Review: Ruzizi Tented Lodge in Akagera 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 
  • Review: Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park (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 (January 23, 2019): Review of Ruzizi Tented Lodge in Akagera National Park (Rwanda).
  • Location: Google maps
  • Hotel website: Ruzizi Tented Lodge
  • Recommended tour operator in Rwanda: Uber Luxe Safaris

With a maximum of 20 guests, Ruzizi Tented Lodge is a charming mid-range 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 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 features in my top 10 list of the best hotels in Rwanda.

Have you ever stayed at Ruzizi Tented 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.

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PROS & THINGS I LIKE
  • The main reason why you should consider staying at Ruzizi Tented Lodge is its remote wilderness location inside little known Akagera National Park. The 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 Cape buffalo – and other incredibly diverse wildlife. Days here are spent with game drives in search of the Big Five and boat safaris. The park’s extensive 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 popular safari parks in Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa.
  • About 30 minutes from the park entrance, the lodge enjoys a magnificent waterside setting on the shores of Akagera’s Lake Ihema. Located at an altitude of 1,292 m (4,238 ft) above sea level, Lake Ihema is Rwanda’s second largest lake, covering an area of 90 km2 (35 square mile) with a depth varying from 5 to 7 m (16 to 23 feet) depending on the area and the season. The lake has one of the largest concentrations of hippos in East Africa, and there are also many crocodiles along the shores (you can even spot them from the comfort of your room). The lake is also famous for its exceptional birdlife, with more than 500 recorded species; African fish eagles and kingfishers often fly in front of the lodge, but you should also keep an eye out for rarer birds, such as the shoebill stork, papyrus gonolek, the red-faced barbet and swamp flycatcher.
  • The lodge features a convenient layout, with a focus on maximal privacy for guests and on framing the lake views. The main thatched pavilion sits at the lodge’s center and houses a small reception area at its entrance, an indoor dining room with bar on one side and a relaxation lounge on the other. The decor of the public spaces feels authentically Rwandan, with simple but tasteful furnishings, earth tones, and stone walls adorned with colorful artwork and vintage black-and-white photographs of the park. From the main lodge, two boardwalks depart in both directions along the lake, leading to the 9 accommodations (more on that below). All lodge facilities are built on raised platforms and walkways, so you don’t have to worry about the animals (and you should consider yourself lucky when you spot one).
  • The lodge’s best part is the large wooden terrace over the lake, right in front of the main pavilion, where a few dining tables are centered around a fire-pit under a shady fig tree. Weather permitting, all meals (included in the package) are served here; dining under the stars or having breakfast while watching the sunrise over the lake is a sight to behold. And food at the lodge is great, much better than what you would expect from a mid-range lodge. Breakfast is served at the table (no buffet) and includes fresh fruit salad, toast, home made jams, eggs, and Rwandan coffee and tea. Lunch needs to be ordered in advance to eat at the lodge or the staff can prepare a lunch box for you to take into the park. The 3-course dinner menu changes daily and during my one-night stay I was served the following delicious dishes:
    • Starter: goude cheese, red onion, and tomato bruschetta with olive tapenade
    • Main course: barbeque jerk fish & beef skewers, served with stuffed baked potatoes, three bean salad, and couscous
    • Dessert: sticky toffee pudding
  • The lodge features nine tents, which are spaced widely apart on either side of the main pavilion, ensuring maximum privacy. Accessible by wooden boardwalks, all tents are set back from the lake shore and hidden among swaying palms and fruiting fig trees. Each tent has an en-suite bathroom (with one sink, a shower, and a toilet), a dressing area, and either a queen or two twin beds. The decor is very simple but has a safari feel nonetheless, with a large wooden chest holding thick blankets for colder nights. There’s also a small patio at the front with two directors’ chairs and a chunky carved table from where to enjoys the lake views and the sounds of the bush. For more luxury, you may want to opt for the treetop tent, which features an outdoor shower, rolltop bath and hammocks (although it’s often booked months in advance by Kigali’s elite).
  • The lodge takes eco-consciousness very seriously. The lodge has been built in harmony with its spectacular natural environment, so trees grow through gaps in the main pavilion’s roof and the wooden boardwalks are molded around the vegetation. In keeping with its aim of minimum impact on the environment, the property is entirely powered by solar energy and also has a minimal-plastic policy, with drinking water in the camp served in recycled glass bottles. Besides being ecofriendly, the lodge also provides a multitude of benefits to the surrounding communities: many of the staff at the lodge comes from the neighboring villages; 100% of the profit from every stay at the lodge goes towards the locals & conservation; and environmental education programs are established to promote understanding among the local population of the need to conserve natural resources and use them sustainably.

