Discover One&Only Gorilla's Nest, Rwanda
Succumb to the call of the wild and awaken your inner animal spirit
Rwanda has a lot to beat its chest about...
Rwanda is a magnificent country that is always looking ahead with positivity. From the nationwide ban on plastic bags to the regular Umuganda cleaning efforts and conservation programmes, Rwanda really does celebrate unparalleled pride in the natural world. Also home to the Volcanoes National Park – a historic rainforest rich in a diverse array of wildlife, including 340 mountain gorillas, golden monkeys and 300 bird species. There is also an incredible topography of peaceful sleeping volcanoes that defy gravity, creating an awe-inspiring atmosphere.
Karen and James found themselves in the heart of Rwanda at the One&Only Gorilla’s Nest. Surrounded by swaying eucalyptus trees, this magnificent destination taps into your true sense of adventure. Cushioned in the foothills of the breathtaking Volcanoes National Park, this is where they enjoyed a once-in-a-lifetime, personal encounter with the rare and majestic mountain gorillas roaming free in their own natural habitat. Here we will find out all about this enchanting adventure and Karen and James’s top tips, what not to miss and their favourite experiences.
Rwanda and its incredible story
The first thing we noticed when arriving in Rwanda was the cleanliness, spotlessly clean from the airport to beautiful well-kept flowers within the central reservations of the roads. The Rwandans are meticulous, with a real passion for preserving the beauty of their breathtaking country.
We were greeted on arrival at Kigali International Airport by our guide and driver, Didier. Didier stayed with us then for the duration of our stay in Rwanda. We had a 3 hour drive ahead of us from the airport to the spectacular Volcanoes National Park, home to the One&Only Gorilla’s Nest.
As we drove through Kigali, Rwanda’s capital and largest city we were surprised at just how busy it was, with cars and motorbikes weaving their way through the roads, people walking in every direction. Our senses were assaulted by the hustle and bustle surrounding us and the colour, a whole myriad of colour from the buildings to the spectacular clothing. We found ourselves grinning from ear to ear, the happy vibe was infectious.
From the comfort of our 4×4 we took in our surroundings as we drove through many towns and past vast scenery, all the while our wonderful driver Didier regaling the wonderful story of Rwanda, its people and ethos. We stopped at a local market en-route where we were spoilt for choice with an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables. Interestingly, the market people are unable to accept cash so Didier paid by mobile for our purchases, this of course is all part of the experience that you pay for when booking with Uberluxe, our contact was Edris Kamoga who we highly recommend.
The further into the country we drove you find the scenery changing, with more and more farming and farm land and less and less cars and motorbikes, until you notice that everyone you see is walking. We were also surprised to learn that absolutely no machinery is used and all the work being done on the farm is done by hand, now if that isn’t looking after your environment we don’t know what is. And simply everyone we came across was so happy, smiling and waving hello to us.
One&Only Gorillas Nest
As we arrived at One&Only Gorilla’s Nest, we were greeted by the sound of music, a welcome performance of African Drums being played, a wonderfully refreshing drink and warm towel. We reached this little haven just in time for lunch and then we were shown to our room, and oh boy what a room it was but more on that later!
One&Only Gorilla’s Nest itself is very clever in its design, giving you the feeling of being a world away from normal life but in actual fact it is situated in close proximity to the local village. Set within its own ample acreage, from the moment you arrive you are hit by the natural energy, the fragrant fauna and flora, surrounded by beautiful tall eucalyptus trees and roses which grow all year round. The perfect ecosystem that is constantly growing, your backdrop, your hideaway to everything on your plate – nature, peace and ethics run deep through the veins of One&Only Gorilla’s Nest.
Every inch of this destination is perfectly manicured with much love and care. You will notice as you walk or take a buggy drive around the grounds, as you pass the staff members they will always take their hand to their heart, which really resonates with you.
Not forgetting the service from the wonderfully welcoming staff and all the little extra’s that make your stay so very special. When taking in the vast grounds on a little buggy ride you are given a hot water bottle and blanket to keep you warm and comfortable as you absorb your surroundings. Blankets are also given to you when dining outside or just enjoying the scenery from any of the verandas. The food is exquisite and the service is beyond amazing, all the staff know your name, are very engaging and love to take the time to speak with you.
Each evening we met with the other guests in the bar, run by the characterful Silverback, for a cocktail or two before our private dining experience, (it is worth noting that private dining is not always available during peak times). Every meal was different and we were seated in different locations throughout our stay and every time the tables were beautifully laid out in front of a warming fireplace.
A fantastic array of cultural entertainment, from traditional drumming to dancing around the boma all of which you can participate in, is held every night for you to enjoy.
We were also fortunate enough to experience a spectacular storm whilst we were there, so took the opportunity to sit out on the Veranda overlooking the forest to watch it perform in all its glory.
One&Only Gorillas Rooms
After our delicious lunch we were shown to our room. All the rooms are individual free-standing lodges and suites that are suspended over sprawling gardens and at eye level with the tall eucalyptus trees and volcanic surroundings. When we said you can feel the energy, you really can from the sumptuous trees and flowers surrounding you.
