Today (February 11, 2019): Top10 best things to see and do in Rwanda.
I recently enjoyed a week long holiday in Rwanda, one of the most astonishingly beautiful countries I’ve ever visited. Nicknamed ‘the land of thousands hills’, Rwanda lies within the Great Lakes region of Central Africa, bordered by Uganda to the north, Tanzania to the east, Burundi to the south, and the Democratic Republic of Congo to the west. Despite being one of Africa’s smallest nations, Rwanda has an incredible treasure trove of biodiversity. Mountains dominate the center and west of the country, while the east consists of savanna, plains and swamps. Although Rwanda is all too often associated with the horrible 1994 Genocide that resulted in the mass murder of one million people (20% of the country’s total population), the country has risen from the ash and managed to rebuild itself as one of Africa’s safest countries. And Rwanda is one its way to become one of the continent’s greatest travel destinations, with something for everyone to enjoy. Here’s my top 10 list of the best things to see & do in Rwanda. I used Uber Luxe Safaris as a tour operator for my own holiday in Rwanda, and I highly recommend them!
There is more information below the slide show. Think I missed one? Share your favorite attraction in Rwanda in the comments.
10. STAY AT ‘HOTEL RWANDA’
Hotel des Mille Collines – known all over the world as ‘Hotel Rwanda’ – is not a spectacular hotel but it’s a property with such an incredible and moving history that for many visitors to Rwanda, it is a must place to visit. Built and managed by Belgian airliner Sabena in 1973, Hotel des Mille Collines was known for two decades as the premier grand hotel of the country. When the 1994 Genocide ravaged the country, the hotel’s European managers were evacuated and control was given to local employee Paul Rusesabagina, who used the property as a shelter for about 2,000 fleeing Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Rusesabagina bribed the army with money and alcohol to protect the refugees and to obtain food and water. Due to the hotel’s high profile and Rusesabagina public efforts, the United Nations and foreign governments exerted pressure on the Rwandan government forces to ensure the safety of those trapped inside. This incredible story was later used as the basis of 2004 movie ‘Hotel Rwanda’, although the hotel does not actually appear in the film (it was largely shot in South Africa).
9. UNWIND AT LAKE KIVU
If you’re surprised that Rwanda has a beach – you’re not alone. Rubavu (also known as Gisenyi) is a waterfront town located on the northern shores of Lake Kivu, the country’s largest body of water which takes up about half of Rwanda’s western border. Only an hour away from Volcanoes National Park, Rubavu is a great way to unwind after trekking adventures. Rich colonial mansions, surrounded by lush tropical gardens fringe the lake shore. Visitors can enjoy a relaxing day strolling down the palm-tree fringed lakeside promenade, enjoy the sunshine on the sandy beach on the lakeshore, or take an energetic swim in the lakes cool waters. Rubavu also marks the beginning of the Congo Nile Trail, a tangled network of trails and roads (227 km or 140 mi in total) that follows the lake’s amorphous coastline all the way down to Rusizi near the border with Burundi. The magnificent landscape between Ruvabu and Rusizi is made up of rolling hills, emerald tea plantations and small fishing communities, offering cyclists and trekkers a glimpse of Rwandan rural life rarely experienced by most tourists.
8. LEARN ABOUT RWANDAN CULTURE AT BUTARE’S ETHNOGRAPHIC MUSEUM
Butare was the largest and most important city in Rwanda prior to 1965 when it lost out to more centrally located Kigali. Today, Butare is still considered the intellectual and cultural pulse of Rwanda. It is also an attractively compact and sedate town of shady avenues emanating from a main street lined with small hotels and breezy terrace restaurants. The most prominent attraction in Butare is the National Museum, which houses the finest ethnographic collection in East Africa. Seven galleries display historical, ethnographic, artistic and archaeological artefacts accompanied by visual aides, giving visitors a rich insight into the Rwandan culture. The cultural significance of Butare is further underlined by a visit to nearby Nyabisinu, formerly known as Nyanza, the traditional seat of Rwanda’s feudal monarchy. The impressive Royal Palace at Nyanza, a domed construction made entirely of traditional materials, has been painstakingly restored to its 19th century state and is now maintained as a museum.
7. TAKE A TOUR OF A TEA OR COFFEE PLANTATION
Rwanda produces some of the best quality teas and finest coffees in the world. Rwanda’s tea is renowned all over the globe, making it the country’s number one export. And its coffee is winning international competitions as well and sought after by companies like Starbucks. The country is perfectly fertile to grow both tea and coffee, especially along the Congo-Nile crest in the country’s west, because of the high altitude, the rich volcanic soil, sunny days and equatorial fog. There are several tea & coffee route experiences in the North and Western provinces. These tours explore the growing and production processes at major plantations, from picking, washing, selection and drying the leaves up until drinking your own tea and coffee. These tours are community based projects, so 100% of the profit from these tours goes towards the local population.
6. CLIMB A VOLCANO
The “Parc National de Volcans” (or PNV as it’s known by locals) protects the Rwandan portion of the Virunga Moutains, a transfrontier conservation area that includes protected areas in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This corner in northwestern Rwanda is a breath-taking unforgettable place where culture, adventure and conservation intersect, only a short two hour drive from Rwanda’s capital of Kigali. Home to five majestic volcanos, the park is covered in thick rainforest and bamboo. The area is known around the world for being home to the world’s last remaining mountain gorillas in their natural habitat, and although visited predominantly for the mountain gorillas (more on that below), the dramatic landscape also offers thrilling hiking. There is a chance to climb to Mount Bisoke’s beautiful crater lake or even undertake a two day trek to the summit of Mount Karisimbi (4507 m or 14787 ft), Rwanda’s highest point and Africa’s 5th highest mountain.
