamper down to the lugga and natural water slide – a beautiful suntrap spot where many guests happily hang out for hours, reading and sunbathing. In a shady nook to one side, there’s a big, carved table and chairs, where bush meals are frequently served.
Longer walks with Samburu guides can easily be organised, either up on the forested slopes of Mount Nyiru, or down on the open plain. With advance notice, you can also book a half- or full-day walk with camels, setting off from the airstrip, or go fly camping with camels, sleeping under the stars or in small tents, and cooking over fires. More expensive adventures can be organised with Desert Rose’s 4x4, or using a chartered plane to visit Lake Turkana’s remote South Island National Park or other districts in the north. If you're able to be at the lodge in May or early June, you can attend the extraordinary Lake Turkana Cultural Festival, a tribal jamboree that brings together a dozen ethnic groups from the north to dance, sing, participate in reconciliation workshops and show off their best traditional finery.
Samburu dancing is often included at Desert Rose, and the lodge is so well integrated with the local community that participants in local celebrations or festivities will always invite Emma and her guests if possible.
Our viewMuch talked about but less often visited, Desert Rose has almost mythical status in Kenya for its unique beauty and location. We were knocked out by the location and the sheer elation of climbing up into this stunning environment. Our visit was a highlight of a recent trip to Kenya and we’ve stored the lodge away as a place we will absolutely return to. We also think it’s perfect for adventurous children and teens, with its pool, local walks and natural waterslide.
Ideal length of stay: 3 days-plus
Directions: Charter flight to local airstrip with lodge transfer (transfer included in rates), or helicopter to one of the two heli-pad lawns at the lodge.
Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer
Owner: Emma Hedges
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: Much of the produce – vegetables, herbs and fruit – served at Desert Lodge is grown in the lodge garden. Meals are healthy, hearty and fresh – with a bit of zing.
Dining style: Group Meals
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Drinks included. If guests have special requirements like Champagne or particular wines or spirits, they should order well in advance or bring them with them. Drinking water is filtered rather than plastic-bottled.
Further dining info: Available
Family holidays: The luxurious, beautifully set Desert Rose is the perfect choice for northern Kenya family safari holidays with robust, adventurous children and teens, who can enjoy a pool, local walks and a natural waterslide. Children’s food needs will be happily discussed.See more ideas for Family holidays in Kenya
Honeymoons: Desert Rose is an amazing choice for a honeymoon to Kenya. With a remote location, stunning views and beautifully designed rooms, it is a very romantic spot. Getting to the lodge is somewhat an adventure in itself, and the track from the airstrip is not for the faint hearted!See more ideas for Honeymoons in Kenya
Cultural experiences: Samburu dancing is often included at Desert Rose, and the lodge is so well integrated with the local community that, whenever possible, participants in local celebrations or festivities that visitors can be involved in will invite the owner-manager Emma Hedges and her guests.See more ideas for Cultural experiences in Kenya
Attitude towards children: Children are welcome, with no age restriction, as long as they are supervised.
Property’s age restrictions: None, as long as they are supervised
Special activities & services: Nearby lugga (seasonal water course), with natural waterslide; lodge swimming pool (no lifeguard). Desert Rose will very happily discuss food needs for children.
Equipment: One cot available.
Generally recommended for children: We think Desert Rose is perfect for robust, adventurous children and teens, with its pool, local walks and natural waterslide.
Notes: Desert Rose’s construction is highly original and quite quirky – children will need extensive supervision and advice on what is safe to play in and with here.
Communications: Very little network coverage: one spot in camp, and one spot at ‘Safaricom Rock’, which is a very nice walk along the mountainside.
TV & radio: None
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: Desert Rose has a first-aid kit, but nobody has had any training – though Emma has had experience of dealing with medical incidents.
Security measures: An askari is on duty at night, but there is nobody on duty during the day apart from regular lodge staff. There is no monkey problem.
Fire safety: Fire extinguishers are placed around the lodge.
Disabled access: On Request
Laundry facilities: Full laundry service is included. Items – excluding ladies’ underwear – are handwashed, line-dried.
Money: There are no safes or lock-up boxes, and no currency exchange is possible.
Accepted payment on location: Cash payments may be made in US dollars, euros, pounds sterling or Kenyan shillings. Credit cards are not accepted.