We were taken through our own little entrance, a wooden built walk way which was very sympathetic to its surroundings. As we entered our front door, we were speechless, our expectations were blown away. The space and design is everything you would expect from luxury living, you have absolutely everything you need, you wouldn’t ever need to leave.
The main living space is decorated with Imigongo art, a library of books, binoculars for you to bird watch with, a dining area for private dining if you wish, a gorgeous fireplace for you to sit by and a comfortable tv seating area. Then of course the lovely bedroom, with your own private outdoor bath was just amazing. It really does feel home from home, decorated throughout as you would your home.
Resort Experiences and Facilities
Naturally, being that Gorilla’s Nest holds dear an organic, one with nature ethos, you are able to really take some time and focus on your own wellbeing. Whether you are wanting to enhance your healthy lifestyle, or delve into a world of spiritual and physical development, there are no end of treatments and experiences here and all drawing from traditional African wisdom.
You can get active, choose to trek or take a mountain bike out for spin and then comeback to a calming spa treatment, with products all made from natural, homegrown ingredients.
You have a wide choice of activities to choose from, hiking up a volcano, mountain bike trails, trekking with chimpanzees, aqua workouts and of course indulgent massages. Also available to guests is the stunning infinity pool, fitness centre with a view, bird watching, outdoor yoga studio within a secluded area of the grounds, painting areas for you to connect with the inner artist in you and so much more.
This is absolutely the ultimate Virunga experience, bucket-list moment that we had been eagerly anticipating. When you arrive in your room at Gorilla’s Nest you will excitedly discover your own safari backpack, hat, waterproof coat and water bottle all ready for your adventure.
We were up early and enjoyed a hearty breakfast to set us up for the day ahead. After which we were then given a choice of snacks, energy balls, nuts etc to take with us. The staff are on hand to ensure you have everything you need, even down to putting on your Gators and boots for you. These were definitely needed as you find yourself trekking through boggy marsh and strong, dense foliage. Our driver Didier was waiting for us outside ready to take us into Volcanoes National Park, he had all our paperwork that was needed (you need permits to be able to do the trek) so we really didn’t have to think about anything other than the adventure before us.
Everyone congregates at a hub where there are hand washing stations, a Covid testing centre and refreshments. You are put into groups and briefed on the family of habituated Gorilla and their habitat. We were in a small group of four but the maximum ever in any group is only eight. For $10 you are also able to hire a porter who joins you and helps you through the terrain and to carry your bag. Hiring a porter is widely encouraged as they rely on the tourism to support their work and support their livelihoods.
You then embark on your trek with your driver taking you off road over bumpy dirt track and past small local communities.
Trackers go out ahead of you to locate the Gorilla and are in contact via radio with your guide. Unfortunately for us, our group of Gorilla, known as the Kwitonda group were on the move up the mountain so our 45minute trek turned into a 1hour 45minute trek. The Kwitonda group are migrant from Democratic Republic of Congo and named after its dominant silverback called Kwitonda which means ‘Humble one’. Because of its migration background, the group wanders in the lower slopes of Mt. Muhabura, they are onerous to track as they sometimes move to the upper slopes. The group is made up of 23 members including four silverbacks. We couldn’t believe how close we were to them but at no point did we feel unsafe nor were the Gorilla unhappy to see us.
You do need to take your own hiking boots and gardening gloves to protect your hands from the brambles. We had packed rain coats but we didn’t need them. Long trousers are a given and water also, you will need it. We weren’t bothered by bugs and mosquitos, this may be due to the high altitude.
This was the most rewarding wildlife experience ever and it was a privilege to encounter the Gorilla’s in their own natural environment that will stay with us forever.
Surprise, surprise we then get back to the One&Only Gorilla’s Nest and what do they do… they take off our boots, massage our feet, give us a shoulder and head massage whilst we enjoy a cup of coffee, all while we wait for our buggy to come and pick us up to take us back to our room so we can freshen up before we have our lunch. Then when come back from lunch our boots are cleaner than when they were new and freshly laundered socks. Bliss!
Golden Monkey Trek
This another wonderful experience not to be missed when visiting Rwanda if you can. Set up in a similar way to the Gorilla Trekking. You are picked up by your driver and taken to the Volcanoes National Park centre which is where we met for the Gorilla Trekking. You are split off in the relevant groups for Gorilla Trekking or the Golden Monkeys. Quite a few of the same people were there that we trekked with the day before when we went Gorilla Trekking, so you can see that many people do both treks whilst in Rwanda.
The Golden Monkey’s inhabit the Virunga National Park, which is part of the Volcanoes National Park but lower in the mountains amongst the Bamboo Forests in the lowlands, near the farms. The Golden Monkeys are common in Rwanda, Congo and Uganda but very rare in the rest of the world. There are only 2500-3000 Golden Monkeys on the planet, so here you can actually get to see them and they are very cheeky little monkeys.
