Last November, I enjoyed a fabulous holiday in Namibia. You can read my trip reports here:
- Review: Concorde Room at London Heathrow Airport
- Review: British Airways Boeing 777 First Class from London to Johannesburg
- Review: Airlink E190 Business Class from Johannesburg to Windhoek
- Review: &Beyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge
- Review: Zannier Hotels Sonop
- Review: Zannier Hotels Omaanda
- Review: Little Kulala by Wilderness Safaris (today)
- Review: Damaraland Camp by Wilderness Safaris
- Review: Hoanib Skeleton Coast by Wilderness Safaris
- Review: Onguma The Fort (Etosha National Park)
Today: Review of Little Kulala Lodge by Wilderness Safaris (Namibia)
Managed by Wilderness Safaris, Little Kulala is set within the 27 000-hectare Kulala Wilderness Reserve, a pristine wilderness sited in Namibia’s Namib, nicknamed ‘The Living Desert’. A welcome oasis, the camp lies along the dry Auab riverbed. You can’t get much closer to the renowned dunes of Sossusvlei and the haunting panoramas of Dead Vlei, accessible through an exclusive-use gate. Recently refurbished, Little Kulala entices with its adventures, its landscapes, its peace. Totally solar-powered, the new camp has cleaner, more modern lines than its predecessor, opening out more to the desert. Its 11 climate-controlled suites – each with its own plunge pool – honour the local geology, reflecting the surrounding grey and pink limestone in colour and texture.
Have you ever stayed at Little Kulala? If so, what was your experience? Leave a comment.
In this review (more info and photos below my Youtube clip & slideshow):
- Pros & things I like
- Cons & things to know
- My verdict
- Tips for future guests & save money
- Best time to visit
- How to get there
PROS & THINGS I LIKE
- Little Kulala enjoys a sublime location in the exclusive 27 000-hectare Kulala Wilderness Reserve, a pristine wilderness site within Namibia’s Namib, nicknamed ‘The Living Desert’. Stretching for almost 2000 km (1,200 mi) and dating back at least 55 million years, the Namib is believed to be the world’s oldest desert (the Sahara is thought to be just two to seven million years old). While sand dunes are an omnipresent feature throughout the Namib, the dunes in the area of Littkle Kulala rank among the most spectacular and the highest in the world. And you can’t get much closer to the famous dunes of Sossusvlei and the haunting panoramas of Dead Vlei, since Little Kualala is the only lodge in a private reserve with direct access to Sossusvlei’s magnificent red dunes through an exclusive-use gate (ensuring a head start on the tourist buses for morning excursions to the dunes).
- Cool, serene and sheltering, Little Kulala is an oasis in the midst of the stark desert beauty. Set along the dry Auab riverbed with its dead camelthorn trees, the lodge’s main building is a semi open-air pavilion which houses a welcome area, library, wine cellar, craft boutique, and sitting & dining areas. There’s also an upstairs lounge, complete with a photo hub and other interesting objects, offering a relaxing area for guests to learn more about Namibia’s fascinating geology, fauna and flora. Offering endless desert vistas, the pavilion is surrounded by circular decking which overlooks a nearby watering hole popular with wildlife, especially at night (e.g. springboks, oryx, and jackals). One side of the pavilion also features a shaded deck with sun loungers and a swimming pool. A walkway – floating over the sand like a snake – connects the main pavilion with the stand-alone accommodations.
- Merging impeccably into the desert landscape, Little Kulala features 11 thatched “kulalas” (the word means “to sleep” in native Oshiwambo language). Each suite comes with a spacious deck, shaded sala and private plunge pool. On the inside, the suites feature a kingsize bed (alternatively, a twin bed set up is possible) and a sitting area with floor-to-ceiling windows that offer a great view of the desert landscape and passing wildlife. Ensuite bathrooms are equipped with both indoor & outdoor shower. On top of each suite is a rooftop area that can be utilized for sundowners, “African tapas” and other rooftop dinners. A unique feature of the suite is a roll-out bed under the sala for either siestas during the day or for sleep-outs under the stars (an experience not to be missed since the Namib Desert offers some of the darkest skies on earth).
