Review of PHENOMENAL Bisate Lodge (Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda)

Wednesday newsletters always feature a hotel or flight review.

I recently enjoyed a sublime holiday in the amazingly beautiful country of Rwanda. You can read my trip reports here:

  • Review: KLM A330 (new) Business Class from Amsterdam to Rwanda
  • Review: Kigali Serena Hotel
  • Review: Bisate Lodge by Wilderness Safaris, Volcanoes National Park (today)
  • Review: Encounter with the mountain gorillas (my best travel experience ever!)
  • Review: One&Only Nyungwe House (Nyungwe National Park)
  • Review: Ruzizi Tented Lodge (Akagera National Park)
  • Review: KLM A330 (new) Business Class from Rwanda to Amsterdam (via Uganda)

Today (February 20, 2019): Review of Bisate Lodge (Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda)
  • Location: Google maps
  • Hotel website: Bisate Lodge by Wilderness Safaris
  • Recommended tour operator in Rwanda: Uber Luxe Safaris

Comprising just 6 spacious forest villas, Bisate offers an ultra-luxurious base from where to enjoy an extraordinary gorilla conservation experience and life-changing journey to this beautiful region. Situated within the amphitheater of an eroded volcanic cone, Bisate is surrounded by natural splendor, with sweeping views towards the Karisimbi, Bisoke and Mikeno volcanoes. Bisate’s sophisticated architectural and interior design is rooted in Rwandan building tradition as exemplified in the design of the Royal Palace of the traditional monarch. The spherical, thatched structures echo the thousands of hills that dot the Rwandan landscape, while the richly-detailed interiors exhibit surfaces and screens made from a variety of woven materials with strong resonance in Rwandan culture.

Bisate Lodge features in my lists of the best new hotels of 2017 and the ten best hotels in Rwanda.

Have you ever stayed at Bisate Lodge? If so, what was your experience? Leave a comment.

In this review (more info and photos below my Youtube clip & slideshow):

  • Pros & things I like
  • Cons & things to know
  • My verdict
  • Tips for future guests & save money
  • Best time to visit
  • How to get there
  • Photos

Click to view slideshow.

*** Get the most out of your (luxury) trip to Rwanda with my Rwanda travel guide ***


PROS & THINGS I LIKE
  • Situated within the amphitheater of an eroded volcanic cone, Bisate Lodge occupies a 27-hectare steep hillside site of majestic natural splendor, with phenomenal views towards the Karisimbi, Bisoke and Mikeno peaks of Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. The lodge is close enough to Kinigi (the headquarters of Volcanoes National Park) to be convenient for the morning gorilla treks, but far enough away so as to feel remote and even – as a result of the onsite indigenous reforestation project – part of the spectacular Park. Rwanda’s capital city of Kigali (with the nearest airport) is 105 km (65 miles) or a 3 hour drive from the lodge, with most of the scenic journey taking place via a perfectly paved road (except for the last miles, which is on a rocky, volcanic path that requires a 4×4 car).
  • Bisate Lodge features only six ultra-luxurious thatched villas, perched on the hillside. Each villa comprises a generous yet intimate combination of bedroom, reception space and bathroom, all warmed by a central fireplace. The domed living room comes with either a kingsize bed or two twin beds (covered with green geometric pattern cushions), a sofa, a small desk, and two armchairs on a cowhide rug in front of a log-burning fire. The spacious bathroom features a black oval, resin bath tub in the center, two sinks with leather-framed mirrors, a walk-in brick rain shower, a separate toilet, and eco-friendly amenities by Africology, a South African wellness company. Both the living room and bathroom have enormous windows that open to a bamboo balcony with breathtaking views of Mount Bisoke ‘s imposing volcanic cone.
  • Besides the six thatched villas, Bisate Lodge also features one main lodge sphere, with a design rooted in Rwandan building tradition. Styled in the same decor as the villas, the dome’s interior features wooden floors and walls covered in dried woven grass mats – just like the ones found inside Rwandan homes. One side of the main dome houses a chic bar with a cozy sitting area around an open fire, where guests gather in the evening to share their gorilla adventures of the day while enjoying a pre-dinner aperitif. An intimate dining area with only six tables and a bar counter are located on the other side, and it’s here that breakfast, lunch and dinner are served (more on that below). Both the dining and bar area feature enormous windows, with black steel doors leading to a balcony that offer views of the surrounding volcanoes. The main lodge also houses a wine cellar in its basement.
  • Created by Johannesburg-based architect Nick Plewman, the lodge’s unique design is based on the King’s Palace at Nyanza. The spherical, thatched structures echo the thousands of hills that dot the Rwandan landscape, while the richly-detailed interiors exhibit surfaces and screens made from a variety of woven materials with strong resonance in Rwandan culture. The emerald green color in the textiles and chandeliers is reminiscent of the verdant greens of the rainforests and the vibrant markets that dot the villages throughout the country. Many of the furnishings are decorated using “imigongo,” an art form unique to Rwanda that uses cow dung and goes back hundreds of years; the dung is mixed with soils of different colors and then painted in geometric shapes. The use of black and white cow hides also reflect the rural way of life in the villages, and volcanic stone is used in the fireplaces to echo the volcanoes of the adjacent National Park.
  • Bisate Lodge offers an all-inclusive formula, with room rates including all meals, drinks, coctails, and some premium wines. Meals are served in the restaurant or on the adjoining terrace. The set dinner menu changes daily, offering slow-cooked, hearty and healthy dishes served in colorful ceramics. Signature dishes include liboke (chicken cooked and served in banana leaves), sambaza (fried, spicy small fish spiced served with ginger rice), and kachumbari (a traditional tomato and onion salad). Ingredients featuring strongly in Bisate’s menus include wild honey, avocado, climbing beans, mango, kale, papaya, plantain, passion fruit, pineapple, macadamia nuts and chilies. A highlight for many will be their first experience of Rwandan coffee – sourced from the local Kigufi Coffee Estate – called Gato Keza.
  • Bisate Lodge is managed by Africa’s top safari operator, Wilderness Safaris. Founded in Botswana in 1983, Wilderness Safaris is widely acclaimed as the continent’s foremost ecotourism operator, dedicated to conserving and restoring Africa’s wilderness and wildlife. They do this by creating life-changing journeys for guests in some of the most remote and pristine areas in Africa, hereby helping to conserve Africa’s spectacular biodiversity and share ecotourism’s benefits with the communities that live alongside these areas. Wilderness Safaris operates more than 40 camps in seven countries, including several iconic and ultraluxe properties such as Mombo & Little Mombo in Botswana and amazing North Island in the Seychelles.
  • Bisate Lodge is deeply committed to Wilderness Safaris’ 4Cs sustainability ethos of Commerce, Community, Culture and Conservation. Its pioneering reforestation efforts have already seen over 20,000 indigenous trees planted to date. In a country where agriculture has dominated for decades, previous traditional practices have denuded Rwanda of much of its original forest cover, thus leaving indigenous species with very limited habitat. Bisate’s reforestion project has aided in the return of numerous endemic species to the area, such as southern tree hyrax, side-striped jackal and at least one species of genet. Guests are also encouraged to get involved in the reforestation project by planting a tree on the Bisate property during their stay, thus directly contributing to the restoration of the area.
  • With only six villas and twice as many staff as guests, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that service at the lodge is exceptional and personalized. More than 50% of Bisate’s staff comes from the neighboring communities. Because there are so few guests here, there’s plenty of time to interact with the superfriendly staff, whether it’s chatting to the barman before dinner, sharing your love for Africa with the general manager, or exploring the nearby villages with the lodge’s guides. To give you an example of the attentive service: after your gorilla trekking, the staff will clean your hiking boots and return them in no time (with your shoes looking better than new). Also, the staff is there to welcome every guest upon arrival, dancing and singing a song in Kinyarwand.
  • The prime reason why you stay here is gorilla trekking. Spotting a wild gorilla in the African jungle is on many people’s bucket list and ranks among my favorite wildlife experience in the world. Mountain gorillas are the most majestic, and sadly, rarest apes of all non-human primates. Only 1000 of these magnificent creatures remain in the world, all of them found in the border area between Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A guided gorilla tracking takes anywhere from 2 to 10 hours, and allows you to spend one hour with the apes once you found them. It’s an awesome adventure, often undertaken by travelers as they are overwhelmed by emotions after seeing the movie Gorillas In The Mist: The Story of Dian Fossey. I will publish a review of my gorilla encounter next week.

CONS & THINGS TO KNOW

Bisate Lodge is one of the most exclusive accommodation options in Rwanda, comprising just 6 stunning rooms set inside thatched, spherical pavilions containing every conceivable luxury. There’s no much to say against the lodge, but you may want to know the following nonetheless:

  • Bisate Lodge is one of the most exclusive but also most expensive lodges in Africa. But you should know that going in, and rates do include all meals, a 20 min shoulder & back massage, and on-site excursions (excluding gorilla trekking). Most importantly, at Bisate Lodge, you don’t pay for an overnight stay, but you pay for a life-changing experience and a memory that will last a lifetime.
  • Bisate Lodge features a lot of stairs (built with uneven volcanic stone), which makes the property not ideal for mobility challenged guests. There is a lot of climbing up and down the hillside to get to the room, the restaurant or to go on the daily activities. But that’s nothing compared to what awaits you while tracking the gorillas!
  • The location of the lodge is spectacular (with phenomenal views) but the property is not located inside the rainforest but rather in a rural area, just above a local farming community (at the moment, there are no lodges inside the Volcanoes National Park). That may change though in the near future, since the park will be extended and this, combined with reforestation, will practically place Bisate Lodge within the park boundaries.  
  • Facilities at the lodge are rather limited. There are only six villas and one main lodge building, but that’s it. There is no spa, gym or swimming pool. That said, spa treatments can be enjoyed in the privacy of your own villa. Also, it’s rumored that Wilderness Safaris may build an on-site spa in the near future, enhancing the wellness offerings at Bisate Lodge.  

MY VERDICT
  • Location: 10/10
  • Design: 10/10
  • Pool: the property has no pool
  • Rooms: 10/10
  • Food: 9/10
  • Breakfast: 9/10
  • Spa: the property has no spa (treatments are done in the privacy of your villa)
  • Service: 10/10
  • Value for money: 9/10
  • Overall experience: exceptional 9,6/10

TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
  • Save money: read here my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel like Bisate Lodge (and/or receive many free perks).
  • Room tip: There are only 6 villas as Bisate Lodge and they all feature the same layout. The higher located villas have the best view (but reaching them involves more stairs).
  • Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

In the heart of Africa, fractionally south of the equator, Rwanda’s relatively high altitude provides it with a remarkably pleasant tropical highland climate, albeit also with plenty of rain. Although it’s regarded as a year-round activity, the best time to visit Rwanda is during the short dry season from December to  February or over the long dry season months of June to September. These periods offer by far the easiest hiking conditions (for gorilla or chimp trekking) and the lowest malaria risk. The dry season does not necessarily means sunny season as there is often a light cloud cover, helping to moderate the temperatures. Rwanda’s long rainy season lasts from about March to May, when the rain is heavy and persistent. October to November is the short rainy season, with occasional light showers in the afternoon.


HOW TO GET THERE

Bisate Lodge can be reached from Kigali by car, a journey of around 2,5 hours on an excellent paved road (only the last miles are on a dirt road). However, it’s also possible to charter a flight to the airport at Ruhengeri, which is just over half an hour’s drive from the property.


