Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Hotels in July 2012 (Central, North, South Rwanda)

Here's my thoughts and reactions to the places we stayed in during our trip in July 2012.

1.  Kigali.  (Note, some Rwandans pronounce the name of the city as "Ch-gali").  I stayed twice at Hotel Milles Collines.  This is a lovely place to stay.  The staff especially were WONDERFUL.  Our room (I was traveling with one of my sons who is in college) comprised two single beds, TV with cable, free Wi-Fi in room, shower, toilet, minifridge.  Breakfast is included at a continental-breakfast buffet on the 4th floor.  I ate dinner there twice, and I thought the food was excellent and reaonsonably priced.  The rooms could use upgrading/modernizing, but the place is very acceptable as is.  Just for sake of comparison, it would be a 3 star hotel in the US.

   I also stayed one night at InsideAfrika, an elegant boutique hotel.  Here, too, the staff was gracious.  This very small hotel is very pretty, but the room was not air conditioned.  The price was incredibly reasonable.  There is free Wi-Fi in the room.  There is no restaurant, though a continental breakfast is included.  There are a few restaurants in walking distance.  At the moment, there is street construction in front of the hotel.  It is also a bit difficult to find (it is very near the Hotel Gorillas).  The overall layout is really lovely, and Mille Collines is twice the price.  But because it is somewhat isolated, I wouldn't recommend it as a base of operations in Kigali for your first visit there.  (Again, this is not a criticism of the hotel itself as implemented but the nature of the place by design.)

2.  Gorrilla Trekking.  We stayed at Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge.  This is a great place, but I think it is super-expensive.  That said, I rank this among the better places I've stayed around the world, not because it is the fanciest or has the most facilities but I really like the "feel" of the place.  Dining takes place at a large communal table, which is very pleasant given that the types of tourists who go there tend to be reasonably interesting.  The staff is exceptionally nice, and the innkeepers are delightful (a South African couple at the moment).  You will no doubt read that there is a terrible uphill hike from the parking lot to the lodge.  THIS IS TRUE.  I mentioned to the innkeeper that I couldn't recommend that someone who is elderly or who had a bad knee stay there, but he said they can carry you up by litter.  If you are comfortable with that, then go ahead.  Otherwise, be prepared to stop two or three times on your trek up.  But, because of the trek, you have a welcome feel of community and insulation.  Also, I will mention that the food is excellent, and always includes a vegetarian entree selection.  The cabin had a nice sitting room area, a desk, two beds, walk-in type closet, and very large bathroom with separate tub and shower and two sinks.  Each cabin also has a fireplace, which is needed because it is not heated, and a nice porch in front.  We stayed two nights here, and we definitely really enjoyed it.

3.  Lake Kivu/Kibuye.  We stayed at the Cormorant Lodge at Lake Kivu, in a town about halfway down the lake in Kibuye.  There is an absolutely absurd dirt road to get to this lodge -- it is dramatically potholed and poor and long.  The food was ok.  The room comprised two large beds (with needed mosquito nets), and a reasonable bathroom.  The shower was handheld, and in our room there was no hook on the wall to make it a conventional shower (the hole where the hook goes was empty).  The room has a nice balcony overlooking the lake and the complex of the hotel, which is very attractive.  The staff was ok but not altogether helpful or engaging.  It's hard for me to figure out what to say about this place.  It is nice, and I'm glad we had a half-way stopping point between the north and south.  Maybe if you're a water-oriented person its good (though there are some health risks associated with swimming in Lake Kivu and the Lake might one day blow up in a massively destructive limnic event (seriously, but that's similar to Yellowstone, the world's largest caldera)).  It's not like any other place in Kibuye is a wonderful option.  We weren't unhappy that we spent about 14 hours at this facility.

4.  Nywengwe.  We stayed at the Nywengwe Forest Lodge.  This must be the best deal in Rwanda.  The place is beautifully done.  It is a cross between mid-century modern decor and african.  (Think a "W" hotel with African influenced design.)  The main lodge is beautiful and tastifully done, with beautiful materials and ambience.  The rooms are in smaller outbuilding comprising 4 rooms or so.  Our room had two double beds, a balcony looking into the forest, a beautiful bathroom, and one of the nicest showers I've ever had (both the large volume of hot water and a window overlooking the forest).  Two sinks in the bathroom, and a separate bath tub and loo (toilet and bidet).  One closet.  The room itself is very large.  We stayed here three nights.  Meals are included.  The food is excellent, and the service is very pleasant.  It doesn't have the "warmth" of Sabyinyo, because it is a more conventional set up.  We also partook of their spa facility (me, a massage, and my son, a body scrub).  The spa prices are extremely reasonable (maybe $75 for a 90 minute treatment).  The price was little more than $300 a night for the two of us.  Free Wi-Fi in the room.  Our TV wasn't working (but it was a large LCD TV).  I enjoyed sitting on the porch at night (though I was stung by a bee or a wasp on my hand).  I have no hesitation in recommending this place if you are going to this area. 

5.  Butare.  According to the guide books, there aren't many good options, and we stayed at Le Petit Prince.  I wouldn't want to stay here more than two nights, given its lack of amenities.  There's no stopper for the sink, for example.  We had a bath tub with handheld shower, with not too much water pressure.  Each of our two beds had mosquito nets.  There is no fan or A/C.  No TV.  Free Wi-Fi in the room.  Breakfast was included at their acceptable restaurant.  We had dinner in Butare at the Hotel Ibis, which was excellent, though we didn't see the rooms.  Petit Prince is not conveniently located, but it is in a nice residential neighborhood (across from the main museum).  It appeared that some new hotels were being constructed, which surely are needed.  The level of this hotel compared to a US facility is maybe 1 1/2 stars.

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