Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge—An Immersive Rainforest Escape on The Edge of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
In Uganda's southwest, in the shadows of the towering Virunga Volcanos, is one of the last few places in Africa that is truly pristine. The region at the tri-frontier of Uganda, Rwanda, and DRC is home to one of the last great tracts of ancient temperate rainforest — one of Central-East Africa's best-kept secrets. And if you're seeking a private rainforest escape in this Eden that makes you feel like an intrepid adventurer, there's no better place to stay than Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge.
Nestled on the emerald banks of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park on a pristine ridge, Nkuringo Bwindi Lodge is a true mecca for nature enthusiasts. The all-inclusive Lodge's off-the-grid location ensures that every part of the stay is a decadent adventure in the world-renowned Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, attracting travelers for its unspoiled and untamed nature.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is one of the world's last remaining rich ecosystems. The ancient rainforest spreads across steep ridges and valleys, forming a protective habitat for the region's most precious tourist attraction, the endangered mountain gorillas.
With a population of over 459 mountain gorillas, about half of the world's total population, the forest reserve represents a conservation frontline as an isolated forest of outstanding biological richness. The 32,092 ha (331 sq km) UNESCO World Heritage Site is a biodiversity hot spot with possibly the most significant flora and fauna, including one of Africa's richest mammalian assemblages. Nonetheless, most travelers flock here for the exhilarating once-in-a-lifetime moments with the mystical silverback families.
There's something unquestioningly fascinating about these great apes that charm visitors to appreciate the combination of remarkable strength with profound gentleness, the depth of primitive social bonds living in harmony with their environment, their vulnerability, and their struggle to survive. An experience that reminds us of our humble beginnings and has become a bucket list adventure item on African safari packages.
Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge, a seven-time World Travel Awards winner of the Leading Safari Lodge in Uganda award, is a prime access point and an excellent base for trekking gentle giants and exploring the region's rural walking adventures. Guests can access the park's visitor center, a short 10-minute walk from the Lodge, with an exciting assurance that they will get the luxe holiday treatment when they return. Meanwhile, action-packed daily excursions from the Lodge reveal the region's impressive wildlife, including bird species only found in the Albertine region.
Those looking to marvel at a 36,000-year-old rainforest can join a guided hike through the old-growth forest, where forest elephants, monkeys, chimps, over 100 mammal species, and thousands of butterfly species and blankets of moss create a masterpiece of color and texture. After appreciating nature with your eyes, you can taste it at a special picnic lunch set up by the riverside with the relaxing river and twittering bird sounds.
"Uganda is our home — we're fortunate to call it that — and we're thrilled to share it with our guests." The co-founder, Lydia Eva Mpanga, narrated the Lodge's origin story to our scouts. "In 2007, we set up a camp in Nkuringo in the southern part of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest that has gracefully grown into a multi-award-winning luxury safari lodge in Uganda. The camp couldn't survive on the jungle's edge without travelers for long. So we put together a team of local guides and set up our first adventure brand, Nkuringo Walking Safaris, to take travelers to experience our discovery expeditions and beyond. And we began and built our travel brand here in the beautiful mountains." So you see, when you stay at this Lodge, you're traveling with more than just a brand but a family of passionate travelers.
Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge sits at a 2161-meter (7,087 ft) altitude ridge on the southern edge of the gorilla park with stunning views across the rugged rift valley landscape and the entire Virunga Volcanoes chain. The Eighteen lavishly appointed guest cottages are set among towering conifer trees sprouting through a wooded ridge like a wild rose garden; even showering comes with verdant views.
Built with wood and ancient volcanic rock, the safari lodge is styled with eleven private garden cottages, two family-style villas, and four luxurious forest suites sitting above the steamy forest swathe and peering out of the forested ridge slopes with distinctive elegance.
Nkuringo Lodge has a light-on-the-land ethos, which carries through to the solar-powered generators and rain-water harvesting system. But the modest exterior belies the Lodge's emphatically chic insides—no wonder, as Nkuringo's creative force is the CEO, Lydia Mpanga. Lydia's stylish realizations are inspired by her love for the African continent, its cultures, and people, and she represents her homeland in the Lodge's exotic decor and furnishings.
She designed the rooms with locally sourced decor, graced the spacious rooms with African-styled furnishings, and fitted them with wood fireplaces to warm for mountain evenings that get really chilly. With wooden-tiled floors, slouchy couches and rustic furniture, macramé ceiling, African art wall hangings, lumbering walkways, and ambient gardens with greenery swaying in the breeze, the setting could be heaven. Until the light from across the rift valley curtained by the blue Virunga Mountains corns beams through the floor-to-ceiling glass windows, and the fresh breeze from the rainforest valley snaps you back into place.
