Our experience at Virunga Lodge in Rwanda + Mount Gahinga Lodge in Uganda
I travelled to Rwanda with Alby Shale who was in the midst of an incredible project, to build Rwanda’s first International Cricket Stadium. After spending a few days exploring the capital Kigali and visiting the cricket ground site we made our way out of the city to start our journey: to cycle from the outskirts of Kigali into Uganda.
Rwanda’s nickname; “the land of the hills” hit home mid-flight, 23,000 feet in the air, and that’s when the nerves kicked in. “What goes up must come down”, I was reassured. My preparation had been cycling up Box Hill one grey Saturday afternoon so I quietly prayed for lots of downhill freewheeling.
(Nearly) all nerves subsided by the time we had mounted our sturdy German-built mountain bikes. I even surprised myself by noticing “the fantastic suspension”.
Cycling is one of the best ways to explore a country and riding alongside our guide, hearing stories of his time growing up in Rwanda and his experience of the 1994 Genocide, was fascinating and sobering.
A highlight of our trip was staying in two beautiful lodges along the way, Virunga Lodge and Mount Gahinga Lodge. Each night, we were incredibly lucky to be welcomed by smiley faces, fresh food and a hot shower to get rid of the mountains of dust and dirt accumulated throughout the day.
Arriving by bicycle at Virunga Lodge was a challenge due to the condition and gradient of the roads (steep!). But the views were worth it.
The lodge is perched high on a ridge with stunning views of the Virunga Volcanoes and the Musanze Valley to the west and Lake Bulera and Ruhondo to the east.
Our room was full of character and filled with local materials and patterns; bright yellow walls with pretty turquoise bedspreads in a setting surrounded by lush green grass and views across the lakes.
We enjoyed a massage in a charming wooden hut followed by drinks around an open fire looking onto the volcanos.
A smoky ring circling the top was magical and the sky looked like the aftermath of a conjured spell.
Before it got dark, we walked to a circular plot surrounded by locals creating what felt like an arena. The backdrop was the volcano and standing in front were a group of local villagers dressed in traditional tribal clothing.
They danced and sang; their energy and beat of the drum was entrancing.
The temperature in the evening dropped, so we headed into the main lodge for supper. We ate with other guests; one couple had visited Virunga exactly 20 years ago and had always longed to return. They shared stories of their adventures throughout Africa. The food was wonderfully homely and it was a lively and enjoyable evening.
We were guided back to our room by torchlight where hot water bottles had been placed lovingly in our beds. The views you wake up to in the morning are breathtaking. You can shower overlooking the lake and relax on your large terrace.
The skies are always dramatic and the countryside alive.
We continued our journey through Rwanda, travelling north and crossing the border into Uganda.
This took longer than expected and turned into a bit of a game as we eventually clocked on that if you didn’t really assert yourself, the line in front of you slowly grew with queue bargers.
We biked all day before eventually arriving at Mount Gahinga Lodge in the southern corner of Uganda.
Whilst this lodge doesn’t have Virunga’s views, the setting is pretty with seven stone bandas nestled into green gardens.
Its rustic charm is inspired by traditional design and building techniques. Inside our banda were two twin beds covered in checked woollen rugs facing an open fireplace. The sun shone during the day and we enjoyed spending the evening sitting around the fire in the main lodge relaxing in preparation for the following morning’s trek in search of the incredible mountain gorilla.
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