About the Gorilla Highlands Initiative


Gorilla Highlands Initiative gathering at Cephas Inn during the second GH Silverchef (2016)

Introduction to the Initiative

Started in 2011, the Gorilla Highlands Initiative has been using tourism as a tool of economic and social development. We are marketing a region consisting of Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo. Our mission is to successfully brand and promote this area in a manner that brings an increase in responsible, sustainable and culturally sensitive tourism. We put particular stress on tourism helping the bottom-of-the-pyramid inhabitants of the region, in terms of both income and self-respect.

We are an informal collaboration initiated by Edirisa, a social enterprise from Lake Bunyonyi, and open to anyone. Numerous private and government partners have supported us by advertising in our media, sending participants to our events, providing complimentary services/discounts for fam trips, funding our activities, and more. Based on their feedback, a process of growing into the Gorilla Highlands Society is under way.

Our most well-known product is the Gorilla Highlands Pocket Guide, a booklet published in 10,000 copies. Our main gatherings are Gorilla Highlands Silverchef, a regional cooking competition and networking event, and Gorilla Highlands Bootcamp, a canoeing activity meant to introduce junior staff of our partners to the initiative. International volunteers are at the core of what we do.

Stay in Touch: GH News

We produce Gorilla Highlands News four times a year. It is a one-page PDF delivered over WhatsApp (you can subscribe here) but we can also email it to you — if that is your preference please enter your contact below:

photo: Abby Bluth; featured photo: Marcus Westberg

Shortcuts: IntroWhy GH Society? GH Pocket GuideGH SilverchefGH Bootcamp / Related: GH Volunteering


Mountain gorilla in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda

Why the Gorilla Highlands Society?

Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo are all going to be successful countries and good neighbours one day. The history of Latin America, Asia and even Europe can hint at how the development stages go; it’s mostly a matter of time and patience.

The green rectangle shows the area that we have been focusing on. However, Rwanda as a whole, western Uganda and eastern Congo are our zone of interest.

But why be patient when we don’t need to be?

… That is the thinking behind the Gorilla Highlands Society.

During our survey in 2018, nearly 75% of the respondents indicated it was time for the Gorilla Highlands Initiative to be formalised.
We are thus in the process of forming a mass organisation of people who care about the future of the Gorilla Highlands region.

Tourism Strategy

The objectives of the Gorilla Highlands Initiative have been:

• to position the term “Gorilla Highlands” as a universally accepted name for the region
• to establish the region as a destination by itself (instead of a short gorilla stop-over during an East African safari)
• to expand the perception of the region beyond gorillas
• to promote the region as an essential bucket list item
• to protect the culture and wellbeing of the region’s disadvantaged people (especially the Batwa)

Working towards these objectives we emphasise the following regional attractions: hiking and dugout canoeing, unique Rift Valley landscapes (volcanoes, lakes, rainforests), rich history and cultural variety.

We have identified these target groups:

• people planning their first visit to Africa (we think we have a fantastic destination for that)
• hikers/trekkers/adventure travellers (this is a dream land for them)
• gorilla/wildlife enthusiasts (the savannah in close proximity offers the Big 5)
• expat communities in Eastern and Central Africa (always on the lookout for new things to do)
• domestic tourists (a Gorilla Highlands TV show about tourism, culture and history is in the works)
• families (yes, this indeed is a great place for children!)
• volunteers (to help the initiative in many different ways)

Bigger Than That

Canoeing during the first Gorilla Highlands Bootcamp (2016)

Our initiative has been built on marketing tourism as a source of income and pride, however, that is just a handy “export industry” we have singled out. The ambition of the Gorilla Highlands Society will be much bigger, and touch on anything that can help the region’s peace and prosperity.

We believe that economic and social development can only be built on a sound cultural foundation, and that the three countries can learn a lot from each other. We plan to promote Rwanda’s home-grown solutions, Uganda’s entrepreneurial spirit and Congo’s mentality of generosity and abundance in schools and elsewhere.

