When was the last time you rewarded yourself for all your hard work? If you have not got into the practice of taking a break and treating yourself well, it is high time you started. Before the year is over, a visit to Nyungwe National Park and the Nyungwe Forest Lodge would be the perfect get away providing rest, comfort and freshness all in one. Rwanda is such a beautiful country, you need to explore it!
Arrival through beautiful tea plantation. RwandAir’s daily early flights to Kamembe will put you an hour’s drive away from the Nyungwe Forest Lodge, allowing you enough time to spend the rest of the day. The drive from Kamembe Airport is a breath of fresh air – literally- through the tea plantations and one feels a real return to nature, driving away from the noise and fumes. Driving from Kigali is another option, which would take about 4-5 hours; a longer drive but giving you a chance to see more of the country.
The two year old Nyungwe Forest Lodge is the only 5-star lodge in Rwanda and truly lives up to its ratings. It was built on the edge of Africa’s largest expanse of mountain rain forest surrounding a tea plantation. The Lodge stands out as a unique architectural concept and was awarded the Best International New Small Hotel Construction and Design last year.
The air is fresh, and other than the birds that wake you up in the morning, you will hear nothing else. Nyungwe provides a tranquil place to rest. Forget stress! You will also see nothing else but a massive tea plantantion, giant trees and maybe a colobus monkey or two jumping from branch to branch. In order to see more monkeys, chimpanzees and maybe a leopard if you are lucky, a visit to Nyungwe National Park provides a perfect complement to your stay at the Lodge. You will need good walking shoes and some level of fitness to take it on.
Visiting the Park
The Uwinka Visitors Center is about 45 minutes drive from the Lodge. It is a well kept center maintained by the Rwanda Development Board with support from USAID. Park Staff are welcoming and knowledgeable and will explain the range of adventurous guided hikes you can choose from. For understandable reasons, all activities in the Park must be taken with a Guide and the fees visitors pay go to cover the cost of maintaining the Park and remunerating staff.
The Guides are well conversant with the Forest and you will come away with a vast knowledge of the trees, birds, chimpanzees and the history of the Forest. The hikes offered require different levels of energy and amount of time. RDB Staff at Uwinka reception will make recommendations but you may choose what you would like to depending on how adventurous you feel.
The Canopy Walk is a favorite for Park visitors. The walk is on a suspended 60 meters bridge above the forest floor between giant trees and towers, and offers a magnificent view of the upper canopy. Talk of adventure; I felt like I was hanging on for dear life but felt proud of myself when I was back on firm ground. Please note - no cause to be afraid, no one ever drops off! The Canopy Walk is on a shorter trail and even children tall enough to hold on to the rope handrails can give it a try, so you could do it as a family.
And you will feel you deserve the dessert at the Lodge after you have been out hiking. The hikes are not only beneficial as much needed exercise but also provide you with a chance for meditation, while bonding with nature.
A visit to Nyungwe National Park provides excellent opportunities to see a variety of fascinating birds along the forest paths, including quite a few of the regional endemic species. Hosting about 310 bird species including 27 Albertine Rift endemics, even hikers with only a passing interest in birdlife will be amazed by a sighting of the Great Blue Turaco.
Among other activities, you can choose to track chimpanzees; Nyungwe is home to about 400 chimpanzees and represents one of the last intact populations in the area. In addition to several wild chimp communities, there are currently two groups of habituated communities open for tourism; one in Cyamdungo and the other around Uwinka (Mayebe). A third group located in the northern part of the Park (Gisovu) is still under habituation. Tracking Chimpanzees in Nyungwe is an exciting challenge! Professional guides and trackers will lead you through the forest using chimp calls, feeding signs, and nesting sites as you trace your way through their montane habitat. Since chimps are most easily seen in the early morning, such an excursion usually means having to wake up around 4:00-4:30 AM. In June, July and August, Nyungwe’s fig trees are in fruit, making this is a particularly good time for viewing chimps. Although this viewing is not always guaranteed, you will certainly experience the thrill of following the paths of these wild and elusive primates, and learning about chimps and their habitat through well-trained guides.
‘Five Star Hotel is really in the details Accommodation at the Lodge is in tastefully decorated wooden cabins that are in every way environmentally friendly, very well built, clean and comfortable. As the Manager, Jerry Were says, ‘Five Star is in the detail’ and one feels the details have been taken care of. Although the Lodge has become a favourite as a honeymoon destination, accommodation is family friendly and with so little distraction- no shopping, no theme park, the Lodge provides an excellent opportunity for real deep, up close and personal family time. There are board games available too in case you need some entertainment. Also on offer are spa treatments to pamper you and if you prefer some exercise, the swimming pool’s location will make you feel you are swimming out in the ocean with the birds watching over you. You can also take long walks through the tea plantation or ride the bicycles available for guests.
I asked the Manager to share his tips on acquiring such a desirable level of service excellence and he pointed out three main tips – recruitment, training and staff motivation. At Nyungwe Forest Lodge, waiters are flexible, pleasant and attentive. That most certainly goes to provide an exceptional customer experience. At the lodge, tables can be moved, items on the menu switched and orders changed to keep the client happy!
My favorite part of the day at Nyungwe Forest Lodge was the afternoon cup of tea. Served in the lounge with warm fires glowing, tea is brewed by a professional tea connoisseur who explains the origins of the different teas while you unwind on the comfy couches.
Dinner is served in the small dining hall. Wood fires are burnt every night giving it a warm homely feel. As the lodge also hosts corporate get togethers and high level meetings, it could be just the place to gather your Executives for real productive brainstorming as they lay out next year’s plan and strategize for business growth.
A week end at Nyungwe will rejuvenate anyone… and the cost is worth the long term benefit one gets.