Review: KLM’s A330 (new) Business Class from Kigali to Amsterdam (via Entebbe)

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:


Today (March 20, 2019): Review of KLM’s A330 (new) Business Class from Rwanda to Amsterdam (via Uganda).

On January 20th 2019, I flew Business Class with KLM Royal Dutch Airline from Kigali (Rwanda’s capital) to Schiphol airport in the Netherlands, with a scheduled stop-over of 60 minutes in Entebbe (Uganda’s main airport). The flight from Kigali to Entebbe took only 40 minutes while the flight from Entebbe to Amsterdam was around 8 hours. During the short stopover at Entebbe Airport – which is best known for Operation Thunderbolt, a hostage rescue mission carried out by Israeli commandos following the hijacking of an Air France plane in 1976 – there was a change of the cockpit and cabin crew and some passengers disembarked while others boarded. The flight was operated by the exact same A330 aircraft – nicknamed ‘Times Square – that flew me to Rwanda one week prior to this journey. While KLM offers a very enjoyable Business Class experience (with enthusiastic flight attendants and plenty of funky design details), its A330 Business Class seats in a 2-2-2 layout are not the most competitive in the skies: they feel not as comfortable as KLM’s B777 Business Class seats (which are also arranged in a 2-2-2 layout but are much wider) and they are definitely a step down compared to the carrier’s B787 Business Class seats, which come in an excellent herringbone 1-2-1 layout.

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

  • Trip: Kigali (KGL) to Amsterdam (AMS) via Entebbe (EBB)
  • Airline: KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
  • Aircraft type: Airbus A330-300
  • Aircraft registration number: PH-AKA (nicknamed ‘Times Square’)
  • Flight Number: KL537
  • Date: 20 January 2019
  • On time departure: yes (8.20 pm)
  • On time arrival: yes (6 am)
  • Miles: 424 + 3950
  • Flight time: 8 hours
  • Seat: 1A
  • Class: Business Class

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

  1. Cost of my ticket
  2. Pearl lounge at Kigali International 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. PEARL LOUNGE AT KIGALI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

Kigali International Airport is very small and has only one Business Class lounge – called the Pearl lounge – which is open to all passengers flying out of Kigali in Business Class. The lounge is basically a rather unattractive but clean and rectangularly shaped space with a traditional decor that features some subtle African touches. Several rows of leather arm chairs are centered around a bar area, where you also find some dining tables. The lounge offers free WiFi, several work stations (with computers), a kids corner, shower facilities and a separate VIP lounge for government officials. A decent buffet is on display in a separate room behind the bar area and in the evening hours, it offers sandwiches, fruits, cheese, cold cuts, pastries, snacks and several hot items (e.g. ginger rice, peas, pasta Napolitane, spring rolls, vegetable lasagna, and samboussa).

KIGALI AIRPORT - BUSINESS CLASS LOUNGE

KIGALI AIRPORT - BUSINESS CLASS LOUNGE
KIGALI AIRPORT – BUSINESS CLASS LOUNGE
KIGALI AIRPORT - BUSINESS CLASS LOUNGE
KIGALI AIRPORT – BUSINESS CLASS LOUNGE
KIGALI AIRPORT - BUSINESS CLASS LOUNGE
KIGALI AIRPORT – BUSINESS CLASS LOUNGE

KIGALI AIRPORT - BUSINESS CLASS LOUNGE

KIGALI AIRPORT - BUSINESS CLASS LOUNGE
KIGALI AIRPORT – BUSINESS CLASS LOUNGE
KIGALI AIRPORT - BUSINESS CLASS LOUNGE
KIGALI AIRPORT – BUSINESS CLASS LOUNGE
KIGALI AIRPORT - BUSINESS CLASS LOUNGE
KIGALI AIRPORT – BUSINESS CLASS LOUNGE
KIGALI AIRPORT - BUSINESS CLASS LOUNGE
KIGALI AIRPORT – BUSINESS CLASS LOUNGE
KIGALI AIRPORT - BUSINESS CLASS LOUNGE
KIGALI AIRPORT – BUSINESS CLASS LOUNGE
KIGALI AIRPORT - BUSINESS CLASS LOUNGE
KIGALI AIRPORT – BUSINESS CLASS LOUNGE

KIGALI AIRPORT - BUSINESS CLASS LOUNGE KIGALI AIRPORT - BUSINESS CLASS LOUNGE KIGALI AIRPORT - BUSINESS CLASS LOUNGE KIGALI AIRPORT - BUSINESS CLASS LOUNGE KIGALI AIRPORT - BUSINESS CLASS LOUNGE


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

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/A350sQatar 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 (MOOD LIGHTING)
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS CABIN (MOOD LIGHTING)

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 (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 an 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: NOISE CANCELLING HEADPHONES
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: NOISE CANCELLING HEADPHONES
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: PILLOW
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: PILLOW
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: BLANKET
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: BLANKET
FAREWELL GIFT: DELFT HOUSES

7. MEALS

KLM pays a lot of attention to the design details of its meal service. For example its stylish food and wine menus feature references to Delft tiles and houses. Another design detail that KLM gets totally right is the 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.

But despite the chic menus and tableware, the food itself was mediocre on this flight. Cheese biscuit were offered during the short 40 min flight from Kigali to Entebbe. Shortly after takeoff from Entebbe, supper was served, with all courses served at once on the same tray (which I liked because of the late hour of meal service, allowing for more sleep). I selected the following items from the menu:

  • Appetizer: smoked salmon rillettes with herbed cream cheese and pickled onion
  • Main course: seared Nile perch with Balti sauce, three color pepper korma and white rice with cumin
  • Side dish: Edam and Brie cheese plate
  • Dessert: chocolate éclairs with coffee cream

Ninety minutes prior to touchdown at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, breakfast was served. It comprised the following items:

  • Fresh fruit salad, Edam and Cheddar cheese, ham, hot rolls and croissants
  • Yoghurt with granola
  • Hard-oiled egg
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: WELCOME DRINK
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: WELCOME DRINK
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: HOT TOWEL
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: HOT TOWEL
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: CHEESE BISCUITS
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: CHEESE BISCUITS
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: 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: SUPPER
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: SUPPER
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: SUPPER
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: SUPPER
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: SUPPER
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: SUPPER
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: SUPPER
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: SUPPER
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: BREAKFAST
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: BREAKFAST
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: BREAKFAST
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: BREAKFAST
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: BREAKFAST
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: BREAKFAST
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: BREAKFAST
KLM A330 BUSINESS CLASS: BREAKFAST

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. Currently, KLM only offers WiFi on all of its brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliners and some of its Boeing 777-300ER aircraft. There is good news though as KLM plans to have WiFi throughout their longhaul fleet (including all A330 aircraft) by the end of 2021.


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.

# 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

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’s A330 (new) Business Class from Kigali to Amsterdam (via Entebbe) appeared first on the Luxury Travel Expert.

Top 10 most spectacular coastlines in the world

Monday newsletters always feature top 10 travel lists to inspire.

Today (March 18, 2019): Top 10 most spectacular coastlines in the world.

Wild and rugged coastlines rank among the most alluring and jaw-droppingly beautiful features of our planet. The combination of crashing waves, dramatic landscapes and far-reaching views often creates legendary scenery of epic beauty that has mesmerized people for centuries. If you need some inspiration for a scenic bay to explore or a coastal drive to set out on your next holiday, here’s my selection of the world’s ten most astonishingly beautiful coastlines, scattered across five continents and three oceans.

There is more information below the slideshow. Do you have a favorite coastline that didn’t make my list? Leave a comment or take my poll below.

Click to view slideshow.

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10. CAUSEWAY COASTAL ROUTE, NORTHERN IRELAND

Running for 212 km (130 mile) along the rugged Atlantic coast from Belfast to Londonderry (Derry), the Causeway Coastal Route is studded with sandy beaches, Game of Thrones filming locations, rope bridges, fishing villages, and dramatic landscapes. Scenic highlights include the spectacular Gobbins cliff walk which has clung to the enormous basalt cliffs of the Islandmagee peninsula for over one hundred years. Another standout is the UNESCO world heritage site of Giant’s Causeway, a geological feature which consists of around 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns that appear to form a staircase-like pathway out to sea. The legend goes that the causeway was built by an Irish giant, so he could do battle with a Scottish giant.

CAUSEWAY COASTAL ROUTE, NORTHERN IRELAND


9. GREAT OCEAN ROAD, AUSTRALIA

The Great Ocean Road begins a 90 minute drive from Melbourne’s city centre. It spans 400 kilometres (249 miles) from the town of Torquay to Nelson on the South Australian border. From rainforests and rivers to old volcanoes and rugged coastlines, the Great Ocean Road showcases nature at its most diverse, covering an incredible range of scenery. This stretch of coast is most famous for a spectacular sea stack called ‘the 12 Apostles’. These are limestone pillars that were once connected to the mainland cliffs, but waves and wind carved them into caves, then arches, and eventually battered them down into 45 metre (150 foot) tall columns. There are, in fact, only eight Apostles at the moment, but who knows when the next stretches of cliff will become pillars.

GREAT OCEAN ROAD, AUSTRALIA


8. HA LONG BAY, VIETNAM

Ha Long Bay is located in the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin in the northeast of Vietnam, approximately a four-hour drive from the capital Hanoi. Including over 1600 jungle-clad islands and islets, most of which are uninhabited and unaffected by humans, Ha Long Bay forms a spectacular seascape of towering limestone pillars and wind- and wave-eroded grottoes, and is an ideal model of a mature Karst landscape developed during a warm and wet tropical climate. The bay’s ethereal scenic beauty is complemented by its great biological interest, hence why it was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1994. You can catch a glimpse of Ha Long Bay on a day trip from Hanoi, yet if you want to get the most out of your trip, you should allow at least two days and book an overnight cruise.

  • Other accolades: Ha Long Bay also features in my top 10 list of the best things to see & do in Vietnam

HA LONG BAY, VIETNAM


7. GLACIER BAY NATIONAL PARK, ALASKA, USA

Covering 3.3 million acres of rugged mountains, dynamic glaciers, temperate rainforest, wild coastlines, and deep sheltered fjords, Glacier Bay National Park is part of a 25-million acre UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the world’s largest international protected areas. Long before global warming became a headline, the glaciers of Glacier Bay began a rapid retreat, which has created a 65-mile (104 km) fjord of spectacular beauty that is still dominated by numerous large glaciers that cascade down from the surrounding mountain peaks. From the bottom of the deepest glacial fjord to the summit of its highest peak, the area encompasses some of our planet’s most amazing scenery and wildness. About 80% of visitors explore Glacier Bay during a cruise.

  • Other accolades: Glacier Bay National Park also features in my top 10 list of the best things to see & do in Alaska.

GLACIER BAY NATIONAL PARK, ALASKA, USA


6. SKELETON COAST, NAMIBIA

The Skeleton Coast is one of the world’s last great wildernesses: harsh, untamed and extraordinarily beautiful. There is no denying that the Skeleton Coast is an unforgiving environment: the cold Beguela current produces a thick, heavy fog that clouds the coast for most of the year; the icy surf of the Atlantic Ocean pummels the shore; and the desert winds from the east bring less than 10 millimeters of annual rainfall. Yet, it boasts otherworldly landscapes of wind-swept dunes, rugged canyons of richly colored volcanic rock and vast mountain ranges. The Skeleton Coast got its name from the bones that once littered the shore, remnants of the whaling industry. Today, the skeletons that remain are those of the ships that fell victim to the hidden rocky outcrops and blinding fog.

SKELETON COAST, NAMIBIA


5. MILFORD SOUND, NEW ZEALAND

Deep within Fiordland National Park lies Milford Sound, New Zealand’s most stunning natural attraction  a UNESCO World Heritage site. Described by Rudyard Kipling as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’, Milford Sound was carved by glaciers during the ice ages. Breathtaking in any weather, the fiord’s forest-clad cliffs rise vertically from the dark waters, mountain peaks scrape the sky and waterfalls cascade downwards from as high as 1000 meters (more than 3000 feet). When it rains in Milford Sound – and it often does – those waterfalls multiply with magnificent effect. Boat cruises – during the day or overnight – are an excellent way to experience the Sound. Adventurous types might also like to head out sea kayaking, diving or flightseeing.

