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Rwanda or Uganda Gorilla Trekking?

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Can someone on this awesome forum please give me an overview of the differences, (pro/con analysis) of either Rwanda or Uganda gorilla trekking?

This is an extension we are looking at as a group of 4 to 10 on taking after our Tanzania trip - still in the planning stages - for Jan 2008.

I have read trip reviews of both, but not comparing one to the other.

Thank you for the great guidance and wisdom so far!

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    Hi!

    I am not the expert, but I am going to Rwanda and Tanzania in February. I am traveling from Nairobi to Kigali and then Kigali into Tanzania. I struggled with the same decision and decided that it was easier (and took less time) to get to the gorillas in Rwanda from Nairobi than it was to Uganda. I have read (on this board) that both countries are amazing, but the more I read about Rwanda, its people, and the gorillas, I actually now wish I had allocated more days in the country. If you do a search on this board for Rwanda and Uganda you will find some threads that may give you additional information that can help with your decision. Regardless of what you choose, it will be amazing!

    Monica

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    I have been to both, and I would be happy to answer any specific questions, but my experiences were very limited (one trek in Bwindi and one in PNV). I found the treks to be substantially similar, so I would base my decision on ease of travel. And, as MonicaH wrote, its a lot easier to get to PNV from Kigali as it is to get to Bwindi in Uganda. PNV is only two hours or so from Kigali, and Bwindi is eight hours or so by road or a private flight from Kampala (so its a lot more expensive to get to Bwindi).

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    Uganda pros--referring only to Bwindi
    There are many other attractions in the country such as Queen Elizabeth National Park with the Kazinga Channel, Chambura Gorge for chimps,and savanna terrain; Kibale for excellent chimp tracking; Murchison Falls, and Ngamba Chimp Sanctuary in Entebbe. The Bwindi accommodations are right near the ranger station where you start trekking so you are more immersed in the experience. In Rwanda you first have to drive to the ranger station. Depending on where you stay it could be from 15 minutes to an hour.

    Rwanda pros
    I found the gorillas easier to see in Rwanda. In June the weather was nowhere near as hot and humid in Rwanda as in Uganda. You can also visit the Golden Monkeys as well as Dian Fossey's grave. As mentioned the logisitics of getting to and from the Rwanda gorillas is easier.

    Ideallly you could do a couple treks in both. If you start in Rwanda, you can trek in Rwanda in the morning and drive to Bwindi for your overnight and trek the next day in Uganda. I went the opposite direction, starting in Uganda.

    There is no bad choice, but I'd opt for Rwanda.

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    That's great info - I have searched this site, and found trip reports on both, but it was not easy to compare logistics.

    The TA's i have contacted this past 3 months also make decisions hard because most just go to Rwanda or Uganda, so it's hard to compare costs. I don't think cost- wise we can do both, but I will check it out.

    Thank you - great input. Anyone want to add more?

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    thit_cho and atravelynn,

    do you have a trip report on your visits? are two treks the best option? or three (more expensive I know)

    We are trying to decide between gorillas or Mahale chimps - and January will be hot in Mahale - haven't looked into temperatures in Rwanda/Uganda that time of year. Both will take a lot more traveling. Just trying to nail down an itinerary and each TA has an opinion based on what they are selling.

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    I've also done gorilla trekking in both Rwanda and Uganda.

    The trekking can be tough in both countries. In Uganda it was a little tougher through the farmland and through Bwindi Impenetrable Forest but well worth it. The forest is incredible. And the country does hold a lot more tourist attractions than Rwanda.

    In Rwanda, depending on the group, it can be just as challenging. But having spent more time in Rwanda, it's become much more familiar to me.

    January is one of the best times to go.
    The weather is quite warm during the day, in the mid to upper 80's, and cools down nicely at night.

    Good luck with your decision. I don't think you can go wrong with either but since I am partial to Rwanda for many reasons, it would be my first choice.

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    Local2542,

    You are getting some similar advice. Here is a report I made that was not for this forum, but should work.