5. HIKE TO DIAN FOSSEY’S TOMB
Dian Fossey – whose story is told in the movie ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ – was an American scientist, who came to Rwanda to study the gorillas. She started a war against poaching to save these majestic creatures from extinction but was eventually brutally murdered in her cabin, an event which shocked the world. Theories about her murder are varied but have never been fully resolved. For anyone interested in Dian Fossey’s personal story, I highly recommend the trek to her grave at Karisoke scientific base. This base was established by Dian Fossey inside Volcanoes National Park in the saddle area between Mt Visoke and Mt Karisimbi (from which the name Karisoke is derived). The camp site stands at an altitude of around 3000m (over 9000 ft) and was abandoned during the unrest of the 1990s. All that remains today is the graveyard where Dian Fossey and several of her favorite gorillas are buried. The trek to the Karisoke research camp takes around 4 hours and takes you through some of the most beautiful stretches of Hagenia – Hypericum forest in the the park.
4. GO ON SAFARI IN AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
Akagera National Park, named after the River Kagera, is located in northeastern Rwanda, along the country’s border with Tanzania, about two hours by car from the capital Kigali. Founded in 1934 by the Belgian government (who at that time occupied Rwanda), the park’s spectacular scenery is dominated by savannah, papyrus swamps, small lakes and rolling hills. Following years of recovery after the 1994 Rwanda Genocide, Akagera is now a safe home again for Africa’s Big Five – lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and buffalo – and other incredibly diverse wildlife. It’s also recognized as one of the best spots for bird-watching in Rwanda. Days here are spent with game drives in search of the Big Five and boat safaris on the lakes among many hippopotamus and nile crocodiles. The park’s large surface area and sparse traffic leaves one with the unique feeling of being virtually alone in the wilderness — a feeling that is difficult to come by in the more popular safari parks in Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa.
3. OBSERVE CHIMPANZEES IN THE WILD
Deep in the southwest within the Albertine Rift Area is Nyungwe National Park, home to the region’s largest and oldest remaining patch of mountain rainforest, and protecting a number of ecosystems (e.g. rainforest, bamboo, grasslands, swamps and bog habitats). Nyungwe’s biodiversity is astonishing by African standards: more than 300 species of birds (with 24 endemic to the African highlands) are found within the national park, in addition to more than 140 species of orchids, reptiles and butterflies. However, Nyungwe is mainly known as the best place in the world to observe chimps in their natural habitat. Dashing at high speed through the flora, hooting and clanging, it truly is an exhilarating experience to encounter chimpanzees playing, wild and free. Most active in the morning, an early rise is required for maximum viewing opportunity, with expert trackers guiding you on a deep forest trail, while you learn about these fascinating creatures and the enchanting forest they call home.
2. VISIT THE KIGALI GENOCIDE MEMORIAL
The Kigali Genocide Memorial commemorates the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, the most brutal and efficient killing spree in human history, organized by unworthy political leaders of that time. Over the course of approximately 100 days, more than a million people – sons and daughters of Rwanda – were killed. Sparker by the murder of president Habyarimana when his plane was shot down, the country descended into madness, with civilians being encouraged by the media to rape, maim and kill their neighbors, friends and family members. The international community was capable of intervening but unwilling to act. Today, the people of Rwanda embrace peace and reconciliation and are deeply committed to eradicate ethnic, regional and any other forms of division. The testimonials at Kigali’s Genocide Memorial are deeply moving accounts standing in memory of the brutality and lost lives. More than 250,000 victims of the Genocide are interred here.
1. COME FACE TO FACE WITH A MOUNTAIN GORILLA
Tracking the endangered mountain gorilla through the mysterious intimacy of the rainforest, alive with the calls of colorful birds and chattering of the rare golden monkey, is one of the most unique, memorable and life-changing travel adventures one can undertake in a lifetime. Gorilla trekking takes place from Volcanoes National Park’s headquarters where you are allocated to one of the twelve habituated gorilla groups. Only eight visitors are allowed per gorilla group each day, and to minimize possible transmission of human diseases, visitors are asked to maintain a distance of 7m (about 22 feet) from the gorillas. Typically, tracking can take from one to ten hours and requires some level of fitness since the hikes goes through dense jungle vegetation up steep and often muddy slopes. A maximum of 80 gorilla permits are issued per day and during high season these sell out far in advance, so it is therefore important to book gorilla permits as early as possible (USD$ 1500 per person per trek).
this month (February 2019) in luxury travel
Today (February 22, 2019): February 2019 luxury travel news.
Every last Friday of the month, you can read my news round-up of what’s happening in the world of luxury travel. In this issue:
- InterContinental Hotels takes over the Six Senses brand
- British Airways unveils stunning retro livery
- Mandarin Oriental opens an ultraluxe Dubai resort
- Air France unveils new A330 Business Class product
- Aman announces a new property in Japan
- Grand Hyatt New York to be torn down and redeveloped
- Boeing is developing a supersonic plane
- A Virgin Atlantic plane breaks the speed record (faster than the speed of sound!)
