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Would this make a good trip? Uganda,Rwanda,Tanzania 2010

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Hi all,

I am in the beginning planning stages of a trip to Africa for October 2010. I am fairly active on some of the other boards on Fodor's and my husband and I have travelled quite a bit (going to Turkey in September) but this will be a first trip to Africa for us.

I always knew I wanted to go on safari in East Africa - the images of wide open savannahs and big herds of animals have always appealed to me. After a bit of research (okay, a lot) I chose Tanzania as the country we would visit to do this. We plan to use Basecamp Tanzania for that portion of the trip and would spend a few days in Zanzibar afterwards.

Then Rwanda caught my eye, for the gorillas and the genocide history, and then Uganda soon followed because of the good rafting on the Nile and the natural beauty. We are able to take about 3 weeks to do this trip, and so I have come up with the following tentative itinerary:

fly from Canada to Entebbe, Uganda (losing 2 nights to travel)
2 nights Jinja - to raft the Nile
1 night Kibale - to track chimps
2 or 3 nights Queen Elizabeth Nat. Park w/ one night for sure at Ishasha Camp
2 nights Ruhengeri - gorilla tracking on day in between
2 nights Kigali - visit memorials
5 nights Tanzania safari - fly Kigali to Arusha then 5 nights safari covering Serengeti, Ngorongoro etc (probably in Sopa Lodges)
5 nights Zanzibar - interested in Pongwe area and maybe one night in Stone Town
fly home from Dar, Zanz or NBO, whichever is cheapest (losing 1 night to travel)

What do you think? My specific questions are:

1)Is the Uganda portion too rushed? Is including Ishasha feasible? Is Kibale worth a stop or would it be better to go straight to QENP and spend more time there? We'd probably arrange a driver to cover transportation for that part of the trip, then see if they could drop us at the Uganda-Rwanda border where we'd rely on public transportation in Rwanda.

2) Do we need 2 nights in Ruhengeri if we're just doing one gorilla trek, or could we conceivably come in from Uganda, stay one night, trek the next morning and then get to Kigali in the later afternoon? We would likely choose a gorilla group that isn't too far away - my husband has a prosthetic leg that while not a serious impediment, can become troubling if he hikes for too long so we'd likely pick a group closer to the station.

3) How far in advance is it recommended to book gorilla permits? I always start feeling out trips a good year in advance and making general plans, but don't usually book flights and hotels until 4-6 months away. Would this be waiting too long to do permits as well?

Much, much thanks for any help or opinions.

Amanda :)

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    I'd spend more nights on safari and less on Zanzibar, unless you have your heart set on lying on a beach for 4 days. Hey, you're in Africa! (Pongwe is a favorite of mine, though... beautiful beach and a laid-back atmosphere.)

    Given that you're looking to go in October, you might consider going to the Masai Mara in Kenya to see the Migration. It's never a "given" that the herds will be in any one place, but the Mara or the far-northern part of the Serengeti would be the most likely place at that time of year. You'll probably be traveling through Nairobi at some point, so the Mara would be easy to get to from there. If you added days to the safari portion of your trip, you could then proceed to Tanzania (Kilimanjaro Airport) and head for Tarangire and/or Ngorongoro Crater before going to Zanzibar.

    I haven't been to Uganda or Rwanda, yet. I'm sure some other Fodorite can help you on that part.

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    Given "Africa time," I'd say the itinerary is too rushed. I'll let those experienced in connections and Uganda/Rwanda to get into details, but this is a little too fast (and I'm a rusher-- by budget, not by choice :) ). I would slow down the whole thing by cutting one or two elements. Painful, I know, but you'll enjoy wherever you are.

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    Where are you coming from in Canada? If it's the eastern part of the country, maybe a rafting trip the day after you arrive is doable, but I personally wouldn't attempt it. When we flew to Cairo last summer, we lost an entire day to jetlag. My son has lived in Kampala for the past two years, and whenever he travels back there from the west coast of the US, he is exhausted (it's something like 28 hours of travel time). (He's on his way back here as we speak, but he doesn't suffer jet lag as much in this direction).

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    I agree -- the Uganda/Rwanda itinerary is too rushed. The roads in Uganda are challenging, and driving from one place to another takes a loooong time. The drive between QENP and Musanze/Ruhengeri is particularly long. (It's worth it, though! These are such beautiful countries, and it's great to see them from the road.)

    I would really question whether it's worth trying to travel to all three countries with only 3 weeks, unless you want to be constantly in the car. We went to Uganda and Rwanda in October 2008 and spent about 3 weeks just in those two countries, on an all-driving itinerary. If you click on my name you can find my very long trip report--I just posted the installment about our first gorilla trek, and also talk a lot about our chimp trekking experiences at Kibale and Budongo, as well as Queen Elizabeth National Park. I also wrote a trip report about our Kenya/Tanzania trip in 2007, which covers several of the places you mention -- Zanzibar, Pongwe beach and the Crater (but not the Serengeti).