PHOTOS
BISATE LODGE: EXTERIOR
BISATE LODGE: EXTERIOR
BISATE LODGE: EXTERIOR
BISATE LODGE: EXTERIOR
BISATE LODGE: EXTERIOR
BISATE LODGE: EXTERIOR
BISATE LODGE: EXTERIOR
BISATE LODGE: EXTERIOR
BISATE LODGE: EXTERIOR
BISATE LODGE: EXTERIOR
BISATE LODGE: EXTERIOR
BISATE LODGE: EXTERIOR
BISATE LODGE: EXTERIOR
BISATE LODGE: EXTERIOR
BISATE LODGE: PATH TO THE PAVILIONS
BISATE LODGE: PATH TO THE PAVILIONS
BISATE LODGE: PATH TO THE PAVILIONS
BISATE LODGE: PATH TO THE PAVILIONS
BISATE LODGE: PATH TO THE PAVILIONS
BISATE LODGE: PATH TO THE PAVILIONS
BISATE LODGE: VILLA - ENTRANCE
BISATE LODGE: VILLA – ENTRANCE
BISATE LODGE: VILLA - ENTRANCE
BISATE LODGE: VILLA – ENTRANCE
BISATE LODGE: VILLA - FOYER
BISATE LODGE: VILLA – FOYER
BISATE LODGE: VILLA - FOYER
BISATE LODGE: VILLA – FOYER
BISATE LODGE: VILLA - FOYER
BISATE LODGE: VILLA – FOYER
BISATE LODGE: VILLA - BEDROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA – BEDROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA - BEDROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA – BEDROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA - BEDROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA – BEDROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA - BEDROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA – BEDROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA - BEDROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA – BEDROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA - BEDROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA – BEDROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA - BEDROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA – BEDROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA - BEDROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA – BEDROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA - BEDROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA – BEDROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA - BEDROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA – BEDROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA - BEDROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA – BEDROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA - BEDROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA – BEDROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA - BATHROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA – BATHROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA - BATHROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA – BATHROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA - BATHROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA – BATHROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA - BATHROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA – BATHROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA - BATHROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA – BATHROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA - BATHROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA – BATHROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA - BATHROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA – BATHROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA - BATHROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA – BATHROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA - BATHROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA – BATHROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA - BATHROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA – BATHROOM
BISATE LODGE: VILLA - BALCONY
BISATE LODGE: VILLA – BALCONY
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - EXTERIOR
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – EXTERIOR
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - EXTERIOR
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – EXTERIOR
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - ENTRANCE
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – ENTRANCE
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - ENTRANCE
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – ENTRANCE
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - WELCOME AREA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – WELCOME AREA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - WELCOME AREA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – WELCOME AREA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - WELCOME AREA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – WELCOME AREA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - WELCOME AREA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – WELCOME AREA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - WELCOME AREA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – WELCOME AREA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - WELCOME AREA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – WELCOME AREA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - WELCOME AREA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – WELCOME AREA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - WELCOME AREA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – WELCOME AREA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - WELCOME AREA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – WELCOME AREA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - WELCOME AREA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – WELCOME AREA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - WELCOME AREA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – WELCOME AREA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - WELCOME AREA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – WELCOME AREA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - BAR & SITTING AREA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – BAR & SITTING AREA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - BAR & SITTING AREA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – BAR & SITTING AREA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - BAR & SITTING AREA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – BAR & SITTING AREA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - BAR & SITTING AREA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – BAR & SITTING AREA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - BAR & SITTING AREA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – BAR & SITTING AREA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - BAR & SITTING AREA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – BAR & SITTING AREA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - DINNER ROOM
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – DINNER ROOM
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - DINNER ROOM
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – DINNER ROOM
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - DINNER ROOM
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – DINNER ROOM
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - DINNER ROOM
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – DINNER ROOM
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - AFTERNOON TEA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – AFTERNOON TEA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - AFTERNOON TEA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – AFTERNOON TEA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - AFTERNOON TEA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – AFTERNOON TEA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - AFTERNOON TEA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – AFTERNOON TEA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - AFTERNOON TEA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – AFTERNOON TEA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - AFTERNOON TEA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – AFTERNOON TEA
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - BALCONY
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – BALCONY
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - BALCONY
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – BALCONY
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - BALCONY
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – BALCONY
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - BALCONY
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – BALCONY
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - BALCONY (VIEW)
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – BALCONY (VIEW)
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - BALCONY (VIEW)
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – BALCONY (VIEW)
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - WINE CELLAR
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – WINE CELLAR
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - WINE CELLAR
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – WINE CELLAR
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - WINE CELLAR
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – WINE CELLAR
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - WINE CELLAR
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – WINE CELLAR
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - WINE CELLAR
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – WINE CELLAR
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - WINE CELLAR
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – WINE CELLAR
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION - WINE CELLAR
BISATE LODGE: MAIN PAVILION – WINE CELLAR
BISATE LODGE: REFORESTATION PROJECT
BISATE LODGE: REFORESTATION PROJECT
BISATE LODGE: REFORESTATION PROJECT
BISATE LODGE: REFORESTATION PROJECT
BISATE LODGE: LUNCH
BISATE LODGE: LUNCH
BISATE LODGE: LUNCH
BISATE LODGE: LUNCH
BISATE LODGE: LUNCH
BISATE LODGE: LUNCH
BISATE LODGE: LUNCH
BISATE LODGE: LUNCH
BISATE LODGE: LUNCH
BISATE LODGE: LUNCH
BISATE LODGE: LUNCH
BISATE LODGE: LUNCH
BISATE LODGE: LUNCH
BISATE LODGE: LUNCH
BISATE LODGE: LUNCH
BISATE LODGE: LUNCH
BISATE LODGE: LUNCH
BISATE LODGE: LUNCH
BISATE LODGE: LUNCH
BISATE LODGE: LUNCH
BISATE LODGE: LUNCH
BISATE LODGE: LUNCH
BISATE LODGE: LUNCH
BISATE LODGE: LUNCH
BISATE LODGE AT NIGHT
BISATE LODGE AT NIGHT
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BISATE LODGE AT NIGHT
BISATE LODGE: DINNER
BISATE LODGE: DINNER
BISATE LODGE: DINNER
BISATE LODGE: DINNER
BISATE LODGE: DINNER
BISATE LODGE: DINNER
BISATE LODGE: DINNER
BISATE LODGE: DINNER
BISATE LODGE: DINNER
BISATE LODGE: DINNER
BISATE LODGE: DINNER
BISATE LODGE: DINNER
BISATE LODGE: DINNER
BISATE LODGE: DINNER
BISATE LODGE: DINNER
BISATE LODGE: DINNER
BISATE LODGE: DINNER
BISATE LODGE: DINNER
BISATE LODGE: DINNER
BISATE LODGE: DINNER
BISATE LODGE: DINNER
BISATE LODGE: DINNER
BISATE LODGE: DINNER
BISATE LODGE: DINNER
BISATE LODGE: DINNER
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BISATE LODGE: BREAKFAST
BISATE LODGE: BREAKFAST
BISATE LODGE: BREAKFAST
BISATE LODGE: BREAKFAST
BISATE LODGE: BREAKFAST
BISATE LODGE: BREAKFAST
BISATE LODGE: BREAKFAST
BISATE LODGE: BREAKFAST
BISATE LODGE: BREAKFAST
BISATE LODGE: BREAKFAST
BISATE LODGE: BREAKFAST
BISATE LODGE: BREAKFAST
BISATE LODGE: BREAKFAST
BISATE LODGE: BREAKFAST
BISATE LODGE: PATH TO HILLTOP
BISATE LODGE: PATH TO HILLTOP
BISATE LODGE: VIEW FROM HILLTOP
BISATE LODGE: VIEW FROM HILLTOP
BISATE LODGE: VIEW FROM HILLTOP
BISATE LODGE: VIEW FROM HILLTOP
BISATE LODGE: VIEW FROM HILLTOP
BISATE LODGE: VIEW FROM HILLTOP
BISATE LODGE: VIEW FROM HILLTOP
BISATE LODGE: VIEW FROM HILLTOP
BISATE LODGE: VIEW FROM HILLTOP
BISATE LODGE: VIEW FROM HILLTOP
BISATE LODGE: VIEW FROM HILLTOP
BISATE LODGE: VIEW FROM HILLTOP
BISATE LODGE: VIEW FROM HILLTOP
BISATE LODGE: VIEW FROM HILLTOP
BISATE LODGE: VIEW FROM HILLTOP
BISATE LODGE: VIEW FROM HILLTOP
BISATE LODGE: VIEW FROM HILLTOP
BISATE LODGE: VIEW FROM HILLTOP

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Top 10 best hotels & lodges in Rwanda

Monday newsletters always feature top 10 travel lists to inspire.

Today (February 18, 2019): Top10 best hotels & lodges in Rwanda.

Twenty five years after the devastating genocide, Rwanda has risen from the ashes and has managed to rebuild itself into one of Africa’s safest and most peaceful nations. Breathtakingly beautiful and largely untouched, Rwanda offers towering volcanoes, emerald green rain forests, privileged access to the endangered mountain gorilla, and so much more. Rwanda has long been an off the beaten track destination, far from the ordinary traveler’s itinerary, but things are about to change in a big way with the installation of Ellen DeGeneres’ new gorilla conservation center with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, and the opening of a new string of ultra-luxurious hotels. Emerging as Africa’s newest luxury travel hotspot, here’s my pick of the 10 best hotels & lodges in Rwanda.

There is more information (with reviews & Youtube clips) below the slide show. Think I missed one? Share your favorite hotel in Rwanda in the comments.

Click to view slideshow.

*** Get the most out of your (luxury) trip to Rwanda with my Rwanda travel guide ***


10. RADISON BLUE HOTEL & CONVENTION CENTER

Ideally located 5 km (3 mi) from the city center and Kigali International Airport, the stylish Radisson Blu Hotel & Convention Center is a 5-star hotel in Rwanda’s capital Kigali. The hotel offers 292 modern and spacious rooms along with an all-day dining, an exquisite Italian restaurant, a bar, lobby lounge and an outdoor swimming pool designed to provide a memorable experience to business and leisure travelers alike. With the capacity to accommodate up to 5000 delegates in its 18 meeting rooms including an auditorium, meeting and events planners can take advantage of the Convention Centers’ versatile event space and state-of-the-art facilities. The on-site spa is designed to offer a relaxing experience for couples, friends and individuals looking for rejuvenation.

RADISON BLUE HOTEL CONVENTION CENTER KIGALI


9. VIRUNGA LODGE, VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK

Set on a stunning hillside, the magnificent Virunga Lodge boasts panoramic vistas of the Virunga Volcanoes and the beautiful lakes of Ruhondo and Bulera. Each of ten luxurious bandas named after the Rwandan lakes features a spacious bedroom with a cosy fireplace, as well as private terrace with sweeping views of the breathtaking surrounds. Those in need of relaxation can revel in the comfort of the main lodge or spend some time in the Dian Fossey Map Room. Each guest will enjoy the opportunity for a relaxing complementary massage. Adventures include tracking gorillas and golden monkeys, hikes to the top of the volcanoes, scenic walks through the picturesque villages surrounding the lodge, or day trips to the lively towns of Kigali or Kampala.

VIRUNGA LODGE, VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK


8. KIGALI SERENA HOTEL, KIGALI

The elegant Kigali Serena Hotel is perfectly situated within one of the city’s most vibrant boulevards, and is the best hotel in town for a business stay or to start or end a gorilla safari. Here, guests are welcomed into a gleaming granite atrium, adorned with lovely Rwandan artworks. The property features 148 sophisticated rooms, including 25 lavish suites, that come with air conditioning, Wi-Fi connectivity, a satellite television, and a lovely ensuite bathroom. The hotel offers a wonderful selection of dining options, from the Milima Restaurant that overlooks the sparkling swimming pool to the Sokoni Restaurant that has become a popular meeting place for both locals and travelers alike. In the evenings, you can retreat to the hotel’s convivial lounge where two bar areas await.

 


7. RUZIZI TENTED LODGE, AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK

With a maximum of 20 guests, Ruzizi Tented Lodge is an intimate, charming camp, overlooking Lake Ihema in Rwanda’s Akagera National Park. The camp’s nine tents are spaced widely apart on either side of a thatched reception and dining area, set back from the lake shore and hidden among swaying palms and fruiting fig trees. Each tent has an en-suite bathroom, a dressing area and either comfortable queen or twin beds, with a small patio at the front and accessible by wooden boardwalks. The lodge was designed to blend in with the surrounding environment in order to create a feel of being connected to nature.  Where possible, trees and vegetation were left undisturbed during the construction, and even incorporated into the structure.  The lodge is powered by solar energy and prides itself on being environmentally conscious.

RUZIZI TENTED LODGE, AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK


6. SABYINYO SILVERBACK LODGE, VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK

Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge is Rwanda’s first ever community owned lodge. The lodge was built and is operated by Governors’ Camp Collection, but the ownership rests with a Community Trust, which uses rentals and community fees from the lodge to drive socio-economic and conservation initiatives in the communities adjacent to the National Park. The lodge, situated in the foothills of the mighty Virungas, the chain of 15,000 ft volcanoes stretching through Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, affords wonderful views of the volcanoes and the surrounding countryside. Accommodation at Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge comprises six cottages, two suites, one family cottage. All are stone buildings with Rwandese terracotta tile roofs, and feature large sitting areas, fireplaces, stylish en-suite bathrooms finished with Venetian plaster a dressing room and a sheltered veranda.

SABYINYO SILVERBACK LODGE, VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK


5. SINGITA KWITONDA LODGE & KATAZA HOUSE, VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK

Singita Kwitonda Lodge & Kataza House (opening summer 2019) will be located on a breathtaking, isolated but contained 178-acre piece of land right on the edge of Volcanoes National Park. The presence of the lodge on the park border will help to improve the function of the buffer area between agricultural plots and the habitat of the estimated 320 mountain gorillas that find sanctuary here. Set within a landscape of wetlands and lush meadows, there will be eight suites and a four-bedroom villa linked by volcanic rock pathways to a central lodge. Singita Kwitonda will be built to embody the spirit of Rwanda and offer a tribute to the lodge’s namesake – Kwitonda – a great silverback gorilla whose legend lives on in Rwanda and was known for his humility and gentleness.

SINGITA KWITONDA LODGE KATAZA HOUSE, VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK


4. MAGASHI CAMP BY WILDERNESS SAFARIS, AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK

Magashi Camp (opening spring 2019) is situated in the productive and phenomenally diverse north-eastern corner of Akagera National Park, overlooking scenic Lake Rwanyakazinga. Akagera comprises some of the most scenic savannah in East Africa – open plains, woodlands, lakes, swamp, and grassy low mountains – and is home to one of Africa’s highest hippo densities, some very large crocodiles as well as rare sitatunga and inscrutable shoebill. Six spacious and airy tented guest rooms will offer uninterrupted views over Lake Rwanyakazinga while Magashi’s main area will comprise a luxurious lounge, dining and bar area, wine cellar and pool, as well as an expansive viewing deck with convivial fire pit. The architecture and interiors will pay homage to traditional Rwandan culture.

MAGASHI CAMP BY WILDERNESS SAFARIS, AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK


3. ONE&ONLY GORILLA’S NEST, VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK

Nestled amongst a forest of eucalyptus trees, One&Only Gorilla’s Nest (opening later this year) will provide breath-taking views of Rwandan hills and the slopes of the Volcanoes National Park. Guests will be able to discover the magical habitat of critically endangered mountain gorillas, a rare adventure. Bespoke accommodation will honor the location and natural elements will be woven throughout the resort, to inform the design of both the public and private spaces of the resort. Local African cuisine will surround a traditional Boma, providing the perfect location to share adventures from the day and enjoy fruit and vegetables from the resort’s garden. The resort will also offer an indulgent One&Only spa. One&Only also has a second lodge in Rwanda (more on that below), offering guest a journey to the country’s two most spectacular national parks.

ONE&ONLY GORILLA'S NEST, VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK


2. ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE, NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK

Alongside ancient rainforest, within the lush green expanse of a working tea plantation, Nyungwe House offers an exciting window to Africa’s fascinating wildlife and culture. Situated on a working tea plantation on the edge of Nyungwe National Park, One&Only Nyungwe House is the first of two new One&Only resorts to have opened in Rwanda. Exploratory treks and hikes through the forest give guests access to the park’s nearly 250,000 acres, where they can discover black-and-white colobus monkeys, gray-cheeked mangabeys, and more than 275 bird species. After full days out in the park, guests can retire to the resort’s modern suites and villas, each featuring decor accented with traditional African touches and vast private decks equipped with fireplaces.

ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE, NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK


1. BISATE LODGE BY WILDERNESS SAFARIS, VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK

Comprising just 6 spacious forest villas, Bisate offers a luxurious base from where to enjoy an extraordinary gorilla conservation experience and life-changing journey to this beautiful region. Situated within the amphitheater of an eroded volcanic cone, Bisate is surrounded by natural splendor, with sweeping views towards the Karisimbi, Bisoke and Mikeno volcanoes. Bisate’s sophisticated architectural and interior design is rooted in Rwandan building tradition as exemplified in the design of the Royal Palace of the traditional monarch. The spherical, thatched structures echo the thousands of hills that dot the Rwandan landscape, while the richly-detailed interiors exhibit surfaces and screens made from a variety of woven materials with strong resonance in Rwandan culture.


*** Follow me on TwitterInstagram and Facebook for a daily moment of travel inspiration ***


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Top 10 best hotels & lodges in Rwanda

Monday newsletters always feature top 10 travel lists to inspire.

Today (February 18, 2019): Top10 best hotels & lodges in Rwanda.

Twenty five years after the devastating genocide, Rwanda has risen from the ashes and has managed to rebuild itself into one of Africa’s safest and most peaceful nations. Breathtakingly beautiful and largely untouched, Rwanda offers towering volcanoes, emerald green rain forests, privileged access to the endangered mountain gorilla, and so much more. Rwanda has long been an off the beaten track destination, far from the ordinary traveler’s itinerary, but things are about to change in a big way with the installation of Ellen DeGeneres’ new gorilla conservation center with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, and the opening of a new string of ultra-luxurious hotels. Emerging as Africa’s newest luxury travel hotspot, here’s my pick of the 10 best hotels & lodges in Rwanda.

There is more information (with reviews & Youtube clips) below the slide show. Think I missed one? Share your favorite hotel in Rwanda in the comments.

Click to view slideshow.

