English Corner

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Rwanda — the new luxury destination

Von Ben West

Kigali’s second and third 5-star hotels to open imminently.

Rwanda is often dubbed ‘the Switzerland of Africa’. This is due to its preponderance of mountains, its emphasis on efficiency, its smart capital city and pristine countryside. Its roads are in impeccable condition: I’ve seen ones in much worse condition all over Europe.

On a trip last week I saw no litter — importing plastic bags into the country is actually illegal - and no grafitti. Indeed, this small east African country is distinctly un-African in many ways.

Until now, Rwanda’s capital has only had one 5-star hotel, the excellent Serena in the central Nyarugenge district, which I stayed in the other day. It’s an enclave of luxury, with probably the largest bedrooms and the best breakfast buffet in the region.

However, it will soon see competition just down the street in the form of Kigali’s second 5-star hotel, a Marriot, which workmen are currently putting finishing touches to. It will have 229 rooms and 25 suites on eight floors as well as 18 meeting rooms, a reflection on Kigali’s increasing status as a conference destination, helped by its central location in the east African region.

No definite opening date has been announced and the current plan is to open in September this year, but this being Africa, the opening date has been put back and back.

Also in 2016 a third 5-star hotel is scheduled to open, a 292-room Radisson Blu, located five kilometres from the city centre and convenient for the airport. For those with more modest budgets, Radisson is also soon opening a hotel under its mid-market Park Inn brand geared largely to business travellers.

Kigali’s most famous hotel, the Des Milles Collines, which became known worldwide after 1,268 people took refuge there during the horrific genocide of 1994 and which became the setting for the film Hotel Rwanda - and which appears in the films about the genocide Sometimes in April and Shake Hands with the Devil - also about those dark times, is now a Kempinski Hotel with a more modest 4-star rating. You wouldn’t guess so by its bright and swish lobby, decked out with a sizeable collection of colourful modern African art. Sitting by the pool, it’s an oasis of relaxation and a very bizarre feeling to be in such tranquil surroundings when knowing its gruesome past.

With these international brands and numerous others in other sectors descending upon Kigali, Rwanda’s incredibly swift recovery from the turmoil of 1994, when between 500,000 and 1,000,000 Rwandans were killed. Rwanda today seems full of possibilities for opportunity and expansion.

All the key touristic sites in Rwanda - Nyungwe and Agakera National Parks, the gorillas, Lake Kivu - now have sumptuous luxury options, notably the pristine Nyungwe Forest Lodge nestled within a working tea plantation, and Serena’s hotel at Lake Kivu, convenient for both the lake and the gorillas. At Agakera, a beautifully low-key national park in the east of the country that’s not yet so established on the tourist track, there’s the extremely comfortable Ruzizi Tented Lodge within the park, a 20-bed tented eco-camp linked together using boardwalks. There’s also a brand new venture, the Karenge Bush Camp, an equally comfortable six-tent seasonal bush camp which will move periodically to different stunning locations within the park from season to season.

To be sure, all in all, there’s no doubt at all that Rwanda really is now firmly on the luxury travel destination map.