Tag: Africa

Marrakech

Marrakech

Marrakech

Luxury Hotel Guide for Your Morrocan Vacation
MARIA DIEGO

Morocco lies in the North Western part of Africa, its name meaning Land of God. Its main industry is agriculture, and with a climate similar to California, everything from olive trees to figs to citrus is grown in abundance. Morocco is home to 56 million people and of those, about half live in the country side in small villages. It’s a diverse country where you have everything from beach resorts on the coast, to desert camps in the Sahara, to Ryads in countryside and to luxury hotels in Marrakech and everything in between.

Fez was the first Medina of Morocco and used to be the capital, but Casablanca has since become the capital and is the industrial and financial capital of the country. This guide will cover Marrakech, which in my opinion is the heart of Morocco and should be the focal point of your trip.

Marrakech is an ancient city in the center of Morocco and has plenty of options for luxury resorts with grand pools, spas, delicious food and impeccable service. Beyond relaxing at your resort, there is a lot to do not only in the city of Marrakech that includes history, culture. If staying over a few days, there are also many amazing places to discover on a day trip excursion.

Perfect For: Families | Destination Weddings | Luxury Honeymoon | Couples Groups | Multi-Generational Families | Incentive Trips | Corporate Groups | Adventure Seekers

Getting to Morocco

Getting to Marrakech

Marrakech used to have non-stop flight options from major US hubs, but because of the pandemic, flights are somewhat limited and connect through either Cassablanca or Europe. We connected through Madrid Barajas International Airport to Marrakech. Hopefully, a non-stop option to Marrakech will be introduced in the near future. For domestic options, flights can also be somewhat limited to certain days of the week, especially when visiting the smaller towns, so it is best to work with a travel advisor like me who takes care of all the logistical details..

Marrakech

31.6258,-7.98916

Marrakech

Moroccan Spices

Marrakech Luxury Travel Guide

What to do in Marrakech

  • The Medina

    The old city, also referred to as the Medina, is the walled in section of Marrakech filled with the market (the souk), two notable resorts built by the Moroccan royalty, La Mamounia and Royal Mansour, as well as many plazas, shops, restaurants, museums and private riads. In Moroccan culture, most homes look exactly the same from the outside, as they don’t care to share their status on the exterior of the home. Once you step inside, it can either be simple or extravagant. A great way to experience this is to visit Majorelle Gardens next to the Ives Saint Laurent’s museum. The Medina is the heart of Marrakech, and where the hustle and bustle is.

  • Souk Marrakech Morocco

  • Moroccan Spices

  • The Souk

    Within the Medina lies the Souk, which is the marketplace where you can find everything from handcrafts to food, spices, jewelry, and shoes. The Souk also has sections, one area for the metalworkers, while another area is for leather. It’s helpful to go with a local guide to quickly lead you in the right direction and to the right vendor, as it’s easy to get sucked in and not find your way out, and it can be quite chaotic, with motorcycles and carts constantly running through. We traveled with our three kids and my mom, and we each gripped tightly to a little hand. One of my favorite stops in the Souk was to a pharmacy/herbalist, where the shop owner explained how to tell the difference between quality Argan oil and imitation Argan oil, and showed us ancient Moroccan remedies for ailments.

  • Shopping

    The vibrantly colorful city of Marrakech has long been a source of inspiration for fashion designers like Yves Saint Laurent.  Today, along with his famous museum, you can find his fashion boutiques around the city along with other well-known designer brands and smaller up-and-coming labels such as Topolina a French couture pattern maker who made Morocco her home to highlight its bold and bright colors and incredible textiles through fashion.  While we were in Marrakech, we hit Pacha Gallery, on the hunt for antique doors and custom lighting for a residential project we are working on back home. For natural herbs and health remedies, don’t miss Herboriste la Sagesse, where they’ll mesmerize you with a very quick and impressive overview of every potion available.  Finally, don’t forget to visit the shops inside La Mamounia, featuring a perfect blend of fashion with Moroccan sweets and treats that you can bring home as gifts.

  • Marrakech Shopping

  • Atlas Mountains Morocco

  • The Atlas Mountains

    The Atlas Mountains are divided into three areas – the High Atlas, Mid- Atlas and the Anti-Atlas in the South. Beginning about one hour outside of Marrakech, it is worthwhile to explore the Atlas Mountains to experience the countryside of Morocco. There are many villages  and valleys that are worth a visit and when you plan your trip with Diego Travel, we will make recommendations based on the routing and logistics of your trip to experience the Atlas with a a day tour or immerse yourself in a multi-day itinerary.

  • The Coast

    The two coastal towns that worth visiting as a day trip from Marrakech are Tagazhout, to the southwest, and Essouria to the west. These coastal hubs come alive in the summer with European travelers but are worth a day visit any time of the year. Tagazhout is lined with beach resorts and is a famous surfing destination, while Essouaria is a charming walled coastal town.

