Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Singita does it again!

Having stayed at Singita Sasakwa in Tanzania couple years ago, I had high hope for Singita Kwitonda Lodge in Rwanda.  This is reported to be the best of the best gorilla trekking lodge in Rwanda and my expectation was high.

This isn't the most expensive Singita lodge, I believe Sasakwa takes the crown.  With that said,  Kwitonda Lodge is indeed the most expensive lodge overall due to the exorbitantly expensive gorilla trekking permit fee at $1500 per person per day.  At Sasakwa, the safari jeep and guide is included in the nightly rate.  So before the lodging fee at Kwitonda, for a couple, the cost will be at a sky-high $3000.  My understanding is the permit fee will likely increase to $1760 per person per day by end of 2020.  However, that is before coronavirus hit the world.  I suspect the $1500 permit fee will stick for few years until tourism return to normal again.

Kwitonda Lodge is named after one of the largest gorilla family in Rwanda: Kwitonda family.  This family had five silverbacks which is rare.  Kwitonda died in 2012 and the youngest silverback Muhoza left the group to start his own family in 2016 (now has 12 family members).  Currently Kwitonda (now lead by Akarevuro) has three silverbacks and 30 other members.  

First and foremost, the architecture of Kwitonda Lodge is stunningly beautiful.  It's very modern but warm.  The architect used a lot of wood and local material to humanize the space.  There are a total of eight lodges and I stayed at lodge 9 which is at the very end.  Unlike typical African safari, there isn't really any wild animals that can kill you here thus there is no need for staff to escort you to the main dining hall at night.  Each freestanding lodge is basically divided into four parts.  You have an outdoor sitting area with fireplace and a dipping pool that looks to a dormant volcano.  Next to that you have an indoor living room which I feel is a tab bit small.  There is just enough room for two club chairs and a table with two dining chairs.  The room has a huge glass window that also looks out to a dormant volcano.  The bedroom is next to the living room and it comes with a deep inset window sill with cushions... a perfect place to read a book and take in gorgeous view.  The large bathroom is behind bedroom area.  The bathroom is large enough for a massage table and then some.  The lodge doesn't have a dedicated spa space so masseuse will come to you when you need spa service.  It also has two overhead showers; one inside and one outside.  Toilet room thankfully is completely enclosed in a separate room.  Besides the size of indoor living room, I thought everything was perfectly designed.

The public space basically consist of outdoor dining area, indoor dining hall, a bar, a wine cave, a conservation room, and a vegetable garden that's few minutes walk from main building.  While it would be nice if they have a gym onsite, given the amount of trekking one has to do to see gorillas, perhaps a gym is an overkill.  The conservation room has a good look and is a good place to read or have a cup of tea.  Bar area is quite lovely and it's a good place to socialize with other guests if you want to.  Next to the vegetable garden, you will see three local artisans making various objects for you to take home as a souvenir.  One specialize in straw work, another in textile.  The third person does wood carvings.

The service is typical Singita; on point and friendly.  Coming back from a tiresome gorilla trekking, staff is there welcome you back to the lodge with warm towels and refreshing drinks.  You take off your muddy hiking boots and somehow they are able to clean them and make them look like brand new for you to wear for the following day gorilla trek!  It's amazing.  I have never seen anything like it.  I can go on and on about their service standard.  At the end of the day, this place is very expensive and I expect the very best service and Singita does not fail to deliver.

Bad food at a luxury lodge is another pet peeve of mine.  Sometimes a resort can have spectacular lodging and service, but food is less than desirable.  Given Singita has it's own cooking school which has a very high standard, I knew I was in good hands.  I would say the food here is at bib gourmand level which is not an easy feat to achieve when Singita Kwitonda is in the middle of nowhere.  I don't think I had a meal here that I was not happy with.

I won't go into gorilla trekking as that's not part of Singita Kwitonda.  The only thing I would mention would be that everyone knows when coming to see the gorillas in Rwanda, gorillas can be anywhere in the park.  They can be an hour to four hours away by foot each way.  Naturally I was most interested in the shortest trek as I have no desire to hike more than I have to to see these gorillas.  The first day I trekked to see the Muhoza family which took about 1.5 hour each way in a relatively easy hike.  The second day I trekked to see Kwitonda family which took about an hour each way in a relatively difficult hike due to slippery rocks and very muddy paths.  What I noticed is that the guests who were in the 1-1.5 hour trekking groups were staying at either Kwitonda Lodge or Bisate Lodge.  The two of the most expensive lodge in Rwanda.  Coincident?  Hmmmmm....  I'll let you be the judge. ;)

Overall the Kwitonda Lodge met my very high expectations.  You simply cannot go wrong with them.  If you are an Amanjunkie, you will feel right at home at Kwitonda Lodge.  Oh and the gorilla experience?  Simply spectacular!  


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