Where next? Elegant Resort's Ben Murtagh on his next adventure

Elegant Resort’s Ben Murtagh on why planning future travels is helping him get through the coronavirus crisis

 

As any good travel professional knows, it is important to have ‘the next trip’ booked. Whether we have just come back or are planning the year ahead there is something exciting and comforting in knowing where our next adventure is going to take us. 

With the current coronavirus situation and ongoing travel ban, I, like countless others, have had to cancel and amend various fam trips, weekend escapes and holidays to later in the year or into 2021. One trip I have not yet amended and am incredibly excited about is my adventure in November to the breathtakingly beautiful Rwanda, known as the land of a thousand hills.

My own typical holidays tend to be sun-soaked beach breaks or weekends away to various cities, I am more likely to be found at a beach bar working my way through the cocktail list or hunting down the best sushi spots and hidden gems for my clients. 

It was a chance conversation with Bonita Mutoni, sales and marketing manager for One & Only’s Rwanda properties that got me to thinking about my next adventure. I wanted something exciting – not just a beautiful property with incredible dining and service, but something more experiential.


Research fuels my excitement 

Since that conversation, I have spent a huge amount of time researching the country, the hotels, the experiences and the more I read, the more I wanted to go. So I booked.

My knowledge on Rwanda has always been fairly rudimental - I studied the genocide at secondary school and I’ve seen Gorillas in the Mist, an Oscar nominated biopic on Dian Fossey, a world-renowned naturalist who worked with mountain gorillas in Rwanda.

One thing that really impressed me is how well put together the country is and how their devotion to sustainability and conservation extends to all facets of society.

Both are key focusses for the Rwandan government and a percentage of all conservation and park fees is passed back to local communities to help change lives for the better. The country is also extremely well set up for tourism with an excellent road network linking towns and cities to the national parks. On top of that Rwanda was recently ranked as one of the safest country in the world which, especially compared to some of its neighbouring countries, can give a certain amount of peace of mind to potential visitors. 

With most international flights arriving quite late in the evening (we are flying with Turkish Airlines via Istanbul as they have great connections), I intend on spending time in Kigali, the capital and location of the Rwandan Genocide Memorial, commemorating the tragic events of 1994 which saw around 800,000 people killed. Over 250,000 people are buried here and the site documents not only the events of 1994 but also the history of the country leading up to genocide.

I believe it is important to spend time here to understand the events that have shaped Rwanda into the country it is today. It is too easy to arrive to a destination and gloss over its brutal and sombre past but in a destination such as Rwanda, they have woven the events of their past into the foundations of their future.

 

Wildlife’s playground

My next planned stop,  and for me, the most exciting part of this trip, is a visit to One&Only Gorillas Nest (reachable by SUV or heli). Home to an intimate collection of 21 jungle, chic lodges and suites swathed in eucalyptus and surrounded volcano views, this gorgeous retreat is the perfect place to base yourself for exploring the nearby Volcanoes National Park.

Home to five of the eight volcanoes in the Virunga Mountains, the national park is a veritable playground for exotic birds, primates and countless other animals. One&Only has a team of experts on hand to help you make the most of your time, having curated experiences to suit all. 

Undoubtedly, the biggest draw for tourists currently is the chance to see mountain gorillas deep in the Rwandan wilderness, and for me personally, it is a must do experience!

In an effort to lessen the impact of mass tourism on the region and to protect the habitat of this majestic creatures, the government has imposed quite a hefty permit to see the Gorillas, approx $1500 per person for a day permit. This is expensive but it’s warranted. The cost funds the conservation efforts of not just the gorillas, but also local communities, other wildlife and also funds the protection of the rainforest itself.

Research about the level of trekking, which can be up to six hours, initially left me worried. I was concerned I would be too out of my comfort zone to actually enjoy the experience – but I have to push my boundaries and experience the wonders of Rwanda in full!

A lot of luxury lodges in Rwanda pay homage to Fossey, a national icon, through experiences and I intent on completing a hike to the peaks of Bisoke and Karisimbi where she was laid to rest.

After my intrepid explorations into the rainforests and channelling my inner explorer, the next part of my itinerary will take me to the second One&Only in Rwanda – Ngungwe House – when I plan to use my time further understanding the Rwandan people and their vibrant culture.

A great man once said ‘to travel is to live’ and I truly believe it is adventures such as my planned trip to Rwanda which benefit not only our businesses but also our self-development and understanding of the world we live in.


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