  • Essaouira

  • AIT-BEN-HADDOU

  • Ait-Ben-Haddou
    One of my favorite experiences from our trip to Morocco was our visit the Unesco World Heritage site of Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou. A 3.5 hour drive through the Atlas Mountains from Marrakech where we experienced the Morrocan countriside and take a peek into the Berber tribes that live in the Atlas Mountains. Ait-Ben-Haddou is an incredible example of traditional Morrocan architecture and an unforgetable sight that has been used a s backdrop in many hollywood films including Gladiator, the Mummy and Babel as well as one of the backdrops for Game of Thrones. While it is posible to do a day trip from Marrakech, I highly suggest an overnight trip combining it with a visit to Ouzarate and Skoura, the land of 1,001 casbahs and staying at the 19th-century Kasbah turned luxury boutique hotel of Dar Ahlam for an unforgetable experience.

Diego Travel Marrakech Luxury Hotel Guide

Where to Stay in Marrakech

Marrakech is home to as many luxury hotels and resorts as you would find in a destination like Paris, France. In fact, the British and French are Morocco’s top markets in tourism, behind Americans. There were so many amazing resorts in Marrakech, it was hard to decide where to stay, but I’m happy to report that I was able to stay at and visit most of the below options. While each is unique, there is something for everyone, and it is my job to speak with you and determine the right fit based on your style, travel tastes, and needs. I’m also including an option in the Atlas Mountains, Dar Ahlam, which I highly recommend. And while we didn’t get to see it, Kasbah Tamadot, Richard Branson’s luxury villa at the base of the Atlas Mountains and just one hour outside of Marrakech, is worthy of a stay.

Oberoi Marrakech

The Oberoi Marrakech

This 28-acre estate with 84 rooms is set just 25 minutes outside of Marrakech, on an estate filled with olive trees and soaring emerald cypress trees that line extensive fountains and pools. The service at The Oberoi in Marrakech is what set it apart and was beyond exceptional, so much so that I was nearly crying when we had to leave. Owned in part by a local aluminum family and in part by the Oberoi

family, the property was built over 3 years with no expense spared. 200 artisans took years to hand carve the wood and stone domed ceiling of the lobby, and the property is complete with several restaurants, a huge spa, a kids club, a teen club, and even a vloggers room equipped with as many outlets and high powered wifi connection. I could envision myself staying here for a full week, to just disconnect, read good books, and enjoy the property with day trips into the center of Marrakech.

Book with Diego Travel to Receive the Following Virtuoso Amenities:

  • Complimentary one category upgrade upon arrival or at time of booking, based on availability
  • Daily Continental breakfast for up to two people per bedroom
  • Welcome note and amenity
  • Priority Early Check-In/Late Check-Out
  • VIP Status
  • Complimentary 50-minute massage for up to two guests
  • Diego Travel Welcome Box when Using the Travel Planning Service

Diego Travel Recommends Oberoi Marrakech For: Honeymooners | Destination Weddings | Couples Groups | Multi- Generational Families | Anniversary Trips | Families | Incentive Groups

Royal Mansour

Royal Mansour

We arrived to the grand entry of Royal Mansour, where guards stand in regal uniforms as if their guarding the true royal palace. Entering into the courtyard will have your eyes unable to settle, as there is so much going on everywhere. The palace was built in 2010 by the king, as no expense was spared to make it as grand as possible. While I had an appointment for a site inspection (full disclosure: we didn’t sleep here), we waited for about 10 minutes until we were greeted. Not the warm and personable welcome that we received at other properties, and overall, that was the feeling I had here.
There are 53 riads in total, all offering total privacy, in large part to the underground tunnels built for the property so that staff remain out of sight from the guests. The staff are discreet, and tend to not speak unless spoken to, make less eye contact, and are generally there ready

to serve but not over-imposing. The scene here was to see and be seen, and the guests dressed to the nines.
The resort has 4 restaurants, excluding The Nest, which is a private area that can be specially set up for dinner, accommodating from 2-10 guests. There are 2 pools – an enormous outdoor one with pool cabanas that can be rented, and an indoor pool at the spa. The kids club serves children ages 4-10 and they can provide nanny service for younger kids.
Aside from the multi-bedroom riads with full kitchens and private rooftop pools that would be perfect for groups or larger families, my favorite part of this property were the gardens. In my opinion, Royal Mansour has the most beautiful gardens in all of Marrakech. While you’ll see long lines waiting to get into the YSL museum and gardens, this garden was much more beautiful and worth at least a lunch reservation in order to go and see them. They were built in 2020 when the curfew imposed due to the pandemic, inspired the king to build an area of the property where guests could continue enjoy the outdoors beyond the curfew.

Book with Diego Travel to Receive the Following Virtuoso Amenities:

  •  Upgrade upon arrival, subject to availability (from Superior 1 BR to Premiere 1 BR)
  • Daily full breakfast for up to two people per bedroom, provided via room service
  • $100 USD Food & Beverage Credit
  • Complimentary Round-Trip Private Airport Transfers
  • Priority Early Check-In/Late Check-Out
  • VIP Status
  • Diego Travel Welcome Box when Using the Travel Planning Service

Diego Travel Recommends Royal Mansour: Honeymooners | Spa-Focused Trips | Multi-Generational Families | Families wanting Kids Club | Incentive Groups

