Ultimate Gorilla Itinerary
The details below are for 2023. Our 2024 itinerary will still be 13 days, but with two changes: We're adding an additional night and day in Queen Elizabeth National Park, meaning we will spend two nights, rather than one, at Ishasha Camp. We are removing the final overnight in Kigali, instead concluding the trip with a farewell lunch and day room in Kigali before transferring to the airport for evening flight departures. With the loss of the night in Kigali, we will no longer include a visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial, but we can help arrange it independently for guests who plan to spend extra time in Kigali.
Day 1: Entebbe, Uganda
Arrive in Entebbe and transfer to our hotel. If time permits, you may opt to visit the famous Entebbe Botanical Gardens nearby. Established in 1902, the gardens contain a diverse plant collection from tropical, subtropical 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—Chimpanzee Trekking
Via a short flight over Uganda’s green highlands, we reach Kibale National Park, the equatorial rain forest reserve that's home to one of the world's most important primate populations, including 1,300 chimpanzees. On two separate excursions, trackers help us spot chimps and monkeys, which we relish plenty of unhurried time with. We may also see up to 100 different bird species on a wetland sanctuary walk. On an optional hike to one of the crater lakes near our lodge, enjoy magnificent views from the rim. Overnight in thatched cottages at Ndali Lodge.
Day 5: Queen Elizabeth National Park
Rise early this morning to drive to 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. After lunch, our wildlife drive continues 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 spot the park’s famous tree-climbing lions. Continuing into the western mountains, visit a local school (if our timing permits) before reaching Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and our gorilla-trekking base in the rain forest. The park, whose name references the dense forests it encompasses, is home to roughly half the world’s remaining mountain gorillas. Though best known for its outstanding gorilla trekking, it also provides refuge to chimpanzees, monkeys, elephants and various small antelope. Bwindi is also a top 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. Just over a thousand mountain gorillas remain in the world, and Bwindi is home to about 460—a population that is growing but still threatened by increasing human population in the surrounding area. Our safari includes two treks to spend time among the gorillas, often at very close range. Early in the morning, we head into 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, watching enrapt as they sit in and among 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 intrigued with the other, 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. The park is rich mosaic of montane ecosystems, with dense forests and steep-sided mountains rising to nearly 15,000 feet high. Within the Virunga Range, the park is one of three areas where mountain gorillas reside. Our destination, Five Volcanoes, is a deluxe boutique lodge that provides an ideal gorilla trekking 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 trekking in search of them. 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 goal is a chance to sit with a specific gorilla family that has become accustomed to visitors and is nonchalant about human contact—and we enjoy a full hour in their presence.
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 spotted hyena, as well as a habituated group of endemic and highly endangered golden monkeys, which are our focus today. We spend the morning on a quest for these agile entertainers that swing through the forest canopy and delight us with their antics. Our environs are also home to 178 bird species including at least 29 endemics found only in the Rwenzori and Virunga mountains. This afternoon, depart for Rwanda’s capital of Kigali.
Day 13: Kigali / Depart
Visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial this morning, 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.