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Discover the Pearl of Africa

There are many reasons why travelling to the heart of Africa intrigues the curious from across the globe. Our recent journey to Kyaninga Lodge, in the seemingly exotic and far-away land of Uganda held, as one may imagine, quite a few surprises…

Early one Monday morning, we found ourselves in the international departure lounge at O.R. Tambo International Airport, sipping a cappuccino. Willing ourselves to properly wake from our early morning grogginess, my husband and travel partner asked “How far is the lodge from the airport?” We were, of course, on our way to Entebbe, Uganda for what promised to be an unforgettable exploration to a country that has been on my bucket list for many years. I had to Google the result. Five hour, according to the GPS but, in the end, it was 6.5 hours. I knew then that our central African adventure was about to begin. People visit Africa to explore. It is as if something stirs inside of us see the continent’s vibrant colours, meet her people, experience her nature, and satisfy a need to, at least once, visit a mysterious land.

Ugandan Countryside

Waiting for us at Entebbe airport was George and his trusty Land Cruiser, both at the ready to begin our westward trek towards Fort Portal. To say the ride was bumpy is somewhat of an understatement, and self-driving is not something I would recommend. You have to be both skilled and familiar with the environment to stay on the road with number of trucks, bikes, chickens, dogs and people everywhere. The atmosphere is amazing, yet it is just another day in Uganda with stalls and local markets abuzz with activity, and as night falls, the smell of street food invites you to stay and explore this beautiful country. Known as the “Pearl of Africa”, Uganda is a landlocked country in East-Central Africa. It is bordered to the east by Kenya, to the north by South Sudan, to the west by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to the south-west by Rwanda, and to the south by Tanzania. Given this familiar title by Sir Winston Churchill, in reference to the country’s magnificence, its vivacious colours, landscapes, and wildlife. On route to our luxurious destination, Kyaninga Lodge, we passed several spectacular mountains and lakes, and seemingly endless stretches of savannah. Uganda is also widely known for its agricultural production, and fields of cotton, as well as tobacco and tea plantations were also a common sight along the way. We finally arrived at Kyaninga Lodge late in the evening, and were welcomed by the team with a much-needed cool drink, cold towel, and friendly smiles, confirming for me that it truly is the Ugandan people who are the true reason that the country is called the Pearl of Africa.

Luxurious Lodge Living

Kyaninga Lodge is the brainchild of Steve Williams, who travelled to Africa from the United Kingdom, as a youngster. Enthralled by the stories told by Sir David Attenborough, which led him on many an adventure, and after visiting Uganda’s many parks, Steve phoned his parents and abruptly told them “I’m staying”. Determined to build a new life in Uganda, Steve met with a land surveyor in Fort Portal one Wednesday afternoon, when the conversation soon turned to available land in the area. The surveyor told him about Lake Kyaninga – a volcanic lake, 220-meters in depth, formed 10,000 years ago. It is one of the cleanest lakes in the country and is safe for swimming. Being a visionary, Steve knew immediately that he wanted to create a luxury lodge with a truly Ugandan feel, overlooking the lake. And so he did. How Steve secured the land and the money to pay for it, is a story that he will tell you on your first visit. The point is that he did it, and took it upon himself to train the local workforce for two years before building commenced. Four years after that, the lodge opened in 2010. Steve’s vision came to life in a beautiful way, and during the building process, great emphasis was placed on ensuring that all building materials used in the construction process were sourced locally. It took over 130 peoples’ hard work to ultimately complete the project. We spent our visit to Kyaninga Lodge in one of the nine luxury cottages overlooking the beautiful Lake Kyaninga. Waking up to this view was sustenance for my soul. Constructed on stilts, cottages create the feeling that you are living in a luxurious tree house, a truly magnificent experience. Our itinerary was crammed with one highlight after the other, although I have to say that meeting the chimpanzees was an unforgettable experience. We encountered the chimps in the Kibale National Park, a densely forested area of about 795-square kilometre, which has the highest concentration of chimpanzees in their natural environment, worldwide. Its also home to 60 species of mammal and 335 recorded species of birds. Reaching the chimpanzees is no easy task, which is all part of the experience. We trekked through the forest with our guide for what seemed like an eternity, yet after merely an hour, we heard the grunting, hoots, screeching and whimpering of our first group of chimpanzees. Our expert guide soon located them, and we were blessed to spend a full hour admiring what turned out to be a group of over 30. Although they stayed at a safe distance in the trees, they eventually began to carefully descend right in front of us, just as we were about to leave. To say that I felt a rush of excitement and adrenalin to have the privilege to witness these beautiful creatures so close by, is somewhat of an understatement. This truly was a bucket list experience. There is no shortage of activities at Kyaninga Lodge, and one that we enjoyed immensely was taking walks around the beautiful lake, or to the Rift Valley. We had the opportunity to meet with the locals, gaining some rare perspective into Ugandan village life. We tasted some rather robust Banana Gin at a small shop, and I sat with ladies cleaning beans for their evening meal. Life in Uganda certainly has its own pace and beauty.