*** Get the most out of your (luxury) trip to Rwanda with my Rwanda travel guide ***


10. RADISON BLUE HOTEL & CONVENTION CENTER

Ideally located 5 km (3 mi) from the city center and Kigali International Airport, the stylish Radisson Blu Hotel & Convention Center is a 5-star hotel in Rwanda’s capital Kigali. The hotel offers 292 modern and spacious rooms along with an all-day dining, an exquisite Italian restaurant, a bar, lobby lounge and an outdoor swimming pool designed to provide a memorable experience to business and leisure travelers alike. With the capacity to accommodate up to 5000 delegates in its 18 meeting rooms including an auditorium, meeting and events planners can take advantage of the Convention Centers’ versatile event space and state-of-the-art facilities. The on-site spa is designed to offer a relaxing experience for couples, friends and individuals looking for rejuvenation.

RADISON BLUE HOTEL CONVENTION CENTER KIGALI


9. VIRUNGA LODGE, VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK

Set on a stunning hillside, the magnificent Virunga Lodge boasts panoramic vistas of the Virunga Volcanoes and the beautiful lakes of Ruhondo and Bulera. Each of ten luxurious bandas named after the Rwandan lakes features a spacious bedroom with a cosy fireplace, as well as private terrace with sweeping views of the breathtaking surrounds. Those in need of relaxation can revel in the comfort of the main lodge or spend some time in the Dian Fossey Map Room. Each guest will enjoy the opportunity for a relaxing complementary massage. Adventures include tracking gorillas and golden monkeys, hikes to the top of the volcanoes, scenic walks through the picturesque villages surrounding the lodge, or day trips to the lively towns of Kigali or Kampala.

VIRUNGA LODGE, VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK


8. KIGALI SERENA HOTEL, KIGALI

The elegant Kigali Serena Hotel is perfectly situated within one of the city’s most vibrant boulevards, and is the best hotel in town for a business stay or to start or end a gorilla safari. Here, guests are welcomed into a gleaming granite atrium, adorned with lovely Rwandan artworks. The property features 148 sophisticated rooms, including 25 lavish suites, that come with air conditioning, Wi-Fi connectivity, a satellite television, and a lovely ensuite bathroom. The hotel offers a wonderful selection of dining options, from the Milima Restaurant that overlooks the sparkling swimming pool to the Sokoni Restaurant that has become a popular meeting place for both locals and travelers alike. In the evenings, you can retreat to the hotel’s convivial lounge where two bar areas await.

 


7. RUZIZI TENTED LODGE, AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK

With a maximum of 20 guests, Ruzizi Tented Lodge is an intimate, charming camp, overlooking Lake Ihema in Rwanda’s Akagera National Park. The camp’s nine tents are spaced widely apart on either side of a thatched reception and dining area, set back from the lake shore and hidden among swaying palms and fruiting fig trees. Each tent has an en-suite bathroom, a dressing area and either comfortable queen or twin beds, with a small patio at the front and accessible by wooden boardwalks. The lodge was designed to blend in with the surrounding environment in order to create a feel of being connected to nature.  Where possible, trees and vegetation were left undisturbed during the construction, and even incorporated into the structure.  The lodge is powered by solar energy and prides itself on being environmentally conscious.

RUZIZI TENTED LODGE, AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK


6. SABYINYO SILVERBACK LODGE, VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK

Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge is Rwanda’s first ever community owned lodge. The lodge was built and is operated by Governors’ Camp Collection, but the ownership rests with a Community Trust, which uses rentals and community fees from the lodge to drive socio-economic and conservation initiatives in the communities adjacent to the National Park. The lodge, situated in the foothills of the mighty Virungas, the chain of 15,000 ft volcanoes stretching through Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, affords wonderful views of the volcanoes and the surrounding countryside. Accommodation at Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge comprises six cottages, two suites, one family cottage. All are stone buildings with Rwandese terracotta tile roofs, and feature large sitting areas, fireplaces, stylish en-suite bathrooms finished with Venetian plaster a dressing room and a sheltered veranda.

SABYINYO SILVERBACK LODGE, VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK


5. SINGITA KWITONDA LODGE & KATAZA HOUSE, VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK

Singita Kwitonda Lodge & Kataza House (opening summer 2019) will be located on a breathtaking, isolated but contained 178-acre piece of land right on the edge of Volcanoes National Park. The presence of the lodge on the park border will help to improve the function of the buffer area between agricultural plots and the habitat of the estimated 320 mountain gorillas that find sanctuary here. Set within a landscape of wetlands and lush meadows, there will be eight suites and a four-bedroom villa linked by volcanic rock pathways to a central lodge. Singita Kwitonda will be built to embody the spirit of Rwanda and offer a tribute to the lodge’s namesake – Kwitonda – a great silverback gorilla whose legend lives on in Rwanda and was known for his humility and gentleness.

SINGITA KWITONDA LODGE KATAZA HOUSE, VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK


4. MAGASHI CAMP BY WILDERNESS SAFARIS, AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK

Magashi Camp (opening spring 2019) is situated in the productive and phenomenally diverse north-eastern corner of Akagera National Park, overlooking scenic Lake Rwanyakazinga. Akagera comprises some of the most scenic savannah in East Africa – open plains, woodlands, lakes, swamp, and grassy low mountains – and is home to one of Africa’s highest hippo densities, some very large crocodiles as well as rare sitatunga and inscrutable shoebill. Six spacious and airy tented guest rooms will offer uninterrupted views over Lake Rwanyakazinga while Magashi’s main area will comprise a luxurious lounge, dining and bar area, wine cellar and pool, as well as an expansive viewing deck with convivial fire pit. The architecture and interiors will pay homage to traditional Rwandan culture.

MAGASHI CAMP BY WILDERNESS SAFARIS, AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK


3. ONE&ONLY GORILLA’S NEST, VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK

Nestled amongst a forest of eucalyptus trees, One&Only Gorilla’s Nest (opening later this year) will provide breath-taking views of Rwandan hills and the slopes of the Volcanoes National Park. Guests will be able to discover the magical habitat of critically endangered mountain gorillas, a rare adventure. Bespoke accommodation will honor the location and natural elements will be woven throughout the resort, to inform the design of both the public and private spaces of the resort. Local African cuisine will surround a traditional Boma, providing the perfect location to share adventures from the day and enjoy fruit and vegetables from the resort’s garden. The resort will also offer an indulgent One&Only spa. One&Only also has a second lodge in Rwanda (more on that below), offering guest a journey to the country’s two most spectacular national parks.

ONE&ONLY GORILLA'S NEST, VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK


2. ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE, NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK

Alongside ancient rainforest, within the lush green expanse of a working tea plantation, Nyungwe House offers an exciting window to Africa’s fascinating wildlife and culture. Situated on a working tea plantation on the edge of Nyungwe National Park, One&Only Nyungwe House is the first of two new One&Only resorts to have opened in Rwanda. Exploratory treks and hikes through the forest give guests access to the park’s nearly 250,000 acres, where they can discover black-and-white colobus monkeys, gray-cheeked mangabeys, and more than 275 bird species. After full days out in the park, guests can retire to the resort’s modern suites and villas, each featuring decor accented with traditional African touches and vast private decks equipped with fireplaces.

ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE, NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK


1. BISATE LODGE BY WILDERNESS SAFARIS, VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK

Comprising just 6 spacious forest villas, Bisate offers a luxurious base from where to enjoy an extraordinary gorilla conservation experience and life-changing journey to this beautiful region. Situated within the amphitheater of an eroded volcanic cone, Bisate is surrounded by natural splendor, with sweeping views towards the Karisimbi, Bisoke and Mikeno volcanoes. Bisate’s sophisticated architectural and interior design is rooted in Rwandan building tradition as exemplified in the design of the Royal Palace of the traditional monarch. The spherical, thatched structures echo the thousands of hills that dot the Rwandan landscape, while the richly-detailed interiors exhibit surfaces and screens made from a variety of woven materials with strong resonance in Rwandan culture.


*** Follow me on TwitterInstagram and Facebook for a daily moment of travel inspiration ***


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Travel series: a travel guide to Rwanda

Friday newsletters always feature luxury travel contests, tips, series, or news.

Today (February 15, 2019): Travel series: a travel guide to Rwanda.

My travel blog features a section that comprises a selection of destination & travel guides. You can find these travel guides under ‘destinations‘ in the blog’s header menu (indicated by the blue arrow in the screenshot below).

I hope these online travel guides – based on my own travel experiences – may help you to get the most out of your (luxury) trips. So far, I have published travel guides on the following destinations:

  • Maldives
  • Seychelles
  • Japan
  • Vietnam
  • Thailand
  • Greece
  • Turkey
  • Oman
  • Australia
  • South Africa
  • Tanzania
  • West Canada & Rockies
  • Hawaii
  • Sri Lanka
  • Indonesia

Today, I am adding a new travel guide to my blog about Rwanda. Situated at the heart of the Albertine Rift, Rwanda is one of Africa’s most biodiverse regions and a haven of rainforest endemism. The extraordinarily beautiful, small country is home to more than one third of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas, who live in the high-altitude cloud forests of the iconic Virunga Massif. A densely-populated country with most people living in rural areas, Rwanda has shown great courage in  recovering from the memory of the horrible 1994 genocide. Today, Rwanda is a stable, well-run and peacefully united country that ranks among Africa’s safest destiations. The optimistic energy of the people has earned their country the moniker ‘Remarkable Rwanda’ and it regularly features on ‘must-visit’ lists.

Get the most out of your (luxury) trip to Rwanda with my travel guide. Find out more about:

  • Best time to visit
  • How to get there
  • Travel requirements
  • Getting around
  • Inspiration, highlights, & travel tips
  • Suggested itineraries
  • Recommended luxury hotels (+ reviews)

rwanda travel guide


BEST TIME TO VISIT

In the heart of Africa, just south of the equator, Rwanda’s relatively high altitude provides it with a remarkably pleasant tropical highland climate, albeit also with plenty of rain. Although it’s regarded as a year-round activity, there are quite some some differences in the weather patterns throughout the year.

  • The best time to visit Rwanda is during the short dry season from mid-December to  February or over the long dry season months of June to September. These periods offer by far the easiest hiking conditions (for gorilla trekking) and the lowest malaria risk. The dry season does not necessarily means sunny season as there is often a light cloud cover, which helps to moderate the temperatures.
  • Rwanda’s long rainy season lasts from about March to May, when the rain is heavy and persistent. This is by far the worst period of the year to visit the country as walking trails are extremely muddy. October to mid-December is defined as Rwanda’s short rainy season, and during this time you may encounter occasional light showers, mainly in the afternoon. Rwanda’s rainy season has one advantage: it’s the best season for spotting chimpanzees as they are easier to locate (in the dry season, when food is harder to find, the chimpanzees often withdraw far into the jungle’s interior).

HOW TO GET THERE

Most travelers arrive in Rwanda via Kigali International Airport, the main gateway for all destinations in the country. More and more airlines now offer direct flights to Kigali, including KLM, Brussels Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines and Rwanda’s national proud, its flagship carrier Rwandair. Click here for a continuously updated list of airlines that offer direct flights to Kigali.

It’s also possible to arrive in Rwanda overland as part of a multi-country itinerary. Rwanda is bordered by Uganda to the north, Tanzania to the east, Burundi to the south, and the Democratic Republic of Congo to the west. Visiting Congo and Burundi is off limits these days (due to unpredictable security situation and the potential for violent civil unrest), but the land border crossings with Uganda and Tanzania are open and many tourists combine these countries with Rwanda in one single holiday. 

Before you buy a plane ticket, consider reading my tips & tricks for buying the cheapest plane ticket. 


TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS

Requirements for entry into Rwanda differ from country to country, and are subject to change. Prior to departure, always check with your government and your nearest Rwandan embassy or consulate what documents you need for travel to Rwanda.

  • You need a valid passport. The passport must be valid for six months after entry into the country. You need one blank page on your passport for entry stamps.
  • You need a visa to enter Rwanda. 30 day tourist visas are available on arrival for $30 USD. You can pay in cash (sterling, US dollars or Rwandan francs) or by Visa/Mastercard. Payment by credit card may not be available at all land border crossings. 

Make sure you read my 10 tips to plan a worry-free trip.


GETTING AROUND

It’s pretty easy and straightforward to get around in the small country of Rwanda, with most places of interest located within a few hours drive from the capital Kigali. Rwanda has one of the best road systems in Africa, with a well maintained network of paved two-lane roads. The only gravel roads you’ll encounter are those in the more remote areas or within the national parks.

  • When you book a trip to Rwanda, you’re most likely to do so via a tour operator that will arrange a driver who doubles as an informal guide. Most tourists in Rwanda explore the country’s three National Parks (Akagera, Volcanoes and Nyungwe) with a driver in a four-wheel drive vehicle. For my own travels, I used Uber Luxe Safaris and I was extremely happy with their service (I highly recommend them).
  • If you are on a budget, you may consider public transport (e.g. privately run buses and well-maintained, modern minibuses), which is more organized than elsewhere in East Africa, with regular, scheduled departures. Most towns are small enough to negotiate by foot, but both Kigali and Butare sprawl over several steep hills – you’ll need to catch a minibus or a taxi to get around.
  • If you have money to burn, private flight and helicopter transfers are also available (and can be arranged via your tour operator or lodge).

INSPIRATION, HIGHLIGHTS & TRAVEL TIPS

There are many reasons why Rwanda should be on your bucket list:

  • Track mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park
  • Observe chimpanzees in the wild at Nyungwe National Park
  • Visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial
  • Unwind at Lake Kivu
  • Take a tour of a tea or coffee plantation
  • Go on safari in Akagera National Park
  • Climb a volcano
  • Hike to Dian Fossey’s tomb
  • Learn about Rwandan culture at Butare’s Ethnographic Museum
  • Stay at Hotel Des Mille Collines (Hotel Rwanda)

The following, comprehensive articles may also inspire you and help you plan your holiday to Rwanda:

  • Top 10 best things to do in Rwanda
  • Tips & tricks for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel
  • Tips & tricks for buying the cheapest plane ticket

SUGGESTED ITINERARIES 

Rwanda is a small country and it’s easy to explore all of its highlight within a short time frame. I suggest the following one week itinerary in Rwanda:

  • Day 1 & 2: arrival & exploration of Kigali (including tour of the Genocide Memorial).
    • Recommended hotels: Kigali Serena Hotel, Marriott Hotel, or Radison Blue Hotel
  • Day 3 & 4: 3 hour drive to Akagera National Park, and exploration of the park (home to the Big Five) by game drives and boat.
    • Recommended lodge: Magashi Camp by Wilderness Safaris
  • Day 5 & 6: 5 hour drive to Volcanoes National Park, with gorilla tracking the next day
    • Recommended hotels: Bisate Lodge by Wilderness Safaris, One&Only Gorillas Camp, or Singita Kwitonda
  • Day 7 & 8: 6 hour drive along Lake Kivu to Nyungwe National Park, with a capony walk in the rainforest and chimps tracking the next day.
    • Recommended hotel: One&Only Nyungwe House

If you have more time, I highly recommend to spend some additional nights to unwind in Volcanoes National Park and/or Nyungwe National Park.


