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Ultimate Gorilla Safari

Ultimate Gorilla Itinerary

Day 1: Entebbe, Uganda—Botanical Gardens
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 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—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 separate excursions, trackers help us spot chimps and monkeys, which we'll enjoy plenty of unhurried time with. We may also see up to 100 different bird species during 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 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. 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 (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, 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 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, 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 suited as our 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 destination is 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 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. 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, 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.

Interested in extending your trip? Link it up with another adventure!
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