- Rosewood announces a resort on the Island of Hawaii
- Rosewood Bangkok will open in March 2019
- Airbus puts super jumbo A380 out of production
- A new ultraluxe resort opens in the Maldives
- Air Senegal’s unveils its new A330-900neo Business Class
1. InterContinental Hotels takes over Six Senses
Six Senses – one of my favorite hotel brands in the world – has become part of the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG). IHG is one of the world’s leading global hotel companies with a growing number of luxury brands including InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, Regent Hotels & Resorts and Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants. IHG purchased the award-winning hospitality and wellness company from private equity fund Pegasus Capital Advisors for $300 USD million. The sale includes the management of 16 hotels and resorts, 37 spas and sister companies Evason and Raison d’Etre. Following the acquisition, Six Senses is now expected to grow to 60 hotels within the next 10 year, including a desert hideaway in Israel’s Negev Desert, the transformation of a series of 19th-century mansions in Istanbul and the group’s first project in North America, a contemporary duo of twisting towers designed by Bjarke Ingles located in Manhattan’s West Chelsea neighborhood and along the High Line. Additional projects are currently under way in Austria, Brazil, Mainland China, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan and Thailand. “This is an exciting new era for Six Senses,” said Six Senses Chief Executive Officer Neil Jacobs. “IHG believes in our purpose to merge the two platforms of wellness and sustainability to promote personal health, and the health of the planet. Joining forces with IHG means we can use a wealth of systems and operational excellence to grow our brand and reach new markets without losing our quirky personality and playful touch.”
2. British Airways unveils stunning retro livery
Last Monday, large crowds gathered at Heathrow to watch the much-anticipated arrival of a British Airways Boeing 747 painted in the iconic design of its predecessor British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC). The aircraft entered the IAC paint bay at Dublin Airport on February 5 where it was stripped of its current British Airways Chatham Dockyard design before being repainted with the BOAC livery which adorned the BOAC fleet between 1964 and 1974. Alex Cruz, British Airways’ Chairman and CEO, said: “The enormous interest we’ve had in this project demonstrates the attachment many people have to British Airways’ history. It’s something we are incredibly proud of, so in our centenary year it’s a pleasure to be celebrating our past while also looking to the future. We look forward to many more exciting moments like this as our other aircraft with heritage designs enter service.” The BOAC livery will remain on the Boeing 747 until it retires in 2023, to allow as many customers as possible to have the chance to see it. By this time, British Airways will have retired the majority of its 747 fleet, replacing them with new state-of-the-art long-haul aircraft. This includes taking delivery of 18 A350s and 12 Boeing 787 Dreamliners in the next four years – which feature new cabins and are more environmentally efficient – as well as another 26 short-haul aircraft, all part of the airline’s £6.5bn investment for customers.
3. Mandarin Oriental Jumeira, Dubai is now open
Located in the heart of Dubai, and a stone’s throw from the water’s edge, the new Mandarin Oriental Jumeira is set to bring a new wave of chic design and luxury experiences to the shores of the city. Designed by acclaimed international designer Jeffrey Wilkes, the property features spacious and elegant guest rooms and suites, most with private balconies and terraces, offering pristine ocean views or the dynamic city skyline. Mandarin Oriental Jumeira, Dubai has six restaurants and bars, all of which are noteworthy additions to Dubai’s dining scene. The two signature restaurants are Tasca by Portuguese celebrity chef José Avillez and Netsu, a Warayaki-style Japanese steakhouse by Australian-born chef Ross Shonhan. The Spa at Mandarin Oriental Jumeira, Dubai takes wellness experiences to another level, with its focus on locally inspired experiences. All nine treatment rooms feature individual changing and bathroom facilities, and some have private terraces overlooking the ocean. This welcoming oasis offers exceptional heat and water experiences, and a range of holistic rejuvenation and relaxation treatments. There is also a state-of-the-art fitness center and a Little Nomads kids’ club with a range of fun activities for younger Mandarin fans.
4. Air France unveils new A330 Business Class product
Completely redesigned, Air France‘s new A330 seats are arranged in a 2-2-2 layout and convert into a lie-flat bed that is 2m (6,6 ft) long and 57.1 cm (22 inch) wide for jet lag-free flying across time zones. Passengers can choose to enjoy greater proximity when they’re traveling with someone or total privacy thanks to a sliding panel separating the seats. The ambient lighting emphasizes the details of the new Business cabin’s decor where leather and the Air France brand’s symbolic accent have pride of place. A brand new, extra-wide HD touch-screen measuring over 18.5 inches offers over 1,400 hours of entertainment. Its intuitive interface comes with a new more user-friendly handset. The toilets, inspired from the cosmetics universe, and the self-service bar in a blue and Champagne color scheme have also been redesigned with customers’ well-being and comfort in mind. Until the end of the winter season, the new A330 Business Class product is available on flights to Accra (Ghana), Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) and Houston (USA). As from the 2019 summer season, the new Airbus A330 will progressively serve Accra (Ghana), Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), Cotonou (Benin), Lagos (Nigeria), Niamey (Niger), Bengaluru and Delhi (India) as well as Seattle, Chicago and Dallas (USA).
5. Aman announces a new property in Japan
Nestled in the verdant foothills of the symbolic mountain of Hidari Daimonji, Aman Kyoto will open in November 2019, representing a place of untold beauty, where small jizo statues sit contentedly among the yamamomiji maples. The resort will combine privacy, relaxation and rejuvenation with the vibrancy of Japan’s ancient Imperial capital, home to 17 Unesco World Heritage Sites. The secluded grounds are part of what was an artistic community that gave rise to the revered Rinpa school of painting some 400 years ago, and are within easy reach of Kyoto’s most important sites, including the stunning golden temple, Kinkakuji. Aman Kyoto’s latticed pavilions will be contemporary homage to the traditional Japanese Ryokan inn, strikingly minimalist in their geometry, and each serving as a window onto their spectacular natural surroundings. The interiors will be spacious and light-filled – ingeniously crafted to foster peace, relaxation and contemplation at every turn. Aman Kyoto’s signature Restaurant in the Dining Pavilion will be a landmark addition to one of Japan’s most celebrated gastronomical regions. The convivial Living Pavilion with its central fireplace and glass doors opening onto an ornate garden terrace will serve home-cooked Kyoto obanzai style cuisine throughout the day. The fresh spring water that flows near Aman Kyoto will be central to the philosophy at the resort’s Aman Spa.
