Sustainable ecotourism has become a major part of international travel in the past few decades.
Savvy travellers now expect some elements of sustainability wherever they visit. This has resulted in a new wave of sustainability practices and a rise in the number of ultra-luxury eco-lodges in Rwanda.
Why are so many new lodges coming to Rwanda? This can be attributed to the rise of Rwanda as one of the safest destinations on the continent, coupled with the country’s rebranding from its violent past, government commitment to tourism, marketing of the country as the next frontier and the revival of gorilla tourism over the past decade.
Rwanda has been particularly successful in attracting large number of business and conference travellers who then become eco-travellers and explorers.
The market is open for even more luxury hotels as the business environment has improved markedly in recent years, and the infrastructure facilitates even further improvement with a clear tourism strategy in place which has marketed the destination Rwanda successfully.
The latest addition to this movement is from the Singita chain, which has been synonymous with sustainability since its inception in South Africa in the 1990’s. Singita has set up shop in Rwanda through Singita Kwitonda lodge which opened its doors last August.
A two-and-a-half-hour drive from Kigali, the lodge is situated on Rwanda’s north-western reach of Musanze, right on the edge of the Volcanoes National Park, a location that puts the gorilla trekking experience within easy reach.
Going up the lodge’s driveway, one is arrested by the sight of lush meadows, a green expanse of unspoilt forests with picturesque views of the Sabyinyo, Gahinga and Muhabura mountains in the background and the pastoral scenes surrounding the lodge.
At the entrance to Singita Kwitonda, a porter graciously welcomes you while addressing you by name. The porters are quick to help you with your bags and they hand you hot towels to wipe your hands as you walk in.
Singita Kwitonda’s aesthetic is of pale neutral shades, organic textures, hand-fired terracotta brickwork, woven ceilings, brutalist-inspired sculptures, dry-packed volcanic stone walls, rammed earth and volcanic rock paved floors with a profusion of natural light that make the lodge’s design an architectural marvel.
The lodge’s ambience makes the place soothing and calming as well as sophisticated and polished. The overall design takes its cue from Rwanda’s rich cultural heritage and the conservation practices protect the gorillas.
The design team worked with local artisans and sourced most of the materials from Musanze district. Most of the interior design was done by the Cecile and Boyd design company and the Hesse Kleinloog studio, both from South Africa.
Kwitonda is named after a legendary silverback gorilla famed for its humility and gentle nature. The lodge has eight luxurious suites and an exclusive-use villa, Kataza House, which features four spacious suites.
The suites all have a cosy sitting/lounge area, covered veranda, indoor and outdoor fireplaces, heated plunge pools, indoor and outdoor glass-enclosed showers, a dressing room, mini-bar and in-room massage treatment area.
I checked in to Kataza House the afternoon I arrived, where I was received warmly by the butler who gave a tour of the villa. Meanwhile, the sous chef prepared coffee as the butler explained what the Kataza House package entailed.
Kataza House has woven bamboo ceilings, sliding eucalyptus screens, custom ebonised timber tables and Sarah Pratt artworks on the walls. Floor to ceiling windows give awe-inspiring views of the volcanoes.
The volcanic rock tiled guest bathroom features double sinks with marble vanities, a rainfall shower and a hammered copper bath tub. The villa also boasts a cinema room, fitness centre, a gear-up area for trekking, a bar-deli, interactive kitchen and a fire pit with outdoor seating where we enjoyed the cup of coffee from Chef Djafari.
From the chef, we learnt that 90 per cent of the produce is sourced from the lodge’s onsite garden. He gave us a tour of the garden — the plants grown included green beans, squash, coriander, green bananas, onions, garlic, lemongrass, basil and spinach.
After the garden tour, Chef Djafari whipped up dinner for us with fresh ingredients from the garden. I watched him make the meal from start to finish in the interactive kitchen.
I enjoyed the green banana (matoke) curry dish with sambols of green papaya and carrots pickle, a tomato kachumbari, golden crisps and cucumber raita served with roti.
The food was delectable and was the first time I had enjoyed matoke as the chef displayed mastery in flavour, and presentation.
He also made mocktails to accompany the meal.
Kataza has a room with books, films and photographs that detail the conservation history of gorillas. The lodge has initiated reforestation programmes in the area to increase the gorilla range and numbers.
the Akarabo Nursery is a fundamental part of Singita’s ambitious undertaking to contribute to the long-term conservation of endangered mountain gorillas by increasing their habitat through reforestation
Sustainability is a large part of Singita’s tourism operating model, which directly supports biodiversity and the community in and around their lodges.
Over the past 25 years, Singita has grown into one of the leading conservation brands in Africa.
In South Africa they have Singita Lebombo and Singita Sweni lodge in Kruger National Park, Ebony Lodge, Castleton and Boulders Lodge in Singita Sabi Sand, in Tanzania the Sasakwa Lodge, Sabora Tented Camp, Faru Faru Lodge, Serengeti House, Singita Explore and, Mara River Camp, and the Pamushana Lodge and Malilangwe House in Zimbabwe.
INFLUX OF PROPERTIES
There has been an influx of luxury-seeking tourists and lodges to house them in Rwanda in the past few years.
The latest addition is the five-star One & Only Gorillas Nest, which opened its doors last November and was launched on February 27, 2020 by Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
estled amongst eucalyptus trees, the lodge features individual free-standing rooms and villas suspended over sprawling gardens at eye level with pyrethrum farmland and eucalyptus forests. It is the closest resort to Volcanoes National Park.
Magashi Camp, the latest outpost of Wilderness Safaris, opened in May 2019. The six-tented camp is located in the phenomenally diverse north-eastern corner of Akagera National Park overlooking Lake Rwanyakazinga.
The spacious and airy tents offer uninterrupted views of the lake. The camp has a luxurious lounge, dining and bar area, pool and expansive viewing deck with a fire pit. The architecture and interiors pay homage to traditional Rwandan culture.
The Retreat, which opened in January 2018, is an eco-friendly boutique luxury resort situated in Kigali.
The 11-room upscale property is formed around the concept of ecological design, understated elegance and impeccable service, The Retreat’s aesthetic is that of snow white interiors and stacked stone walls mixed with teak wood from a sustainable farm in Tanzania.
he Retreat has art done by locals adorning the walls, furniture crafted by Rwandan artisans, and photographs of local sights hanging on the bedroom walls.
Bisate Lodge, which opened its doors in October 2017, is hailed as one of the most luxurious hotels in Rwanda and the one that initially triggered the cascade of ultra-luxury lodges to come into the country.
Bisate Lodge, which is also part of Wilderness Safaris, is adjacent to the Volcanoes National Park and is located in an eroded volcanic cone with views of Bisoke and Karisimbi volcanoes.
The lodge boasts of six opulent en-suite forest villas. It is close to the Volcanoes National Park, where gorilla treks occur daily. At Bisate, you can go birding and participate in the reforestation programme.