After multiple foiled attempts (thanks a lot, Covid-19!), Lyndsay finally made it to Uganda in April for nearly a month. Phil joined for a chunk, too, and the entire CAS team was together in Entebbe! Part I of my report is accommodations focused, while activities, game viewing and park info will follow in Part II.
Apoka Lodge – A truly classic safari lodge that really delivers! Beautiful views of the spectacular scenery of Kidepo Valley National Park and the surrounding mountains. The staff was sweet and put in great effort, the food was tasty and the rooms were well maintained and really ample – indeed very classic. Plenty of space to spread out and enjoy the main areas, natural rock pool and viewing tower. It is costly to get to Kidepo, but well worth it. If you are going that far, stay a while and relax – four nights would not be too many! Great guiding, bush walks, birding, culture and more buffalo than you can imagine (plus a lot more)! The big cats evaded us, but both lions and leopard were spotted by other guests in the park while I was there.
Nile Safari Lodge –What a feat! Such an accomplishment to bring new life to this old lodge. The structures and entire feeling are completely new, but the setting and soul of the old Nile Safari Lodge remain (yes, a few of you remember it)! Creative menu headed by the impressive female chef from the old lodge, thoughtful touches and a great in-room massage were all highlights. The sister-owners are problem solvers and quickly set a boat jetty across the Nile to ferry our guests between the Pakuba airstrip and the lodge when Bugungu airstrip closed for resurfacing…plus it means clients avoid the road construction taking place in the park and peacefully cross the Nile by boat!
Semliki Safari Lodge – Beautiful lodge, very nice tents and main area. Off the beaten path and hard to access. Namely for birders (but note that the water levels on Lake Albert are high and the chances of shoebill have declined with the high waters). The National Park has lots of key bird species and is worth a stop for someone with the interest and extra time. If carefully considered, it could be an interesting stop. Great staff, superb food! The lodge itself is lovely, the area is a bit of a challenge. I did see forest buffalo!
Ndali Lodge – The crater hike, new outdoor showers at select cottages, a delicious menu and delectable bar with some rare nightcap splurges (for those who find themselves recounting the day by the crackling fire). Traditional, cozy rooms (now with charging points and power!) and lots of outdoor areas to grab a book and lounge and dogs for those who are a smidge homesick for our pups! Lyndsay’s perfect day at Ndali: signature ‘Ndali green smoothie’, followed by a morning SUP on the lake, long leisurely lunch overlooking the crater, afternoon hike and search for the turacos, wind down with a soak in the Finnish-designed sauna, candlelit dinner and a chat by the fire! I beg you to add an extra night here and explore on foot, take a break from the travels and settle in.
Papaya Lake Lodge – A site inspection showed a property with a lot of recent work going into it (new steps, handrails and decking), which is promising. Public areas are lovely, beautiful pool and view out over the crater lake. Rooms are nicely designed and decorated and spacious. Their family cottage is a GREAT value and was undergoing some repairs (baboon damage) when I was there in April, but it is all being addressed. Once again, lots of steps! But this is Uganda…
Turaco Treetops Lodge – Very close to the Park HQ in Kibale Forest (15 mins max), this is a solid mid-range property. It offers contemporary style (read: lots of poured concrete – not a bad thing), forest views, a large open-air main area and lounge overlooking the pool. The standard rooms were actually very nice whereas the luxury rooms seemed a bit big without much in them. Staff was very friendly and accommodating and this is a good option for people on a budget and we’ve received good feedback from the guests we have had there. Convenient for birding, close to Bigodi and Tinka’s.
Primate Lodge – Has undergone a full refurbishment and is a great high-end option in the Kibale Forest National Park. It is adjacent to the park HQ so folks that are doing the full day chimp habituation trek benefit from staying here as it really saves time on that early morning departure. It is close to Tinka’s for the traditional lunch and the Bigodi Community activities. There were a few hiccups they were working through, but I’m confident that they will sort any teething pains.
Elephant Plains – A sister lodge to Primate Lodge, set overlooking Queen Elizabeth NP and Lake Gorge. This lodge was also recently upgraded (although it was newly built and opened just prior to Covid hitting) and is really very comfortable. Also a great higher end property and a good option for those that want a good touches of luxury, great service, excellent food and good proximity to the park. Nice décor and really pretty public areas with a pool and maturing gardens. This property is great value for money!
Kyambura Gorge Lodge – A highlight of my trip…primates and hiking! There are few things I love more. The rooms are no joke…those deluxe bandas are worth the splurge and make you feel like you are on a Zen/spa retreat (but still in Uganda with all the beautiful textiles and art). This is a luxury product. The team is warm, eager to please and makes a mean espresso martini with coffee beans grown just down from the lodge by the women of the ladies coffee co-op (your clients will meet them at the lodge). Round out the QENP experience chimp trekking in the Gorge, lion tracking alongside the researchers at the Uganda Carnivore Project and a cruise on the Kazinga Channel and you are set! We are still offering a Stay 5 Pay 4 offer in conjunction with Kyambura Gorge Lodge booked with Bwindi Lodge. In 2023 the Volcanoes lodges will include a $50 pp/night community fee that will benefit their trust projects at each lodge, as well as include full spa treatments and premium drinks!