MILFORD SOUND, NEW ZEALAND


4. BIG SUR, CALIFORNIA, USA

Possibly one of the most spectacular stretches of coastline in the world, Big Sur is a precious jewel that remains pristine, rugged and remote. Here, you find one of the crown jewels of America’s national scenic byways system, the 145 km (90 mile) Pacific Coast Highway, bordered by Carmel to the north and San Simeon (Hearst Castle) to the south. This narrow two-lane road hugs the impressive cliffs of California’s Central Coast, towering over the waves crashing into the shore below. Some of the best spots for a break along this roughly five-hour drive include the Monterey Peninsula and the Bixby Bridge in Big Sur, one of the most beautiful (and photographed) places in all of California.

  • Other accolades: Big Sur also features in my top 10 list of the world’s most scenic drives.

BIG SUR, CALIFORNIA, USA


3. AMALFI COAST & CAPRI ISLAND, ITALY

The area around Naples, Italy’s third largest city, is widely considered to be Europe’s most scenic coastline. It represents a landscape of towering, green-swathed mountains, pastel-hued villages with cobblestone streets, palatial renaissance mansions, and expansive vistas over the turquoise waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Because of its amazing scenery and historic value, the Amalfi Coast on Naples’ Sorrento Peninsula was rightfully awarded a coveted spot on UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 1997. A short 20 minute boat ride from the Sorrento mainland is the fabled island of Capri, whose dramatic coastal scenery has been known for at least 2000 years as Emperor Augustus and Emperor Tiberius both had homes here.

  • Other accolades: The Amalfi Coast also features in my top 10 lists of the best things to see & do on the Amalfi Coast and the world’s most scenic drives.

AMALFI COAST & CAPRI, ITALY


2. NAPALI COAST, HAWAII, USA

Spanning 17 mi (27 km) along Kauai’s North Shore, the Napali Coast is a sacred place defined by extraordinary coastal scenery. Spectacular emerald-hued cliffs with razor-sharp ridges tower above the Pacific Ocean, revealing magnificent beaches and wild waterfalls that plummet to the lush valley floor. The rugged terrain appears much as it did centuries ago when Hawaiian settlements flourished in these deep, narrow valleys, existing only on the food they could grow and the fish they could catch. There are many ways to explore the Napali Coast, such as hiking the incredibly spectacular Kalalau trail which runs for 11 mi (18 km) along the Napali Coast. The best way though to grasp the magnitude of the phenomenal coastline is onboard a helicopter tour.

  • Other accolades: The Napali Coast also features in my top 10 lists of the best things to see & do in Hawaii, the best things to see & do in Kauai, the world’s most epic trekking routes and the world’s most scenic flights.

NAPALI COAST, KAUAI, USA


1. CAPE TOWN’S ATLANTIC SEABOARD, SOUTH AFRICA

Just minutes away from downtown Cape Town unfolds a nature lover’s paradise, with unbelievable coastal scenery, dramatic hiking trails, incredibly beautiful beaches, and reach-for-your-camera views on a jaw-droppingly beautiful coastal road. The coast is especially spectacular along the Atlantic Seaboard – also known as Cape Town’s ‘Riviera’ – running from the V&A Waterfront on the north shore of Table Mountain all the way down to Hout Bay. Sandwiched between the glistening Atlantic Ocean and the majestic slopes of the Twelve Apostles, this stretch of coastline is dotted with magnificent beaches. Capetonians are blessed, not only with a magnificent city, but also with unrivaled natural surroundings and the world’s the finest coastal scenery.

  • Other accolades: Cape Town also features in my top 10 lists of the world’s most beautiful cities, the world’s most scenic travel destinations, the world’s most scenic drives, and best things to see & do in Cape Town.

CAPE TOWN'S ATLANTIC SEABOARD, SOUTH AFRICA


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Is it safe to fly the Boeing 737 MAX?

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

Today (March 15, 2019): Travel new: Is it safe to fly the Boeing 737 MAX?

Last Sunday, an Ethiopian Airlines flight headed from Addis Ababa to Nairobi went down shortly after takeoff, killing all 157 people on board. It’s the second disaster with a brand-new Boeing 737 MAX following a crash last October, when a Lion Air flight went down 13 minutes after takeoff, killing all 189 on board. This has led to intense scrutiny over the Boeing 737 MAX, with travelers, airlines and aviation authorities around the world being worried about its safety. The Boeing 737 MAX is the newest version of the Boeing 737, which is the most popular commercial plane in the sky, with over 10,000 of them having been delivered. While the investigation in both crashes is still unfolding, I hereby try to answer some of the most evident questions regarding the B737 MAX and its involvement in two major crashes.

  • What is the Boeing 737 MAX?
  • What happened in the Lion Air crash?
  • What happened in the Ethiopian Airlines crash?
  • Are both accidents related?
  • What are the global consequences of both disasters?
  • Which airlines fly the Boeing 737 MAX?
  • What will happen in the near future?
ETHIOPIAN AIRLINES B737 MAX
ETHIOPIAN AIRLINES B737 MAX


What is the Boeing 737 MAX?

In 2010, Airbus announced the launch a more fuel-efficient version of its best-selling A320 aircraft, called the A320Neo. In response, its competitor Boeing urgently considered an upgrade of its workhorse Boeing 737 aircraft and within months, the Seattle-based company introduced plans for the Boeing 737 Max, which engines that would yield similar fuel savings as the A320Neo. The Boeing 737 MAX performed its first flight in January 2016, gained Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification in March 2017, and made its first commercial flight in May 2017.

Compared to the older generation B737s, the MAX features different engines, aerodynamic improvements (including distinctive split-tip winglets), and airframe modifications. There are four variants of the Boeing 737 MAX, the most common of which are the B737 MAX-8 and B737 MAX-9 (the 8 and 9 indicate the size of the plane). The B737 MAX plane sold quickly based on features that passengers crave — a quieter cabin, more legroom — and bottom-line benefits to airlines, like fuel efficiencies. In fact, the B737 MAX is the fastest-selling airplane in Boeing’s history with about 5,000 orders from more than 100 airlines worldwide.

In light of the recent tragic crashes, it’s important to have knowledge of two particular features of the Boeing 737 MAX:

  • To compensate for the larger fuel-efficient engines on the 737 Max, Boeing silently added a computerized system, called Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), which prevents the plane’s nose from getting too high and causing a stall. MCAS operates independently from pilot input and uses airspeed and other sensor data to detect a dangerous condition; it automatically activates and trims the aircraft nose down when the angle of attack is too high (suggesting an approaching stall), when the autopilot is off, when the flaps are up, or during a steep turn (cf graphic below).
  • Boeing persuaded its airline customers and the FAA that the new MAX model would fly safely and handle enough like the existing B737 models and that airlines’ B737 flight crew did not have to undergo costly pilot re-training. In addition, both Boeing and the FAA decided that pilots did not need to be informed about MCAS, that was specifically developed to counter the risk that the size and location of the engines could lead the B737 MAX to stall under certain conditions. As a result, the MCAS system is not mentioned in the flight crew operations manuals, which is the basis for an airline’s documentation and training of a particular aircraft.

Here’s how MCAS is supposed to work (graphic by Mark Newlin & The Seattle Times):


What happened to Lion Air flight JT601?

On 29 October 2018, a Boeing 737 MAX from Indonesian Airline Lion Air operating a domestic flight from Jakarta to Pangkal Pinang crashed into the Java Sea 12 minutes after takeoff, killing all 189 passengers and crew. While the investigation is still ongoing, preliminary data revealed serious flight control problems. It is believed that faulty data from an ‘angle of attack’ sensor may have activated MCAS in the flight’s takeoff phase, pushing the aircraft’s nose down; the pilots repeatedly counteracted it and pulled the nose back up again, only to be overridden by the system again, until they lost their battle with MCAS. The New York Times published an excellent graphic overview of the Lion Air Crash (you can access it here). It was also revealed that the pilots of the doomed aircraft’s previous flight also encountered serious flight control problems, but they were able to overcome the issues and pushed on to Jakarta.

As a result of the preliminary investigation into this crash, the FAA and Boeing issued warnings and training advisories to all operators of the 737 MAX series to avoid letting the MCAS system cause an abrupt dive similar to the Lion Air flight (cf Tweet below). However, these advisories were not fully implemented yet at the time of the Ethiopian Airlines B737 MAX crash.


What happened to Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302?

Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 was a scheduled international passenger flight from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia to Nairobi In Kenya. On 10 March 2019, the Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft crashed six minutes after takeoff near the town of Bishoftu, killing all 157 passengers and crew aboard. The pilot of the plane was 29-year-old Yared Getachew, who had been flying with Ethiopian Airlines for ten years and had logged a total of 8,231 flight hours. He had been a Boeing 737 captain since November 2017. At the time of the accident, he was the youngest captain at the airline. The first officer, Ahmed Nur Mohammod Nur, was a recent graduate from the airline’s academy with 200 flight hours logged. The investigation of the Ethiopian Airlines crash is still in its early stages; so far, all that is known is that the flight crew transmitted a distress call shortly after takeoff, reporting flight control problems.


Two brand-new Boeing 737 Max 8 models crashed just months apart. So far, no evidence has yet linked the crashes and the investigation is still ongoing and will likely take months (if not years). Yet, there are similarities between the two crashes that worry aviation authorities across the globe:

  • Both planes crashed shortly after takeoff
  • Flight control problems were reported by the crew of both flights
  • The vertical variations in both flights are similar, with aircraft oscillations indicating a repetitive pattern of nose dives, leveling out, and gaining altitude again in the moments before the crashes.

That there might be a link is also suggested by a statement of the FAA, widely recognized as the world’s most respected aviation safety authority: “On March 13, 2019, the investigation of the Ethiopian Airlines crash developed new information from the wreckage concerning the aircraft’s configuration just after takeoff that, taken together with newly refined data from satellite-based tracking of the aircraft’s flight path, indicates some similarities between the ET302 and JT610 accidents that warrant further investigation of the possibility of a shared cause for the two incidents that needs to be better understood and addressed. Accordingly, the Acting Administrator is ordering all Boeing 737 MAX airplanes to be grounded pending further investigation.”


What are the global consequences of both disasters?

In response to (public) fears expressed about the plane after the Ethiopian Airlines crash, airlines across the globe started grounding their B737 MAX fleet and more and more countries prohibited the aircraft from flying in their airspace. Once it became clear that there are similarities between the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines disasters, the USA – as the last country in the world – also decided to ground their Boeing B737 MAX planes, following an order by the FAA. Currently, all Boeing 737 MAX are (temporarily) grounded across the globe.


Which airlines fly the B737 MAX

Due to its popular features (e.g. fuel efficiency, quieter cabin, more legroom), the B737 MAX aircraft is the fastest-selling airplane in Boeing history with about 5,000 orders from more than 100 customers worldwide. So far, 387 Boeing 737 MAX have been delivered to 59 airlines:

  • Aerolineas Argentinas
  • Aeromexico
  • Air Canada
  • Air China
  • Air Italy
  • American
  • Cayman
  • China Eastern
  • China Southern
  • Comair
  • Copa
  • Corendon
  • Eastar Jet
  • Enter Air
  • Ethiopian Airlines
  • Fiji Airways
  • FlyDubai
  • Fuzhou
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Gol
  • Hainan
  • Icelandair
  • Jet Airways
  • Kunming
  • Lion Air
  • LOT Polish
  • Lucky Air
  • Mauritania Airlines
  • MIAT Mongolian
  • Norwegian
  • Okay Airways
  • Oman Air
  • Royal Air Maroc
  • Shandong
  • Shanghai Airlines
  • Shenzhen
  • SilkAir
  • Southwest
  • SpiceJet
  • Sunwing
  • S7
  • Thai Lion
  • TUI
  • Turkish
  • United
  • WestJet
  • Xiamen

What will happen in the future?

