We stayed at four very different hotels while in Rwanda. And whether it was planned this way or not, they went from the worst to the best during out stay. My reviews, below, are in order from when we stayed.
Sportsview Hotel – Kigali
I was so tired when I arrived at the Sportsview in Kigali
after 33 hours of travel that I didn’t even bother looking at the room; I simply put my things down, opened the balcony door to let some air in as there was no air conditioning or fan, and fell asleep. It was 3:30am and I was absolutely exhausted after being stuck an additional three hours at the airport in Nairobi, Kenya. At this point I didn’t care what the room looked like, just that I had a safe place to put my head down and get some sleep.
When I woke in the morning I suddenly realized that I was at a hotel that would make the most budget-friendly hotels in the States feel like a step up. The bed had clean sheets, but it was as hard as a rock. I soon came to understand that is how the beds are in Rwanda, which was alright by me as I prefer a firm bed, but most people I know will toss and turn the night away trying to find a comfortable spot in which to sleep. I did this the next night when, much to my annoyance, I learned why mosquito netting is so popular in many African hotels. My bed was without any netting, as was the door, the only opportunity to get air into the room since there was no fan or air conditioning as I mentioned, so I angrily tossed my second night there away as I constantly had a different bug buzzing in my ear.
I was disappointed that we weren’t placed in a better hotel, like the Hotel des Mille Collines
or the Serena
, instead of where we were, but not as much as the others as they reported their showers were at best a trickle. I at least had some water pressure, but it was still less than ideal. What was even worse though was that my small travel shampoo bottle was either thrown out by the cleaning staff, or stolen during my stay.
I would have a hard time, as hard as the bed, in recommending this hotel to anyone staying in Kigali unless they were in town for a sporting event at the stadium. And then, that recommendation comes only out of convenience as the soccer stadium is right across the street from the hotel. Otherwise, I found our stay there to be the worst of the whole trip, and a disappointment that lingered with us through our time in Rwanda.
Ishema Hotel – Musanze
Our group also spent two nights at the Ishema Hotel in the Ruhengeri area
of Rwanda, which is where we would enjoy all of our gorilla related activities. Originally we were meant to stay at the Gorilla Volcanoes Hotel
, but a booking mistake caused our transfer, which in turn made our opinion of the Ishema sink as it lacked much of what we found at the Gorilla Volcanoes – namely free Wifi internet. Only one of our hotels had free wireless internet, the last one, which was a running cause of frustration for our group on the trip since we were travel bloggers and social media users.
My first impression of the Ishema was a good one as I liked the openess of the complex, it being in the shape of a square donut, and the center garden area. Unfortunately though, that took a sharp turn as I saw hotel staff on the way to my room squeegeeing off the hallways. The rain, which comes down frequently in Rwanda, had flooded the hallways making it a virtual slip and slide for anyone with a bathing suit – or, unfortunately, one for those who didn’t have theirs on as well.
The room was spacious, but I lucked out and was given a suite. No one else was as fortunate, all in regular sized rooms, but I didn’t mind so long as the mosquito netting above my bed worked. And thankfully it did fit since I had to, once again, leave the window open, to a less than spectacular view, as there was no air conditioning or fan in the Ishema as well. I took a moment to rethink this move as, while walking down the stairs the next day, I saw a giant mosquito that was easily the size of a drink coaster. None of the Minnesota mosquitos I grew up with could ever compare to this monster.
For what it was, I didn’t mind the Ishema, but my stay at the Sportsview largely influenced that as I was just happy to be in a more comfortable room after the nightmare I endured the previous two nights – getting no sleep on the second of the two. The convenience of the Ishema, just like it’s predecessor, is key as it’s close to the Volcanoes National Park, the home of the mountain gorillas
, and near the road that runs through town. Yet, it was easy to see, since all our dining was done there, that the Gorillas Volcanoes Hotel still would’ve been prefered.
The Stipp Hotel – Gisenyi
Just like the Ishema was to the Sportsview, so was the Stipp Hotel in Gisenyi
to it – an improvement. Yet, despite being a step up, it wasn’t perfect as the bathrooms were small and the rooms still lacked air conditioning or a fan. The view of Lake Kivu was spectacular though, and easily the best of all the hotels during our stay in Rwanda.
