Gorilla Safaris

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May 31st, 2005, 11:05 AM
  #1
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Gorilla Safaris

I have been doing some research into Gorilla trekking and have come across some great trip reports here. Now I have some questions. We know we want to do at least two gorilla treks.
If you had to choose between Rwanda & Uganda which would it be and why?
We are planning on going Sept 2006 any comments on this time of year being good or bad?
I have come across references to Great Lakes Safaris and Volcanoes Safaris, any other companies you would suggest?

Thanks in advance for any info or comments.

J
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May 31st, 2005, 02:41 PM
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Here's another company you can contact - www.magic-safaris.com

I haven't used them, but I've read some positive comments about them (I think it was on this board). When I was researching gorilla treks, they were pretty quick in providing information and prices. They're based in Uganda and offer treks in both Uganda and Rwanda. Their website also has a brief comparison of the two regions.
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May 31st, 2005, 03:01 PM
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hi, i am going with great lakes this coming weekend. i was going to go to rwanda this yr. with magic safaris.
one problem. they refused to give me any clients ref. e-mails for example.
i even asked them to e-mail them for me
giving them my e-mail address.
expecting to hear from a few clients.
still no luck.they would not do it. even though i have been in touch with them for some time.
i had to decide against magic.
had to go with my gut feeling.
now great lakes. total opposite.
i even have a good friend here in the states because of that ref.
i'll let you know how it goes at the end of june.
david
ps. if you need to get in touch with me.
use this address:
[email protected]


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May 31st, 2005, 04:22 PM
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Bon voyage Dave and Happy Planning Jules39.

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 safe. Never been there, but believe it would be a great place to visit.

September should be a good month. Still pretty dry.

You could visit both Uganda and Rwanda gorillas, which is what I did last year. I had a road transfer from Uganda to Rwanda.

I used Origins Safaris for Rwanda Their Rwanda operation is called Primate Safaris, but everything is listed on the Internet under Origins. I had used them several times in Kenya/Tanzania. I used Mantana Safaris in Uganda.

http://www.originsafaris.info/index.html

Have a wonderful trip! Email if you wish.
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May 31st, 2005, 04:48 PM
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David,
Have a great trip. Looking forward to your report!
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Jun 1st, 2005, 09:36 AM
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Thank you all so much for your comments. David I will be looking forward to hearing all about your trip when you return. Patty thanks for the other link. atravelynn thanks so much for all your comments they are very very helpful. Yes the gorillas are the main focus of the visit to that region. We will also be spending time elsewhere in East Africa and wanted to add a gorilla trip to that.

