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Trekking with gorillas in Rwanda was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had and I was looking forward to seeing more of the country. Before arriving in Kigali, I had done some background research about Rwanda’s history and watched the movie Hotel Rwanda as well as documentaries like God Sleeps in Rwanda to try and get a better grasp of what had happened here in the early 1990s during the genocide — describing it as horrific doesn’t even remotely come close.
In case you don’t know, there had been a long-standing conflict between the country’s two main ethnic tribes, the Hutu and the Tutsi, that went back to the days of Belgian colonization — the two groups of people were basically turned against each other by the Europeans in charge at the time, who claimed they were different from each other and one group deserved certain treatment over the other based on racist views and the shades of people’s skin, among other arbitrary characteristics. No one really knows the exact number of people who were killed during the Rwandan Genocide, but there are horrifying, staggering statistics indicating close to 1 million people were killed in the span of 100 days.
Today, Rwanda is looking to the future and it’s incredible to see how much the country has changed over the past 20 years. That’s kind of what I love about Africa. There’s so much recent history and to see how far they’ve come is so inspirational. Just like every other country, there are still issues — it’s not perfect but let’s face it, nowhere is — but I was excited to visit and experience the country firsthand. Watch Episode 6, below, to see how it went.
As an Amex Platinum cardholder, I booked my trip with Abercrombie & Kent and Thousand Hills Expeditions through the Amex Platinum Travel Service. I was glad to have a dedicated agent help our TPGtv film crew sort out all the logistics and the Amex Platinum Card Concierge really took it to the next level and made everything so easy for us. I also took advantage of the Platinum bonus —you can earn up to an extra 5,000, 10,000 or 25,000 Membership Rewards points when you book a Platinum Destination Package and use an eligible American Express Card like I did. The Amex Platinum Card only gives you 1x points for travel (while other cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred give you 2x for travel expenses), so these bonuses really help to level the playing field. A $5,000 travel expense with Chase Sapphire Preferred would earn you 10,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (worth $210 according to this month’s valuations) whereas the bonus from booking an Amex Platinum Destination Package gave me 5,000 Membership Rewards points for the base spend on my Amex Platinum card plus a 25,000 bonus netting me a total of 30,000 Amex Membership Rewards points (worth $570).
As we drove across the country, the scenery was so beautiful I couldn’t help staring out the window the entire time. Kids would run alongside the car yelling funny things to us, smiling and laughing. We felt totally safe the whole time and even stopped on the side of the road to check out a beautiful waterfall. We visited the Nyirangarama Market where we tasted goat meat and Rwanda’s legendary and amazing Akabanga Hot Sauce — it’s so good and I definitely recommend trying it if you get a chance.
Kigali is a growing metropolis — they’re actually building a convention center there that’s going to be the second largest in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Radisson Blu Hotel & Convention Center Kigali is slated to open later this year so there will be more points hotels available soon.
For this trip, I really wanted to stay at the Hôtel des Mille Collines from Hotel Rwanda. During the genocide, hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina and his staff saved thousands of people’s lives — it was really inspirational to be there and think about how just two decades ago, this place was a haven for people fleeing one of the worst massacres in history. We also checked out the pool and the downstairs nightclub when they had jazz night and the singers there were extraordinary. The cocktails and staff were great and this quickly became one of the highlights of my stay.
Another highlight of my trip was meeting Pierre and visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre with him. It’s a very moving experience — you’ll see the skulls of children and victims’ clothes on display — and a very vivid reminder of what happened. Close to 250,000 people are buried here, too, so be respectful when you visit.
Touring the site with Pierre, who lost his Dad in the genocide and was open to talking about it, was an experience I’ll never forget. It’s still hard to comprehend what happened but I think Rwandans are truly about forgiveness, looking to the future and making their country better and that’s what I think is so remarkable. It’s a very progressive place — when we flew in, I had a plastic bag with me and they didn’t allow me to bring it into the country because plastic bags are banned there. Rwanda is gorgeous, the people couldn’t be friendlier, they’ve got great hot sauce and a bright future ahead of them, so I highly recommend visiting. And when you do, make sure you book through Amex Platinum — they really do know what they’re doing.
While this premium card has one of the highest annual fees on the market, it has several valuable perks that could make it worthwhile, depending on your travel patterns. These include a $200 annual airline rebate, lounge access, free Hilton Gold status and free Starwood Preferred Guest Gold status.
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