La Mamounia

La Mamounia

La Mamounia is the nickname for the prince who was gifted this property by his father, the king. La Mamounia is conveniently located next door to Royal Mansour, and inside of the walled Medina in the old city. If you’re looking for a central location, an ambience of chic well-

traveled Europeans, a selection of fine dining and shopping options in the common areas, than La Mamounia would be an excellent choice. It definitely has the “in-the-know” vibe with high-brow shops like Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior mixed with elegant boutiques carrying local designer wares you won’t find anywhere else. All the restaurants were renovated in 2020, and I loved the pale pink and jungle green hues combined with brass decor in one. The grounds have beautiful gardens, which you can walk freely, even if you are just dining in one of the restaurants. However, unless you are a guest of the hotel, you cannot access the impressive hotel pool and cabanas, which are heavily guarded with security, as is most of the property.
While I only toured the suites and the presidential La Mamounia Suite, the actual 2-bedroom apartment for the prince himself, the rooms are spacious, airy and well appointed without feeling stuffy and pretentious. It is an older hotel, but rooms and grounds are maintained impeccably, and definitely have the royal feel.
The hotel has a small spa, but no kids club or kid-friendly amenities. However, if you don’t need those amenities, my kids enjoyed running around the grounds and would have had no issue with a short stay here. However, it is less of a family-friendly resort than many other options in Morocco. The hotel can arrange for babysitting services, but again, there are really no facilities to entertain the kids.
Insider Tip: Reserve a sushi dinner followed by a private movie screening in their secret cinema. This bespoke experience can be enjoyed by any hotel guest with advanced reservations, but most people don’t even know that the opportunity exists.

Book with Diego Travel to Receive the Following Virtuoso Amenities:
• Upgrade upon arrival, subject to availability (for suites, upgrade at time of booking, subject to availability)
• Daily full breakfast for up to two people per bedroom
• $100 USD Food & Beverage Credit
• Priority Early Check-In/Late Check-Out
• VIP Status
• Diego Travel Welcome Box when Using theTravel Planning Service 

Diego Travel Recommends La Mamounia Marrakech For:
Honeymooners | Groups of Friends | Anniversary Trip | Mother/Daughter Shopping Trips | Incentive Groups | Destination Wedding

La Villa des Orangers

Villa des Orangers

We started off the trip at this luxury boutique Relais & Chateaux property and I immediately fell in love. One of the few options inside of the walled Medina, a stay at Villa des Orangers feels like you’re walking into someone’s very elegant private home. After a very long and delayed journey to arrive to Marrakech, the staff welcomed us in a seated area, as we were served the best mint tea of our trip while we filled out paperwork. It was late at night at the full moon was glowing through the tree branches, lighting up the courtyard and over the pristine lap pool. Once that brief welcome was complete, they welcomed us into what felt like a living room, with the fire lit and dinner immediately served around a coffee table, the perfect set up for tired and hungry kids.
Each room at Villa des Orangers is uniquely appointed, and we were staying in two bi-level suites that were perfect for our large family. They were decorated with antiques, and every detail from the handrails to the lighting to bathtub were simply stunning. From a design standpoint, Villa des Orangers might have been my favorite just because it felt so homey and is centrally located right in the heart of the Medina. I have a preference for these boutique-style hotels over the grand opulence of some larger brand-name 5 star hotels. However, as a caveat, the building is ancient, so there were some quirks to the building that might not be perceived as luxurious to many travelers.

Book with Diego Travel to Receive the Following Virtuoso Amenities:
• Upgrade to next room category, based upon availability at check-in
• 100 USD hotel credit per room, per stay (2 night minimum, valid towards incidentals)
• Guaranteed 2pm late check-out
• Complimentary welcome drink per guest, per stay

• VIP Status
• Diego Travel Welcome Box when Using the Travel Planning Service

Diego Travel Recommends Villa des Orangers For: Honeymooners | Groups of Friends | Anniversary Trip | Mother/Daughter Shopping Trips | Small Groups

Amanjena, Morocco

Amanjena

I was very excited to stay at Amanjena, as Aman Hotels are always at the top of my list when it comes to guaranteed luxury and over-the-top service. Amanjena did not disappoint, and has the wow factor that would make any trip extra special. The grounds are stunning, with expansive pools and fountains throughout. The entrance has two lobbies on either side, with a bar on one side and restaurants on the other. The food was incredible, and for our first dinner, there was a trio of musicians playing traditional Moroccan music while we dined under the high glass-domed ceilings in a candlelit room that could not have been more romantic. Well, had we removed our three tired kids, it might have been.
The 40 villas on property are stunning and offer lavish accommodations with incredible amenities. What is included here sets Aman properties apart from your typical hotel stay – from welcome amenities to nightly treats placed on your pillow. There are only 4 room categories at Amanjena, with the first three all having the exact same floor plan with the differentiating factor being the outdoor space. You can consult with me on season you’ll be there to determine best fit.
On property there are two pools, one adults-only and one family- friendly. To be honest, the family-friendly pool felt like an after-thought, stuck behind the spa building and next to the golf course, in a way that doesn’t seem like it would be enjoyable. From what I was told, most families will stay in the 2-bedroom villas, the Alhambra Suite, that have a full-size private pool in their own “backyard,” which makes a lot more sense.
The spa is small but offers an extensive menu of treatments, and the separate men’s and women’s hammers offer different masks that you can apply as a complimentary service during your stay. While there’s not a ton to do, per se, at Amanjena, they do offer a small selection of kids activities such as calligraphy, story time, and a cooking class, and can arrange for nearby camel rides. While Amanjena does have families that stay here, especially during the peak seasons of December and April, the majority of travelers here are couples seeking privacy, romance and a nice getaway from major European cities.