    Having said that, if this is your one-and-only Africa visit and you are really determined to fit in all three countries, you could probably do it with some tweaking to allow for those long road transfers. I would recommend that you think about spending fewer days on Zanzibar, another night in Kibale so you're not doing your chimp trek and having a long drive on the same day, and just 2 nights in QENP or possibly eliminating it altogether. It is a beautiful park, but compared with the national parks in Tanzania you might be disappointed. (Full disclosure: I have mixed feelings about the state of biodiversity in QENP based on our experiences there with a wildlife research team, but I do still support people visiting it, and we had some good game drives there... just not compared with what we saw in Tanzania and Kenya.) You might need to spend a night or two in the QENP area just to break up the long drives, though, and the boat safari on the Kazinga Channel would be a unique feature of this park.

    Your access to primates in Uganda and Rwanda is unique, so to save time I would concentrate on chimps and rafting in Uganda, gorillas in Rwanda, and do your big game drives in TZ. If your time and budget allow, adding a second gorilla trek is a good suggestion. But if you can't swing it, even one chance to spend time with the gorillas is an incredible experience -- I would have been perfectly happy with just my first trek (although I did love the second one, too). If you have time to add a day in the Volcanoes NP area, you could consider golden monkeys instead of a second gorilla trek if you are a primate fan on a budget -- several people in our group did this, and really enjoyed the contrast between the two. We saw a lot of monkeys in the Budongo Forest but not as many in Kibale, so if monkeys are important to you this might be a good option... and there are also the red colobus monkeys to visit in Jozani Forest on Zanzibar.

    I was going to suggest that you look into gorilla trekking in Uganda to avoid rushing around so much, but since you are interested in Rwanda's history I think it makes sense to try to spend some time in both countries if you can. The Genocide memorial in Kigali is one of the most moving, devastating, profound places I've ever visited.

    One final word of caution about planning a very tight, fast-moving itinerary in these countries... in my experience, things don't move very fast in Uganda! :) And on a more somber note, our itinerary ended up being derailed a bit by problems going on in the DRC next door, borders closing earlier than usual, and some unexpected road work. So it helps to have room for flexibility.

    I hope this is helpful. Happy planning!

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    One other thing I forgot to add... If you are trying to make quick transportation connections and have only a few days in Rwanda, it really might be worth looking into having your driver stay with you through to Kigali. I know it is possible to get around by public transporation, but in terms of timing it might be very difficult to do everything you want to do in that short amount of time based on bus schedules and travel time. We had the same driver/guides through our entire trip from Kampala to Kigali, and they also arranged the gorilla permits for us. Having been there in October, I can definitely say that the permits sold out both days we were there, and it was really busy at the trekking office! So it's probably best to get your permits as far in advance as you can, unless you are really flexible about which day you could go trekking.

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    I agree that things seem a bit rushed to me. I would perhaps take the Uganda time & add most of that to Tanzania safari & one night in Rwanda to get a second gorilla trek in. Do try to do 2 gorilla treks if you can. 5 days on safari seems very short to me but then we just love that part of the trip. In Feb of this year we spent 17 nights on safari in Tanzania & we could have stayed longer if we were able! Happy planning! J

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    Thank you all so much for the feedback so far! I am definitely taking it all in and rethinking our plans. MyDogKyle, I really like your comments on focusing the Uganda portion to just rafting and chimps and the Rwanda portion to gorillas - I think it will help make some decisions for us and result in things being less rushed.

    As for the possibility of a 2nd gorilla trek, I think that is out for us at this point. My husband's prosthetic leg is not a huge concern for us, and in daily life is not even noticeable most of the time, but when we're travelling things like barometric pressure and humidity have a big impact on how well/not well his leg does with longer hikes/walks. That means that even one trek might make the next day quite sore for him, so 2 days in a row of trekking is probably not a good plan, as he might conceivably not be able to do the 2nd day.

    Reducing Zanzibar time is another possibility, though I don't want to "over-wildlife" us since we have so much viewing time already built in, between the primates in Ug/Rw and then the Tz safari. Since it's our first (hopefully of many more) trips to Africa, I am not sure what our threshold is for game viewing and how many days is enough vs. too much. I'm going to think about all of this over the next day or so, talk to my husband a bit, and repost a revised itinerary. In the meantime if anyone else has comments/suggestions I'd love to keep hearing more. Thanks everyone!

    Amanda :)

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    Oooh one more question, for you MyDogKyle - since you went in the same month as we are planning to go, October. You said the permits were all sold out around that time - how far in advance did you book yours?