6. Grand Hyatt New York to be torn down and redeveloped
According to the Wall Street Journal, a development group has agreed to buy and tear down the Grand Hyatt New York, the famous glass-sheathed hotel by Grand Central Terminal. TF Cornerstone, a Manhattan developer, and MSD Partners, an investment firm whose clients include Dell Technologies founder Michael Dell and his family, said they plan a new development totaling about 2 million square feet, which will include offices, retail and a scaled-down Grand Hyatt. A hotel has stood on the site of the current property since 1919, when The Commodore Hotel opened. The property was redeveloped by (USA president) Donald Trump and opened as The Grand Hyatt New York in 1980, although Trump is no longer connected to the hotel. The current Grand Hyatt New York will remain open until 2020, and the redevelopment is subject to city and state approval. The plans have been made possible following zoning changes in the area around Grand Central station, to allow for the construction of new skyscrapers.
7. Boeing is developing a supersonic plane
Boeing announced a partnership with Aerion, a Nevada-based company pioneering next-generation supersonic aircraft. As part of the agreement, Boeing will provide engineering, manufacturing and flight test resources, as well as strategic vertical content, to bring Aerion’s AS2 supersonic business jet to market. The AS2 is designed to fly at speeds up to Mach 1.4 or approximately 1,000 miles per hour. With the ability to fly up to 70 percent faster than today’s business jets, the AS2 will save approximately three hours on a transatlantic flight while meeting environmental performance requirements. The aircraft is slated for its first flight in 2023. Founded in 2003 to develop new, more efficient aerodynamic technologies for supersonic aircraft, Aerion introduced its AS2 12-passenger business jet design in 2014. The company unveiled the AS2’s GE Affinity engine design in 2018. “Aerion is the industry leader mapping out a successful, sustainable return to supersonic flight,” said Tom Vice, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Aerion. “The AS2 is the launch point for the future of regulatory-compliant and efficient supersonic flight. Together with Boeing, we’re creating a faster, more connected future with tremendous possibilities for enhancing humanity’s productivity and potential.”
8. A Virgin Atlantic plane breaks the speed record (faster than the speed of sound!)
According to CBS, the fastest jet stream on record provided a turbo boost to commercial passenger planes flying in an eastbound direction over the USA. With the help of this rapid tailwind, Virgin Atlantic Flight 8 from Los Angeles to London hit what could be a record high speed for a commercial plane: 801 mph (1230 km/h) over Pennsylvania at 9:20 pm last Monday night. “Wow, that’s fast,” a Boeing spokesman told CBS News via email. But it’s not something the plane manufacturer tracks, so they can’t confirm if 801 mph is a record. For reference, the speed of sound is 760 mph; but the plane did not break the sound barrier. That’s because part of the plane’s speed is attributed to the swiftly moving 200 mph+ air surrounding the plane. So relative to the air around it, the plane’s speed falls far short. Jet streams like the one Monday can have a big impact on flights. “A 100 mph increase in the jet stream above typical can add or remove about an hour from a five to six hour flight,” according to a spokesperson from FlightAware, a global aviation software and data services company based in Houston. While you might be pleasantly surprised by an early arrival going eastbound, you’re likely to face delays westbound battling the powerful headwind. While winds of this magnitude do affect air travel, FlightAware said changes in the upper level winds are accounted for.
9. Rosewood announces a resort on the Island of Hawaii
Kona Village, A Rosewood Resort is set to open in 2022 after a complete renovation of the current property. Located on the Kona Coast of the Big Island of Hawai‘i, the iconic Hawaiian retreat that has laid dormant since 2011 will once again open its doors and welcome back ‘ohana (family) to the historic and culturally rich destination. Spanning 81 acres of stunning geologic landscape and richness, Kona Village, A Rosewood Resort, will draw inspiration from the history of the site, local culture and natural elements to create a unique guest experience that complements the distinctive Hawaiian setting. Conceptualized and developed by intrepid explorer Johnno Jackson in the early 1960’s, the original Kona Village Resort was best known for its free-standing, palm thatch roof hales and tranquil location. Located close to Kona International Airport, Kona Village, A Rosewood Resort, will debut 150 unique, standalone guest hales with locally-inspired décor, spectacular views and a privileged sense of seclusion. Spearheaded by Hawai‘i-raised architect, Greg Warner of Walker Warner Architects, each accommodation will offer a private lānai and outdoor shower. An array of distinct dining venues, including the original resort’s beloved Shipwreck Bar and Talk Story Bar, will offer elevated yet relaxed food and beverage experiences. Guests will have access to new leisure facilities including Sense, A Rosewood Spa, a state-of-the-art fitness center, as well as multiple pools and tennis courts. A diverse outdoor recreational program will include ocean sports and activities designed to inform, inspire and excite travelers of all ages.
10. Rosewood Bangkok will open in March 2019
Rosewood Bangkok, a visually striking, ultra-luxury property in Bangkok’s prime central business and retail district, will open 31 March 2019, marking the second Thailand property for Rosewood Hotels & Resorts after the opening of Rosewood Phuket in 2017. The 30-story standalone property will help reshape the Bangkok skyline by occupying two connecting high-rise structures that create a modern tribute to the Thai spirit. Its contemporary form is inspired by the wai — the graceful Thai gesture of palms pressed together in greeting. The hotel will be conveniently connected to the BTS Station amidst a luxury enclave of embassies, new office towers and upscale malls. The ultra-luxury hotel will embrace a striking, contemporary architectural design and will be home to 159 guestrooms. Featuring the Rosewood brand’s A Sense of Place philosophy, carefully curated interiors, dining and spa experiences will be an amalgam of contemporary sophistication and touchstones of Thailand’s heritage and customs. Four restaurants and lounges will be complemented by recreational facilities including Sense, A Rosewood Spa; a Fitness Studio; and indoor-outdoor saltwater swimming pool.
