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Uganda Safari, 8/2008 - Itinerary & a few questions

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First, let me thank everyone who has posted their African travel experiences on this board (in Uganda or elsewhere). It's been an entertaining and insightful read. My partner and I have an opportunity to join friends (a group of 8 or so) on a 12-day safari in Uganda this August and we can't wait. The over-land arrangements are being made by a friend who lives in Uganda, though through an outfitter (Abacus Uganda Tours - didn't see any mention of them here). I'm posting the proposed itinerary below.

I'm not asking for any particular help on the itinerary (though thoughts are welcome!!!). What I'd like to know is if anyone has insight regarding the quality of the suggested accommodations. About half our group want the budget option, while the other half want the higher-end (I fall into the latter group!). It's a difference of about $750-$800. My argument is, "what's an additional several hundred dollars on top of what we're already paying." Plus, the lodge descriptions (from folks on this board and elsewhere) sound fantastic. Haven't read much about some of the budget options, so I can't judge one way or another. We're all a bunch of relatively seasoned travellers, so the choice of one option over the other isn't going to make or break our trip. I don't expect any sour grapes...that is, unless we can't secure gorilla permits! ;)

Anyway, just looking for a few opinions - one way or another - to help our discussion. Thanks a bunch!!!

A 12 day private Safari Itinerary

Day 1
On your arrival at Entebbe International Airport, you will be met by your Safari guide who will transfer you to your hotel in Kampala. If your flight arrives in the morning, you will have a chance to visit some of the interesting places around Kampala. These include Kasubi Toms, Uganda Museum, African Craft Market, Namirembe Cathedral etc.
Overnight at Speke Hotel/Hotel Africana (BB)

Day 2
Your safari guide will collect you from your hotel and depart by road to Murchison Falls National Park arriving in the early afternoon. The drive will take approximately 5-6 hours and will give you a good insight on the Uganda way of life. Before reaching the Lodge, you will stop at the top of the falls which is a fantastic sight. Here the Nile, the longest river in the world, is forced through a narrow gap in the rock (only 7 meters wide), before ferociously plunging down 43 meters. From here you will continue on, taking a ferry across the river to Paraa Safari Lodge. Game viewing on the way is very good; look out for hippos, elephants, buffalos and many other animals, seen grazing on the banks of the river.
Overnight at a Luxurious Paraa Safari Lodge/Midrange Sambiya River lodge/Budget Red Chili Camp (Full Board).

Day 3
Have an early morning game drive before breakfast, to the rolling plains to view Lions, Hartebeest, Elephants, primates, Buffalo, Birds and Giraffe.
We will drive back to the lodge for lunch and a chance to relax by the side of the swimming pool before taking an afternoon boat trip to the foot of Murchison Falls. This boat trip along the Nile is often cited as being the highlight of a trip to Murchison since it allows you to get up-close and personal with the animals. Along this stretch of the river, there are reported to be around 4,000 hippos in addition to some enormous Nile crocodiles. The bird life is stunning with brightly colored kingfishers and bee-eaters darting along the riverbanks. If lucky, you may see the rare and prehistoric looking shoebill, which is a cross between the dodo and a dinosaur. The boat takes you to the base of the falls which only adds to their impressiveness.
Overnight at a Luxurious Paraa Safari Lodge/Midrange Sambiya River lodge/Budget Red Chili Camp (Full Board)

Day 4
Following a morning breakfast, we will depart with our packed lunch to Kibale Forest National Park. We will pass close to Lake Albert. On a clear day, the view on the top of the Albert rift is spectacular. We will arrive Fort portal town in the late afternoon. Tonight you will sleep in Ndali Lodge/Rwenzori View guest house prior to your chimpanzee tracking in the morning.
Overnight at Ndali Lodge/ Rwenzori View Guest House/Kanyankyu Ecological site (FB)

Day 5
A relatively early morning start, to report to the ranger station in Kibale National Park at 08.00am to track habituated chimps – these delightful apes, more closely related to humans than to any other living creature, are tremendous fun to watch as they squabble and play in fruiting trees. The incredibly diverse forest is home to over 13 species of primates including red Colobus monkey, the rare L'Hoest, blue monkey, grey mangabey, pottos, black faced vervet monkeys, baboons and also bush babies. A network of shady forest trails provides much to delight botanists and butterfly lovers, while birders are in for a treat with 335 species recorded including the endemic Prirogrine's ground thrush. The elusive forest elephant, smaller and hairier that its savannah counterpart, moves seasonally into the developed part of the park, while other terrestrial mammals include buffalo, giant forest hog and a half dozen antelope species.
Overnight at Ndali Lodge/ Rwenzori View Guest House/Kanyankyu Ecological site (FB)