    Bwindi gorilla tracking:
    Group M Day 1 (6 people)
    8:50-9:05 drive, 9:10-12:15 tracking on foot, 12:15-1:15 viewing, back at 4:50
    Good views of sliverback eating from bushes, saw about 3 other gorillas

    Group M Day 2 (6 people)
    8:50-10:30 tracking on foot, 10:30 –11:30 viewing, back at 2:00, including a 10 minute return drive
    Several in trees, including a 1½ year old swinging very near to us and beating his chest, silverback was sleeping and out of sight, which is his habit.

    For a small fee (about $10) we visited the Pygmies and they performed singing, drumming, and dancing for us and then we danced with them. Sadly, the guitar player was late because he had attended a funeral for one of his children that day. Their handicrafts were displayed and we bought some. It would be nice to encourage all visitors to visit the Pygmies since they have been displaced from their forest home to benefit the gorillas.

    Group H Day 3 (5 people)
    8:50-9:30 drive, 9:30-10:15 tracking on foot, 10:15-11:15 viewing, back at 1:30, including a 45 minute return drive
    About 20 family members, including the silverback, blackbacks, juveniles, and mothers with babies. Eating bark, grooming, playing, resting. Unobstructed views of many activities in a darkly shaded part of the forest.

    That afternoon we did the waterfall walk with a guide. It was not a leisurely stroll, but as demanding as the gorilla hiking, lasting about 3 hours total. Beautiful waterfalls, monkeys, butterflies, and we got a bonus by seeing a puff adder.

    Group H Day 4 (6 people)
    8:45-9:25 drive, 9:30-10:30 tracking on foot, 10:30-11:30 viewing, back at 1:30, including a 45 minute return drive
    Many gorillas eating and resting in a valley, then they crossed a ravine to eat on the hillside.

    For our last visit Becky, Jamie, and I tried to exchange our H permit for the newest group that is being habituated. I can’t remember its name, but it is closer to Kisoro, however visiting from Buhoma is also done. This group is quite large with 3 silverbacks. Only four guests, instead of six, were allowed to visit at the time we were there. Gabrielle did his best to help us make the change, but several trackers had already signed up in Kisoro and they had priority. We ended up with another good day with H, but this fourth group should prove interesting in the future.

    In addition to gorillas we saw blue monkeys, red-tailed monkeys, and L’Hoest’s Monkeys during our hikes or at Gorilla Forest Camp.

    Rwanda:
    From the time I arrived the impression I got was that there is an organized, professional effort by all of the tourism people to really promote Rwanda and all it has to offer. On the way to Gorilla’s Nest, we drove to a hilltop overlooking the twin lakes Ruhondo and Bulera for a view and a stroll. Then I was given a tour and several little brochures, which I am including, of the new Virunga Lodge. The rooms and restaurant were lovely and I was offered refreshments. They emphasized local people were building it and I could observe them doing the construction. “Next time you come, you can stay here,” said the manager of the site.

    Gorilla Nest. The Gorilla Nest staff, along with Theo from Primate Safaris, were also very accommodating when I asked to see their VIP rooms. They gave me tours of several very fancy suites and quoted prices that seemed reasonable. I was doing some scouting for Becky, who might want to bring her mother to see the gorillas. (I also found out that in both Uganda and Rwanda, you can be taken up to the gorillas on a stretcher if you cannot hike. Theo, of Primate Safaris in Rwanda and a former student of carpentry, even told me about his plans for making a special gorilla transport chair for people who cannot walk up. Of course the porters who carry the stretcher must be paid, but what a nice option if you can’t hike up hills, as is the case with Becky’s mother.)

    My original room actually had a problem. The water heater or pressure gage or pump in the shower would shriek loudly during all hours except 11:00 pm to 4:00 am. After the first night I told Theo and he made sure I got a room where the water thing did not make noise. I thought it was interesting that the lodge staff knew which rooms make noise and which do not, yet placed me in a noisy room when there was very low occupancy. That might be something to request specifically in the future: a room without a shrieking shower, and I know there are some because I ended up getting one.

    One other difficulty I experienced was changing money or getting smaller US bills at Gorillas Nest. There was never any Rwandan money and rarely any US bills for change. For people who fly into Rwanda and stay only a night or two at Gorilla Nest, this may not be a problem. But since I crossed the border by road and had five days of tipping, not being able to change money at Gorillas Nest was a bigger issue. According to Theo, unlike Uganda, small US bills are fine in Rwanda. It was a good thing I had just enough small bills to make the tips. On a brighter note, the flock of crowned cranes that hung around the lodge was a delight.

