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Trip Report My East Africa trip that almost wasn't

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So in January 2008, my husband and I traveled to East Africa. Our original itinerary was supposed to include a safari in Kenya (Bateleur), a gorilla trek in Rwanda, and a beach vacation in Mnemba. However a few days before departure, Kenya broke out into riots. After much reflection, we decided that we needed to change our trip. With the help of an amazing travel agent (Tricia Townsend at Protravel), we were able to change our itinerary so that we wouldn't stop in Kenya.

Our new itinerary had us avoid Kenya by using Uganda and private charters. We also changed our safari to Serengeti Under Canvas. This trip was a great experience, but also really stressful. The last minute changes coupled with 13 or 14 plane rides (all but one was turbulent!) was almost too much for us to handle. But at the end of the day, we were happy we went.

The Rwanda portion was booked thru Volcanoes and the Safari/Beach portion was booked thru CC Africa.

We used FF miles to get business class seats on Delta/KLM from JFK to EBB and then from Tanzania back to JFK. Both stopped in Amsterdam. Being in business class totally made these long flights comfortable. However, we did an enormous amount of turbulence. The food was good on the flights and the service (especially on KLM) was great.

Moses was our guide in Rwanda. While he was very nice and a good driver, I would not recommend him as a tour guide. He was not from Rwanda but Uganda. He was unable to provide any history of the country. We have had some amazing tour guides that really educate; he was not one of them.

Kigali Serena
My husband and I spent two nights in Kigali. We traveled to Rwanda so that we could do a gorilla trek. The hotel is a well-appointed business hotel. We had a suite that was a nice size. The decor is pleasant. The staff was very helpful. The front desk allowed me to use their internet service in the middle of the night for an hour because the business center was closed. The buffet in the afternoon was also fine. I would definitely recommend this hotel. However, it should be noted that besides the Genocide Museum and Gorilla Trekking, there is not much to do in Rwanda. The country as a whole is not as tourist friendly as other countries in Africa.


Virunga
My husband and I stayed at Virunga for three nights in January so that we could go on two gorilla treks. Admittedly, the views are spectacular. But beyond that, Virunga falls miserably short. The accommodations are incredibly rustic. I was picturing more Ralph Lauren chic. Virunga's rooms are really basic. The mattress was thin and hard as a rock. Housekeeping was non-existent. They did not replace any towels and the sheets were dirty. There is no running water. Instead, they bring a bucket shower that literally lasted like 5 minutes. The water was definitely hot though. The electricity is not reliable. You might have a few hours, but not much more. The toilet was literally a hole built into a piece of wood. The toilet lid was totally dirty. Honestly, it was disgusting. I guess the unsanitary conditions of the resort make sense given that there is no running water.

While I read lots of reviews of Virunga, I don't believe I had an accurate picture of what the hotel was really like. I was very uncomfortable during the entire stay. Everything felt dirty. This was the last place one wants to come home to after a sweaty day trekking in the mountains.

The drive to the parks was not long in my opinion. However, you should realize that you are driving up and down a cliff. So if those things freak you out, you should consider a different hotel.

I am not saying to avoid Virunga. Some people are able to "rough it" better than others. We are not those people. If you are accustomed to luxury accommodations, you should stay at the new Sabinyo Silverback Lodge. Unfortunately, the lodge opened after I had already paid for Virunga. So in reality, we had no option but to stay at Virunga. For the price ($1000 pp pn) that they are charging it is a sin that this resort is so uncomfortable.

Mnemba
My husband and I spent three nights at Mnemba. Having stayed at many five star resorts, we have become jaded in our expectations. Mnemba definitely surpassed them. The private island is absolutely perfect. The bandas are beautiful (in fact the pictures on Mnemba's website don't do them justice). The decor had a Playboy grotto feel. The sand was absolutely white and fine. The water was crystal blue. We even saw dolphin jumping in the water. My review is not doing this place justice! The staff really allows you to be alone. I had read that there were a lot of annoying birds on the island, but we didn't see any. This resort is definitely worth the price tag ($2000 pn) if you can afford it. It was the perfect ending to our East Africa journey. The only thing I would mention would be that the food was a little inconsistent. Some nights it was superb and other times it was unremarkable.


Special thanks to everyone from Fodors who guided me through this trip planning process!

Still to Come: Seregenti Under Canvas and Serena Zanzibar

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