Want to become an active participant? Please read the blog entry about the Gorilla Highlands Society concept and share your opinions and ideas.

Learn more from the Gorilla Highlands Initiative presentation sheets below (2018):

photo: Marcus Westberg and Enock Luyonza; featured photo: Marcus Westberg

Shortcuts: IntroWhy GH Society? GH Pocket GuideGH SilverchefGH Bootcamp / Related: GH Volunteering

GH Pocket Guide

Distribution of the Gorilla Highlands Pocket Guide around the region

Gorilla Highlands Pocket Guide

The Gorilla Highlands Pocket Guide is a paper booklet printed in 10,000 copies, made by an international team of experts to promote an often underestimated region. It is free, attractive and packed with travel advice (including informative ads that finance the project) encouraging the reader to explore.

Focused on southwestern Uganda when it was first published in 2013, the booklet has gradually covered more and more territory. Rwanda was added in 2016 and the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) included in 2019.

The most recent edition came out in May 2019 and presents the following places on 64 pages:

Akagera National Park (Rwanda) • Bukavu City (DRC) • Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (Uganda) • Crater Lakes of the Gorilla Highlands (Rwanda/Uganda) • Echuya Forest Reserve (Uganda) • Goma City (DRC) • Gisenyi/Rubavu (Rwanda) • Kabale Town (Uganda) • Kahuzi-Biega National Park (DRC) • Kampala City (Uganda) • Kigali City (Rwanda) • Kisiizi Falls (Uganda) • Kisoro Town (Uganda) • Lake Bunyonyi (Uganda) • Lake Kivu (Rwanda/DRC) • Lake Nabugabo (Uganda) • Lwiro (DRC) • Mgahinga Gorilla National Park (Uganda) • Musanze Town (Rwanda) • Nyungwe Forest National Park (Rwanda) • Queen Elizabeth National Park (Uganda) • Virunga National Park (DRC) • Volcanoes National Park (Rwanda)

Download the Gorilla Highlands Pocket Guide – May 2019 (8 MB) (If your internet connection is fast enough, consider downloading the sharper 20 MB version instead.)

Interested in advertising? Click on the rate card above for the details…

You can email pocketguide@gorillahighlands.com or call +256 785 341 309 / +250 781 462 284 for more information.

Don’t miss the Pocket Guide stories, our collection of articles discussing the making of the booklet, its distribution and promotion

photo: Miha Logar; featured photo: Marcus Westberg

Shortcuts: IntroWhy GH Society? GH Pocket GuideGH SilverchefGH Bootcamp / Related: GH Volunteering

GH Silverchef

Gorilla Highlands Silverchef

The main approach of the Gorilla Highlands Initiative is to bring the private sector of Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo together to create business linkages and personal networks. That is why the central annual gathering of the initiative is a combination of a networking event and cooking competition: the Gorilla Highlands Silverchef.

GH Silverchef is an opportunity for the invitees to meet their colleagues from the tourism, media and development fraternities while sampling excellent food. For the Gorilla Highlands region, this is a chance to showcase the quality and variety of her rich food, unearthing culinary excellence that may well surprise its visitors.

To chefs, GH Silverchef means an event to both challenge them creatively and instill confidence. They learn how to benchmark and adapt to different situations and environments. We give them unprecedented attention by providing a platform to present their skills and familiarisation trips that take them out of their kitchens. They respond with cooperation and camaraderie that makes the event less of a competition and more of a learning experience for every chef involved.

GH Silverchef has been taking place since 2015, inviting chefs from an ever widening geographical area. We started in Kisoro (2015) with competitors from southwestern Uganda, in Kabale (2016) we added Rwanda’s districts of Burera and Musanze, at Lake Bunyonyi (2017) everyone from Gisenyi to Queen Elizabeth National Park was invited, and in Kigali (2018) we finally expanded the scope to all Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo.

Gorilla Highlands Silverchef, 5th Edition

Hosted in Musanze, Rwanda: The GH Silverchef venue for 2019 will be Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel.

