Friday, October 30, 2015

Mweya Safari Lodge

An iconic landmark since the 1950’s, Mweya Safari Lodge is perched atop a hill on the Mweya peninsula and offers luxury accommodation in the heart of Queen Elizabeth National Park.  As you approach the lodge from the road below, it’s completely unassuming, blending into the natural vegetation around it.  Once inside the lodge, opulence and mesmerizing views surround youThe ambiance of the place takes you back in time and makes you feel like an early explorer from a bygone era.

Mweya Safari Lodge Lobby
On arrival to Mweya Safari Lodge, the lobby gives you an overall  feel for the place.  Large, spacious and furnished with leather chairs, sofas and safari decor, it’s lavish and inviting.  On the opposite end of the main entrance is a large picture window that draws you closer to the view over Lake Edward and Katwe town.  You can see part of the Mweya peninsula as well, dotted with elephant, hippos and buffalo.  Cold juice and a cool towel welcome every guest on arrival.  The main lodge of Mweya is sprawling and is well positioned great views no matter where you are.

Inside a luxury tent
Mweya Safari Lodge offers various accommodation options ranging from 32 standard rooms, 12 deluxe rooms with air conditioning, 2 suites, 2 standard and 2 luxury safari tents and several cottages.  Standard and deluxe ensuite rooms are tastefully decorated in a safari theme and deliver comfort all around.  Most of the rooms at Mweya Safari Lodge look out over the Kazinga channel so you can enjoy great views as you relax on your private veranda.  Mweya Safari Lodge has 4 different cottages which are perfect for families or those wanting more space, privacy and amenities.  For those seeking the ultimate luxury safari experience, the safari tents are sure not to disappoint and are thoughtfully placed to give guests the utmost privacy.  Each tent has its own large wooden veranda, a perfect place to relax in privacy as you watch the animals on the far bank of the Kazinga Channel as they wander down to the waterside for a drink.  With plenty of vegetation around the tents, there is no shortage of birdlife flitting about

Inside a luxury tent
Inside the air conditioned luxury tent there is plenty of space.  A writing desk sits in one corner with a basket overflowing with fresh fruit, tea and coffee facilities and a hidden bar fridge.  In the other corner of the tent is a cozy sitting area with sofa, chair and coffee table.  In the middle of the tent, a king sized bed rests underneath a whirring ceiling fan.  At the head of the bed is a partition wall which separates the main part of the tent from a private closet area with dressing room, dressing table, mirror, hair dryer and a safe.  The modern bathroom is situated at the back of the tent.  As you enter the bathroom  there is a spacious counter, double sinks and full over counter mirror.  To the left is a large walk in shower and to the right a toilet and bidet.  Overall the tent has ample space and every creature comfort has been thought of.  What makes the tents so special is the mesh windows that allow you to enjoy all the sounds of the park from inside the comfort of your tent.  Lie in bed and hear lions roar, hippos grunt and hyena cackle. 

The outside of the main lodge
Mweya Safari Lodge is in the middle of a wildlife setting making escorts essential when returning to your room at night after dinner.  Golf carts and driver get you back to the comfort of your room safely and swiftlyOn our first night at the lodge before turning in for the night, we were relaxing on our veranda when we heard a rustling in the bushes next to us.  We sat wondering what was making the noise in the bushes and to our surprise, a hippo emerged and walked calmly in front of our veranda a mere few metres from where we satWe were thrilled as neither of us had ever been that close to a hippo, it was an amazing experience and as quickly as it began, it ended when the hippo disappeared into the bushes on the other side of our tent.  We sat in awe.  Not long after that, we heard the breaking of branches and soon discovered it was seven elephants metres from where we sat.  We sat gazing at them as they ate to their hearts content, and then moved on.  Mweya Safari Lodge may offer all the creature comforts, but it does so while keeping you amongst wildlife.

