I’ve just returned from a research trip to Rwanda, gathering update material for the 4th edition, due out at the end of the year.
In the meantime, however, I’m posting a few selected highlights from the trip below:
The budget hotels in the city centre are all closed now. The best area for cheap rooms remains Nyamirambo, where the Auberge Nyamirambo (tel: 0788324079) and La Vedette Motel around the corner (tel: 573575) both have decent rooms in the Rfr 5-8,000 range. Another slightly pricier goodie is the new Dream Inn Motel (opposite Auberge la Caverne, tel: 0788754110, email@example.com), with good rooms for Rfr 15-20,000, and four-bed dorms for Rfr 25,000. The Hotel Hilltop near the airport (0788622522, firstname.lastname@example.org) is also good value at Rfr 15-20,000 for a room.
A good new upmarket-ish option is the La Palisse Hotel on the Akagera Road about 1km past the airport; set in unusually green gardens, the bungalows are great value at US$60-80. It has a new and highly recommended sister hotel La Palisse Clubhouse, situated about 50km south of Kigali on the shores of Lake Rumira, which supports hippos, crocs and loads of birds. Rooms here are also around US$65-80. The website they gave me www.hotel-lapalisse.com doesn’t seem to work, but contact details are 0788305505 or email@example.com.
A few new eateries worth singling out. In the town centre, the trendiest place is Torero Café (open 11am-midnight daily), which serves a good selection of mostly vegetarian nachos style snacks in the Rfr 2,500-3,500 range, hosts regular music and theatrical performances, and lies on the north side of Justice Road about 200 metres from Place de l’Unité Nationale (it’s poorly signposted but look out for the green Heineken sign above the entrance. For inexpensive (Rfr 2,500-3,500) Rwanda style buffet lunches and a la carte dinners, head for Afrika Bite (tel: 0788685184, open 12 noon-3pm, 6-10.30pm daily except Wed and Sun), which is well signposted in the steep backroads between Kigali Business Centre and Executive Carwash. Also recommended (but pricier) are the Shanghai Restaurant next to the Iris Guesthouse and Heaven about two streets uphill from this.
Other significant developments in Kigali are the opening of an underwhelming Museum of Natural History in the Kandt House (marked on the city centre map), and the relocation of Dancing Pots to Ave de Rugunga (a few hundred metres south of Caplaki). Shopping wise, the biggest development is the Union Trade Centre, on the east side of the main road connecting Place de l’Unité Nationale and Place de la Constitution. Inside this two storey mall you’ll find a sprawling 24-hour Nakumatt Supermarket (the best in Kigali, with a good bakery too), several eateries (including Bourbon Cafe for fresh coffee), a forex bureau, a fast internet cafe, and a branch of Access Bank where you can draw the equivalent of up to US$1,500 against a Master or Visa card.
There are now four hotels here. The pick is the Nyanza Comfort Hotel (tel: 0788792731) on the left side of the feeder road into town, with rooms in the Rfr 12-15,000 range. Best value is the Boomerang Hotel (tel: 533396) between the town centre and museum. Entrance to the Rukali Palace Museum costs Rfr 3,000 inclusive of the newly opened Rwesero Art Museum.
The pick of the budget places remains Hotel Beaux Arts (Rfr 5-8,000) and Motel Ituze (Rfr 5-6,000). There are still no outstanding choices in the midrange-upmarket categories, but the Hotel Ibis remains decent value (Rfr 15-25,000) and the new Petit Prince Hotel (tel: 531307, firstname.lastname@example.org, Rfr 18-23,500) near the museum is a more convincing modern option than the tired-looking Hotel Credo. A great new place to eat is the Cheers Snack Bar in the supermarket opposite the Hotel Ibis.
