|I’ve just returned from 2 weeks in Rwanda – first of all thanks Philip for the excellent guidebook – as enjoyable and inspirational as it is useful.
Discover Rwanda Youth Hostel – Kigali
Can’t recommend this place highly enough. I stayed here on three occasions during my trip – a great and inexpensive base from which to explore the country. The core facilities (bedrooms/bathrooms) are basic and while hostels won’t appeal to everyone, it’s got some great advantages. The location in Kacyiru is superb, within easy reach of the city centre, Memorial, airport and bus station by moto or car taxi and is located near banks, an excellent bookshop (Ikirezi) and good restaurants such as Magda Cafe and Havanas. The staff is friendly and helpful and the excellent terrace area allows you to meet many interesting fellow travellers, volunteers, researchers etc. The kind of experience you don’t get at more expensive hotels or indeed most hostels on the standard backpacker trails.
Volcanoes National Park
Spent 4 nights in Ruhengeri to explore the Virungas. The gorilla trek to the Amahoro Group on Mount Visoke was a tough trek, more than one of us thought it was as tough as anything Kili threw at us! Of course, still very much worth the effort of course for another amazing hour with the gorillas. I also trekked the golden monkeys – a very different experience to the gorillas, an easier trek though they obviously are much more mobile and difficult to see in the bamboo forest. Very much worth the $100 permit, though having to pay another $100 for transport to the park and trailhead really adds to the expense and highlights the lack of infrastructure in Rwanda for the independent traveller.
The lake and its ports are beautiful spots, ideal for a few chill out days during or at the end of your holidays. Kibuye is spectacularly located, a beautiful town with great lake views all along the coast. The Bethanie Hotel is fantastic value, a mere Rfr15,000 for a lake facing chalet room, though the level of service for the hotel/restaurant is mixed. Further north, Gisenyi is the one spot where it’s worth splashing out on accommodation as the lakefront is far nicer than the rather rough and tumble upper town. I stayed in the Gorillas Hotel – at half the price of the Serena and Stipp it’s good value, though the hotel was practically empty and I echo an earlier comment about the lack of mosquito nets. The walk to the Paradise Malahide hotel is well worth it – it takes about one and a quarter hours from the Serena along the coast road (there are military checkpoints here but they seem happy to let a mzungu through) and the grilled tilapia there makes for an excellent lunch by the lakeside.
Nyungwe Forest is a stunning location with many excellent options and activities but highlights some of the difficulties facing independent travellers in Rwanda. Lacking my own transport, I booked a private tour through Bizidanny Tours (who provide an excellent service) as it seems difficult or impossible to effectively explore the park without that. It’s still a shame that the only non-tented accommodation is outside the park – surely a lodge/hostel at Uwinka would encourage more visitors? Chimp tracking in Cyamudongo Forest was excellent – although they were difficult to see and photograph, seeing and hearing them jump though the trees at dawn was a memorable experience. The colobus monkey trek near the Gisakura Tea Estate provided much better sightings but as a simple walk along the edge of the forest patch, the $70 permit seemed excessive. In the park, the canopy walk was a good, fun intro to Nyungwe (though again seemed pricey at $60). Would have liked to do more of the trails but I only had a day to fit everything in. Hopefully the options for independent/backpacking travellers will improve as tourism develops in Rwanda – it would be a shame if this great country becomes a preserve of high end lodge tourism, especially as overland trucks rarely spend more than a few days in the country.