Is Rwanda becoming a leading honeymoon destination?

Last week, American actress Meghan Markle joined the royal family after she tied the knot with Prince Harry on May 19. As is the norm after a wedding, a new couple goes for a honeymoon which is a chance for them to enjoy each other’s company privately in the first few days of their marriage.

This tradition is also shared by the royal family.

Even though little is known about Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s honeymoon choice, it’s well known that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex love Africa. Many have predicted Africa to be their first choice for their honeymoon destination, as Meghan Markle has visited the continent several times for charity.

Prince Harry, on the other hand, has a keen interest in conservation and last year joined African Parks as their President. African Parks is a conservation non-governmental agency that currently manages 13 parks on the continent, including Rwanda’s Akagera Park.

Honeymoon is a time free of the stresses and the tensions everyday life puts on the relationship.  Rosette Chantal Rugamba, the Founder and Managing Director of Songa Africa, a tourism company, says honeymoons are often celebrated in destinations considered exotic or romantic.  She believes that Rwanda is the hidden gem that people are yet to discover as a heaven for romance.

“Since honeymoon is a post wedding event couples are always looking for many things which Rwanda perfectly offers ;seclusion, intimacy and, most times, that is a once in a lifetime special activity that you have always wished to do. Rwanda is perfect as a honeymoon destination and has many amazing high end new properties which make it one of the top luxury destinations that anyone looking for that special experience down the untrodden path hould consider,” she says.

Recently, Rwanda put up various accommodation options suitable for a royal honeymoon, making this something of a cutting-edge destination for newlyweds.

Davidson Mugisha, the Managing Director of Wildlife Tours, says Rwanda has amazing places that offer the “honeymoon of your dreams,” based on the key interest of the couples and their budget.

“Rwanda is renowned for the incredible, unique and exclusive mountain gorilla tracking experience, variety of water sports, cycling, hiking, and bird watching, Lake Kivu with the beauty, landscape, water and calm environment, the campsites at the Akagera National Park, among other touristic attractions. Many of the couples that we have dealt with however have keen interest in the Akagera National park, One& Only Nyungwe House and trekking gorillas,” he says.

Rwanda recently restocked Akagera National Park with wildlife like the black rhino and lions while the Virunga National Park,  which is home to the rare mountain gorillas is a destination for high end tourism.

The prices at Akagera are $165 for double or twin tent (per person per night sharing) for non-residents and $130 for residents. For single occupancy, it’s $230 for non-residents and $185 for residents.

The luxury tent (per person per night sharing) is $240 for non-residents and $200 for residents. Luxury tent (single occupancy) is $335 for non-residents and $280 for residents.

British online newspaper, The Independent suggested Rwanda as one of the top contenders for the new royal couple’s honeymoon. The coupe is known for their humanitarian work in Rwanda. Meghan visited the “Land of a Thousand Hills” as a World Vision global ambassador in 2016, as part of a clean water campaign and called the experience “incredible”.

The article stated “The couple might be tempted by gorilla trekking amid the breathtaking scenery of this mountainous African country. It was here that the pioneering primatologist Dian Fossey studied mountain gorillas in the wild. Alongside the rich biodiversity of Volcanoes National Park in the northwest of Rwanda, Akagera National Park in the east is home to one of the largest protected wetlands in eastern Africa.”

There are over 800 mountain gorillas  remaining in the whole world shared between Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo borders. The fact that about 400 of these mountain gorillas live within Rwandan territory, explains why Rwanda—a country that has been named by international organisations as one of the safest places in the world—becomes the prime holiday destination for tourists.

No wonder, gorilla trekking in the Virunga National Park was described among the top tour and travel experiences by World’s Best Travel Bucket List Experiences, a renowned travel website.

Nadia Keza, the Managing Director of I.T.D/BCD Travel, has over 20 years’ experience in travel agency and says the number of honeymooners coming to Rwanda has more than doubled thanks to Rwanda Convention Bureau (RCB) that has made travel become part of learning, networking and discovering the beauty of the country.

The country is rapidly enhancing its conference facilities and infrastructure,

Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Events (MICE) is one of the fastest growing segments among visitor arrivals the world over. Last year alone, Rwanda received 1.3 million visitors.

“Among the reasons behind this is the 30-day visa upon arrival following the establishment of a new visa regime this year. Nyungwe, Kibuye, and Akagera national park have been the most preferred destinations for our honeymoon clients,” Keza says.

The new visa regime enables foreign residents in the country to use their resident ID cards for entry. Previously, foreigners living in Rwanda would have to produce their passports on entry into the country. Mugisha agrees that the friendly  visa regime has improved numbers and inquiries by honeymooners because it has made “people make quick decisions.”

Keza believes that the future of honeymoon tourism in Rwanda is promising because the country is doing well in terms of marketing adding that the three-year partnership with Arsenal will highlight Rwanda’s tourism offerings.

Jackline Tumukunde, the founder and managing director of Jallyn Travels, says that the increasing number of high end lodges has turned the country into a luxurious tourism destination offering a lifetime hospitality experience beyond its world-famous mountain gorillas, bird watching and natural history experience.

Rugamba adds that high end lodges contribute significantly in “assuring visitors that a destination is worth visiting if credible brand names invest in that destination and also know that an investor will do a lot of due diligence before investing in a destination . It’s a sign of confidence in a destination and this goes a long way in attracting tourists.”

‘‘The high end lodges allow us to tap into their already existing clientele and their marketing strategy. Lodges and hotels are not just places to sleep but they stimulate investment in the country, create employment and pay taxes into the economy. The new lodges coming in also complement the country’s strategy which needs hotels and lodges to thrive and satisfy the demanding and highly expectant tourist. They also raise the bar high and as new skills are injected in the industry,” she says.

“Gisenyi, Kibuye, and Nyungwe are good places when it comes to a combination of adventure, privacy, scenery and Lake Kivu,” she says.

More so, the state-of-the-art Gahanga Cricket Stadium, the country’s first international cricket stadium that was launched last year, will host international matches, which will in turn attract more visitors to the country.

In Kigali, several gleaming new luxury hotels, an international restaurant boom and sparkling-litter free streets are luring travelers. Rwanda was ranked as the ninth-safest nation in the world (and number one in Africa) by the World Economic Forum.

Mugisha adds that the number of locals honeymooning in Rwanda is still low but they hope to get more in the future.

“Many Rwandans want to go to Dubai and other places but we need to encourage more locals to visit the countless destinations the country is blessed with. I am sure it would be a remarkable experience learning about gorillas, national parks, lakes, national museums and many hidden fortunes of the Remarkable Rwanda,” he says. 

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