The luxurious safari lodge luring travelers to Rwanda’s remotest corner
The luxurious safari lodge luring travelers to Rwanda’s remotest corner; While it’s now 25 years since the genocide in Rwanda, it is remarkable that this war-torn country should have picked itself up so fast to become one of the most sought-after safari destinations in Africa, and home to some of the continent’s most expensive lodges. The main attraction, to date, has been primates – gorillas, in the main, and also chimpanzees and golden monkeys. But with the opening of Wilderness Safaris’ Magashi – a camp in the north-eastern corner of the country – Rwanda is offering a classic safari option for upmarket travellers. For Wilderness – which also owns the exclusive Bisate Lodge – it is a natural extension for guests who have been trekking with gorillas and want a taste of the Big Five.
Situated in Akagera, Magashi is the only lodge in the country within a national park. Created in 1934, the park’s fortunes were also affected by the events of 1994. Akagera – at 277,250 acres (112,200 hectares) today, less than half its original size – became home to returning refugees after the civil war, with the impact of farming and human habitation taking its toll on the wildlife. “Of the 300 lions here in 1994, for example, none were left by 2010, when African Parks took over,” says Adriaan Mulder, Magashi’s excellent senior guide. “Since then, animals have been reintroduced, and around 40 lions now roam the park.” The recent arrival of five more black rhinos has swelled their number to 24. But although the wildlife might not be as plentiful as elsewhere (of the Big Five, I failed to see rhinos or elephants during my three-day stay), the quality of this remote and beautiful nature reserve, together with the astonishing bird life (some 520 species in an area one-sixth the size of the Kruger), more than makes up for lack of quantity
Magashi’s concession covers some 12,360 acres (5,000 hectares) of savannah, as well as all of Lake Rwanyakizinga – the camp is perched on its shore – with concession fees contributing to conservation efforts. Arrival is by safari vehicle after a short game drive, or by boat which lets you become acquainted with the hippos that wallow in the shallows, forever eyeing the camp and grunting at the unfamiliar goings-on. One wonders what they make of the faces popping up above the pool, gazing at them.
To ensure that their curiosity does not result in a close encounter, the entire camp is raised on wooden platforms, the central tent and six guest rooms all connected by walkways. This classic Wilderness camp – as opposed to its premium ones (such as Bisate, which offers a more individual experience for a heftier price tag) – is nevertheless luxurious in its attention to detail. Stone-floored bathrooms have strong, hot showers and eco-friendly Africology products.
The canvas rooms are spacious and comfortable, with wood interiors, large beds, a desk, ample storage and mosquito netting and furniture tinged with dusky pink, in keeping with the colours of sunset in the west-facing rooms. Opening the tent curtains reveals a theatrical scene – the wooden deck being your stage, the lake and lilac hills the breathtaking backdrop.
The all-important bar, where bartender Fidele mixes punchy cocktails, is faced in tiles that imitate imigongo art – squares of cow dung decorated with geometric designs. Simplicity is key, with lashings of unvarnished woods. Here, it is all about the view. And, most importantly, if and when the camp is finally dismantled, it will leave no trace on the environment.
A typical day begins with a 5.30am knock at your door. Breakfast at 6am consists of fresh fruits and juices (the tree tomato is heaven!), homemade breads, local cheese, avocado, porridge and more. A game drive follows, at 6.30am, where you might find yourself, as I did, following a lion shimmying along the path, his breath visible in the cool air of dawn. Warthogs race through the tall grasses of the savannah, tails aloft like the flags of tour guides (and serving a similar “follow me” purpose). Grey-crowned cranes strut about, looking majestic. Zebras stand and stare before galloping off, impalas and waterbuck are everywhere, a feast for the leopards, while buffalo line up in serried ranks like a well-disciplined army. All around are acacia trees, permanently aflutter with birdlife in this twitcher’s paradise.
Brunch follows around noon – inventive salads and pasta, for example – and at 4pm you are off again, this time on the mirror-flat lake, to view your neighbours, the hippos and crocodiles, and watch magnificent fish eagles soar in search of the tilapia that inhabit the lake.
Sunsets are spectacular, and after a sundowner on the hoof, it is time for a night drive in search of leopards (I was in luck). Back at camp, happily weary after a day bouncing through the bush, I was greeted by Fidele, holding a tray of cocktails. Humans, too, need their watering holes, and Fidele makes a mean margarita – best enjoyed around the campfire, at the water’s edge.
Thereafter, couples can choose to dine tête-à-tête or, more convivially, with other guests – perhaps underneath the many-stemmed albizia tree. “The weavers built their nests in this tree, at the same time as we were building the camp” says Adriaan, who joins us for dinner one night – a simple but delicious and well-presented three courses. Like the fish eagles, I plumped for local tilapia, preceded by mushroom dumplings and a succulent chocolate pot dessert.
Back in your room, you will find your laundry returned, some thoughtful gifts on your bed, and a hot-water bottle inside it. Mercifully, there is not an insect in sight. And you fall asleep, serenaded by a chorus of moaning lions, rasping leopards and snorting hippos.
Tomorrow’s another day. Aticle from www.telegraph.co.uk
Mahlatini Luxury Travel (028 9073 6050; mahlatini.com) offers a three-night stay at Wilderness Safari’s Magashi Camp starting from £2,095 per person sharing on an all-inclusive basis. Includes international flights from London, accommodation, scheduled transfers and standard lodge activities.