The Tembo Bar is in a corner of the main lodge and has a nice veranda that wraps around three sides of the bar.  It's a perfect place to enjoy a cold drink and gaze at the views.  It has a wonderful atmosphere with various seating options.  Leather furniture and safari decor abound while soft music plays in the background.  With WiFi and panoramic views of Lake Edward and the Kazinga Channel, the Tembo Bar is an excellent place to sit any time of the day.  The bar is well stocked with an extensive wine list, champagne and spirits as well as espressos and cappuccinos.  The beer and soda are always icy cold to quench your thirst.  The bar staff are friendly and always willing to have a chat in between their drink mixing and glass polishing.  The atmosphere in the Tembo Bar throws you right back to the exploration era, so much so that you feel like an explorer yourself. 

Mweya Safari Lodge with the boat launch below
The Kazinga Restaurant is where meals are served at Mweya Safari Lodge.  The restaurant has both indoor and outdoor seating.  The outdoor seating is nice for those looking to take in the view or to enjoy the vast birdlife around the lodge.  Be careful though, the weaver birds are sneaky and love to steal a nibble from your food and drink from your milk jug.  They are entertaining to watch to say the least, but with time have become brave around humans.  For me, they are part of the charm of mealtime on the terrace at Mweya Safari Lodge.  The restaurant serves meals both a la carte and buffet style depending on the occupancy at the time.  Both options offer a variety of cuisine from vegetarian, Indian, Continental and local Ugandan dishes.  On a busy night, there is a nice buzz in the dining room, people chatting, laughing and enjoying the end of a day on safari in Africa.  BBQ dinners and pasta evenings  give an extra special dining experience and coincide with traditional singing and dancing.  Once the sun goes down, the lawn outside of the Tembo Bar comes alive with people from the surrounding villages traditionally dressed.  The songs and dances they perform are filled with local legend and storytelling accompanied by the deep rhythms of African drums.  Guests can relish in the entertainment from the veranda of the bar before heading to the dining room for dinner.  On the BBQ evenings, the chefs set up outside the dining room near the pool with their charcoal grills where they grill and roast an assortment of meat and vegetables.  Here you can fill your plate with delicious grilled food before heading inside to compliment it with salads. During the pasta evenings a live cooking station is set up in the dining room where a chef is on hand to prepare your pasta dish with the fresh pasta and ingredients that you have chosen.    

For guests looking for an exclusive dining experience during their stay at Mweya Safari Lodge,  the bush breakfast and dinner were designed for this purpose.  After an early morning game drive, when your stomach is starting to rumble, rather than going back to the lodge for breakfast, a full buffet breakfast is served in a seclusive location several kilometres away from the lodge.  Tables, chairs and a team of chefs and waiters transform the bush into your own private dining area with a view overlooking the channel.   Bush dinners are a magical experience.  Late in the day, when the sun is dropping in the sky, head out into the bush for a sundowner overlooking Lake Edward.  Once the sun sets and the sky begins to darken, your bush dining room comes alive.  Lanterns light up the area beyond which is complete darkness.  Sitting under a ceiling of stars, dinner is served while a bush campfire burns not far away.  Frogs, crickets, nightjars, lions, hyenas and elephants are all part of the soundtrack.  This is an experience of a lifetime, one that will most likely stand out as a highlight of your safari.

The pool
One of the highlights of Mweya Safari Lodge is the beautiful swimming pool adjacent to the restaurant.  Its crystal blue water is inviting, especially on a hot day.  The pool is a lovely place to stay cool in the heat of the African sun while enjoying  the view over the Kazinga Channel.  Snacks and ice cream are also available at the Kazinga Pool bar.  Next to the pool a wooden deck with chaise loungers and large patio umbrellas make for a nice place to laze around. 

Mweya Safari Lodge has a gift shop near the lobby that is open daily.  It offers local crafts and curios for sale alongside books, maps, jewelry, souvenir shirts and caps for you to commemorate your stay at the lodge. The gift shop also sells a few essentials in case you have run out or forgotten something.
Other facilities at Mweya Safari Lodge include a business center for those that need to tend to work while on the road.  The centre offers a quiet atmosphere with internet access and computer facilities.  If you're looking for somewhere unique to host a workshop or conference, the lodge has amenities including a fully equipped conference room.  The health club and spa is a quiet place to get your daily dose of exercise.  If you are wanting a little pampering, they offer massage as well as other beauty treatments.   