RECOMMENDED LUXURY HOTELS (+ REVIEWS)

Below, you find my reviews of hotels in Rwanda (with pros, cons, & tips to save money per hotel).

  • Kigali Serena Hotel Review: Kigali Serena Hotel (Rwanda)

*** Follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for a daily moment of travel inspiration ***


 

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Review: Kigali Serena Hotel (Rwanda)

Wednesday newsletters always feature a hotel or flight review.

I recently enjoyed a sublime holiday in the amazingly beautiful country of Rwanda. You can read my trip reports here:

  • Review: KLM A330 (new) Business Class from Amsterdam to Rwanda
  • Review: Kigali Serena Hotel (today)
  • Review: Bisate Lodge by Wilderness Safaris (Volcanoes National Park)
  • Review: Encounter with the mountain gorillas (my best travel experience ever!)
  • Review: One&Only Nyungwe House (Nyungwe National Park)
  • Review: Ruzizi Tented Lodge (Akagera National Park)
  • Review: KLM A330 (new) Business Class from Rwanda to Amsterdam (via Uganda)

Today (February 13, 2019): Review of Kigali Serena Hotel (Rwanda)
  • Location: Google maps
  • Hotel website: Kigali Serena Hotel
  • Recommended tour operator in Rwanda: Uber Luxe Safaris

Situated along one of the Rwandan capital’s most vibrant boulevards, the elegant Kigali Serena Hotel is a great place to start or end a gorilla safari. Guests are welcomed into a gleaming granite atrium, adorned with lovely Rwandan artworks. The property features 148 sophisticated rooms, including 25 spacious suites, that come with air conditioning, Wi-Fi connectivity, a satellite television, and a lovely ensuite bathroom. The hotel offers a wonderful selection of dining options, from the Milima Restaurant that overlooks the courtyard swimming pool to the Sokoni Restaurant that has become a popular meeting place for both locals and travelers alike. There’s also a small spa on site.

Have you ever stayed at Kigali Serena Hotel? If so, what was your experience? Leave a comment.

In this review (more info and photos below my Youtube clip & slideshow):

  • Pros & things I like
  • Cons & things to know
  • My verdict
  • Tips for future guests & save money
  • Best time to visit
  • How to get there
  • Photos

Click to view slideshow.

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PROS & THINGS I LIKE
  • Kigali Serena Hotel is located on a busy boulevard in the heart of Kigali. It’s a secure and tranquil location near the city’s central business district. The residential area surrounding the hotel is home to embassies and other high-end hotels (e.g. Marriott Kigali and Hotel des Mile Collines). It’s only is a short stroll from the hotel to the city center, where a buzz of shops, restaurants and bars awaits you. The hotel is 8 miles (12 km) from Kigali International Airport and thus perfectly located for guests visiting Rwanda for business or for an overnight stay at the end or start of a Rwandan safari.
  • Accessed by a gated courtyard with palm trees and water parties, the hotel is housed in a modern, U-shaped, low rise building. Guests are welcomed in a multilevel, open atrium with a glass roof structure and gleaming walls that are adorned with authentic Rwandan artwork. A staircase connects the contemporary styled lobby with a piano lounge (where afternoon tea is served) and an intimate bar area. Sliding glass doors open to a balcony that overlooks the hotel’s courtyard. Most hotel facilities are located around this courtyard, with two restaurants, a lagoon-style swimming pool, and a wellness center with gym (more on that below).   
  • Guests can choose from an wide array of accommodations, including 54 standard rooms, 25 deluxe rooms,  37 superior rooms, 7 prime rooms, 18 studio suites, 6 executive suites and 1 presidential suite. During my visit, I was upgraded to a spacious deluxe room, which featured two queen sized beds, two desks, a sofa, and a balcony with view of Kigali’s cityscape. The large bathroom was equipped with walk-in rain shower, two sinks, a bathtub and enclosed toilet. The room came with all modern amenities one would expect in a five star hotel: airco, WiFi, hairdryer, direct dialing phone, flat screen television, minibar, electronic safe deposit box, and tea and coffee maker.
  • The property features two excellent on-site restaurants:
    • One of Kigali’s most popular dining venues, Milima Restaurant features a classically elegant interior with a light-filled atrium overlooking the verdant tropical gardens. During breakfast, the venue offers an extensive buffet selection of homemade pastries and breads, fresh juices and fruits, and an array of continental delicacies. It serves à la carte dinner each night, except on Wednesday and Saturday, when Milima is the scene of a renowned Mongolian Menu, a spicy fusion of the very best of Asian cuisine served under the stars.
    • The Sokoni Cafe and Bar overlooks the pool and serves all-day café-styled cuisine to suit all taste. Sokoni is renowned in Kigali for its colorful cocktails and vibrant live music.
  • The resort’s heart is a tropical garden, which features a 18 m (60 ft) long landscaped swimming pool with a jacuzzi on the side. The pool is surrounded by sun decks, one of them located on an elevated terrace from where a small waterfall drops into the pool. There are plenty of trees that offer shade to escape the burning sun in the heat of the day (although it never gets too hot in Rwanda). All in all, the pool area is a great place to relax and unwind after a day exploring Kigali, and it lends the hotel a flair of resort ambience.
  • Located besides the pool, the hotel features an intimate spa, called the Maisha Mind Body & Spirit Spa, which is styled after a Moroccan oasis. The spa is a sanctuary of peace and tranquility, and embraces a holistic approach to wellness. Treatments blend contemporary science with ancient rituals to craft a replenishing experience that balances your mind, soothes your soul and nourishes your body. The spa also features a a state-of-the-art gymnasium and cardio studio, and an aerobic studio offering workouts including kickboxing, dance, and yoga.
  • The property is managed by the Nairobi based Serena Hotel Group, which is Africa’s leading hotel chain. Its collection of 35 unique hotels, resorts, safari camps, palaces and forts located in East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Rwanda and Uganda), Mozambique and South Asia (Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan) are in some of the world’s most interesting, historic and exotic settings. The group excels in service, and its Kigali outpost is no exception to that rule. The staff are always friendly and attentive to guests needs. They even go above and beyond to make sure you enjoy your stay at the hotel.

CONS & THINGS TO KNOW

Kigali Serena Hotel was the first 5-star hotel in Kigali when it opened in 2004, and it still shines. The rooms are the largest in the city and it offers all the amenities you would expect from a 5-star hotel. It’s not a destination hotel though, but rather a good place to start or end your holiday in Rwanda. You need to know the following when considering a stay here:

  • The hotel houses large conference facilities and frequently hosts big meetings. When you stay at the hotel during one of these meetings, you might be occasionally disturbed by large groups of attendees in the public areas (including the restaurants and pool).
  • The 148 room hotel has the ambience of a large business hotel, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but if you are looking for a boutique hotel experience, then this place isn’t for you. However, currently, there are no boutique hotels in Kigali.
  • While impeccably maintained, the decor feels a little dated and is in need of a refurbishment (the hotel opened in 2004 and has not been renovated since then). The property now faces stiff competition from more modern hotels in the area, such as the Marriott Kigali (its neighbor) and the Radisson Blue Hotel, but it still prides itself on the fact that it offers the most African feel of all 5-star hotels in Rwanda’s capital.
  • The rooms facing the pool have a nice view, but there can be a lot of noise when the hotel organizes poolside events. Guests inside the rooms facing the street can also be occasionally disturbed by traffic sounds. This is why it is preferable to request a room on a higher floor in the hotel’s new wing, away from the street and courtyard.
  • Security at the hotel is tight: all cars are checked by the hotel’s security team at the main entrance gate, and you have to pass through metal detectors every time you enter the lobby. This is not different from other hotels or public buildings in Rwanda’s capital, but some guests may find it bothersome nonetheless (especially since Rwanda is one of Africa’s safest destinations).

MY VERDICT
  • Location: 7/10
  • Design: 7/10
  • Pool: 8/10
  • Rooms: 8/10
  • Food: 8/10
  • Breakfast: 8/10
  • Spa: 7/10
  • Service: 8/10
  • Value for money: 8/10
  • Overall experience: good: 7,6/10

TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
  • Save money: read here my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel like Kigali Serena Hotel (and/or receive many free perks).
  • Room tip: request a room on a higher floor in the hotel’s new wing, to avoid noise disturbance from the pool area or the street.
  • Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

In the heart of Africa, fractionally south of the equator, Rwanda’s relatively high altitude provides it with a remarkably pleasant tropical highland climate, albeit also with plenty of rain. Although it’s regarded as a year-round activity, the best time to visit Rwanda is during the short dry season from December to  February or over the long dry season months of June to September. These periods offer by far the easiest hiking conditions (for gorilla or chimp trekking) and the lowest malaria risk. The dry season does not necessarily means sunny season as there is often a light cloud cover, helping to moderate the temperatures. Rwanda’s long rainy season lasts from about March to May, when the rain is heavy and persistent. October to November is the short rainy season, with occasional light showers in the afternoon.


HOW TO GET THERE

The hotel is 8 miles (12 km) from Kigali International Airport. It’s recommended to pre-book your transfer from the airport to the hotel, either via the hotel or via your tour operator.


PHOTOS
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: EXTERIOR
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: EXTERIOR
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: ENTRANCE COURTYARD
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: ENTRANCE COURTYARD
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: ENTRANCE COURTYARD
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: ENTRANCE COURTYARD
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: ENTRANCE COURTYARD
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: ENTRANCE COURTYARD
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: ENTRANCE COURTYARD
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: ENTRANCE COURTYARD
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: ENTRANCE COURTYARD
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: ENTRANCE COURTYARD
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: ENTRANCE COURTYARD
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: ENTRANCE COURTYARD
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: ENTRANCE COURTYARD
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: ENTRANCE COURTYARD
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: LOBBY
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: LOBBY
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: LOBBY
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: LOBBY
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: LOBBY
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: LOBBY
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: LOBBY
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: LOBBY
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: LOBBY
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: LOBBY
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: LOBBY
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: LOBBY
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: LOBBY
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: LOBBY
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: LOBBY
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SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: LOBBY
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SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: LOBBY BAR & LOUNGE
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: LOBBY BAR & LOUNGE
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: LOBBY BAR & LOUNGE
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: LOBBY BAR & LOUNGE
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: GUEST ROOM FLOOR
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: GUEST ROOM FLOOR
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: DELUXE ROOM (ENTRANCE)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: DELUXE ROOM (ENTRANCE)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: DELUXE ROOM
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: DELUXE ROOM
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SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: DELUXE ROOM
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SERENA KIGALI HOTEL DELUXE ROOM
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL DELUXE ROOM
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: SWIMMING POOL
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: SWIMMING POOL
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: SWIMMING POOL
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: SWIMMING POOL
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: SWIMMING POOL
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: SWIMMING POOL
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: SWIMMING POOL
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: SWIMMING POOL
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: SWIMMING POOL
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: SWIMMING POOL
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: SWIMMING POOL
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SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: SWIMMING POOL
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: SWIMMING POOL
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: SWIMMING POOL (JACUZZI)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: SWIMMING POOL (JACUZZI)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: SWIMMING POOL
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: SWIMMING POOL
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: SWIMMING POOL
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: SWIMMING POOL
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: SWIMMING POOL
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: SWIMMING POOL
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: SPA
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: SPA
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SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: GYM
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: GYM
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT
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SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT
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SERENA KIGALI HOTEL AT NIGHT
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL AT NIGHT
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL AT NIGHT
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL AT NIGHT
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL AT NIGHT
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL AT NIGHT
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL AT NIGHT
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL AT NIGHT
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL AT NIGHT
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL AT NIGHT
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SERENA KIGALI HOTEL AT NIGHT
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL AT NIGHT
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL AT NIGHT
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL AT NIGHT
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL AT NIGHT
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (DINNER)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (DINNER)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (DINNER)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (DINNER)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (DINNER)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (DINNER)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (DINNER)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (DINNER)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (DINNER)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (DINNER)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (DINNER)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (DINNER)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (DINNER)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (DINNER)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (DINNER)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (DINNER)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (DINNER)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (DINNER)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (DINNER)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (DINNER)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (DINNER)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (DINNER)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (DINNER)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (DINNER)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (DINNER)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (DINNER)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (DINNER)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (DINNER)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (DINNER)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (DINNER)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (DINNER)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (DINNER)

SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)

SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)

SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)

SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)
SERENA KIGALI HOTEL: MILIMA RESTAURANT (BREAKFAST)

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The post Review: Kigali Serena Hotel (Rwanda) appeared first on the Luxury Travel Expert.

Top 10 best things to see and do in Rwanda

Monday newsletters always feature top 10 travel lists to inspire.

Today (February 11, 2019): Top10 best things to see and do in Rwanda.

I recently enjoyed a week long holiday in Rwanda, one of the most astonishingly beautiful countries I’ve ever visited. Nicknamed ‘the land of thousands hills’, Rwanda lies within the Great Lakes region of Central Africa, bordered by Uganda to the north, Tanzania to the east, Burundi to the south, and the Democratic Republic of Congo to the west. Despite being one of Africa’s smallest nations, Rwanda has an incredible treasure trove of biodiversity. Mountains dominate the center and west of the country, while the east consists of savanna, plains and swamps. Although Rwanda is all too often associated with the horrible 1994 Genocide that resulted in the mass murder of one million people (20% of the country’s total population), the country has risen from the ash and managed to rebuild itself as one of Africa’s safest countries. And Rwanda is one its way to become one of the continent’s greatest travel destinations, with something for everyone to enjoy. Here’s my top 10 list of the best things to see & do in Rwanda. I used Uber Luxe Safaris as a tour operator for my own holiday in Rwanda, and I highly recommend them!

There is more information below the slide show. Think I missed one? Share your favorite attraction in Rwanda in the comments.

Click to view slideshow.

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10. STAY AT ‘HOTEL RWANDA’

Hotel des Mille Collines – known all over the world as ‘Hotel Rwanda’ – is not a spectacular hotel but it’s a property with such an incredible and moving history that for many visitors to Rwanda, it is a must place to visit. Built and managed by Belgian airliner Sabena in 1973, Hotel des Mille Collines was known for two decades as the premier grand hotel of the country. When the 1994 Genocide ravaged the country, the hotel’s European managers were evacuated and control was given to local employee Paul Rusesabagina, who used the property as a shelter for about 2,000 fleeing Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Rusesabagina bribed the army with money and alcohol to protect the refugees and to obtain food and water. Due to the hotel’s high profile and Rusesabagina public efforts, the United Nations and foreign governments exerted pressure on the Rwandan government forces to ensure the safety of those trapped inside. This incredible story was later used as the basis of 2004 movie ‘Hotel Rwanda’, although the hotel does not actually appear in the film (it was largely shot in South Africa).

