A modern take on the classic gorilla safari lodge

November 14, 2012

Our General Manager recently visited Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to conduct site inspections of some of the lodges in the area. Here is a firsthand report of her stay at Mahogany Springs.

It had been a while since I was last in Bwindi so it was high time to visit, update myself on some of the developments in the choice of lodges, and experience the joys of going gorilla trekking once more.

(It is at these moments working in the safari industry I realise we actually do have the best job ever.)

But I had a decision to make. Which of the great boutique lodges should I locate myself at? I was treating the trip as a chance for a site inspection of all the lodges, but needed to have a ‘home base’. So I decided to stay at Bwindi’s ‘new kid on the block’, Mahogany Springs. Having reached the number 1 slot on Trip Advisor for ‘Speciality Lodging’ in Bwindi just 18 months after it started operating, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

I wasn’t disappointed…there are many things which make a stay at Mahogany Springs special.

Like many luxury safari lodges, it has an incredible attention to detail in the design of the building. The upright hardwood poles supporting the main building have a repeating pattern of banana palms branded into their bases; the balustrades are made from tiny off-cuts of wood – the forked twigs and branches that are trimmed off the main trunk of a tree – that might otherwise have been thrown away; and the ceiling is lined with an intricate pattern of carefully folded and woven banana fibres.

Photo by Weeden

There are, of course, beautiful views which soothe the soul. From the main building’s panoramic picture window, a tall Mahogany tree is revealed, towering over the gardens and river valley below (if you sit in a certain position the branches of the Mahogany look like the continent of Africa); to views of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest itself – the dark trees stirring something inside of you as if calling to some primeval urge to return to the ancient forest from whence we came.

Mahogany Springs - Bwindi Safari Lodge - Photo by Rourke

The air is filled with the sound of birdsong, attracted by the many different plants and flowers in the lush, tropical gardens; there are distant cries of women tilling the earth in their shambas on the opposite hillside during the day and the laughter of children walking home from school in the afternoon; all the while, the river rushes by, forming a constant backdrop of ambient noise to lull you to sleep at night.

The sun-filled dining room at Mahogany Springs - Photo by Rourke

The food at Mahogany Springs is very accomplished. For a lodge in such a remote area, they provide a varied and comprehensive a la carte menu for lunches and dinners – choosing from two starters, three mains and two desserts. If you sit still for longer than ten minutes in the lodge you are offered tea or coffee served with delicious home-made biscuits (the hiking when gorilla trekking makes up for any over-indulgences – just keep telling yourself you need the extra energy!). Their Head Chef is a Nepalese who has worked in Uganda’s hospitality industry for many years blending local ingredients with fusion recipes, and the lodge grows its own fruit and vegetables on site. He was on annual leave when I visited but it did not seem to have any adverse effect on the kitchen’s output – it was all delicious.

The lodge also excels at offering some fulfilling ways to spend your time when not hiking after wild Gorillas in the misty forests of Bwindi. As part of the property’s efforts to promote sustainable tourism (for which they received recognition when voted one of five Sustainability Leaders in Uganda’s lodge and hotel industry earlier this year) they invite guests to participate in a tree-planting ceremony. You can also explore local walks through the lodge grounds and beyond, and enjoy some excellent birding in the gardens. And an incredible full body massage is available to ease those muscular aches from days spent hiking in the forest.

Uncluttered, bright and airy rooms - Photo by Weeden

What makes it different from the rest is that it refuses to conform to the standard stereotype of a forest lodge or camp. There isn’t a canvas wall in sight and the rooms and main lodge are all bright and airy spaces, with plenty of light entering through lots of large windows. There’s an uncluttered sense of modernity and clean lines throughout the lodge, whilst staying true to local and natural materials.

It’s also technically well equipped. A nearby hydropower project provides 24hr electricity and there are plenty of sockets everywhere to charge phones, cameras and laptops – all the electronic paraphernalia of the modern traveler. Wi-fi is available too – in the public areas of the lodge only, and there is no apologetic reply when asking for ice to cool your evening gin and tonic. While for some this may go against the grain, it can be a relief to enjoy such creature comforts after the rigours of the  nearby forest.

The other stand out experience of my stay at Mahogany Springs was the excellent staff and faultless service. There is an incredible willingness to please, and an intuitive sense of what the guest needs (before the guest even identifies it themselves). Everyone, from the Manager to the security guard, was delightfully friendly and seemed to take great joy in making everything about my stay seamless and enjoyable. Little touches made a big difference – sinking under the covers on a cool mountain night to find a cosy hot water bottle warming my bed, having the option of dining privately in a secret corner of the lodge gardens, enjoying the warmth of a complimentary pair of slippers in the chill of an early morning in Bwindi. And while I was travelling solo, it would be a great option for a family safari – the lodge has a DVD collection which thoughtfully provides suitable distraction on rainy afternoons, as well as a babysitting service, so those travelling with children under the minimum age for gorilla trekking (15 years) have no need to miss out, or can simply enjoy a romantic meal in the evenings.

Mahogany Springs is a modern take on what the ideal gorilla safari lodge can be – with a winning combination of style, comfort and service. Offering light where there has previously been shade, it’s perfect for those who want to experience gorillas in the wild, but are afraid to admit they don’t like the idea of spending a night inside the ancient forest itself.

Journeys Discovering Africa is offering a private 3 day gorilla tracking safari with flights down to Bwindi and a two night stay at Mahogany Springs starting from just $2,221pp for 2013 (based on 2 people sharing). For more information email enquiries@journeysdiscoveringafrica.com

Posted by Anne-Marie Weeden

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