Book with Diego Travel to Receive the Following Virtuoso Amenities:
• Upgrade upon arrival, subject to availability
• Daily continental breakfast for two guests per bedroom
• $100 USD Food & Beverage Credit
• Priority Early Check-In/Late Check-Out
• VIP Status
• Diego Travel Welcome Box when Using the Travel Planning Service

Diego Travel Recommends Amanjena For: Honeymooners | Groups of Friends | Anniversary Trip | Parents Traveling with Older Children | Small Groups

Mandarin Oriental Marrakech

Mandarin Oriental Marrakech

The sleek and modern Mandarin Oriental Marrakech was designed by the same designer responsible for the Baccarat Hotel in New York City and the newly redesigned Mandarin Oriental in Madrid. The property is best known for its open air gardens and two golf courses, and comes with many accommodation options with villas that are perfect for families.

The hotel is often site to high-profile events such as runway shows for Moncler and Yves Saint Laurent.

Book with Diego Travel to Receive the Following Virtuoso Amenities:
• Upgrade upon arrival, subject to availability (for suites, upgrade at time of booking, subject to availability)
• Daily full breakfast for up to two people per bedroom
• $100 USD Food & Beverage Credit
• Priority Early Check-In/Late Check-Out
• VIP Status
• Diego Travel Welcome Box when Using the Travel Planning Service 

Diego Travel Recommends Mandarin Oriental Marrakech For:
Honeymooners | Groups of Friends | Anniversary Trip | Mother/Daughter Shopping Trips | Incentive Groups | Destination Wedding

A Few of My Favorite Things

Marrakech

Combining Ancient Culture with Luxury Accommodations

We loved learning about ancient Moorish culture and visiting the Dar el Bacha Museum of the Confluences before wandering through the narrow streets of the Souk. We also loved driving through the Atlas Mountains and seeing how the Berbers live and visiting the Unesco World Heritage site of Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou, in Ouarzazate Provence.

The Service

Morocco is a destination where you get a lot of value and high level of service for a fraction of what it would cost in Europe. Service, food, shopping and culture were all phenomenal. If you have questions about which property to choose or how to plan your trip, you can fill out our Trip Design Form to get started and we will reach out with more information!

Design My Trip!


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Rwanda

Rwanda

Rwanda

A Destination Guide for Your African Safari Vacation
MARIA DIEGO

Rwanda, a country no larger than the size of Maryland, is often referred to as the land of a thousand hills and is located in East Africa. Best known for its gorilla population, Rwanda has a lush terrain of rainforests and farmland, spotted with microclimates of misty haze that hang over the hills like a mystical dream until streams of sunlight break through the grey clouds, exposing a magnificently green landscape that can be viewed from its thousand hilltops. Rwanda shares a border with Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and is the second safest country in all of Africa. Rwanda is a country with a painful past and colorful yet complicated history, and the people of Rwanda are deeply connected to each other, having lived through a trauma that left both visible and invisible wounds that will continue to be felt for generations to come. I’ll go into further detail about the Rwandan genocide when I cover things to do in Rwanda, but the most notable highlight of my experience in Rwanda was the joyful hope and resilience that exuded from every Rwandan’s infectious smile. With Micato Safaris, a leading tour operator in Africa for 30+ years and one of Diego Travel’s top travel partners, we are able to plan an unforgettable trip to Rwanda that will change the way you see the world.

Perfect For: Adventure & Thrill Seekers | Destination Weddings | Luxury Honeymoon | Couples Groups | Multi-Generational Families with Older Children | Anniversary Trips | Those Who Have Already Done Safari | Teens Ages 15+

Getting to Rwanda

Getting to Rwanda

Getting to Rwanda isn’t easy, and my total travel time from Miami exceeded 24 hours, but the trip is well worth it. Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda, has several non-stop flights from major European airports.

Once in Kigali, I recommend a minimum one night in Kigali in order to visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial and acclimate to the time change. Unless your time is seriously limited, then you could take a private helicopter from Kigali airport onto One and Only Nyungwe House. One & Only Resorts, a Diego Travel preferred partner, has the perfect pairing of resorts in Rwanda that I cannot recommend enough. You can find out more about my stays under Where To Stay in Rwanda. When you utilize Diego Travel’s trip planning service, we handle all of the logistics of travel to the Rwanda, taking into consideration the number of nights you have, your budget, and facts you may not even be aware of that might add a roadblock to your trip unless you utilize someone in-the-know.

