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The new and downright luxe Bisate Lodge may just be one of the finest places on the planet from which to mingle and mix with our so-close cousins, the magnificent mountain gorillas of Rwanda. With awe in our hearts and a race in our pulse, Bisate Lodge’s expert resident trackers guide us to magic encounters with one of the area’s 12 habituated groups–truly one of life’s most astonishing, atavistically rich experiences. As well as the chance to hike to Dian Fossey’s research camp (the same locale as her grave — an eternal marker for the woman responsible for altering our view of these close relatives of ours forever) we will learn, absorb and generally live in the midst of what is the surely our closest living link with sentient mammals. As Fossey so memorably described of her first gorilla encounter: “Sound preceded sight. Odor preceded sound … the air was suddenly rent by a high-pitched series of screams followed by the rhythmic rondo of sharp pok-pok chestbeats …” Prepare to be transported.
An intimate clutch of sumptuous en-suite forest villas — only six of them, in fact, designed and constructed to maximise all comforts and monopolise remarkable views over the surrounding Rwandan volcanoes. Inspired by the King’s Palace of Butare, these six striking thatched pods are, rather unusually and with due consideration to insulating eco-qualities, made of synthetic grasses. Enter each villa through a clever cloakroom for boots that inevitably return muddy after the day’s rewarding trek, and open onto a spacious lounge replete with comfy sofas warmed by its large, warming fireplace. The bedroom area is furnished with large double or twin beds, plus a daybed. A most inviting bathroom features shower and separate bath, as well as bathrobes, slippers, toiletries and everything necessary to make you feel the cosseted guest you are. Libations and meals are extremely well catered: three large “nests” are home to the reception, restaurant, and the inviting lounge where post-trek stories are wont to be woven over post-prandial, soul-warming drinks. The excellent restaurant offers indoor as well as outdoor seating in fine weather and, while communal dining is the convivial norm, individual tables are happily set as well. Beyond, unforgettable vistas over brooding Bisoke, Karisimbi and Mikeno volcanoes and beneath, an excellent wine cellar makes for reassuring foundations indeed.
Please note that children under 15 are not permitted by park regulation to visit the gorillas.
From this most secluded sanctuary, a 20-minute drive brings us swiftly to Park Headquarters and prime access for our treks where we shall discover, delight in, and — with full credit to Dr. Fossey — come face to face with the gorillas in our mist. Twelve habituated groups can be tracked and observed in Parc Nacional des Volcans, and our excursions through undergrowth, as vigorous as they are rewarding, may be from two to eight hours. Et voila, these iconic mountain gorillas are not only a species of the rarest, most elevating variety, but one that is critically endangered. Correspondingly, protocols limit time spent with them to a maximum of one hour. One life-enhancing, life-affirming hour.
Of course, these magnificent creatures are not alone amidst the dense and primordial forest of Parc Nacional des Volcans. Interest will be unavoidably peeked by the lesser-known, beautiful golden monkeys, as well as the side-striped jackal, black-fronted duiker, buffalo, elephant, tree hyrax and bushbuck, and nearly 200 bird species we meet.
Treks centre on the Virunga Mountains, home to over half the world’s population of mountain gorillas. Specialists from local gorilla research groups lead spirited and fascinating talks on some evenings.