The lodge also offers a myriad other activities to keep you entertained – from a visit to the spa, to a round of tennis or badminton on the local courts. Of course, kayaking on Lake Kyaninga is an absolute must-do that offers a rare opportunity to paddle to the middle of this beautiful lake, where you can just lay on your back and do some cloud gazing. Soulful! And then there was the food… Trained by international chefs, the chefs at Kyaninga surprised and delighted our taste buds on a daily basis. Three course meals with freshly baked bread ensured that we simply couldn’t get enough. Beautiful wines to accompany each meal, and local beers for lazy afternoons around the pool. Life at Kyaninga was truly fantastic.

Giving Back

I have visited many spectacular destinations, yet only a few have something special about them. Besides the natural beauty of the surroundings, and the splendid facilities, Kyaninga has another rare quality – they have heart. Steve, owner of the lodge, also is the founder of the Kyaninga Child Development Centre. He started this non-profit organisation in 2014, with the aim to create equal opportunities for children with disabilities. Disability affects more than 13% of children in Uganda, and access to rehabilitation services is limited and costly. Kyaninga Child Development Centre works to overcome these barriers and create equal opportunities through a multi-pronged approach. There is also a daily outreach programme to communities who are unable to travel due to limited mobility or financial constraints. This wonderful initiative was brought to life when Steve and Asha Williams’ son, Sidney, was born with epilepsy and developmental delay that led his parents to seek specialist help – a rare commodity in rural Uganda. Recognising the dire need, the Williams’ recruited Fiona Beckerlegge, a qualified Specialist Paediatric Physiotherapist to start the much needed community project. People from all over the world support the centre, allowing it to grow and touch many lives. Kyaninga Lodge also started Kyaninga Dairy, which produces some of the finest cheeses, exclusively to support the centre. As we visited the dairy and joined in a local outreach programme, I was delighted to see the change and opportunities created for so many kids. I also discovered that a little money could go a long way here. We met Kenneth; a six-year-old boy who was receiving much needed physical therapy. Raised by his grandmother after his parents left him, Kenneth was in need of a special chair so that he could sit up straight at home. For a mere $25, an amount that Kenneth’s grandmother simply could not afford, we could make a difference in a young boy’s life. I thought of how easily we spend, and how little $25 was, and what a privilege it would be to be part of someone’s story to live a better life. Kyaninga Lodge has a multitude of stories to tell and unique adventures to share with travellers who have experienced it all. It is an experience that we certainly will not forget. And, as we sipped our last glass of wine, while enjoying the finest cheeses from the local dairy, and overlooking the Lake, I realised why people will travel from across the globe to visit Kyaninga Lodge: it is one of those experiences that will leave you completely satisfied, knowing that you have lived your life to the full. Kyaninga Lodge forms part of Tourism Corporation Africa’s extensive portfolio. Tourism Corporation Africa operates and markets camps, lodges and island retreats across the African continent, in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa.

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