Life Changing Gorilla Encounters

For many, the film Gorillas in the Mist sits in the fantasy bracket of what is actually possible in terms of wildlife encounters in the modern world.
It just seems too surreal that encountering the most majestic of the world’s great apes in the flesh would be an actual possibility. Yet Wilderness Safari’s Bisate Lodge in Rwanda was constructed to craft this exact experience for its guests.

Perched on the slopes of an extinct volcano in the Virunga Range, the lodge looks out over an incredible view of two more volcanoes, Bisoke and Karisimbi, whose days of eruptions have long been consigned to the pages of history. The former of the two rises above where Diane Fossey herself situated her research centre (the name of the centre, “Karisoke” came from combining the two names).
The coming of morning reveals the tendrils of mist made so famous in Fossey’s book, weaving their sinuous way through the treetops before eventually being burnt off by the African sun. Exotic birds flit through the camp and announce the arrival of the day, and you know it’s time to head up into the mountains on your gorilla trek.

Family gorilla troops are known to the rangers and their whereabouts tracked, meaning that encounters are close to a sure thing, although the distance required to hike each day might vary considerably based on the gorillas’ movements. Due to the gorillas’ susceptibility to human diseases, the time allowed for encounters is limited to an hour per day, but the intensity of the experience is such that these 60 minutes can feel like you’ve fitted a lifetime into them!
Infants play around barely an arm’s length from you, whilst adults move slowly by, feeding as they go. If you are lucky the dominant silverback might be in attendance; imagine looking into the eyes of a 150kg ape at only two metres distance.
The intimacy of these gorilla encounters is what blows peoples’ minds. When you look at them, you know they are looking back at you for the same reasons. There are hidden depths behind their eyes; you can tell that they are working you out just as surely as you are working them out.

While Gorilla trekking is the star attraction of Bisate lodge, it is certainly not the only reason to visit. The nearby Volcanoes National Park offers multiple other adventures: golden monkey trekking; the Fossey hike or even scaling Mount Bisoke itself.
On the property of the lodge itself, explore nature trails where local and unique bird species proliferate and where recent camera trap footage even recorded a discreet visit by a silverback! Get involved in Bisate’s reforestation project by planting a tree, thus helping to lure wildlife back to the area. Or follow the hum rising from the local villages below, and integrate into the community whose lives are so integral to the lodge.

With fewer than 1000 mountain gorillas left in the wild, there are very few places where one can have such a moving, potentially life-altering experience as this. Being on foot with an animal that is so similar yet so different to us is utterly profound, and one is left pondering one’s place in the grand scheme of things long after the adrenalin of the encounter has worn off.

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