With the entire B737 MAX fleet grounded across the globe, airlines loosing money, and the traveling public being worried, Boeing needs to come up fast with answers to the two main questions that everyone is asking are:

  • Does the Boeing 737 MAX have a design flaw ?
  • Is there something fundamentally wrong with the Boeing 737 MAX pilot training?

The MCAS software is the focus of attention. Although many experts caution that any conclusions are far from certain and other possibilities cannot be ruled out (e.g. pilot error, another technical defect), it is feared that the newly installed software system MCAS may have contributed to both Boeing 737 MAX distasters, which would be a devastating blow to Boeing. It is excpected that Boeing will change some things about the MCAS system. Following public pressure, the FAA admitted last week that Boeing is in the process of developing flight control system changes that will “provide reduced reliance on procedures associated with required pilot memory items,” a reference to the checklist for stabilizing the plane. Memory items are things of such importance that pilots should be able to easily remember to do them in a given situation without requiring written guidance. There will abe changes to how MCAS activated, how it responds to sensor input, and a “maximum command limit” on the number of times it can engage, said the FAA, adding that it expects to issue an airworthiness directive mandating the software enhancement no later than April.

In the past, Boeing has always declined to comment on reports that it’s working on a software update involving its MCAS system incorporated in the Boeing 737 Max 8 and 9 models. Last Monday though, after the FAA notification, it detailed its work on the software update.

For the past several months and in the aftermath of Lion Air Flight 610, Boeing has been developing a flight control software enhancement for the 737 MAX, designed to make an already safe aircraft even safer. This includes updates to the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) flight control law, pilot displays, operation manuals and crew training. The enhanced flight control law incorporates angle of attack (AOA) inputs, limits stabilizer trim commands in response to an erroneous angle of attack reading, and provides a limit to the stabilizer command in order to retain elevator authority.

The 737 Max is vital to Boeing, accounting for 47% of its commercial aircraft delivery in 2018, and over 90% of its unfilled orders, as of today.


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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
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RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: RECEPTION AREA
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RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: MAIN BUILDING' S TERRACE
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RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: MAIN BUILDING' S TERRACE
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RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: MAIN BUILDING' S TERRACE
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RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: TERRACE OVER LAKE IHEMA
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: TERRACE OVER LAKE IHEMA
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RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: WALKWAY TO ROOMS
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: WALKWAY TO ROOMS
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RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: WALKWAY TO ROOMS
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RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: BATHROOM
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RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: ROOM (VIEW FROM PORCH)
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE: ROOM (VIEW FROM PORCH)
RUZIZI TENTED LODGE AT NIGHT
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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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The post Review: Ruzizi Tented Lodge in Akagera National Park (Rwanda) appeared first on the Luxury Travel Expert.

Top 10 most exclusive safari lodges in Africa

Monday newsletters always feature top 10 travel lists to inspire.

Today (March 11, 2019): Top 10 most luxurious safari lodges in Africa.

Africa offers some of the best wildlife viewing opportunities in the world. The “Big Five” (lion, elephant, rhino, Cape buffalo, and the elusive leopard) take the center stage on a safari but the smaller, less glamorous animals (like impalas, zebras and hyenas) can be just as fun and exciting to see. When it comes to safaris, nothing can beat the observation of the Great Migration in Tanzania’s Serengeti or Kenya’s Masai Mara. Other great safari destinations are the Okavango Delta in Botswana and Kruger National Park in South Africa. No wonder that Africa’s 10 most luxurious safari lodges are all located within these areas. The majority of them is operated by the continent’s three most exclusive safari companies: &BeyondWilderness Safaris and Singita.

There is more information below the slideshow (with reviews & Youtube clips). Do you have a favorite safari lodge that didn’t make my list? Leave a comment or take my poll below.

Click to view slideshow.

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10. &BEYOND NGORONGORO CRATER LODGE, TANZANIA

This lodge is located right on the rim of the ancient volcanic Ngorongoro caldera, offering not only some of the best views in Africa, but also the possibility of a classic Big Five safari as the crater floor is teaming with wildlife. Room interiors are reminiscent of an elegant baroque château (brocade sofas, gilt mirrors, beaded chandeliers and paneled walls). Ensuite bathrooms with a centrepiece of fresh roses feature huge showers and chandelier-lit bathtubs, while floor-to-ceiling windows ensure breath-taking views from all around of the incredible game-rich Crater. Versailles meets Masai in this unique African lodge!

NGORONGORO CRATER LODGE, TANZANIA


9. LITTLE KULALA,NAMIBIA

Little Kulala is situated in the private Kulala Wilderness Reserve and consists of 11 climate-controlled, thatched “kulalas” (the word means ‘to sleep’) which merge impeccably into the desert landscape, each with a private plunge pool and a rooftop bed for romantic star-gazing. Little Kulala’s interiors make use of neutral colors, gorgeous textures and natural light, and takes its inspiration from its surroundings, notably from the magnificent Dead Vlei. Desert-adapted wildlife such as ostrich, springbok and gemsbok eke out an existence and are sparsely distributed around Little Kulala. Larger carnivores, namely spotted and brown hyena and even cheetah are occasionally present.

LITTLE KUALA, NAMIBIA


8. SINGITA LEBOMBO LODGE, SOUTH AFRICA

Like a collection of eagles’ nests perched along the rugged cliff faces above the N’wanetsi River, Singita Lebombo Lodge looks out regally across the landscape. This boldly dramatic lodge, home to fifteen loft-style suites, is situated on Singita’s private concession in the Kruger National Park. The exclusive concession is a richly diverse habitat, teeming with game, beneath endless African skies. Imaginative wood, steel and organic interiors, all encased in glass, create a stylishly contemporary feel in the suites and make the most of the astonishing views overlooking the river.

SINGITA LEBOMBO LODGE, SOUTH AFRICA


7. CHIEF’S CAMP, BOTSWANA

Named after Chief Moremi, Sanctuary Chief’s Camp is located in the world-renowned Moremi Game Reserve. The camp is ideal for an exciting African safari due to the vast numbers of animals that congregate all year round. Chief’s Island is one of the many islands created by the seasonal flood waters of the Okavango Delta and is well-known for some of the finest game viewing in Southern Africa. Sanctuary Chief’s Camp has twelve luxury bush pavilions, all with their own private decks as well as both indoor and outdoor showers. The split-level main deck offers expansive views over the floodplain while the dining area surrounds a fire pit on the very edge of the Piajio plains.

CHIEF'S CAMP, BOTSWANA


6. SINGITA FARU FARU LODGE, TANZANIA

Singita Faru Faru Lodge is set in Grumeti in northern Tanzania, which is part of the Serengeti Mara ecosystem. Built on a gently sloping hill, this riverine lodge, positioned on the renowned migratory route traversed annually by more than 2 million wildebeests, is a place where you can quite literally expect the unexpected. Informal, unconventional and surprising at every turn, Singita Faru Faru Lodge has seven one-bedroom suites, one family suite as well as one two-bedroom suite with private pool and is a mix of contemporary, organic style and the quirky practicality of a traditional botanist’s camp. With such close proximity to the river and plains, guests have the unique opportunity to experience a very close connection with the wilderness.

SINGITA FARU FARU LODGE, TANZANIA


5. ROYAL MALEWANE, SOUTH AFRICA

Situated on a private reserve within the Greater Kruger National Park in South Africa, this famous safari lodge hosts a maximum of 20 guests in utopian luxury and style, and is popular amongst celebrities such as Nicolas Sarkozy and Bono. Six suites with private infinity pools offer complete seclusion and stunning views, while the lodge itself has an atmospheric air-conditioned library, curio shop and dining and sitting areas with fantastic outlooks onto the bush. Two completely private suites (both sleeping 4) provide an even more exclusive safari experience, while the self-contained Africa House, a few minutes’ drive from the main lodge, is the perfect option for families or groups of up to 12.


4. ABU CAMP, BOTSWANA

Named after a very special bull elephant, Abu Camp is set in a pristine pocket of riverine forest and blends in seamlessly with the magnificent surrounding hardwood trees. Looking out over a large lagoon, an imaginative use of canvas has created a unique and luxurious style of tent. Each of the six en-suite units has its own distinctive furnishings and fittings, imparting an air of opulence in the bush. These airy tents feature an indoor and outdoor shower, an outdoor copper bath and a generous elevated teak deck. Well-lit pathways link the guest tents with the main lounge and dining area and a well-stocked library and study, gym and swimming pool will keep you entertained while at camp. Exploring the bush is done by game drive, mekoro, walks – or by elephant!

ABU CAMP, BOTSWANA


3. MOMBO AND LITTLE MOMBO CAMP, BOTSWANA

Mombo Camp, situated in the northern point of wildlife-filled Chief’s Island in the Okavango Delta, is built under large, shady trees overlooking a floodplain generally filled with life. Its nine spacious en-suite tents are raised two metres from the ground, with a long veranda, a sala and indoor and outdoor showers. Mombo Camp’s main living, bar and dining areas are under thatch, while the boma adds traditional flavour to a delicious dinner under the stars. There are two plunge pools in which to soak and a gym to work off the excellent food. Little Mombo, situated on Chief’s Island, is a smaller and more intimate camp to its sister and has its own dining and lounge area and sparkling pool.

MOMBO & LITTLE MOMBO, BOTSWANA


2. SINGITA BOULDERS LODGE, SOUTH AFRICA

Singita Boulders Lodge is set along the banks of the Sand River in Singita’s privately owned reserve within the Sabi Sand Reserve, adjacent to the Kruger National Park in South Africa. Spanning more than 45,000 acres, Singita Sabi Sand is renowned for high concentrations of big game and frequent leopard sightings. The lodge has 10 one-bedroom suites and  2 two-bedroom family suites, all with private pool, and  is a celebration of the tranquillity, space, and light which flows throughout this incredibly vast area. Inspired by the geometry of the boulders on which it rests, Boulders Lodge is an inviting oasis where organic interiors integrate seamlessly with the raw African beauty outside.

SINGITA BOULDERS LODGE, SOUTH AFRICA
SINGITA BOULDERS LODGE, SOUTH AFRICA

1. IVORY LODGE LION SANDS, SOUTH AFRICA

At Ivory Lodge Lion Sands, you can experience the African Bushveld in lavish comfort and style like only few will. “Unparalleled and extraordinarily beautiful in its simplicity and texture” is how Ivory Lodge has been described, and it has been recognised with various international awards. Each of the six suites is surrounded by untamed African Bush and are operated as a private villa. They all  include a private rim flow pool, exquisitely appointed bedroom and lounge, and simply more of everything. For the more adventurous, a once in a lifetime experience and the ultimate African bush experience, you may want to opt to stay at one of the ultraluxurious treehouses operated by the same management of Ivory Lodge in the same wildlife reserve.


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Comparing gorilla trekking in Rwanda, Uganda and Congo

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

Today (March 8, 2019): Comparing gorilla trekking in Rwanda, Uganda and Congo.

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 in Rwanda, Uganda or the Democratic Republic of Congo. 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.

In this review, I compare different aspects of gorilla trekking in Rwanda, Uganda and Congo:

  • Where are the mountain gorillas?
  • Cost of a gorilla permit
  • How to get there & accessibility
  • The hike to the gorillas
  • Viewing & photography
  • Safety
  • Availability of permits
  • Accommodations
  • Overview & key points


Where are the mountain gorillas?

Today, there are around 1000 mountain gorillas living in the rainforests of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. More than half of this population is found in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, while the other half lives in the Virunga Mountains in three adjacent national parks, namely Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mountain gorillas are not to be confused with lowland gorillas, which is the most numerous and widespread of all gorilla subspecies, living in swamps and forests of Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.


Cost of a gorilla permit

Ultimately, the deciding factor between gorilla trekking in Uganda, Rwanda and Congo is the price (and availability) of the permit, which allows you one hour with the mountain gorillas. Focusing on high-end low-impact tourism, Rwanda has recently doubled the cost of a gorilla trekking permit, which is now twice the cost of a permit in Uganda and almost four times the cost of a permit in Congo.