- In November 2020, Little Kulala re-opened following an extensive refurbishment. Maintaining the same much-loved look and feel of the old lodge, the rejuvenated design celebrates the luxury of space, splendor and solitude of the Namib. The lodge’s bleached wooden decks, conical shaped thatched roofs and earthy green colored walls seamlessly blend in with the sun-scorched desert surroundings, while large windows and trees incorporated into the lodge’s architecture bring the outside in. Interiors utilize mirrors, concrete floors, curving walls, and designer furniture create an effortless sense of space and light, which is further enhanced by a neutral color palette of desert pastels. Pebbled wall, wooden floors, white linens, pure cottons and mohair dyed with natural vegetable dyes all make for a very organic camp look which takes its inspiration from its surroundings.
- Food at the Little Kulala is excellent and all meals are included in the room rate. The gastronomic experience is designed to reflect the camp’s conservation story through the use of immersive dining and a mindful menu that celebrates Namibia’s sustainable and indigenous ingredients. Breakfast – served prior to each morning activity – consists of a small continental buffet set up in the dining room and a choice of several cooked options. Healthy snacks and a choice of drinks are provided on excursions. Lunch is served on the outdoor deck and comprises three courses, including healthy and lighter options. At night, guests can dine on the wrap-around veranda, in the laid-back restaurant, inside the classic sunken wine cellar, or around the cosy outdoor fire pit in front of camp (which is the perfect storytelling platform).
- Little Kulala features an intimate spa – with just one treatment room – next to the main lodge. The spa partners with Healing Earth, an award-winning premium brand that specializes in natural body care products. The signature Sossusvlei Desert Escape treatment starts with a full back exfoliation followed by a skin-quenching Namib Melon full body massage, rounded out by a jade crystal facial massage. Other treatments include the Miracle Repair, a luxurious anti-ageing procedure using African potato balm to repair the skin on a deep cellular level. The Body Rebalance is a blissful aromatherapy massage using powerful indigenous phyto oils tailored to the guest’s individual needs, in order to leave them glowing, relaxed and hydrated.
- Little Kulala offers innovative in- and out-of-camp activities that amplify the splendor and solitude of the Namib Desert. From e-bikes to night-time scorpion tracking and hot air ballooning, guests staying at Little Kulala are spoilt for choice with a variety of activities tailored for an optimal exploration of the wondrous landscape. Here are some of the activities on offer:
- Not to be missed is the half day excursion to the Namib’s world-famous, towering. Sossuvlei is the name of an enormous clay pan, flanked by the famous sand dunes that flush red in the early morning sun (as well as the name of the area in general). Close to the Sossusvlei pan is Dead Vlei, another pan where water once flowed. All that remains now are the skeletons of trees that reach up out of the cracked earth.
- Sesriem Canyon is a fascinating geographical formation well worth a visit. The result of millions of years where water carved its way into the earth, Sesriem Canyon is today 3 km (1.8 mi) long. Views from the top are breathtaking while walks through the canyon reveal distinct geographical layers which were laid down over aeons.
- The 37 000-hectare private Kulala Wilderness Reserve offers visitors exclusive wildlife-viewing opportunities which include the likes of gemsbok (oryx), bat-eared fox, brown hyaena and birdlife. The reserve can be explored on foot, by bike or by car, always under the guidance of the lodg’s experienced rangers. Spectacularly scenic viewpoints offer a chance to stop and take it all in. Sundowner stops in scenic parts of the reserve are a highlight.
- Explore further into the private Kulala Wilderness Reserve, while enjoying the thrill of riding a quad bike. A guide leads these eco-sensitive excursions, allowing you to take in the incredible views and to catch a glimpse of the denizens of the desert.
- After dark, another realm of the Namib awakes. Walks reveal some of the desert’s captivating critters such as dancing white lady spiders and scorpions which fluoresce under UV lights.