STAY AT 'HOTEL RWANDA'


9. UNWIND AT LAKE KIVU

If you’re surprised that Rwanda has a beach – you’re not alone. Rubavu (also known as Gisenyi) is a waterfront town located on the northern shores of Lake Kivu, the country’s largest body of water which takes up about half of Rwanda’s western border. Only an hour away from Volcanoes National Park, Rubavu is a great way to unwind after trekking adventures. Rich colonial mansions, surrounded by lush tropical gardens fringe the lake shore. Visitors can enjoy a relaxing day strolling down the palm-tree fringed lakeside promenade, enjoy the sunshine on the sandy beach on the lakeshore, or take an energetic swim in the lakes cool waters. Rubavu also marks the beginning of the Congo Nile Trail, a tangled network of trails and roads (227 km or 140 mi in total) that follows the lake’s amorphous coastline all the way down to Rusizi near the border with Burundi. The magnificent landscape between Ruvabu and Rusizi is made up of rolling hills, emerald tea plantations and small fishing communities, offering cyclists and trekkers a glimpse of Rwandan rural life rarely experienced by most tourists.

UNWIND AT LAKE KIVU


8. LEARN ABOUT RWANDAN CULTURE AT BUTARE’S ETHNOGRAPHIC MUSEUM

Butare was the largest and most important city in Rwanda prior to 1965 when it lost out to more centrally located Kigali. Today, Butare is still considered the intellectual and cultural pulse of Rwanda. It is also an attractively compact and sedate town of shady avenues emanating from a main street lined with small hotels and breezy terrace restaurants. The most prominent attraction in Butare is the National Museum, which houses the finest ethnographic collection in East Africa. Seven galleries display historical, ethnographic, artistic and archaeological artefacts accompanied by visual aides, giving visitors a rich insight into the Rwandan culture. The cultural significance of Butare is further underlined by a visit to nearby Nyabisinu, formerly known as Nyanza, the traditional seat of Rwanda’s feudal monarchy. The impressive Royal Palace at Nyanza, a domed construction made entirely of traditional materials, has been painstakingly restored to its 19th century state and is now maintained as a museum.

LEARN ABOUT RWANDAN CULTURE AT BUTARE'S NATIONAL MUSEUM


7. TAKE A TOUR OF A TEA OR COFFEE PLANTATION

Rwanda produces some of the best quality teas and finest coffees in the world. Rwanda’s tea is renowned all over the globe, making it the country’s number one export. And its coffee is winning international competitions as well and sought after by companies like Starbucks. The country is perfectly fertile to grow both tea and coffee, especially along the Congo-Nile crest in the country’s west, because of the high altitude, the rich volcanic soil, sunny days and equatorial fog. There are several tea & coffee route experiences in the North and Western provinces. These tours explore the growing and production processes at major plantations, from picking, washing, selection and drying the leaves up until drinking your own tea and coffee. These tours are community based projects, so 100% of the profit from these tours goes towards the local population.

TAKE A TOUR OF A TEA OR COFFEE PLANTATION


6. CLIMB A VOLCANO

The “Parc National de Volcans” (or PNV as it’s known by locals) protects the Rwandan portion of the Virunga Moutains, a transfrontier conservation area that includes protected areas in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This corner in northwestern Rwanda is a breath-taking unforgettable place where culture, adventure and conservation intersect, only a short two hour drive from Rwanda’s capital of Kigali. Home to five majestic volcanos, the park is covered in thick rainforest and bamboo. The area is known around the world for being home to the world’s last remaining mountain gorillas in their natural habitat, and although visited predominantly for the mountain gorillas (more on that below), the dramatic landscape also offers thrilling hiking. There is a chance to climb to Mount Bisoke’s beautiful crater lake or even undertake a two day trek to the summit of Mount Karisimbi (4507 m or 14787 ft), Rwanda’s highest point and Africa’s 5th highest mountain.

CLIMB A VOLCANO


5. HIKE TO DIAN FOSSEY’S TOMB

Dian Fossey – whose story is told in the movie ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ – was an American scientist, who came to Rwanda to study the gorillas. She started a war against poaching to save these majestic creatures from extinction but was eventually brutally murdered in her cabin, an event which shocked the world. Theories about her murder are varied but have never been fully resolved. For anyone interested in Dian Fossey’s personal story, I highly recommend the trek to her grave at Karisoke scientific base. This base was established by Dian Fossey inside Volcanoes National Park in the saddle area between Mt Visoke and Mt Karisimbi (from which the name Karisoke is derived). The camp site stands at an altitude of around 3000m (over 9000 ft) and was abandoned during the unrest of the 1990s. All that remains today is the graveyard where Dian Fossey and several of her favorite gorillas are buried. The trek to the Karisoke research camp takes around 4 hours and takes you through some of the most beautiful stretches of Hagenia – Hypericum forest in the the park.

HIKE TO DIAN FOSSEY'S TOMB


4. GO ON SAFARI IN AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK 

Akagera National Park, named after the River Kagera, is located in northeastern Rwanda, along the country’s border with Tanzania, about two hours by car from the capital Kigali. Founded in 1934 by the Belgian government (who at that time occupied Rwanda), the park’s spectacular scenery is dominated by savannah, papyrus swamps, small lakes and rolling hills. Following years of recovery after the 1994 Rwanda Genocide, Akagera is now a safe home again for Africa’s Big Five – lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and buffalo – and other incredibly diverse wildlife. It’s also recognized as one of the best spots for bird-watching in Rwanda. Days here are spent with game drives in search of the Big Five and boat safaris on the lakes among many hippopotamus and nile crocodiles. The park’s large surface area and sparse traffic leaves one with the unique feeling of being virtually alone in the wilderness — a feeling that is difficult to come by in the more popular safari parks in Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa.

  • Recommended hotel: Magashi Camp by Wilderness Safaris

GO ON SAFRI IN AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK


3. OBSERVE CHIMPANZEES IN THE WILD

Deep in the southwest within the Albertine Rift Area is Nyungwe National Park, home to the region’s largest and oldest remaining patch of mountain rainforest, and protecting a number of ecosystems (e.g. rainforest, bamboo, grasslands, swamps and bog habitats). Nyungwe’s biodiversity is astonishing by African standards: more than 300 species of birds (with 24 endemic to the African highlands) are found within the national park, in addition to more than 140 species of orchids, reptiles and butterflies. However, Nyungwe is mainly known as the best place in the world to observe chimps in their natural habitat. Dashing at high speed through the flora, hooting and clanging, it truly is an exhilarating experience to encounter chimpanzees playing, wild and free. Most active in the morning, an early rise is required for maximum viewing opportunity, with expert trackers guiding you on a deep forest trail, while you learn about these fascinating creatures and the enchanting forest they call home.

  • Recommend hotel: One&Only Nyungwe House

OBSERVE CHIMPANZEES IN THE WILD


2. VISIT THE KIGALI GENOCIDE MEMORIAL

The Kigali Genocide Memorial commemorates the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, the most brutal and efficient killing spree in human history, organized by unworthy political leaders of that time. Over the course of approximately 100 days, more than a million people – sons and daughters of Rwanda – were killed. Sparker by the murder of president Habyarimana when his plane was shot down, the country descended into madness, with civilians being encouraged by the media to rape, maim and kill their neighbors, friends and family members. The international community was capable of intervening but unwilling to act. Today, the people of Rwanda embrace peace and reconciliation and are deeply committed to eradicate ethnic, regional and any other forms of division. The testimonials at Kigali’s Genocide Memorial are deeply moving accounts standing in memory of the brutality and lost lives. More than 250,000 victims of the Genocide are interred here.

VISIT THE KIGALI GENOCIDE MEMORIAL


1. COME FACE TO FACE WITH A MOUNTAIN GORILLA

Tracking the endangered mountain gorilla through the mysterious intimacy of the rainforest, alive with the calls of colorful birds and chattering of the rare golden monkey, is one of the most unique, memorable and life-changing travel adventures one can undertake in a lifetime. Gorilla trekking takes place from Volcanoes National Park’s headquarters where you are allocated to one of the twelve habituated gorilla groups. Only eight visitors are allowed per gorilla group each day, and to minimize possible transmission of human diseases, visitors are asked to maintain a distance of 7m (about 22 feet) from the gorillas. Typically, tracking can take from one to ten hours and requires some level of fitness since the hikes goes through dense jungle vegetation up steep and often muddy slopes. A maximum of 80 gorilla permits are issued per day and during high season these sell out far in advance, so it is therefore important to book gorilla permits as early as possible (USD$ 1500 per person per trek).

  • Recommended hotel: Bisate Lodge by Wilderness Safaris

COME FACE TO FACE WITH A MOUNTAIN GORILLA


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Travel tip: Soneva launches 2019 ‘Festival of Color’ campaign

Friday newsletters always feature luxury travel contests, tips, series, or news.

Today (February 8, 2019): Soneva launches second ‘Festival of Color’ campaign to celebrate unique experiences across its resorts.

As most of you know, I am a huge fan of spectacular hotels (and I assume most of you are as well since you are following my blog). Six Senses, Aman, Rosewood and Four Seasons rank among my favorite hotel brands. But none comes close to my absolute favorite hotel group in the world: Soneva. What I like so much about the Soneva – and how they discriminate themselves from their high-end competitors – is their pursuit for excellence, the unique design of their resorts, their commitment to inspired living, their very smart take on barefoot luxury, their breathtaking ‘remote but accessible’ natural locations, and their creation of authentic experiences (unlike any other). Soneva manages four spectacular resorts in the Maldives and Thailand:

  • Soneva Jani, the Maldives’ most exclusive resort
  • Soneva Fushi, the Maldives’ original hideaway
  • Soneva in Aqua, the Maldives’ first floating villa
  • Soneva Kiri, the most exclusive resort in Thailand

SONEVA FESTIVAL OF COLOR

Readers of my blog can enjoy exceptional benefits at Soneva resorts, regardless of whether the booking was made via Soneva directly or via a travel agent (read more about it here). These benefits include:

  • A complimentary upgrade to the next villa category (subject to availability)
  • A voucher of resort credit valued at 10% of the total room revenue of the booking (when booking a Best Available Rate) or 5% of the total package revenue when booking one of the Soneva special packages. For example, if you book 7 nights at Soneva Kiri at a best available rate of $1300 USD per night, you will get a resort credit of 7 x $130 USD = $910 USD, which you can use on food, spa, and activities.
  • One personalised experience for two adults. For example, at Soneva Jani, these experiences may include:
    • Private Cinema Paradiso experience with dinner
    • Father & son picnic and mother & daughter spa
    • Private Dinner at the Starlight Table and a session at the observatory
    • Cooking class for children and family
    • Sunrise breakfast
    • Gourmet dining experience which includes chocolate and wine tasting

And now may be the best time ever to book a stay at one of the Soneva resorts since Soneva has launched its second year-long campaign known as ‘Festival of Color’, offering a dazzling array of guest activities and unique experiences, ranging from visiting Michelin-starred chefs and astronomers, through to authors, champion free-divers, artists and more. Each month of 2019 will offer different experiences and is also associated with a different color and theme. Guests will be treated at the Soneva resorts to special color-themed movie screenings, cocktails, canapes and more.

Underscoring the Festival of Colour is a series of short “color” films created by the renowned French film director Bruno Aveillan. Bruno visited Soneva Fushi and Soneva Jani to shoot the films, which were inspired by the different colors he found at the resorts. Soneva releases one color film each month during the campaign on its website and on social media. For example, below is the clip released by Soneva to celebrate the month February and the color ‘pearl’:

As part of the Festival of Colour, Soneva has confirmed a huge line-up of visiting experts, including chefs, authors, wine producers, world-champion free-divers, astronomers, artists, wellness practitioners, tennis coaches and more at all resorts. To give you an idea, this is what is happening this month at Soneva Fushi in the Maldives:

  • There are five Michelin-starred chefs visiting the resort in February: including the three-starred Esben Bang, the head chef and co-owner of Norway’s Maaemo. Tom Aiken’s, who became the youngest British chef to win two Michelin stars at the age of 26. The two-starred Heiko Nieder, the one-starred Mark Lundgaard and one-starred Mathias Dahlgren will also be at the resort.
  • Adding to the resort’s wellness offeringswHortensia Corredoira brings her unique multipronged approach to wellness and healing, which combines her academic and technical skills with her subtle perception of the root causes of tension.
  • Château Palmer, the famous winery that produces eminently complex wines, combining aromatic richness and extraordinary elegance with a beguiling velvet texture and remarkable ageing potential will be hosting a wine dinner and two wine tastings at Soneva Fushi.

“We’re really focused on crafting these beautiful, beyond bespoke experiences where discovery is a way of life. With our expert hosts as personal guides, we invite our guests to explore and delight in experiences that will last a lifetime.  Soneva has never been so full of LIFE,” said Sonu Shivdasani, Founder, CEO and Joint Creative Director of Soneva. LIFE stands for Learning, Inspiring, Fun, Experiences.

Contact me if you want to book a stay at one of the Soneva resorts during the Color of Festival. Below is more information about each Soneva resort (with trip reports & Youtube clips). 


SONEVA JANI, MALDIVES 

Soneva Jani is the ultimate Maldives’ luxury resort (and simply outclasses all of its competitors in the archipelago). It comprises 24 water villas and one island villa, with additional island villas planned at a later stage. Inspired by a word that means wisdom in Sanskrit, Soneva Jani is located on the island of Medhufaru, which is part of an uninhabited five-island cluster in the Noonu Atoll. The highlight of the resort is its location within a 5.6 kilometer lagoon of crystal clear waters with uninterrupted 360° views of the Indian Ocean. The main island is fringed by pristine beaches and blanketed with lush tropical greenery. Every water villa has a private pool and opens to its own stretch of lagoon, with some villas featuring slides going directly from the top deck into the lagoon below. The highlight of the villas is the retractable roof in the master bedroom, which slides back at the touch of a button so that guests can lie in bed and stargaze.

  • Hotel website: Soneva Jani
  • Top 10 accolades: Soneva Jani features in my top 10 lists of the most insanely beautiful resorts in the Maldives, the most fabulous overwater villas in the Maldives, the most astonishing beach retreats in Asia, and my favorite hotels in the world.
  • Review: read my review of Soneva Jani here.


SONEVA FUSHI, MALDIVES

Soneva Fushi, the Maldives’ original desert island hideaway, is located in the stunnnig Baa Atoll island archipelago, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. Massive, Robinson Crusoe-style, multi-bedroom luxury villas and private residences are hidden among dense tropical foliage. In keeping with the castaway theme, many are built to resemble tree houses. All open to their own private stretch of sugar white sands, and most boast their own private seawater swimming pools. Intuitive service is provided by Mr./Ms. Friday butlers who know what you want before you want it.

  • Hotel website: Soneva Fushi
  • Top 10 accolades: Soneva Fushi features in my top 10 lists of the best luxury resorts in the Maldives, the most astonishing beach retreats in Asia, the best family hotels in the world, the world’s most insanely beautiful hotel beaches, and the best resorts in the Maldives for snorkeling.
  • Tip: enjoy free VIP amenities when booking via Virtuoso (e.g. villa upgrade, breakfast, early check-in , late check-out, welcome Champagne with Maldivian tapas on arrival, one lunch for two, original handcrafted arrival and departure mementos, shoreline beach dinner, private sunset sailing by Dhoni at Baa Atoll, and a cooking class for two).
  • Review: read my review of Soneva Fushi here.


