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The Great Uganda Gorilla Safari

Itinerary

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Day 1: Entebbe, Uganda—Botanical Gardens
Our Uganda tour begins in Entebbe, where you're met at the airport and transferred to our hotel. If time permits, you may opt to visit the famous Entebbe Botanical Gardens. Established in 1902, the gardens' fine collection of plants spans the country's tropical, sub-tropical and temperate zones. The gardens are also home to many different avian species, offering an excellent introduction to Uganda’s diverse birdlife. We commonly spot vervet and black-and-white colobus monkeys here, too. Meet your Expedition Leader at a welcome dinner this evening.

Days 2-4: Kibale National Park—Chimpanzee Trekking

A mid-morning flight and short drive take us from bustling Entebbe to Uganda's verdant highlands, where fertile volcanic soil supports a tapestry of tea, coffee and banana plantations. Arrive at our hilltop lodge in time for a late lunch and settle in before the sun dips behind the Rwenzori Mountains. The following morning, a “swamp walk” through a wetland sanctuary reveals more than 100 bird species. After lunch, we meet our local trackers and begin our first chimpanzee trek in Kibale National Park. This equatorial rain forest reserve has one of the highest concentrations of primates in the world, including 1,300 chimpanzees. We may also see red colobus, black-and-white colobus, red tail, gray-cheeked mangabey and other monkeys.

Our final morning in Kibale National Park offers a second chimpanzee viewing opportunity at a different time of day, in hopes of catching these agile primates engaged in their morning routine. We spend another full hour in their presence before hiking back to the ranger station. After lunch back at Ndali, choose among several afternoon options: a walk around one of the nearby crater lakes, a visit to the library on the property that Nat Hab’s philanthropy arm has helped fund, or simply relax and take in the grand view from our boutique lodge perched on the rim of a crater lake.
Days 5 & 6: Queen Elizabeth National Park
An early start launches an activity-filled day exploring Queen Elizabeth National Park, located along the western Rift Valley. The park is a microcosm of East Africa's safari highlights, home to a great diversity of wildlife residing among its volcanic craters, grassy plains and tropical forest. More than 600 bird species—one of the highest concentrations of any park in Africa—and nearly 100 different mammal species are found in the park, including the Ugandan kob, an endemic antelope featured on the country's currency. On a morning game drive, search for classic African wildlife, possibly spotting lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and antelope in the park's northern sector. We then cruise the Kazinga Channel on a private boat trip among one of the largest concentration of hippos in Africa. The waterway is also home to abundant colorful birdlife, and baboons frequently entertain us from the banks.

The Rwenzori range, also called the “Mountains of the Moon,” provides a dramatic backdrop, with snowcapped heights rising above 16,000 feet. Glimpse magnificent views over Lake Edward before transferring via a wildlife drive into the southern Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth Park. As we explore this region, look for the park's famous tree-climbing lions—one of just two populations of lions that climb trees as part of their regular behavior (the other is found in Lake Manyara National Park in Tanzania). Though no one knows for sure, some speculate that these lions seek respite from the heat by availing themselves of cool breezes blowing through the branches on high.

UNESCO World HeritageDay 7: Queen Elizabeth Park—Ishasha Sector / Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
From Ishasha, head westward to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, watching the scenery gradually change from open savanna to mountain slopes covered in dense green rain forest. Time permitting, we'll visit a school in a nearby village, then settle in for three nights at Buhoma Lodge, the luxury mountainside camp that is our gorilla-trekking base. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park lies on the edge of the Great Rift Valley. Its mist-shrouded hillsides are covered by one of Uganda's oldest and most biologically diverse rain forests, which dates back over 25,000 years and contains some 400 species of plants. More famously, the park also protects an estimated 400 mountain gorillas—roughly half the world’s population, including several habituated groups that visitors spend time with. It also provides shelter for another 120 mammals, including several primate species such as baboon and chimpanzee, as well as elephant and antelope. Some 350 bird species inhabit the forest, including 23 Albertine Rift endemics.

Days 8 & 9:
Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi Two full days of gorilla trekking are are our focus in Bwindi as we rise early each morning in anticipation of a peerless experience: a look into the eyes of a wild gorilla. The trail through the primeval rain forest can be challenging, sometimes slick and steep, but full of rewards. We are hiking in the jungle that early explorers called the “Impenetrable Forest,” and the name feels apt. Bwindi is home to nearly half the world’s mountain gorillas—about 459—a population that is growing, but still threatened by the increasing human population in the surrounding communities. Three family groups are habituated to human contact, and we hope to reach one of them by midday. Tracking them to their last known location, our guide looks for signs of their presence: broken vegetation revealing a night nest, stripped bark indicating feeding, a mound of dung. Our anticipation mounts as we climb over vines and foliage to approach the group. Our guide signals for silence, then proclaims our intentions with amiable grunts. We may see a range of ages among the individual gorillas: youngsters playing in the trees, mothers carrying babies, and the mighty silverback, patriarch of the troop. No wildlife encounter can surpass the thrill of meeting these magnificent primates, so much like us, in their own habitat.

Yet the significance of our visit goes beyond our personal experience: our presence here among the gorillas is crucial for their survival. Responsible tourism has been integral to sustaining these critically endangered animals, and the dollars we infuse into the local community help support their protection through economic sustenance of the people who live in proximity to the gorillas. We go home not just with incomparable memories and photos, but as ambassadors for the gorillas' welfare, committed to their future. If time permits, we’ll visit Conservation Coffee, a local co-op of farmers who grow, process and roast their beans to sell at a premium price that benefits gorilla conservation. We may have a chance to walk through the coffee fields, pick some beans and see firsthand how this sustainable community enterprise unfolds.

Day 10: Entebbe / Depart
Our Uganda safari comes to a close today with a flight back to Entebbe. A day room is provided on arrival, to relax and refresh for those preparing to depart. We share a farewell meal before transferring to the airport for departing flights.

Add Rwanda Gorilla Trekking
We also offer a 13-day Ultimate Gorilla Photo Safari that includes four full days of gorilla trekking: two in Uganda and two in Rwanda. Or you may add a custom Rwanda gorilla-trekking extension to your Uganda safari. Please call us for details.

Physical Rating: Moderate to Difficult

Trekking in search of mountain gorillas is a strenuous activity. This challenging hike through the rain forest to locate the gorillas usually takes between two and five hours, but it can be as short as 15 minutes or as long as eight hours (on infrequent occasions, we’ve had a few treks take even longer than that). Travelers must be prepared for a full day outside in humid or occasionally rainy conditions, as the exact distance to locate the gorillas is impossible to determine ahead of time. The terrain is often uneven as we traverse the forest floor and usually involves a gradual ascent, but we will travel at a pace to accommodate all hikers with a designated porter to assist each traveler. Travelers are not required to participate in all activities and are welcome to forego any portion of the trip program, but in order to take full advantage of the itinerary, and in order to view the primates, guests must be able to participate in the hikes. Travelers should be aware that if they turn around due to fatigue, illness or any other reason, the remainder of the group, including the Expedition Leader, will go on. The returning traveler will be escorted by a local guide.

Additionally, wildlife and nature drives pose a particular type of physical demand on the body, as they require long hours of sitting and take place over terrain that is often very rough and bumpy, including dirt roads with many ruts and potholes. Travelers with back or neck problems, or other health issues that could be exacerbated by such conditions, should take this into consideration. Days spent on safari are often long, as mornings typically start before daybreak and evening meals are served after sundown. Safari accommodations and vehicles are not climate-controlled and, depending on the season, temperatures can range from quite cold to extremely humid or hot, so it is critical that travelers come prepared.

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