- An absolute highlight of any stay at Little Kulala is a balloon safari (not included in the room rate). This activity is organized by a separate company – Namib Sky Ballooning – and can be booked via the lodge at no extra cost. Little Kulala is the best lodge in the Sesriem area from where to take a balloon safari as the balloon takes of from within Kulala Wilderness Reserve: it’s only a ten min drive from the lodge to the launch site, while guests from other lodges often have to drive 30 minutes or more. The balloon safari lasts one hour and offers a truly unique experience as you soar silently above the magnificent ocean of sand and mountains, with endless vistas of shadows and lights. . A champagne breakfast is being served at the landing site. At landing, you come back to earth with an “Out Of Africa” style Champagne breakfast set up in the middle of nowhere, and your pilot will present you with a flight certificate
- Little Kulala is managed by Wilderness Safaris, my favorite safari company in Africa. Wilderness Safaris was founded in 1983 in Botswana by two young guides, who wanted to ensure both conservation of wildlife areas and that the financial benefits of their safaris flow to Botswana and its people. Today, Wilderness Safaris is widely acclaimed as the continent’s foremost ecotourism operator, dedicated to conserving and restoring Africa’s wilderness and wildlife. They do this by creating life-changing journeys for guests in some of the most remote and pristine areas in Africa, hereby helping to conserve Africa’s spectacular biodiversity and share ecotourism’s benefits with the communities that live alongside these areas. Wilderness Safaris operates more than 40 camps in seven countries, including several iconic and ultraluxe properties such as Mombo & Little Mombo in Botswana and Bisate Lodge in Rwanda.
- Little Kulala is deeply committed to Wilderness Safaris’ 4Cs sustainability ethos of Commerce, Community, Culture and Conservation. Back in 1996, when Wilderness Safaris first started operating in the area, the locale had previously been used for subsistence goat farming, and precious little indigenous wildlife remained. The company undertook a comprehensive and careful rehabilitation program to restore the degraded land to its original habitat. Today, the Kulala Wilderness Reserve is critical for episodic movement of wildlife as they follow food and water for survival. The reserve forms the link between the extremely important major drainage lines of the central Namib Desert and the surrounding pro-Namib, and the major drainage lines of the Namib Sand Sea. The staff are also proud to share their rich cultural heritage with guests.
CONS & THINGS TO KNOW
- Getting to and from the lodge might require a long drive on gravel roads, depending on where you come from: Swakopmund is 400 km (248 miles) from the lodge, while Namibia’s capital Windhoek is 380 km (236 miles) away. Because of the long drive involved, I recommend to stay at least 3 nights, so that you have a minimum of two full days at the lodge itself. If you don’t want to fly, you can also reach the property by scheduled daily charter flight to its private airstrip (which is just 5 minutes from the lodge).
- Similar to most lodges in Namibia, Little Kulala is not fenced off, so guests are required to be vigilant at all times. Leopards, snakes and scorpions are present in the Namib Desert, and there is no physical impediment to them entering the area around the lodge. It is recommended that guests use a torch when walking around the lodge at night.
- The WiFi signal at Little Kulala is not very strong, just enough to send texts and catch up on emails (but that’s the case in all remotely located hotels in Namibia). Also, there’s no TV inside the room, but then, who needs all this in this spectacular environment which focuses on reconnecting guests with nature.
- The private plunge pools are Little Kulala are rather small, located in the shade, and filled with cold water. But they are adequate to cool down during the heat of the day.
- Little Kulala is not cheap, but the rate is offered on all-inclusive basis (including all meals and all activities).
- Location: 10/10
- Design: 9/10
- Pool: 9/10
- Rooms: 9/10
- Food: 9/10
- Breakfast: 9/10
- Spa: 8/10
- Service: 10/10
- Value for money: 10/10
- Overall experience: exceptional 9/10
TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
- Save money: read here my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel like Little Kulala (and/or receive many free perks).
- Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
The best time to visit Namibia is from July to October, when the temperatures are comfortably warm during the day and the chance of rain is low. This is also the best time for outdoor activities and wildlife viewing, making it peak travel season. Between December and March, some days will be humid and rain may follow, often in localized, afternoon thunderstorms.
HOW TO GET THERE
Little Kulala is located on the NamibRand Nature Reserve, and can be accessed along the C27, approximately 20 minutes south of Sesriem, either coming from Swakopmund (400 km or 248 miles) or from Windhoek, (380ckm or 236 mi). Please note that the road surface here can be quite poor, and 4WD car is advisable, especially in the rainy season (November to May). You can also fly in, and it’s a 90 min flight from Hosea Kutako International Airport in Windhoek to the lodge’s private airstrip.
Below is a selection of my photos of Little Kulala. To view more hotel photos (including meals), click here.