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.”
Among the four luxurious, yet understated lodges are integrated programs to choose from that are unique to each region. Four-, six- and seven-day safari excursions are available (and should be booked at least six months in advance), that include immersive gorilla and chimpanzee tracking trips, bird watching, boat cruises, and visits through local villages to experience traditional dances and connect with the youth at nearby orphanages. When traveler’s arrive with curiosity; extraordinary encounters will unfold.
Take a closer look at Volcanoes Safaris’ well-appointed lodges deep in the African jungle.
VIRUNGA LODGE, RWANDA
Floating above the Virunga volcanoes and flanked by the deep blue twin lakes of Burera and Ruhondo, the Virunga Lodge is the finest of the four lodges with its traditional Rwandan architecture featuring 10 bandas (suites) peeking out to the proud craters in the distance.
Integrated amenities across all of the Volcanoes Safaris properties are designed for guests to feel ultra-comfortable in a serene environment while butlers are on hand to meet personal requests. At the Virunga Lodge, in-room fireplaces, double vanities and colorful fabrics rooted in local design adorn the rooms while the recently debuted Ikirunga Spa invites you in for a treatment ideal after hiking through the forest. For a culinary journey, head to the nearby lodge where Parisian chefs, Guy Krenzer and Stephane Chicheri, have crafted custom menus consisting of Rwandese-inspired dishes with a gastronomical flare.
Some may say the most impactful takeaway from residing here is the opportunity to take an exclusive safari to track the endangered gorillas of the region. Small groups of eight will spend a day in the forest coming within 22 feet of the creatures, a distance far enough to protect them from human exposure but close enough to observe their ebony coats and gleaming eyes. At the heart of the Moman’s brand is the preservation of these species who have faced potential extinction in the past, but through research and land conservation, Moman and his team ensure every guest leaves with a deeper understanding of the gorillas and their habitat: putting the animals’ safety and livelihood at the forefront.
BWINDI LODGE, UGANDA
Drink in the dramatic views on the outdoor spaces of Bwindi Lodge’s eight bandas to see unsurpassed vignettes of the striking Ugandan landscape. You may even spot monkeys and indigenous birds peeking out from the grassy vegetation. Inside, large beds with flowing nets are at the center of the rooms, fringed with windows that open to the morning light to let in a refreshing breeze. A stay at this lodge is not complete without a massage at Humula Ishamba, (the on-site spa, which translates to ‘relax in the forest’) and exists over the vast Bwindi Impenetrateable Forest.
A sense of unity is found here at the Bwindi Lodge where community is cultivated in unexpected ways. Indulge in a savory meal against ochre-colored walls at the Bwindi Bar, which doubles as a training institution for local youth to study culinary practices. A visit to local schools, orphanages, and the hospital will open up traveler’s to what life is like in the Buhoma village.
KYAMBURA GORGE LODGE, UGANDA
Perched near the Queen Elizabeth National Park and the sunken tropical forest is the Kyambura Gorge Lodge—aptly named after the breathtaking landmark nearby. This lodge occupies a refurbished coffee store that now boasts contemporary and chicly-decorated brick and hand-crafted wood structures. Guests are taken to their appointed thatch-roofed bandas (all ensuite) and filled with local artifacts and sprawling terraces that glance over the savannah. When not sunbathing by the pool and dining by candlelight, you can set your sights into the wild for day trips that include tracking chimpanzees, spotting some of the 600 bird species and watching bathing elephants along the Kazinga Channel.
Volcanoes Safaris offers integrated programs like the Lion Research Safari and game drives that will take you, alongside scientific researchers and guides, through the landscape teeming with the big five and rare tree-climbing lions. After the blood-pumping encounters with the beasts of the wild, relax on a boat cruise that takes guests across the meandering channel where hippos and lions alike come to replenish along the water’s edge. Even art aficionados have a place here at the Kyambura Gorge Lodge. Damien Hirst, anyone? A visit to the Rwenzori Sculpture Foundry & Gallery, set up by Hirst himself, is just a short drive away and will whisk guests through a gallery donning Ugandan and European artists.
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.