Rwanda & Uganda
Gorillas in the Virungas & Bwindi
The borderland between Rwanda and Uganda is a breathtaking blend of stark alpine peaks and lush forested valleys—an untamed wild where Batwa Pygmies still practice thousand-year-old herbalist medicine and peaceful troops of mountain gorillas forage in the mist. On your journey through this beautiful region, you can experience it all. Walk the Batwa Trail with indigenous locals, who are eager to show you their traditional hunting techniques and encyclopedic knowledge of plants and animals. Enjoy a glass of wine while taking in endless vistas of sapphire lakes and the perfect cones of dormant volcanoes from the bush-chic terrace of Virunga Lodge. Witness the pageantry of whirling Intore Dancers, whose brightly colored garb and long, flowing white hairpieces once entertained Rwandan kings. Experience the life-altering wonder that comes when, after trekking through dense rainforest for a morning, you are greeted by the noble faces of wild mountain gorillas wandering among the trees. The sight is a rare privilege—most will never know the life behind a great ape’s eyes—but it is yours for the taking in Rwanda and Uganda.
Itinerary and Accommodations
Parc National des Volcans
Upon arrival in Kigali you are welcomed by your expert guide and begin the three-hour journey to Virunga Lodge. This scenic drive takes you through the beautiful terraced hills that characterize much of Rwanda’s landscape. Climbing gradually to the base of the spectacular volcanoes of the Virunga range, the five nearest peaks rising high above the verdant countryside, you arrive at the magnificent Volcanoes Virunga Lodge.
While staying here, you can enjoy a variety of activities, including a performance by traditional Intore dancers. Intore is the most famous and distinctive style of Rwandese dance, which is based on the courtly victory dance of the Rwandan mwami (kings). The word intore means “best” and it was a great honor for those selected. They would receive a privileged education and training and had a high status within the court. The dancers use traditional weapons such as spears, shields, or bows, and wear brightly colored clothes and long flowing white hairpieces.
You can also visit Mwiko Primary School, a local institution of learning near the lodge, that has over 800 children and 12 dedicated, hardworking teachers. The lodge has been working with the school over the last four years and has helped fund infrastructure projects and provide school materials. Projects include building a new water tank for the school, repairing the roof, and buying school uniforms and materials. They continue to help fund structural improvements to the school building and are looking to improve the classrooms further and the possibility of building a resource center at the school to accommodate the whole community.
One of Virunga’s primary attractions is gorilla tracking in the Parc National des Volcans. Through the light mountain forest on the slopes of the Virunga range, this is a magical experience. Once you reach the gorillas, you can spend an hour with them and be back at base in time 4 for a late lunch. Some gorilla families can be more elusive, and tracking can take a full day, especially if it is wet and muddy.
Other possible activities near the lodge include tracking the endangered golden monkey, trekking to Dian Fossey’s grave and the gorilla cemetery, visiting the Roz Carr Imbabazi orphanage to meet some of the hundreds of children helped by this uplifting project, relaxing on the shores of Lake Kivu, home to some of the finest inland beaches in Africa, or take a guided walk to Lake Bulera and experience local village life.
Approximate Travel Time: 3 hours
Parc National des Volcans, Rwanda
The Virunga Lodge is set on a stunning hilltop in a spectacular location with a panoramic view of the Virunga volcanoes and shimmering lakes of Ruhondo and Bulera. The lodge has been described as having “the best view in the world” and as “one of the finest lodges in Africa.” The lodge’s eight bandas offer elegance and great comfort, with their “organic, bush-chic” design reflecting the local building style. Luxurious, en-suite bathrooms, with full facilities including low-flow flush toilets and running solar hot water, allow you to enjoy all the comforts of home while still being sensitive to the environment. Each banda has its own terrace with spectacular views of the volcanoes or lakes. This lodge has been awarded TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence 2012.