Rwanda

-1.96357,30.1348

Kigali

Rwanda Chimpanzee

The Rwanda Luxury Travel Guide

What to do in Rwanda

Rwanda has four national parks including Volcanoes National Park, best known for its population of gorilla families, Gishwati-Mukura National Park, Nyungwe National Park, which crosses over into Uganda and is home to 4 different species of primates including chimpanzees, and Akagera National Park. The national parks of Rwanda make up nearly 9% of its land, and each national park in Rwanda has a slightly different biodiversity. Volcanoes National Park encompasses five of the eight volcanoes in the Virunga Mountains and is home to a growing gorilla population, all thanks to the work of Dian Fossey and continued conservation work of her foundation. If you’re after more than just gorilla and primate trekking, you can find the Big Five in Akagera National Park, making Rwanda a destination in and of itself. Many people make the mistake of tacking Rwanda onto the end of a larger safari trip as a sort of addendum to quickly see the gorillas, but it’s much more deserving of a minimum 8 nights to properly experience the country.
  • The Ellen Degeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund

    Dian Fossey was a leading researcher of gorillas and conservationist who spent two decades studying and protecting the gorillas, until her death in 1985.  Her research and activism against the poaching of gorillas was what led to their continued growth, and to this day, Rwanda has the strictest rules in place to protect the gorilla population.  The Ellen Degeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund is made up of three buildings – an interactive museum for the general public where you can learn about gorillas, their behaviors and habitat, and also learn about the life of Dian Fossey.  

    The second building is home to a cafeteria for the many schools of children who come through to learn about gorillas, as well as classrooms and lecture halls where future generations can participate in the continued conservation of the species.

  • ELLEN DEGENERES CAMPUS OF THE DIAN FOSSEY GORILLA FUND INTERIOR

  • ELLEN DEGENERES CAMPUS OF THE DIAN FOSSEY GORILLA FUND

  • The final building on campus houses labs and office space for primatologists and university research students, who study things such as gorilla stressors which they are able to do by measuring cortisol levels in fecal samples, knowing exactly what the gorillas were doing at the moment the fecal sample was collected.  When I asked if exposure to tourists affects the gorillas stress level, Veronica, the modern day Dian Fossey and director of the campus who has spent the last 30 years of her life with the gorillas, smiled and replied, Happily not.  They are unaffected by tourism because we maintain tight control of their exposure.“

    As a Diego Travel client, you can get an insiders tour of the areas that arent open to the public, as well as access to the rooftop viewing deck, where you can sip cocktails and munch on canapés with gorgeous volcano vistas in the background.  The campus also has meeting space, so if your company is thinking of a destination for a small work retreat, Rwanda is ideal and Diego Travel can help you plan it.

  • Gorilla Trekking

    Following the tour of the campus, the main highlight and life-changing experience of your trip to Rwanda will be the gorilla trekking.  There are currently 12 gorilla families that you can observe, all named after the leading silverback gorilla of the group.  Permits to see the gorillas cost $1500 USD per person, with a minimum age of 15 years old.  There is a daily maximum of 90 tourists allowed to enter the national park, broken up into groups of 6 people or less, and accompanied by 1-2 guides.  Once the gorillas are spotted, the group has exactly 60 minutes to observe them.  This guarantees that each gorilla family is exposed to humans for no more than 1 hour on any given day.  

    Gorilla trackers who sleep in the national park forest communicate with the guides via walkie-talkie, providing an estimated location of each gorilla family.  Given the gorillaslocation at time of the tourist groups departure, they can predict whether a trek will be easy, medium or hard, allowing you to choose your difficulty level.  However, because gorillas can quickly change course, it is oftentimes unpredictable, as was the case on one of my treks.  

  • Gorilla Trecking in Rwanda

  • Gorilla Baby

  • Porters will also accompany each group, providing someone to carry your backpack and help you climb what can be a very steep incline.  The guides will lead the group with machetes, creating a hiking path as you cut through what can be thick bush full of stinging nettles.  I highly recommend wearing thicker canvas-type pants, knee-high hiking socks, and ankle hiking boots, and the hotels I recommend for my clients provide gators to protect the lower part of your legs. Even if you feel that you dont need a porter, for just $10, youre providing a salary and supporting the community by utilizing them.  Many of todays porters are also ex-poachers, who have been retrained to earn a living in a sustainable way that supports wildlife instead of harming it.

    Ill discuss my personal experience of the gorilla trekking under the summary of my trip, but going just once wasnt enough for me.  After falling in love with the experience, I returned the following day for a second trek.  Each trek experience was completely different from the other, and Im so grateful that I had the chance to do two gorilla treks.

  • Chimpanzee and Monkey Trekking

    Chimpanzee trekking means a 4 AM wakeup call because catching the chimps just as theyre waking up is key to a good experience.  The chimpanzees were my first foray into seeing the true wildlife in Africa, and to describe the sound of the rainforest at sunrise, with heavy rains falling around us, would be fruitless.  You just have to experience it. 

    As a city girl, I was very poorly equipped to hike in heavy rainfall.  At 4:30 AM, I groggily stumbled into the hotels reception to grab a to-go breakfast and a cup of coffee from the beautifully set up station, only to be given the up and down from a gorgeous South African woman, dressed appropriately in head-to-toe Patagonia gear.  Dont you have any other pants? Those are awfully baggy and will be soaked within minutes,she told me.  I shook my head and self-consciously nibbled on my gluten-free lemon poppyseed muffin as I silently pondered how in the world I got it all wrong.