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    Hi Amanda. Glad I could help a little! We went with a conservation group from the Zoo where we do volunteer work, so I did not book the permits myself... but I believe they were booked by June or so of that year (since we had to be signed up for the trip by then and put in our deposits).

    One other thing I forgot to mention about October travel in this part of the world -- you are right on the edge of rainy season, so expect some wet days. We had multiple instances of getting stuck in the mud! Our chimp trek at Kibale was stormy and wet, we had off and on rain in Murchison Falls and Budongo Forest and in southern Uganda near the border, but almost no rain in Rwanda. Our gorilla treks were perfect weather, but lots of mud. And in some ways the rain is good because everything is cool and the skies are lovely for photos when it stops raining. Just be prepared with good rain gear: jackets with hoods, a rain cover for your daypack if you have photo gear, and lots of ziploc baggies for your wet clothes! :)

    I guess the one other thing I might add is that the possibility of rain and sloppy roads might make you think more carefully about the benefits of hiring your own driver and smaller vehicle, versus taking public buses. We saw some pretty big buses and trucks stuck in the mud, and that is much harder to deal with than getting a smaller van towed or pushed out.

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    Hmmm, I wonder if we should consider another time of year then? We're not bound to October, it just works well with work schedules. I was reading about rainy seasons in East Africa and it seems like either January or June are both nice months, because they follow rainy seasons (so everthing is nice and green, particularly in Rwanda/Uganda) but are technically the start of the short and long dry seasons....

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    My suggestion is that you go to either Uganda or Rwanda. I have been to both and like them both, but I prefer Rwanda for the types of activities you want to do, and for the ease of getting around (distances aren't as far as they are in Uganda). While rafting in Jinga is cool, it isn't all that different from rafting on another fast river, and I'd hate for you to lose out on your experience in a country by packing too much in.

    If it were me, I'd go to Rwanda for 7 day, and then go on safari in Tanzania and end on the beach in Zanzibar. Alternatively, I'd look into going on safari in Kenya (since flights between Kenya and Rwanda are often easier).

    In Rwanda, I would fly into Kigali and 1-2 nights there to get your bearings, then I would travel to Ruhengeri for your first gorilla trek. From there you can take a taxi or private vehicle (depends on how you intend to travel) to Gisenyi to relax by Lake Kivu. We did this trip, Gisenyi presents a different sidee to Rwanda and is on the border with Goma (DRC). We then took a boat (more like an inflatable raft with a motor) from Gisenyi to Kibuye and stayed the Bethanie Guest House. This was one of the most memorable parts of our trip, no one else was on the lake and it was amazing to see the scenary from that perspective (I had no idea how large the volcano in Goma was!). But this was expensive, about $150 for two of us after a lot of negotiation and this was in August 2006. From Kibuye it's about 4 hours back to Kigali.

    Alternatively, if you choose to skip Kibuye, you could relax in Gisenyi for a day or two, and then head back to Ruhengeri for a 2nd gorilla trek (giving some time to rest between them). This is what we did, and I'm really glad we went twice and that we didnt' go back to back.

    There is only one genocide memorial in Kigali (it is modeled after the Holocaust museum in DC) and while very interesting isn't as powerful or moving as some of the other memorials around the country. I personally found the Church in Kibuye to be the most moving for me, and also the least shocking to the system (very different from Nyamata for instance). Kigali is a fine city, but not worth hanging out in, better as a transfer point. I wouldn't try and spend time there.

    Just my two cents. Also, we were there in August and the weather/foliage was great during that time.

    I would also add that chimp trekking is SERIOUSLY hard work, much more so than seeing the gorillas (some families are often very close by and you can make that request to the rangers). Some may disagree, but I personally don't think seeing the Chimps is as worth it.

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    Ooooh thank you LuciaBoston! This advice is great too, and since my last post I've been thinking and thinking, and perhaps dropping Uganda is the way to go. I'm always telling people not to rush their travel, that they'll regret moving around too much, and here I go doing that very thing :)

    I would be a little sad to miss out on the rafting but there's always other years and other trips (like a Uganda/Kenya trip one day maybe), and we live about 4 hours from Canada's Rocky Mountains so we have world-class rafting here already. I've heard the comment before too about chimp trekking being very hard and since that precedes the gorillas, I kind of don't want anything to compromise my husband's ability to do the gorilla trek. If we went to Lake Kivu for a few days to rest in between we could probably manage 2 gorilla treks at that point, so I like that idea as well. I just read MyDogKyle's trip report installment about the gorilla trek they did, and was just about in tears reading her account of their time. It sounds like all I imagine it would be and more. Seeing them twice would be incredible...

    This is so much thinking and rethinking....Good thing I have a bit of time to sort this out!

