Safari where the Duchess of York and National Geographic do, where lava bubbles, by tracking mountain gorillas and chimpanzees, and trekking up the Virunga volcanoes.
Safari excursions have been leading the way in exotic travel as of late, offering discerning outdoors-loving travelers the chance to deepen their understanding of life in the bush and beyond.
The beyond, you could say, exists among the lush jungles and volcanoes across Rwanda and Uganda in East Africa. A vast difference from the dry grasslands of nearby regions, this extreme landscape of volcanic peaks—some still bubbling with lava—is bordered by glittering lakes and misty forests that are home to mountain gorillas and chimpanzees.
Enchanted by this land from a young age is Praveen Moman, who first visited the area alongside his father (an avid wilderness seeker) when he was just 12 years old. Moman says that is when a seed was planted in the back of his mind, which was to bring tourism to this abundant and ripe landscape. That seed from his youth would develop into a series of luxury lodges for adventurous travelers who have a penchant for the good life. He would go on to create a place for visitors to find reprieve in the evenings while days are spent tracking wildlife, climbing to the edge of calderas, and connecting with the indigenous locals.
Moman wanted to develop a place for eco-tourism to flourish, for the Batwan people to rebuild after the Rwandan Genocide would devastate their livelihood, and to preserve the mountain gorillas living deep in the nearby forests. Thus Volcanoes Safaris was developed in 1997, and the lodges across Rwanda and Uganda would soon host guests from around the world—the Duchess of York and the board of National Geographic, to name a few.
The brand is built upon an altruistic business model that helps create lasting positive impacts for the community and wildlife long after your safari has ended. This impact is created through Moman’s non-profit, Volcanoes Safaris Partnership Trust, where a portion of every traveler’s trip is donated to build wells for local residents, allocate farmland for the Batwans’ to be self-sufficient, and developing programs that will be dedicated to their health and education. Moman believes the private sector has a crucial role to play in the preservation of the wild. “‘This is hospitality with a social purpose. It is vital for us to take these measures in order to safeguard the future for global inhabitants.”
MOUNT GAHINGA LODGE, UGANDA
Mount Gahinga Lodge is Volcanoes Safaris first lodge built on the property and sits at the base of the Virunga volcanoes in the southern region of the country. Most notable is the Moman Banda suite commemorating Praveen’s father, Kuldip Rai Moman, where displays of vibrant crafts and handmade textiles made by the Batwa women at the vocational center fill the space. Every room at the lodge is ensuite and features luxurious showers, fireplaces and private terraces.
Excursions will take you to spot the rare Golden Monkey, on gorilla-tracking expeditions, bird watching to see more than 700 species in the area, and unique encounters with the neighboring locals.
This spring marked the monumental launch of a permanent village settled for 100 Batwa locals who were once banished from their home in the forest when the National Parks became protected for the mountain gorillas decades ago. This was a vital step for Volcanoes Safaris to achieve a unity between the villagers, the land, and their intent to growing eco-tourism in East Africa.
An eruptive traditional dance can be seen and heard nearby as the Batwa community puts on a performance for visitors. For an intermediate day-hike, guests can take a trip to the Kisozi Caldera (formed by volcanic eruptions) to get an elevated look at the sweeping landscape below. For more aggressive climbers, there are three volcanoes accessible by foot that boast striking viewpoints from the iconic peaks.