  • A gorilla permit in Uganda for Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga National Park costs USD $600 USD per person. Uganda also offers a unique experience, the Gorilla Habituation experience, which allows a person four hours in the company of the gorillas for a fee of $1500 USD; during the Gorilla Habituation experience, you witness the act of training wild gorillas to become used to the sight of people.
  • A gorilla permit in Rwanda for Volcanoes National Park costs USD $1500 USD per person. This was increased in 2017 from $750 USD. However, discounts are possible:
    • Tourist who visit Nyungwe National Park and Akagera National Park for a minimum of three days during the low season (November-May) receive a discount of 30% on their gorilla permit.
    • A 15% discount is valid for conference tourists who stay in Rwanda pre-or post-conference dates to see the gorillas.
  • A gorilla permit in Congo cost $400 USD per person in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Last year, Congo introduced low season discounted gorillas permits – costing $200 USD per person – during the months of March, May, October and November. You can as well see low land gorillas in Congo, with a permit also costing $400 per person, Congo’s lowland gorillas are found in Kahuzi Biega National Park while its mountain gorillas are seen in Virunga National Park.

How to get there & accessibility

The main entry point into Uganda is Entebbe international airport, which is a 10 hour drive on bumpy and winding roads from Bwindi Impenetrable or Mgahinga National Park (where the gorillas are found). You can always charter a flight for an added cost, but if you choose to travel by road, you will need three days for gorilla tracking (with an overnight stay in the area before and after your trek). The good thing is you can plan your Uganda gorilla trekking as part of a longer journey, with chimpanzee trekking in Kibale National Park, and big game viewing in Queen Elizabeth National Park & Murchison Falls National Park.

Rwanda’s gorilla tracking site – Volcanoes National Park – is only a 2,5 hour drive from the airport in Kigali. And the road between Volcanoes National Park and Kigali is excellent and paved. While it is possible to do a gorilla trekking as a day excursion from Kigali, it’s best to spend two days on a gorilla safari (with an overnight stay near Volcanoes National Park before you trekking). I advise you to stay some more days in Rwanda, so you can also track big game in Akagera National Park, go chimpanzee or golden monkey tracking in in Nyungwe National Park, or explore Kigali and visit the Genodice Memorial Center.


Hike to the gorillas

IMHO, gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest In Uganda requires more physical fitness and stamina compared to gorilla trekking in the Virungas area. The Bwindi jungle is very thick and slopes can be steep, often steeper than a flight of stairs, in the absence of trails. However, that makes the experience more exciting for most people.

In Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, gorilla trekking is done on the slope of a volcano, and the hiking is a bit easier. In Rwanda, you are also assigned a group based on your physical abilities. So, older travelers or travelers that have mobility issues may be better choosing Rwanda instead of Uganda.

However, in the end, it all comes down to the location of the gorilla group that you are tracking, and the hiking time may vary from 30 minutes to 6 hours, both in Uganda and Rwanda.


Viewing & photography

In the end, most travelers want to take some amazing photos of their gorilla experience. However, the quality of your pictures will depend on a number of factors, such as the gorilla group you are visiting and their precise location (in the open vs in the bush). In Uganda, the vegetation is very thick, hence the name Bwindi Impenetrable National Park; this can make photos quite dark. In Rwanda, you will be climbing up the side of a volcano, with more open spaces in the forest, so the views of the gorillas and the photos are somewhat better. But whether you decide to track gorillas Rwanda or Uganda, you will always be able to take some mesmerizing pictures.


Safety

Both Uganda and Rwanda are safe countries, although Rwanda is clearly better managed than Uganda, with less corruption and crime. In fact, Rwanda is Africa’s second safest country (after Botswana). Always consult the website of your government for the latest travel advice.

Gorilla trekking in the Democratic Republic of Congo is a different story, since the security situation here has been unstable and dangerous for decades because of civil war (and recently Ebola). All governments have issued stern travel warnings against travel in this area (since armed groups still roam the area) despite the fact that the UNESCO listed Virungas National Park is one of the world’s most fascinating tourism destinations. In May 2018, gorilla trekking in Congo’s Virunga National park was cancelled following the kidnapping (and further release) of two British tourists and their driver and the killing of their guide. This was not an isolated case since six park members were killed in the month prior to the kidnapping. Although gorilla trekking recently resumed, it remains exponentially more dangerous than in Uganda or Rwanda where safety is not a concern.


Availability of permits

In Rwanda, 96 gorilla permits are available on a daily base (for 12 habituated gorilla families). Uganda sells 96 gorilla permits per day for Bwindi National Park (88 permits for 11 gorilla groups) and Mgahinga National Park (8 permits for one gorilla group). In high season (June to October and mid-December to February), permits sell out months in advance. During the low seasons, availability of permits is better, since there is a low turn up of tourists, mainly attributed to the rainy weather.


Accommodations

If you prefer a more intimate and high-end experience, Rwanda is your best choice. Lodges here are some of the most exclusive and stunning in Africa. All the big names in luxury travel are present in the area surrounding the Volcanoes National Park, from the fabulous Bisate Lodge run by Wilderness Safaris to the soon to open One&Only Gorillas Nest and Singita’s Kwitonda Lodge set to open in 2019.


Overview
RWANDA UGANDA CONGO
Safety Rwanda is one of the safest countries in Africa Uganda’s national parks are very safe, although there is crime outside the parks Low and conflict riddled. There have been numerous killings of park rangers and guides; tourists have been kidnapped in the past
Cost of gorilla permit (in USD) $1,500 $600 $400
National Park where gorillas live Volcanoes National Park Bwindi Impenetrable Forest & Mgahinga National Park Virungas National Park
International getaway airport Kigali Entebbe Kigali
Distance from the airport to the park 3h drive 10h drive 3h drive to Goma then cross the border by road into Congo
Road conditions to the park excellent bumpy and winding excellent to the border, then bumpy
Number of habituated gorilla families 12 12 6
Gorilla habituation process (4 hours with the gorillas) not offered offered not offered
Other attractions Rwanda Genocide Memorial, Lake Kivu, big game in Akagera National Park, and chimpanzee tracking in Nyungwe National Park Chimpanzee tracking in Kibale Forest National Park, big game in  Queen Elizabeth National Park & Murchison Falls National Park Climbing Nyiragongo (very tough climb) which is an active volcano, seeing chimpanzees
Accomodations high-end hotels mid-range & budget hotels budget hotels

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Review of SPECTACULAR One&Only Nyungwe House (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:


Today (March 7, 2019): Review of One&Only Nyungwe House (Rwanda) 

Alongside ancient rainforest, within the lush green expanse of a working tea plantation, One&Only Nyungwe House offers an exciting window to Africa’s fascinating wildlife and culture. The resort is the first of two new One&Only resorts to have opened in Rwanda; the other one is One&Only Gorilla’s Nest near Volcanoes National Park. 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 features in my lists of the best new hotels of 2018 and the ten best hotels in Rwanda.

Have you ever stayed at One&Only Nyungwe House? If so, what was your experience? Leave a comment.

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

Click to view slideshow.

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


PROS & THINGS I LIKE
  • One&Only Nyungwe House enjoys a remote location in one of the world’s most exceptional natural settings. The property is set within the lush green expanse of Gisakura, the most famous and beautiful tea plantation in Rwanda. During the week, dozens of farmers can be seen picking tea leaves and collecting them in their basket, which makes for an awe-inspiring sight. The plantation’s hundreds of parallel tea ridges draw a clear-cut contrast with the wild scenery of Nyungwe National Park just behind the resort. One of the largest and best preserved mountainous rainforests on the planet,  Nyungwe is home to home to thirteen species of primate, over two hundred species of tree, as well as a multitude of rare flowers. One&Only Nyungwe House can be reached from Rwanda’s capital Kigali by road (5 hours), by domestic flight (35 min, followed by a 45 min car transfer), or helicopter (1 hour).

  • The property features an impressive yet intimate layout. The resort’s driveway crisscrosses miles of tea fields and rolling hills before ending at the lodge’s main pavilion, where Rwandan drummers welcome guests upon arrival. Sitting on the resort’s highest points, the main pavilion features dark stone floors, soaring ceilings and bamboo walls adorned with African art work. It houses the property’s public facilities, including the reception area, a stylish boutique shop, several ultra-chic seating areas, a dining room, a meeting room, and a large outdoor terrace overlooking the surrounding tea fields. Spreading in a semi-circle around the main lodge and literally sitting on the forest’s edge are several low-rise wooden pavilions, that house the rooms, suites, spa, gym, and pool area (more on that below).
  • Taking inspiration from the vast vegetation and wildlife of the surrounds, the resort’s magnificent design pays homage to Rwanda’ traditions and natural beauty, while the architecture maximizes the spectacular scenery and mountain vistas at every opportunity. The verdant natural surroundings are showcased by large, floor-to-ceiling windows in the main lodge as they frame the tea plantation and the forest beyond, whilst illuminating fireplaces welcome guests after a day’s adventure. The traditional Rwandan colors of black, white and red can be seen throughout the main lodge as well as in the guest rooms and suites, celebrating the hues typically used in the age-old Rwandan art form of Imigongo. Used throughout the resort, Imigongo images are geometric in design, often with zig-zag or spiral patterns, done in the traditional method of using wooden boards left to dry in the sun.
  • The resort’s 22 guest rooms and suites are spread over six low-rise pavilions, which are designed to blend harmoniously within the spectacular natural surroundings. During my visit I was upgraded to a phenomenal forest suite, which featured two sumptuous bedrooms, one with a four-poster king-sized bed and the second one with two queen beds. Both bedrooms offered their own private decks with jungle views, en suite bathrooms, and wood burning stoves. The suite’s highlight was a spacious living room, with dining table and sitting area centered around a log burner. The suite featured a contemporary decor fused with traditional design elements, such as Rwandan paintings and art works, perfectly showcasing Umutara with warmer tones of light browns, ambers, creams as well as Imigongo, especially in the living room and dining area.

  • Offering a blissful sanctuary inspired by nature, the resort’s intimate wellness center comprises an elegant spa house (with two treatment rooms), a well-equipped gym, an expansive yoga deck, and an outdoor infinity pool overlooking the vast wilderness of Nyungwe National Park (with the occasional sighting of monkeys). Built on the slopes of the forest, the spa house ensures guests will feel totally immersed in nature. The reception area is warmed by a fireplace and opens to a large terrace overlooking the forest, the perfect place to relax before or after a treatment. Signature treatments include Intoga Amasatchi, a 75 minute, deep-tissue, full-body treatment using hands and wooden sticks, which traditionally represent the wisdom and direction of the healer to stretch tight muscles and relieve toxic overload.
  • From sunrise to sunset, farm-to-table cuisine is served in the resort’s atmospheric dining room with its plantation-view terrace. The cuisine at One&Only Nyungwe House honors the incredible natural flavors of Rwanda, prepared with rustic tradition and served with contemporary flair. The lodge’s signature dish is Nyungwe Green Goddess Pasta, dressed in an innovative tea pesto and topped with parmesan foam, a unique recipe developed by Chef Treasure and served with fresh locally sourced green beans, peas, spinach, and handmade pasta flavored with tea leaves. Bespoke private dining experiences are also available with a choice of spectacular locations and hidden vistas.
  • In such a precious environment, conservation and support for local communities are very important at One&Only Nyungwe House. For example, experiences at the resort include the opportunity for guests to participate in Umuganda, a nationwide program where citizens devote the last Saturday morning of every month to working in the local community. From developing infrastructure to environmental protection, you can elect to take part in this positive initiative, giving back to the communities of Nyungwe and getting to know the local people in a uniquely hands-on way. Another example is the resort’s boutique shop, which sells a selection of artifacts made by more than 50 local designer: 60% are women-owned businesses and 30% use recycled or sustainable materials.
  • The lodge is a 30-minute drive from the Uwinka reception center (the main access point for Nyungwe National Park) and thus the perfect place to base yourself for rainforest excursions. Thé main activity in the Nyungwe area (and probably the main reason why travelers flock to this part of the world) is chimpanzee trekking. Dashing at high speed through the flora, hooting and clanging – it truly is an exhilarating experience to encounter chimpanzees playing, wild and free. Besides primate trekking, the area also offers superb hiking trails, such as the canopy walk, which goes over a man-made construction hanging 60 m (200 ft) above the forest floor between giant trees and towers, hereby revealing a stunning view of the flora and fauna, both below and above. Nyungwe National Park is also a birder’s paradise, home to over 300 bird species, 27 of which are endemic to the local Albertine Rift.
  • The lodge is managed by One&Only, one of the world’s most exclusive hotel brands, which has garnered an almost cult-like following. One&Only was created in 2002 exclusively for the luxury resort market by Solomon Kerzner – a South African  business magnate – and now features some of the highest-rated resorts in the most idyllic spots in the world, such as the Maldives and Cape Town. Each resort in the One&Only collection offers a unique design and ambiance which embraces the local surroundings, complemented by impeccable service, exclusive wellness sanctuaries, lively entertainment, a host of activities, and exquisite culinary adventures from some of the world’s most accomplished chefs. One&Only Nyungwe House is the first of two new lodges the brand has built in the country (the second, One&Only Gorilla’s Nest, is set to open later this year)

