Booking Gorilla Trek in Uganda

Old Jan 4th, 2007, 08:00 AM
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Booking Gorilla Trek in Uganda

Hello Everyone and HAPPY NEW YEAR,

There have been numerous posts on gorilla treks, especially in Rwanda, but has anyone actually booked there own trek in Uganda? The thing is, I'm trying to stick to a budget of some sorts (doing Kenya and Tanzania afterwards). I know African Pearl Safaris has some really great reviews on this site but they'll cost myself and my boyfiend $1000USD a piece which does include the permit. However, I find it really hard to swallow 600USD just to drive us and there and back from Kamapala and accomodations for two nigths at the Buhoma Bandas. I found Gorilla Tours Ltd. at 600USD per person incl. permit and two nights stay at Traveller's Rest Hotel in Kisoro. I guess my question is does anyone know of any reliable local operators who charge less than African Pearls? Or has anyone obtained their gorilla permits on their own and arranged transport on their own with success? If not, I guess I'll have to swallow the cost and just smile.

Thanks,
Juliet
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Old Jan 4th, 2007, 02:57 PM
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juliet you will find more budget minded travelers (and their answers) at www.lonelyplanet.com the thornstree africa branch, subheading uganda.

please bear in mind that it is the gorilla permits themselves that are over $300 and that's where the big costs are coming in.

many many people show up at the uwa (uganda wildlife authority) offices in kampal to obtain trekking permits there. navigating the public transport is quite easy.

you might also want to email or telephone someone at red chili backpackers (they have a web site) to see if they are organizing a group or if they know of any groups going at the time you are going and you can pay the costs of joining in. it will cost less than the private safaris.

kerikeri
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Old Jan 5th, 2007, 09:32 AM
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Thanks kerikeri,

The problem is that as budget conscious as I am I can only be so "daring" with my travel options since I'm going with my boyfriend. He's more like my mother when it comes to travelling. Plus my mother will have my head if she even hears a whisper of us on a matatu with him being the lone mazungu. She already doesn't like us being so close to the Rwandan border (which rules out Rwanda). I was hoping that someone hear on this board might have found a cheaper yet relaible means of doing things. Also I really don't want to chance missing out on a gorilla trek because I thought I could get the permits when there. I tied the lonely planet forums but everyone seemed to chance gettiggn the permits when there and used the most budget of travel options. I will most definately try the hostel website. i think I alreayd looked but will try again. Thanks for your help in the matter.

Regards,
Juliet
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Old Jan 6th, 2007, 12:10 PM
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You can book gorilla permits yourself directly with the Uganda Wildlife Authority at http://www.uwa.or.ug/gorilla.html. Cost is only $375 (going up to $500 next summer).
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Old Jan 6th, 2007, 01:50 PM
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julimbo
If you are travelling in Kenya and Tanzania with a tour operator why not ask them how much it costs
to do Uganda as well
Fly into Nairobi and then do Kenya, drive to Uganda visit the Gorillas and then drive into Tanzania and then travel down through the Serengeti
It might be cheaper and also might save the hassle for you.
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Old Jan 6th, 2007, 01:54 PM
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I have trekked in both Bwindi (Uganda) and PNV (Rwanda), and Rwanda is the better destination to for independent travel. PNV is only a few hours from Kigali, while Bwindi is 8 to 10 hours overland from Kampala. I also think ORPTN (the Rwanda site) is easier to use, and you can book your permits by email. There may be a bus (or series of buses) from Kampala to Bwindi, but its a long trip, which is why its pricing at $600 (which seems reasonable for such a long round trip). You may want to look into Rwanda, which is easier and closer to the capital city.
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Old Jan 6th, 2007, 07:00 PM
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I've treked In Uganda and Rwanda and DRC
4 times in total
Rwanda is better viewing because the groups are bigger, the forest is less dense so you get a better view which is also better for photos. Permits are booked out months in advance which is why it is hard to do yourself. I did Bwindi by myself and had to wait over a week for a cancellation at the park. Turning up every morning to see if ther was a spot. I drove from Nairobi to Bwindi via Nakuru and Kampala.
It is the best thing I have ever done. Unless you have a lot of time to sit and wait. You will need to book everything in advance.
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Old Jan 8th, 2007, 06:10 AM
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Thanks everyone for your responses. With regards to Rwanda - can't do or my Mom will have my head as she will be on this trip with myself, boyfriend and brother. This trip is being planned through Sandi at African Serendipity (YEAH!) and unfortunately she does not do Uganda. However, I had not thought until now to contact the local operators that she will use for a possible referral to reliable operators in Uganda. I will let you know what the outcome is but the closer it gets to May 2007 the more I'm I realize that I'm just going to ahve to suck it up and pay the money. Oh well, anything to see gorillas!

