I recently enjoyed a sublime holiday in the amazingly beautiful country of Rwanda. You can read my trip reports here:
- Review: KLM A330 (new) Business Class from Amsterdam to Rwanda
- Review: Kigali Serena Hotel
- Review: Bisate Lodge by Wilderness Safaris, Volcanoes National Park (today)
- Review: Encounter with the mountain gorillas (my best travel experience ever!)
- Review: One&Only Nyungwe House (Nyungwe National Park)
- Review: Ruzizi Tented Lodge (Akagera National Park)
- Review: KLM A330 (new) Business Class from Rwanda to Amsterdam (via Uganda)
Today (February 20, 2019): Review of Bisate Lodge (Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda)
- Location: Google maps
- Hotel website: Bisate Lodge by Wilderness Safaris
- Recommended tour operator in Rwanda: Uber Luxe Safaris
Comprising just 6 spacious forest villas, Bisate offers an ultra-luxurious base from where to enjoy an extraordinary gorilla conservation experience and life-changing journey to this beautiful region. Situated within the amphitheater of an eroded volcanic cone, Bisate is surrounded by natural splendor, with sweeping views towards the Karisimbi, Bisoke and Mikeno volcanoes. Bisate’s sophisticated architectural and interior design is rooted in Rwandan building tradition as exemplified in the design of the Royal Palace of the traditional monarch. The spherical, thatched structures echo the thousands of hills that dot the Rwandan landscape, while the richly-detailed interiors exhibit surfaces and screens made from a variety of woven materials with strong resonance in Rwandan culture.
Have you ever stayed at Bisate Lodge? If so, what was your experience? Leave a comment.
In this review (more info and photos below my Youtube clip & slideshow):
- Pros & things I like
- Cons & things to know
- My verdict
- Tips for future guests & save money
- Best time to visit
- How to get there
*** Get the most out of your (luxury) trip to Rwanda with my Rwanda travel guide ***
PROS & THINGS I LIKE
- Situated within the amphitheater of an eroded volcanic cone, Bisate Lodge occupies a 27-hectare steep hillside site of majestic natural splendor, with phenomenal views towards the Karisimbi, Bisoke and Mikeno peaks of Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. The lodge is close enough to Kinigi (the headquarters of Volcanoes National Park) to be convenient for the morning gorilla treks, but far enough away so as to feel remote and even – as a result of the onsite indigenous reforestation project – part of the spectacular Park. Rwanda’s capital city of Kigali (with the nearest airport) is 105 km (65 miles) or a 3 hour drive from the lodge, with most of the scenic journey taking place via a perfectly paved road (except for the last miles, which is on a rocky, volcanic path that requires a 4×4 car).
- Bisate Lodge features only six ultra-luxurious thatched villas, perched on the hillside. Each villa comprises a generous yet intimate combination of bedroom, reception space and bathroom, all warmed by a central fireplace. The domed living room comes with either a kingsize bed or two twin beds (covered with green geometric pattern cushions), a sofa, a small desk, and two armchairs on a cowhide rug in front of a log-burning fire. The spacious bathroom features a black oval, resin bath tub in the center, two sinks with leather-framed mirrors, a walk-in brick rain shower, a separate toilet, and eco-friendly amenities by Africology, a South African wellness company. Both the living room and bathroom have enormous windows that open to a bamboo balcony with breathtaking views of Mount Bisoke ‘s imposing volcanic cone.
- Besides the six thatched villas, Bisate Lodge also features one main lodge sphere, with a design rooted in Rwandan building tradition. Styled in the same decor as the villas, the dome’s interior features wooden floors and walls covered in dried woven grass mats – just like the ones found inside Rwandan homes. One side of the main dome houses a chic bar with a cozy sitting area around an open fire, where guests gather in the evening to share their gorilla adventures of the day while enjoying a pre-dinner aperitif. An intimate dining area with only six tables and a bar counter are located on the other side, and it’s here that breakfast, lunch and dinner are served (more on that below). Both the dining and bar area feature enormous windows, with black steel doors leading to a balcony that offer views of the surrounding volcanoes. The main lodge also houses a wine cellar in its basement.
- Created by Johannesburg-based architect Nick Plewman, the lodge’s unique design is based on the King’s Palace at Nyanza. The spherical, thatched structures echo the thousands of hills that dot the Rwandan landscape, while the richly-detailed interiors exhibit surfaces and screens made from a variety of woven materials with strong resonance in Rwandan culture. The emerald green color in the textiles and chandeliers is reminiscent of the verdant greens of the rainforests and the vibrant markets that dot the villages throughout the country. Many of the furnishings are decorated using “imigongo,” an art form unique to Rwanda that uses cow dung and goes back hundreds of years; the dung is mixed with soils of different colors and then painted in geometric shapes. The use of black and white cow hides also reflect the rural way of life in the villages, and volcanic stone is used in the fireplaces to echo the volcanoes of the adjacent National Park.
- Bisate Lodge offers an all-inclusive formula, with room rates including all meals, drinks, coctails, and some premium wines. Meals are served in the restaurant or on the adjoining terrace. The set dinner menu changes daily, offering slow-cooked, hearty and healthy dishes served in colorful ceramics. Signature dishes include liboke (chicken cooked and served in banana leaves), sambaza (fried, spicy small fish spiced served with ginger rice), and kachumbari (a traditional tomato and onion salad). Ingredients featuring strongly in Bisate’s menus include wild honey, avocado, climbing beans, mango, kale, papaya, plantain, passion fruit, pineapple, macadamia nuts and chilies. A highlight for many will be their first experience of Rwandan coffee – sourced from the local Kigufi Coffee Estate – called Gato Keza.
