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the best Rwanda has to offer

Four months in, we just might have found our favorite place in Rwanda. Picture gently sloping hills covered with tea plants that unroll like a green carpet towards a mist-covered forest. Now imagine that view as you sip freshly brewed tea with your breakfast, take a dip in a zero-gravity pool, or cozy up to a fireplace while dusk descends outside. All that plus impeccable service, which is a bit of a rarity in Rwanda, is on offer at the Nyungwe Forest Lodge.

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D spent a night at the lodge for work a couple of weekends ago, and then returned with S and Munchkin over the long Veterans Day weekend. In addition to the luxury lodge, there are also more affordable accommodations that even include camping in the forest. If it was closer, we might make Nyungwe a monthly destination, but the long drive is a significant deterrent.

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There are two roads to Nyungwe from Kigali – one can either travel west to the shores of Lake Kivu before descending along the lake towards the forest or one can take the southern route, which winds through the forest itself. Either way, the road is insanely tortuous – and torturous as well when there is a toddler in the back seat. We took the lake route to the lodge and returned via the forest road, cutting the 4.5hr drive down by 15 minutes on the return leg.

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Nyungwe offers a variety of attractions – there is a canopy walk, one can go chimp and other primate trekking, and there are a dozen trails through the woods. The downside is that tourism is incredibly regimented in Rwanda. One cannot hike in the forest without a guide, which means that even a simple walk in the woods becomes a costly undertaking.

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We did a short trail with Munchkin, letting him walk a good chunk of the 2-kilometer trail and stretching what would have been an hour-long hike into three hours. At resident rates, we paid $30 each for the privilege – a fee that would have covered other nature walks in the forest but did not include the early morning birding, canopy walk, or primate trekking. Because hikes leave at specific times (usually 9am, 11am, and 1pm) and because it rained in the early afternoon, we could not take advantage of the fee to go on a second foray into the woods.

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The walk was pleasant, but we actually saw much more of the wildlife at the lodge, which is situated right outside the National Park boundary, than in the protected forest itself. On his first trip, D saw black-and-white colubus monkeys just outside the lodge entrance. This time around, we saw both blue monkeys and L’Hoest’s monkeys, both of which frolicked at the edge of the forest before coming all the way up to our cabin. Our last morning, D also discovered a forest trail that can be accessed right from the lodge – without the need to pay for a guide.

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Nyungwe is home to 13 different kinds of primates. There are also approximately 275 bird species that have been recorded in the forest, more than two dozen of them endemic to the region, so there are plenty of reasons for us to return.

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