CONS & THINGS TO KNOW

One&Only Nyungwe House is one of the best hotels I ever stayed at. The setting inside a tea plantage, the backdrop of the rainforest, and the sublime design are stunning. There is very little to say against the hotel, but you may want to know the following nonetheless:

  • During lunch and dinner, there is no menu; instead Chef Treasure Makwanise and his team curate every menu daily, based on the best of the season’s ingredients.
  • The property features resort-like facilities like a swimming pool and fitness center that, for some, may lessen an authentic African safari ambience.

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

TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
  • Save money: read here my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel like One&Only Nyungwe House (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 5-hour journey to Nyungwe from Kigali Airport (the last 1.5 hours is through the National Park) will take you through Rwanda’s scenic countryside.

It’s also possible to reach the resort by air. RwandAir operate daily domestic flights of approximately 35 mins from Kigali Airport. A short car transfer of 45 mins can then be arranged from Kamembe Airport to the resort. For an awe-inspiring and expedited arrival, a 30-minute helicopter charter will bring you directly from Kigali to the resort’s helipad.


PHOTOS
DRIVE TO ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE
DRIVE TO ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE
DRIVE TO ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE
DRIVE TO ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE
DRIVE TO ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE
DRIVE TO ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE
DRIVE TO ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE
DRIVE TO ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE
DRIVE TO ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE
DRIVE TO ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: RESORT GROUNDS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: RESORT GROUNDS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: RESORT GROUNDS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: RESORT GROUNDS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: RESORT GROUNDS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: RESORT GROUNDS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: RESORT GROUNDS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: RESORT GROUNDS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: RESORT GROUNDS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: RESORT GROUNDS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: RESORT GROUNDS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: RESORT GROUNDS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: RESORT GROUNDS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: RESORT GROUNDS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: RESORT GROUNDS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: RESORT GROUNDS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: RESORT GROUNDS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: RESORT GROUNDS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: RESORT GROUNDS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: RESORT GROUNDS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: RESORT GROUNDS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: RESORT GROUNDS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: RESORT GROUNDS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: RESORT GROUNDS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: RESORT GROUNDS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: RESORT GROUNDS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: RESORT GROUNDS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: RESORT GROUNDS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION - ENTRANCE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION – ENTRANCE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION - ENTRANCE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION – ENTRANCE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION - ENTRANCE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION – ENTRANCE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION - ENTRANCE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION – ENTRANCE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION - ENTRANCE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION – ENTRANCE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION - ENTRANCE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION – ENTRANCE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION - RECEPTION AREA
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION – RECEPTION AREA
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION - BOUTIQUE SHOP
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION – BOUTIQUE SHOP
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION 
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION 
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION - SITTING AREAS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION – SITTING AREAS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION - SITTING AREAS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION – SITTING AREAS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION - SITTING AREAS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION – SITTING AREAS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION - SITTING AREAS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION – SITTING AREAS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION - SITTING AREAS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION – SITTING AREAS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION - SITTING AREAS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION – SITTING AREAS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION - SITTING AREAS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION – SITTING AREAS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION - SITTING AREAS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION – SITTING AREAS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION - SITTING AREAS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION – SITTING AREAS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION - SITTING AREAS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION – SITTING AREAS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION - SITTING AREAS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION – SITTING AREAS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION - SITTING AREAS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION – SITTING AREAS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION - SITTING AREAS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION – SITTING AREAS
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION - BAR
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION – BAR
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION - BAR
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION – BAR
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION - BAR
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION – BAR
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION - DINING ROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION – DINING ROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION - DINING ROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION – DINING ROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION - DINING ROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION – DINING ROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION - MEETING ROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION – MEETING ROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION - TERRACE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION – TERRACE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION - TERRACE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION – TERRACE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION - TERRACE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION – TERRACE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION - TERRACE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION – TERRACE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION - TERRACE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION – TERRACE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION - TERRACE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION – TERRACE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION - TERRACE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION – TERRACE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION - TERRACE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION – TERRACE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION - TERRACE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION – TERRACE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION - TERRACE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: MAIN PAVILION – TERRACE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: PAVILIONS WITH ROOMS & SUITES
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: PAVILIONS WITH ROOMS & SUITES
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: PAVILIONS WITH ROOMS & SUITES
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: PAVILIONS WITH ROOMS & SUITES
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: PAVILIONS WITH ROOMS & SUITES
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: PAVILIONS WITH ROOMS & SUITES
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: PAVILIONS WITH ROOMS & SUITES
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: PAVILIONS WITH ROOMS & SUITES
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: PAVILIONS WITH ROOMS & SUITES
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: PAVILIONS WITH ROOMS & SUITES
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: PAVILIONS WITH ROOMS & SUITES
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: PAVILIONS WITH ROOMS & SUITES
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: PAVILIONS WITH ROOMS & SUITES
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: PAVILIONS WITH ROOMS & SUITES
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: PAVILIONS WITH ROOMS & SUITES
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: PAVILIONS WITH ROOMS & SUITES
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: PAVILIONS WITH ROOMS & SUITES
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: PAVILIONS WITH ROOMS & SUITES
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE - ENTRANCE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE – ENTRANCE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE - LIVING ROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE – LIVING ROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE - LIVING ROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE – LIVING ROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE - LIVING ROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE – LIVING ROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE - LIVING ROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE – LIVING ROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE - LIVING ROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE – LIVING ROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE - LIVING ROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE – LIVING ROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE - LIVING ROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE – LIVING ROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE - WELCOME AMENITIES
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE – WELCOME AMENITIES
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE - WELCOME AMENITIES
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE – WELCOME AMENITIES
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE - MASTER BEDROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE – MASTER BEDROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE - MASTER BEDROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE – MASTER BEDROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE - MASTER BEDROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE – MASTER BEDROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE - MASTER BEDROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE – MASTER BEDROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE - MASTER BEDROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE – MASTER BEDROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE - MASTER BEDROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE – MASTER BEDROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE - BATHROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE – BATHROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE - BATHROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE – BATHROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE - BATHROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE – BATHROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE - BATHROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE – BATHROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE - BATHROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE – BATHROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE - BATHROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE – BATHROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE - BATHROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE – BATHROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE - BATHROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE – BATHROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE - BALCONY
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE – BALCONY
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE - BALCONY
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE – BALCONY
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE - SECOND BEDROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE – SECOND BEDROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE - SECOND BEDROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE – SECOND BEDROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE - SECOND BEDROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: FOREST SUITE – SECOND BEDROOM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: POOL DECK
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: POOL DECK
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: POOL DECK
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: POOL DECK
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: POOL DECK
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: POOL DECK
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: POOL DECK
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: POOL DECK
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: POOL DECK
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: POOL DECK
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: POOL DECK
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: POOL DECK
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: POOL DECK
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: POOL DECK
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: POOL DECK
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: POOL DECK
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: POOL DECK
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: POOL DECK
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: POOL DECK
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: POOL DECK
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: POOL DECK
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: POOL DECK
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: POOL DECK
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: POOL DECK
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: SPA HOUSE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: SPA HOUSE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: SPA HOUSE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: SPA HOUSE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: SPA HOUSE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: SPA HOUSE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: SPA HOUSE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: SPA HOUSE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: SPA HOUSE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: SPA HOUSE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: SPA HOUSE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: SPA HOUSE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: SPA HOUSE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: SPA HOUSE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: SPA HOUSE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: SPA HOUSE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: SPA HOUSE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: SPA HOUSE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: SPA HOUSE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: SPA HOUSE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: SPA HOUSE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: SPA HOUSE
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: GYM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: GYM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: GYM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: GYM
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: BREAKFAST
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: BREAKFAST
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: BREAKFAST
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: BREAKFAST
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: BREAKFAST
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: BREAKFAST
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: BREAKFAST
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: BREAKFAST
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: BREAKFAST
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: BREAKFAST
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: LUNCH
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: LUNCH
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: LUNCH
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: LUNCH
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: LUNCH
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: LUNCH
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: LUNCH
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: LUNCH
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: LUNCH
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: LUNCH
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: LUNCH
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: LUNCH
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: LUNCH
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: LUNCH
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: LUNCH
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: LUNCH
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: LUNCH
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: LUNCH
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: LUNCH
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: LUNCH
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE AT NIGHT
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE AT NIGHT
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE AT NIGHT
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE AT NIGHT
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE AT NIGHT
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE AT NIGHT
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE AT NIGHT
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE AT NIGHT
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE AT NIGHT
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE AT NIGHT
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE AT NIGHT
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE AT NIGHT
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE AT NIGHT
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE AT NIGHT
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE AT NIGHT
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE AT NIGHT
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: DINNER
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: DINNER
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: DINNER
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: DINNER
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: DINNER
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: DINNER
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: DINNER
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: DINNER
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: DINNER
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: DINNER
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: DINNER
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: DINNER
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: DINNER
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: DINNER
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: DINNER
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: DINNER
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: DINNER
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: DINNER
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: DINNER
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: DINNER
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: DINNER
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: DINNER
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: DINNER
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: DINNER
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: DINNER
ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE: DINNER
NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK
NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK
NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK
NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK
NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK: CHIMPANZEE TRACKING
NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK: CHIMPANZEE TRACKING
NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK: CHIMPANZEE TRACKING
NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK: CHIMPANZEE TRACKING
NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK: CANOPY WALK
NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK: CANOPY WALK
NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK: CANOPY WALK
NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK: CANOPY WALK
NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK: CANOPY WALK
NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK: CANOPY WALK
NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK: CANOPY WALK
NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK: CANOPY WALK
NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK: CANOPY WALK
NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK: CANOPY WALK
NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK: CANOPY WALK (VIEWS)
NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK: CANOPY WALK (VIEWS)
NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK: CANOPY WALK (VIEWS)
NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK: CANOPY WALK (VIEWS)
NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK: CANOPY WALK (VIEWS)
NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK: CANOPY WALK (VIEWS)
NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK: SNAKE
NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK: SNAKE

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The post Review of SPECTACULAR One&Only Nyungwe House (Rwanda)  appeared first on the Luxury Travel Expert.

Top 10 best rainforest hotels & lodges in the world

Monday newsletters always feature top 10 travel lists to inspire.

Today (March 4, 2019): Top 10 world’s best jungle hotels & lodges.

