Encounter monkeys, gorillas and chimpanzees in Rwanda

Connie Osborne
Photo credit: One&Only

From Town & Country

Rwanda is known as the ‘Land of a Thousand Hills’, although travelling along the winding, isolated roads on the five-hour drive from the capital Kigali, it seems this could be considered an understatement. Vast rainforest-covered mountains frame the lush green tea plantations that rise and fall into the distance as far as the eye can see. Out of this seemingly never-ending expanse of wilderness, greeted only by the occasional curious baboon at the side of the road, the tiled roof of One & Only’s Nyungwe House suddenly appears as you drop down into the valley.

Entering the main lodge to the sound of the traditional Rwandan drummers who greet your arrival, any weariness from the journey is quickly forgotten. The roaring fires and dark timbered interiors give a warm welcome, while floor-to-ceiling glass walls allow you to appreciate the astonishing beauty of the surroundings as you sip a refreshing iced tea at the bar (the leaves freshly picked from the plantation outside the window). The African-inspired decor continues throughout the resort’s 22 guest-rooms, which are individual wooden cabins arranged around the edge of the estate. Each one is a cosy yet sumptuous space, with a four-poster bed (warmed for you at night by a hot-water bottle), a wood-burning stove and a private deck overlooking the jungle beyond.

Photo credit: Philip Lee Harvey

Although you could spend the whole time relaxing by the infinity pool or taking blissful sanctuary in the spa (the signature Intonga Amasatchi massage is not to be missed), the real draw of this resort is the incredible range of experiences on offer. Located on the edge of the Nyungwe Forest National Park, unique adventures include a hike through the jungle leading up to the dizzying heights of the treetop canopy walk 170 metres above the forest floor – take in the breath-taking views and watch eagles soar above the misty carpet below. You can also watch chimpanzees and colobus monkeys enjoying their post-breakfast romp in their natural surroundings. For those who fancy something a little less strenuous, spear-throwing, archery and even tea-picking in the grounds of the resort are on offer.

Top of the list for most visitors to Rwanda, though, is undoubtedly the chance to see the endangered mountain gorillas – and for this, a trip to Gorilla’s Nest is a must. It’s a six-hour drive from Nyungwe House, but the journey is a wildlife adventure in itself as you will spot a myriad of birds and monkeys along the way. At the foothills of the dramatic Virunga volcano mountain range, this second Rwandan resort from One & Only, which opened in 2019, offers a front-row seat to the unrivalled array of primates based in the Volcanoes National Park. Local rangers take small groups on daily guided hikes to track some of the 880 gorillas that live in this dense bamboo forest. While you need to buy a permit several months in advance to do this, at around US $1,500 (about £1,160) a person, it is worth every penny as the money is invested into conservation efforts and the experience of witnessing these magnificent creatures at close quarters in the wild is incredible.

Photo credit: Philip Lee Harvey

Arriving back at the resort, exhausted yet exhilarated after a long day’s arduous jungle trek, the endless comforts of Gorilla’s Nest provide a welcome and much-needed respite. The staff help you off with your muddy boots, which are then whisked away to be cleaned, while you enjoy a shoulder-rub and cold drink, or a visit to the spa for a full-body massage.

Luckily, having worked up an appetite after all the outdoor adventures, the fresh, locally sourced food is a real highlight. As with Nyungwe House, the set-up at Gorilla’s Nest is more akin to staying in a friend’s luxurious home – there is no formal dress code, and no set meal times, menus or prices, either. When you are ready to eat, you simply head to the restaurant, where the chef will explain the day’s dishes and take your dietary requirements and preferences. Then course after course of delicious offerings are magically produced. No two meals are the same, from the freshly squeezed juices and grilled local meats to the vibrant salads and soups. All vegetables, fruits and herbs are organic and selected from the resort’s extensive gardens that day.

Photo credit: One&Only

The restaurant is a short distance from the guest cabins, but easily reached by hopping on one of the many e-bikes that are dotted around the resort.

Each self-contained wooden cabin, with its own private entrance and pretty lanterns, is elevated on stilts to give the impression of floating among the giant eucalyptus trees that surround it. The two-roomed Forest Lodges are wonderfully spacious, with a large king-sized bed, a separate sitting area, an outdoor bath on the private deck, a rain shower and a large gas fireplace, perfect for curling up in front of in the chillier evenings.

But the beauty of both Gorilla’s Nest and Nyungwe House lies not just in their comforts and luxury, attentive staff and excellent food, but in the way their unique designs reflect the splendour of the habitat that surrounds them. The majesty of the forests and the distant mountains conveys a sense of peace and tranquillity that allows you to relax and reflect after an epic week of adventure, leaving you ready to face the world once more.

Abercrombie & Kent offers seven nights from £11,700 a person, including return flights, most meals, accommodation, a gorilla trek and a chimpanzee trek. This includes one night in Kigali, three nights in One & Only Nyungwe House and three nights at One & Only Gorilla’s Nest.