Glass swings by a family of mountain gorillas and stays at Bisate Lodge, Rwanda’s first luxurious safari resort
I WAKE at 5.00am unable to sleep in anticipation for the day ahead. I am trekking to one of the 12 families of endangered mountain gorillas that reside within the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. There are only about 800 mountain gorillas remaining in the world today and they are all concentrated in this location.
A mother and her baby. Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda
Attired in layers of hiking gear, I’m driven a short distance to the meeting place where I join the other seven members of my trekking group. Our guide, James, a young affable native Rwandan, takes us along a dusty flat pathway surrounded by maize crops and potato fields, which eventually leads to the shady entrance of the forest.
We commence our gradual ascent up the mountain slope following the advice of trackers who had earlier located the gorilla families by finding their eating trails of food debris. We trudge in single file through a thick carpet of compost, with a canopy of leaves shading us from the rising sun. After a couple of hours, James motions to us with his raised hand to stand still and to remain silent. Our adrenalin is racing as he makes strange guttural sounds to the gorillas – James tells us it is to notify the gorillas of our arrival.
The mighty Agasha
Our moment has finally arrived. The magnificent 400lb-silverback of the group, Agasha, glances our way as his chubby right hand reaches out for a bamboo shoot. A few noisy teenage gorillas appear from the bushes, somersaulting and larking around. As we clamber deeper into the forest, we find other members of the group, where our attention is drawn to a four-week old gorilla, like a tiny black ball of fluff, camouflaged in its mother’s arms. My eyes tear up as it seems unperturbed by our presence while it suckles, its tiny brown glass-like eyes staring right back at me.
The view from Bisate Lodge
After spending an hour with Agashya and his family (which is the maximum permitted time), we commence our descent.
Interior of Bisate Lodge
I am staying at Wilderness Safari’s Bisate Lodge, the country’s first ultra-luxe, eco-friendly resort, which is situated adjacent to the Volcanoes National Park. Sitting 2,650m above sea level on a 42-hectare site, Bisate is a lodge with six thatched circular dwellings resembling the thousand hills that dot the Rwandan landscape, and is built into the amphitheatre of an eroded volcanic cone. Bisate’s exuberant staff greet us, performing an entertaining singing and dancing routine upon our arrival.
The Dutch husband and wife managerial team, Ingrid and Rob Baas, explain how Bisate was built without the use of heavy construction machinery in order to preserve the surrounding environment. As we climb the steep steps, Ingrid continues to tell me how Wilderness Safaris employ most of their staff from the local villages and then guide them through an immersive training programme. Chefs are flown in from Wilderness Safari’s South African lodges to train all the kitchen staff, with many of the dishes featuring local produce from farmers in the surrounding area.
Interior of bedroom suite Bisate Lodge
Entering my villa, I’m welcomed by the warmth emitting from the double-sided fire, which takes centre stage between the spacious bedroom and intimate lounge area. Furnishings are colourful, with prints featuring geometric shapes in a combination of textures, including black and white cowhides, which reflect the rural Rwandan life.
After luxuriating in my freestanding bath, I join the other guests for pre-dinner drinks to share our experiences. One of the unexpected delights of staying at Bisate is the accessibility to the local village. In the morning I stroll down for a community visit and meet one of the residents, Maria, who is Bisate’s seamstress, who was trained by Joseph, a tailor from a neighbouring village. I was intrigued to hear how Maria was given a loan by Wilderness to purchase a sewing machine, which enabled her to set up her own business.
Image of Maria and Joseph
During the bumpy three-hour drive back to Kigali airport, I reflect on the Rwandan safari experience that Wilderness has to offer. There are very few experiences on earth that will set your heart racing like spending time with a family of mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Based from the luxurious haven that I discovered at Bisate, this has been a once-in-a-lifetime adventure that will be etched into my heart for ever.
by Amanda Bernstein
RwandAir flies from London Gatwick to Kigali via Brussels three times a week, return fares start from £460 in Economy Class and from £1,663 in Business Class inclusive of tax. To book visit RwandAir or call 01293 874922.
Nightly rates at Bisate Lodge start from $1,155 per person per night on a sharing basis, inclusive of all meals, local drinks, lodge activities on property and accessible by walking, laundry, and welcome massage. Gorilla permits are not included, and cost $1,500 per person. Please visit here
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