It’s one of Rwanda’s most immersive hotel experiences…on the edge of Nyungwe National Park and at the heart of a tea plantation, reached only via a rough track at the western extremity of forest. This is One&Only Nyungwe House, a place where ancient primates roam 1020 km² of rainforest and grasslands and where nature means an intoxicating mix of therapy, beauty and discovery. The hotel welcomes the world to discover Rwanda in its most natural and glorious form and to tell us more about this destination, we have with us Grace Uwingeneye, the Guest Experience Guide at One&Only Nyungwe House.
Meet Grace Uwingeneye
GLH: Hello Grace. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few of our questions. Could you please tell us a bit about yourself and your role here at the One&Only Nyungwe House?
Grace Uwingeneye: Hello. Thank you for having me. I work as the Guest Experience Expert here at the Nyungwe House, which means I work to organize nature activities for our guests. Prior to working at the hotel, I was a research assistant for animal conservation, working on primates, especially the colobus monkeys.
GLH: The One&Only Nyungwe House is found at the heart of a tea plantation, which belongs to the local community. How important is that connection?
Grace Uwingeneye: The connection between the hotel and the local community is very strong as it benefits both sides. First of all, the local community is hired by the hotel for a number of different duties. For example, many of the ex-poachers who used to hunt in the forest and the National Park were hired by the hotel in order to motivate them to stop poaching. We hired them to clean the pathways that we normally use for our guests during activities such as trekking, mountain biking, nature walk and so on.
Most of the hotel staff is also local people, like house keeping and maintenance. Some of them are from the local area. And the interesting thing is: When the local people come here to work, the business around the hotel is able to operate as well. For example, the market, where there are so many local products like potato, banana. The restaurants and even the shopping offered by the hotel sustain the local community.
GLH: And since we are talking about tea plantation, is tea a culture thing in Rwanda?
Grace Uwingeneye: The tea crops here were planted in 1963. Tea is good, it’s great! Everywhere you go in Rwanda, whether it is in a restaurant, a shop, or to someone’s home, there’ll always be Rwanda Mountain Tea. And it all comes from the tea factory. Overall, tea is a big business in Rwanda. First of all, people are paid to pick and cultivate the tea leaves, which brings money into the community and enables them to maintain their household, and send their children to school.
And while all our park guides are people who have been to school, the people who pick the tea leaves are those who didn’t have the opportunity to gain a formal education. And the hotel plays a role in maintaining the tea business as well, because we do tea tasting with our guests, and we bring them to the tea factory to see how the tea is made, from leaves to cup.
GLH: As someone who works at the One&Only Nyungwe House and who knows the National Park, why do you think travelers should come here?
Grace Uwingeneye: I would say that the most significant aspect of the Nyungwe House is its uniqueness. First of all, we are in a quiet area, away from the roads and city. We have the tea plantation, yes, and we have the forest, but the one thing that guests from all over the world come to the Nyungwe House for is to see ancient primates in their natural habitat. We have 6 types of monkeys here, including the grey-cheeked mangabey, the colobus monkey and the L’Hoest’s monkey or mountain monkey… and the guests would even see the mountain monkeys in the gardens, and in the tea plantation looking for wild weeds.
So guests from all over the world would come here to see the chimpanzees, and they often get to see them without even having to go trekking. Meanwhile, at the One&Only Gorilla’s Nest in the Volcanoes National Park, guests are able to see the mountain gorillas during treks. The other unique thing about our hotel is the canopy walk. We have those suspended bridges among the trees that give breathtaking views over the forest. We also have the waterfall, which is amazing. There is also a big swamp in the forest; We call it the Kamiranzovu Swamp, which means “the one that can swallow elephants…”
GLH: And finally, can you tell us a bit about your job here at the hotel, and about your day-to-day activities?
Grace Uwingeneye: As the Guest Experience Expert, I have to have specific knowledge about the forest and the wildlife. What I usually do at the hotel is provide orientation and guidance to the guests who want to see the chimpanzees, do some park activities, visit the waterfall and so on. So, I try to tell them as much as possible about the chimpanzees, their habitat, their reproduction rate, what they eat… and we also talk about our tea plantation, about how old the area is, and we invite them to participate in the activities and to relax.
For example, they have the opportunity to pick up a basket and wander around the tea plantation and pick up the leaves, and then we do tea tastings, We also have archery and spear-throwing at the hotel. I work with a team, of course. I have two colleagues who help me with various activities. For instance, I can do nature walk and birdwatching, while they would do archery, spear-throwing, and biking… So, we work as a team to help our guests to enjoy their stay with us.