Juliet
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Old Jan 8th, 2007, 06:18 AM
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Forgive me if this has already been asked, but what's the issue with Rwanda? If it's politics, Uganda had instability issues as recently as last year if I remember reading correctly...
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Old Jan 8th, 2007, 06:29 AM
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I agree, Rwanda is perhaps the safest, most stabile country in the area. If your mother is well informed and made her decision, that's understandable, but many who avoid Rwanda are uninformed. While I would have concerns about traveling to the DRC or Burundi, I didn't have those concerns about Rwanda, and there are dozens of trip reports (mine included) in this forum from those of us who had an incredible (and very safe) trip to Rwanda. Its unfair to penalize Rwanda for events that occurred more than a decade ago. If tourists refuse to visit, that will not bode well for the gorillas in PNV.
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Old Jan 8th, 2007, 07:00 AM
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Hello again,

The issue with Rwanda has more to do with her issue with all of East Africa. My mother, and myself, are Ugandan born, and as a result of being from this region my mother is even more wary of the instability found here. Let's just say she does not trust what the lastest BBC or CNN report says about the region because she knows first hand how quickly things can errupt and become unsafe. Her main concern is that neither my boyfriend nor myself know the area or the language if caught unawares. At least in Uganda we could contact family members. Keep in mind it is also my mother's first trip back home in twenty years (my brother and I have been back more recently) so although much has changed, she has yet to see it. She just remembers what she left behind and knows only what she hears from relatives which isn't always positive.

Juliet
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Old Jan 8th, 2007, 07:02 AM
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p.s. It's also the western borders that are almost always unstable in Uganda so she fears us having troubles crossing the border on the way in or out. We will be in Kampala for a week prior to our safari booked through Sandi.
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Old Jan 20th, 2007, 11:34 AM
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Has anyone had to wire money to African Pearl Safaris or other local Uganda Tour Operator to secure your reservations with them??

We are very concerned because we are being told they do not make reservations by credit card - only wire transfer to their bank in Uganda.

Can anyone advise if they have done this? You can understand our concern. Even Western Union told us not to wire money to someone we don't know.

Any information on this would be greatly appreciated. ASAP as we are trying to book the permits now for our trip in July and are being told permits are few and far between!!

Thanks
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Old Jan 20th, 2007, 03:43 PM
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This is a common practice, though I've not used African Pearl.
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Old May 5th, 2007, 08:36 AM
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My wife and I flew from Nairobi to Kigali, Rwanda in January 2006. It was easy. The planr is modern, on time, and like any scheduled airline. The flight left from Wilson Airport in Nairobi

The plane fare was about $200 per person one way and total was around $800.00 usd

We used the Brandt travel Book because we could NOT get any response from any travel agency anywhere nor the ORPTN office. They never answer the phone and only one person speaks English.

I finally had reached the ORPTN government agency that books the gorilla treks in June, 2005 and booked two people for $375 each. I gave them a mastercard and they charged us $50 per person to reserve and said no problem not paying the rest. I never received a confirmation number or any written or e-mail reply.