Thick jungle vegetation and emerald green rainforests offer some of the best wildlife and nature experiences left on the planet. But no worries, you don’t have to compromise on comfort in the jungle as more and more luxury lodges are popping up in the heart of these fascinating ecosystems. Put the next 10 amazingly beautiful and luxurious rainforest lodges on your bucket list, and be prepared for a world-class trip, whether it be hiking in the temperate rainforests of Western Canada, taking a spa break in Bali’s jungle, or tracking chimpanzees in Rwanda’s damp forests.

There is more info below the slide show (with trip reports & Youtube clips). Think I missed one? Leave a comment or take my poll below!

Click to view slideshow.

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10. INKATERRA RESERVA AMAZONICA, PERU

Exotic, yet accessible, Reserva Amazónica Lodge is situated on the banks of Amazonian Peru’s Madre de Dios Rive, surrounded by a vast rainforest. As Peru’s pioneer in nature travel and research, Inkaterra provides an unforgettable introduction to  amazing realm of incomparable biodiversity and takes jungle luxury to the next level. The lodge’s 35 thatched-roof cabanas, with their hammocks, crisp white linens, lanterns, and organic bath products, offer simple, low-impact elegance. From your bed, you can watch the sunset through the treetops, then fall asleep to a toucan serenade, all with your personal butler just a walkie-talkie call away.

  • Hotel website: Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica

INKATERRA RESERVA AMAZONICA, PERU


9. BELMOND HOTEL DAS CATARATAS, BRAZIL

The only hotel located within Brazil’s Iguassu National Park, Belmond Hotel das Cataratas enjoys an unrivalled location in the jungle, just a short stroll from Iguazu Falls, one of the world’s most spectacular waterfalls. Due to its location, guests have exclusive access to the magnificent surroundings in the evening and at dawn, when the park is closed to other visitors. A Portuguese-colonial residence, this classic luxury hotel is redolent with the atmosphere of lazy days lounging on a veranda or beneath sub-tropical palms. The hotel also offers thrills and excitement in abundance, including helicopter trips over the falls and jungle treks to view amazing wildlife including colourful toucans and giant butterflies.

  • Hotel website: Belmond Hotel Das Cataratas
  • Tip: enjoy complimentary VIP perks when booking via Virtuoso (e.g. room upgrade, daily breakfast, early check-in, late check-out, and $100 USD spa credit).

BELMOND HOTEL DAS CATARATAS, BRAZIL


8. MASHPI LODGE, ECUADOR

Lost high up in the Andes, a few hours west of Quito, Mashpi Lodge is located in a 1,300 hectare reserve, where the biodiversity of the Ecuadorian rain-forest is protected and the wildlife thrives. The lodge offers views of the forested mountains on one side and the forest right up close on the other through its floor-to-ceiling glass windows. It features a contemporary, minimalist decor, mixing warm earth tones, notes of bright colour, clean lines and striking angles and vistas. Here, you can venture into the forest to come into close contact with countless species of birds, as well as monkeys, peccaries or even the occasional puma.

  • Hotel website: Mashpi Lodge
  • Other accolades: Mashpi Lodge also features in my top 10 list of the world’s best wilderness lodges.
  • Tip: enjoy complimentary VIP perks when booking via Virtuoso (e.g. room upgrade, daily breakfast, early check-in, late check-out, and $100 USD spa credit).

MASHPI LODGE, ECUADOR


7. SILKY OAKS LODGE AND HEALING WATERS SPA, QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA

Silky Oaks Lodge and Healing Waters Spa is set in a stunning riverside location inside one of the planet’s oldest living rainforests – the World Heritage listed Daintree National Park in Queensland. The lodge features elegantly furnished interiors, spacious open lounge areas, and an excellent fine dining venue. All accommodation retreats, located in Riverhouses and Treehouses, have wall to ceiling windows leading to spacious balconies with lush garden, rainforest or river panoramas. The resort’s spectacular location offers opportunities for rainforest walks, canoeing, mountain biking, swimming and sunbathing.

  • Hotel website: Silky Oaks Lodge
  • Other accolades: Silky Oak Lodge also features in my top 10 list of the best luxury hotels in Australia.

SILKY OAKS LODGE AND HEALING WATERS SPA, QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA


6. SONORA RESORT, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA

This luxury wilderness resort is an absolute jewel amid one of Canada’s most alluring, pristine environments: British Columbia’s stunning Desolation Sound, home to fascinating wildlife and some of the best salmon fishing in the world. Sonora Resort is where uncompromising eco adventure travel meets luxurious accommodations, unparalleled service and five-star facilities. Here, you can get close-up views of grizzly bears and orcas, hike through the towering old-growth firs and cedars of the coastal temperate rainforest, or experience a mind-blowing helicopter ride to a glistening glacier where you can enjoy a private picnic prepared by the chef.

  • Hotel website: Sonora Resort
  • Other accolades: Sonora Resort also features in my top 10 lists of the best wilderness lodges in the world and the best luxury hotels in Canada.
  • Tip: enjoy complimentary VIP perks when booking via Virtuoso (e.g. room upgrade, daily breakfast, early check-in, late check-out, and a complimentary eco tour for two aboard a Polaris Inflatable or Aluminum hull watercraf).

SONORA RESORT, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA


5. LAPA RIOS, OSA PENINSULA, COSTA RICA

Set in a private nature reserve spread over 1,000 acres of Central America’s last remaining lowland tropical rainforest in Costa Rica’s wild Osa Peninsula, Lapa Rios is paradise for lovers of wildlife, birding, nature and beaches. The 16 private bungalows line three ridges overlooking the pristine point where the Golfo Dulce meets the Pacific Ocean and are situated 350 feet (100 m) above sea level. Lush walking paths and stairs that meander up to the main lodge connect all bungalows. Home to monkeys, macaws, pumas, toucans, tree frogs and thousands of other creatures, a trip to Lapa Rios Eco Lodge will be the experience of a lifetime.

  • Hotel website: Lapa Rioso
  • Other accolades: Lapa Rios also features in my top 10 list of the best wilderness lodges in the world.

LAPA RIOS, OSA PENINSULA, COSTA RICA


4. BLANCANEAUX LODGE, BELIZE

In the early 1980s, film director Francis Ford Coppola visited Belize, immediately fell in love with the location, and purchased the abandoned Blancaneaux Lodge. For more than a decade the resort was used as a family retreat before Francis opened his tropical paradise to the public in 1993. The 20-room resort is tucked away in a pocket of the Maya Mountains, where waterfalls tumble into turquoise pools above the jungle canopy. Its remote mountain setting makes it a perfect place to relax, rejuvenate and enjoy life’s simple pleasures. Guests can also explore the ancient civilization of the Maya, which still endures in the sacred sites throughout this magical region.

  • Hotel website: Blancaneaux Lodge
  • Other accolades: Blancaneaux Lodge also features in my top 10 list of the best luxury hotels owned by celebrities.
  • Tip: enjoy free VIP amenities when booking via Virtuoso (e.g. room upgrade, daily breakfast, early check-in, late check-out, and $100 USD credit to use against any tours/activities).

BLANCANEAUX LODGE, BELIZE


3. FOUR SEASONS RESORT BALI AT SAYAN, INDONESIA

Voted #1 hotel in the world by Travel + Leisure in 2018, Four Seasons Resort Sayan encapsulates Bali at its philosophical and soulful best: a sublime hillside haven where man, humanity and nature unite with purest intent. Only a ten-minute drive from the stylish boutiques, artist ateliers and atmospheric eateries of boho-chic Ubud, Four Seasons Sayan is an inspiring base from which to explore Bali’s cultural heart or to retreat into nature’s meditative embrace. Guests arrive via a dramatic bridge, beneath which the Ayung River valley spreads its tropical arms. From the gravity-defying rooftop lotus pond, the property cascades down the hill to the two-tiered swimming pool, cantilevered over the river, through an enchanting forest that cocoons just 60 suites and villas.

  • Hotel website: Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan
  • Other accolades: Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan also features in my top 10 lists of the best hotels in Bali and the best hotels in Ubud.
  • Tip: enjoy complimentary VIP perks when booking via Virtuoso (e.g. room upgrade, early check-in, late check-out, daily breakfast, and $100 USD spa credit).
  • Review: read my review of Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan here.


2. THE DATAI LANGKAWI, MALAYSIA

Nestled in the heart of an ancient rainforest above a gorgeous bay, the Datai Langkawi – recently completely refurbished – is a captivating destination resort that blends smoothly with its natural surroundings. Situated on the beautiful Malaysian island of Langkawi, each room, suite and villa enjoys the embrace of the lush rainforest and some offer stunning views from private verandas of the breathtaking Andaman Sea. The resort’s jungle surrounds plays host to a wealth of wildlife, such as dusky leaf monkeys, tokay geckos or Sunda flying lemurs. In this serene natural haven, you can reconnect with nature, rekindle your spirit and reignite your soul.

  • Hotel website: The Datai Langkawi
  • Other accolades: The Datai Langkawi also features in my top 10 list of the world’s best family hotels.
  • Tip: enjoy complimentary VIP perks when booking via Virtuoso (upgrade, daily breakfast, one Balinese Massage for two, early check-in and late check-out).
  • Review: read my review of the Datai Langkawi here.


1. ONE&ONLY NYUNGWE HOUSE, RWANDA

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. 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. The resort also features an gorgeous infinity pool and intimate spa house.

  • Hotel website: One&Only Nyungwe House
  • Other accolades: One&Only Nyungwe House also features in my list of the best new hotels of 2018 and the 10 best hotels in Rwanda.
  • Review: coming soon


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The post Top 10 best rainforest hotels & lodges in the world appeared first on the Luxury Travel Expert.

Review: gorilla trekking in Rwanda, my best travel experience ever!

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 (today)
  • 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 27, 2019): Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park (Rwanda).

Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is often described as a life changing travel experience and with good reason. With only an estimated 1000 mountain gorillas left in the world, to observe these gentle giants in their natural habitat ranks among the most epic wildlife holidays in the world. Mountain gorillas make their homes on the bamboo-covered slopes of Volcanoes National Park in northwestern Rwanda, close to the border with Uganda and Congo. About 12 gorilla families in the rainforest are fully habituated to the presence of humans and can be tracked on a daily basis; once they are found, you can stay with them for an awe-inspiring hour, while they go about their daily lives, often just a few feet (meters) away. The strenuous and muddy hike in the jungle can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 6 hours (one way), depending on the location of the gorillas, but the phenomenal experience is well worth the efforts. Here’s a review of what to expect on a gorilla trekking and a trip report of my own amazing gorilla adventure, which ranks among my best travel experiences ever.

Have you ever tracked the mountain gorillas? If so, what was your experience? Leave a comment.

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

  1. Volcanoes National Park (home of the mountain gorillas)
  2. Booking a gorilla permit (+ cost)
  3. The hike in the forest to the mountain gorillas
  4. The encounter with the mountain gorillas
  5. Characteristics of the different gorilla families


1. VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK, HOME OF THE GORILLAS

Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park shelters the highest number of the critically endangered mountain gorillas in the world. The strategic location of the park roughly two hours by car from Rwanda’s capital Kigali makes it the most accessible place in the world for gorilla trekking. Located in the northwestern Rwanda, Volcanoes National Park is part of the greater Virunga Volcano Conservation Region, which also includes Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda’s Mgahinga National Park Uganda. The park is home to five giant volcanoes – including Karisimbi, whose summit at 4507 m or 14,787 ft makes it Rwanda’s highest mountain – and is covered in thick rainforest and bamboo. Besides gorillas, Volcanoes National Park is also home to golden monkeys, a variety of birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects. The park is known all over the world because of its turbulent history, and of course, its association with Dian Fossey, the world’s most famous primatologist. Some facts:

  • The park was first gazetted in 1925 as a small area intended to protect the mountain gorillas, which were facing the threat of extinction as a result of poaching. It was the very first National Park to be created in Africa. In 1929, Volcanoes National Park was extended into Congo, named Albert National Park, and managed by the Belgian colonial authorities. During the early 1960s, the park was divided as Rwanda and Congo gained their independence and by the end of that decade, the park was almost half of its original size.
  • In 1967, the American zoologist Dian Fossey – who had been doing research on mountain gorillas in the jungle of Congo – fled from insecurity and established her research base at a place between the Visoke and Karisimbi volcanoes that would become known as Karisoke research center. She spearheaded the conservation campaign of the mountain gorillas and mobilized resources to fight against poaching in this area, a fight she put up until her murder in 1985. She is buried at the research center next to the grave of her favorite gorilla called Digit.
  • During the 1994 horrific Rwandan Genocide, the park became a battlefield for the country’s civil war which paralyzed tourism activities until 1999, when the area was deemed to be safe and under control again. In 2005, in a bid to boost conservation and tourism in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda introduced the annual baby naming ceremony for baby gorillas known as ‘Kwita Iziina’ which has seen great results in as far as gorilla population in volcanoes is concerned.
VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK
VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK
VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK
VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK
VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK
VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK

2. BOOKING A GORILLA PERMIT

A gorilla permit in Volcanoes National Park costs USD $1500 USD per person. The funds that are generated from the sale of the permits are used for the running of the National Park. A percentage of the funds are also donated to local communities living adjoining to the parks to contribute to their expansion, development and also improve on the natural resource management within the area. The current fee of $1500 USD was increased in 2017 from $750 USD, so it’s clear that Rwanda is heading for a highend tourism strategy. However, discounts are possible:

  • Tourist who visit Nyungwe National Park and Akagera National Park for a minimum of three days during the low season (November-May) receive a discount of 30% on their gorilla permit.
  • A 15% discount is valid for conference tourists who stay in Rwanda pre-or post-conference dates to see the gorillas.

