Montreal Gazette

RWANDA OFFERS ULTIMATE IN NATURE TRAVEL

With a focus on sustainabi­lity, country wows with wildlife encounters and luxury lodges

- ROCHELLE LASH rochellela­sh@gmail.com

The eco-conscious African nation of Rwanda was the ideal host for the recent Global Summit of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), whose theme was Building Bridges to a Sustainabl­e Future.

Rwanda is the personific­ation of progress, a remarkable comeback kid that has developed exponentia­lly since civil strife 30 years ago.

With astonishin­g wildlife encounters, rolling savannahs, tropical rainforest­s and precious national parks, the country is strongly focused on conservati­on and “green” tourism.

More than 1,500 delegates from the domains of travel and hospitalit­y attended the WTTC'S first African summit, and for three days brainstorm­ed social, economic and particular­ly environmen­tal issues.

Then, many of the conference-goers answered the call of the wild, jettisoned their business attire and donned wilderness gear to get up close and personal with silverback gorillas, lions and/or rare cranes.

Green theme: Rwandan President Paul Kagame addressed the WTTC crowd, noting in 2023 UNESCO awarded the country its first Heritage sites, including the splendid Nyungwe National Park, which encompasse­s some of Africa's oldest rainforest­s and mist-shrouded mountains.

“Visitors to Rwanda appreciate the country's unparallel­ed natural beauty,” Kagame said. “We are a premier destinatio­n for global travellers who are passionate about `green' travel.”

With environmen­talism as the summit's theme, WTTC president and CEO Julia Simpson said: “Sustainabi­lity is at the centre of our industry and it remains top priority. Being environmen­tally conscious is about saving, protecting and loving our communitie­s.”

Safari hotels: National Geographic, Vogue, Condé Nast, Travel + Leisure and Forbes all have reported Rwanda is a compelling destinatio­n for its rare animal experience­s, ecological focus and luxury safari lodges.

Primatolog­ist Dian Fossey taught the world a lot about wildlife conservati­on and Rwanda's endangered gorillas during the 1960s to '80s. Today, visitors can learn more at the Ellen Degeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

Representi­ng the ultimate in green travel, Rwanda is a prized destinatio­n for jungle adventures. Safari companies organize excursions to Volcanoes National Park, Nyungwe National Park and Akagera National Park, each home to different wildlife, including the famed gorillas, as well as chimpanzee­s, hippos, giraffes, buffalo, impala, zebras, antelope and 500 species of birds. Akagera National Park, founded in 1934, is a haven for the safari world's Big Five (elephants, rhinos, African buffalo, lions and leopards).

Makario Safaris, Kingfisher Journeys, Mantis hotels and other companies offer one- to 10-day excursions, many using helicopter­s and/or 4x4 vehicles and involving towering canopy walks and substantia­l hikes. Visitors should gauge their fitness level and hiking experience before choosing a trip. The days can be strenuous, but the wildlife experience­s are fulfilling and the safari lodges provide welcome comforts at the end of the day.

With a wide range of prices, Kingfisher Journeys specialize­s in adventure activities with internatio­nally qualified leaders and driver-guides, as well as self-drive options. In addition to gorilla observatio­n and wildlife safaris, Kingfisher trips include trekking, luxury camping, kayaking, canoeing, cycling and mountain biking, all linked to cultural experience­s and focused on sustainabi­lity (kingfisher­journeys.com).

Some of Makario's overnights are at luxurious outposts like Singita Kwitonda Lodge or Kataza House Kigali, which are both in the same compound and prized for farm-to-table cuisine, pools, rich local décor and superb views of jungles and mountains (makariosaf­aris.com).

Makario safaris also stop at the super-posh One&only Nyungwe House, which offers exceptiona­l dining, magical wildlife journeys, African tea ceremonies and spa treatments using native botanicals.

Wilderness Bisate Lodge is another eco-chic boutique getaway in the rainforest of gorilla country. Its six thatchedro­of villas recall giant birds' nests, with deluxe amenities, including a wine cellar, library, spa, tree nursery and gourmet restaurant using ingredient­s from nearby farms.

The eco-brand Mantis, an Accor affiliate, operates upscale hotels that support local communitie­s and businesses in remote locations. Mantis Akagera Game Lodge is in Akagera National Park, home to Rwanda's only Bigfive reserve. Mantis EPIC Hotel & Suites in Nyagatare provides off-road biking and hiking. Overlookin­g Lake Kivu, the tranquil Mantis Kivu Marina Bay Hotel is a gateway to the wonders of Nyungwe Forest National Park.

On water, the floating hotel on Lake Kivu, Mantis Kivu Queen uburanga, launched in December offering a deluxe, all-inclusive stay, along with enriching cultural experience­s and gorilla and chimpanzee encounters. (mantiscoll­ection.com)

 ?? WILDERNESS BISATE LODGE ?? The captivatin­g Wilderness Bisate Lodge in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, an eco-conscious African country where the World Travel & Tourism Council held its 2023 summit on sustainabi­lity.
WILDERNESS BISATE LODGE The captivatin­g Wilderness Bisate Lodge in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, an eco-conscious African country where the World Travel & Tourism Council held its 2023 summit on sustainabi­lity.
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