By September 2005 I was concerned and finally connected with a local travel agency in Kigali. While I cannot remember the name of the agency - it may have been ITT or Kigali Travel. It is owned by an American-Israeli and his wife and he was wonderful. Look in the Brandt book for their ad.

The ORPTN office had no record of the permit the week before we arrived so I sent a copy of the masterchard charge and the travel agency argued for us. We were finally given tickets because of our proof. But there is obviously corruption there in that office.

We were met at the airport by the travel agency, taken to their offices, spent two hours discussing the next two days, then driven that afternoon to Gorilla Nest Lodge. Gorilla Nest is modern but could use a good scrubbing. The concrete shows stains in the rooms from many years. The food is ok but I developed a bit of food poisioning on the second meal - breakfast - the next morning. It did not get severe enough to stop me.

At 6am the next morning we awoke and went to eat. The van picked us up at 7am and drove us the 5 miles to the ORPTN lodge where the treks occur.

We milled around fro 45 minutes until there were 40 people there. Then the guides come out with flags on posts and you go to whatever group you want to visit.

There were 5 families to visit on 5 different mountains. About 8 people per group. Some groups were a bit larger and some a bit smaller. Ours was the Amahoro group and we had 8 people. The group has 14 gorillas and one silverback (included).

The guide piles into our private car along with a couple of other people that have no planned transportation (we had paid for the car and driver who was the same person who had met us at the airport, transported us to the travel agent, driven us two hours north to the Gorilla Nest, and stayed overnight to drive us the next day). I wondered what would have happened if we were not there with our car and driver.

After an hour we aprroached a mountain -dense with vegetation. The road was a 4 wheel trek across farms and grassland and into and then out of light forest. We got out, assembled our treking clothes, and hiked as a group for about 1/2 mile along the edge of a farmers field. The mountain loomed in front of us.

As we finished crossing the field, we approached a stone wall. There was an opening in it. We all went through and we were at the beginning of three very clear trails - each going up to the top of that mountain.

Fron nowhere appeared three men with machettes and rifles. They were part of a security patrol that had been on the mountain hours earlier and were busy locating that gorilla family for us to visit. They pointed to the trail on the right and we went that way. Later we found there were at least 8 government guards on the mountain with us trying to stop poaching and making sure we found the gorillas.

The path was firm and not very steep. The jungle was stunning. The vistas kept getting better and better. The cloud cover lifted and bright sun shone. The ORTPN guid was wonderful and stopped frequently to describe the fauna and flora.

As we ascended from 6,000 feet at the base to the top -18,000 feet - we kept getting better and better views of other volcanos and lush valleys dotted with farms and forests. Very green and pretty. Also quite quaint....

After an hour of upward hiking, a patrol person appeared out of the forest and spoke with our guide. He motioned upward to the left. We all waited - frozen in our tracks. I estimate we were at 8,000 feet.

Our guide said the gorillas were up there and there were 14 in the Amaroto family (the name and spelling are probably way wrong because I am not looking at any note - it is all from memory).

We were told to put down any daypacks and prepare to go up there - single file. Seemed challenging - but ok.

So my 64 year old "fit" wife took up first in line and I hung back in the rear with only a guard behind me.

The slope was about 15 degrees steep and filld with sword ferns and bushes growing out of the hill. There were trees but not in great abundance. The sun was shining brihgtly and it was getting hot. The ground beneath me was slippery from all the vegatation underfoot as well as the rain forest we were in. As we pulled ourselvess up hand over hand - grabbing onto the vegetation to use as handles, I was feeling the strain. Step by step and handhold over handhold we steady and slowly climbed and there were steeper and a little less steep slopes. My wife and I had brought gardening gloves which proved to be perfect. You see, there are stickers and sharp fern edges and the raw hands do not do well. Others had a lot more trouble. Also unprotected legs for those wearing shorts was a disaster. But we all kept climbing for about 30 minutes. I thought my lungs would give out at 63 years old. I was about to call it quits due to out-of-breath exhaustion when the line stopped and a hand was raised by the front leader. We all climbed up to the same level and the guide said move single file slowly to the right on the hillside. Very slowly we made our way over to the right. After about 100 feet we found ourselves standing about 3 or 4 feet above a group of sleeping gorillas. They were complete content and not scared by us.