Boat trip on the Kazinga Channel

Recently, Mweya Safari Lodge has introduced hot air ballooning which offers visitors a whole new way to experience their safari.  In partnership with Balloon Tours Uganda, ( balloon flights lift off just before sunrise over the savannah grasslands of the Kasenyi area of Queen Elizabeth National Park.  Quietly drifting over the Kasenyi plains you will be treated to a beautiful sunrise and the start of a new day in Africa.  It’s an incredible experience.  Upon landing, the lodge serves up a delectable bush breakfast to conclude your balloon safari. Information and bookings can be made through Mweya Safari Lodge.

Mweya Safari Lodge is a popular choice among many travelers.  The location of the lodge is unbeatable as it is inside the park and boasts incredible views.  The staff at the lodge are helpful, friendly and strive to make every aspect of your stay an enjoyable one.  If you enjoy comfort, ambience and outstanding views, then Mweya Safari Lodge should be your choice for your safari in Queen Elizabeth National Park.

For more information and reservations:
Marasa Central Reservations
Plot 96-98, 5TH Street Industrial Area
P.O. Box 22827
Ph:       +256  31 2260260/1
Ph:       +256  41 4255992

Lodge Tel
+ 256 39 2796773
+ 256 41 4340054

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Mihingo Lodge

Mihingo Main Lodge
I was falling into a deep sleep when a noise woke me.  I’d thought I had heard the whinny of a zebra, but much to my surprise, I was at home in Kampala and it wasn’t a zebra I had heard.  Sigh, clearly my mind was still at Mihingo Lodge and rightfully so as it’s a spectacular place to be.  Perched high atop a rocky outcropping on the fringes of Lake Mburo National Park, Mihingo Lodge offers commanding views over the park.  Nestled into the bush, the lodge melts into the landscape and you feel you have become a part of the nature around you as Vervet monkeys chatter, cicadas buzz and Ross’s turacos engage in duets of comical cackling.  The lodge may be secluded but luxury is not spared here, Mihingo Lodge offers the finest that the bush has to offer.

The centrepiece of Mihingo is the main lodge, dining and bar area, a superb place to relax and take it all in.  With no Wi-Fi and no reminders of the daily grind, you can truly escape, here and soak up the magic of Mihingo.  Whether it is on a chaise lounge next to the infinity pool, on an oversized bean bag in the top of the tower that boasts 360 degree views or with a drink in the bar, the view never gets boring.  It’s better than any DVD or television documentary I’ve ever seen.  This is live view and it’s wonderful!  At times it’s hard to even imagine that the hustle and bustle of Kampala is just four hours away, as it feels like light years.

The view of Lake Mburo NP from the main lodge overlooking the infinity pool

In the bar, a large built in adobe style sofa curves around the granite rock protruding from the wall.  Books and other informational materials are piled up on a ledge while paraffin lanterns glow in little alcoves on the wall.  Head barman Michael will greet you with his big smile and serve you your drink of choice from the fully stocked bar.  Every evening the bar serves pre dinner nibbles during which time, you will be invited to join in one of the lodges most unique experiences, the opportunity to observe thick-tailed Gallagos commonly known as Bush Babies, in their natural environment.  Over the years, the Bush Babies have grown accustomed to guests and on most evenings visit the Bush Baby platform below the bar.  These fascinating little primates look like a curious combination of species and are just too cute for words.  As they move about, Mugisha who has been interacting with them for over 7 years will answer all your questions.  As he gives his answers, it’s obvious he has a deep passion for these quirky little creatures.  After eating a couple of banana pieces, the bush babies disappear back into the trees to forage for food during the night.

