Luxury With Heart: Rwanda’s Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge
Molly Feltner is traveling through Africa, and got the chance to experience a model sustainable hotel in Rwanda.
In my travels to various destinations in the developing world, I’ve often been disappointed by how some upscale resorts and hotels go out of their way to separate their businesses and guests from the local population. So I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, located in a farming community right outside Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.
Set on the slopes of the volcano Sabyinyo, this luxury lodge caters to well-heeled tourists coming to track the park’s mountain gorillas and it supports some of the neediest members of the surrounding community. It’s managed by Governors’ Camp, which operates several high-end lodges and safari camps in East Africa, but is owned by SACOLA, an association of about 18,000 local Rwandans that is sponsored by the International Gorilla Conservation Programme, African Wildlife Foundation, and USAID.
When guests stay at the lodge, $50 per person per night goes to SACOLA. Since the lodge opened in 2007, SACOLA has earned enough to build more than 1,200 houses for survivors of the Rwandan genocide and other needy families, and fund sustainable agriculture projects as well. Sabyinyo also employs locals–90 percent of the staff members are Rwandan–and most of the food and all of the flowers used on the property are grown by community members.
While Sabyinyo’s eight guest cottages and suites are arranged to maximize privacy and prime views of the Virunga volcanoes, the lodge is surrounded by small farms belonging to SACOLA members. No walls or high gates separated the community from the lodge and when I was there, and I got the sense that there wasn’t any need for them because of the relationship between the property and the locals.
Community support aside, Sabyinyo is one of the best hotels in Rwanda I’ve come across. The rooms are perfect for guests returning from a day of trekking through cool, rainy Volcanoes National Park. All have fireplaces that are maintained by room attendants, deep baths and stone showers, and big comfy beds warmed by hot water bottles. Meals, which are included in the nightly rates, are prepared by a local chef and heavy on veggies and lean meats, and items like homemade pasta and local cheeses. For dessert, they even make their own chocolate–a rarity in Rwanda.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
You can book the lodge through Rwanda tour companies such as Primate Safaris and Volcanoes Safaris.
Photos: Molly Feltner