Due to habitat loss, disease and poaching, the number of mountain gorillas in Africa stands at just 780, with almost half of these believed to be in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, with the rest spread across Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, and Congo’s Virunga National Park.
Not only is the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) notoriously difficult for foreigners to enter, it isn’t safe either. That leaves either Rwanda or Uganda, and neither option is cheap.
Gorilla tracking can only be done on habituated mountain gorilla families, and there is a limited amount of permits available per day. In Rwanda, the permit is priced at US$750 per person; while in Uganda, this cost is US$600. This gets you an hour with the gorillas in a group of eight. Yes, it is pricey, but think of it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience that allows you to contribute to the preservation of the gorillas.
If you’re planning a quick trip solely focused on seeing the gorillas, Rwanda may be your best bet, as Volcanoes National Park is just a two-hour drive from Kigali airport. In Uganda, the nearest airport (Kampala) is eight hours away from Bwindi National Park, and is a better choice if you’re planning a longer trip. There is plenty to do in the vicinity, including the Queen Elizabeth National Park, where you can see an abundance of wildlife, which is not possible in Rwanda.
Admittedly, luxury travellers may struggle to find accommodation that meets expectations. Unlike Kenya or South Africa, where there is an abundance of premium safari accommodation, the luxury options in Rwanda and Uganda are rustic at best. However, there are a handful of establishments where you can still feel pampered and have most of the comforts you desire. Rates are on the high side, but if you travel in low season (September to December, which is also rainy season), you can get as much as 40% off the rack rate.
Here are the most luxurious lodges in Rwanda and Uganda, which you can use as a base for gorilla trekking.
Virunga Lodge, Rwanda
Offering dramatic views over the Volcanoes National park, Virunga lodge, perched above volcanoes on one side and beautiful lakes on the other, is a fantastic choice for the traveller with taste. All rooms have electricity, and wifi is available in the main reception. Rooms are spacious, with the newer suites featuring a separate lounge and dressing room. Virunga is an eco- lodge, so the water is solar- heated, and every effort is made to ensure that there is a low carbon footprint.
The room rate is all inclusive, and meals are just the start- the staff go out of their way to make sure that you’re completely comfortable. From having your shoes cleaned after your trek, to free massages and a packed lunch when you’re away from the lodge- you won’t be wanting for anything.
Dinners are served at a long communal table, where you’ll be able to chat to other guests and enjoy dishes like homemade soup and moreish roasts. The good views do come at somewhat of a cost- the lodge is situated an hour away from the entrance to the national park- so expect a 5am wakeup call on the morning of your trek.
Rates start at US$400 per person per night.
Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, Rwanda
Built and operated by the renowned Governors’ Camp Collection, the intimate lodge has just eight cottages, all of which feature private verandas and large fireplaces. The main lodge is a good 10-minute uphill walk from the parking lot, which may be a challenge, given that you’d only just have started acclimatizing to the (2500 meters above sea level) altitude.
Sabyinyo prides itself on the details- expect to find a hot water bottle tucked into your bed, and biscuits and coffee brought to your room as part of your wake up call.
When you’re not gorilla trekking, you can take your pick from a number of activities offered by Sabyinyo’s enthusiastic staff, including bird watching walks and escorted mountain bike excursions.
The lodge is community owned, meaning that its ownership rests with a Community Trust set up specifically to receive rental and other income from the lodge, which in turn supports socio- economic development in North Western Rwanda.
Rates start at US$600 per person per night.
Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge, Uganda
Situated mere steps away from the start of the trekking trail, you can’t ask for a better location to be close to the gorillas. The aptly-named Clouds is the highest lodge in Uganda and is nestled just in front of the Bwindi forest, a UNESCO national heritage site, with views looking out into the Virunga chain of volcanos. On a clear night, you might even be able to see the faint red glow of the lava lake inside the Nyiragongo volcano. The lodge is completely surrounded by lush jungle, and has its own vegetable garden, which supplies the kitchen.l guests are assigned a personal butler, who’ll do everything from making sure your clothes are laundered daily, to lighting the fire in your cottage. Built of local volcanic stone, the spacious cottages are light and airy, a nice change from the darker, more rustic feel a lot of other lodges have. The décor is completed with a local touch, featuring hand-woven carpets and unique pieces of art by popular Ugandan artists.
Rates start at US$395 per person per night.