Nyungwe Forest Lodge, the gateway to the Enchanted Forest

When I write about Rwanda, anything to do with Rwanda, my readers often get back to me and say they feel the passion I have for the Land of a Thousand Hills and it is true. Be it the capital Kigali, well lit, clean streets, disciplined traffic and such a shining example of how an African capital city can look like, impressing a visitor from the first moment one drives into the city from the airport, or be it the country side. I visited many parts of the country in past years and have written much about the Parc de Volcanoes, the Akagera National Park, the Congo Nile Trail and the often breathtaking scenery along the shores of Lake Kivu. But one park, one place in particular has captured my imagination like few others, this being the Enchanted Forest, aka Nyungwe National Park and the Nyungwe Forest Lodge, so close to the forest that sitting on the balcony of some of the villas instantly makes one feel like being in the forest itself, not just looking at it. My all too brief visits in the past left the taste for more in me, and later this year, good health and available time permitting, I intend to return to Eastern Africas largest montane forest and hike along some the nearly 50 KM of trails for a few days, exploring the hidden secrets of Nyungwe, see the waterfalls, sit on the banks of little streams lost in contemplation and seek out butterflies, and some of the more than 100 types of orchids, exotic plants and ancient trees, many of which date back hundreds of years. Yes, there is game too, over 70 species including predators like the sly and elusive leopard, the golden cat, serval, genet and civet cats but also colobus, grey-cheeked mangabey, blue as well as red-tailed monkey, mountain monkeys, golden monkeys, owl-faced monkeys, chimpanzees even, important for most visitors but for me almost on the mundane side of things. The forest is home to over 275 species of birds, many of them endemic, but the true attraction for yours truly is the solitude, the magnificent feeling of being surrounded by a flora of days long gone elsewhere, the fresh air and the priceless experience found in few other places in our world of today, except for the distant jungles of Borneo, the Amazon rainforest perhaps, although the common trails there appear rather too crowded already for my taste. The elevation of the forest into a full national park some years ago, spurred by the vision of then ORTPN and its tourism planners, and turned into reality by the Rwanda Development Boards Tourism and Conservation Department, has left Rwanda richer in biodiversity, richer for a crucially important water tower and richer a destination for tourist visitors. More and more tourists are now coming to the country, as a result of more flights by more airlines than ever before and also as a result of some creative and determined marketing abroad by RDB and the private sector. When the time is right, you will read more about Nyungwe Forest, the very one I call the Enchanted Forest as I can close my eyes and hear the rustling of the leaves above me, bushes brush against tree trunks in the coming and ebbing breeze and I imagine myself transported into another world altogether, distant, ancient and full of creatures from tales I read as a child, and even more recently, here thinking of J.R.R. Tolkiens works.

(A view of Nyungwe Forest National Park from near the Nyungwe Forest Lodge)

Besides accommodation as far as Cyangugu some 35 kilometres from the Nyungwe Forest Lodge the Rwanda Development Board has basic accommodation available at their Gisakura park offices, including some self catering campsites inside the forest, at least one of which I intend to use to do a full overnight trip should I be permitted to stay on my own for the night.
But set in the middle of an extensive tea estate is a little jewel, THE place in my own mind to come to after spending time on the trails and then in need of some luxurious relaxing, with the forest close to touching distance from some of the villas balconies and also a base for more walks, guided or alone.
Dubai World, the owners of Nyungwe Forest Lodge, spared no expense to make the lodge not just comfortable but provide the luxuries one comes to expect from a 5 star rated property owned by them, the rating by the way bestowed upon the lodge by RDB in an end 2011 award ceremony when the first ever star rating of hotels and lodges was first publicly revealed in Rwanda.
The main building of the lodge already tells the story, from the moment the car drives on to the porch. Built of stone and timber, it sets the tone for the stay and from the tiled roof emerge the chimneys required by the open fireplaces generously dotted around the public areas. The bags are offloaded unobtrusively and a hostess greets the new arrivals, with fresh chilled juice steaming, freshly brewed hot tea is served on request of course as is coffee and scented towels to wipe off the dust and sweat of the journey. Check in is swift, done in the lounge if preferred, and beyond the lounges and the huge fireplace, where a fire roars at night, and if requested during the day too should it be chilly outside during the rainy season, is a boutique and that all important dining room.
On sunny mornings or afternoons, extending to the outdoors and in the evening of course rather indoors, the menu is offering a choice of starters, main courses and desserts, while breakfast is a combination of a small healthy buffet of fruits and cereals although there are cold cuts and orders are taken for hot dishes by the attentive waiters. A wide selection of home baked breads and pastries, needless to say, is also available.

(Breakfast is served at Nyungwe Forest Lodge)

And lunch, just to mention, can be served al fresco at the pool side for those too lazy, or too caught up in their novels, to dress up and walk up to the restaurant. It is available and there for the asking of guests.
Some of the activities like tracking of chimps require an early start at 4 am, but even then hot drinks and a basic breakfast is available, or in addition a breakfast box can be taken along if ordered the night before.
Food preparation and presentation are now showing the pedigree of the owners and the service, since the early days of opening, has matured and gelled well, even when the lodge is busy and all the 22 villas and 2 suites are occupied. And the chefs are ever ready to prepare a special dish and are of course happy to discuss culinary delights with their guests, to the point of taking them for a quick tour of their kitchen, spotless of course as one would expect in a property of this outstanding quality.
A heated swimming pool right at the edge of the forest is supplemented by a fully equipped gym looking out into the forest of course and a Spa offers body and beauty treatments for those who need a massage after a long days hike in the forest.
Accommodation is available in villas, or two superb suites, and while the bathroom is separate, shutters can be opened right above the bed to permit a view from the large bathtub across the room and through the open curtains, or open terrace doors, on to the forest, giving that very special feeling of being part of the nature outside.

(Embedded into a tea plantation, the villas are set right at the edge of the forest)

While some guests might find a state of the art flat screen TV with satellite programmes essential, I make it a habit on my travels not to switch them on at all, relying on my Twitter feed for breaking news and then of course does
Nyungwe Forest Lodge have wireless internet connections, and reception for cellphones.
The rooms are a mix of both the modern and of African features like art, and again, while I personally would prefer an altogether more rustic look, many, perhaps even most guests will just love what they find.
The beds are ultra comfortable, with soft feather pillows and hard enough mattresses, but most important a warm duvet keeping the cold away during the at times rather coolish nights, considering the elevation of the lodge.
In my opinion, a stay at Nyungwe Forest Lodge is always too short, no matter how long one stays and I would recommend at least three nights, to explore the lodge grounds and tea estate, do some hikes, see the chimps or some of the dozen other primates and not to be forgotten, do the canopy walk high above the treetops from the Uwinka Visitors Centre, from where a phantastic vista opens up across the forest, showing just how extensive it is. I hope I have enchanted you too now and made your mouth water for more of this soul food, for now to read but hopefully one day to see in person as the Land of a Thousand Hills is warmly welcoming visitors from near and far.
For more information on the lodge visit www.nyungweforestlodge.com or else learn more about Rwandas tourism attractions by looking in a www.rwandatourism.com