Africa is one of the most beautiful countries in the world that offers a unique connection with the animals and wildlife of the natural world. Many of the world’s most iconic animals live in Africa, including the Big Five and the closest relatives of ourselves, other primates such as the chimpanzee, gorilla and Bonobo monkeys. Visiting these animals is one of the main attractions of this magnificent continent but there’s more to it than that. The landscape is spectacular and varied with rolling hills, tundra, desert, lush forests, lakes and rivers as well as the great plains and the clear blue skies. It’s almost a mythical place, enhanced by the closeness of its various peoples to it. Many of the African tribes are still living their cultural independence in harmony with the natural world, making it a truly different place to be.
Uganda has become known as the ‘Pearl of Africa’ after visits by Henry Morton Stanley and Sir Winston Churchill. It’s verdant and vibrant landscape has made it one of Lonely Planet's top destinations to visit. The lushness of the terrain and the vegetation are matched by the diversity in the wildlife and the people who live there.
Rwanda is a country that has had its natural beauty untouched by its history and the feeling throughout the country is one of regeneration, conservation and growth, making it the perfect place to visit to feel what it’s like to be apart from the manic lifestyle of Europe and America and to settle down into the more natural environment. Lake Kivu is one of the Great lakes of Africa, located in the Albertine Rift between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It’s well known for being the home of the finest inland beaches in Africa and is an ideal place to stop off and relax on a larger journey of adventure and excitement.
The Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP) is found in the centre of the Western Rift Valley, the Albertine Rift and boasts some of the greatest biodiversity in all of Africa. Animals here include the olive baboon, black and white colobus monkey, chimpanzee, lion, leopard, kob, elephant, wildebeest, hippo, water buffalo, hyena, mongooses, a vast selection of bird species and more. The lion and leopard are the main attractions here and in the surrounding area.
Birding is a popular pastime in Uganda, with the Kyambura Wetlands and the area around the Queen Elizabeth National Park being home to over 600 bird species, some extravagantly exotic and some endemic to the region, not leaving their native home. The diversity of the birding here means that not all of the species have been recorded as living in the area so if you’re a keen birder you may well have the opportunity to spot a species of bird in the area and add a fresh, brand new entry to the official register!
The Kazinga Channel links Lake Edward and Lake George and is rich in wildlife. Boat trips along the channel provide a magnificent opportunity to photograph the impressive range of animals, which includes hippo, elephant, the African crocodile and maybe a few more hidden and secretive predators.
Apart from these more mainstream game animals and birds, there are more unusual animals that you can find on a safari with Volcanoes. In Ishasha you are likely to witness the rather bizarre phenomenon of the tree-climbing lions. They are the only lions known to climb trees in the wild and make for spectacular viewing as they laze around in the sun in the branches. Primates such as the Golden Monkey and Chimpanzee are also on the cards for those who take the time out to track them. They offer a very different experience to tracking gorillas. They’re smaller, louder and although they can be harder to find and photograph, the thrill of the adventure trying to find them is more than you’ll expect.
Gorillas are one of the most fascinating and intriguing species of animal on the planet but they are also one of the most endangered. There are less than a thousand western lowland gorillas alive in the wild today with their populations focused around the Parc National des Volcans in Rwanda and the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda, both of which are locations that you can visit with Volcanoes Safaris. Tracking the gorillas is a truly altering experience as you spend the day exploring the adventurous National Parks and the deeper hidden paths through the romantically-named Impenetrable Forest. The trek itself is an invigorating experience but the peak comes when you find the gorillas. After trekking through the sometimes excitingly challenging terrain, the moment you hear the ominous chest-beating and calling of the gorillas will be sure to set your heart racing again.
Hearing them is one thing but seeing the gorillas is something entirely different. Their similarity to humans is striking; 98% genome similarity has never looked so familiar. The silverback is the most impressive in the pack as they either sit around their nests or move through the forest completely at home either among the high branches or on the more cluttered forest floor. They are truly magnificent creatures.
Just looking into the eyes of a gorilla you will feel like you understand so much clearer the connection that we have to the world and the magnificent animals won’t fail to move you. Their thick black hair and leathery skin give them a bulk that is far greater than our own but their resemblance to us is striking and their complex social structure and combat between dominant males makes them all the more familiar.
The local cultures of the Ugandan and Rwandan people are warm and hospitable, keeping to the more traditional values that are more common among smaller communities. One such community that has been through a lot in the region is that of the Batwa pygmies, who have lived in and around the forests of Uganda around Gahinga for generations. On one of the unique Batwa walks you can explore these ancestral forests with the Batwa, learning first-hand how they hunted and foraged for food and sought out plants with medicinal qualities. Their mystical culture is enchanting and part of the fabric of the country despite their persecution.
The Intore Dance troupe have been a popular addition to the activities at the Virunga lodge since their support has been developed by the VSPT fund. Intore dancing is a traditional victory dance in Rwanda and has become known, in no small part thanks to their time as a Belgian colony, as Rwandan Ballet. This national dance is energetic and exciting, invigorating to watch as the sun sets with the silhouettes of the ancient Virunga volcanoes on the horizon. The dance originated when warriors returned from battle victoriously and often saw many tribes dancing together, making it not only diverse and individual but also a great symbol for the unity of the once fragmented country of Rwanda.
