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TO THE POINT: The Kigali Marriott is one of the nicest hotel options in the Rwandan capital. Pros: Great staff, nice fitness facilities and pool. Cons: Corporate feel, touristy.
I recently spent a week in Rwanda tracking gorillas in Volcanoes National Park and chimpanzees in Nyungwe Forest National Park. However, I spent a night at the beginning of my trip and one at the end in the country’s capital, Kigali, staying at the Kigali Marriott, which is the brand’s first property in the African nation.
Because I booked two separate nights, I had two different booking experiences. The first was straightforward. There were special rates for East African residents starting at $121 per night. Since I didn’t qualify for those, the next best rates were those for Marriott Bonvoy members. Those started at $195 per night, or $205 including breakfast. An extra $10 for breakfast felt like a decent deal, so I went ahead and booked that. The total came to $254 with taxes and fees.
Award rates were also available for 16,000 points per night (a PointSavers rate was available on the night I was staying), or 8,500 points plus $80. Those would have gotten me a value of between 1.6 cents and 2 cents per point — well above our current TPG valuation of Marriott points — but I decided to book a paid stay anyway.
My second stay was several days later. For that one, paid rates started at $270 per night.
Luckily, I decided to look at the Deals & Packages tab on this page, just to see. There was a special South African Airways/Marriott Rewards partnership rate of $247 per night. You just had to be a South African Airways Voyager mileage-club member. You would earn 1,000 airline miles and get daily buffet breakfast. There were no residency specifications or requirements about how long your SAA account had to be open.
I simply signed up for an account and booked the rate, instantly saving $23. The total ended up being $306.65 with taxes and fees.
The Kigali Marriott opened in October 2016 and is in the city’s Nyarugenge District. It’s just down the block from the Kigali City Hall and across the street from the Chinese embassy (though many of the city’s other embassies are in another district). It is also about a two-minute drive from Kigali’s other well-known high-end hotels, the Kigali Serena Hotel and the Hotel des Mille Collines.
I thought the location was central, and it only took 10 to 15 minutes by car or taxi to visit the sights I wanted to see. Those included the Nyamirambo Women’s Center, which is an arts-and-crafts cooperative that also runs walking tours of traditional life in the neighborhood; the Kigali Genocide Memorial; and the Inema Arts Center, which is a fantastic gallery of local artists’ works as well as a café and bar with live music in the evenings.
My flight to Kigali (KGL) from Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB), arrived late at night, and I didn’t want to have any issues with a taxi, so I prearranged a car service to the hotel from the airport directly with the concierge. It cost $40, which was expensive for one person, but would have been worth it if splitting with a few others. The ride took 20 minutes (and the ride back the morning of my departure took 30 due to rush-hour traffic).
To get into the hotel, we had to first pass through a security checkpoint at the driveway entrance. Guards checked the vehicle I was in and verified my name before waving us in.
At the main entrance to the hotel, a bellman opened my car door then took my suitcase from the trunk and escorted me to the personal security checkpoint inside. I put my bags through an X-ray machine and then went through a metal detector. It only took a moment, and then we walked over to the reception desks to the left.
What immediately struck me was the size of the lobby. It was enormous and ran nearly the entire length of the building. At the back, there were two sweeping staircases to the restaurant on the level below.
There was a large sitting area to the right of the entrance, and beyond that, there was a gallery with some shops, the ballrooms and the hotel’s Italian restaurant. To the left were the concierge and reception desks, more seating areas and then the bar beyond.
As it was after 11pm, no one else was checking in, so an agent was able to help me right away. She pulled up my details, thanked me for my loyalty and said that I had been upgraded to the club floor on the fourth level. I asked if that also meant I had executive-club access, and she said no.
Then she ran me through the details of the hotel amenities, including its restaurants, the pool, fitness center and spa, and asked if I would need to arrange transportation in the morning. The bellman took me to the elevators and up to my room.
Both the check-in agent and the bellmen were extremely courteous and friendly, asking about where I was from, my trip and whether they could answer any questions about Kigali for me, all with a smile. I was really impressed.
The hallway on my floor was wide and had high ceilings. My room was on the side of the building facing the street.
I’d originally booked a regular guest room with a panoramic city view, but as I mentioned, I was assigned an executive-lounge-access room, just without the lounge access. These looked like they had a slightly different layout, with a larger desk and a chaise lounge along the window rather than a chair and side table.
I would clock the size at just under 400 square feet. The décor felt new but really corporate. Everything was beige, brown or gold.
The bed was dressed in plain white linens. It had a pillow-top mattress that was very comfortable, and I got a good night’s sleep after a long day of travel.
The backboard had white, leather panels and a blond-wood frame.
The nightstands to either side had universal power outlets and switches for all the lights, though the outlet on one side was being used for the clock.
On the wall opposite the bed, the television was mounted on a large mirror. A narrow triangular shelf underneath it held books and a workspace.