The bar and lounge area

A bush baby

Meals are served in the dining area located in between the bar and the lounge. The dining room overlooks a watering hole and salt lick so is not only a place to enjoy good food, but the wildlife and view as well. Mihingo Lodge’s delectable cuisine has been developed mostly from family recipes.  A fusion of flavours incorporating fresh produce and herbs makes the meals healthy and satisfying. An aquaponic garden on the property ensures that the food you eat if of the utmost freshness often times being picked only hours before and you can taste the difference.  Breakfast is a selection of fresh fruit, juice, cereal, muesli and yogurt.  Eggs are cooked to order and served with the sides of your choice (bacon, sausages, mushrooms, tomatoes and beans) alongside homemade toast.  Lunches and dinners are both three course meals.  Grilled aubergines, smoked Nile Perch, chilled avocado soup, beef vindaloo, chicken with tarragon, pan fried beef fillet, mango cream, chocolate brownie and key lime pie are some of the fabulous dishes we had during our stay.  Pair these with one of the wines from the wine list and you’re all set.  I really can’t overemphasize how good the food is at Mihingo Lodge, it was a highlight of our stay!  In the evenings a campfire is lit next to the dining area and is an exceptional place to sit out under the stars, let your dinner settle, have a night cap and listen to the hyenas whooping in the valley below.

A dining experience with a view

Mihingo Lodge consists of 12 luxury tented rooms on raised wooden decks under thatch roofs.  The large beige canvas bedroom has screened windows on all four sides for an open feeling and uninhibited views.  The spacious rooms are luxurious but they don’t scream pretentiousness, but rather gently whisper relax.  The rooms are tastefully decorated with leather furniture and local African crafts and fabrics.  Outside is a large partially covered veranda which has a daybed and a couple of chairs.  It’s inviting place to sit and gaze at the astonishing views.  Each of the tented rooms at Mihingo is unique and offers their own special view and experience.  There is plenty of space between the tented rooms so you can enjoy privacy and solitude.  Our first couple of nights were spent in Klipspringer (room 11) which was all about the sweeping views over the valley below and Lake Kacheera.  The room is situated next to large granite boulders that bulge out from the earth and sandwich a crevasse filled with water that attracts animals. The water filled crevice is completely covered by Nile cabbage and home to terrapins and a night time chorus of frogs.  On our first afternoon at Mihingo, our veranda turned into our own private viewing platform for an entire troop of monkeys getting up to their usual tomfoolery.  That night, the room lived up to its name “Klipspringer” when a family of 3 klipspringers ambled over the rocks, then tucked their legs underneath their bodies and lay down to spend the night there.  Not far from where they lay were two large waterbuck munching on the grass.  This is the kind of place that you really don’t want to go to sleep as you just might miss something.

Our tented room at Mihingo Lodge
Inside the tented room

Our last night was spent in Impala (room 10) which was more of a bush experience with its own private view of a salt lick.  As we relaxed with a book on the deck, impala, baboons, warthogs and bushbuck wandered to and from the lick. The tented rooms at Mihingo are extremely spacious and pleasant. The king sized bed is a comfortable place to lay your head at night and fall asleep listening to the night noises of the park.  Each room has a considerable sized ensuite bathroom with flushing toilet and alluring views that you can enjoy while you shower.

Mihingo Lodge has extended their accommodation options and is now offering self catering accommodation for groups and families in the Bush Camp.  The camp consists of one room with a double bed and ensuite solar hot water shower, 1 tent with a double bed, outdoor solar hot water shower and a long drop toilet and 1 tent designed for children with 4 single beds and outside shower and toilet.  Other facilities include a large sitting and dining room with veranda, fully equipped kitchen and a store room for food with solar powered chest fridge and chest freezer.  The camp is intended for groups to self cater their meals and drinks and access to the facilities of the lodge are not allowed.  However, activities offered by the lodge such as the horseback safaris, bike safaris and walking safaris can be booked by Bush Camp residents.  For more information on the camp or booking information, contact

Mihingo Lodge offers a variety of activities, more than can be taken in on a single visit, unless you want to extend your stay which I’m sure most every guest contemplates.  The watering hole and salt lick below the main lodge is engaging.  Animals wander in and out from the bushes into view to have a drink and a nibble on the salty soil.  If you want to get a closer look, a quick 15 minute walk from the lodge along a trail, you’ll find “The Hide”.  It’s a great spot to quietly sit for a while and observe the animals.  If you want to get even closer and don’t mind being in a small enclosure, venture a little further down the trail to “The Den”, a great spot for photographers.