SONEVA KIRI, THAILAND

Remote yet accessible by a 70 minute flight from Bangkok on the resort’s private plane, Soneva Kiri sits on Thailand’s 4th largest but least populated island, Koh Kood, in the Gulf of Siam. One of the most exclusive beach resorts in the world, Soneva Kiri offers an unrivalled combination of luxury, environmentally friendly design and unforgettable, authentic Thai experiences. The 35 resort villas (including 11 private residences) are amongst the largest in the world. Located on the idyllic beach or sunny slopes in the rainforest, all have stunning infinity pools, impossibly chic furnishings, personal electric buggies, and impeccable service courtesy of private butlers. Highlights include the open air cinema Paradiso, Benz’ mangrove restaurant, the chocolate & ice cream parlour, the children’s den, and the spectacular Treetop dining pod.

  • Hotel website: Soneva Kiri
  • Top 10 accolades: Soneva Kiri features in my top 10 lists of the most insanely beautiful hotels in Thailand, the world’s most amazing beach resorts, the world’s most outrageous hotel experiences,  the best private plunge pools in the world, the world’s most beautiful hotel beaches, the world’s best luxury hotels, the world’s best family hotels, the world’s most remote hotels, the most astonishing beach retreats in Asia, and luxury hotels with private airports.
  • Tip: enjoy free VIP amenities when booking via Virtuoso (e.g. villa upgrade, breakfast, early check-in , late check-out, welcome Champagne with Thai tapas on arrival, and a 30 minute spa treatment for two).
  • Review: read my review of Soneva Kiri here.


SONEVA IN AQUA, MALDIVES

Soneva in Aqua is the first floating villa in the Maldives and every honeymooner’s dream. The pioneering new boat villa concept of the ultra luxe Soneva hotel group combines all the benefits of the group’s iconic resort’s services and amenities with the freedom and exclusivity associated with a private boat charter. The two-cabin boat features a spacious main cabin with a glass bottom spa and shower facilities, as well as a second room with a king-sized bed and en-suite facilities. Other features include an external raised sun and dining deck, a lower level bar and dining area plus daybeds, lounge seating and a jacuzzi.

  • Hotel website: Soneva in Aqua
  • Top 10 accolades: Soneva In Aqua features in my lists of the 40 hottest luxury hotel openings of 2015 and the top 10 best honeymoon resorts in the world.
  • Review: read my review of Soneva In Aqua here.


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Review: KLM A330 (new) Business Class from Amsterdam to Rwanda

Wednesday newsletters always feature a hotel or flight review.

I recently enjoyed a sublime holiday in the amazingly beautiful country of Rwanda. I will publish my trip reports over the coming weeks:

  • Review: KLM A330 (new) Business Class from Amsterdam to Rwanda (today)
  • Review: Kigali Serena Hotel
  • Review: Bisate Lodge by Wilderness Safaris (Volcanoes National Park)
  • Review: Encounter with the mountain gorillas (my best travel experience ever!)
  • Review: One&Only Nyungwe House (Nyungwe National Park)
  • Review: Ruzizi Tented Lodge (Akagera National Park)
  • Review: KLM A330 (new) Business Class from Rwanda to Amsterdam (via Uganda)

Today (February 6, 2019): Review of KLM’s A330 (new) Business Class from Amsterdam to Rwanda.

On January 12th 2019, I flew Business Class onboard a KLM Royal Dutch Airline Airbus A330 from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport (AMS) in the Netherlands to Kigali (KGL), the capital of Rwanda in Central Africa. The flight was operated by the oldest A330-300 aircraft in the KLM fleet, delivered to the airline in 2012 and nicknamed ‘Times Square’. The Netherlands’ flagship carrier recently completed an extensive refurbishment of the Business Class cabins of its A330 fleet (which comprises 13 aircraft). The new seats and interior were created by Hella Jongerius (a famous Dutch industrial designer) and represent a massive improvement over the old product, with fully flat seats, HD-quality touchscreen displays, and a brand-new inflight entertainment system. Unfortunately, KLM choose for a 2-2-2 Business Class seat configuration on its A330s, which is not the best in the skies and definitely a step down compared to the carrier’s B787 fleet, which features Business Class seats in an excellent herringbone 1-2-1 layout. That said, I always enjoying flying KLM, because of its fantastic cabin crew, the incredible attention to details (e.g. innovative tableware, a designer amenity kit), and the Delft Blue miniature Dutch houses (filled with gin) as a souvenir gift.

Have you ever flown KLM’s Business Class? What was your experience? Leave a comment below.

  • Trip: Amsterdam (AMS) to Kigali (KGL)
  • Airline: KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
  • Aircraft type: Airbus A330-300
  • Aircraft registration number: PH-AKA (nicknamed ‘Times Square’)
  • Flight Number: KL537
  • Date: 12 January 2019
  • On time departure: yes (10 am)
  • On time arrival: yes (7 pm)
  • Miles: 4030
  • Flight time: 8 hours
  • Seat: 4J
  • Class: Business Class

In this review (more information & photos below my Youtube clip & slideshow):

  1. Cost of my ticket
  2. KLM Crown Lounge at Schiphol Airport
  3. Facts & figures about KLM
  4. Business Class cabin
  5. Business Class seat (+ best & worst seats)
  6. Amenities
  7. Meals
  8. Entertainment
  9. Onboard internet
  10. Other inflight experiences (crew, bar, lavatory & views)
  11. My verdict (score)

Click to view slideshow.

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1. COST OF MY TICKET

I paid 1750 euros for my KLM roundtrip Business Class ticket from Amsterdam to Kigali. I booked the ticket online on KLM’s website during a great sale.


2. KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL AIRPORT

KLM’s flagship Business Class lounge at its hub Schiphol is called the ‘Crown Lounge’ and is located between the E and F Piers, one floor above the main concourse . The L-shaped lounge is massive in space, with dozens of seating areas stretching as far as the eye can see in both directions. At the center of the lounge is a service desk (where you can request a ticket for a shower if you want to refresh), while a business center (confined within a circular and enclosed glass structure) and a smoking room are located at the lounge’s far end. The lounge features a modern, contemporary décor, and natural light pours in through the massive floor-to-ceiling windows. There are several buffet stations located across the lounge, each one of them with a self-serve bar. While the selection of drinks (e.g. beers, wines, juices and sodas) is excellent, the food offering itself is rather disappointing and limited when compared to the flagship lounges of other airlines: it only comprises cheese, cold meats, fresh fruits, cookies and pastries.

In all honesty, my experience at the lounge wasn’t a great one, since the lounge was overcrowded and even temporarily closed during my visit. Can you imagine, having to wait 30 minutes before being allowed to get into a Business Class lounge as a Business Class passenger? A lot of travelers were justly frustrated by this unacceptable situation, despite the friendly and apologizing attitude of the lounge’s front desk staff. The main reasons for these problems at the time of my visit were fog (which resulted in several Delta and KLM flights being cancelled with dozens of passengers stranded at the lounge) and the lounge’s current renovation (making almost half of the lounge space unavailable to travelers). KLM expects to conclude the lounge’s expansion and refurbishment in summer 2019, after which the new lounge will seat 1500 travelers (while the current lounge only seats 800 passengers).

KLM BUSINESS CLASS CHECK-IN COUNTERS AT SCHIPHOL
KLM BUSINESS CLASS CHECK-IN COUNTERS AT SCHIPHOL
KLM BUSINESS CLASS CHECK-IN COUNTERS AT SCHIPHOL
KLM BUSINESS CLASS CHECK-IN COUNTERS AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL
KLM CROWN LOUNGE AT SCHIPHOL

3. FACTS & FIGURES ABOUT KLM
  • Founded on October 7, 1919, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is the oldest scheduled airline in the world still operating under its original name.
  • Last year, KLM operated worldwide flights with over 200 aircraft, generating €10 billion revenues and employing 32.000 staff from its Amsterdam basis. KLM is the third-largest employer
    in the Netherlands.
  • Besides the well-known KLM airline, the KLM Group also includes the wholly owned subsidiaries Transavia and Martinair. Transavia is the leading low-cost carrier from The Netherlands operating from Amsterdam, Eindhoven and Rotterdam, welcoming 8 million passengers last year. Martinair focuses on airfreight, pilot training, and aircraft maintenance.
  • On May 6, 2004 KLM merged with Air France. The Air France-KLM group is operating as one company in which the two airlines keep their brand identifies, both with a focus on three core businesses (passenger, cargo business and engineering & maintenance). Air France-KLM is the world’s 5th largest airline by company revenue.
  • KLM was the first airline to use biofuels on commercial flights: on June 29 2011, a KLM Boeing 737-800 carried 171 passengers from Amsterdam to Paris, burning a 50/50 blend of traditional jet fuel and used cooking oil. Together with its venture SkyNRG, KLM introduced the world’s first Corporate BioFuel Program through which companies can use sustainable biofuels for parts of employees’ flights, thereby stimulating the further development of a market for biofuels.
  • KLM ’employs’ a famous co-pilot: Dutch King Willam Alexander. The father of three and monarch to 17 million Dutch citizens calls flying a ‘hobby’ and has been piloting KLM aircraft for years, albeit always under the radar (not literally of course). The King is trained to fly B737s, and when he makes pilot announcements, he does so anonymously.
  • The KLM fleet is composed of the following aircraft:
    • 50 Boeing 737NG for short- and medium haul destinations
    • 13 Airbus A330-200 and -300 for medium and longhaul haul destinations
    • 14 Boeing 747-400 for longhaul haul destinations
    • 29 Boeing 777-200ER and -300ER for longhaul haul destinations
    • 13 Boeing 787 Dreamliners for medium and longhaul haul destinations
  • KLM names its aircraft after city squares worldwide (A330s), birds (B737s), UNESCO world heritage sites (B777s), world cities (B747s), flowers (B787s) and ships of the Dutch East India Company (B747 freighters).
KLM AIRBUS A330
KLM AIRBUS A330
KLM AIRBUS A330
KLM AIRBUS A330
KLM AIRBUS A330
KLM AIRBUS A330
KLM AIRBUS A330
KLM AIRBUS A330
KLM AIRBUS A330
KLM AIRBUS A330
KLM AIRBUS A330
KLM AIRBUS A330
KLM AIRBUS A330
KLM AIRBUS A330

4. BUSINESS CLASS CABIN

KLM recently completed a (long needed) refurbishment and upgrade of its A330 fleet. KLM’s A330-300 aircraft now features 30 lie flat seats in Business Class, 40 standard seats in Economy Comfort (with more legroom) and 222 standard seats in Economy Class; the smaller A330-200 planes have 18, 36 and 214 seats in Business Class, Economy Comfort, and Economy Class respectively. All Business Class seats are located in one cabin, with either 5 rows (A330-300) or 3 rows (A330-200) of seats. The new A330 cabin interior – which was designed by KLM in collaboration with Dutch designer Hella Jongerius – feels fresh, modern, and above all typically KLM. Different shades of blue are used throughout the cabin, complementing the dark brown color of the seat covers. All Business Class seats face forward and are arranged in a standard 2-2-2 layout, which means that passengers in the window seats don’t have direct aisle access (as they will have to climb over the legs of the passengers seated next to them). Fixed dividers are installed between paired seats, which are inconvenient when you want to talk to your travel companion in the other seat and not large enough to provide enough privacy when you are seated next to a stranger (although paired seats are staggered by a couple of inches, so it doesn’t feel too uncomfortable).

This Business Class layout isn’t unique to KLM as other airlines have installed the same type of Business Class seat (e.g. Ethiopian Airlines B787/A350s; Qatar Airways’ A330s; and United B787s).

Click here for a seat map of KLM’s Airbus A330-300.

KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS CABIN
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS CABIN
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS CABIN
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS CABIN
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS CABIN
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS CABIN
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS CABIN
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS CABIN
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS CABIN (IN FLIGHT)
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS CABIN (IN FLIGHT)
KLM A330 ECONOMY CLASS
KLM A330 ECONOMY CLASS

5. BUSINESS CLASS SEAT (+ BEST & WORST SEATS)

KLM’s A330 Business Class seat is 25,5 inch (65 cm) wide and has a pitch of 60 inch (52 cm); the latter is defined as the distance from any point on one seat to the exact same point on the seat in front or behind, and thus a good indication of the legroom.

One side of the seat shares a console with its paired seat, which can be used as a small table for a drink and also holds the tray table (that needs to be pulled out for any use). This side of the seat also features a fixed privacy screen (which I already described above), a reading light at eye level, and an armrest with an electronic control panel to adjust the seat position. The seat’s other side (towards the window or aisle, depending on your seat location) has an easy-to-reach fixture above the armrest, which holds a universal AC power outlet, a USB port and a wired controller for the inflight entertainment (more on that below). There’s also a small compartment behind the headrest, where you can store items like your wallet, glasses or smart phone; actually, it’s the only storage space around the seat (you need to store all your carry-on luggage and larger items in the overhead bins). 

In front of each seat is a 18.5” touchscreen high resolution TV in 16:9 format and a small footrest. The latter becomes part of the flat bed when the seat reclines 180 degrees into its horizontal position. The fully flat bed is a massive improvement over KLM’s older A330 Business Class product (which featured angled lie flat seats). With its length of 206 cm long (6 ft 9 inch), the bed is very comfortable, even for taller passengers. Although the bed is a tad narrow, you can lower one of the arm rests to increase its width and enhance your sleeping comfort.  

What are the best Business Class seats on KLM’s A330-300? Click here for a seat map.

  • All seats in the cabin, except for the first and last row, are quiet good, especially for couples. Make sure to prebook your seat online (which can be done free of charge) to avoid disappointment at the airport, since QA flights are often fully packed.

What are the worst Business Class seats on KLM’s A330-300? Click here for a seat map.

  • The 2-2-2 Business Class layout does not make the cabin very attractive for solo travelers, since you will always end up sitting next to a stranger. There is a small screen though between paired seats for added privacy.
  • Window seats don’t offer direct aisle access.
  • Passengers seated in the first row may be bothered by the noise of the galley and passengers going to or returning from the lavatories.
  • I also suggest to avoid the last row of Business Class, which is close to the Economy bassinet seats.
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS SEAT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS SEAT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS SEAT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS SEAT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS SEAT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS SEAT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS SEAT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS SEAT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS SEAT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS SEAT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS SEAT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS SEAT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS SEAT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS SEAT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS SEAT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS SEAT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS SEAT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS SEAT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS SEAT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS SEAT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS SEAT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS SEAT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS SEAT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS SEAT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS SEAT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS SEAT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS SEAT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS SEAT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS SEAT (FLAT BED POSITION)
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS SEAT (FLAT BED POSITION)
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS SEAT (FLAT BED POSITION)
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS SEAT (FLAT BED POSITION)
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS SEAT (FLAT BED POSITION)
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS SEAT (FLAT BED POSITION)
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS SEAT (FLAT BED POSITION)
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS SEAT (FLAT BED POSITION)

6. AMENITIES

Business Class passengers receive the following amenities on one of KLM’s longhaul flights :

  • An amenity kit, which comes under the form of a brown comfort bag. The bag is created by successful Dutch fashion designer Jan Taminiau (in 2014 he was awarded the Netherlands’ most prestigious fashion prize the Grand Seigneur). It contains the essentials items for longhaul travel: eye mask, ear plugs, comb, toothbrush, toothpaste, and Rituals lip balm & face moisturizer.
  • A comfortable pillow
  • A stylish and comfortable, marine blue blanket
  • Noise cancelling headphones (which can only be powered within the plane and need to be returned to the crew prior to landing)

Before landing, Business Class passengers also receive a wonderful gift: a Delft Blue miniature traditional Dutch house, filled with Dutch gin, also known as jenever. Each miniature depicts a real Dutch house. KLM has been presenting Business Class passenger with this gift since the 1950s. Every year on October 7th, the airline celebrates the anniversary of its founding in 1919 by presenting a new house. Over the years, these miniature houses have become desirable collectors’ items, even generating a lively trade among passengers. KLM has a site where you can keep track of all of the houses, as each one is unique and has a special story to tell.

KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: AMENITY KIT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: AMENITY KIT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: AMENITY KIT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: AMENITY KIT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: AMENITY KIT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: AMENITY KIT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: AMENITY KIT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: AMENITY KIT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: AMENITY KIT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: AMENITY KIT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: SLEEPING AMENITIES - PILLOW
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: SLEEPING AMENITIES – PILLOW
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: SLEEPING AMENITIES - BLANKET
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: SLEEPING AMENITIES – BLANKET
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: NOISE CANCELLING HEADPHONES
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: NOISE CANCELLING HEADPHONES
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: PRE-ARRIVAL GIFT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: PRE-ARRIVAL GIFT

7. MEALS

Two meals were offered on this 8 hour flight from Amsterdam to Rwanda: a full lunch after takeoff and a light meal 60 minutes prior to landing. The beautifully designed menus (with references to Delft tiles and houses) were extensive and offered excellent wine pairings (although I never drink alcohol on a plane to avoid headaches). Another unexpected design detail that KLM get totally right is the stylish and unique tableware. The porcelain, glassware, cutlery, linen and tray have all been designed by Marcel Wanders, a famous Dutch designer. Even the salt and pepper shakers come in the form of clogs, one of Holland’s symbols. That said, despite the exquisite and stylish menus and tableware, the food itself was mediocre for a Business Class product (the main lunch was ok, but the pre-arrival snack was a disgrace).

I choose the following selection from the lunch menu:

  • Starter: smoked beed loin with cornichons, salty fingers and black garlic cream
  • Main course: herb-crusted seabass in Beurre Blanc sauce with mashed potatoes, haricots verts and pickled celery
  • Dessert: Calamansi citrus mousse with crème anglaise

An hour prior to touchdown, a light meal was offered, with all course served at once on the same tray:

  • Appetizer: grilled vegetable salad
  • Main course: steak sandwich with onions and cheese, served with mustard, mayonnaise and gherkins
  • Dessert: moelleux au chocolate

Unfortunately, the lukewarm steak sandwich looked and tasted like a cheap McDonalds burger.

KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS MENU
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS MENU
WELCOME DRINK
WELCOME DRINK
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS MENU
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS MENU
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS MENU
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS MENU
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS MENU
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS MENU
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS MENU
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS MENU
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS MENU
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS MENU
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS MENU
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS MENU
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS MENU
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS MENU
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS MENU
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS MENU
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS MENU
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS MENU
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS MENU
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS MENU
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS MENU
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS MENU
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS MENU
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS MENU
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS MENU
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS MENU
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS MENU
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS MENU
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS MENU
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS MENU
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS MENU
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS MENU
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS MENU
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS MENU
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS MENU
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS MENU
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: LUNCH
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: LUNCH
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: LUNCH
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: LUNCH
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: LUNCH
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: LUNCH
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: LUNCH
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: LUNCH
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: LUNCH
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: LUNCH
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: LUNCH
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: LUNCH
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: LUNCH
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: LUNCH
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: LUNCH
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: LUNCH
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: PRE-ARRIVAL MEAL
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: PRE-ARRIVAL MEAL
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: PRE-ARRIVAL MEAL
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: PRE-ARRIVAL MEAL
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: PRE-ARRIVAL MEAL
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: PRE-ARRIVAL MEAL
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: PRE-ARRIVAL MEAL
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: PRE-ARRIVAL MEAL
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: PRE-ARRIVAL MEAL
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: PRE-ARRIVAL MEAL

8. ENTERTAINMENT

Each Business Class seat is equipped with a large 18,5 inch high resolution TV screen with bright and clear pictures. The TV can be commanded by directly touching the screen or by using a handheld wired controller which is located in a fixture above the armrest. The controller also features its own small touchscreen, allowing you to watch a different program (e.g. flight map) from the main screen. KLM offers more than 1000 hours of interactive entertainment in various languages (e.g. Arabic, Chinese, Dutch, English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese or Spanish). There are more than 200 films to choose from, including recent releases, classics and world cinema, in addition to hundreds of TV shows, CDs, language courses, games, audiobooks, and a dedicated kids channels.

KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT

9. ONBOARD INTERNET

This A330 aircraft did not offer inflight WiFi. At the moment, KLM only offers WiFi on all of its brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliners and some of its Boeing 777-300ER aircraft.


10. OTHER INFLIGHT EXPERIENCES

#CREW: KLM’s cabin crew ranks among my favorite airline crew in the world (together with their colleagues from Singapore Airlines, Emirates, and Qantas). The flight attendants are always super friendly, efficient and seem to genuinely care about the passengers, and it was not different on this flight, with impeccable and courteous service. I also like the oh-so-recognizable KLM cabin attendant uniforms, which were designed by famous Dutch couturier Mart Visser.

# BAR: a walk-up bar was set up in the galley during the flight, offering drinks, stroopwafels and biscoffs.

KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: WALK-UP BAR
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: WALK-UP BAR
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: WALK-UP BAR
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: WALK-UP BAR

# TOILET: There are two lavatories onboard KLM’s A330 aircraft for Business Class passengers, both of them located behind the cockpit. The lavatories feature wallpaper with white and blue delft houses, and are stocked with high-end toiletries from Rituals (with scents of Dutch tulips and Japanese yuzu).

KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: LAVATORY
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: LAVATORY
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: LAVATORY
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: LAVATORY
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: LAVATORY
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: LAVATORY

# VIEWS: We enjoyed clear weather for most of the flight, allowing terrific views of the Alps and Sahara desert.

KLM A330: VIEWS OF THE ALPS
KLM A330: VIEWS OF THE ALPS
KLM A330: VIEWS OF THE ALPS
KLM A330: VIEWS OF THE ALPS
KLM A330: VIEWS OF THE ALPS
KLM A330: VIEWS OF THE ALPS
KLM A330: VIEWS OF THE ALPS
KLM A330: VIEWS OF THE ALPS
KLM A330: VIEWS OF THE ALPS
KLM A330: VIEWS OF THE ALPS
KLM A330: VIEWS OF THE ALPS
KLM A330: VIEWS OF THE ALPS
KLM A330: VIEWS OF THE SAHARA DESERT
KLM A330: VIEWS OF THE SAHARA DESERT
KLM A330: VIEW OF THE SUNSET
KLM A330: VIEW OF THE SUNSET

11. MY VERDICT
  • Crown lounge (Amsterdam): 5/10
  • Cabin design: 8/10
  • Seat comfort (upright): 8/10
  • Seat comfort (bed position): 8/10
  • Food (quality):  7/10
  • Food (quantity): 8/10
  • Inflight entertainment : 9/10
  • WiFi: not available
  • Service: 9/10
  • Overall experience: very good: 8/10

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The post Review: KLM A330 (new) Business Class from Amsterdam to Rwanda appeared first on the Luxury Travel Expert.

Top 10 best things to do and see in the Arctic Circle

Monday newsletters always feature top 10 travel lists to inspire.

Today (February 4, 2019): Top 10 best things to do and see in the Arctic Circle.

The Arctic Circle is the most northerly of the earth’s five major circles of latitude, comprising parts of eights countries: Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, the United States (Alaska), Canada (Yukon, Northwest  Territories and Nunavut), Denmark (Greenland) and Iceland. It is a wonderfully diverse region, which includes much more than initially meets the eye. From the stunning and captivating natural environment, to the vast array of wonderful wildlife and tales of history that have gone before, there’s plenty to see. In this article, I’ll tell you the top 10 things to do and see in the Arctic Circle. Whether it’s taking in the natural scenery, or discovering modern and impressive conveniences that sit juxtaposed against the sheer white land, there’s enough here for the keen luxury traveler. I’ve combined a mixture of unconventional luxury, unique experiences and simple, fun discoveries.

There is more information below the slide show. Think I missed one? Share your favorite attraction in the Arctic Circle in the comments.

Click to view slideshow.

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10. LEARN ABOUT THE VIKINGS’ RICH HISTORY

History buffs beware, you’re about to enter into the heart of the Viking land. The Arctic Circle surrounds much of the Viking’s historical home, and if longboats, beards and helmets are your kind of history, you’ll find yourself in the reach of plenty of Viking museums and guided tours, such as the famous Lofotr Vikingmuseum in Vestvågöy Norway. The museum features the largest Viking-era house ever found. The impressive 83-meter (272-ft) structure is reconstructed in full size, just off the original house site. Every year in August, Vestvågöy hosts a five-day Viking festival featuring more than 100 Vikings from near and far, a market, game shows, games, competitions, lectures, theater, concerts and more. The festival is very family-friendly and popular among visitors and locals alike.

LEARN ABOUT THE VIKINGS' RICH HISTORY


9. EXPLORE THE RUGGED TERRAIN OF THE SVALBARD ARCHIPELAGO

The magnificent Svalbard archipelago, located between Norway and the North Pole, are a collection of islands on the edge of Earth. With a relatively (for its location) mild climate, Svalbard makes a great choice for Arctic explorers looking to dip their toes into something cooler after having possibly already had a taste of mainland Scandinavia. Today, a modern community built on a truly impressive natural landscape, Svalbard has plenty to experience in the way of concerts, festivals and culture. In addition to a few thousand polar bears, the islands are home to almost 3,000 human inhabitants, over 2,000 of which live in Longyearbyen, the administrative centre and largest settlement of the islands. Rich wildlife, arctic nature, and old mining towns are all found on the islands, which have a stark and eerie beauty that’s all their own.

EXPLORE THE RUGGED TERRAIN OF THE SVALBARD ARCHIPELAGO


8. STAY IN THE WORLD’S MOST NORTHERLY BOUTIQUE HOTEL

Word has it that if you venture out far enough across the Svalbard Islands, you’ll find a Boutique hotel at the end of the world. Originally an outpost and base for radio operators in the 1930’s, the world’s most northerly boutique hotel, lets guests enjoy the unconventional combination of icy, rugged terrain and first-class luxury suites. The best bit? The radio transmitter and satellite dishes are still intact outside the building for an authentic experience, reminding guests of the hotel’s past as an important link for telecommunications between the Norwegian mainland and Svalbard. After a day of exploring, you can relax and wrap up in a cashmere throw in one of the beautifully styled guest rooms, or take a seat in the cosy sitting room. The connection to your surroundings extends to dinner, with an Arctic feast of smoked seal, whale, halibut and reindeer.

STAY IN THE WORLD'S MOST NORTHERLY BOUTIQUE HOTEL


7. OBSERVE ARCTIC WILDLIFE

Despite its unforgiving climate, the Arctic is home to a broad range of beautiful and varied inhabitants. The many species that roam the icy region include the distinctive Arctic reindeer (or caribou is it is also known), which is rare today, mainly because of its elusive nature, but also because it is edging towards extinction due to climate change. Joining the Arctic reindeer is the Arctic fox, which is native to Iceland, and the musk ox, which lives in the frozen Arctic and roams the tundra in search of the roots, mosses, and lichens. Another iconic Arctic animal is the massive tusked walrus, most often found near the Arctic Circle, lying on the ice with hundreds of companions. Perhaps the main attraction in the Arctic Circle is the polar bear (but more on that later).

OBSERVE ARCTIC WILDLIFE


6. VISIT THE GLOBAL SEED VAULT

If you do find yourself in Svalbard, I urge you to visit the Global Seed Vault. What is that? You ask. Well what sounds like a futuristic monolith pulled from the depths of a 1970’s sci-fi, does actually look like one too. The Global Seed Vault is a storage facility, located deep inside a mountain and designed with military precision to stand up to the harsh elements of the region. Its purpose? To safely store and protect valued crops from the dangers of ruin. A natural disaster, war or farming error could wipe out an entire genome of crop, so here they are kept safe as the ultimate insurance policy for the world’s food supply, offering options for future generations to overcome the challenges of climate change and population growth. Permafrost and thick rock ensure that the seed samples will remain frozen even without power. Sound impressive? Wait until you see the incredible building up close.

VISIT THE GLOBAL SEED VAULT


5. GET UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL WITH WOLVES IN A LUXURY HOTEL

Now I know what you’re thinking: why would anyone want to get up close and personal with wolves. Terrifying, fierce and wild, those are just some of the words that spring to mind when thinking of the Arctic wolf, but there is a demand to encounter them out in the wild. In Bardu, Norway you can stay in the aptly named Wolf Lodge, where you’ll be treated to an oversized luxury suite, a private chef and plenty of encircling wolves. But fear not, you’ll be separated from the cunning canines by floor-to-ceiling windows. In addition, the wolves at Polar Park are accustomed to human contact, and enjoy our company as part of their natural environment. Still, it’s not an experience for the faint hearted. An all-inclusive stay at Wolf Lodge is one of the most exclusive, highly coveted experiences in the whole Nordic region, and is priced accordingly. There is only availability for around 15 stays each year.

GET UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL WITH WOLVES IN A LUXURY HOTEL


4. LEARN ABOUT THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE AND THEIR CULTURE

One of the Arctic’s best kept secrets is its indigenous people, who count for around 10% of an estimated 4 million people that call the Arctic their home. They used to be called Eskimos, which came from a Native American word for ‘eater of raw meat’. Now the Arctic people are officially known as the Inuit, which means ‘the people’, or singularly, Inuk, which means ‘the person’. Still surviving today, the admirable Inuit culture has continued its trait of adaptation to their surroundings whilst fully integrating with the local European population. Today, both live in harmony and learn from each other. To be able to experience this is a must-see that you can’t put into words. Indigenous peoples of the Arctic have adapted over centuries to a life on ice. Their lifestyle, traditions, economy, and history are tightly linked to one of the harshest environments in the world.

LEARN ABOUT THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE AND THEIR CULTURE


3. WATCH THE NORTHERN LIGHTS FROM THE COMFORT OF YOUR ROOM

As a discerning traveler, you’ve probably already chosen your accommodation, and who can blame you? One of the best moments of your holiday will be arriving at your hotel, chalet or apartment and lying back on the bed, excited for the trip ahead: you’ve arrived. Next, your thoughts turn to the sights. In the Arctic Circle, the Northern lights are top of the list. But what if I told you that you didn’t have to leave your hotel to see the beautiful Aurora Borealis? Well in Hotel Husafell, Iceland, which sits at the heart of the country’s aurora zone, you don’t. Amid the dramatic landscapes of West Iceland’s Highlands, Hotel Husafell is within easy reach of glaciers, lava caves and Snæfellsnes National Park. Built conscientiously from sustainable design, Hotel Husafell celebrates the wild and creative essence of Iceland.

