Kulala Desert Lodge
(12 twin chalets) Reservations PO Box 6850, 8 Bismarck St (corner Merensky & Schinz streets), Windhoek; tel: 061 274500, cell: 081 1243066; fax: 061 239455; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; web: www.wilderness-safaris.com
Opened in 1996, Kulala is signposted off the C27 some 15km south of Sesriem (but north of the junction with the D845). The lodge is then about 14km from the road. Overlooking the national park from the southern banks of the Tsauchab River, Kulala is easily the closest lodge to Sossusvlei. However, its access to the vlei remains limited to the C27, and the park entrance at Sesriem, thus the Sesriem campsite and Sossusvlei Lodge are effectively a shorter drive from the vlei.
Inside, Kulala's ethnic décor owes much to André and Coralee Louw –designers of Villa Verdi, in Windhoek – whilst its cool clay construction drew inspiration from North African designs. The chalets, or 'kulalas', are large tents built on wooden platforms overlooking the riverbed, topped with thatched roofs. Each incorporates an en-suite clay bathroom, complete with shower and toilet. Outdoors enthusiasts can put their mattresses on the roof, and sleep in the open – a fun option (though chilly in winter).
Sandwiched between the national park to the northwest, and the private NamibRand Nature Reserve to the south, Kulala has 32,000ha of its own land on which it operates balloon safaris and nature drives. The balloon safaris, organised by Eric and Nancy Hesemans, who started Namibia's first ballooning at Mwisho, begin at first light, before the heat of the sun stirs powerful thermals over the desert. They end some 60–90 minutes later with a champagne breakfast served wherever you land. In between, you float serenely above a rolling vision of mountains, plains and iridescent sand-dunes, observing the silent dawn as it rises over one of the earth's most beautiful landscapes. A wondrous experience – even at a cost of US$250 per person.
Morning drives into Sossusvlei (with the lodge's own guides) are N$595 per person, including drinks and park entrance fees. Shorter evening drives (lasting from about 16.00–19.00), take a closer look at some of the smaller fauna and flora in the desert and cost N$370 per person, including sundowner drinks and a spotlit night drive on the way back to the lodge. Alternatively, many guests drive themselves around the area using Kulala as merely a stylish base.