  • Chimp

  • Rwanda Artisan Community

  • Local Artisan Communities

    Because the majority of the land in Rwanda is farmland, a highlight of your trip will be the farm-to-table dining.  Aside from food, the artisans of Rwanda gather and build co-ops or communities where they sell handwoven baskets, hand-carved gorilla statues, and Imigongo painted traditional artwork, using terracotta, black and earthy color tones with the primary ingredient being cow dung.  We had a chance to create our own, and lets just say Im not going to quit my day job.  I did, however, do enough shopping to fill the handy Tumi Just In Case bag I always pack.

  • KIGALI GENOCIDE MEMORIAL

    The genocide of Rwanda was a mass ethnic killing of an estimated 1 million Tutsi.  The division of ethnicities within Rwanda was not based on facts, but rather an invention of the Belgian colonialists since the 1940s, who divided the Rwandans into three groups based on physical traits.  Their plan to divide the population and ultimately rule over them was a slowly seeping process of infiltrating hatred amongst Rwandans.  In 1994, following a series of events that created a perfect storm, there was a 3-month period in which neighbors and friends turned on each other and brutally murdered the entire population of the Tutsi people, or anyone who was associated with them. 

  • Rwanda Genocide Museum

A visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial is a crucial first stop on your trip to Rwanda.  It creates context for your entire vacation, and will allow you to have a 360 degree understanding of who the Rwandan people are, where they came from, and how far they have come.  

While not easy, I am definitely going to recommend a visit to all of my clients at the start of their trip.  The memorial was set up as a place to honorably bury about 250,000 Rwandans who died during the genocide, but also allows families a place to visit and reflect, and honor those who died during this tragedy.  

A Note About Security in Rwanda

While the 1994 genocide is a stain on Rwandas history, present-day Rwanda is a state of security and unity.  I have never felt so safe while traveling, as hotels require several security checkpoints, and even to enter the airport area requires everyone to get out of the vehicle while it is driven through a security scanner.  All the hotels and national forests were patrolled by armed security, making a stay in Rwanda very safe.

One&Only Gorilla’s Nest

Where to Stay in Rwanda

One of the best destinations in Africa for a truly luxury and exclusive experience is in Rwanda.  While there are many beautiful properties around the world and luxury hotels and accommodations, it is the staff at the One and Only hotels and resorts that will make your stay so special.

One&Only Nyungwe House

One and Only Nyungwe House

One and Only Nyungwe House, pronounced young-way with an non the front, is perfect for honeymooners, anniversary trips, bucket list trips, and even great for families.  The property allows children about 10 years and older, but keep in mind that they will not be able to visit the chimps and gorillas until 15-years-old.  One and Only Nyungwe House is 23 rooms and suites set on a 10 hectare working tea plantation.

When we arrived after a 30-minute commercial flight from Kigali, and about a 45-minute safari jeep ride to the property, we were greeted by drummers and dancers, and just like the song of the chimpanzees in the rainforest, their song brought on a wave of emotion that instantly filled my heart with joy and my eyes with tears.  I cannot describe the experience in any other way, but I know that I never wanted it to end.

Dee, the propertys South African general manager, greeted us with a hand held over her heart, as the rest of the staff lined up with the same gesture and handing us a damp hotel towel and welcome ginger tea.  Dee welcomed us into their homewhere she explained that between our two stays, Nyungwe House is the heart, whereas Gorillas Nest is the arms and legs.”  

As we were led on a tour of the propertys spa, library, pool, and rooms, Dees infectious laugh was sprinkled between stories as she described the Nyungwe experience.  This unique gem of a property certainly felt like a peaceful sanctuary of treehouses nestled into the edge of the forest, where you commonly see Colobus and Mangobee monkeys visiting your terrace.  

Ill discuss some activities we did on property in the summary of our stay, but as a general rule, I would recommend a minimum of 3-nights at Nyungwe House, especially if you plan on doing the chimpanzee tour and really relaxing on the property.  For more time for relaxation after your long journey, youll really need 4 nights for the adventure + relaxation pieces.

Book with Diego Travel to Receive the Following One&Only Preferred Partner Amenities:

  • Exclusive One&Only Offers
  • Daily Full American breakfast for up to two people per bedroom
  • USD $100 food and beverage credit
  • Welcome note and amenity
  • Priority Upgrade if Available
  • Priority Early Check-In/Late Check-Out
  • VIP Status
  • Diego Travel Welcome Box when Using the Travel Planning Service

Diego Travel Recommends One&Only Nyungwe House For: Honeymooners | Small Destination Weddings | Couples Groups | Multi-Generational Families with Older Children | Anniversary Trips | Adventure Seekers | Incentive Trips

One&Only Gorilla’s Nest

One and Only Gorillas Nest

One and Only Gorillas Nest is my favorite hotel in the world.  There, I said it!  Everyone always asks me that question and before visiting this property, I truly didnt have a favorite.  Well, it depends on what style,Id say.  Or Id ask, For a boutique hotel or a resort?”  For One and Only Gorillas Nest, it doesnt matter who you are or what your taste is, I can pretty much guarantee youre going to love it and never want to leave.  

