Kulala Desert Lodge: Our full report
Situated on the 210km² private Kulala Wilderness Reserve south of Sesriem, Kulala Desert Lodge offers a close ...... and spectacular view over the Namib Sand Sea to the west, and the Namib-Naukluft Mountains to the east. Originally opened in 1996, the lodge was built to make the most of the vista. In addition to the dunes on its doorstep, however, its defining attraction remains a private entrance from the reserve into the Namib-Naukluft National Park.
We have visited Kulala several times over the years, and despite its size have been impressed by the relaxed atmosphere, and friendly staff and particularly warm welcome.
Two adjoining thatched roofs, each climbing to a peak redolent of the dunes, shelter the central area. Beneath this you will find the reception area, office, curio shop, kitchen and restaurant, which spills over to a veranda. In good weather, dinner is served outside by candlelight. Adjacent to the dining area is Kulala's bar and lounge, decorated in warm shades of browns, reds and burnt oranges. An open fireplace in the lounge is often lit during the winter months (mid June–August) when night-time in the desert can be particularly chilly. During the rest of the year the high thatched ceiling and stone floors keep the main areas cool. In keeping with the natural feel of thatch and stone, a clay wall encompassing two sides of the central building helps to keep any adverse weather at bay.
At the side of the main building, the swimming pool is a good size, particularly considering it’s in the desert. You may find yourself sharing this with the birds, which often swoop in for a quick drink. It's a large, walled off area with sunloungers and some thatched shady spots to escape the sun during the heat of the day.
Kulala Desert Lodge’s 23 chalets are known as 'kulalas', a term derived from an Oshiwambo word meaning 'to sleep'.
Each of these spacious kulalas is made of canvas and wood with a thatched roof, and raised slightly off the ground to allow a through flow of air. This, along with a ceiling fan, helps to keep the rooms cooler during the hot summer months.
Inside, twin or double beds sit on polished wooden floors, and white bed linen with bright, bold cushions and throws give a very fresh feel. Bright reading lights are mounted on the wooden headboard, behind which hides a small writing desk and luggage rack. Each room also has a closet with a small safe, full-length mirror, and tea- and coffee-making facilities; flasks of hot water are provided on request and usually with your morning wake-up call. On our last stay, in May 2016, we thought that the rooms were looking a little tired and in need of some renovation, which we are told is in the pipeline.
At the back of each chalet, a stepladder leads up to a private roof terrace above the bathroom, where guests can sleep out under the stars in comfortable bedrolls – an experience that we have particularly enjoyed over the years. Outside, on a private covered deck to the front of the kulala, a small wooden table and two canvas directors’ chairs are perfectly placed to enjoy the views of the surrounding desert.
Beneath the roof terrace, the clay-and-brick en-suite bathroom has a flushing toilet and shower, and is kitted out with shampoo, body lotion and soaps. In an effort to conserve water in this arid environment, Kulala provides a bucket in each bathroom to catch cold water until it runs hot, and this water is then used to clean the chalet.
In keeping with their family-friendly approach, Kulala has a family room with two bedrooms that share one bathroom and a wooden deck. Additionally, four en-suite kulalas are set up in pairs, each pair sharing a large wooden deck. These would work well for families with older children, or for small groups of friends travelling together. Occasionally, though, when the lodge is very busy, they are also used for two separate couples.
The most popular of the activities at Kulala Desert Lodge is a guided 4WD morning drive into the dunes, to include a visit to Sossusvlei and Dead Vlei. The Kulala Wilderness Reserve has its own private entrance into the Namib-Naukluft National Park, less than ten minutes' drive from the lodge, so participants don't need to access the dunes via the gate at Sesriem. However, guests who prefer to explore the dunes on their own must drive 14km to the entrance of the Kulala reserve, from where it's about 19km to the Sesriem gate, then a further 60km through the park to the 2WD parking area.
Other possible activities at Kulala include guided and unguided walking trails, and sundowner drives on the nature reserve. For an extra cost, it is also possible to take an early-morning balloon flight from Kulala Desert Lodge. Following a flight over the desert of around an hour, an extravagant champagne breakfast is served amongst the dunes. This is not an inexpensive option, but we highly recommend it.
If you are travelling around Namibia on a self-drive trip, it is possible to book Kulala Desert Lodge with Expert Africa in two different ways:
- Dinner, bed and breakfast (half board), which excludes lunch, most drinks and activities. Guests may either drive themselves around the area, or pay on an ad hoc basis to join one or more of the activities organised by the lodge. However, travellers have commented to us in the past that the cost of activities at Kulala was unexpectedly high when purchased directly at the lodge – more so than if they had booked on a full-board and activities basis (see below) – so you might wish to check the latest prices before booking any excursions here. For any drinks that you consume, you settle the bar bill on departure.
- Full board and activities, which includes lunch, most local drinks, and two daily activities organised by the lodge. Premium brand or imported drinks and hot-air ballooning will always cost extra.
