Zaina Lodge Review: The First West African Safari Lodge

I spent my birthday in the forests of the Mole National Park at West Africa’s first safari lodge. Located in the Northern Region of Ghana, Zaina Lodge boasts a popular reputation for up close and personal wildlife encounters. The rates at Zaina Lodge are about $400/night (2,400¢) to stay in one of their private chalets. In this Zaina Lodge review, I’m here to give you the details of my stay and help you determine if this is an experience worth every single penny. 

Zaina Lodge bar

The bar at Zaina Lodge was my favorite place! Here you can grab a variety of cocktails and juices.

Booking

Booking a stay at Zaina Lodge was a seamless process. Their website is up to date with the latest information. Unlike many places in Ghana, you can book a room directly online without having to email or call anyone in advance.

 

Getting There


Zaina Lodge is 3 hours away from Tamale. The easiest way to get to Zaina Lodge is to fly into the Tamale International Airport then hire a driver to take you straight to the lodge. You can also arrange for an airport pickup through the Zaina Lodge front office. The front office rates usually start at ¢500 ($83.33). 

 

I was already in Tamale for a few days before my Zaina Lodge stay. I opted in for a local mode of transportation: tro-tro. My ticket from Tamale to Damongo was only ¢20 ($3.33). Damongo is a town in Northern Ghana 40 minutes away from Mole. I hired a taxi driver to take my guide and me from the Damongo bus station to Mole for ¢50 ($8.33). 

 

Mole National Park Entrance Fee

You will have to enter the Mole National Park gate before reaching Zaina Lodge. Here visitors are usually requested to pay an entrance fee of 40 GHC ($8) for non-Ghanaian citizens.

I was shocked since I booked with Zaina Lodge, a pricey accommodation, and challenged this as it didn’t sound right. Eventually, I was told that only visitors staying at the Mole Hotel had to pay the entrance fee, and my taxi driver made his way through the gate. (Cheers to me knowing how to work certain systems now!)

Upon Arrival

My taxi driver pulled up to the vast entrance walkway. The Zaina Lodge front desk assistant immediately greeted us.

I was escorted to the bar with a stretched line of wooden stools curated for guest seating. While waiting to fill out some paperwork, I was handed a refreshing glass of fresh lemonade as a welcome drink.

A copy of my ID was made, signatures were exchanged, and the keys to my private chalet were handed to me!

The Chalet

Zaina Lodge has 25 private safari-themed lodging tents called chalets on the property. Each chalet overlooks the Mole Forest, providing an unreal view of the safari animals roaming in their natural habitat. As I made my way to my chalet for the night, I saw 4-6 elephants bathing from my balcony!

Zaina Lodge Chalet

The outside of the chalet tents at Zaina Lodge.

INTERIOR

The first thing I noticed about the ensuite interior of the Zaina Lodge chalets is how spacious the tent is. White curtains hung from light brown wooden rods covering the sliding door entrance and mosquito-netted windows to the left and right of the tent.

The decor has subtle yet bold statements that compliment a modern African safari touch.

An ice chest sits on the back corner of the tent with two complimentary bottles of the most refreshing water I have ever had.

The Zaina Lodge chalets are air-conditioned with a ceiling fan, providing a cool breeze amid the safari heat.

One great touch I loved about the lodge is the cellphone located ensuite that can contact the Zaina Lodge staff.

The in-tent open shower was one of my favorite touches. The pebble-framed wall covering imitates a cave-like structure. The hot water worked great, and the pressure was appreciable. There is also an outdoor shower, but due to bugs, I stayed away!

Other amenities include:

  1. A flat screen TV 
  2. A safe to lock up money, jewellery and identification documents 
  3. Wi-Fi 
  4. A desk with a light lamp 
  5. Two white robes 
  6. Private balcony with a table and seating chairs 

 

I did note that there are no lights on the private balconies at night. When you are walking from your room to the dining area, it is pitch black, which was concerning to me. A small lantern was placed beside my door, but it wasn’t helpful. I believe the reason may be because it can attract critters.

Overall, I was very impressed with the interior of the Zaina lodge chalet. It reminded me of one of my recent stays at the Shai Hills Glamping Tent. It was neatly decorated, spacious, and contained all the necessary and extra amenities to make my stay feel cozy.

 

Main Area

The common area of Zaina Lodge includes a bar, infinity pool, dining tables, general seating area, and a library.

Bar

The bar was my favorite section of the central area. The bar displays a great view of one of the watering holes the animals frequently visit, all while sipping on one of the signature cocktails offered at Zaina Lodge.

I had great conversations with many of the staff members at the bar, including Mahama, who gave me a private 2-minute Happy Birthday song special.

Pool

The infinity pool also gives guests an even closer look at the animals as they roam the Mole Forest. The pool area has beach chairs encompassing the pool’s perimeter with bright red towels neatly folded laid across the center of the chairs.

You pass the bar going down the stairs to the pool, so feel free to order a drink to sip on poolside on your way down!

Dining

The dining tables are arranged in the corner of the main lobby. Various seating spaces depend on the number of guests in your group. My table was always selected and prepped before the lunch and dinner sessions.

Library

On the other side of the lobby, Zaina Lodge does have a mini-library. The library’s collection contains pictures of Zaina Lodge, books on safari animals and the savannah, and a few novels.

I was underwhelmed by the size of the main area of Zaina Lodge. Before visiting, everything appeared to be much larger and spaced out through my research before arriving. However, I was not surprised as I’ve grown to expect facilities to be a lot smaller in person than they appear to be online in Ghana.

 

Dining Options

Zaina Lodge only serves 3-course meals with a dessert at their facility for lunch and dinner. The first course is a soup with bread rolls. Following the first course comes a salad-based dish. The third course is the main dish, and the chef gives two meal options. Finally, the meal concludes with a dessert.