11. Airbus puts super jumbo A380 out of production
Following a review of its operations, and in light of developments in aircraft and engine technologies, Emirates is reducing its A380 orderbook from 162 to 123 aircraft. Emirates will take delivery of 14 further A380s over the next two years. As a consequence and given the lack of order backlog with other airlines, Airbus will cease deliveries of the A380 in 2021. Emirates has also decided to continue growing with Airbus’ newest generation, flexible widebody aircraft, ordering 40 A330-900 and 30 A350-900 aircraft. “As a result of this decision we have no substantial A380 backlog and hence no basis to sustain production, despite all our sales efforts with other airlines in recent years. This leads to the end of A380 deliveries in 2021,” said Airbus Chief Executive Officer Tom Enders. “The consequences of this decision are largely embedded in our 2018 full year results”. “The A380 is not only an outstanding engineering and industrial achievement. Passengers all over the world love to fly on this great aircraft. Hence today’s announcement is painful for us and the A380 communities worldwide. But, keep in mind that A380s will still roam the skies for many years to come and Airbus will of course continue to fully support the A380 operators,” Tom Enders added.
12. A new ultraluxe resort opens in the Maldives
With only 26 beach and ocean houses on a tiny coral reef-encircled island, The Nautilus Maldives is a bohemian hideaway located in Baa Atoll, a UNESCO biosphere reserve. Here, a kaleidoscopic wonderland of incredible marine life awaits discovery: trips to world-renowned Hanifaru Bay to swim amongst manta rays; diving on iridescent coral reefs; exploring remote sandbanks and deserted islands or just cruising the ocean on a custom-built yacht are among the many adventures guests can look forward to. Built by a Maldivian entrepreneur, this is his ultimate project in the country, created to express his personal vision of the best that luxury can be – not just in the Maldives, but worldwide. With its modern bohemian style, and concept of absolute freedom for its guests, who enjoy no rules, no dress codes, no set restaurant hours, no fixed menu choices, its driving philosophy is to make guests feel not only completely at home, but also as if time itself no longer exists.
13. Air Senegal’s unveils its new A330-900neo Business Class
Air Senegal’s first A330neo has touched down at Blaise-Diagne International Airport in Dakar. The A330neo, painted in the livery of Air Senegal and named “Casamance,” was presented during a ceremony attended by His Excellency Macky Sall, President of the Republic of Senegal, and Philippe Bohn, Chief Executive Officer Air Senegal. After the ceremony, the plane flew back to Toulouse for more testing and is expected to be formally delivered to the airline within the coming weeks. Air Senegal, which started operations in 2018, is set to become the first African airline to receive and operate the newest member of the leading Airbus widebody family. Fitted with a three-class cabin comprising 32 Business class, 21 Premium Plus and 237 Economy class seats, Air Senegal plans to operate its first A330neo on the soon to be opened Dakar-Paris route and develop its medium and long-haul network. The A330neo is a true new generation aircraft building on the A330’s success and leveraging on A350 XWB technology. It incorporates highly efficient new generation Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 engines, and a new greater span 3D optimised wing with new Sharklets. Together, these advances bring a significant reduction in fuel consumption of 25% compared with older generation competitor aircraft of a similar size. The A330 is one of the most popular widebody families ever, having received over 1,700 orders from 120 customers.
Review of Bisate Lodge (Rwanda)
I recently enjoyed a sublime holiday in the amazingly beautiful country of Rwanda. You can read my trip reports here:
- Review: KLM A330 (new) Business Class from Amsterdam to Rwanda
- Review: Kigali Serena Hotel
- Review: Bisate Lodge by Wilderness Safaris, Volcanoes National Park (today)
- Review: Encounter with the mountain gorillas (my best travel experience ever!)
- Review: One&Only Nyungwe House (Nyungwe National Park)
- Review: Ruzizi Tented Lodge (Akagera National Park)
- Review: KLM A330 (new) Business Class from Rwanda to Amsterdam (via Uganda)
Today (February 20, 2019): Review of Bisate Lodge (Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda)
Comprising just 6 spacious forest villas, Bisate offers an ultra-luxurious base from where to enjoy an extraordinary gorilla conservation experience and life-changing journey to this beautiful region. Situated within the amphitheater of an eroded volcanic cone, Bisate is surrounded by natural splendor, with sweeping views towards the Karisimbi, Bisoke and Mikeno volcanoes. Bisate’s sophisticated architectural and interior design is rooted in Rwandan building tradition as exemplified in the design of the Royal Palace of the traditional monarch. The spherical, thatched structures echo the thousands of hills that dot the Rwandan landscape, while the richly-detailed interiors exhibit surfaces and screens made from a variety of woven materials with strong resonance in Rwandan culture.
Have you ever stayed at Bisate Lodge? If so, what was your experience? Leave a comment.