We landed by helicopter on the propertys helipad after a 40-minute helicopter ride from One and Only Nyungwe House, again greeted by tear-inducing African dancers and drummers with the staff impeccably dressed in suits with their hands held over their hearts.  If there ever was a moment when I felt like a celebrity or the President of the United States, this was it.  Speaking of celebrities, Bill Gates was one of the propertys first guests, which speaks to the calibre and privacy that the resort offers.  

The owner of One and Only Gorillas Nest is from Dubai and literally spared no expense to perfect every detail in a way that I have never seen before.   Craig, the area manager who oversees both Rwandan properties, gave us a tour of the locker rooms at Club One, the main pool, gym, and spa amenities area, and I commented how even the mens locker room used dark wood while the ladieslocker room was white and bright.  He paused and raised an eyebrow, saying, Funny you should mention that.  Theres a story behind it actually.”  He went on to tell us that after the installation of the locker rooms was complete, the owner was visiting and realized that the location of the ladiesroom would require them to walk on a pathway with no overhang (for a total distance of about 15 feet).  He didnt like the idea of the ladies getting wet in the rain, so swapped the mens and womens rooms, which required a complete de-installation of cabinetry from each room.  

The interior decorator, Hurburtus Feit, who lives in Paris and primarily does residential projects, incorporated different patterns and textures throughout the hotel and purposely gave it the residential feel for which he is so well-known, creating a cozy retreat that makes you feel like youll never want to leave.

Initially the idea for the resort was to build 42 rooms, but after considering that the property lends itself to privacy and exclusivity, they decided to build just 21, allowing for a sense of place within each space.  The entry level room cannot even be considered entry level, as all rooms have a sitting area with fireplace, great outdoor deck, and outdoor shower.  Some of my favorite details about the Forest View Lodge, where I stayed, was the view, the best bed sheets Ive ever slept in (I looked at the tag and unfortunately they are made exclusively for Gorillas Nest) and the design details like the gorilla doorstop and hand-carved pen, the gluten-free snacks especially made for me and left at the self-serve bar, fully stocked with the finest china and glassware, and the heated bathroom floors.  They even have a Dyson hairdryer in the bathrooms, and speaking from experience, I know that many of my clients will love that!  

Aside from the Forest Lodge, they also have a Double Queen room, which is essentially a 2-bedroom with shared bathroom and living room.  The second bedroom has a powder room off it as well, which would be perfect for older kids.  The property has 5 Virunga suites, with one being in a cluster of 3 rooms, perfect for a family or group traveling together.  The Virunga Suites are gorgeous, and would be a better option if you need more common space.  Finally, the Silverback Suite is the top suite on property, with a full outdoor pool looking over the best view on property.  It also has a kitchen that can accommodate a kosher diet, or for someone who needs to eat their meals in villa, a private chef can prepare their food there.  

What makes One&Only Gorillas Nest so special though is not the property itself, but rather the people and the experiences that they provide.  Everyone is so kind and genuinely happy for you to be there, that every moment, word and action is made with such heartfelt intention.  The staff addresses you by name, and offers a subtle bow with the signature hand over heart as they smile and ask if you need anything.  When the sun goes down and the chilly evening settles in, they pick you up in a golf cart, a heated water bottle wrapped in beautiful African fabric is placed over your lap as they wrap your shoulders in a soft wool blanket.  Post-trek youll be met at the reception as they seat you on a bench where they remove your boots and dirty socks to replace them with your choice of African slides or white flip-flops.  By that evening, your hiking boots magically appear in your room, looking as clean as the day that you bought them.  

One final note about One and Only Gorillas Nest: we stayed 3 nights but I secretly inquired with Micato Safaris about staying on a 4th night.  There are commercial flights that run to Kigali, but unfortunately there wasnt any running the day that I needed it; 3 nights was not enough, especially considering that I did two gorilla treks, so when we plan your vacation to Rwanda, I highly recommend staying on 4 nights if you plan on doing the second gorilla trek.  

 

Book with Diego Travel to Receive the Following One&Only Preferred Partner Amenities:

  • Exclusive One&Only Offers
  • Daily Full American breakfast for up to two people per bedroom
  • USD $100 food and beverage credit
  • Welcome note and amenity
  • Priority Upgrade if Available
  • Priority Early Check-In/Late Check-Out
  • VIP Status
  • Diego Travel Welcome Box when Using theTravel Planning Service

The Retreat Kigali

The Retreat Kigali

One of my favorite hidden gems of the trip was The Retreat in Kigali, a boutique hotel built by two American ex-pats, Alisa and Josh Ruxin, who work with local non-profits and started this project to create a hospitality training program for organizations such as Orphans of Rwanda.  They currently employ a staff of 145 for just 20 rooms, that range from an entry-level Deluxe Room to a Luxury Pool Villa, with rates starting around $300 USD per night.  This quaint property is the 5 star version of its sister hotel next door called Heaven.  A restaurant with excellent food and some more 3.5-4 star accommodations, Heaven is a great option for the more budget-minded traveler.