- Bisate Lodge is managed by Africa’s top safari operator, Wilderness Safaris. Founded in Botswana in 1983, Wilderness Safaris is widely acclaimed as the continent’s foremost ecotourism operator, dedicated to conserving and restoring Africa’s wilderness and wildlife. They do this by creating life-changing journeys for guests in some of the most remote and pristine areas in Africa, hereby helping to conserve Africa’s spectacular biodiversity and share ecotourism’s benefits with the communities that live alongside these areas. Wilderness Safaris operates more than 40 camps in seven countries, including several iconic and ultraluxe properties such as Mombo & Little Mombo in Botswana and amazing North Island in the Seychelles.
- Bisate Lodge is deeply committed to Wilderness Safaris’ 4Cs sustainability ethos of Commerce, Community, Culture and Conservation. Its pioneering reforestation efforts have already seen over 20,000 indigenous trees planted to date. In a country where agriculture has dominated for decades, previous traditional practices have denuded Rwanda of much of its original forest cover, thus leaving indigenous species with very limited habitat. Bisate’s reforestion project has aided in the return of numerous endemic species to the area, such as southern tree hyrax, side-striped jackal and at least one species of genet. Guests are also encouraged to get involved in the reforestation project by planting a tree on the Bisate property during their stay, thus directly contributing to the restoration of the area.
- With only six villas and twice as many staff as guests, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that service at the lodge is exceptional and personalized. More than 50% of Bisate’s staff comes from the neighboring communities. Because there are so few guests here, there’s plenty of time to interact with the superfriendly staff, whether it’s chatting to the barman before dinner, sharing your love for Africa with the general manager, or exploring the nearby villages with the lodge’s guides. To give you an example of the attentive service: after your gorilla trekking, the staff will clean your hiking boots and return them in no time (with your shoes looking better than new). Also, the staff is there to welcome every guest upon arrival, dancing and singing a song in Kinyarwand.
- The prime reason why you stay here is gorilla trekking. Spotting a wild gorilla in the African jungle is on many people’s bucket list and ranks among my favorite wildlife experience in the world. Mountain gorillas are the most majestic, and sadly, rarest apes of all non-human primates. Only 1000 of these magnificent creatures remain in the world, all of them found in the border area between Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A guided gorilla tracking takes anywhere from 2 to 10 hours, and allows you to spend one hour with the apes once you found them. It’s an awesome adventure, often undertaken by travelers as they are overwhelmed by emotions after seeing the movie Gorillas In The Mist: The Story of Dian Fossey. I will publish a review of my gorilla encounter next week.
CONS & THINGS TO KNOW
Bisate Lodge is one of the most exclusive accommodation options in Rwanda, comprising just 6 stunning rooms set inside thatched, spherical pavilions containing every conceivable luxury. There’s no much to say against the lodge, but you may want to know the following nonetheless:
- Bisate Lodge is one of the most exclusive but also most expensive lodges in Africa. But you should know that going in, and rates do include all meals, a 20 min shoulder & back massage, and on-site excursions (excluding gorilla trekking). Most importantly, at Bisate Lodge, you don’t pay for an overnight stay, but you pay for a life-changing experience and a memory that will last a lifetime.
- Bisate Lodge features a lot of stairs (built with uneven volcanic stone), which makes the property not ideal for mobility challenged guests. There is a lot of climbing up and down the hillside to get to the room, the restaurant or to go on the daily activities. But that’s nothing compared to what awaits you while tracking the gorillas!
- The location of the lodge is spectacular (with phenomenal views) but the property is not located inside the rainforest but rather in a rural area, just above a local farming community (at the moment, there are no lodges inside the Volcanoes National Park). That may change though in the near future, since the park will be extended and this, combined with reforestation, will practically place Bisate Lodge within the park boundaries.
- Facilities at the lodge are rather limited. There are only six villas and one main lodge building, but that’s it. There is no spa, gym or swimming pool. That said, spa treatments can be enjoyed in the privacy of your own villa. Also, it’s rumored that Wilderness Safaris may build an on-site spa in the near future, enhancing the wellness offerings at Bisate Lodge.
- Location: 10/10
- Design: 10/10
- Pool: the property has no pool
- Rooms: 10/10
- Food: 9/10
- Breakfast: 9/10
- Spa: the property has no spa (treatments are done in the privacy of your villa)
- Service: 10/10
- Value for money: 9/10
- Overall experience: exceptional 9,6/10
TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
- Save money: read here my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel like Bisate Lodge (and/or receive many free perks).
- Room tip: There are only 6 villas as Bisate Lodge and they all feature the same layout. The higher located villas have the best view (but reaching them involves more stairs).
- Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
In the heart of Africa, fractionally south of the equator, Rwanda’s relatively high altitude provides it with a remarkably pleasant tropical highland climate, albeit also with plenty of rain. Although it’s regarded as a year-round activity, the best time to visit Rwanda is during the short dry season from December to February or over the long dry season months of June to September. These periods offer by far the easiest hiking conditions (for gorilla or chimp trekking) and the lowest malaria risk. The dry season does not necessarily means sunny season as there is often a light cloud cover, helping to moderate the temperatures. Rwanda’s long rainy season lasts from about March to May, when the rain is heavy and persistent. October to November is the short rainy season, with occasional light showers in the afternoon.
HOW TO GET THERE
Bisate Lodge can be reached from Kigali by car, a journey of around 2,5 hours on an excellent paved road (only the last miles are on a dirt road). However, it’s also possible to charter a flight to the airport at Ruhengeri, which is just over half an hour’s drive from the property.