WATCH THE NORTHERN LIGHTS FROM THE COMFORT OF YOUR ROOM


2. TAKE A 6-STAR CRUISE THROUGH THE NORTHWEST PASSAGE

By now, most experienced travelers are familiar with the concept of a luxury cruise: premium suites, all-inclusive dining options and spacious relaxation areas. Most are also up-to-speed with what an Arctic adventure is: experiencing new and interesting landscapes, discovering extreme terrains and venturing through remote environments you never thought you’d travel to. But have you heard about Scenic Eclipse? The World’s First Discovery Yacht, which from 4th June will embark on the first of twelve Arctic cruise itineraries scheduled for 2019. Scenic Eclipse will marry Arctic expedition cruises with 6-star luxury, as she will offer helicopter and submarine excursions as well as a personal butler service and in-built spa suites. There’s nothing on Earth like this top-tier premium experience.


1. CATCH A GLIMPSE OF THE ELUSIVE POLAR BEAR

A list of the best things to see in the Arctic wouldn’t be complete with an ode to the magnificent polar bear. Scarce by nature and decreasing in numbers, it can be difficult to spot one. Thrust into the spotlight as the symbol of the devastating effects of climate change, polar bears have become the world’s best known endangered animals and more and more travelers are now lining up to see them – while they still can. Nicknamed the “Polar Bear Capital of the World”, Canada’s small community of Churchill is the best place in the world to spot these elusive creature, but you can also witness polar bears in their native habitat in Svalbard (Norway), Kaktovik (Alaska), Wrangel Island (Russia), and Greenland. If you do manage to catch a glimpse of the incredible creature as it makes its way across its natural home in the Arctic terrain, you’re sure to never forget it. 

CATCH A GLIMPSE OF THE ELUSIVE POLAR BEAR


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The post Top 10 best things to do and see in the Arctic Circle appeared first on the Luxury Travel Expert.

Review: Park Hyatt Hamburg (Germany)

Wednesday newsletters always feature a hotel or flight review.

Today (January 30, 2019): Review of Park Hyatt Hamburg (Germany).
  • Location: Google maps
  • Hotel website: Park Hyatt Hamburg
  • Tip: get complimentary VIP perks when booking via Hyatt Prive

Located in the historic Levantehaus building in the heart of the city, the Park Hyatt Hamburg hotel features Hanseatic architecture and maritime elegance. The 283 guest rooms, suites, and modern residential-style apartments offer the comforts of home with refined luxury touches. The five-star property – which also features a world-class restaurant and tranquil spa – combines old-world hospitality with modern 21st-century touches and impeccable service.

Have you ever stayed at Park Hyatt Hamburg? If so, what was your experience? Leave a comment.

In this review (more info and photos below my Youtube clip & slideshow):

  • Pros & things I like
  • Cons & things to know
  • My verdict
  • Tips for future guests & save money
  • Best time to visit
  • How to get there
  • Photos

Click to view slideshow.

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PROS & THINGS I LIKE
  • Park Hyatt Hamburg enjoys a central location on a cobblestone shopping promenade in the Hanseatic city of Hamburg, a city teeming with fascinating sightseeing and cultural attractions. The property is a short, scenic stroll from Alster Lake, the vibrant Mönckebergstrasse shopping district and the exclusive design stores of Neuer Wall. Other must-see attractions are also close by, including the striking architecture of HafenCity with the impressive Elbphilharmonie concert hall – the new landmark of Hamburg – and the historical warehouse district, located on the city’s picturesque waterfront. Important venues such as the Hamburger Messe, the Congress Center Hamburg or the Barclaycard Arena Hamburg are also easily accessible.
  • The five-star Park Hyatt Hamburg hotel is housed in a 1912 Art Deco building, directly above the exclusive Levantehaus shopping arcade. The landmark complex, with its striking red-brick facade, was built in 1911 as the office and trade building “Hubertushof” by the local architect Franz Bach. From 1995 to 1997 the building was completely renovated and refurbished. The lower floors were developed into an upscale shopping mall with numerous cafés and restaurants, while the upper floors were transformed into the Park Hyatt hotel. You can enter the hotel either via the high-end mall from the Mönckebergstrasse, or by the main entrance on a quiet street at the other side of the building.
  • A set of elevators shuttles guests from the hotel’s small foyer on the ground floor to the main lobby on the second floor. The circular shaped lobby is centered around a floor-to-ceiling doughnut hole opening, which extends all the way from the ground floor in the shopping mall to a beautiful stained-glass window on the hotel’s rooftop. The lobby features three check-in desks on one side and a set of glass elevators on the other side, which go the guest room floors on the upper floors, hereby offering a view of the Levantehaus’ inner courtyard. The lobby has a classic decor, with immaculate parquet flooring, a couple of lounge areas, some colorful art works on the wall, and some lovely flower arrangements.
  • The property features 252 spacious guest rooms, including 16 Park Suites, 4 Park Executive Suites and 1 Presidential Suite. Some of the accommodations offer a view of the cityscape, while others look out over the hotel’s inner courtyard. During my visit, I was upgraded to a high-ceilinged Deluxe Room, which featured one king bed, a work desk, a lounger, and a small closet with a large TV on top of it. The open plan bathroom was equipped with two sinks and an enclosed wet area, which comprised a marble bath with waterfall shower and Asian-inspired drop-edge tub. The decor was classic, with plenty of use of honey woods and a neutral color palette of buttercream, taupe and denim.
  • Hotel guests have access to the Club Olympus Spa & Fitness, a large wellness center located in the shopping mall’s basement. Representing an oasis of tranquility and zen in the heart of the city center but far away from Hamburg’s hustle and bustle, it’s a great place to recharge your batteries with a variety of massages and cosmetic treatments. Omorovicza and Comfort Zone beauty products are used for the treatments. The spa features a 20 m (66 ft) indoor swimming pool, whirlpool and sanarium as well as a steam bath and a sea climate sole. The spa’s large fitness center is equipped with several state-of-the-art weight and exercise machines. There is also a yoga studio with classes offered daily.
  • Farm-to-table cuisine is the key concept at the hotel’s signature restaurant Apples, located on the lobby floor. An open show kitchen allows guests to follow the preparation of innovative regional cuisine and there’s also a 4 m (13 ft) long chef’s table, where up to 12 guests can be seated as they enjoy the personal care of the head chef. Every morning, a lavish buffet breakfast is served at Apples restaurant, in addition to a selection of hot à la carte items. Next door is the slightly less formal Apples Bar (which has a comprehensive vodka selection and decent cocktails), a smokers lounge, and the Park Lounge. The latter is a pleasant spot to have afternoon tea, while enjoying the open fireplace and views onto Mönckebergstrasse.

CONS & THINGS TO KNOW

The Park Hyatt Hamburg is a great place to stay, thanks to its central location, spacious rooms, extensive facilities, and excellent service. Unfortunately, it’s not the best hotel in town anymore nor the most amazing property in the Park Hyatt chain, and it needs to fix a few things if it wants to shine again:

  • Park Hyatt Hamburg is an older property and it does show its age in certain areas, especially in the guest room floors and the accommodations, where the wallpaper, furniture and carpeting feel old-fashioned. The good news is that the hotel management is in talks with the owners regarding a large (and long needed) renovation project that includes the guest rooms and the other hotel facilities.
  • The property doesn’t have a wow factor, which you often find at other hotels of the Park Hyatt brand. Some guests may feel a little disappointed at this price tag, especially since innovative design – one of the key elements of every Park Hyatt property – is lacking here. That said, you can often find great deals at the hotel, especially during weekends, with rates often as low as 150 euros per night (it’s definitely one of the most affordable Park Hyatts around).
  • The decor feels a little oppressive due to the lack of day light in the public areas (most spaces look out on a courtyard or the boulevards and streets surrounding the hotel) and the use of wood everywhere.
  • The hotel spa (with swimming pool) is located in the basement of the shopping mall, and to get there from your room, you have to take two elevators and cross the entire lobby (which can feel annoying and awkward as other hotel guests at check in or out watch you pass by in a bathrobe).
  • Most rooms look out over a courtyard (with no view to speak), although those rooms have the advantage that they don’t face the street and don’t suffer from traffic noise at night.
  • The area surrounding the hotel can feel dead on Sunday, when all the stores are closed. Also the hotel is far from most nightlife.

MY VERDICT
  • Location: 8/10
  • Design: 6/10
  • Pool: 8/10
  • Rooms: 7/10
  • Food: 9/10
  • Breakfast: 8/10
  • Spa: 8/10
  • Service: 9/10
  • Value for money: 7/10
  • Overall experience: good: 7,5/10

TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
  • Save money: read here my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel like Park Hyatt Hamburg (and/or receive many free perks).
  • Save money: booking via Hyatt Prive will get you the following benefits at Park Hyatt Hamburg:
    • $100 USD property credit per room per stay
    • One category room upgrade confirmed within 24 hours of booking
    • Daily full breakfast for two
    • Early check-in (from 9am) and late check-out (to 4pm) subject to availability
    • Welcome gift and letter
  • Save money: make use of Hyatt’s best rate guarantee. If you find a better rate, the Hyatt Hotel Group will match it and give you $50 USD toward your next stay.
  • Save money: elite members of Hyatt’s loyalty program, World of Hyatt, are well treated, with – amongst other benefits – complimentary room upgrade (when available), early check-in or late check-out  (when available), and free breakfast. Click here to read my review of the World of Hyatt program (with pros & cons).
  • Room tip: book or ask for a room on a higher floor or away from the street to avoid some noise disturbance at night.
  • Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

Hamburg is best visited between April and May (spring) or September through November (autumn), right before or directly after the summertime high tourist season. You’ll contend with fewer tourists, enjoy somewhat mild temperatures (the city’s weather is notoriously finicky), and also experience Hamburg as the locals do, at its laid-back best.


HOW TO GET THERE

Hamburg Airport is about 25 minutes away by car, taxi, or S-Bahn, and the main railway station (Hauptbahnhof) is within a five-minute walk of the hotel. The Monckebergstrasse U-Bahn station is even closer, just diagonal from the hotel.


PHOTOS
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: EXTERIOR
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: EXTERIOR
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: EXTERIOR
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: EXTERIOR
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: EXTERIOR
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: EXTERIOR
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: EXTERIOR
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: EXTERIOR
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: EXTERIOR
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: EXTERIOR
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: EXTERIOR
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: EXTERIOR
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: ENTRANCE
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: ENTRANCE
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: ENTRANCE
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: ENTRANCE
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: ENTRANCE
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: ENTRANCE
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: ENTRANCE
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: ENTRANCE
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: WELCOME FOYER
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: WELCOME FOYER
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: SHOPPING MALL
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: SHOPPING MALL
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: SHOPPING MALL
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: SHOPPING MALL
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: SHOPPING MALL
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: SHOPPING MALL
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: SHOPPING MALL
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: SHOPPING MALL
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: LOBBY
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: LOBBY
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: LOBBY
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: LOBBY
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: LOBBY
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: LOBBY
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: LOBBY
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: LOBBY
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: LOBBY
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: LOBBY
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: LOBBY
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: LOBBY
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: LOBBY
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: LOBBY
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: LOBBY
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: LOBBY
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: LOBBY
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: LOBBY
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: LOBBY
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: LOBBY
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: LOBBY
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: LOBBY
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: LOBBY
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: LOBBY
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: LOBBY
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: LOBBY
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PARK HYATT HAMBURG: LOBBY
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PARK HYATT HAMBURG: THE PARK LOUNGE
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: THE PARK LOUNGE
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: THE PARK LOUNGE
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: THE PARK LOUNGE
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: THE PARK LOUNGE
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: THE PARK LOUNGE
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: THE PARK LOUNGE
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: THE PARK LOUNGE
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: SMOKERS ROOM
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: SMOKERS ROOM
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PARK HYATT HAMBURG: APPLES BAR
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PARK HYATT HAMBURG: APPLES BAR
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PARK HYATT HAMBURG: APPLES RESTAURANT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: APPLES RESTAURANT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: APPLES RESTAURANT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: APPLES RESTAURANT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: APPLES RESTAURANT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: APPLES RESTAURANT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: GUEST ROOM FLOOR
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: GUEST ROOM FLOOR
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: GUEST ROOM FLOOR
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: GUEST ROOM FLOOR
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: GUEST ROOM FLOOR
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PARK HYATT HAMBURG: DELUXE ROOM
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: DELUXE ROOM
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PARK HYATT HAMBURG: DELUXE ROOM (VIEW)
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: DELUXE ROOM (VIEW)
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PARK HYATT HAMBURG: FITNESS
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PARK HYATT HAMBURG: DINNER AT APPLES RESTAURANT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: DINNER AT APPLES RESTAURANT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: DINNER AT APPLES RESTAURANT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: DINNER AT APPLES RESTAURANT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: DINNER AT APPLES RESTAURANT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: DINNER AT APPLES RESTAURANT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: DINNER AT APPLES RESTAURANT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: DINNER AT APPLES RESTAURANT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: DINNER AT APPLES RESTAURANT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: DINNER AT APPLES RESTAURANT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: DINNER AT APPLES RESTAURANT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: DINNER AT APPLES RESTAURANT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: DINNER AT APPLES RESTAURANT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: DINNER AT APPLES RESTAURANT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: DINNER AT APPLES RESTAURANT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG AT NIGHT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG AT NIGHT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG AT NIGHT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG AT NIGHT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG AT NIGHT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG AT NIGHT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG AT NIGHT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG AT NIGHT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG AT NIGHT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG AT NIGHT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG AT NIGHT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG AT NIGHT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG AT NIGHT
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PARK HYATT HAMBURG AT NIGHT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG AT NIGHT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG AT NIGHT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: BREAKFAST AT APPLES RESTAURANT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: BREAKFAST AT APPLES RESTAURANT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: BREAKFAST AT APPLES RESTAURANT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: BREAKFAST AT APPLES RESTAURANT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: BREAKFAST AT APPLES RESTAURANT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: BREAKFAST AT APPLES RESTAURANT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: BREAKFAST AT APPLES RESTAURANT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: BREAKFAST AT APPLES RESTAURANT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: BREAKFAST AT APPLES RESTAURANT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: BREAKFAST AT APPLES RESTAURANT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: BREAKFAST AT APPLES RESTAURANT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: BREAKFAST AT APPLES RESTAURANT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: BREAKFAST AT APPLES RESTAURANT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: BREAKFAST AT APPLES RESTAURANT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: BREAKFAST AT APPLES RESTAURANT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: BREAKFAST AT APPLES RESTAURANT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: BREAKFAST AT APPLES RESTAURANT
PARK HYATT HAMBURG: BREAKFAST AT APPLES RESTAURANT