Mgahinga National Park
After saying goodbye to Parc National des Volcans, you set off for Mgahinga National Park and Mount Gahinga Lodge in Uganda. The area, because of its varied habitats, is famous for birding with about 180 bird species and for tracking the endangered golden monkey. During your stay at the lodge, you have many activities from which to choose. Be sure to experience the lives of the Batwa Pygmies and walk the Batwa Trail. Accompanied by Batwa elders, this is an extraordinary opportunity to learn about the unique cultural heritage of the forest’s indigenous people. While you walk through the forest, the Batwa will demonstrate their traditional hunting techniques and knowledge of medicinal plants. You will also visit the sacred Ngarama Cave and enjoy the traditional music and dance of this rich and fading culture.
Formally known as Pygmies, the Batwa are widely regarded to be the oldest surviving peoples of central Africa, and their culture is one of the most ancient and endangered. For thousands of years they have survived in the dark forests of the African Great Lakes region, and over generations built up a symbiotic relationship with their natural home in which skills were passed down throughout their history. Traditionally hunter-gatherers, Batwa people also had a vast knowledge of forest plants, especially for medicinal purposes, they could track bees to find their hives and collect honey, and had a whole range of techniques for hunting and gathering. It was customary for this knowledge to be passed on orally through song and storytelling, as well as dance. Sadly, the plight of the Batwa people has not been a happy one in modern times. Both the gazetting of national parks and times of civil unrest in the 19th and 20th centuries have forced them from their forest homes, putting much of their traditions at risk as they struggle to adapt to and be accepted by the modern world.
The lodge is striving to help the Batwa rekindle these traditions so that their history and culture are better understood by the local communities, which the Batwa now call home, and by the younger generations of Batwa themselves for whom history itself is as endangered as the wildlife that guests come to see. Batwa meetings offer guests a far more authentic view of modern Batwa life than other experiences with this ancient culture. You can still visit traditional Batwa villages and experience their songs and dance, but guests can also interact directly with the people in their communities. So not only will you learn about their ancient and fascinating culture, but also gain a special insight into the challenges facing this unique society as it struggles to integrate into what we take for granted as normality. Alternatively, there are other exciting activities for those interested in the culture and natural history of Mgahinga.
Enjoy a performance from the Batwa Dance Group, an initiative fully supported by the lodge. The group now performs once a week for the benefit of the local community and guests. Learn more about their unique culture first hand through their oral traditions. The response by guests has been overwhelming and between 30-40 members of the local community attend their performances each week. Track gorillas in Nkuringo (a two-hour drive), located in the southern sector of Bwindi National Park. Tracking here can be challenging due to steep and muddy paths.
Hike the Muhavura or Gahinga volcanoes. Gahinga offers a gentler hike through the bamboo forest on the lower slopes and marshy craters at the peak. The lower slopes are rich with forest birds and the marshes near the summit are home to bushbuck and elusive duiker. Muhavura is the most challenging peak in the park. The hike will take most of the day, but the adventurous will be rewarded with a great sense of accomplishment and—on a good day—spectacular views.
Take a guided nature walk through the park to track the golden monkeys. The path takes you from the bamboo stands and a forested gorge on the lower levels to the elevated heath and moorland higher up. The forest is not only home to the rare golden monkey, but also a great diversity of bird and animal life.
Included: Land transfer, cultural activities, Batwa experience, easy-to-moderate hikes, track the golden monkey (additional expense), gorilla tracking (permit not included) / breakfast, lunch, and dinner
Approximate Travel Time: 3 hours
Mount Gahinga Lodge
Mgahinga National Park, Uganda
The Mount Gahinga Lodge is nestled in the foothills of the Virunga volcanoes on the border of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mounts Sabinyo, Gahinga, and Muhuvura provide an impressive backdrop to this unique lodge, whose nine bandas are named after volcanoes in the Virunga chain, and based around traditional Pygmy huts—albeit with modern comforts. The mature tropical garden setting and rustic-style rooms/cottages combine to give the impression of staying in the bygone era of Hemingway. Enjoy pre dinner drinks on the terrace with stunning views of the volcanoes or warm yourself inside by the roaring fire.
