Zwinkels Guest House and Zwinkels Mountain Lodge are both Dutch owned and run by Cameroonians. They were our treat and an upgraded oasis from the typical CFA10,000 hotels we had been staying in which offered no hot water and at times no electricity.
Both places were around the €40 per night mark (for a single room) which was fine and given their remote location, we were prepared for higher costs to eat and drink on site. I was looking forward to a reliable hot shower and some relaxed comfort.
Both places have suffered lower booking numbers over the past two years due to trouble in the area, but also miss-information from the media. After being given incorrect advice about how unsafe Bamenda was, we decided to go anyway after speaking with the guest house directly. Eerything was fine as they advised. My advice is to call ahead and ask them directly if it is safe to visit the area.
Zwinkles Guest House in Bamenda
Zwinkels Guest House is located high up in the mountains, just outside of the city and we really enjoyed our stay here. We were close enough to the city of Bamenda, but also safely away from car horns and the relentless city buzz. The guesthouse is full of character and the staff were incredibly welcoming upon arrival. Both rooms were spotlessly clean, had mosquito nets, were cosy and quiet and had the services we were expecting.
There is a lounge/dining area where you can relax and if the night is warm, a veranda where you can enjoy the night air.
Dinner was chicken, salad, hot chips, rice, sauces and fresh fruit for dessert and although it was triple what we had paid for dinner up to this point, we had no qualms about paying it. Breakfast was an omelet, fresh pancakes and fruit plus option for tea and coffee. In the morning, we took breakfast on the terrace and listened to the city of Bamenda coming to life below us.
My friend had no hot water in her room but this was a simple mistake of the hot water tank not being switched on. She used the shower in my room, it was hot with decent pressure so there was no issue.
I have no hesitation to stay here again or in recommending this place to anyone visiting Bamenda.
Zwinkels Mountain Lodge in Belo
I had been looking forward to staying at Zwinkels Mountain Lodge since my initial research into Cameroon. It is set high up in the mountains, surrounded by villages, and about an hour away from Bamenda and noise pollution. The lodge and bungalows are set within a beautifully manicured ground and have a small but friendly staff who work there.
My bungalow was €40 per night which was tastefully decorated without being over the top, plus all the mod-cons and a mosquito net. It tends to get cooler in the mountains but there were enough blankets on the bed.
We paid for all nights, meals and recommended activities (Amalia was our contact) at the guesthouse in Bamenda who accepted cash but requested we pay on card. Meals were more expensive, as were the drinks but we accepted this along with the higher accommodation cost. I’ve worked in travel for nearly 20 years and appreciate that things cost more when when staying in places such as this.
We were offered a ride from Amalia to travel the 45 minutes/1 hour up to the lodge as she was heading this way which ended costing us CFA 10,000. We also paid for the lodge, meals and activities to Amalia in Bamenda. I strongly recommend you confirm whether the activity cost includes transport, camera fees, government payments etc. as those we chose didn’t. This helps with budgeting.
Our first visit on arrival to Belo was to Laikom Palace (CFA 15,000) as recommended by Amalia. We paid a further CFA 15,000 for taxi to get there bringing the total cost to CFA 30,000 (EUR40). After ten minutes, we were told that the tour was over which confused us both, so we asked where the palace was? Apparently, it was the set of corrugated roof mud huts that we had just walked through. There was NO palace, there was NO information, DO NOT get talked into visiting the palace!
My friend was told she couldn’t visit a part of the palace ‘because she was a woman,’ and we both couldn’t visit another section of the palace ‘because the villagers were hungry and would be aggressive’. We left 15 minutes after arrival, having spent €40 and knowing we had been so blatantly ripped off. I am still unsure as to why Amalia recommended this place, the lodge guide David explained that he had told her on several occasions NOT to recommend the palace. When I called her she claimed never to have been told this and not to have visited the palace herself. There was a lack of transparency with the information given and in truth, it wasted half of one of our two days.
Because of our experience at the palace, we started to question other costs. The Mt Oku hike for day two and prepaid in Bamenda, went from costing us CFA 15,000 for the entrance fee, to costing CFA 31,000 with an additional CFA 12,000 paid to the forest rangers and CFA 4,000 for two cameras. If there had been transparency when paying in Bamenda, we would have made other plans as we had already hiked Mt Cameroon.
Eventually we cancelled Mt Oku, took a refund and hired motorbikes to the Ngawara Tea Plantation instead. It’s a rocky road but I highly recommend this activity. The visit is free and you just pay your transport and tips to your guides on arrival. We hired a couple of excellent drivers who speak enough English and charge CFA 3,000 each way. A decent guide when you get there is Henry Ninja who can be contacted on 668222049 or 668222053. He can also organise hotels on the tea plantation grounds although I haven’t personally seen the rooms. Motorbike drivers to get your there are Good love 667911144 and Ngwairnbi Terence 66703848.
We were advised that the generator ran all night for electricity, but in reality it runs from 18:00 – 20:30 due to the cost of gas. If you plan to charge items you should be organised. Two of the three showers I had were cold but if you speak to the lodge staff, they can fix this for you. Beer is CFA 1,200 and is warm as there is no fridge so you might want to take in a bottle of your own spirits to enjoy as a sundowner. If you plan on visiting the town of Belo, the cost of transport to get from the lodge to the town can fluctuate so you’ll need to bargain hard, we paid the tourist price of CFA 1,000 each way by motorbike.
We both really enjoyed the lodge, surrounding area and the opportunity to get away from the hustle and bustle. The lack of transparency regarding activity costs and lack of electricity was awkward at times and should have been handled differently. Amalia was very kind in offering to buy our bus tickets and travelled to the bus station on two occasions to purchase them, not to mention picking us up on arrival to Bamenda. We were extremely appreciative of this.
If you’re after solitude and a beautiful environment, I recommend staying at Zwinkles Mountain Lodge but I encourage you to ask all the right questions before signing up. I would probably have stayed closer to town in hindsight to be closer to the action and spend my money on activities instead.
In case you want to see a short video which summed up our time in Cameroon, click the video below: