The Renaissance of Rwanda

Rwanda has always been one of Frontiers’ favorite extensions to a safari—usually, for those wanting to track mountain gorillas in their natural habitat—but with plenty of new five-star properties being built, service-minded people, and a vast diversity of wildlife ranging beyond the Big Five, Rwanda is now a premier stand-alone destination you need to add to your bucket list. Once you visit, you’ll understand what I mean when I say if you feel like you’re in paradise, you must be in Rwanda!

In all my travels throughout the world, I have never been to a cleaner, more stunningly beautiful country. Rwanda is filled with lush, tropical vegetation and rolling hills, and the entire country is absolutely spotless. I’ve always known that Rwanda is clean because of our strong relationships with our preferred partners, such as Wilderness Safaris, but I was still so impressed with the complete absence of trash. On the last Saturday of every month, all citizens spend three hours picking up litter in their local communities. In fact, even the president takes part in the national cleanup day called Umuganda! As a part of the effort to become a cleaner and more eco-friendly country, Rwanda banned all single-use plastics in the country in 2017.

Although Rwanda has seen tremendous tragedy, this small country has made a remarkable comeback; its issues with ethnicity are a part of the past. There is no longer Hutus or Tutsis, and Rwandans have become a model for other countries to follow. As a part of the collaborative effort to bring people together, all citizens now identify as Rwandans. As a result, Rwanda is now one of the safest countries on the African continent.

I was excited when Wilderness Safaris invited me to stay at their luxurious Bisate Lodge. Situated in the heart of an amphitheater formed by eroded volcano cones. As my driver and I pulled up to the lodge, the staff smiled and sang, which made me feel right at home. In addition to a unique landscape, the accommodations are equally as interesting. Bisate’s six pod-like suites blend into the forest with their domed thatched roofs and stone structures built into the hillside and look like something out of a storybook.

Each offers a unique sense of place with differing views based upon the suites hillside vantage point, each with their own observation decks to take in the magnificent views of the surrounding peaks.

Behind the lodge, I enjoyed a leisurely stroll on the nature trail before dinner. The two trails are easily marked and can be done independently or with a guide. The main difference between the two is that one of the trails is longer than the other.

Throughout the property, Bisate has planned countless trees, fifty of which were a generous gift from Wilderness Safaris, celebrating Frontiers 50th anniversary this past year.

My favorite part walking the trails was the view once I reached the top. I easily could have spent hours sitting silently taking in the dramatic, natural setting with panoramic views across rural hills and forests to the cone peaks of Volcanoes National Park.

Rwanda is best known for Volcanoes National Park, which is home to the magnificent mountain gorillas.

Bisate is a perfect base for those who are Gorilla or Golden Monkey trekking, as it is only a half-hour from the park entrance. I wasn’t able to partake in a gorilla trek on this trip, but I did enjoy a Golden Monkey trek which was equally exciting. Much like the gorilla trekking, once my guide and I found the Golden Monkeys, we had one hour to spend observing them in their natural habitat. They didn’t seem to mind our presence, and I was nearly able to touch them because we were so close!

For those who aren’t interested in having two gorilla trekking experiences in one trip, and would like to try something different (and at a considerably less price point – a Golden Monkey permit is only $100 versus $1,500) a Golden Monkey trek is less challenging and provides an interesting contrast to gorilla trekking. It also offers plenty of excitement and great photo opportunities.

Yet, there is so much more to see and experience in the extraordinary biodiversity of the “land of a thousand hills.” Rwanda boasts a tapestry of habitats, including rainforests, grasslands, and wetlands, and a variety of species, including the golden monkey, chimpanzee, hippo, giraffe, zebra, leopard, lion, buffalo, elephant, and over 600 bird species, just to scratch the surface!

Akagera Park suffered considerably during the civil war of the early 1990s, but after a successful wildlife reintroduction program, it has earned back its Big Five credentials. It’s become a focus of national pride for Rwandans and a hot ticket destination for travelers. Akagera is comprised of some of the most scenic savannah\ in East Africa with open plains, woodlands, lakes, and grassy low mountains. It is also home to one of Africa’s highest hippo densities and more than 520 bird species. Akagera also boasts a healthy population of lions and black rhino, which were reintroduced to the park in 2015 after a 20-year absence! During my trip, I was able to get the closest I have ever been to a black rhino!

During my time in Rwanda, I was able to spend two nights at Wilderness Safaris’ newly opened Magashi Camp.

Located in the northeastern corner of Akagera overlooking the beautiful Lake Rwanyakazinga, this stunning five-star luxury tented lodge is the only exclusive-use area in Akagera and is also home to a large leopard population, as well as black rhinos.

In addition to morning and evening game drives, they also offer boat safaris. During my time here, I was able to experience a boat safari for myself, which is a great opportunity to see birds, buffalo, and hippos up close!

Another exciting update from Wilderness Safaris is that they will be opening a new five-star property in Gishwati-Mukura National Park in the next two years. The national park is a primate oasis for chimpanzees as well as L’Hoest’s, blue, golden, and black-and-white colobus monkeys! With the amazing variety of primates along with members of the Big Five, this property has the perfect location in otherwise uncharted territory.

With so much to offer across the country and many new exciting updates, there has never been a better time to consider a future visit to Rwanda. According to The World Economic Forum, Rwanda is the fifth safest place in the world to visit. With the amazing infrastructure of paved roads, spectacular properties, rainforests, and abundant wildlife, Rwanda has transformed into an outstanding destination to visit on a dedicated trip or as an extension to your trip to Africa!

Some photos courtesy of Wilderness Safaris.