Rwanda Traditions

Summary of Our Stay

Upon arrival to Rwanda, we had to undergo a PCR Covid test per the current regulations. Diego Travel clients can be set up with VIP Fast Track arrival service to whisk you through customs and have the PCR testing done. Our flight arrived into Kigali at night, so we stayed 2 nights in Kigali upon arrival, visiting both the Genocide Memorial and having lunch at Heaven, located next to The Retreat. While it may seem excessive, we needed additional negative Covid tests to enter the national parks, in order to protect the primates as they are highly susceptible to human diseases. It’s astonishing that we share 98% of the same DNA, so given their small population, we need to protect them from any danger, such as coronavirus, as much as we can.

One&Only Evening

The commercial flight into Nyungwe was not as easy as I would have thought. The Rwandan processing is slow, whether it’s through security checkpoints or checking into hotels. As we were traveling with Micato Safaris, they did a fantastic job of keeping our documents in order and because they provided each destination with our documentation in advance, there was less wait time than what one would typically experience. Some things are unpredictable though, such as our bags taking an hour to get unloaded from the plane upon arrival into Nyungwe, so my advice is to pack your patience when traveling to Africa.

Rwanda

Arriving to this part of the country was the first time experiencing the ‘authentic’ Rwanda, seeing women balancing baskets on their heads and men pushing bicycles loaded up with kilos of potatoes. Seeing little children running behind their older siblings on a tea plantation, and frantically waving at us as our green safari jeep sped by. “Canesa, canesa,” they’d yell in Rwandese. “Wishing you health and happiness,” the greeting Rwandans use. Mothers carrying babies wrapped on their backs, and women and men bent over to pick tea leaves in the fields. The endless hills are astonishing and climb higher and higher as you make your way to Nyungwe House.

Arriving at One&Only Nyungwe House

I already spoke about the arrival to Nyungwe House, but the emotion that overcame me I can neither put into words or ever forget it. The sense of being in Rwanda makes you somehow feel at home, even though you are worlds away.

Much of your stay will be had around the dining table or around a fire. While I started off the trip a complete stranger to all of my travel industry companions, I left feeling more connected to them because of this. We shared conversation, we shared great food, but most importantly we shared the unique experience of witnessing these magnificent animals in the wild together.

One&Only Nyungwe House

To return to the experience of the gorilla trek, since that is the sole reason why most people visit Rwanda, I would like to explain a little bit more about the process so you know what to expect. The allowed hour felt like a blip, and Craig recommend to us, over the glow of the fireplace the night before, to allow ourselves 15 minutes to take photos and video, but then to just set it aside and be present with the animals. This was the best advice I could have gotten, even though it was definitely hard to do. While the permit cost is very expensive, it’s important to note that it’s meant to keep the number of tourists to a minimum and a portion of the proceeds goes toward the conservation of the national parks and the gorillas. For example, 5% goes toward the farmers who surround the national park, as sometimes the gorillas will escape the wall of the national forest and destroy the bamboo or farm crops. This 5% covers that cost to maintain or repair any damage, so that locals are incentivized not to harm them.

Rwanda Gorilla Safari Guide

As I mentioned I did two treks, and while I don’t want to go into huge detail about them, as it was such a special experience that I want to selfishly keep some things for myself, I will say that the two treks were completely different. The first was about a 3 hour hike up steep inclines of thick mud and stinging nettles. When we arrived to the Sabinyo gorilla family, we were in tight quarters with them, all huddled together on the side of the mountain. The proximity was so close that a baby, a mother and the silverback, Sabinyo, all brushed beside me as they made their way through. On my second trek, it could not have been more different. The gorilla family this time was Mahowza, and as we were approaching the national park, the family was migrating down directly toward us. We took about 20 steps inside the wall and there they were. The guides told us to hand over our backpacks and walking sticks to the porters, as poachers used to beat them with sticks and so the sight of them still makes them defensive. Since the backpacks contain food, you keep that away from them as well. We then followed them as they formed a line of about 18 gorillas, who proceeded to walk out of the national park and onto the farmland, where they happily destroyed a field of bamboo, clawing and gnawing and licking it as they rolled, climbed, and played with each other.

Commodore Perry Estate Austin Texas

Aside from the gorilla trekking, the properties arranged other activities so that we could experience it all, such as archery, drum circle, and spear throwing. Have you ever thrown an African spear? It’s not as easy as it looks, and God knows how they ever killed any animals using that method. We painted, we took a course on tea picking and tasting, we had yoga class and massages. While both places were amazing, Delice at One and Only Gorillas Nest was the best massage I’ve ever had in my life, so much so that I asked her if I could take her home with me.

  • Food at One&Only Rwanda

There was one waiter, Jean, at One and Only Nyungwe House whose excitement and happiness was so contagious, you couldn’t help but fall in love with him. Josh, a travel companion, asked him, “Do you love your job?” He beamed ear-to-ear with his wide vibrant smile and said, “I love it too much!” Being there with people like that just made your heart melt, and made me realize that while they have so little, they have more than we will ever know. The key to happiness, or that sense of being that all of us eternally long for yet never attain, belongs to the people of Rwanda. Jean, the Patricks, Esperanz, T, and so many more, have kept a piece of my heart with them. Someday I’ll return to experience it again.

If you are ready for your trip to Rwanda, please contact me here to begin planning your incredible life-changing journey. Book your next Micato Safari with Diego Travel to receive a $200 per person gift credit to the Micato online safari store towards the purchase of  apparel and gear.

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Rwanda Landscape

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