The rest of the grounds of the Stipp were also quite impressive, with a great pool-side bar, lovely patio dining areas, and lingering cranes that made for a picture-perfect atmosphere. And we certainly took it in after our late arrival with a pool-side meal, drinks, and some fun conversation that unfortunately ended too early as we were all exhausted from our trek to see the gorillasearlier in the day. This unfortunately prevented me from seeing the rest of the hotel, like the workout facility and other rooms, as it was quickly time for bed.
Despite the small bathroom, the rest of the room was almost as spacious as my suite at the Ishema. I had plenty of closet and drawer space, if needed, and more than enough spots to leave my bags. Unfortunately though, like the previous two hotels, my television didn’t work. And when I say it wouldn’t work I don’t mean that I wasn’t receiving any channels; I mean, it was plugged in yet still wouldn’t turn on. Had I been staying longer at any of the hotels this would’ve really bothered me, but it was no matter here since I fell asleep, on another rock hard bed, as soon as I climbed under the covers to read a chapter or two in my book.
I woke up the next morning to a tasty full breakfast on the patio over complaints of the lack of Wifi once again. I also was informed of a power outage in one of my group member’s rooms, as well as a burst pipe that flooded her bathroom overnight and in turn ruining many items she had left in there. This was obviously an exception as the other rooms were prepared, clean and decent, but it still bothered the rest of the group after our previous two disappointing stays, particularly at the Sportsview in Kigali.
Nyungwe Forest Lodge – Gisakura
This five star property is the type of hotel that is an experience in itself. The Nyungwe Forest Lodge in Gisakura
can be a main reason for a trip to Rwanda, and all other side excursions are simply secondary. And before our group even arrived there, we joked that it would be so and that our trip’s organizers were building us up to it through a series of substandard hotels, hoping that we’d forget our bad experiences and simply gush over this one instead of even mentioning the others.
In part, they were right.
We were warmly greeted upon arrival by one of the two hotel managers, Ronel Shaw. She introduced herself to each of us in turn, shaking our hands and memorizing our names, which she used to address us throughout our stay as though we were old friends, as the staff checked us in to our rooms after we finished a bit of paperwork in the main lobby area, which would later double as the diningroom later for our late lunch and dinner.
Ronel showed me to my room personally, giving me a tour and explaining how all of the switchesworked. Momentarily after her departure, I wished that I had listened to her, but I was too busy marveling over the beautiful room that overlooked the forest. Being on two separate levels, the room was hugely spacious and unlike anyone I had ever stayed in before – and not just in Rwanda.
The main bedroom itself was ideal for a romantic getaway, which I sadly wasn’t on I came to realize, with a soft and comfortable king-sized bed. Later that night, as I crawled in to bliss, I was startled at something touching my feet and thrashed out of my little cocoon of sheets only to find a hot water bottle warming the bed. I chuckled at my reaction, but after the previous three hotels I could only imagine what was lingering down there, completely unprepared for the excellent turn down service that was provided while we were at dinner.
The bathroom made up the other part of the room, just a half level up from the main bedroom. When I first walked in to use it, I paused, forgetting my need to go, and just gaped at the giant space – suddenly feeling an urge to turn on all of the faucets and switches at once, like a kid in a playground wanting to try everything at once, just to see it all work. What I was most interested though, and what I left running, was the bathtub that overlooked the room and on out to the jungle over the balcony that I spent a good couple of hours reading on while the rest of the group enjoyed the nearby infinity pool. As the rain came down outside, sitting in the tub and reading on the balcony, was the perfect way to enjoy the little bit of time we had to spend at the lodge, just over 12 hours in total.
No matter how amazing the rooms were though, what really made the experience special were the people. The staff was incredibly accomodating and friendly, particularly Ronel and her husband Johnny. I was suffering from a head cold at this point of the trip and asked them for some cold medicine. When they apologized for not having any on hand, they quickly offered an alternative during our goodbye dinner – a hot pot of a tea with a bit of whiskey in it for good measure. And even though I suffered from the cold for a few days after, the tea hit the spot and made me feel much better for the rest of that night, and even into the morning.
After a long day of traveling by boat on Lake Kivu
, and car from Cyangugu, it was a shame that we had so little time to spend at the Nyungwe Forest Lodge, a place that easily could’ve been one of the highlights of the whole trip. As it was, it’s now a brief memory that has me yearning to go back and enjoy it the way it really needs to be done, particularly with all the great activities in the area – like the hotel’s hiking trail, below, that I was only briefly able to explore before the rains chased me back to my room.