    Volcano National Park. Much as I enjoyed the gorillas in Uganda, returning twice after the original visit, the Rwanda experience surpassed any previous gorilla experience. Starting with the climate—at least in early July—Rwanda provides a much cooler, less humid environment. Except for one trip with a German photographer who was trying to race up the mountain before the sun was a certain angle, I never even was sweating. But the biggest advantage is that the viewing conditions are not impenetrable.

    Sabinyo (8 people)
    7:30 – 8:15 drive, 8:15-9:45 track on foot, 9:45-10:45 view, back about 1:00, including a 45 minute return drive
    This walk was very easy and could have been done in half the time, but some of the people had severe joint problems, so we stopped often and went real slow and they had no problems. A great option for people who think they might have trouble doing the hikes. It was a walk in the park.

    Female watched us get our gear ready. Viewed both silverbacks, the largest stretched out on his stomach, put his head on hands, and watched us from the shade.

    Suza (4 people)
    7:30 –8:45 drive, 8:45-12:45 track on foot, back to vehicle by 4:00 pm. After stopping to eat, back to Gorillas Nest by 6:00 pm
    Mother and a 6-week old baby sleeping, females grooming and babies playing, sliverback sitting and eating, blackback out in open, mother with 7-week old twins and their 4 year old sister watching over them. During the last few minutes of viewing, a dozen gorillas ran past us down a hill like a cascading waterfall of gorillas. Most views were unshaded and unobstructed.

    When I read about a gorilla in Volcano National Park having twins on May 19, I thought maybe I would get glimpse of them if I were really lucky. I never thought I would get to sit with the mother, two babies and hovering sister for several minutes with unobstructed, nicely lit views. Then we watched the mother lay back and nurse both twins before she wandered into the brush. Gorilla viewing cannot get better than this!

    Suza (5 people)
    7:30-8:45 drive, 8:45-10:15 track on foot, 10:15-11:15 view, back to vehicle about 1:00 pm. After stopping to eat, back to Gorillas Nest by 2:45 p.m.
    Saw twins and mom again, but briefly. Many were eating celery out in open. Juveniles playing. Silverback peeking through leaves. Mother sitting with 1-year old.

    Golden Monkeys (2 people)
    7:30–8:00 drive, 8:00-9:30 track monkeys, 9:30-10:30 view, back to Gorilla Nest by 11:30
    I actually did not do 8 gorilla visits because I exchanged one of the gorilla permits for a golden monkey permit, which sounded interesting. The golden monkeys are beautiful creatures and very worthy of a visit. I went to a troop of about 60 and was told I saw not quite half of them, but from what I could tell, there were monkeys flying all over the place. I had brought binoculars, but never used them because the monkeys were just above eye level. One after the next would leap from tree to tree, then feed for few minutes. In the one hour of viewing there were probably 10 minutes of down time with no monkeys, but the rest of the time was non-stop, action packed. Their quick movements meant photos were a bit tricky, but the guides did a great job of getting us in the right place and pointing out nice views of them. I believe only four people can visit, so it is easier to get in good photographic position. I was thrilled with the golden monkey outing and asked the guide if what we saw was typical. He answered, “It was ok. It was good to find them; sometimes we don’t find them.” I wasn’t able to get from him the percentage of no-monkey outings. The guide did not seem to think that my experience with the golden monkeys was exceptional, even though I did. With each passing day, they are becoming more habituated and easier to find so this experience should be improving. Everyone who sees the gorillas should spend a day to see these amazing and beautiful golden monkeys. They’re even a lot less expensive. There are only morning visits to the golden monkeys, so it is not possible to do both gorillas and monkeys in the same day (or I would have).

    At the end of each gorilla or golden monkey outing, the guides would take out a big map and describe the other activities in Volcano National Park--climbing volcanoes, visiting Dian Fossey’s tomb, the other gorilla groups, the golden monkeys (on the gorilla trips), etc. Then they would explain about Akagera and Nyungwe, promoting those regions. Again, a nicely coordinated effort at getting visitors to see more on their current visit and return for another.