Date: 25-27 October 2019

National Catchment Area: Chefs from any restaurant or accommodation provider in Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC are invited, the only condition being that they are nationals of the East African Community or the DRC.

The Challenge: Cook a two-course meal from secret ingredients prepared by the organisers.

Program: The competition will take place on Saturday 26/10 in two shifts; each competitor will be allocated a morning or afternoon time slot. Lunch and dinner tasting will be joined by especially invited tourism, media, marketing, conservation and development professionals from all the three countries, who will also enjoy an internal Gorilla Highlands networking event. The winners will be announced in the evening; a silver hat for the top chef, quality cooking/successful participation certificates and prizes will be given out.
Friday 25/10 is the arrival day for the accepted competitors and guests. The event will end on Sunday 27/10 with a morning familiarisation trip for GH Silverchef competitors and guests.

How to Attend GH Silverchef 2019

Chefs: The competition is open to both representatives of hotels/restaurants and chefs wishing to compete independently. Candidates have to apply through the form below by 1 September 2019; if the number exceeds available slots, the organisers will make the selection by 1 October 2019. Competition fees of USD 200 (includes two nights of accommodation, meals, cooking ingredients and the Sunday fam trip) have to be cleared by 15 October 2019.

Owners/senior managers from tourism/media/development/government sectors: If you would like to attend the networking and tasting event on Saturday 26 October and get an in-depth look into the Gorilla Highlands initiative, write to isabelle@gorillahighlands.com for an invite. There are no fees involved and we will do our best to get you accommodation and other discounts.

More information: isabelle@gorillahighlands.com or +250 781 462 284, +256 785 341 309

You should also have a look at our stories from previous GH Silverchefs
GH Silverchef 2019 Candidate Submission • Soumission de candidature

photo: Abby Bluth, Vincent Mugaba and Five Volcanoes; featured photo: Marcus Westberg

Shortcuts: IntroWhy GH Society? GH Pocket GuideGH SilverchefGH Bootcamp / Related: GH Volunteering

GH Bootcamp

Gorilla Highlands Bootcamp

While Gorilla Highlands Silverchef is an occasion to don your best clothes and mingle at one of the best hotels of our region, Gorilla Highlands Bootcamp is something completely different: you camp, canoe, hike, dance and discuss while exploring remote areas of Lake Bunyonyi.

Therefore we promote GH Silverchef as something for our partners’ senior staff and the GH Bootcamp as something for junior staff — but if you are a general manager or an investor who isn’t afraid of roughing it a little, GH Bootcamp might be just for you!

These are the details of the next one:

4th Gorilla Highlands Bootcamp

date: 23-27 May 2020

place: Edirisa on Lake Bunyonyi

concept: a mixture of a canoe-based fam trip, lectures and debates that is open to all tourism, media, marketing, conservation and development professionals

price: free (you just need to organise yourself some transport to Lake Bunyonyi and back)


Saturday 23/5/2020:

arrival at Edirisa on Lake Bunyonyi before 1pm
introduction to the Gorilla Highlands Initiative (such sessions then continue throughout GH Bootcamp)
two-hour Touch of Bunyonyi canoeing trip

Sunday 24/5/2020:

half-a-day Culture on the Crest trek, followed by an island overnight at Tom’s Homestay

Monday 25/5/2020:

motorised trip to Batwa Today in Echuya Forest
visits to Bunyonyi/Kabale accommodation providers

Tuesday-Wednesday 26-27/5/2020:

2-day Mama Bena’s Bonus canoe trek

NB: You can arrive before Saturday, leave before Mama Bena’s Bonus, or extend your stay past Wednesday.

program: to be considered please fill in the form below…

Get a better idea of what the activity is like by checking on past GH Bootcamp stories

I Would like to Be Part of GH Bootcamp 2019!

photo: Paul Busomoke, Miha Logar and Isabelle Masozera; featured photo: Marcus Westberg

Shortcuts: IntroWhy GH Society? GH Pocket GuideGH SilverchefGH Bootcamp / Related: GH Volunteering