It’s 3PM in the village of Bwindi and the afternoon rain ceasing prompts a chorus of African tree frogs to chirp blissfully, serenading a group of local children as they hurry barefoot toward the Volcanoes Bwindi Lodge to welcome the new guests. It’s only been one year since this eco-chic lodge re-opened after a major refurbishment, but still the arrival of visitors is enough to drive an electric excitement through the village. The check-in process begins with a warm towel and a fresh-pressed juice and finishes with a traditional welcome dance and song from the village children.
Volcanoes Bwindi Lodge originally started as a tented camp for Volcanoes Safaris back in 1999, where it offered rustic accommodations at the base of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest along the Munyunga River. Travelers from all over flocked to the camp in hopes of spotting a glimpse of the silverback mountain gorillas living in the area, so, in 2000, Volcanoes Safaris opened a permanent eco-lodge on the site. Since then, the lodge has undergone two major renovations, including its most recent, which took the property from eco to eco-chic.
Today the forest lodge offers eight thatch-roofed bandas (stand-alone suites) that blend traditional building styles with modern techniques, where plaster and timbered frames are complemented by glass-fronted exteriors. Oversized terraces extend from the entrance of each banda, overlooking the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest with uninterrupted panoramic views. The interiors have a distinct colonial influence, with grand, handmade four-poster beds acting as the centerpiece to the room beneath light and airy fabrics.
The bandas are spacious, with oversized bathrooms that include a natural stone-carved rain shower with hot water, two separate sinks and a flushing eco-toilet. Amenities are by Temple Spa, with a calming skin moisturizer and soothing balm for aching feet and limbs—perfect for after a long trek. Large mosquito nets envelop the beds to create a bug-free sleeping environment, with a strategically placed cordless phone left on the nightstand that acts as a direct line to a personal butler for any late-night emergencies or requests.
Meals are all served inside the main dining area, and consist of an option for local Ugandan cuisine (like luwombo chicken wrapped in banana leaves) or more Western options. The dining area is attached to the communal lounge in the main house, where the WiFi and minibar can be found with complimentary filtered drinking water, soft drinks, beers, wines and liquor.
The lounge is divided into two main areas: the warm and inviting fireplace seating (great for pre-dinner drinks and meeting fellow travelers) and the light comfortable daybeds with incredible views of the rainforest. There, visitors can kick back and watch the comings and goings of forest life. Mountain gorillas have been known to come right up to the property line in the past.
“Today the lodge is the most highly regarded property in Bwindi,” says Praveen Moman, founder of Volcanoes Safaris. “What sets Bwindi Lodge apart is the community activities the lodge undertakes in the neighborhood. In particular we have a tea project with local tea producers showing guests how tea is made, and we have the Bwindi Bar.”
The Bwindi Bar has become the Harry’s Bar of Bwindi, where it not only provides training for local youth in hospitality through the Volcanoes Safaris Partnership Trust, but provides fun fusion foods and drinks for visitors, including the Ugandan rolex, a rolled veggie omelets wrapped up inside freshly baked chapati bread. Applicants are taught practical skills in food and service before they’re able to intern at the café for a two-month period. After completing their internships they oftentimes seek further internships and apprenticeships at nearby lodges, and many have gone on to earn positions at Bwindi Lodge.
The newest addition to Volcanoes Bwindi Lodge came in April 2018, when the lodge opened its first ever eco-spa, the Forest Spa Humula mw’ Ishamba. The spa overlooks the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and is located next to a garden where spa therapists are growing their own lemongrass, tea, eucalyptus and other aromatic plants for treatments based on local traditions and forest rituals. Each guest receives a complimentary 30-minute massage per stay.
Other activities nearby include gorilla tracking (which must be booked in advance), watching the Bwindi kids’ dance performance, visiting the AMAGARA Farmer’s Project, exploring the Buhoma Village and the Nkwenda Village’s craft shops, or simply strolling through the lodge’s forested grounds and nature walks along the river.
Images courtesy of Volcanoes Bwindi Lodge