Last November, I enjoyed a fabulous holiday in Namibia. You can read my trip reports here:
- Review: Concorde Room at London Heathrow Airport
- Review: British Airways Boeing 777 First Class from London to Johannesburg
- Review: Airlink E190 Business Class from Johannesburg to Windhoek
- Review: &Beyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge
- Review: Zannier Hotels Sonop
- Review: Zannier Hotels Omaanda
- Review: Little Kulala by Wilderness Safaris
- Review: Damaraland Camp by Wilderness Safaris
- Review: Hoanib Skeleton Coast by Wilderness Safaris
- Review: Onguma The Fort, Etosha National Park (today)
Today: Review of Onguma The Fort, Etosha National Park
With a Moroccan architecture and Indian design touches, Onguma The Fort breaks the traditional safari camp mould, although it still retains a classic African feel. The safari lodge is situated on a private game reserve on the eastern side of Etosha National Park, near the entrance from the Von Lindquist gate, making it an ideal base to visit Etosha. The fort-styled lodge features massive walls, stone clad features, and water channels in the main guest area, providing natural air conditioning. A huge central tower boasts stunning views toward Etosha and Fishers Pan and guests at the Fort can experience some of the best sunset views in Namibia. Accommodation at Onguma The Fort consists of 11 bush suites, 1 sultan suite, and 1 honeymoon suite, built in the style of mini forts and offering magical views across the plains from private wooden decks.
Onguma The Fort features in my top 10 list of the best hotels in Namibia.
Have you ever stayed at Onguma The Fort? If so, what was your experience? Leave a comment.
In this review (more info and photos below my Youtube clip & slideshow):
- Pros & things I like
- Cons & things to know
- My verdict
- Tips for future guests & save money
- Best time to visit
- How to get there
PROS & THINGS I LIKE
- Onguma The Fort is one of the most upscale lodges near Etosha National Park, Namibia’s most famous wildlife reserve and one of Africa’s premier game viewing destination. With abundant wildlife congregating around waterholes, game sightings at Etosha are almost guaranteed. This includes four of the Big Five (only buffalo don’t reside here): elephants, leopards and lions are common in the parks, and Etosha’s waterholes rank among the best places in the world to see the highly endangered black rhinoceros. Etosha is also one of the most accessible game reserves in Africa: the park is malaria free in the dry season and accessible for regular cars (which means you’ll have to share the wildlife viewing with many other travelers).
- Located just outside the National Park, the entrance to Onguma The Fort is right next to the Von Lindquist gate, which offers access to the eastern, more vegetated part of the reserve (435 km or 270 mi north of the capital of Windhoek). This is the most characteristic area of Etosha National Park because it is home to a salt pan so large it can be seen from space. The huge pan stretches out over about a quarter of the reserve in an endless dry expanse where mirages rise in the heat. When the rains come, the barren desert transforms into shimmering, shallow lakes, becoming a hotspot for migrant waterbirds – blushing pink flamingos! Onguma The Fort offers daily guided game drives within the eastern part of the national park (for a fee).
- Onguma The Fort is set in the heart of the 34 000 hectares private Onguma Reserve, an enormous conservation area which borders Etosha National Park with animals roaming freely between the reserve and the park. Game drives within the reserve can be booked as well and are often as rewarding as those within the national park, especially since the drives within the reserve feel more private as no tourist vehicles are allowed on the reserve’s dirt tracks. The Fort shares the reserve with four other lodges and two campsites, all managed by the Onguma group. Entirely separate, it is the most luxurious option within the Onguma Reserve and feels totally private. The lodge overlooks its own waterhole, which is frequented mainly by warthog, springbok, zebra and impala, with lions coming through occasionally.
- Onguma The Fort’s main guest area features a remarkable design, with Moroccan architecture and Indian design touches. The two story structure resembles a north African fortress, complete with heavy carved antique doors and ochre plaster walls. Entrance to the lodge is via an open air patio, which is centered around a water pond divided by stepping stones. Behind the courtyard is a large lounge area with dining room, both opening to an extensive terrace with views of the boundless savannah. On the side of the building is a pool deck, with some shaded sunloungers arranged along a shallow pool with chairs and tables in it, that flows via a small waterfall into a deeper plunge pool. The main lodge is beautifully lit at night by dozens of lanterns and candles, lending the property an Arabian fairy-tale ambiance .
- Onguma The Fort’s spacious accommodations are scattered either side of the main building and look out west towards Etosha National Park (with beautiful views of the sunset). All suites are spaced about 50 m (160 ft) apart from each other, allowing complete privacy. The property uses a golf buggy to ferry guests from their suites to the main area and back, especially after dark when it is not safe to walk on your own. During my visit, I stayed in a Bush Suite right next to the main pavilion. Decorated in the style of a traditional Moroccan Riad, the elegant room featured a large kingside bed, fireplace, writing desk, and sitting area. The ensuite bathroom was equipped with his & her basins, toilet and rain shower. Large glass windows opened to an elevated terrace with a couple of sunbeds, an outdoor shower, and terrific views of the bush.