We trekked through working farmland where there were a lot of locals working the land which was lovely to see. We then walked into the forest and started to walk up the mountain, this day though we only went about 20 minutes in before we actually saw the Golden Monkeys. The set up was the same as with the Gorilla’s, where we hired porters to assist us with the terrain, carrying our bags and walking sticks. They hold on to these for you and stay back whilst you go with your guide to go and see The Golden Monkeys. We didn’t have to walk too far to see them but they were quite difficult to see when we first got there. They were up high in the treetops, silhouetted against the bright sky, and playing in the bushes.
We were with the same couple on this trek as the Gorilla Trekking. They actually went further down into the depths of the forest but because of James’s knee injury we decided not to go down there and we went back up to the ridge where we had started and at that point the Golden Monkey’s all just appeared. This is where James realised that he was on a Monkey Highway for all the thieving monkeys that would go down into the farm to dig up and steal all the farmer’s potatoes. We sat and watched them from the top for a while and then our porters took us down so we could sit on the bank of the forest looking down into the farmland where we watched the monkeys for ages pinching the potatoes and having a great merry time.
Footwear again is a priority when packing for this type of experience. Sturdy, UK hiking boots are absolutely fine, gators for the lower legs as you will be walking through the ferns and boggy marsh. It is a beautifully green landscape as they get quite a bit of rain, so it really can be quite boggy when trekking. Again we didn’t have any problems with bugs or insects, and we were not bitten so that was great.
We really enjoyed the Golden Monkeys. It only takes about an hour to get to the centre from One&Only Gorilla’s Nest, you then take about 30 minutes walking up the mountain and into the forest and about an hour there watching the monkeys. So it’s a fantastic morning activity and then you are taken back to enjoy your lunch and relax.
It’s a photographers dream so do take plenty of memory cards as you will get hundreds of photos. The guides, trekkers and porters are great and make sure you get the best out of your experience. The families that are farming the land all stop and say hello or wave at you. It is a very colourful and clean country, no sensitivities with the locals for taking photo’s, they are delighted to be of assistance.
Everything that you put into the National Parks goes into conservation, so without the tourism the conservation really does suffer.
Did you know?
Nyungwe Forest, Rwanda
In the heart of Rwanda lies the oldest rainforest on earth, home to rare primates and reptiles, orchids, butterflies and exotic birds. The cherished Nyungwe Forest National Park is a whopping 102,000-hectare expanse mountain rainforest, just south of Lake Kivu. Nyungwe Forest is also home to One&Only Nyungwe House, suspended over the slopes of the forest and offering yet more breathtaking jungle views.
Jack Hanna Cottage
Part of the One&Only Gorilla’s Nest is an iconic piece of conservation history – the past residence of famed wildlife expert Jack Hanna. His cottage has been reborn as a secluded space to explore with games room, fully-equipped kitchen hosting interactive cooking classes led by Executive Chef Bryan, as well as a library where you can learn more about Rwanda’s conservation work. It was from the veranda here that James and I sat and watched the storm, following one of our private dining experiences. A great setting for private parties if there is a group of you.
The Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund
The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund leads the world in protecting and studying gorillas, while helping communities build their conservation capabilities. Dian Fossey was the original inspiration for ‘Gorilla’s in the mist’. A story which was made into a movie, so before you go to Rwanda you really should watch it. It is also worth calling up David Attenborough for his documentaries on the Golden Monkeys and Gorillas in Rwanda to give you more an understanding of what to expect.
The Ellen Fund was founded in 2018 by Portia de Rossi, the wife of tv personality Ellen DeGeneres as a gift for Ellen’s birthday. Ellen wholeheartedly admired Dian Fossey from a young age and their first project was to build and support the 12-acre science and education campus for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, helping them save the wild mountain gorillas. But she is not going overboard in telling the rest of the world how clever she is. What she is actually doing is generating interest in the activity at the foundation locally and within the conservation community. She is doing a brilliant job and has pumped a load of money in and built a lot of facilities. It is a bit like a Disney campus really in the middle of Rwanda for the Gorillas, done in a lovely and respectful way with theatres and cinematics that tell you their stories in conjunction with local arts and crafts from the community, together with a cafe. So you can learn all about it, it’s a wonderful experience if you get the opportunity to go to the campus and understand about the Dian Fossey foundation. Ellen is bringing attention to the project particularly to the American market and certainly domestically so it is well worth the visit.
The locals are extremely proud of it and it was suggested we make a charitable donation of $10 or so when visiting and we definitely come away much more informed.
The multi-acre, eco-friendly facility is adjacent to the Volcanoes National Park and opened its doors in early 2022. We definitely recommend you visit whilst in Rwanda if you can.
What is Customary for tipping?
You tip the porters, trackers and guides $10 each (more if you would like to). So between two of you, you will likely have a porter each, one of the trackers and a main guide so you look to be tipping at least $40 per couple.
Do you love off roading?
You do get the chance to enjoy some off roading in the Toyota Land Cruisers that they have, which are great for going up into the mountains on old rutted, stone tracks which have been built by the locals so once you come off the main roads and into the country, you really are into the wilds of the off road lands. This is great for anyone that likes the idea of off roading. Like on safari you do get to taste the real experience of being out and about and bouncing around. If you get the chance the best tip is to actually sit as close to the front seat with the driver as you can because right in the back is extremely bouncy.
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