For many, its name is still tinged with sadness, but in the 25 years since Rwanda was torn apart by violence, the East African country has rebuilt itself into one of the unlikeliest of destinations for travelers seeking a plush sanctuary and glimpses of the endangered mountain gorilla.
The newest lodge to ride the wave of Rwandan tourism: Singita Kwitonda, a small lodge that opened in early August, perched upon 178 acres of verdant land on the edge of Volcanoes National Park. One-bedroom suites can be had for $1,495 a night, while the lone two-bedroom suite fetches $4,485 an evening.
In the spirit of the 14 other African lodges and camps built by Singita founder Luke Bailes over the past 26 years, Singita Kwitonda is as bespoke as they come. Designed by GAPP Architects and interior design teams HK Studio and Cécile and Boyd, the lodge draws from Rwanda’s cultural heritage, employing strokes of black, khaki green, greige (gray and beige), orange, and vermillion to create airy spaces both bold and inviting.
“The design teams worked tirelessly with the local community to source most of the building materials in the immediate Musanze district,” says Bailes, who points out that nearly 60% of the materials used to build Singita Kwitonda were sourced in Africa.
More than 500 local artisans converged on the construction site over two years to infuse the lodge with the smallest of touches: woven ceilings, hand-tooled geometric pieces, and walls decorated with striking spiral and geometric patterns in the Rwandan tradition of Imigongo.
Builders laid nearly 800,000 hand-fired terracotta bricks and 24,600 square feet of volcanic stone—roughly half the size of London’s Emirates Stadium—along areas like the indoor and outdoor fireplaces, as well as the heated plunge pools on the balconies of each suite, which open to views of the Virunga mountain range.
Head chef Alice Wilhelm, a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Arts in Stellenbosch, a town in South Africa’s Western Cape province, focuses on serving guests a seasonal menu of local cuisine with ingredients plucked from the lodge’s garden, including plantains, cassava, sweet potatoes, millet, and fruit.
While guests are welcome to spend their entire stay at the lodge, working out in the gym and unwinding with an in-room massage, they’re likely to take advantage of the lodge’s proximity to Volcanoes National Park. Home to over 50% of the world’s endangered mountain gorillas, the park offers daily treks, assigning each group of travelers a family of gorillas based on the group’s fitness and experience levels. Once the travelers find their gorilla family, they spend up to an hour observing them in their habitat before returning to the lodge.
In the 25 years since Rwanda’s devastating genocide, in which over 800,000 people were slaughtered by extremist members of the Hutu group, tourism in Rwanda has rebounded thanks to a number of conservation policies that help preserve much of the country’s natural landscape and endangered gorillas.
In May 2018, the country announced a three-year partnership with English football team Arsenal that has the message "Visit Rwanda" printed on players' shirt sleeves. The country’s logo also appears on the side of the field of Emirates Stadium and on the backdrops for some televised post-match interviews.
Rwanda's tourism revenues have grown more than 100% over the past 10 years, according to a spokesperson for the Rwanda Development Board, with Rwanda now earning hundreds of millions of dollars from the 1 million tourists who visit Rwanda annually. By 2024, the board estimates it will earn $800 million a year from tourism.
Singita Kwitonda is the latest in a number of high-end lodges that have opened in Rwanda in the past five years alone, joining other upscale efforts like Bisate Lodge, which opened its doors in 2017, and One&Only Nyungwe House, which followed a year later.
“Rwanda has experienced an amazing rebirth, which has been incredible to observe,” Bailes says.
The fact that more adventure-seeking travelers are crossing Rwanda’s borders each year suggests the world agrees.
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