In this review (more info and photos below my Youtube clip & slideshow):
*** Get the most out of your (luxury) trip to Rwanda with my Rwanda travel guide ***
PROS & THINGS I LIKE
- Situated within the amphitheater of an eroded volcanic cone, Bisate Lodge occupies a 27-hectare steep hillside site of majestic natural splendor, with phenomenal views towards the Karisimbi, Bisoke and Mikeno peaks of Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. The lodge is close enough to Kinigi (the headquarters of Volcanoes National Park) to be convenient for the morning gorilla treks, but far enough away so as to feel remote and even – as a result of the onsite indigenous reforestation project – part of the spectacular Park. Rwanda’s capital city of Kigali (with the nearest airport) is 105 km (65 miles) or a 3 hour drive from the lodge, with most of the scenic journey taking place via a perfectly paved road (except for the last miles, which is on a rocky, volcanic path that requires a 4×4 car).
- Bisate Lodge features only six ultra-luxurious thatched villas, perched on the hillside. Each villa comprises a generous yet intimate combination of bedroom, reception space and bathroom, all warmed by a central fireplace. The domed living room comes with either a kingsize bed or two twin beds (covered with green geometric pattern cushions), a sofa, a small desk, and two armchairs on a cowhide rug in front of a log-burning fire. The spacious bathroom features a black oval, resin bath tub in the center, two sinks with leather-framed mirrors, a walk-in brick rain shower, a separate toilet, and eco-friendly amenities by Africology, a South African wellness company. Both the living room and bathroom have enormous windows that open to a bamboo balcony with breathtaking views of Mount Bisoke ‘s imposing volcanic cone.
- Besides the six thatched villas, Bisate Lodge also features one main lodge sphere, with a design rooted in Rwandan building tradition. Styled in the same decor as the villas, the dome’s interior features wooden floors and walls covered in dried woven grass mats – just like the ones found inside Rwandan homes. One side of the main dome houses a chic bar with a cozy sitting area around an open fire, where guests gather in the evening to share their gorilla adventures of the day while enjoying a pre-dinner aperitif. An intimate dining area with only six tables and a bar counter are located on the other side, and it’s here that breakfast, lunch and dinner are served (more on that below). Both the dining and bar area feature enormous windows, with black steel doors leading to a balcony that offer views of the surrounding volcanoes. The main lodge also houses a wine cellar in its basement.
- Created by Johannesburg-based architect Nick Plewman, the lodge’s unique design is based on the King’s Palace at Nyanza. The spherical, thatched structures echo the thousands of hills that dot the Rwandan landscape, while the richly-detailed interiors exhibit surfaces and screens made from a variety of woven materials with strong resonance in Rwandan culture. The emerald green color in the textiles and chandeliers is reminiscent of the verdant greens of the rainforests and the vibrant markets that dot the villages throughout the country. Many of the furnishings are decorated using “imigongo,” an art form unique to Rwanda that uses cow dung and goes back hundreds of years; the dung is mixed with soils of different colors and then painted in geometric shapes. The use of black and white cow hides also reflect the rural way of life in the villages, and volcanic stone is used in the fireplaces to echo the volcanoes of the adjacent National Park.
- Bisate Lodge offers an all-inclusive formula, with room rates including all meals, drinks, coctails, and some premium wines. Meals are served in the restaurant or on the adjoining terrace. The set dinner menu changes daily, offering slow-cooked, hearty and healthy dishes served in colorful ceramics. Signature dishes include liboke (chicken cooked and served in banana leaves), sambaza (fried, spicy small fish spiced served with ginger rice), and kachumbari (a traditional tomato and onion salad). Ingredients featuring strongly in Bisate’s menus include wild honey, avocado, climbing beans, mango, kale, papaya, plantain, passion fruit, pineapple, macadamia nuts and chilies. A highlight for many will be their first experience of Rwandan coffee – sourced from the local Kigufi Coffee Estate – called Gato Keza.
- Bisate Lodge is managed by Africa’s top safari operator, Wilderness Safaris. Founded in Botswana in 1983, Wilderness Safaris is widely acclaimed as the continent’s foremost ecotourism operator, dedicated to conserving and restoring Africa’s wilderness and wildlife. They do this by creating life-changing journeys for guests in some of the most remote and pristine areas in Africa, hereby helping to conserve Africa’s spectacular biodiversity and share ecotourism’s benefits with the communities that live alongside these areas. Wilderness Safaris operates more than 40 camps in seven countries, including several iconic and ultraluxe properties such as Mombo & Little Mombo in Botswana and amazing North Island in the Seychelles.
- Bisate Lodge is deeply committed to Wilderness Safaris’ 4Cs sustainability ethos of Commerce, Community, Culture and Conservation. Its pioneering reforestation efforts have already seen over 20,000 indigenous trees planted to date. In a country where agriculture has dominated for decades, previous traditional practices have denuded Rwanda of much of its original forest cover, thus leaving indigenous species with very limited habitat. Bisate’s reforestion project has aided in the return of numerous endemic species to the area, such as southern tree hyrax, side-striped jackal and at least one species of genet. Guests are also encouraged to get involved in the reforestation project by planting a tree on the Bisate property during their stay, thus directly contributing to the restoration of the area.
- With only six villas and twice as many staff as guests, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that service at the lodge is exceptional and personalized. More than 50% of Bisate’s staff comes from the neighboring communities. Because there are so few guests here, there’s plenty of time to interact with the superfriendly staff, whether it’s chatting to the barman before dinner, sharing your love for Africa with the general manager, or exploring the nearby villages with the lodge’s guides. To give you an example of the attentive service: after your gorilla trekking, the staff will clean your hiking boots and return them in no time (with your shoes looking better than new). Also, the staff is there to welcome every guest upon arrival, dancing and singing a song in Kinyarwand.