There was a panel with plugs hidden here next to the lamp.
I was also happy to find a welcome amenity including fruit, macarons, nuts and chocolate truffles, which made for a nice nighttime snack.
There was a chaise lounge with a built-in table along the wall by the windows.
Speaking of the windows, I woke up the following morning to beautiful weather, but I also noticed a sticker prohibiting photography. It was probably due to the Chinese embassy being literally right across the street. You could see into the compound, so I did not snap any shots.
For some perspective, the room I received for my second stay was also up on the club floor, and was just a few doors down from my first room. It had a balcony, though, and was set up in the same configuration as the first, but with a reversed orientation.
The minibar was in the entrance walkway. It included a kettle and complimentary bottled water.
The refrigerator only held two complimentary bottles of water.
Next to it, the closet was too small for a suitcase, but it had hanging space and some drawers.
The bathroom was large and had travertine floors and walls and a black-marble sink and bathtub.
The single sink had plenty of counter space for toiletries.
And this Marriott was stocking Acca Kappa Green Mandarin bath products.
The full-size tub was a nice touch, and I liked the black-stone housing.
The toilet was wedged between the door and the shower.
The walk-in shower was glassed-in — no leaks here — and had a single, handheld shower head that you could lock into position on a wall fixture.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve turned on a shower like this and gotten sprayed with freezing water because I wasn’t paying attention to which direction the shower head was facing. I want to point out that in both the first and second rooms, housekeeping made sure that the shower heads were pointed toward the wall so that this didn’t happen. I know it’s a small thing, but I made note of it because I appreciated it so much.
The Wi-Fi was free, and it worked surprisingly well, which was great for getting a few last-minute work things done before bed and first thing in the morning.
Food and Beverage
The hotel had four bars and restaurants, though I only tried one of them during my two stays.
The main restaurant was Soko, down one level from the lobby.
This was where the buffet breakfast that came as part of my room rate was served.
The spread was extensive, with separate stations for fruit and pastries, cold cuts, and African breakfast, including things like baked fish and onion rice.
There were also stations for Chinese and Western hot items, and an omelet station. The service was really good here. For instance, the omelet chef brought my dish over when it was ready because I was on the phone. When I’d signed my bill and was getting ready to leave, one of the servers brought over a fresh cup of coffee to go, unprompted, because she’d noticed I’d run out.
Back up in reception, there was a small pastry counter with baked goods that you could order from à la carte.
Beyond that was Iriba Bar & Terrace. The cocktails here were priced around 6,000 to 8,000 Rwandan francs ($6 to $10). In the evenings, live bands performed.
You could also order drinks and dishes, including Rwandan banana fries with curry-mayo dip, burgers, salads and samosas with pili pili (piri piri) aioli. Dishes ranged from 4,400 to 13,500 francs ($5 to $15). The outdoor terrace was busy in the afternoons but not in the evenings.
On the other side of the reception floor was the hotel’s Italian restaurant, Cucina.
As you might expect, the menu had your usual Italian options like panzanella salad, beef carpaccio, a variety of pastas and pizzas and mains like osso buco and various mixed meat and fish grills. The prices here went up to 25,000 francs ($30).
Finally, the hotel had a grill out by the pool called Sarabi Grill, which was only open for lunch, so I didn’t get to try anything there.
Most of the hotel’s guest amenities were on the lobby level and on the two floors below it.
There was a large pool that curved along nearly the same length as the main hotel building. There was also a small children’s play area nearby with an inflated bouncy castle.
Down one floor from there were the gym and spa. The gym was surprisingly large and well-equipped.
It had both cardio and weight equipment.
The Saray Spa reception area was just adjacent to it, and was open from 9am to 9pm daily. Even though it was closed when I visited, there was still an employee shutting things down when I was walking around after 11pm, and he was only too happy to show me around the spa and gym.
The treatment menu included options like detox and hot-stone massages, rejuvenation and acne-control facials, papaya and coffee body scrubs and Dead Sea mud wraps. Prices were very reasonable, ranging from 18,000 to 65,000 francs ($20 to $75).
Back up in reception, there were two boutiques, including one from Go Kigali, a tour company that also sources handmade arts, crafts, jewelry and fashions from around Rwanda. I loved their stuff and had a hard time not buying more than just a tie and some colorful shoelaces.
Though not cheap, the Kigali Marriott was a great option for my two nonconsecutive nights in the city. The hotel’s central location made sightseeing easy, while the availability of special members’ and partner rates meant that the prices were not too high. That said, if you have the Marriott Bonvoy points, this is a fantastic option for using them.
The thing that stood out most about my stays, though, was the level of service. Not only were all the employees I met actually from Rwanda, but they were excited that I was there to see their country and went out of their way time and again to make sure my stay was pleasant and enjoyable. I would not hesitate to book a stay here again, hopefully with more time to enjoy Kigali itself before heading out to other parts of the country.
Know before you go.
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