A cool breeze greets you on arrival at Desert Rose Resort situated off the Kisumu- Kakamega Road. For a moment, you forget the sweltering Kisumu heat, as you enjoy the cool air and greenery around the hotel.
The 20-room hotel that sits on an acre at Riat Hills has a blend of exotic and indigenous trees, plants and flowers - providing a serene habitat for birds and butterflies.
Taking a drive around this picturesque part of Kisumu, you notice that beyond the palatial homes, there are several hotels and guest houses coming up to cater for the growing middle-class population.
“We wanted to make this a friendly, natural environment for relaxation away from the heat and bustle of downtown Kisumu,” says Sospeter Obara, the proprietor.
The engineer is with his wife Beatrice and daughter Debra at the resort that is slowly attracting regular clients.
From the gate, the hotel stands in full splendour surrounded by well-manicured grass and trimmed walkways.
Two bungalows housing the hotel rooms resemble a traditional grass-thatched house from afar due to their conical shape.
The idea, Obara says, was to build hut like cottages to blend in with the natural surroundings.
“We managed the look of an African hut while at the same time making it modern and durable,” he says of the nine-month-old hotel.
From one side of the hill, you can watch planes land and take off from the airport which is just three kilometres away.
Evenings are the best with spectacular sunsets beyond the shimmering lake below.
“Initially, this was meant to be a family home. But with time, our friends started asking whether they could stay here whenever we were away in Nairobi. That is when dad came up with the idea of building a hotel,” says Debra.
They then constructed two buildings with 16 rooms and gave them the names of some of Africa’s most famous deserts – Sahara and Kalahari.
Chalbi, the Kenyan desert, became the name of the two rooms they started off with.
Chalbi goes for Sh3,500 a night while the rate is Sh1,000 higher for Kalahari and double the amount for Sahara.
“The Chalbi rooms are smaller but have the advantage of a kitchenette. A young family can stay here and cook for themselves,” explains Debra as she takes us around the rooms.
According to Beatrice, the hotel’s location makes it ideal for business travellers and those who want peace and quiet to write reports.
“With our free wireless Internet and calm environment, we decided to focus on organisations and institutions that are looking for great conference facilities,” she said.
Desert Rose is also increasingly being used for garden weddings.
When they started, the owners had to contend with challenges that came with starting a hotel business in what was once an idle suburb.
“Access to water was a nightmare. Internet connection was another problem as fibre optic cables had not been laid towards the hill,” says Obara.
According to the engineer, opening up of Riat Hills to both local and international investors was a blessing to their business.
The hotel specialises in traditional Luo delicacies.
“Most hotels seem biased against traditional foods, mostly focusing on modern ones. We took up the challenge and you will not miss simple African dishes here, especially traditional vegetables,” quips Beatrice.
She said many people today prefer traditional food.
“From our kind of food and music, we create a unique culture that appeals to a certain age group,” Obara adds.
They offer family barbeques on weekends. Saturday evenings sees them hosting Rhumba and Luo music nights with a live band in attendance or resident deejays.