Namibia’s wilderness—a land of volcanic mountains and epic dunes—is also the backdrop for a growing number of stylish hideaways.
Little Kulala, Namib Desert
Namibia's Top Safari Lodges
Little Kulala, Namib Desert
The Namib runs for 1,200 miles along the entire Atlantic coast of the country. A decade ago, adventure-travel company Wilderness Safaris acquired a 90,000-acre spread adjacent to the colossal Sossusvlei sand dunes to create the Kulala Wilderness Reserve. Today, this private park contains three small lodges. The newest is the Little Kulala (doubles from $900, all-inclusive), with 11 distinctive cement, wood, and glass thatched-roof villas. Each has a grand deck with a plunge pool; a rooftop terrace with “sky beds” for stargazing; and a minimalist studio with a platform bed, bleached plank floors, and leather shag throw rugs.
Bouncing across the sand on one of the guided desert drives, you’ll encounter giant dragonflies, springbok, spotted hyena, gemsbok with long elegant horns, and camel thorn trees hung with the monster nests of the sociable weaver (these avian apartment buildings can hold several hundred birds and last for up to a hundred years). Equally intriguing are the mysterious circles of grass, some as large as 30 feet in diameter; there are many theories as to their origins, from termites to static electricity.
The main attractions, however, are the great Sossusvlei dunes, with their distinctive salmon color and sharp edges; they resemble colossal pyramids. Of the hundreds of dunes, a few are standouts, like Big Daddy, which measures almost 1,000 feet, and Number 45, where climbing up (and body-sliding down) are permitted.
Namibia came onto the pop-culture radar three years ago, when Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt stayed at a beach resort on the country’s Atlantic coast here while awaiting the birth of their third child. For many, it was the most they had ever heard about this southern African locale, which, it turns out, has a lot more going for it than a brush with Hollywood celebrity.
Namibia has been quietly coming into its own for more than a decade. In addition to spectacular landscapes—vast deserts with thousand-foot sand dunes and a coastline strewn with bleached whalebones and ancient shipwrecks—Namibia has some of the biggest yet least-known game parks in the world. The fourth-largest country in Africa (it’s twice the size of California, which means a flying safari is the best way to see its wonders), Namibia has one of the continent’s smallest populations but one of the highest literacy rates—and most stable democracies.
The country is delightfully unspoiled, and the government wants to keep it that way. Tourism here is low-key: the emphasis is on small, well-designed, environmentally sensitive lodges in remote areas of the country. The last decade, especially, has seen a number of exciting new properties make their debuts in remote areas of the country.
For instance, the Namib Desert—the second largest on the planet after the Sahara—runs for 1,200 miles along the entire Atlantic coast of the country. A decade ago, adventure-travel company Wilderness Safaris acquired a 90,000-acre spread adjacent to the colossal Sossusvlei sand dunes to create the Kulala Wilderness Reserve. Today, this private park contains three small lodges—the newest of which is Little Kulala, which offers 11 stylish, thatched-roof villas, each equipped with a rooftop terrace for stargazing.
Kaokoland, in Namibia’s northwest corner, is greener than the Namib and is home to many Himba, a nomadic people numbering 12,000 who are scattered throughout northwestern Namibia and southern Angola. The Serra Cafema Camp here features a main lodge sitting on stilts, offering stunning vistas of an oasis of green albida trees above the Kunene River.
Whether your preference is for a tented resort in the desert or a casbah-style fort on a zebra-filled reserve, Namibia has a safari lodge that is worth the trek.
Richard Alleman is a contributing editor to Vogue and a frequent contributor to Travel + Leisure.
All of the lodges will help you arrange air transfers from Windhoek’s Hosea Kutako International Airport. Alternatively, book your trip through a seasoned travel agent. Phoebe Weinberg of Greatways Travel (313/886-4710) is one of the best around for Namibia. Outfitters such as Uncharted Outposts and Abercrombie & Kent can also help arrange your itinerary.