- The prime reason why you stay here is gorilla trekking. Spotting a wild gorilla in the African jungle is on many people’s bucket list and ranks among my favorite wildlife experience in the world. Mountain gorillas are the most majestic, and sadly, rarest apes of all non-human primates. Only 1000 of these magnificent creatures remain in the world, all of them found in the border area between Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A guided gorilla tracking takes anywhere from 2 to 10 hours, and allows you to spend one hour with the apes once you found them. It’s an awesome adventure, often undertaken by travelers as they are overwhelmed by emotions after seeing the movie Gorillas In The Mist: The Story of Dian Fossey. I will publish a review of my gorilla encounter next week.
CONS & THINGS TO KNOW
Bisate Lodge is one of the most exclusive accommodation options in Rwanda, comprising just 6 stunning rooms set inside thatched, spherical pavilions containing every conceivable luxury. There’s no much to say against the lodge, but you may want to know the following nonetheless:
- Bisate Lodge is one of the most exclusive but also most expensive lodges in Africa. But you should know that going in, and rates do include all meals, a 20 min shoulder & back massage, and on-site excursions (excluding gorilla trekking). Most importantly, at Bisate Lodge, you don’t pay for an overnight stay, but you pay for a life-changing experience and a memory that will last a lifetime.
- Bisate Lodge features a lot of stairs (built with uneven volcanic stone), which makes the property not ideal for mobility challenged guests. There is a lot of climbing up and down the hillside to get to the room, the restaurant or to go on the daily activities. But that’s nothing compared to what awaits you while tracking the gorillas!
- The location of the lodge is spectacular (with phenomenal views) but the property is not located inside the rainforest but rather in a rural area, just above a local farming community (at the moment, there are no lodges inside the Volcanoes National Park). That may change though in the near future, since the park will be extended and this, combined with reforestation, will practically place Bisate Lodge within the park boundaries.
- Facilities at the lodge are rather limited. There are only six villas and one main lodge building, but that’s it. There is no spa, gym or swimming pool. That said, spa treatments can be enjoyed in the privacy of your own villa. Also, it’s rumored that Wilderness Safaris may build an on-site spa in the near future, enhancing the wellness offerings at Bisate Lodge.
- Location: 10/10
- Design: 10/10
- Pool: the property has no pool
- Rooms: 10/10
- Food: 9/10
- Breakfast: 9/10
- Spa: the property has no spa (treatments are done in the privacy of your villa)
- Service: 10/10
- Value for money: 9/10
- Overall experience: exceptional 9,6/10
TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
- Save money: read here my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel like Bisate Lodge (and/or receive many free perks).
- Room tip: There are only 6 villas as Bisate Lodge and they all feature the same layout. The higher located villas have the best view (but reaching them involves more stairs).
- Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
In the heart of Africa, fractionally south of the equator, Rwanda’s relatively high altitude provides it with a remarkably pleasant tropical highland climate, albeit also with plenty of rain. Although it’s regarded as a year-round activity, the best time to visit Rwanda is during the short dry season from December to February or over the long dry season months of June to September. These periods offer by far the easiest hiking conditions (for gorilla or chimp trekking) and the lowest malaria risk. The dry season does not necessarily means sunny season as there is often a light cloud cover, helping to moderate the temperatures. Rwanda’s long rainy season lasts from about March to May, when the rain is heavy and persistent. October to November is the short rainy season, with occasional light showers in the afternoon.
HOW TO GET THERE
Bisate Lodge can be reached from Kigali by car, a journey of around 2,5 hours on an excellent paved road (only the last miles are on a dirt road). However, it’s also possible to charter a flight to the airport at Ruhengeri, which is just over half an hour’s drive from the property.
Top 10 best hotels & lodges in Rwanda
Today (February 18, 2019): Top10 best hotels & lodges in Rwanda.
Twenty five years after the devastating genocide, Rwanda has risen from the ashes and has managed to rebuild itself into one of Africa’s safest and most peaceful nations. Breathtakingly beautiful and largely untouched, Rwanda offers towering volcanoes, emerald green rain forests, privileged access to the endangered mountain gorilla, and so much more. Rwanda has long been an off the beaten track destination, far from the ordinary traveler’s itinerary, but things are about to change in a big way with the installation of Ellen DeGeneres’ new gorilla conservation center with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, and the opening of a new string of ultra-luxurious hotels. Emerging as Africa’s newest luxury travel hotspot, here’s my pick of the 10 best hotels & lodges in Rwanda.
There is more information (with reviews & Youtube clips) below the slide show. Think I missed one? Share your favorite hotel in Rwanda in the comments.
*** Get the most of your (luxury) trip to Rwanda with my Rwanda travel guide ***
Ideally located 5 km (3 mi) from the city center and Kigali International Airport, the stylish Radisson Blu Hotel & Convention Center is a 5-star hotel in Rwanda’s capital Kigali. The hotel offers 292 modern and spacious rooms along with an all-day dining, an exquisite Italian restaurant, a bar, lobby lounge and an outdoor swimming pool designed to provide a memorable experience to business and leisure travelers alike. With the capacity to accommodate up to 5000 delegates in its 18 meeting rooms including an auditorium, meeting and events planners can take advantage of the Convention Centers’ versatile event space and state-of-the-art facilities. The on-site spa is designed to offer a relaxing experience for couples, friends and individuals looking for rejuvenation.
Set on a stunning hillside, the magnificent Virunga Lodge boasts panoramic vistas of the Virunga Volcanoes and the beautiful lakes of Ruhondo and Bulera. Each of ten luxurious bandas named after the Rwandan lakes features a spacious bedroom with a cosy fireplace, as well as private terrace with sweeping views of the breathtaking surrounds. Those in need of relaxation can revel in the comfort of the main lodge or spend some time in the Dian Fossey Map Room. Each guest will enjoy the opportunity for a relaxing complementary massage. Adventures include tracking gorillas and golden monkeys, hikes to the top of the volcanoes, scenic walks through the picturesque villages surrounding the lodge, or day trips to the lively towns of Kigali or Kampala.
