Just Back From

Rwanda in the Midst — of a Boom

by Colin Nagy
Volcanoes National Park. All photos courtesy of Singita.

Colin Nagy, sedulous reporter of culture, travel, and global trends, just got back from Rwanda. He ran through the streets of Kigali for fun, was thoroughly impressed by the new Singita Volcanoes National Park - Kwitonda and Kataza House, and can't stop thinking about the forest's atmospheric mist.

So, what brought you to Rwanda?

I’ve been studying and reading about Rwanda for a long time. And given all of the progress made in the country after the horrors of the genocide in 1994, the entrepreneurship, and the surge in tourism, I wanted to check it out. It has incredible word-of-mouth from those in the know, so I booked.

What was the best tip you got before you left?

The best tip was to not just focus on the main attraction: Gorillas, as spectacular as they can be. We made it a point to really travel around, go to villages, go running in Kigali at night, and generally try to take in as much as possible. Also, the drive from Kigali to Volcanoes National Park is dramatic. You get to see a lot of the beauty of the country, the terrain, farms, and of course, the mist. Time spent getting from A to B in most places is a chore. But in Rwanda, it is part of the appeal.

How did you get there? And how did you get around?

I arrived on the Qatar flight from my old friend Doha’s Hamad airport. There’s a short pit stop in Entebbe, Uganda, but all in all it is a convenient flight. Getting around is possible with taxi services (Uber does not operate there — yet) as well as guides: Speaking of, shout-out to Alex Kagaba, one of the best guides I’ve ever had.

What did you do?

Spent a few days in Kigali, and then drove up to the Singita Volcanoes National Park - Kwitonda and Kataza House, which opened in July 2019 with an appearance from President Paul Kagame. It’s truly spectacular, at the base of Volcanoes National Park. The property is in the middle of a vast reforestation program that is helping to undo some of the damage farming has done to the area. At the lodge, I went on guided tours into the park to see wildlife, and also did a few tours to local farms and villages. Singita is generally known for their lodges in places like South Africa and Tanzania, and though this varied slightly in vibe, terrain, and context from some of their other properties, it was done with their trademark approach to hospitality. Everything about the lodge is eco-friendly and sustainable, and the aesthetic blended nicely into the environment. As part of the project, thousands of trees and plants are being planted from an on-site nursery. It will be wonderful to see when they mature.

What did you know by the last day that you wish you had known on the first?

I was in Kigali for a day on arrival, went up to Volcanoes for two, and then spent one more night in Kigali. You could compress the trip, but I recommend doing the opposite and spreading it out to see more parts of Rwanda, which is of a very manageable size.

This was especially great:

Kigali is a clean, well-functioning city. Also: The drive to the Singita is dramatic, and the lodge itself is one of the most spectacular places I’ve been in recent memory. Everything about the brand is built from a strong conservation standpoint. On top of that, hospitality operates above an Aman-level of service and anticipation.

This was touristy and worth it:

Every trip to Rwanda likely stops through the Kigali Genocide Memorial, which is brutal, moving, and necessary. Do not miss, and it will change you.

The local speciality?

I’m obsessed with the Rwandan version of hot sauce called Akabanga. I managed to smuggle home another form of sauce that looked like plasma. (But it is hot sauce! I swear.)

Casual hangout:

Loved Question Coffee in Kigali. It was a stop on the way to the airport, but I pictured myself there every morning. It is great coffee from a women-owned cooperative, and now I’m wishing I bought a few more bags.

One place you didn't get to visit but wanted to:

Next time I go, I want to check out Magashi on Lake Rwanyakazinga. I also want to go deep in Akagera National Park. The war nearly destroyed it, and it is coming back to life through a conservation partnership between the government and African Parks, who do some of the best work in Africa. The stewardship of nature in Rwanda is a priority, unlike some other African countries unfortunately, and the ecosystems are thriving.

Any surprises?

Airport security was nearly Tel Aviv Ben Gurion-level in terms of how comprehensive it was, but the overall airport was clean and efficient.

You can’t stop thinking about:

The terrain and views driving up the hill from Kigali. The haze and mist.

The visual moment you won't forget:

Seeing the reforestation efforts around Volcanoes National Park and imagining what it will look like in 15 years time as things take bloom.

The #1 tip you'd give a friend who wanted to go.

Stay longer and explore more of the country. Don’t just look at it as a gorilla destination to jet in and jet out.

Plans to go back?

I’m already figuring out time on the calendar to go back and stay longer. Alex, the aforementioned guide, is the first person I would call (you can reach him on WhatsApp: +250-788-504-277).

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