The guest cottages bear no trace of the colonial tropes—camping chests, pith helmets—that have become so tired and inappropriate in African safari lodgings. Instead, the spacious rooms feel like sophisticated cottages built with the same volcanic stone walls and raw woven papyrus ceiling as the main building, warmed by accents like vintage swing chairs, locally woven baskets, and handmade pillows, all in a tasteful palette of saffron, grey, and layered natural textures.
Thoughtful touches like African-style woven baskets for chandeliers, full-length mirrors, wall paintings, and plenty of hooks betray a woman's thoughtful touch, often lacking in safari lodge design. A wooden verandah extends into the exotic views at each private chalet with inviting seats. A deep rectangle tub overlooking the ridgeline sits on the edge of each luxury suite bathroom with a hip-to-ceiling glass window looking into the Kashasha valley over the rainforest—a setting that may persuade you to forego the evening chats in the lounge for a private moment.
Most guests do precisely that, followed by a deep, tendon-plucking massage in the free-standing spa and sipping a local malt by the gleaming fireplace after chef Milton & Peter's four-course meal.
At the highest point on the property sits the grand reception building housing the dining, lounge, and bar spaces with expansive 360-degree views of the sunrise over the misty jungle, the ever-changing Virunga views, and the sunset across the Albertine rift.
In another nod to the rural setting, the bar at one end of this breezy rectangular lounge/dining area is fronted by antique wall-mount wine racks and ancient Ugandan entertainment instruments inspired by native cultures from the surrounding communities.
One can also lose hours browsing the charming gift shop, lined with a Wunderkammer of African curios—hand-beaded earrings, chunky bracelets, sandals, jewelry, African-coloured clothing, wooden carvings, and various African gifts.
Dinners are also exemplary of Nkuringo's down-to-earth approach, which drops the culinary contrivances of many other safari brands in favor of fresh continental served family style—typically home-grown, same-day fresh fruit & vegetable salads, grilled beef, chicken, or fish skewers, paired with Indian-spiced dishes, though the kitchen is always ready to serve up a Ugandan platter of green banana, chicken soup, and vegetables. Senior staff and guides eat alongside guests, another barrier-dropping tactic that makes a stay at Nkuringo stand out. The Lodge is staffed entirely by locals, including top management, who at other top-tier lodges are more often European.
A few nights in the bush will be memorable no matter what, but the suitable Lodge—in a spot-on location with expertly trained service staff, good community relations, and spaces that enchant during the idle hours between adventures—can make your trip life-changing. Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge will plunk you into IMAX-like ecosystems with cabins surrounded by forest gardens so silent you can hear your own thoughts.
For a sustainable traveler, the community-infused programs at Nkuringo Bwindi Lodge make you feel linked to the land's cultures, history, and future, thanks to the exceptional gorilla conservation program that weaves together the whole tapestry of sustainable endeavors and channels the soul of its surroundings.
Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge makes you conscious of the continent's shifting identity and connects you deeply with the local community, for whom safari tourism presents a new economy beyond subsistence.
"Our responsible travel policy also endorses the principles of Fair Trade in Tourism. It is about ensuring that the people whose land, natural resources, labor, knowledge, and culture are used for tourism activities benefit from tourism," Lydia excitedly points out with a charming smile.
"We work to maximize the benefits generated by tourism for local economies and people by preventing leakages, ensuring that the Lodge earnings actually stay within Uganda while providing our guests with a great travel experience. With our parent brand, Nkuringo Walking Safaris, we focus on our core values; to be adventurous, have fun, stay active, keep things personal & sustainable, connect with locals, and explore more on foot."
The proprietors have done an admirable job building a luxe Lodge in an ecologically sensitive part of the world. If your goal is spotting gorillas in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, this should be your home base.
How to get there
Travelers flying into Entebbe International Airport can avoid the 11-hour road jaunt and may take a second flight to the property's nearest airstrip, Kisoro Airport (approx. 90 minutes). After that, the property is another 90 minutes from Kisoro by road transfer, and the Lodge provides airport transfers.
Aerolink operates two domestic morning flights between Kisoro Airport and Entebbe, with routes connecting to Kihihi Airport (north of Bwindi), Mweya Airport (Queen Elizabeth National Park), Semiliki (Near Kibale National Park), Mbarara Airport, and Entebbe.
From Entebbe, one can connect to the other Ugandan National Parks, like Murchison Falls (Pakuba, Chobe, Bugungu Airports), Kidepo Valley (Kidepo Airport), and beyond the border to Kisumu Airport, from where they can access the epic Mara-Serengeti wildlife drama.
When to go
You are generally looking at planning your trip to this holiday hideaway between June to August or December to February. In the dry seasons when there is minimal chance of a downpour during this time, although you can't completely rule out rain because it's in the rainforest zone. Fortunately, even when it rains, it lasts for a short time before the blue skies open up to a bright gleeful day.
The Lodge is open throughout the year, and Aerolink flights are available, even for private charter flights. Some travelers chose to travel in the shoulder (low) seasons of March to May and August to October to take advantage of the room discounts and avoid the tourist hordes in the park.