Day 1: Entebbe, Uganda
Arrive in Entebbe and transfer to the Protea Hotel Entebbe. If time permits, you may opt to visit the famous Entebbe Botanical Gardens nearby. Established in 1902, the gardens house a diverse plant collection from tropical, sub-tropical and temperate zones. Also home to a wide variety of birds, the gardens offer an excellent introduction to Uganda’s avian species. Vervet and black-and-white colobus monkeys are commonly spotted here as well. Meet your Expedition Leader at a welcome dinner this evening, where we'll have a full orientation to our gorilla tour.
Days 2–4: Kibale National Park
A day's drive across Uganda’s green highlands takes us to Kibale, the equatorial rainforest reserve that is home to more primates, including 500 chimpanzees, than any other place in the world. On two different occasions, trackers help us spot chimps and monkeys, which we'll have plenty of time to watch and photograph as our Expedition Leader offers tips on how to capture the best shots in the low forest light. We may also see up to 100 different bird species during a wetland sanctuary walk, and we'll have the option to hike to one of the crater lakes near our lodge, with magnificent views from the rim. On our final afternoon, we focus on honing our photography skills for what’s yet to come, with our Expedition Leader’s guidance. Overnight in thatched cottages at Ndali Lodge.
Day 5: Queen Elizabeth National Park
We rise early this morning to depart by road for Queen Elizabeth National Park, skirting the western Rift Valley. Stretching from the crater-dotted foothills of the Ruwenzori Mountains along Lake Edward to the remote Ishasha River, the park's mosaic of habitats includes savanna, wetlands, gallery
and lowland forest. On the Kazinga Channel
we take a boat ride among the world’s largest concentration of hippos, as well as crocodiles, baboons
and myriad birds—the park boasts 600 different avian species. It is also home to lion, buffalo, elephant and antelope, all of which offer exciting photography opportunities. After lunch, we continue our wildlife drive to the southern sector of the park, making our way to Ishasha Wilderness Camp to spend the night.
Please note: our September 12-24, 2016 departure will stay at Mweya Lodge in Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Day 6: Queen Elizabeth / Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
On a morning game drive in Queen Elizabeth National Park, we may be fortunate to see the park’s famous tree-climbing lions—a dream subject for a nature photographer! Continuing into the western mountains, we visit a local school (time permitting) before reaching Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and our gorilla trekking base in the rain forest, Mahogany Springs Lodge. The park, named for the dense forests it encompasses, is home to roughly half the world’s remaining mountain gorillas. Though best known for its outstanding gorilla tracking, it also provides refuge to chimpanzees, monkeys, elephants and various small antelope. Bwindi is also a key Uganda birding destination, with 23 of Uganda’s 24 Albertine Rift endemics, including threatened species such as African green broadbill and Shelley's crimson wing.
Days 7 & 8: Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi
Within the World Heritage Site that is Bwindi, we discover one of nature travel’s peak experiences, a visit with wild gorillas in their natural habitat. Fewer than 700 mountain gorillas remain in the world, half of them in this preserve. Our safari includes two chances to spend time among the gorillas, maximizing our prospects for extraordinary photographs, often at very close range. Early in the morning
we depart on a trek through the dense rain forest
on a quest to locate one of the "habituated" family groups. Our local guides are expert trackers, reading signs of the gorillas’ recent presence in the undergrowth. Finally
we hear and see them, and watch, enrapt: they sit in the trees and chew leaves; babies cling to mothers’ backs; juveniles swing from branches; the big male silverback surveys all, including us. It’s hard to tell who is more captivated, them or us!
Day 9: Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
Leaving Bwindi, we descend to the Rift Valley floor, passing local villages and coffee plantations. Entering Rwanda, we continue to Parc National des Volcans—Volcanoes National Park—named for the string of jungle-draped volcanoes inside its borders. Our camp, Mountain Gorilla View Lodge, is ideally situated as our base for the next three nights. Set seamlessly into its lush surroundings, the simple yet welcoming ecolodge
offers individual chalets with fireplaces to take the chill off the cool mountain air. The lodge is just a short drive from the headquarters of the national park, where all gorilla trekking expeditions depart.
Days 10 & 11: Gorilla Trekking in Volcanoes National Park
After breakfast, we drive to park headquarters for a briefing from our guides. This area is where Dian Fossey made her groundbreaking studies on mountain gorillas before she was killed in 1985, and her grave is nearby. Several habituated gorilla families live in the park, and we learn how important our ecotourism presence is to their survival before trekking in search of them. We set out early each morning along paths into the forest, eventually leaving them behind as our trackers follow signs that lead them to the gorillas' current location. The altitude is above 8,200 feet, so while our pace is unhurried, the hike is tiring, lasting from 30 minutes to several hours. But what a reward: our destination is a specific group of habituated gorillas, which have become used to visitors and behave normally, nonchalant to human presence. With a full hour to sit with a gorilla troop, we are able to capture extraordinary photographs.
Day 12: Golden Monkey Trek / Kigali
While gorillas are the highlight, even without them Volcanoes National Park would be fascinating. Its varied ecosystems harbor elephant, buffalo, giant forest hog, bush pig, bushbuck, duiker
and hyena, as well as a habituated group of endemic and highly endangered golden monkeys, which are our focus today. On a much less strenuous hike, we look for these agile entertainers who swoop through the forest canopy and delight us with their antics. Our Expedition Leader is on hand to offer tips for capturing shots of the active primates in this low-light environment. This afternoon, we depart for Rwanda’s capital, Kigali.
Day 13: Kigali / Depart
This morning we visit the Kigali Memorial Center, a deeply moving tribute to the 800,000 people killed in the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Following a farewell lunch, our gorilla safari comes to a close as we transfer to the airport for flights home.