Nyungwe Forest National Park
Lots of developments in the pipeline here, including the construction of a canopy walkway at Uwinka and two upmarket lodges, all expected to be up and running by late 2009 (so watch this space…). In the meantime, the Gisakura (formerly ORTPN) Guesthouse now charges Rfr 15-25,000 for a room and can be contacted at 0788675051 or email@example.com. There is also cheaper accommodation available at the new Kitabi Reception Centre (situated on the left side of the main road as you enter the park coming from Butare); simple but adequate rooms cost Rfr 6,000 and the canteen serves meals in the Rfr 2-3,000 range. Chimp tracking now costs US$70 and primate walks are US$50 for non-residents (residents get a US$20 discount), but new price structures are likely to be instituted in June 2009.
Two excellent accommodation options here. The upmarket Moriah Hills Lodge (on the same peninsular as Centre Bethanie, and about 1km past it) is very pleasant and charges around Rfr 56-71,000 for rooms and suites (tel: 0788512222, firstname.lastname@example.org). The totally revamped Home St Jean is now an excellent budget option, with a variety of rooms in the Rfr 6-15,000 range), good food and stunning views.
The Lake Kivu Serena (formerly Intercontinental) remains the best upmarket option on Lake Kivu (check www.serenahotels.com for details). Several other old favourites (Palm Beach Hotel, La Bella Hotel) have closed. The Gorillas Lake Kivu Hotel (www.hotelgorillas.com, under the same ownership as Gorillas Hotel in Kigali) opened on the site of the old Regina Hotel in Nov 2008. The nicest place to eat is the White Rock Restaurant (on the site of the defunct Nyanja Nightclub), with lovely lake views and excellent and reasonably priced food, but very pricey drinks – beers are far cheaper at the Crescendo Bar diagonally opposite.
Plenty of new accommodation here, mostly in the mid to upper price bracket. The St Anne Hotel (www.sainteannehotel.com) and Virunga Hotel (www.virungahotel.com) in the town centre are both adequate modern set-ups with rooms in the Rfr25-40,000 brackets. The soon-to-open Hotel Gorillas (www.hotelgorillas.com) looks likely to be the smartest option in town once it opens. Cheaper rooms are harder to come by – the Tourist Hotel Resthouse (tel: 546635) and Hotel Urumuli (tel: 546820) near the bus station both remain adequate options in the Rfr 6-8,000 range. The standout cheapie, however, is the Centre Pastoral Notre Dame de Fatima, whose prices are unchanged from the 3rd edition (where most others have doubled).
Volcanoes National Park
As reported previously, gorilla tracking permits are now US$500 and 56 are available daily. We could not confirm rumours that the price of a permit might soon increase; my guess is this won’t happen at least until next year. In the wet season (April/May) it seems to be very easy to get permits at the last minute (most days when we were in the area, more than half the possible permits were still available) but that will change come late May. Assuming availability, permits can still be obtained at the last minute in Ruhengeri or at the Kinigi park office. New accommodation options (both upmarket) are the Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge (www.governorscamp.com) and Mountain Gorilla View Lodge (www.3bhotels.com).
The completely renovated Hotel Urumuli has reopened. Rates are in the Rfr 25-30,000 range. See www.hotelurumuli.com/English/HomeFr.htm for further details.
Akagera National Park
Wildlife remains thin on the ground, though this is likely to change once plans to fence the reserve and restock it with other animals materialise, probably over the course of 2009/10. Buffalo, hippo, giraffe and various antelope are still likely to be seen on game drives, but lions and other predators are very scarce. On the avian front, I can confirm the continued presence of shoebills in Akagera, having had a clear but distant sighting on Lake Birengero, and I also saw the localised red-faced barbet nesting in a fig tree next to the main gate of Akagera Game Lodge. Akagera Game Lodge (together with Gorillas Nest near Volcanoes NP) is now owned bt Dubai World and managed by the Mantis Collection, which plans to transform both lodges into five star properties by the end of 2009, along with their new lodge at Nyungwe. Details on their website www.mantiscollection.com are minimal as things stand, but watch this space…