Updated: Jan 12
My first African safari was when I was a kid. I went to one of the national wildlife parks in Kenya with my mother and brother. We saw several warthogs and not much else. I can assure you, you see one warthog, you’ve seen them all. West Africa does not have quite the reputation for its animal parks that East and Southern Africa do, but there’s one in northern Ghana that has a lot to offer, Mole National Park. Established in 1958, Mole is the largest wildlife refuge in Ghana. Before that, it had been a game reserve.
An introduction to the park should include the mostly government-run Mole Motel, which has been around for a while, and a relatively new, 1.5-year-old Zaina Lodge, which is a high-end hotel with sustainability and community support as bedrocks of its existence.
I don’t blog about a hotel unless it has a unique or distinctive character that makes it worth visiting in and of itself. Zaina satisfies that criterion.
Polished, packed earth forms the materials from which the lodge’s walls are constructed. The design takes inspiration from the nearby Larabanga Mosque, Ghana’s oldest mosque dating from the seventeenth century according to some sources, although the local population date it to 1421 or so.
The entrance to the lodge struck me as rather “bare” due to the lack of one item: the name of the Lodge. My suggestion to management was/is to place a bold sign above or to one side of the entrance with Zaina’s distinctive logo:
This is a unique logo (copyrighted, I hope), and if lit up at night, it will provide a striking addition to the already spectacular nocturnal appearance of the Lodge.
The view from the deck is panoramic and majestic:
The waterhole in the foreground is where elephants come to frolic and cool down, especially in the dry season when the landscape transforms dramatically from green to mostly brown. Below is the view from the waterhole up toward the Lodge.
Construction of the 25 chalets follows the same pattern as the main building with vaulted thatch roofs.
Solar heating units produce the hot water in all the chalets–and the water is really hot.
Inside the chalets, the bedroom walls and ceilings are made of a strong fabric that creates an uber-tent motif.
Zaina has assembled an extraordinary team of owners, managers, baristas, waiters, drivers and park rangers, all of whom appear to have a single purpose: providing comfort and individualized attention to their guests. It’s often difficult to maintain that level of enthusiasm and hospitality among every single employee, but Zaina has apparently managed to do that. Often at a lodging or hotel, something falls flat: the food might be good, but the room sucks. Or the room is okay but the staff is rude. None of that pertains to Zaina. I kept thinking, there’s got to be a hitch somewhere, but I never found one.
In the lobby is a statue of a baby elephant, which, as the sign beside it indicates, model Claudia Schiffer designed as part of “The Elephant Parade,” an Intu art project to raise both money and consciousness surrounding the plight of elephants. Although the project targeted the Asian elephant in particular, the species probably originated in Sub-Saharan Africa in any case.
Prepare for Zaina to wine and dine you into comatose bliss. The food is exceptional with impeccable presentation.
In the tradition of some of the best international restaurants, there are no ugly printed menus. A choice–usually a local Ghanaian dish or a “foreign” one–is provided for lunch and dinner. Both begin with soup, move onto the main course and end with dessert. Ever heard of date mousse? It is to die for, and I’m a guy not that big on desserts. Breakfast is a gorgeous spread. The yogurt is freshly made on site and drizzled with locally sourced honey that is sweeter and more flavorful than any honey I’ve ever tasted. Tropical fruit in Ghana like papaya and pineapple have a richer taste than what’s commonly available in the US.
The splendid Zaina Lodge was one portion of a truly memorable experience in totality for me. The other segment was the safari explorations of the park, and I’ll talk about those in Part 2.
I’ll also be reviewing Zaina on TripAdvisor.