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Discovering Rwanda's gentle giants in the lap of luxury

A male mountain gorilla in Rwanda. Photo Credit: Shutterstock
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Rwanda is known for its unique gorilla-tracking experiences, with the Volcanoes National Park in particular considered one of the tourism highlights of the country. The park offers travelers the rare opportunity to see gorillas in their natural habitat.

According to the tourism organization Visit Rwanda, at the latest count, there are approximately 1,000 mountain gorillas in the wild, with 12 gorilla families living in the Volcanoes National Park. The groups, or troops, consist of at least one silverback along with several females and youngsters.

The gorilla troops are somewhat fluid in composition but tend to stick to a preferred area. They are constantly monitored and protected by park rangers, with each group coming into contact with tourists for a strict maximum of one hour per day.

One of the best times to visit Volcanoes National Park is during the annual Kwita Izina baby gorilla naming ceremony in early September (this year's ceremony is taking place on Sept. 6). At the naming ceremony itself, there's music, dancing and discussion about Rwanda's great strides in gorilla conservation and the great challenges that remain.

There are a variety of accommodation options available near the park. Joining the mix this year are a pair of new upmarket lodges that will enable travelers to explore the park in the lap of pure luxury: the Singita Kwitonda Lodge and One&Only Gorilla's Nest.

Hospitality and conservation brand Singita committed to extensive reforestation initiatives in Rwanda, helping to increase the range and numbers of endangered mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park.

The brand opened the long-awaited Kwitonda Lodge and Kataza House on Aug. 1. Set on the edge of Volcanoes National Park, Kwitonda Lodge is named after a legendary silverback gorilla known for his humility and gentle nature. The lodge features eight luxurious suites, while Kataza House, an exclusive-use villa, features four spacious suites. The lodge is situated less than 10 minutes from park headquarters.

On-site herb and fruit gardens supply the lodge's kitchens with an array of fresh ingredients, featuring largely vegetable-based dishes and local Rwandan favorites in a farm-to-table approach to dining.

Rates for suites at the Singita Kwitonda Lodge range between $1,495 and $1,750 per person, per night or from $6,877 per night for the exclusive-use Kataza House villa in green season (Rwanda's low, rainy season). Rates are all-inclusive, excluding in-room massages, gorilla- trekking permits and other extras that Singita can book prior to travel.

Meanwhile, One&Only will debut its second Rwandan property, One&Only Gorilla's Nest, on Sept. 7. This property is designed to perfectly blend into the surrounding nature, with breathtaking views of the Virunga Volcano Range. The property will feature two lodges and three suites.

Nestled in Rwanda's natural forested atmosphere, the property will place an emphasis on health and wellness, offering guests various luxury treatments and experiences. With natural ingredients sourced from its own on-site gardens, the cuisine will give visitors the chance to experience authentic Rwandan flavors with a modern influence.

Both properties will offer dedicated gorilla treks, but other activities are also available.

Tracking golden monkeys is definitely a thrilling and unusual experience as these creatures are listed as endangered. Volcanoes National Park currently has two habituated golden monkey troops that can be visited. Following the fresh leftovers of bamboo, their large groups are usually easy to trace at the bottom of the volcanoes. Travelers will love watching them graze, socialize and leap dramatically between trees with the aid of their long tails.

Volcanoes Park is also home to the exceptional Musanze Caves, a network formed 65 million years ago by molten lava flows that forged the epic Albertine Rift Valley. Two kilometers of easy hiking through the caves reveals dramatic rock formations, dotted with cascading light shafts, spilling greenery.

The cave network has 31 entrances, with the main cave having an entrance the size of a cathedral. The Musanze Caves have been used as a shelter during wartime for many centuries and was the site of a massacre of Tutsi people during the Rwandan Civil War in 1994. The caves continue to hold considerable significance to local people, so visitors are requested to be respectful when exploring.

Finally, travelers can explore the Buhanga Exopark. This intimate forest is a hidden treasure that holds a great deal of biological and cultural significance. The park is set upon an ancient, sacred site that was used for the coronation rituals of Rwandan kings. Rugged trails are forged of cut lava stones, weaving through sprawling plants and towering trees to the natural soundtrack of birds and the flash of colorful butterflies.

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