Bwindi Lodge – sleeper hit…spa / massage room with a fireplace on a rainy afternoon, the amazing staff and having a drink with friends at the welcoming Bwindi Bar at sunset. Waking up to coffee, biscuits and a fire in the sitting room is unforgettable…mist rising above the forest into the mountains of Bwindi beyond. Quite the way to start the day before a gorilla trek! The lodge is looking great and Praveen, Kevin and the team have really upped the game and made incredible investments during the last few years and we really value our partnership with them. The deluxe bandas are very special – ideal for honeymooners and those who appreciate a bit more space and want to enjoy their room as well as be out and about. Grab a book and cup of tea and sit by the fire! Exceptional service and great food, too. You can hear a bit of community noise at times, but that is Buhoma…you are in a town (on the edge of one of the most ancient swaths of existing equatorial rainforest)!
Mahogany Springs Lodge – watch this space, extensive design refurbs are underway now and we are expecting an impressive outcome from one of the most consistent mid-range lodges in all of Bwindi. The photos that managing director Barrie Gotch has shared with us are looking good! All new linens, decor, curtains, furniture and more. MSL is also launching a new river-front chalet with two en-suite bedrooms, lounge and terrace this month. All good stuff in the works from the team at MSL! And, of course, as always still the warm service and delicious good!
Gorilla Forest Camp – I just popped in for an inspection, but our FAM groups had good feedback. The newer tents up at the top are what is in mind for the whole property down the road. They are definitely more on par with other Sanctuary properties in East Africa. The older tents are not tired, per se, but have the older style bathrooms and are a bit darker as they are set in the forest and slightly different layout. Service is very good and reports from our FAM groups was that the food was delicious. There’s such a nice vibe in the evenings with local live music and the fire going. Tents can be chilly in Bwindi during the rainy months, keep that in mind. We’re excited for continued updates and improvements here.
Buhoma Lodge – A site inspection showed a solid mid-range option and good value for money…lots of steps, which is usually the case at lodges in Bwindi! Rooms are cozy, if a bit small, but nicely decorated and well-appointed. The public areas do seem a bit tight for a camp of that size when full. The property is on the road immediately across from the Park HQ and you can get some early morning noise when the UWA staff arrives and vehicles start coming in.
Clouds Lodge – continues to deliver…the rooms are classic and feel like they wrap you in a familiar blanket. Nkuringo feels so remote, so wild and those views! If Buhoma is a bustling town, Nkuringo is a little village hanging on to the edge of the world. It’s very special to see. It is hard to beat a sundowner looking over that chain of seven volcanoes in the distance. As Phil says, “it’s prehistoric!” Just remember, the closest trekking to the lodge is the steepest…pax should be fit and ready for a steep hike. Rushaga is the next closest trekking area and depending on road conditions it is about 1.5 hrs scenic drive and roads can really vary throughout the year and if they were recently graded (roads were not good when we were there – rainy season!).
We popped in for a site inspection at the newly refurbished (like a major overhaul!) Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge and the team greeted us with welcome drinks, complimentary hand massages and an enthusiastic tour around the lodge. It is looking great! This is an impressive option on the luxury end in the Southern Sector and great value for money. Beautifully decorated and spacious standard rooms and huge forest suites. Views and gardens abound and the main dining and lounge area is an impressive sight! Nkuringo trekking is closest, but Rushaga is also possible from this lodge.
Chameleon Hill Lodge – a perennial favorite here at CAS! I celebrated my birthday at the lodge pre-covid and was so pleased to return and see that they have certainly not been asleep at the wheel during Covid. A spacious new two-bedroom (en suite) family unit just opened and, of course, it features Chameleon’s signature bright colors, artsy design and funky-cool eco touches. The food was very tasty and the team was happy to greet Phil and I after our long-awaited stay. They are working so far to be as eco-friendly as possible, too. Ask Lyndsay about some of the exciting new experiences we have on offer at Chameleon Hill.
Four Gorillas Lodge – A newer property in the Rushaga sector (closest to the gorilla habituation). This mid-range property offers clean, spacious rooms and forest views. Service was enthusiastic, but the meals needed a bit of attention (sourcing / quality issues?). Ample hot water and comfortable beds, more storage space/areas would be nice. Each banda has a private verandah. This is an acceptable mid-range option in the Rushaga area where accommodations are limited. Chameleon Hill is the next closest of our preferred partners in this area.
Gahinga Lodge is nestled in the foothills of the Virunga Volcanoes on the edge of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and that view is certainly otherworldly! The first of the Volcanoes collection of lodges retains a welcoming and homey atmosphere while also being upgraded currently. The deluxe bandas are stunning! Great food and top-notch service from this team. Lodge guide, Hillary offers birding expertise and boundless enthusiasm! This lodge is great for gorillas (1 family in the park), golden monkey (the only place to trek them in Uganda), culture and volcano hiking.
Photos and text by Lyndsay Harshman, Classic Africa Safaris Uganda