The lush landscapes of Rwanda and Uganda challenge all preconceptions of Africa as a dry and dusty continent, and famously offer visitors the chance to have a once-in-a-lifetime encounter with Africa's largest primates, the mountain gorilla.
The Virunga Mountains that straddle the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, are home to around 480 mountain gorillas, more than half of the world’s entire population. Rwanda, known as the 'Land of a Thousand Hills', is home to majestic volcanoes, numerous lakes, acres of dense rainforest and Kigali, its vibrant capital. In Volcanoes National Park, the Rwandan part of the Virungas, twelve gorilla groups are now habituated for gorilla safaris, more than anywhere else in the world. Similarly Uganda, famously home to the source of the Nile, abounds in dramatic mountain peaks, flooded calderas, and verdant vegetation.
Beyond the gorilla-trekking in Uganda's Bwindi National Park, intrepid safari-goers will also enjoy chimpanzee tracking in Kibale Forest, and the savannah landscapes at Queen Elizabeth and Murchison Falls National Parks which offer more conventional safari habitats and diverse wildlife. Luxury accommodation in Rwanda and Uganda has never quite managed to rival that of neighbouring countries in East Africa but there have been some exciting new openings this year. We recommend the below lodges and camps based on their prime location, experienced management and the range of activities on offer.
THE S&A TO DO LIST
- Take in the spectacular views of the surrounding volcanoes knowing you're just a stone's throw from the gorilla tracking action at Bisate Lodge
- It is not a long drive from Volcanoes National Park to Nyungwe Forest and here you can track Chimpanzees and do the only canopy walk in East Africa
- The Genocide Memorial Centre in Kigali gives an incredibly moving account of the genocide through written and video testimonials, photographs and physical remnants of weapons used and possessions destroyed
Rwanda is our top choice for a high-end gorilla safari - each year a privileged few are afforded the chance to encounter these majestic animals up close in the mist-shrouded forests of the Volcanoes National Park. Sabinyo Silverback Lodge has historically been the most comfortable lodge in the area and commands breathtaking views over the surrounding forest and volcanoes from its premium hillside location just 1km north of the park headquarters at Kinigi village. Also located in the Virunga Mountains area is Bisate Lodge which opened in June 2017 and is operated by Wilderness Safaris. Built in a remnant of an old volcano crater, the lodge has just six spacious forest villas and offers a luxurious base from which to enjoy an extraordinary gorilla conservation experience and life-changing journey to this beautiful region. In creating the chestnut-shaped villas, South Africa-based architect Nick Plewman researched the architecture of the Rukari Palace where the Rwandan king once lived and thus showcase Rwanda’s design heritage. A visit to one of the habituated golden monkey troops is also worth doing, and for people looking for a more energetic stay, it's possible to hike up to Dian Fossey's grave and former research station at Karisoke, or spend a full day trekking to the top of one of the volcanoes. Uganda is a larger country to explore than Rwanda and there is more travel involved to reach the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in south-western Uganda where there is a population of approximately 350 mountain gorillas living under the canopy of the 25,000 year-old rainforest, which is only accessible on foot. Here Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge accommodates guests in eight stone cottages, each of which has its own fireplace for keeping warm on cooler evenings. The main area has specially commissioned artwork from Ugandan artists on the walls and the main balcony area offers incredible views which stretch across to Rwanda and the Virunga Mountains. In western Uganda, perched on the edge of an ancient volcano, Ndali Lodge is a traditional colonial lodge perfectly located for chimp trekking in Kibale National Park, home to one of the world’s largest concentrations of chimpanzees.
Uganda’s most traditional safari experience is on offer in Queen Elizabeth National Park, characterised by open savannah dotted with acacia. Plains game, leopard, elephants and rare tree climbing lions are framed by the ice-covered peaks of the Rwenzori Mountains or ‘Mountains of the Moon’ as they are often referred. The park also plays host to the world’s highest concentration of hippos which can be found in the Kazinga Channel. We recommend taking a boat trip to get up-close to this magnificent sight while being able to enjoy the vast array of birds and other wildlife who come here to drink. Another highlight here is the chance to visit the only fully-habituated population of chimpanzees which are found in the neighbouring Kyambura Gorge. Here, Ishasha Wilderness Camp provides the ideal location for a midway break of at least two nights before of after gorilla viewing in Bwindi. The position of the camp in the southern part of the park offers a real sense of remoteness and is famous for its tree-climbing lions and the ten spacious Meru-style tents sit beside the Ntungwe River where hippos and elephant herds frequently visit. Mihingo Lodge in Lake Mburo National Park is also located roughly half way between Entebbe and destinations to the the west such as Clouds Mountain Lodge and Ndali Lodge, and is another great place to stop and unwind for a few days post or pre-trek. Situated on over 200 privately owned acres, it features ten rooms which are built on wooden platforms and stilts, covered by a thatched roof. Lake Mburo is home to many different animal species, including zebra, eland, and impala, who are not found in Queen Elizabeth National Park. It is also a favourite birding spot. Finally, Apoka Lodge in Uganda's spectacular Kidepo Valley National Park is probably the most northerly point in Africa where you can do a safari holiday... and quite possibly the most peaceful. Situated on a large rocky kopje, Apoka Lodge has only 10 rooms, all built of wood, thatch and canvas and the décor takes its cue from rock, savannah and the natural landscape of the region. Apoka Lodge's rooms all have huge outdoor bathtubs under the stars and private verandas overlooking a landscape dotted with giraffe, elephant, buffalo, and zebra.
Looking to extend your trip?
Combine gorilla trekking in Rwanda and Uganda with a more traditional ‘Big 5’ safari in Kenya or Tanzania...