The safari lodges are one of the major points that highlight how great it is to visit Uganda and Rwanda with Volcanoes Safaris. The Virunga lodge is our Rwandan destination and is the prime location for tracking gorillas from in the Parc National des Volcans. There are many attractions from the Virunga lodge, including the Intore Dance Troupe who perform for the guests, having been funded by the VSPT initiative. Volcanoes offer flying safaris that allow you to make the connections between lodges by air. The exciting thing about the Virunga transfer is that you will be transported by helicopter. The landscape around the Virunga lodge is spectacular, including the impressive Virunga mountain range of volcanoes, some of which can be climbed on a tour with us.
Kyambura Gorge is Volcanoes’ newest lodge and is located north of Kampala and on the other side of the equator to Virunga. It is the most luxurious of our lodges and has opened up the prospects of savannah safaris in the Queen Elizabeth National Park as well as boat tours of the Kazinga Channel and visits to the fascinating ecosystem around the Kyambura Gorge itself, a vast valley created by the river over thousands of years that has proved to be an ideal setting for a small forest to grow. The view from the viewing platform is truly unique and visitors will not be disappointed. The lodge itself features a massage room, conventional bathrooms and the recent addition of a saltwater swimming pool, which allows you to enjoy the magnificent sunset from the water.
Bwindi is the most personal of our lodges, situated right in the heart of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. The forest is so close you feel as though you can touch it from the balcony on your private banda. You can certainly hear it and the atmosphere of the forest is pervasive. You will seldom be so close to such a vibrant ecosystem and the connection with the natural world is personal and immediate. The lodge itself is built in line with traditional architecture and blends into the forest naturally, giving you the opportunity to really feel at home in the forest.
The Gahinga lodge was the first lodge built by Volcanoes Safaris and has been redeveloped into a premier hiking and walking lodge. It features the same benefits and services as the other lodges, including a luxury outfit of both services and staff, a massage room and a full complement of 8 bandas for you to enjoy a more personal stay in.
The activities that you can engage in and around each of the four lodges is vast and diverse, affording you the unmissable opportunities to meet the various animals and birds that live in this unique and verdant part of the world. The safaris themselves give you the chance to explore the wildlife that makes this part of the world so iconic. The standard safaris and game drives are available to visit the Queen Elizabeth National Park and the Kazinga Channel (which includes a boat ride along the water) and the more unique opportunities to visit chimps, golden monkeys and tree-climbing lions are also available to our guests. The memorial built around the grave of Dian Fossey is a major point of poignancy around the area where you are able to track mountain gorillas in Bwindi and Virunga.
One type of activity is the wide range of walking tours we offer throughout our itineraries. From simple river walks around Bwindi that see you follow the river around the lodge and the Impenetrable Forest, the Batwa community walks that give you the chance to meet and engage with a unique and vibrant culture and their history, to more challenging hikes such as climbing up four of the Virunga volcanoes. The four peaks you can climb are Muhavura, Sabyinyo, Gahinga and Karisimbi. Each offers a very different experience as you tackle the challenging terrain but it’s Karisimbi that represents the greatest challenge of the lot. It’s the highest peak and the summit is often capped with snow. It takes two days to climb, which requires that you camp for a night at the rest point 3700m above sea level, with the summit standing at an impressive 4507m.
When you return to the lodge you’re staying at you can then relax with the complimentary massage, enjoy some hot food and slip into your bed, warmed for you with hot water bottles after your shower.
There are a great many reasons why you should choose Volcanoes Safaris for your trip to Uganda and Rwanda. The list of reasons that makes us stand apart from our competitors is long and it’s worth going over a few of them here. Starting from when you reach the airport in either Kampala or Kigali, you’ll be met by one of our superb Volcanoes Guides who will accompany you throughout your stay, driving you from place to place and opening up their vast store of knowledge to answer any questions that you may have about the local area. They are all multilingual and will be able to share their passion for the wildlife and the local communities with you.
This passion and open warmth will also be evident at the lodges. The fact that we own and operate the lodges is one of the key features that separates us from other operators who only book and operate safaris, meaning that they have to find lodges to book you in to. With us, it’s all covered whether you’re on a scheduled or private departure. Each of our four lodges are kitted out with the finest luxuries and top-class service from our teams of local workers.
At Volcanoes, we take our place in this local community very seriously and understand the effects that tourism can have on the surrounding area, both detrimental and enhancing. The positive aspects are what we are keen to promote. We have already worked hard to reduce the negative impact of our lodges, ensuring that they are all sustainably built and operated and that they are all ecologically beneficial. Our involvement, however, doesn’t stop there. The local communities and land are also targets for growth as we established the Volcanoes Safaris Partnership Trust (VSPT) as a non-profit organisation that engages in community and conservation work such as rejuvenating the wetlands around Kyambura and supporting local projects like the Intore Dancers, Empundu Playground, Mwiko School and Bwindi Hospital. Every full-price tour that runs with Volcanoes Safaris sees a donation added to the VSPT fund so that they can continue this charitable philanthropic work.