Rwanda trip report (Sept 2010)

Many thanks for your excellent Bradt guidebook to Rwanda, which we found invaluable.

Overall, we found Rwanda to be a beautiful and fascinating country, with scenery dominated by steep hills and/or lakes in most areas of the country. It seems to have made remarkable progress since the terrible genocide in 1994 and has strong ambitions for the country and its people. The tourist infrastructure is at a very early stage of development, but that is also one of its charms.
There are very few tourists around except in the vicinity of the Mountain Gorillas.  Tourism has been developing only since about 2005 but the world economic crisis caused a significant dip in 2009 from which there has been only a partial recovery so far.  Food was generally very good, with local fresh fruit and lake fish outstanding. The standard of guiding was excellent, in terms of expertise and the care and consideration shown to us, both from our own driver/guide (from Primate Safaris), and the guides and trackers in each of the national parks. We booked through Gane & Marshall in the UK.

Here are a few updates which might be of interest:

A word of warning about the ForEx kiosk at the airport. We exchanged some $s there and the rate of exchange was even worse than at the hotel (560 cf 585), while the rate being offered for the £ was a complete rip-off (600 cf 900).

We recommend Inganzo Art Gallery of the artist Epaphrodite Binamungu whose work at the Rweresero Palace Art Gallery in Nyanza had impressed us greatly. It can be found at a shopping parade at B12, 1st floor, KBC Building, Lake Avenue, Muhazi, Kilgali. Tel +250 078853 0506 or +250 0514 3661

Akagera Game Lodge is a little run down and service is moderate, the planned investments having come to a halt in 2009 because of the world economic crisis.  However, it is still a perfectly acceptable place to stay and in a beautiful location.   There are ambitious plans for improving the Park over the next 5 years, with a management agreement recently signed with a South Africa based non-profit specialist company.

We visited (just for tea) Nyungwe Forest Lodge, a very modern luxury lodge on the tea plantation, which has recently opened.  It won’t be an option for many people as we understand a double room is $800 per night. It was almost deserted (we saw one guest and believe she was the only one there).  The helipad in the grounds seems to indicate the clientele they are aiming for.  There is a mid-range Ecolodge currently under construction in the area.

A word of warning about Chimpanzee tracking. It is much more hit-and-miss than Mountain Gorilla tracking and viewing them is more likely to be fleeting or at some distance (and height) – we were told that one of the two groups the previous day had not succeeded in seeing any. We had to set out at 4.30 in order to start our hike before sunrise. With the help of trackers who were already on site, we had three good sightings of male Chimpanzees including a spectacular ascent of a palm tree; but their families were keeping out of sight.  We heard a lot more activity than we saw.

Don’t be deceived by the apparently short distances in the vicinity of Lake Kivu. Nyungwe-Kibuye and Kibuye-Gisenyi took 4 and 3 ½ hours respectively along terrible roads. There are no signs yet of any improvement to these roads. The views, though, both towards the lake and the inland valleys are very beautiful.

Paradis Milahade is also an excellent place to eat in the evening. Although you lose the wonderful views across the lake, the indoor restaurant has a truly authentic African atmosphere. You dine in a large and dimly lit room, where the main source of lighting is a large log fire in the middle of the room, which is furnished in traditional style. Food was very good.

There are large fruit bats roosting in the trees just outside the gates of Lake Kivu Serena Hotel.

Gorillas Hotel was a great disappointment, after staying in a variety of places, in different levels of accommodation, but all in beautiful surroundings. It was comfortable and food was good, but all the rooms were either overlooking a busy main road or a building site. The hotel is acceptable for one night but not for an extended stay.

Best wishes

Hellena & Victor Gallant


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