Days 2–4: Kibale National Park—Chimpanzee Trekking
A day's drive across Uganda’s green highlands takes us to Kibale, the equatorial rain forest reserve that is home to one of the world's most prolific primate populations, including 1,300 chimpanzees. 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 with our Expedition Leader’s guidance in anticipation of what is to come. Overnight in thatched cottages at Ndali Lodge.
Day 5: Queen Elizabeth National Park
Rise early this morning to depart by road for Queen Elizabeth National Park, skirting the western Rift Valley. Stretching from the crater-pocked foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains along Lake Edward to the remote Ishasha River, the park's mosaic of habitats includes savanna, wetlands and lowland forest. On the Kazinga Channel, take a boat ride among the world’s largest concentration of hippos, as well as crocodiles, baboons and myriad birds—the park boasts more than 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, reaching Ishasha Wilderness Camp to spend the night.
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 captivating subject for any wildlife photographer. Continuing into the western mountains, visit a local school (time permitting) before reaching Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and our gorilla-trekking base in the rain forest. The park, whose name aptly references 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 Impenetrable Forest, discover one of nature travel’s peak experiences: a visit with wild gorillas in their natural habitat. About 880 mountain gorillas remain in the world, half of them in this preserve. Our safari includes two chances to spend time among the gorillas, maximizing 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 as they sit in the trees chewing leaves, babies clinging to mothers’ backs, juveniles swinging from branches and a big male silverback surveying it all. It’s hard to tell who is more captivated, the gorillas or us! If time permits, we’ll visit Conservation Coffee, a local co-op of farmers who grow, process and roast beans to sell at a premium 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 9: Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
Leaving Bwindi, we descend to the Rift Valley floor, driving past local villages and coffee plantations. Entering Rwanda, continue to Parc National des Volcans—Volcanoes National Park—named for the string of jungle-draped volcanoes inside its borders. Our destination, Five Volcanoes, is a deluxe boutique lodge ideally situated as our base for the next three nights. Set seamlessly into its lush surroundings with panoramic vistas of the mountains beyond, the lodge is just a short drive from the national park headquarters, 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 we trek in search of them. We set out early each morning along paths into the forest, eventually leaving trails 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 about 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 that swing 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 Rwanda's 1994 genocide. Following a farewell lunch, our gorilla safari comes to a close as we transfer to the airport for departing flights.
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 outdoors 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 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, this trip involves long hours sitting in a vehicle during transfers and sometimes bouncing around on rough roads during wildlife drives. While we don't consider such conditions strenuous, they can post a physical demand on the body. All travelers must be able to climb into and out of our raised 4x4 safari trucks. Travelers must also be able to walk to and from our safari camp accommodations. Safari accommodations and vehicles are not climate controlled and, depending on the seasonality, temperatures can range from quite cold to extremely hot so it is critical that travelers come prepared. We recommend that travelers have an adventurous spirit, as you will often enjoy the closest animal encounters.
Custom Kenya Safari Camp Extension
Year-Round, From $2395
Custom Tanzania Safari Camp Extension
Year-Round, From $3225