    I've also copied something that was a comparison of Uganda-Rwanda for someone else. It is redundant from what others have written and from what I posted previously, but thought I'd include it.

    If your focus is mainly gorillas, I'd suggest Rwanda, but would not discourage you from Uganda.

    I found the gorillas easier to see/photograph in Rwanda than in the impenetrable forest of Uganda.

    The higher altitude of Rwanda made for much cooler hiking in the month of July than I had experienced in Uganda in July or August. It was beastly hot and humid in Uganda when I have done gorilla trekking there.

    A minor point: Choosing which group you wished to see at the last minute was easier in Rwanda, whereas Uganda permits for a specific group had to be bought in advance and could not be easily switched.

    To economize on your travel days it is possible to arrive in Kigali and spend the night, then leave about 4:00 am the next morning in time for the gorilla trekking briefing at about 8:00 am at the ranger station. I did not do that and I would not do that, but it was quite common, saving travelers a day.

    You also can see the golden monkeys in Rwanda for about $80, spending an hour with them like the gorillas. These amazing and beautiful creatures jumped from branch to branch, flying about not far above our heads. No binocs needed.

    Finally, you would have a chance to see the twins if you go to Rwanda’s Suza group. They were born in May of 2004 and would be an adorable 16 months old. I saw them at 7 weeks and they were quite precocious—a boy and a girl. They are the only known surviving twins in the wild.

    However Uganda is a good choice too. If luxury accommodations are important, Uganda has more conveniently located very high-end tented camps (along with budget options too.) I stayed in Gorilla Nest in Rwanda which was just fine with a resident flock of crowned crane!!!! but if you wanted top of the line, Gorilla Forest Camp is it in Uganda.

    In Uganda you will likely stay right next to Bwindi in the town of Buhoma, so your walk to the ranger station, where you depart for the trekking, is about 5 minutes. After reaching the ranger station it may then be necessary to drive for a while before walking, depending on where the gorillas are. In Rwanda, you will stay in a hotel or camp about 15-20 minute's drive (or more or you can depart from a Kigali hotel) from the ranger station. So you don't feel like you're right in the forest where the gorillas live. You do feel like you are in the forest in Uganda and sometimes the gorillas even come down to the camps in the wet season.

    Uganda allows only 6 visitors and Rwanda allows 8. Only once did I actually have all 8 in Rwanda, with only 5, 4 and 2 on the other visits. In Uganda only twice did I have less than 6, with 5 on one visit and just me another time (such luck) by a fluke.


    You may be considering doing other safari activities in Uganda or Rwanda.

    The only other thing I did in Rwanda was the Never Again Memorial in Kigali, a tremendously moving experience. There is also Akagera with open plains and apparently good views of the elusive sitatunga. Also Nyungwe with many habituated primates. Those will be part of my next Rwanda trip for sure!

    Uganda has some wonderful additional options. Ngamba is a Jane Goodall chimp sanctuary on an island off Entebbe that you can visit for the day or several days and even be a volunteer. The volunteer option which I took advantage of was awesome. There is Queen Elizabeth Nat Park with the amazing Kazinga Channel, with hippo, bird or other wildlife spottings every minute of the river launch. You can do chimp trekking in Chambura Gorge in QE. Also a bat cave is there and good all around game, especially elephant. Kibale Nat Park is great for chimps. We even saw them using a stick as a tool to cut figs from trees. Further north is Murchison Falls, which is now pretty safe. Never been there, but believe it would be a great place to visit.


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    Local-
    Also be aware that ORTPN is increasing the price of gorilla trekking in Rwanda from $375 per person to $500 per person as of June of '07.

    And I am one that believes doing at least two, three or more treks is the way to go.

    However, the price increase is pretty expensive for a one hour visit with the gorillas but it seems that demand is far exceeding the supply.

    These days it is very rare that any spots are left unsold in any of the seven groups and many tour operators are booking months in advance which leaves walk-ups completely shut out unless visiting the golden monkeys or Dian's grave.

    That could make a difference in your planning.

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    Been to both several times. Already some great advice above, so not much to add here other than some blog trip reports...

    http://www.cokesmithphototravel.com/Africa.html

    Good travels!

    PS: Thit-cho - very interesting name! Ever eat any thit-cho? Thit kai?
    :-)

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