The elegant Kigali Serena Hotel is perfectly situated within one of the city’s most vibrant boulevards, and is the best hotel in town for a business stay or to start or end a gorilla safari. Here, guests are welcomed into a gleaming granite atrium, adorned with lovely Rwandan artworks. The property features 148 sophisticated rooms, including 25 lavish suites, that come with air conditioning, Wi-Fi connectivity, a satellite television, and a lovely ensuite bathroom. The hotel offers a wonderful selection of dining options, from the Milima Restaurant that overlooks the sparkling swimming pool to the Sokoni Restaurant that has become a popular meeting place for both locals and travelers alike. In the evenings, you can retreat to the hotel’s convivial lounge where two bar areas await.
With a maximum of 20 guests, Ruzizi Tented Lodge is an intimate, charming camp, overlooking Lake Ihema in Rwanda’s Akagera National Park. The camp’s nine tents are spaced widely apart on either side of a thatched reception and dining area, set back from the lake shore and hidden among swaying palms and fruiting fig trees. Each tent has an en-suite bathroom, a dressing area and either comfortable queen or twin beds, with a small patio at the front and accessible by wooden boardwalks. The lodge was designed to blend in with the surrounding environment in order to create a feel of being connected to nature. Where possible, trees and vegetation were left undisturbed during the construction, and even incorporated into the structure. The lodge is powered by solar energy and prides itself on being environmentally conscious.
Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge is Rwanda’s first ever community owned lodge. The lodge was built and is operated by Governors’ Camp Collection, but the ownership rests with a Community Trust, which uses rentals and community fees from the lodge to drive socio-economic and conservation initiatives in the communities adjacent to the National Park. The lodge, situated in the foothills of the mighty Virungas, the chain of 15,000 ft volcanoes stretching through Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, affords wonderful views of the volcanoes and the surrounding countryside. Accommodation at Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge comprises six cottages, two suites, one family cottage. All are stone buildings with Rwandese terracotta tile roofs, and feature large sitting areas, fireplaces, stylish en-suite bathrooms finished with Venetian plaster a dressing room and a sheltered veranda.
Singita Kwitonda Lodge & Kataza House (opening summer 2019) will be located on a breathtaking, isolated but contained 178-acre piece of land right on the edge of Volcanoes National Park. The presence of the lodge on the park border will help to improve the function of the buffer area between agricultural plots and the habitat of the estimated 320 mountain gorillas that find sanctuary here. Set within a landscape of wetlands and lush meadows, there will be eight suites and a four-bedroom villa linked by volcanic rock pathways to a central lodge. Singita Kwitonda will be built to embody the spirit of Rwanda and offer a tribute to the lodge’s namesake – Kwitonda – a great silverback gorilla whose legend lives on in Rwanda and was known for his humility and gentleness.
Magashi Camp (opening spring 2019) is situated in the productive and phenomenally diverse north-eastern corner of Akagera National Park, overlooking scenic Lake Rwanyakazinga. Akagera comprises some of the most scenic savannah in East Africa – open plains, woodlands, lakes, swamp, and grassy low mountains – and is home to one of Africa’s highest hippo densities, some very large crocodiles as well as rare sitatunga and inscrutable shoebill. Six spacious and airy tented guest rooms will offer uninterrupted views over Lake Rwanyakazinga while Magashi’s main area will comprise a luxurious lounge, dining and bar area, wine cellar and pool, as well as an expansive viewing deck with convivial fire pit. The architecture and interiors will pay homage to traditional Rwandan culture.
Nestled amongst a forest of eucalyptus trees, One&Only Gorilla’s Nest (opening later this year) will provide breath-taking views of Rwandan hills and the slopes of the Volcanoes National Park. Guests will be able to discover the magical habitat of critically endangered mountain gorillas, a rare adventure. Bespoke accommodation will honor the location and natural elements will be woven throughout the resort, to inform the design of both the public and private spaces of the resort. Local African cuisine will surround a traditional Boma, providing the perfect location to share adventures from the day and enjoy fruit and vegetables from the resort’s garden. The resort will also offer an indulgent One&Only spa. One&Only also has a second lodge in Rwanda (more on that below), offering guest a journey to the country’s two most spectacular national parks.
Alongside ancient rainforest, within the lush green expanse of a working tea plantation, Nyungwe House offers an exciting window to Africa’s fascinating wildlife and culture. Situated on a working tea plantation on the edge of Nyungwe National Park, One&Only Nyungwe House is the first of two new One&Only resorts to have opened in Rwanda. Exploratory treks and hikes through the forest give guests access to the park’s nearly 250,000 acres, where they can discover black-and-white colobus monkeys, gray-cheeked mangabeys, and more than 275 bird species. After full days out in the park, guests can retire to the resort’s modern suites and villas, each featuring decor accented with traditional African touches and vast private decks equipped with fireplaces.
Comprising just 6 spacious forest villas, Bisate offers a luxurious base from where to enjoy an extraordinary gorilla conservation experience and life-changing journey to this beautiful region. Situated within the amphitheater of an eroded volcanic cone, Bisate is surrounded by natural splendor, with sweeping views towards the Karisimbi, Bisoke and Mikeno volcanoes. Bisate’s sophisticated architectural and interior design is rooted in Rwandan building tradition as exemplified in the design of the Royal Palace of the traditional monarch. The spherical, thatched structures echo the thousands of hills that dot the Rwandan landscape, while the richly-detailed interiors exhibit surfaces and screens made from a variety of woven materials with strong resonance in Rwandan culture.
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