The silverback was a bit lower on the hill. He was sleeping on his back with a massive stomach. There were at least four females asleep in a reclining and/or sitting position. There were at least 6 babies scurrying all over the area. they were not sleeping. One ran up and over my wife's foot a couple of times. It was dramatic.

It seems the group always sleeps from 10 to 11am and we had arrived more than half way through. After about 10 to 15 minutes of watching this sleeping group just a few feet away (and lots and lots of photographs) - a female awoke and stared directly into my eyes for a very long time. Then the silverback woke and the group started to stir. They started to move on the mountain and our guide showed us how to follow and photograph. We watched them play, swing from trees, feed on vegetation, and tussle each other for about 45 minutes.

Almost as fast as it had started - it finished. Our guide motioned us to not follow any longer and we started back down the mountain to our gear. For some reason this was far easier.

We all assembled below in a clearing by the trail and each person was on a high. We compared our powerful visual experiences. Two Danes, one German, two Japanese, one other American, and us from Washington state.

The rest of the decscent was trance-like because we saw - but really we did not see much - on our downward trek. We kind of sauntered down on the path in a sort of semi-satiated state. We piled back in the autos and went back to ORPTN headquarters by 1pm, dropped them all off, and were back at the Gorilla Nest Lodge about 2pm. The drive back is a repeat of an hour on a rutted long dirt road for an our to the main highway and back to Kigali. That total trip is 2+ hours. The amin highway is beautiful and balcktoped. It would equal any road in the USA.

People in Rwanda werewalking along the roads everywhere. We passed a lot of corn planted on both sides of the road.
They told us Rwanda is the most heavily populate country in Africa. All during our visit people told us about the Tutu and Watusi bloodbath in the early 1990's. The stories were gruesome. The memories were powerful. The world turned a blind eye and nobody internationally intervened in the massacre.

Kigali was a disappointment. We did visit the Hotel Rwanda and found it was not anything like the movie version. Smaller and muc more in disrepair. Our booked hotel was supposed to be one of the best but it disappointing too.

we slept overnight and the evening meal was also poor at one of their better restaurant. The country is not really set up for tourist willing to pay for a visit. I do know that there are now newer hotels - but we had not know that until we returned home. I really had searched and searched.

The next morning was wasted because there was not much to see and then the plane flew us back to Nairobi in the early afternoon.

Plan to lose a day each side for the traveling. You cannot come in the same day you see the gorillas and you cannot fly out the same day your gorilla visit is done. There is simply no air flights that connect.

As for the actual experience.

The gorilal visit is powerful. We have trasveled to about 40 countries and this is one of the highest things we will ever do in our lifetime. It is worth any price because I think it will not be available in future years. All it takes is one incident and the event will be stopped. An illness or an uprovoked attack. Who knows what?

The price will rise and rise and eventaully they will charge $1,000 a person a visit for one day. So any price now is a bargain. The whole visit thing really only started in the late 1990's so it is fairly new as an eco-adventure trip.

You will probably not get to know anyone there during your visit. Others in the group are really on their trip, the guides do a trip a day, 7 days a week, and our guide - Chris _ was doing this for the last 8 years. The guides are wonderful and easy to talk to but tomorrow tey will forget you as they get a new group.

It probaly took over 20 people in the Rwandan gvernmetn to make our trip possible. several at headquarters, and our guide and his assistant. And then there are the many trackers that follow the group and virtually live on the mountain as security. So it is a large governemnt activity.

But do not miss it. We opted to miss the Vulcanes Lodge experience because of the high cost and the fact that they are much further away from the trek and we would lose valuable days in Africa.

The Brandt book from England can be bought on the web. It saved us and made the whole affair doable.

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