There are two ways of acquiring your gorilla permit:

  • You can book your permit via the RDB (Rwanda Development Board), the foremost organization handling tourism in Rwanda. Gorilla permits can be booked at the RDB Tourism and Conservation Reservation Office in person, by use of telephone (+252 57 65 14) or even via email (reservation@rwandatourism.com).
  • The other (and most convenient) way to acquire a gorilla permit is to book it through a travel agency like a tour operator (I highly recommend Uber Luxe Safaris) or your hotel.

Always keep in mind that you need to be book your permits months in advance (as there are only 96 permits available each day, with a maximum of 8 tourists per gorilla family) and that you need to be older than 16 years to get a permit.


3. THE HIKE IN THE FOREST TO THE MOUNTAIN GORILLAS

Visitors are expected to be at Kinigi – the headquarter of Volcanoes National Park – by 7am early morning. Here, you’ll meet your guide as well as the other travelers in your group (maximum 8 tourists per group). The guide will brief you about the gorilla family that you will visit and the rules of conduct in the presence of these giant gentles. Next you are driven to the starting point of your trek and guided to the rainforest’s edge. Once inside the jungle, the hike becomes more strenuous and can take anything from 30 minutes to as long as 6 hours (one way) depending on the location of the gorilla family that you are tracking: some families are living high up the slopes of the volcanoes in areas that are difficult and demanding to hike, while others are nesting in lower areas close to the forest’s edge. Lacking true trails, the terrain inside the forest is often hilly and rugged with precipitous slopes and muddy paths, and you will need to support yourself using a walking stick and tree branches.

During my trekking, I was assigned to the Sabyinyo group (the most famous and also easiest to find gorilla group in Rwanda) and the hike – mostly on flat terrain – took about 90 minutes, one hour longer than expected, demonstrating that it is difficult to guarantee that the gorillas will be found in the particular place they are expected to be.

Some important remarks/tips regarding the trekking itself:

  • You cannot choose the gorilla family that you want to track. However, during the morning briefing at the park’s headquarters, the park rangers will take into account the condition of the travelers: older people will often be assigned to the gorilla families that are easier to reach, while younger and physically fit travelers will often get to track gorilla groups that are located further away from the forest’s edge.
  • The chances that you don’t find the gorillas are extremely small. Early morning, before tourists gather at the national park’s headquarters, a group of trackers are sent into the jungle to ascertain the actual location of the gorilla group or their movement, after which they will inform the guide of the tourist groups so that they find a suitable way to reach the family. Those trackers keep a day long vigil on the gorillas, even after tourists have left, to protect the gorillas and also to document their location at sunset (so they can be easily found the next day). In the unlikely case you would not find the gorillas – this only happens around 10 times a year – trekkers are offered a chance to try again the next day.
  • As a National Park policy, each group of people tracking a gorilla group is comprised of eight tourists (maximum), three park rangers (including a professional and highly qualified tour guide), and a number of porters. Two of the park rangers carry a rifle in case elephants or buffalos are encountered (one moves in front of the group and the other behind); in case of a charge, they will fire in the air to scare the aggressive animals away although that rarely happens. A porter can be assigned to you when you need help to carry your luggage during the hike (recommended though not compulsory to hire). When you use their services, you are expected to tip them ($15 to $20 USD per porter).
  • Make sure that you are dressed appropriately for the gorilla trekking. This includes wearing gloves, long-sleeved shirts and long trousers (not shorts) to protect your hands, arms, and legs from scratches by tree branches, grasses, and stinging nettles. Always carry a rain proof jacket with you because there’s always a chance for (heavy) rain, even in the dry season. Rain proof, sturdy hiking boots and a walking stick (the latter will be provided) are necessary to walk on the slippery, muddy and sometimes steep paths, especially when it rains.
VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK
VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK
GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA
GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA
GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA
GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA
GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA
GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA
GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA
GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA
GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA
GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA

4. THE ENCOUNTER WITH THE GORILLAS

The moment you sight the gorilla group that you have been assigned to, you are only allowed one hour with them. This one hour is one of the most exhilarating moments that you will live to treasure for the rest of your life. What happens during this magical hour will largely depend on the behavior of the gorillas during your visit, and may include playing on tree branches, feeding, caressing one another, social grooming and moving around and about. During my trekking, I was extremely lucky to observe some amazing gorilla behavior, including a baby gorilla touching me and a silverback performing a few nerve-recking bluff charges (which you can watch in my clip below):

There are certain rules you need to stick to in the presence of these wild gorillas:

  • You need to maintain a distance of 7 m (23 ft) between a gorilla and yourself. Even when they come closer to you while running and playing around, it’s advisable to try to move away to maintain the recommended distance of 7 m (23 ft).
  • You cannot come close to them in case you have a cough, cold or flu because they are close cousins to humans and can end up catching those same diseases.
  • You cannot eat or drink in the presence of these animals.
  • Your guide will insist that you do not move up and down but instead sit down or squat down when observing and taking photographs of the gorillas. Sudden movements can scare the gorillas or make them aggressive.
  • You need to keep voices low and be as silent as possible.
  • You cannot use cameras with flashy lights or loud sounds because this can scare them.
  • You need to avoid eye contact because they are shy creatures and would perceive direct eye contact as a way of confronting them. Once you realize they are charging by making loud noise or beating their chests, it is advisable to avoid eye contact by lowering your head, this will indicate submission and you don’t want to confront them.
GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA
GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA
GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA
GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA
GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA
GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA
GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA
GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA
GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA
GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA
GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA
GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA
GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA
GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA
GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA
GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA
GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA
GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA
GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA
GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA
GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA
GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA

5. CHARACTERISTICS OF THE DIFFERENT GORILLA FAMILIES

Today, there are 12 habituated gorilla groups that can be visited in Volcanoes National Park. This means that 96 gorilla permits are available each day for tourists since each gorilla family can be visited by a group of maximum eight travelers. Surprisingly, each gorilla group has distinct and unique characteristic quiet different from another. Below are the main Rwandan gorilla groups that can be visited (information provided by the official website of Volcanoes National Park):

  • The Titus group is the original family named after the silverback Titus which was born during the days of Dian Fossey’s research at Karisoke. Titus lost his family to poachers including his father, uncle and brother; his mother and sister joined other families leaving Titus to be raised by an unrelated male gorilla. According to Dian Fossey, Titus the infant seemed ‘underdeveloped and spindly’ and had difficulty breathing, but Titus overcame these difficulties.
  • Susa group (Susa A) is well known as the group studied by Diana Fossey during her time in Rwanda from 1967 to 1985. In 2008, the group of 42 individuals split into two as it had become too large. The breakaway group was later known as Susa B or Karisimbi group. Susa A group is well known for its playful twins of Byishimo & Impano and was named after the Susa River that drains through their home range. The group is composed of 33 members including two silverbacks and inhabits the forests on the lower slopes of Mt. Karisimbi.
  • The Karisimbi group is sometimes referred to as Susa B and is the group which split from the original Susa in 2008. It is made up of 16 members including two silverbacks. The group is the hardest to track as it inhabits the upper slopes of Mt. Karisimbi at an altitude of more than 4500 m (14,700 ft) and is only suitable for trackers interested in serious hiking.
  • The Amahoro family is known for its peacefulness and congeniality, which has caused its silverback Ubumwe to lose some members into another group called Umubano. The group is composed of 18 members including two silverbacks and is a bit strenuous to track as one has to endure a hike up Mt Bisoke slopes where the group established their home.
  • The Umubano group broke away from the Amahoro family as a result of constant battles between Charles and Ubumwe, the two leading silverbacks. Charles consistently challenged the supremacy of the leader Ubumwe and eventually succeeded in breaking away with some members hence forming Umubano group. The group is composed of 13 members including two silverbacks and its name means ‘living together’.
  • The Sabyinyo group – which I tracked during my stay in Rwanda – is the easiest group to track, since it inhabits the gentle slopes between Mt. Sabyinyo and Mt. Gahinga, not far from the forest’s edge. The group is popular for its giant silverback known as Guhonda (the largest silverback in the park) which has kept its main challenger, Ryango, out of the family to remain as a lonely silver back. The group is composed of 16 members including three silverbacks. The group was named after the Sabinyo volcano that means the ‘old man’s teeth’.
  • The Agashya group was initially led by a silverback called Nyakarima but was later over thrown by Agashya – meaning the ‘News’ – which is now the leader and the family was named after him. The family has grown to 27 members including one silverback (Agashya). The group occupies the same territory with Sabyinyo group but sometimes Agashya takes the family deeper into the mountain when he senses danger.
  • The Kwitonda group is a migrant group from Democratic Republic of Congo which was named after its dominant silverback called Kwitonda, which means the ‘Humble one’. Because of its migration background, the group wonders in the lower slopes of Mt. Muhabura and like the Karisimbi group, it is onerous to track as it sometimes moves to the upper slopes. The group is composed of 23 members including four silverbacks.
  • The Hirwa group was formed in 2006 by some members of Sabyinyo group and the Agashya group. More gorillas joined in and now the group is composed of 16 members including one silverback. The group inhabits the foothills of Mt. Sabyinyo to the side of Mt Gahinga.
  • The Ugenda group is named after the Kinyarwanda word ‘Ugenda’, which means ‘on the move’ or ‘mobile’. Displaying a unique behavior of roaming from place to place, the group consists of 11 members including two silverbacks and is very difficult to track since it has no particular home.
  • The Bwenge group was formed in 2007 by the silverback Bwenge. The group occupies the slopes of the Karisoke volcano between Karisimbi and Bisoke mountains and has witnessed dark times when its six infants died. However, the family has recovered and now has 11 members including one silverback. Bwenge is the Kinyarwanda word which means ‘Wisdom’ and it’s no wonder that this was the group that featured in the Movie ‘Gorillas in the Mist’.

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


 

The post Review: gorilla trekking in Rwanda, my best travel experience ever! appeared first on the Luxury Travel Expert.

Top 10 most epic wildlife holidays in the world

Monday newsletters always feature top 10 travel lists to inspire.

Today (February 25, 2019): Top 10 best wildlife holidays in the world.

Not much comes close to that trilling feeling when you spot an animal in the wild, especially when you’re not expecting it. It can be an inspiring, breathtaking and potentially life-changing experience. Holidays focused on wildlife are becoming increasingly popular. Watching wildlife is a great way to get back to nature and get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. With so many wildlife holidays on offer in so many fabulous locations, it’s hard to decide where to go or what animals to see. So I’ve put together my own top 10 favorite wildlife experiences in various locations around the world, some in very remote wilderness areas, but with luxurious accommodations never too far away.