Day 6
Following a morning breakfast, we will depart for Queen Elizabeth National Park . We will enter the park via the Northern crater Area. With beautiful lakes and rich grasslands which are set deep in the crater valley, this is truly the most breathtaking scenery in the park. Queen Elizabeth is host to a large variety and volume of wildlife. It boasts one o the highest bio diversity ratings of any game park in the world, from the open Savannah to Rain forest, dense swamps and beautiful crater lakes to the vastness of Lake Edward. Almost 100 species that include Hippos, Lions, Buffaloes, Leopard, Spotted Hyena and the elusive giant forest hog. There are over 606 species of birds found here including the martial eagle, black-rumped buttonquail, Verreaux's eagle owl and African skimmer to name but a few. The primates include Chimps, Black and white Colobus Monkeys, Blue, Black Faced Red Colobus, and Red Tailed monkeys and Olive Baboons.Relax after lunch and later go for an evening game drive.
Overnight at Mweya Safari Lodge/ Albertine safari camp (FB)

Day 7
Have an early morning game drive which will provide opportunities to see Spotted Hyena, buffalo, Uganda Kobs, Defassa Waterbucks, elephant, leopard, antelope, lion and several bird species. We will drive back to the lodge for lunch. In the afternoon a boat trip along the Kazinga Channel gives you the opportunity to view wildlife up close: hippo's huff and spray mere feet away from the boat, buffalo linger in the shallows. The shores of the channel are also home to an array of birds including pink backed pelicans, pied and malachite kingfishers, saddle billed stork and many others. After this wonderful afternoon, a slow drive back to Lodge.
Overnight at Mweya Safari Lodge/ Albertine safari camp (FB)

Day 8
This morning, we will leave for Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. We will drive through the southern sector of Queen Elizabeth called Ishasha. Here we will take lunch by the Ishasha River and try to find the famed Ishasha tree-climbing lions before continuing on to Bwindi, home to the few remaining mountain gorillas. Bird life and primate life in Bwindi is quite superb, and there is an incredible variety of flora. Bwindi is the Bird watchers haven! It holds 348 species of birds and supports 24 of 26 Albertine Rift Endemics that occur in Uganda; and seven red data book species. Once continuous with the forests of the Virunga Volcanoes (Dian Fossey's stomping ground), Bwindi is now an ecological island, surrounded by cultivation on the rich volcanic soils.
Overnight at Gorilla Resort/Buhoma Community Bandas (Full Board)

Day 9
You will rise relatively early for a hearty breakfast to give you the energy needed for gorilla tracking . Report to the ranger station at 08.00 am where the guides will take you through the forest, slashing at the undergrowth, parting thick creepers, to track gorillas. This trek can take from half an hour to five hours so a reasonable degree of fitness is required as well as a sturdy pair of walking shoes. You sit in the forest among the gorillas listening to them grumble at each other and marvel at the sheer size of the dominant male, the silverback. It is amazing to think that there are only 650 or so of these creatures left in the world!

If you have the afternoon free, you will take a guided village walk to see how the Ugandans live.
Overnight at Gorilla Resort/Buhoma Community Bandas (Full Board)

Day 10
After a hearty breakfast, you will depart to Kampala stopping in one of the towns for lunch. This drive will take you across the Equator where you will stop for a photographic opportunity as well as an informative talk. On arrival in Kampala, your safari guide will transfer you to your hotel.
Overnight at Speke Hotel/Hotel shangrila (BB)

Day 11
After an early breakfast, you will be driven to the shores of Lake Victoria to meet your 9.00am or 12:45 launch. The boat trip takes about 45 minutes across to Ngamba Island, crossing the equator en-route. On arrival at the island, home to 39 chimpanzees, you will be given a short introduction and briefing on the sanctuary. After which, it's feeding time! It is fascinating to watch the chimps interact with each other and with their keepers. In the relatively short amount of time you are there you will be able to see such different personalities amongst the group, with some whistling for food and others clapping. Obviously the ideal option would be to re-introduce these orphaned chimpanzees to the wild however this is not possible for a number of different reasons and the sanctuary is not bad for second best. You will return to the mainland before driving to the Entebbe Wildlife Education Centre (zoo). Here they have replicated some of the country's ecological zones such as savannah, wetlands and tropical forest. If you have not managed to see the shoebill in the wild you are guaranteed a sighting here, as well as rhino. You will return to your hotel in the late afternoon.
Overnight at Speke Hotel/Hotel shangrila (BB)

Day 12
Take a breakfast then go for a city tour and later shopping in the city craft shops. After lunch, you will be transferred to Entebbe International Airport for your outbound flight.

QUOTATION:
1)Price-High end: $ 3,240 per person (6 pax)
Price- Budget:$ 2,460 per person (6 pax)

2)Price-High end:$ 3,108 per person (8 pax)
Price- Budget:$ 2,220 per person (8 pax)

The above price includes;
The cost of all ground transportation and Fuel
Gorilla tracking and permit@$500 each
Chimpanzee tracking
Full time safari guide and his associated expenses
Park entrance fees
Accommodation and meals
Boat trip
Game drives and other related activities
But it excludes; Items of personal nature like Laundry, Beers, tipping of staff

Abacus Uganda Tours Ltd. Uganda Office,
Plot 4 Colline House, 1st Floor suite 2
Pilkington Road
Box, 34944 Kampala
0392842044, 0772527922
Email: info@uganda-tours.com
Website: http://www.uganda-tours.com

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