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Rendezvous-ing with our not-too-distant relations – the fiercely protected, intensely loved mountain gorillas of Rwanda? A more soul-stirring date in the calendar is hard to imagine. As a base for such a joyful encounter, character-filled Virunga Lodge is hard to best. Weaves and woods and bright local fabrics define the Rwandese Afro-chic of each low-slung suite. The clutch of low-impact buildings employs solar power, use harvested rainwater, and is constructed from local materials. Etched into a high ridge, the lodge seems to inhabit the very landscape itself. We’re lavished at every turn with dramatic views over the jagged Virunga Volcanoes, the sprawling Musanze Valley, and glistening Lakes Bulera and Ruhondo. Trekking these Virunga Mountains to meet the indigenous mountain gorillas and rare golden monkeys of Volcanoes National Park is always, quite naturally, the prime grounds for a visit. But the hospitality at Virunga Lodge and warmth of the Great Lakes of Africa cultures are equal hallmarks of this unforgettable experience.
Built by hand for maximum comfort and total privacy, ten elegant guest suites (known as bandas) come in three arrangements: four doubles, two twins, and four larger deluxe suites (perfect for families or honeymooners, these bandas come fitted with a firepit and sitting room). All are decorated with bright local textiles, woven furniture, and local woods and feature a large en-suite bathroom with shower, romantic netting-draped bed(s), and a secluded stone terrace that begs for post-hike glass of something delicious under a setting sun or the twinkling stars. Delicious locally inspired meals and fine largely South African wines are served in the comfortable main lodge. After a rewarding day’s trek, a visit to the Ikirunga Spa for a muscle-softening massage is the ideal homecoming. Wifi is available throughout (though it must be noted, not air conditioning) as is Virunga’s exceptional hospitality – administered in great part by a personal butler to tend every whim.
Please note that local regulation restricts children under the age of 15 from gorilla tracking. The lodge happily welcomes adventurers from 12 years to 112 and counting.
Tracking mountain gorillas with experienced guides through the dense African forests is simply magic and rightly a controlled experience. Just eight visitors are allowed per gorilla group each day and trekkers keep a distance of 10 metres. (Typically, gorilla tracking can take between three to eight hours and does require some agility.) Tracking the resident golden monkeys, so called for their bright golden bodies, cheeks, and tails, are also an attraction. There’s opportunity to climb a volcano, and to participate in community projects supporting local peoples, including the One-Sheep-Per-Family and Water Tank projects. Something of pilgrimage in these parts is hiking to the grave of primatologist Dian Fossey, known for her extensive study of these herbivorous, highly social wonders.