There is more information below the slide show. Think I missed one? Share your favorite wildlife adventure in the comments section, or take my poll below!

Click to view slideshow.

*** Follow me on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook for a daily photo-moment of travel inspiration ***


10. DIVE WITH GREAT WHITE SHARKS IN SOUTH AFRICA

For an extreme wildlife experience, jump into the shark-infested waters off the southern coast of South Africa — in a cage of course – and prepare yourself for a potentially heart-stopping encounter with the ultimate super-predator: the great white shark! Gansbaai, a small fishing village east of Cape Town, has become the hub for tour operators that specialize in diving with great white sharks, all from the safety of a cage of course. The cages are shark-proof, so there is nothing to fear, and the trilling experience will inspire you for a lifetime. You’ll definitely emerge with a greater respect for these often misunderstood, ocean predators.

  • Best time to visit: winter (May to October) is the best time to cage-dive with great white sharks. Although shark sighting is not guaranteed, the success rate is very high (around 95%). The weather can be unpredictable though in South Africa’s winter, with gales and cold spells, so its best to book a tour that lasts a few days just in case the weather doesn’t allow for a dive. The sharks are still around during the summer months but not in such dense numbers, so days can possibly go by without a sighting.
  • Recommended tour operators: Great White Shark Tours, White Shark Diving Company, & Apex Shark Expeditions
  • My selection of luxury hotels: The Silo, One & Only Hotel, 12 Apostles Hotel, & Ellerman House

Related post: top 10 best luxury hotels in South Africa


9. SEARCH FOR ROYAL BENGAL TIGERS IN INDIA

Ranthambore National Park is one of India’s last remnants of wilderness. A former hunting ground for the maharajas, the park still contains ruins of temples and mosques, as well as an impressive 10th-century fort. There is plenty of exotic wildlife to observe, such as antelope, sambar deer, langur monkeys, and crocodiles, but the main reason people visit Ranthambore is to spot the magnificent and elusive Royal Bengal tiger. To increase your chances for an encounter with the tiger(s), make sure that you visit in the right season and spend several days of your holiday on tiger tracking in this gorgeous spot.

  • Best time to visit: most animals are seen at the end of the dry season, during the months of March, April and May, when  vegetation is sparse and animals come out in search of water. Be sure to bring warm clothes if visiting during the cooler winter.
  • My selection of luxury lodges: Aman-i-Khas & Oberoi Vanyavilas


8. SWIM WITH MANTA RAYS & WHALE SHARKS IN THE MALDIVES

The islands of the Maldives, representing the epitome of a tropical paradise, are the visible coral tips of an oceanic volcanic mountain range whose outer edge at some points plunge to depths of over 3 km (1,8 mi). Deep channels separate 26 atolls that run from the Haa Alifu Atoll in the north over 800 km (500 mi) to Addu Atoll in theSouth, and the ocean currents in between offer world-class diving, as well as the single best spot on the globe to dive or snorkel with giant whale sharks, harmless reef sharks and tremendously impressive manta rays.

  • Best time to visit: divers can enjoy the opportunity of diving with manta rays and whale sharks in Maldives throughout the year, but the areas frequented by these marine animals vary with the seasons. During the dry Northeast Monsoon season (January to April), manta ray and whale shark diving in Maldives is best on the western side of the atolls, whereas during the Southeast Monsoon season,  manta rays and whale sharks will typically be encountered near the eastern edge of the atolls.
  • My selection of luxury lodges in the Ari Atoll: Constance Moofushi, Conrad Rangali, LUX* Maldives, & W Maldives

Related post: top 10 best resorts in the Maldives


7. OBSERVE KING PENGUINS IN ANTARCTICA

The frozen wonderland, called Antarctica, is the last true wilderness not spoiled by humans. Officially uninhabited and owned by no one, it is a place of extremes as it holds the title of coldest, driest and windiest location on earth. But despite these harsh conditions, Antarctica is home to an extraordinary variety of amazing wildlife. It is the Antarctic Peninsula that attracts most visitors, because of its accessibility and more moderate climate. The majestic king penguin colonies as well as seal colonies, whales and albatrosses guarantee you the holiday of a lifetime.

  • Best time to visit: cruises to Antarctica operate during the austral summer, early November to late March. There is no ‘best’ time to go within this period, although the different months do have unique characteristics. November is the courting season for penguins and sea birds whilst spring wildflowers are in bloom on the Falkland Islands and the spring ice is breaking up, creating sculptured shapes. In December and January, the first seal pups and penguin chicks are born on South Georgia and the Falkland Islands, whales are starting to appear more frequently, and the days are at their longest. By February and March whale sighting is at its best and the penguin chicks are beginning to fledge, building up their strength for the long winter ahead.
  • My selection of luxury cruise ships: Silver Explorer, Le Boreal, & National Geographic Orion


6. SPOT WOLVES IN YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK (USA)

Yellowstone’s expansive Lamaar valley, crossed by just one road, is a must-visit area for serious wildlife watchers as it is home to America’s “big five” game animals: bison, elk, cougar, grizzly and wolf. Bison and elk are readily visible, while cougars are almost never spotted (unless they remain with a carcass for days). Visitors who are willing to rise early in the morning or wait up until dusk also may spot grizzly bears and wolves roaming the valleys and hunting for prey (bring binoculars!). In fact, Lamar Valley is the #1 destination in the world for viewing wolves.

  • Best time to visit: the best times to visit Yellowstone are spring (from March to May) and autumn (from September to November). These seasons both feature mild weather and fewer crowds, and wildlife is at its most liveliest (especially during spring). However,if wolves are your single reason to visit Yellowstone, then some will tell you that the best time of the year is winter, when the wolves are more visible (the black ones stand out against the snow) and the prey is in plain sight.  While winter is not for the faint-hearted with bitter cold, there’s nothing quite like seeing plumes of steam rise from beneath a thick blanket of snow or a pack of wolves from the comfort of your snow scooter.
  • My selection of luxury hotels: Amangani & Four Seasons Jackson Hole.

Related post: top 10 most beautiful National Parks of the USA


5. TRACK WILDLIFE IN CORCOVADO NATIONAL PARK (COSTA RICA)

The National Park of Corcovado, located on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica’s southwest corner, is one of the most intense biological places on earths, and the beauty of its old-growth wet forests, cloud forests, mangrove swamps, and wild beaches is beyond words. The heart of this national park, around the Serena Ranger Station, is teeming with tropical wildlife, such as Red Macaws, tapirs, quetzals, red-eyed tree frogs, boa constrictor boas and various species of monkeys to name just a few. Call yourself extremely lucky when you spot a mountain lion or jaguar on the beach hunting for turtles, but be careful for herds of voracious peccaries in the dark jungle.

  • Best time to visit: Corcovado National Park is one of the wettest places on earth, so make sure to visit this corner of Costa Rica during the dry season to avoid most of the  rains (January to March).
  • My selection of luxury lodges: Lapa Rios & Casa Corcovado Jungle Lodge


4. FOLLOW THE GREAT MIGRATION IN THE SERENGETI (TANZANIA & KENYA)

One of the most dramatic stages for a classic African safari is the Great Migration, a 1,200-mile odyssey of 1.5 million wildebeest and 200,000 zebras, all of them chasing the rains in a race for life, while being purchased by an incredible amount of predators. Your chances of watching a kill by a pride of lions are pretty high when you visit the area in the right season.  The only other African wildlife adventure that comes close to the Great Migration, is observing Africa’s second greatest concentration of wildlife in Botswana’s Okavango Delta.

  • Best time to visit: the herds of wildebeests follow the rain, so plan your travels accordingly. The best time to witness the migration in Tanzania is probably February and March when the wildebeest and zebra congregate in the Serengeti at the start of the rainy season, and have their young too. Not only can you enjoy seeing baby animals, but the predators are at the highest number too.  In June and July, the great migration hops over to Kenya’s Masai Mara and this is the time that you can witness spectacular Grumeti River crossings with crocodiles killing their prey (although it is hard to predict the exact time of this event).
  • My selection of luxury lodges: &Beyond Serengeti Under Canvas, Four Seasons Resort Serengeti, Serengeti Migration Camp, Singita Faru Faru Lodge, Singita Sasakwa Lodge, Singita Sabora Tented Camp, & Singita Explore Mobile Tented Camp.

Related post: top 10 best lodges & hotels in Tanzania


3. KAYAK WITH WHALES IN ALASKA OR BRITISH COLUMBIA

Imagine the incredible sight of a pod of killer whales, also known as orcas, or the sound of a humpback whale’s blow as it gently swims past your kayak. No crazy sounds of other tourist on a boat trip, but just you, the whales, and the overwhelming silence of nature. There are no better places in the world to kayak with killer whales than Johnstone Strait off the northeastern corner of Vancouver Island, and to kayak with humpback whales near Adolphus Point near Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska. Don’t be surprised to witness some whales breach just a few yards away.

  • Best time to visit: the best time to kayak with whales is between May and the first half of September. The days are long, whales are active in the area, and temperatures are moderate (be prepared for rain – lots of rain – and storms at any time of the day).
  • Recommended tour operators: Sea Kayak Alaska (Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska) & North Island Kayak (Vancouver Island, Canada)
  • My selection of luxury lodges in & around Vancouver Island (for Alaska, cf below): Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, Long Beach Lodge Resort, Wickaninnish Inn, & Sonora Resort.

Related post: top 10 best luxury hotels & resorts in Canada


2. WALK WITH GRIZZLY BEARS IN ALASKA

This may sound like an insane idea, but it is not, at least not in Katmai National Park, a remote and pristine wilderness area in Alaska. In Katmai, giant coastal brown bears do not consider humans as a prey nor as a treat due to the abundance of food nearby and a 100+ years long wildlife protection program. A scenic flight in a small aircraft, followed by an exhilarating beach landing, will take you to Katmai’s  meadows, where you will observe the bears in their natural habitat, and even walk amongst them with an unarmed guide.

  • Best time to visit: although you may encounter a bear at any time in Alaska (except when they hibernate), your chances of seeing bears are best when they gather to feed on seasonally concentrated food sources like salmon and sedges. Katmai is the single best place to view bears in the wild (don’t even look for alternatives). June and August are the best month to watch bear activity (playing, digging clamps, grazing, mating) and walk among them on the wild beaches of Katmai. In July and September,  brown bears congregate to feed on sockeye salmon near the Brooks River Falls in the centre of National Park, allowing spectacular wildlife viewing opportunities from 3 viewing platforms (that you will have to share, unfortunately, with many others). Be bear-prepared!
  • Recommended tour operators: Katmailand (bear viewing at Brooks Falls) & Alaska Bear Adventures (bear viewing along the coast)
  • My selection of wilderness lodges (as close to luxury as you can get in Alaska): Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge, Camp Denali, North Face Lodge, Kulik Lodge, Ultima Thule Lodge. In Katmai itself – the best place for a bear encounter – luxurious accommodations are absent.

Related post: top 10 things to see and do in Alaska


1. ENCOUNTER MOUNTAIN GORILLAS IN RWANDA OR UGANDA

Spotting a wild gorilla in the African jungle is on many people’s bucket list. Mountain gorillas are the most majestic, and sadly, rarest apes of all non-human primates. Only 700 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 (which takes a half to a full day, and allows you to spend one hour with the apes once you found them) is an awesome experience and worth all the travel efforts. Watch below a clip of my recent gorilla tracking; the clip includes some stunning moments, such as bluff charges by a silverback and a baby gorilla touching me!

  • Best time to visit: while gorillas can be tracked all year-long, the best time to track gorillas in Rwanda or Uganda is during the country’s two dry seasons: January and February and from June to September.
  • Recommended tour operator: Uber Luxe Safaris
  • My selection of luxury lodges: Bisate Lodge by Wilderness Safaris (Rwanda), One&Only Gorillas Camp (Rwanda), Singita Kwitonda (Rwanda) & Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge (Uganda)

Related post: top 10 things to see and do in Rwanda


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