This corner of northern Rwanda bordering Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo is exceptionally breathtaking, especially for a country that has earned the nickname The Land of a Thousand Hills. The aptly named Volcanoes National Park is located just south of the equator, and three of its volcanoes (Sabyninyo, Gahinga, and Muhubura) are visible from the resort. Most notably, the highland tropical terrain is home to endangered mountain gorillas, and the Lodge is invested in their protection.
Opened in August of 2019, the property sits on 178-acres of land adjacent to the gorilla’s territory, an area that requires a substantial presence by park officials. This treasured land is under threat by those seeking to extract minerals and timber and poach for bush meat illegally. Gorillas are often a target for this, which led to a significant population decline in the ecologically delicate region. A third of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas call Volcanoes National Park home.
CONSERVATION AT ITS CORE
The Singita Kwitonda Lodge was developed to work directly with local conservation efforts, not just give visitors a chance to enjoy the natural beauty. Sustainability is at the core of all, and they maintain a garden on the premises. The Akarabo Nursery holds over 60,000 plants for biodiversity and conservation purposes and is available to be toured by visitors. The effects of agriculture on local plant species have been a problem and the Nursery exists to rehabilitate local vegetation and work with other local cooperatives that have the same goals.
The Rwanda Development Board has made strides to promote the nation’s leadership in sustainable development, with tourism being a key driver. The Lodge promotes this through the involvement of people living near its protected areas as partners in conservation.
Since its opening, it has committed to taking part in a government program that sees 10% of tourism revenues going back to the immediate community. Over US$600,000 was distributed last year to over 150 community-based projects thanks to this program. The Lodge employed over 200 locals in the construction process and hired 70 permanent staff members upon opening.
The Lodge was designed with sustainability in mind. Local materials of volcanic rock, river stone, handmade ceramic tiles were used as building materials, and craftspeople from the surrounding communities provided oven red clay bricks.
The landscape blends seamlessly with the hotel itself, as towering mountain bamboo and giant ferns were planted to provide a natural backdrop.
This vegetation is meant to grow freely over time to allow the greenery to engulf the buildings and give visitors a sense of immersion in the landscape. Green-roofed structures are linked with pathways of volcanic stone, and monolithic stone walls give way to volcanic boulders. This setting is like nowhere else on Earth and provides the visitor with a sense of what needs protecting.
An integral part of the Kwitonda experience is the trekking, most notably to view gorillas and golden monkeys, an endangered species of primate that is found only in these mountains, where they forage in bamboo vegetation at the base of volcanoes.
The gorillas are experiencing a slow increase in population, but conservation workers emphasize that they remain incredibly vulnerable. Kwitonda’s land serves as a buffer zone between the ever-expanding agricultural land and the gorilla’s habitat. Trekking adventures are meant to inspire awe, where visitors can view the incredible animals from a distance, but not interfere with them.
After trekking and other conservation-based activities, guests return to their well-furnished suites, and enjoy a meal, visit the spa, and congregate at the bar.
4 NATIONS, 1 KWITONDA LODGE
Singita has a strong reputation for sustainability, and works under the One Planet Living Framework, guiding all activities when they build. With 15 lodges in operation over four African nations, attention is given to treading lightly on the land while empowering the local community.
Principles like sourcing local materials, minimizing waste and conserving energy are followed as much as possible, and Kwitonda Lodge represents an organization that is very good at conservation-based building and is looking to push the boundaries of what is possible.
Rwanda has seen incredible growth in recent years, and this opening represents a chance to share the country’s beauty with the world, and most importantly, to show how it can be preserved.
- Coleman Pete is a contributor for EcoLuxLuv Communications. Coleman writes about menswear, design, and culture, and can be found combing through vintage clothing racks or reading in one of his favourite cafés in Vancouver's Mount Pleasant neighbourhood. Read more by Coleman at OverdressedNW.com.
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