- Besides the 11 bush suites described above, Onguma The Fort also features two other types of suites. Located at the edge of the line with accommodations is the lodge’s most fabulous room type: the honeymoon suite. The latter is more or less similar in layout to a bush suite, except for the addition of a cozy sitting corner inside the villa as well the presence of a deep soaking bath tub and hot tub on the outdoor deck. Inside the tower of the main lodge is another room called the ‘Sultan Suite’, which is also a perfect choice for honeymooners. Here, the large bedroom has its own lounge area with satellite TV, which opens to a private balcony overlooking the lodge’s own waterhole and Fishers’ Pan. Behind the bedroom is a large open-plan bathroom featuring a bathtub and an open-air shower.
- Onguma The Fort serves delicious cuisine and the meals are moderately priced for those guests that are not booked on the all-inclusive package. Mornings start with an energizing breakfast, comprised of small continental buffet and an à la carte menu with hot meals cooked to order by the chef (like “Onguma style” eggs royal or apple cinnamon pancakes). Lunch is served in the dining room and consists of light meals and healthy salads. Weather permitting, dinner is served al fresco on the outdoor deck with a view of the lit waterhole. The evening menu provides a choice between two options across three courses – changing daily. During my stay, dinners included flame grilled oryx steak with red wine sauce, pan fried chicken breast with honey and mustard sauce, or eland steak with Madagascan peppercorn sauce.
- The main focus of the lodge’s activities (which are charged unless you’re on the all-inclusive package) is spotting wildlife, either in the Etosha National Park or in the lodge’s private Onguma Reserve. Onguma The Fort offers both morning and afternoon safari drives in the National Park in open vehicles that accommodate a maximum of 6 guests. Although Etosha is well situated for self-drive safaris, I still recommend to go on a guided tour (since Onguma’s well trained rangers will spot much more animals than you would do on your own). Within the Onguma Reserve itself, where self-driving is not permitted, the lodge offers sundowner drives. It’s also possible to do morning bush walks, which last about 90 minutes, or to stay for a few hours at a hide near a waterhole for an ‘eye-level’ encounter with big animals.
CONS & THINGS TO KNOW
- The overall design of Onguma The Fort is eye catching as it looks like a Moroccan castle. However not everyone will necessarily appreciate its distinctive North African style and architecture, especially those travelers looking for a safari lodge that feels authentically Namibian.
- There are a few areas where the lodge is showing some wear and tear (e.g. the swimming pool and the suites’ private terraces). Although nothing too bad, these areas could use some (yearly) maintenance nonetheless, especially given Namibia’s harsh and unforgiving climate.
- Game drives within Etosha National Park are always a stunning adventure, but the experience will depend on the guide that’s escorting you. For example, during one of the my drives, the guide seemed somewhat demotivated and rushed (and passed a lot of interesting sightings without stopping). The guides on the other drives were excellent though. Also keep in mind that a safari within Etosha is not an intimate experience, and you’ll share the animal sightings with many other cars (especially when lions, elephants, and rhinos are spotted)
- Contrary to all the other safari lodges that I visited in Africa, a stay at Onguma The Fort does not automatically includes all meals and game drives. The property offers two types of rates: halfboard (which includes breakfast and dinner but excludes lunch and any activities such as game drives or walks), and all-inclusive (which includes all meals, beverages and two activities per day). So, if you book the halfboard package, you’ll have to pay extras for game drives and bush walks. I highly recommend to book the all-inclusive package since the safari experience is what most travelers are looking for in this part of the world.
- Location: 9/10
- Design: 8/10
- Pool: 8/10
- Rooms: 9/10
- Food: 8/10
- Breakfast: 9/10
- Spa: 8/10
- Service: 9/10
- Value for money: 9/10
- Overall experience: very good 8.6/10
TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
- Save money: read here my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel like Onguma The Fort (and/or receive many free perks).
- Travel tip: as explained above, I highly recommend to book the all-inclusive package (as the halfboard option excludes the safari experiences).
- Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
The best time to visit Namibia is from July to October, when the temperatures are comfortably warm during the day and the chance of rain is low. This is also the best time for outdoor activities and wildlife viewing, making it peak travel season. Between December and March, some days will be humid and rain may follow, often in localized, afternoon thunderstorms.
HOW TO GET THERE
Onguma The Fort can be reached by car. The lodge is 435 km or 270 mi north of the capital of Windhoek (an easy five hour drive on tarred roads)
Below is a selection of my photos of Onguma The Fort. To view more hotel photos (including meals and a safari drive within Etosha National Park), click here.