Taking photographs inside "The Den"

Massage was an activity we couldn’t resist.  A short walk from the main lodge winds you through the giant boulders the lodge is built on, to a secluded room overlooking the park.  After a couple of days at Mihingo you wouldn’t think there would be any tension left, but the masseuse did seem to find a few lingering spots and gently massaged them away.  This is one massage room that doesn’t require a sound recording.  The breeze blew gently, birds chirped, and we relaxed.
After dinner a night drive is a great activity.  Either inside or outside of the park, it’s your best chance to see nocturnal animals such as owls, hyenas, leopards, white tail mongoose and nightjars.  The lodge has safari vehicles for hire that include a driver and guide.  The vehicle has open sides and spot lights to ensure your night drive is an unforgettable experience.

If you’re tired of being in a car, Mihingo Lodge offers a couple of unique safari experiences, horseback safaris and mountain biking safaris.  Horseback safaris are unique to Lake Mburo NP and are a great way to experience wildlife.  The animals are extremely relaxed around the horses which allow you to get close to them and often see some of the more timid ones up close such as eland.  Without the noise of a vehicle, you can really experience the sounds of nature.  We thoroughly enjoyed our horseback safari and as no previous experience on horses is required, anyone can participate.  The biking safaris will take you exploring the sandy paths around the lodge and riding alongside zebra, impala, warthog and other antelope.  This is great for people that are not comfortable on a horse, but still want to get out into nature.  As the terrain is not extreme, it's a good activity for the whole family.

Horseback Safari

Other activities offered by the lodge are walking safaris, cultural visits, game drives, kids bush courses and for running enthusiasts, a guided run through the community land.
Lake Mburo NP is reputed to be the best place in Uganda to see leopard with guests often spotting them on night game drives.  The leopard population does well in Lake Mburo NP due to the lack of competition from other predators.  Mihingo Lodge has recently started a leopard identification program to learn more about how many leopards are in the area and exactly where their territories are.  A book containing all the information collected to date is kept at the bar and vistor input is encouraged.  To date, 14 different leopards have been recorded and guests are welcome to share their photos along with information such as where the leopard was seen and the date.  It’s a fascinating book to flip through and includes photos, identifying characteristics and other information about each leopard.
A leopard seen on a night drive in Lake Mburo NP

Mihingo Lodge is committed to conservation and protecting the animals in and around the park.  Whenever humans and animals live in close proximity to each other, there is bound to be conflict.  During the time the lodge was built, an entire clan of spotted hyenas were poisoned by community members adjacent to the park.  This was the deciding factor that something should be done to reduce the conflict.  In 2008, the Mihingo Conservation and Community Development Foundation (MCCDF), a nonprofit organization was set up.  The primary goal of the MCCDF is to preserve wildlife outside of the park boundary and reduce the conflict between humans and animals.  They are accomplishing their goal through various means.  A compensation program for livestock killed by park predators has been very successful.  MCCDF also extends support to two primary schools in the area and have involved secondary students in the leopard identification program.  In the near future they are expanding their outreach to the community through various educational programs and the strengthening of animal enclosures where cattle are kept through the night so that animals are less vulnerable to predation.  The MCCDF is very aware that the more the local community is empowered and educated about the role of wildlife, the more eager they will be to protect and conserve it.  Iddy is the young woman in charge of the day to day operations and after chatting to her for only a couple of minutes her passion for everything wildlife and nature related is apparent.  She's extremely knowledgeable in her field and loves to share what she knows and answer questions.  She bubbles about the successes of MCCDF to date, but recognizes that it is an ongoing challenge, one she’s definitely up for.