CONS & THINGS TO KNOW

Ruzizi Tented Lodge is a charming mid-range lodge in the heart of Rwanda’s Akagera National Park. Before making a booking here, you need to know the following:

  • Ruzizi Tented Lodge is by no means a luxury lodge. It’s a good mid-range lodge with limited facilities. There is no spa and no pool, so it may get a bit boring between game drives. The tents are comfortable but too basic – particularly for the price. For a long time, Ruzizi Tentede Lodge was the only non-budget option in the park, but that’s about to change very soon with the opening of Magashi Camp (managed by Wilderness Safaris) in the wild-life rich northern area of Akagera National Park. If you are a discerning traveler, I suggest you only consider Ruzizi Tented Lodge when there is no availability at Magashi Camp.
  • The drive from Kigali to Akagera National Park is on excellent roads, except for the last 15 km (10 miles), which is on a bumpy gravel road. Roads conditions within the National Park are poor as well, and can be muddy, especially in the rainy season (February to May). Make sure you rent a 4WD car if you are one a self drive tour.
  • The lodge does not offer WiFi – not in the public areas and not in the tents – so you will be cut off from the internet for the duration of your stay. The lodge is considering to offer WiFi to guests in the future, although that is a challenge given the remote location.
  • Akagera National Park is a conservation area in recovery. After Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, returning refugees swept into the country’s biggest national park with herds of cattle and wiped out a lot of wildlife, including the last lions. Twenty five years later, Akagera National Park is thriving again, boasting more than 8,000 mammals and employing more than 220 Rwandans. That said, I would not recommend visiting Akagera with the intention of seeing the ‘Big Five’. Black rhinos, only reintroduced in May of 2017, are solitary and secretive. The lion population has grown from the initial 7 reintroduced in 2015, to 22 that there are in the park today. So, it’s very difficult to spot them. As wildlife numbers increase, due to better law enforcement, sightings of the Big Five will eventually become more frequent.
  • Ruzizi Tented Lodge’s set-up is different from other safari lodges on the continent since game drives are not included in the package. Game drives must be booked from the main park offices and are either organized by them or your local tour operator. The set-up of separate lodging and game viewing business makes the safari experience more complicated since you cannot simply book a stay at the lodge and rely on them for the game drives. If you don’t have your own car, the drive to/from Agakera National Park and the game drives inside the park need to be arranged via a tour operator (I used Uber Luxe Safaris and I was extremely happy with their service and highly recommend them).
  • The lodge is located in the south of Akagera National Park, where it is more difficult to spot wildlife due to the dense vegetation. The vegetation opens up in the north and often sightings are more easy here, but it does take a long drive to get there (around 3 hours) and there are long stretches along the way where it is hard to see wildlife due to the thick vegetation (although you will get to enjoy the gorgeous scenery). Expectation are that as the wildlife keeps growing in the park that eventually, the big animals will also find a base in the south. In all honesty, Wilderness Safari’s Magashi Camp is located in the far north in the best wildlife area of Akagera and offers a far superior safari experience compared to Ruzizi Tented Lodge (although it’s further away from Kigali, around 5 hours by car compared to 3 hours for Ruzizi).
  • Wildlife is present around the lodge, with monkeys occasionally blocking a visitor’s path before scampering away and hippos snorting in the darkness. Low wire fences stop hippos or other animals from getting to the tents, and there is a fence around the perimeter of the lodge to discourage larger animals from wandering through. Always follow the staff’s sound advice and keep your tent closed at all times.

MY VERDICT
  • Location: 9/10
  • Design: 6/10
  • Pool: not applicable (no pool)
  • Rooms: 6/10
  • Food: 8/10
  • Breakfast: 7/10
  • Spa: not applicable (no pool)
  • Service: 9/10
  • Value for money: 9/10
  • Overall experience: good 7/10

TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
  • Save money: read here my tips for getting the best deal at a lodge like Ruzizi Tented Lodge (and/or receive many free perks).
  • 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

Rwanda has possibly the best roads in East Africa, and all major centers are connected by local and luxury transfer services (I highly recommend Uber Luxe Safaris). The 2-hour journey to Akagera from Kigali Airport will take you through Rwanda’s scenic countryside.


PHOTOS
DRIVE TO AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK WITH UBER LUXE SAFARIS
DRIVE TO AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK WITH UBER LUXE SAFARIS
DRIVE TO AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK WITH UBER LUXE SAFARIS
DRIVE TO AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK WITH UBER LUXE SAFARIS
DRIVE TO AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK WITH UBER LUXE SAFARIS
DRIVE TO AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK WITH UBER LUXE SAFARIS
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: ENTRANCE
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: ENTRANCE
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: RECEPTION AREA
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: RECEPTION AREA
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: RECEPTION AREA
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: RECEPTION AREA
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: DINING ROOM
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: DINING ROOM
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: DINING ROOM
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: DINING ROOM
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: DINING ROOM
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: DINING ROOM
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: LOUNGE
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: LOUNGE
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: LOUNGE
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: LOUNGE
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: LOUNGE
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: LOUNGE
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: LOUNGE
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: LOUNGE
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: MAIN BUILDING' S TERRACE
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: MAIN BUILDING’ S TERRACE
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: MAIN BUILDING' S TERRACE
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: MAIN BUILDING’ S TERRACE
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: MAIN BUILDING' S TERRACE
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: MAIN BUILDING’ S TERRACE
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: MAIN BUILDING' S TERRACE
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: MAIN BUILDING’ S TERRACE
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: MAIN BUILDING' S TERRACE
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: MAIN BUILDING’ S TERRACE
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: MAIN BUILDING' S TERRACE
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: MAIN BUILDING’ S TERRACE
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: MAIN BUILDING' S TERRACE
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: MAIN BUILDING’ S TERRACE
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: TERRACE OVER LAKE IHEMA
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: TERRACE OVER LAKE IHEMA
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: TERRACE OVER LAKE IHEMA
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: TERRACE OVER LAKE IHEMA
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: TERRACE OVER LAKE IHEMA
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: TERRACE OVER LAKE IHEMA
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: TERRACE OVER LAKE IHEMA
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: TERRACE OVER LAKE IHEMA
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: TERRACE OVER LAKE IHEMA
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: TERRACE OVER LAKE IHEMA
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: WALKWAY TO ROOMS
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: WALKWAY TO ROOMS
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: WALKWAY TO ROOMS
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: WALKWAY TO ROOMS
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: WALKWAY TO ROOMS
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: WALKWAY TO ROOMS
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: ROOM
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: ROOM
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: ROOM
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: ROOM
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: ROOM
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: ROOM
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: ROOM
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: ROOM
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: ROOM
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: ROOM
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: ROOM
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: ROOM
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: ROOM
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: ROOM
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: ROOM
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: ROOM
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: ROOM
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: ROOM
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: BATHROOM
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: BATHROOM
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: BATHROOM
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: BATHROOM
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: BATHROOM
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: BATHROOM
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: BATHROOM
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: BATHROOM
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: BATHROOM
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: BATHROOM
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: BATHROOM
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: BATHROOM
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: ROOM (VIEW FROM PORCH)
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: ROOM (VIEW FROM PORCH)
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE AT NIGHT
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE AT NIGHT
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE AT NIGHT
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE AT NIGHT
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE AT NIGHT
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE AT NIGHT
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE AT NIGHT
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE AT NIGHT
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE AT NIGHT
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE AT NIGHT
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: DINNER
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: DINNER
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: DINNER
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: DINNER
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: DINNER
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: DINNER
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: DINNER
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: DINNER
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: BREAKFAST
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: BREAKFAST
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: BREAKFAST
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: BREAKFAST
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: BREAKFAST
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: BREAKFAST
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: BREAKFAST
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: BREAKFAST
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
SAFARI AT AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK

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