Kulala is a very comfortable lodge in a lovely setting and has long been a favorite of the Expert Africa team. While the rooms may be in need of renovation, the welcoming team and relaxed, informal atmosphere that we have always enjoyed remain unchanged. The private entrance to the national park is a real bonus for guests on an organised excursion with the lodge as it's substantially closer than the main gate, offering a fantastic opportunity to make the most of the early-morning light. However, guests who prefer to drive themselves to the dunes should bear in mind that it's quite a long way to the main gate at Sesriem.
Country manager: Namibia
- Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia
- Ideal length of stay
- At least two nights, although three would usually be necessary if you plan to do a hot-air balloon flight.
- The entrance to the Kulala Wilderness Reserve is approximately 19km south of Sesriem. It is then about a further 14km along a well-signposted route to the lodge. There is shaded parking near reception.
- Accessible by
- Self-drive or Fly-and-Transfer
Food & drink
- Usual board basis
- Half Board
- Food quality
- A breakfast buffet is laid out in the lodge's dining area for guests heading out on activities in the morning, between about 5.30am and 6.30am depending on the season. On our most recent visit, in May 2016, we found a great selection of freshly baked muffins and bread, cold meats, cheeses, cereals, fruit and yoghurt. Cooked breakfasts are made to order. If you're not joining an activity and would prefer to have breakfast a little later, a suitable time can be arranged.
Lunch is usually a two-course set menu, served between about midday and 2.00pm. We didn’t have lunch on our last visit but on a previous visit it took the form of a Waldorf salad, followed by spaghetti with a tomato and olive sauce. The alternative was a toasted steak sandwich with a small salad.
Breakfast and lunch packs can also be ordered from the lodge, but these need to be arranged the day before.
A three-course dinner is served from about 6.30pm. We started with butternut squash soup, then moved on to beef or hake with rice and mixed vegetables. Dessert was a pecan and coffee cake, a delicious end to a well-rounded meal.
- Photography holidays
- The iconic dunes of the Namib Desert are a must for landscape photographers in Namibia. Kulala's private entrance into the Namib-Naukluft National Park means that visitors on a guided excursion can make the most of the morning light on the dunes.
- See ideas for Photography holidays
- Attitude towards children
- Children of all ages are welcome at Kulala Desert Lodge.
- Property’s age restrictions
- Kulala Desert Lodge welcomes children of all ages and there are no age restrictions on any of the guided activities.
- Special activities & services
- There are three family units at Kulala; two have two separate en-suite chalets set up on a single deck, and one has two rooms that share a bathroom, entrance and deck. One cot is available on request for young children.
- Generally recommended for children
- With three family-style units and no age restrictions on activities, Kulala would work well for families with children of all ages. Having said that, they don't provide child or baby seats for children in the vehicles.
- The pool area is walled off and has a gate, but children must remain under the supervision of their parents at all times.
Our travellers’ wildlife sightings from Kulala Desert Lodge
Since mid-2018, many of our travellers who stayed at Kulala Desert Lodge have kindly recorded their wildlife sightings and shared them with us. The results are below. Click an animal to see more, and here to see more on our methodology.
- Power supply notes
- Despite their best efforts and improvements to the solar system, Kulala is still somewhat reliant on a generator, which is switched on at peak times to top up the system.
- There is cellphone reception around the lodge, but the use of cellphones in the public areas is discouraged. There is no WiFi but there is a computer with internet access in the reception area, which guests are welcome to use on a complimentary basis.
- TV & radio
- Water supply
- Water supply notes
- The lodge has flushing toilets and the showers are plumbed in. In their efforts to conserve water, a bucket is provided in each chalet to catch cold water until it runs hot in the shower. This is then used to clean the chalet.
Health & safety
- Malarial protection recommended
- Medical care
- Guides are trained in first aid and a doctor is on call for telephone advice 24 hours a day. Otherwise there is a nurse based in a small clinic at Sesriem. In the event of a serious medical emergency, guests would be evacuated to Windhoek by air.
Quadbike warning: quad-biking is sometimes available as an activity in this area. As with any potentially dangerous activity, it’s vital that you take responsibility for ensuring that you have adequate travel insurance prior to getting involved. Be aware that some insurances cover quad-bike activities only for bikes with lower engine ratings: check such clauses particularly carefully before you get on a bike.
- Dangerous animals
- Low Risk
- Security measures
- When we where last at Kulala, they were building a reception area at the main entrance to the Kulala Reserve to monitor comings and goings. There are locks on the room doors and a small safe in each room.
- Fire safety
- There are fire extinguishers in the chalets and around the main area.
Hot air ballooning
Sleeping under the stars
- Disabled access
- On Request
- Laundry facilities
- A complimentary laundry service is included for guests booked on a full-board and activities basis. For those staying on a half-board basis, the service is available at an additional charge, ranging from N$4 (approx 20p) for a pair of socks to N$15 (75p) for a pair of trousers and N$20 (£1) for a dress. A small pot of washing powder is provided in each room for guests who wish to do a little hand washing.
- Kulala does not offer currency-exchange facilities. There is a small safe in each room to store valuables.
- Accepted payment on location
- Cash in Namibian dollars or South African rand), and Visa and MasterCard, are accepted methods of payment, but American Express cards are not. US dollars and euros would be accepted in an emergency.
Other lodges in Namib-Naukluft National Park
Alternative places to stay in this same area.