Lunch:

  • 1st course: Pumpkin Soup with Bread Rolls
  • 2nd course: Cucumber & Avocado Salad
  • 3rd course: Fish fillet, carrots, and mashed potatoes
  • 4th course: Chocolate Mousse Cake with a Strawberry

I enjoyed my lunch very much! The pumpkin soup was a bit flavorless to me but very fresh. I finished everything, and it was delicious.

Dinner:

Later that night, I had another 3-course meal for dinner:

 

  • 1st course: Vegetable Soup with Bread Rolls

 

 

  • 2nd course: Cold Salad

 

 

  • 3rd course: Guineafowl with Couscous

 

 

  • 4th course: Raspberry Mousse Cake with a Strawberry

 

I am happy that I enjoyed lunch because I barely touched my dinner. Everything was fresh and was not horrible in taste, but it was not worth finishing.

 

Breakfast

Breakfast the following morning consisted of tea, water, scrambled eggs, toast, the option of sausage (I skipped out on), and a delicious breakfast muffin with a Nutella-like chocolate filling. It was enough to fill me up, but again, I expected more.

The breakfast set up was absolutely gorgeous

I recommend bringing snacks to Zaina Lodge. Lunch starts at 1 pm and dinner around 6 pm, so there is quite a gap between mealtimes. You can arrange for the chef to make you a snack meal, but just in case, bring small snacks.

 

Cost: What You Need to Know About Upfront & Behind the Scenes Costs

On Zaina Lodge’s website, there are two options to book: bed and breakfast only for $345 or the Zaina Experience that includes lunch, dinner, and a day safari for $395. I initially opted for the bed and breakfast option but ended up upgrading to the Zaina Experience.

The manager explained that lunch and dinner would be around $90 if done outside of the package, or I could upgrade for only $50. I did not expect lunch and dinner to be so expensive, catching me off guard. 

In a way, they urge you to upgrade because you will pay more money either way. Zaina Lodge does not have separate meals, so you are paying for a course of meals.

Drinks are also not included in the course price, which is ridiculous. Although the drinks were very affordable (¢8-25), there is no reason why the lodge can’t include them since rates began at $400+/night. 

The portions of food are also not worth $45. At times in Ghana, the ambiance is more of what you are paying for, but the ambiance was also not logical for the cost. For a place that calls itself a luxury safari lodge, I expected more of a “wow” effect. It never came after seeing elephants walk up to the front of the lodge. 

 

Activities

Along with the cost comes a 2-hour day safari available two times a day: 6:30 am and 9:30 am. A night safari starts at 6:00 pm and allows you to see nocturnal animals at the Mole National Park, but it comes at an extra cost. The day safari is a great experience on its own!

The Mognori Eco Village is a local attraction that allows guests to embark on a canoe safari and tour a local village community in the Mole area. A staff member told me that it is possible to arrange a visit to the site. I went on my own the morning before arriving and can recommend a tour guide for you!

The Canoe Safari at Mongori Eco Village is only 20 GHC ($3.33). Definitely worth visiting!

Aside from those activities, nothing else is offered at Zaina Lodge as entertainment for guests to do. There is usually a spa running, but due to COVID, it was not in service. I found this interesting, seeing as how I wasn’t asked to provide COVID test results for my stay, and social distancing was not enforced among guests with seating. I hope to hear the spa is functioning soon to make staying at the lodge a better experience.

Aside from the pool, eating, and the company of your party, don’t expect many things to do at Zaina Lodge. If you are here to relax and unwind, it will be more of your speed!

 

Wi-Fi

There is free wi-fi at Zaina Lodge, but it was not always stable. However, it ran at high speed when it was working (which was most of the time)! Wi-Fi is a known issue in Ghana, so I will extend grace in this area despite the price point.

 

Is Zaina Lodge Worth $400/Night?

I do have to say that the $400/night price point is not worth the stay at Zaina Lodge. There was nothing extravagant about my visit besides getting to see elephants up close to the lodge entrance. It felt as if everything additional that you would think is included came with additional fees.

The suites were nice, but not enough to see why the stay costs this much. I’m sure the rate of Zaina Lodge comes from the facility being the first West African safari lodge and, again, providing guests with the unique view of animals that you can’t get anywhere else in Ghana.

I just expected more altogether based on the reputation of the Zaina Lodge and was consistently underwhelmed.

If you’re like me, you have to see an experience for yourself despite various reviews. Fortunately, I have some alternative options you can do if you still want to experience Zaina Lodge at a more cost-friendly rate!

Even if the rate was lower, there was not enough to make me say I would come back for a second stay unless it were complimentary.

Alternatives

  1. You can visit Zaina Lodge for a day and enjoy a 4-course lunch meal and the infinity swimming pool. You’ll be able to access the main area and get a taste of what being a guest at the site entails for a quarter of the price. I was quoted roughly $80 for this option. 

2. Bring a friend and split the cost in two! Finding people to do these adventures with is difficult as a solo traveler. Still, if you can find someone to come with you, that is an automatic dip in the nightly fee! While most places do not charge an extra fee for two people in the same room, Zaina Lodge does charge more for two people in a room. 

3. Stay at the Mole Motel on-site at the Mole National Park. The elephants still come around the motel, and guests are often happy with the experience! It’s a lot cheaper as well. 

Zaina Lodge was an experience I’m happy I embarked on regardless of my feelings in the end. The Northern region of Ghana is my favorite one yet and I highly recommend taking a trip to Northern Ghana!

Heading to Ghana soon? Check out my Travel Guide to Accra, Ghana for everything you need to know to make your trip a success!

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