Bwindi National Park
The breathtaking drive to Bwindi, sometimes referred to as the “Switzerland of Africa,” is along winding mountain roads and through thick forests. The long journey through the rapidly changing landscape takes you to Volcanoes Bwindi Lodge, which looks across to the towering trees of the forest. Depending on when you arrive, there may be time before dinner to explore the lodge grounds with its clear mountain stream or visit the local village. The walk to the river through regenerated bush that has been carefully nurtured as a buffer zone is magical. It is a favorite haunt for the gorillas and they often sleep at the lodge!
While staying at Bwindi Lodge, you may once again go gorilla tracking. Trekking through the steep, densely forested hills and then finally coming across the gorillas camouflaged in the vegetation is an inspiring and privileged moment. Tracking in the Bwindi forest requires stamina and can often take most of the day. Alternatively, there are other activities and excursions on offer in and around the national park.
Take a guided walk in the rainforest, home to several endemic bird species, clouds of butterflies, and rare plant life. This walk offers excellent photographic opportunities, and your knowledgeable guide will provide great insight into this globally important habitat.
Walk through the local village, and learn about community projects, such as the Amagara Project that assists local farmers and their communities, and Bwindi Community Hospital, which started as a health clinic under a tree and now provides vital medical and educational services to over 60,000 people. The hospital runs maternity and pediatric wards as well as outpatient programs for conditions including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, epilepsy, and diabetes. The hospital works extensively with the Batwa community, helping to address their specific health needs. Amagara is a non profit community organization that helps its members to increase crop yield and manage natural resources by employing natural pest controls and fertilizers. Amagara helps keep the revenue that tourism brings to the area in the locality. In turn, this raises their household income and reduces encroachment on the forest. It gives the community a greater incentive to conserve the forest’s resources.
Included: Land transfer, cultural activities, gorilla tracking (permit not included), easy-to-moderate hikes, birding / breakfast, lunch, and dinner
Approximate Travel Time: 5 hours (Gahinga to Bwindi by road)
Bwindi National Park, Uganda
Bwindi Lodge overlooks the primeval Bwindi Forest, home to gorillas, monkeys, chimpanzees, and birds. If you are lucky, the gorillas will come and welcome you at the finest property in Bwindi! The lodge has recently been completely refurbished and now offers unequaled comfort and style. Eight bandas overlook the forest canopy, each with a private terrace from which guests can watch birds and monkeys in the treetops. Each en-suite stone bathroom consists of double sinks, hot running showers, low-flow flush toilets, and the same unique, stylish décor. The main lodge building also maximizes on the beautiful views of the forest canopy, with both open and covered terraces providing optimum viewing platforms facing the forest. A cozy fireside bar and lounge area enables guests to enjoy a drink while swapping stories of their gorilla-tracking experiences. As part of the lodge grounds, a 50-acre buffer zone facing the forest has been created. The food, service, and hospitality are first class and regularly commented on by guests.
Your safari ends with your journey to Kigali. Before transferring to the airport, there may be time to tour the city and visit the genocide memorial, a moving testimony to this country’s past that it has courageously overcome. Return to your hotel or transfer to the airport in time for your return flight.
Included: Land transfer, museum visit (time permitting) / breakfast and lunch
Approximate Travel Time: 5-6 hours (Bwindi to Kigali by road)
Bear in mind that this is a typical itinerary, and the actual activities, sites, and accommodations may vary due to season, special events, weather, or transportation schedules. We reserve the right to alter the itinerary since tour arrangements are made up to a year in advance, and unforeseen circumstances that mandate change may arise. Itinerary changes are made to improve the tour and your experience. If you are currently booked on a Country Walkers adventure, an itinerary has been sent to you for your exact departure date. Please call Country Walkers at 800.464.9255 if you have any questions about the exact itinerary or hotels selected for any of our tours.