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    If you can financially manage the two gorilla treks, I would DEFINITELY do it and drop the chimps. From my own personal experience, my fiance was very keen to see the Susa group (the one that is very large and also furthest away). So it took us about 5-6 hours in trekking (not bad for Susa) and we got there and my experience was just not the best...it was all because of our guide. He just waltzed in to these group of 20 gorillas! Well they didn't like that, and in no time one gorilla had run out and hit our guide on his leg...a warning. Well, I, rather freaked backed up slowly...into a bus of stinging nettles! Needless to say my butt and legs were on fire the rest of the time. It took til the end of the hour for me to relax and enjoy myself. I wasn't even that keen to go again! BUT GOSH, I am SOOOO glad I did. The 2nd time we were with the Hirwa group, very small, but had Francois as our guide (if you can get yourself in his group...do it!!! It was a much better experience, not only because of Francois but also because seeing a group of 6 was much more personal than a group of 20ish---Susa was more like a community and Hirwa like a family.

    So this long story is just to say, you never know what you're gonna get and it's nice to have two visits after coming all that way!

    The Sabinyo group, and others, are often just beyond or even in front of, the wall. My advice is to do two things...go visit the gorilla office in Ruhengeri the night before your trek...with any luck you'll meet a ranger and can try and lobby them for a close group (we lobbied for Susa and got it the next day). Then, get to the mountain a little early, and again find the head Ranger (he makes the assignments)---we asked for a close group as we needed to catch our bus and again were listened to. So I don't think you'll have a problem.

    Have fun!

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    I would agree with what most people have said here but also add a caveat having spent about 5 months in africa recently myself:

    Make sure that you're ok with camping in harsh conditions and being ok with not getting what you want exactly at the time when you want it. There are a lot of unregulated problems with East Africa first with that you can't expect things on time or at the quality consistently. These are 3rd world countries. Road accidents happen a lot, and there isn't adequate medical care.

    Also, I know some people who plan this giant trip with huge expectations, pour thousands of dollars and have a super tight intineary, and then they have to cancel the entire thing when they get there because 1) they get sick 2) they can't handle the harsh conditions 3) its too stressful because they don't have 1st world bathrooms and/or sanitary conditions.

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    Amanda, I think you are wise to consider rafting for another time, especially since it is an activity you can do at home.

    Christinasc's comments do point out the potential downside of travel to Africa, or lots of places. That's whay I always have insurance to evacuate me out if there is a health emergency. I definitely recommend it. But Sopa Lodges and Ishasha Camp are not unsanitary and harsh by any means. If that's the type of place you'll be staying, you should be fine.

    It would add to your costs, but would you consider reducing Zanzibar time for more time on safari? Then you could get to Kibale for fantastic chimp trekking. Kibale is an all day drive from Entebbe, so allotting one night is not reasonable, which is what is swon in your original plan.

    Did you read MyDogKyle's account of the Kibale chimps? Now THAT could be considered harsh and stressful. But it's nature at its rawest and the guests were in no danger of harm.

    As for road accidents, MyDogKyle has quite the account of one of those as well on a previous trip. But that is why I believe you go with a reputable operator who does not drive junk and has experienced guides and not hotshot newcomers who disregard safety. (Not that all new guides do this, they all have to start some time.)

    Adding more to the cost would be 2 gorilla permits. If you make the effort and pay to get to PNV for one trip, I agree it is worth going a second time. I never like one-shot deals and prefer a second outing just in case. Same thing the others have mentioned.

    October is a good time to go. Could be quite warm. You mentioned June. That's good with low rainfall in Uganda/Rwanda. July has the least rain. June/July the migration is likely in the Western part of the Serengeti.

    approx 19 nights

    1 nt Entebbe/Kampala, Uganda arrival
    2 nts Kibale for chimps
    3 nts QE in Mweya and Ishasha Region
    1 nt back to Kampala/Entebbe
    1 nt Kigali-memorials
    3 nts PNV for 2 gorilla visits
    1 nt transit
    5 nts TZ

    for 17 nts

    This eliminates Zanzibar so it may not be acceptable to you. I've never been to Zanzibar.

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    <<<Adding more to the cost would be 2 gorilla permits. If you make the effort and pay to get to PNV for one trip, I agree it is worth going a second time. I never like one-shot deals and prefer a second outing just in case. Same thing the others have mentioned.>>>

    Has it been mentioned that the cost of a one-day gorilla permit (per person) is going up from $500 to $1000 next year (in Uganda, at least)?

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    Has it been mentioned that the cost of a one-day gorilla permit (per person) is going up from $500 to $1000 next year (in Uganda, at least)?

    Yeah, I have been pondering this myself. Is it confirmed for both countries? I saw this schedule on the Travel Uganda website:

    http://www.traveluganda.co.ug/pdf/uwa_tariffs_2009_2010.pdf

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