Gorillas in the Mist – Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge
In the spirit of upcoming Earth Day on April 22nd, this blog is going green for the next few weeks, focusing on unique places that are carbon-neutral, community-driven or conservation-focused.
I happened upon this wonderful, new (opened in September 2008) place called Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge , located in Uganda, while flipping through the Conde Nast Traveler 2009 Hot List. Judging by the name, I’m going to take a guess that a) this place is probably high up (7500 feet to be exact, and on a ridge…hence the name Clouds!) and b) people are probably coming here to see the gorillas. It isn’t by any means an easy place to get to, but by the unanimous reviews on Tripadvisor, it is well worth it.
There are few things that makes this lodge, which is touted as Uganda’s most luxurious place to stay (and probably only one), so special:
1) It is located in part of the UNESCO World Heritage protected Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Why is this important? Bwindi is one of the most biologically diverse areas on earth, where half the world’s population of the highly endangered (due to habitat loss, poaching, war and disease) Mountain Gorilla live in its jungles. Only 330 gorillas remain here.
2) It has stunning views stretching across to Rwanda and the Virunga Mountains, which are actually a chain of volcanoes along the northern border of Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda. Most of them are dormant but a recent eruption from one actually occurred this January.
3) The lodge is completely community-driven and developed as part of a unique eco-partnership between the local community, the Uganda Wildlife Authority and The Uganda Safari Company/Wildplaces (which will manage it for 15 year after which it reverts to the Nkuringo Conservation and Development Foundation set up by the local community). The community directly benefits from the lodge and profits goes towards funding of local schools and hospitals and gorilla conservation.
4) All of the 65 0r so staff at the lodge is local (except the manager, Gary Segal, who is South African) from various villages.
5) Of course the Gorillas! The Nkuringo gorillas (about 21 in total) are an hour and half trek from the lodge (but it is a very physically challenging one with steep inclines so prepare yourself). Aside from the remote location, it is not easy to get access to the gorillas as there are only 8 licenses issued daily (US$500 per person) and the Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge tends to get the lions portion – so book in advance! What you get with that license is armed Uganda Wildlife guides who can pinpoint exactly where the gorillas are in advance so you are assured of a sighting.
6) And lastly, the lodge itself with eight stone cottages on the premises, which are each equipped with an open fireplace, decorated with locally commissioned artwork and have a personal butler. Cottages start at $900 a night, including 3 meals daily (this does not include gorilla treks).