A young zebra in Lake Mburo NP

Mihingo Lodge is without doubt a phenomenal place to stay, everything thing about it is chilled out luxury.  It is one of the few places in Uganda you actually be woken by the whinny of a zebra.  Don’t make the mistake of many and stay for only one night, stay longer.  Relax, stay awhile and immerse yourself in the magic of Mihingo.

Reservations & Booking Information
Mihingo Lodge
Tel. +256 752 410 509

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Banana Boat - African Crafts & Tribal Art

It’s a rare occasion that I am able to walk past one of the three Banana Boat shops and not get drawn in by the beautifully styled window displays.  I generally find myself wandering around the shop which is a treasure trove of African crafts, taking notice of items that I didn’t see the last time and often leaving with a new treasure of my own.  Banana Boat is no ordinary craft shop.  Behind the scenes is an extensive network of crafters, entrepreneurs and women’s groups who thrive off the fair trade principles that Banana Boats so proudly upholds.

The driving force behind Banana Boat is a woman named Suni.  When Suni began 19 years ago, there were very few Ugandan crafts in the marketplace, most products derived from Kenya which is still the case in the local craft markets.  Suni had a vision for getting Ugandan crafts onto her shelves and began working with some of Banana Boats first suppliers in 1996.  Today she has built up a network of over 200 suppliers that she works very closely with in developing new products and designs.  Using their technical and crafting skills, Suni helps them with design and product ideas while teaching them to pay close attention to finishing and quality control.  The result is the beautifully handcrafted products that you see on the shelves at the Banana Boat shops.

As a customer, I equate Banana Boat with great products, but for its suppliers, the significance of the company is so much more.  Banana Boat provides work opportunities which allow suppliers to have a sustainable source of income.  Suppliers are helped by advances when needed and interest free loans for materials and investments.  They are paid on delivery of the product rather than on consignment as most other shops offer.  The relationships that Banana Boat has built with its suppliers are strong and most of them are crafting solely for Banana Boat as they struggle to keep up with the demand.

In 2006 Banana Boat started a new initiative called Paper Craft.  Paper Craft was set forth to provide sustainable incomes for disadvantaged Ugandans, mostly women through the production of handmade paper and paper products.  Many of the people that Paper Craft employs find it exceedingly difficult to find employment or a source of income to cater for their households.  Using natural raw materials, such as elephant grass, pineapple tops, banana fibre and recycled paper, paper is hand crafted and then used to make various products.  Depending on the material used, each paper product has a uniquely different look.  Elephant grass has an olive greenish color, whereas pineapple top paper is very textured with a gold hue.  The Paper Craft workshop is in a small house in the village and it’s here that the cutting, blending and boiling happens, all a part of the process for making paper.  The company has evolved and now has new product ranges as well, including handmade soap and recycled glass beads.  Paper Craft is a prime example of how Banana Boat works with various groups in the development of products and the support provided for building sustainable livelihoods.  You can find out more about Paper Craft and their products on their website -

Behind the Banana Boat enterprise is an administrative team headed up by Suni’s husband Ralph.  Together they ensure that the concepts and ideas from which Banana Boat was born are upheld on a daily basis.  Providing attractive shopping environments with quality, innovative products and smiling staff for Banana Boat customers and sustainable livelihoods, fair trade opportunities and supportive product development for Banana Boat suppliers.  All around, it’s a win win for everyone involved.

Banana Boat has three locations in Kampala.

Tribal Arts and Crafts
Plot 23, Cooper Road,
Tel. +256 (0)414 232885

Craft and Gift Shop
Garden City Shopping Centre
Tel. +256 (0)414 525190

African Crafts and Interiors
Lugogo Mall Tel.
+256 (0)414 222363

Check the Banana Boat website for more information and store hours