Thanks again

J
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Jun 1st, 2005, 07:22 PM
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I agree with previous posts, tracking gorillas in Rwanda is the much more rewarding experience. For one, getting to Parc National des Volcans is only about a 2 1/2 hour drive from Kigali. In Uganda, the drive from Entebbe or Kampala to Bwindi is about 7 hours, and even longer to Mgahinga. Bwindi is the most difficult terrain (steep) to track in, and because of the lower elevation, hotter and humid. In both Bwindi and Mgahinga there is a LOT of underbrush, making observing the gorillas a bit of a challenge and photography tricky (black objects in a dark, shady area. (You are not allowed to use flash photography!). In Mgahinga there is the additional challenge that the only habituated gorilla group sometimes moves into DRC, and then they are off limit. I did enjoy my track there mostly because the silverback was climbing pretty high up into a tree, while two youngsters rough-housed right in front of us. By far the best tracking is in Rwanda. For one, the gorillas have been habituated a lot longer, most guides don't tell you to back up if you are not the legal distance from them. As a matter of fact, I have been touched by a blackback (about 8-year old gorilla)and though our guide made us sit down, the silverback passed within a foot of us more than once. However, if you have the slightest cold, caugh or other illness, you are NOT allowed to track, not in Uganda, not in Rwanda to prevent transmitting to the gorillas! In Rwanda, depending on the group you are assigned to track, you may hike for no more than an hour to get to the gorilla group, spend an hour with the gorillas, and then hiking back for an hour. Of course, with animals there is always the exception. Insist to take a box lunch with you, just in case. The Susa group is the longest hike, but not strenous at all - through a beautiful bamboo forest. But the reward is phenomenal. With, I think, 36 family members, it is the biggest group, and has THREE silverbacks. For accommodation, I highly recommend Volcanoes Virunga Lodge. It is charming, and commands the BEST view anywhere in Rwanda. When I stayed at Gorilla Nest, not one of the three nights there did we have hot water. And from what I hear, mine was not an isolated incident. After tracking, you really do crave a hot shower! I too, loved tracking the golden monkeys. If you have three nights in PNV, you can track gorillas on two days, and track the golden monkeys the last morning before either heading to Uganda or back to Kigali. Nyungwe Forest is a fairly new National Park and scenically a treasure. You can track chimpanzees, colobus monkeys and other primates there. The hiking is strenuous, though. All trails start from the top rim, and descend quite steeply down, and then in the mid-day sun, you are climbing back up! Also, keep in mind chimpanzees are not as docile as the gorillas, live mostly in the trees, and will leave as soon as they are aware that you are there, unless they are at an abundant food source they are reluctant to vacate. I did enjoy tracking the Angolan black and white colobus monkeys - just as entertaining as the golden monkeys. Nyungwe Forest is said to be a birder's paradise, and though we heard many, we hardly saw any. The blue turaco is ever present, but it hardly sits on one branch for more than a few seconds. The hike down to the swamp was pretty. Lots of wildflowers and orchids, as well as any color butterfly you could imagine. Accommodation in the forest is at ORTPN and quite basic with shared bathroom, but comfortable. Currently the only alternate accommodation would be in Butare, an almost three hour drive away. Though visiting three genocide memorials was the most sobering experience in my life, I would suggest you do visit ONE. The one in Kigali is not as 'graphic' as the others I visited, and quite in good 'taste' (if there is such a thing). I made the deepest connection talking with survivors of the horrific event, and it gave me a much better understanding of the people. I would highly recommend combining Rwanda with Uganda. Uganda is by far my favorite destination in Africa. The people, the scenery, the wildlife... From PNV in Rwanda you can cross into Uganda, and arrive in Mgahinga in about 3 hours. The beautifully terraced hills between Mgahinga and Bwindi are nicknamed 'Switzerland of Africa', and are breathtakingly beautiful. Again, Volcanoes Mgahinga and Volcanoes Bwindi Lodges are small, staffed by Ugandans with the best smile in the whole world, eager to please, and both are within an easy 5 min. walk from the headquarters where you report for gorilla tracking. The Gorilla Forest Camp is within the Bwindi park boundaries, and very luxurious - the only place with a bathtub. (You'll understand after tracking gorillas at Bwindi!) Uganda can be a safari destination in its own right. Both Queen Elizabeth Park and Murchisan Falls National Parks have just about any animal you would find in Kenya and/or Tanzania; at least I think they have or are going to re-introduce rhino. The Ishasha sector of QE park is famous for its tree-climbing lions. You can easily spend two full days in QE (3 nights) and not get bored. I also think it is a crime to visit Uganda and NOT go to Murchisan Falls (3 nights). Make sure your tour includes a morning boat launch to the base of the Falls, and an afternoon drive and then walk to the top of the Falls. You could literally walk right into the gushing water - the sound is deafening and because you get almost too close for comfort, it has a much bigger impact than even Victoria Falls. Then do spend the next day game viewing in Murchison Falls NP. You will have a chance to see a shoebill storch, but definately huge herds of elephant and other plains game. The chimp tracking in Chiambura gorge (QE NP) and at Kibale Forest is definately better than at Nyungwe Forest in Rwanda, but if you want to be sure to be surrounded by chimps, visit Ngamba island, sort of a safe haven for orphaned chimps; you can do it in a day trip from Kampala or Entebbe. Uganda in general is the most progressive of all safari countries. Just about every village has 'central' water, electricity, schools, etc. and it is, as far as my account, the safest safari destination, is not as crowded in the parks, etc. You have to go and experience it for yourself.
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Jun 2nd, 2005, 11:34 AM
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Thank you very much Africaholic for so much great information.

J
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Jun 2nd, 2005, 12:11 PM
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I went with Volcanoes Safaris in August 2003, and they were excellent. I posted a trip report that you can find by clicking on my screen name. I did a circuit so that I could include Queen Elizabeth NP for a safari, and I wanted to trek in both countries, but having been, if I had to choose one, I would trek in Rwanda since the drive is so much shorter from Kigali to PNV than from Entebbe to Bwindi.

Unlike the other post, I like Gorillas Mountain Nest and had lots of hot water, and would stay there again.

Michael
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Jun 2nd, 2005, 12:14 PM
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Africaholic,

Can you tell us the month and year you were in Nyungwe and how many days you stayed in ORTPN? Are those initials or is that a town or is it a name of a camp?

Did you generally go out twice daily for primate searches in Nyungwe?

How many nights did you spend in Murchison Falls?

Thanks for all the information!
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Jun 2nd, 2005, 12:54 PM
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ORTPN stand for Office Rwandais du Tourisme et des Parcs Nationaux, so Africaholic may be referring to a park service run facility.
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Jun 3rd, 2005, 06:16 AM
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Thanks Patty and Africaholic, I'd love to learn more about your time in Nyungwe.
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Jun 3rd, 2005, 02:49 PM
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I stayed 3 nights in Nyungwe, giving me 2 full days to explore (March 2004). And as Patty correctly identified the ORTPN initials (thank you! - and sorry, I wasn't specific) it is the lodge that is government-run by the Rwanda Tourism & National Parks Authority in Nyungwe Forest.

Primate tracking is about the same as gorilla tracking, you take off early in the morning and hike as long as it takes to find them - you may be back by noon or 4 PM. Do pack a lunch, or at least bring power bars and a lot more water than you think you need. (For the chimp tracking, you leave even earlier - meeting at headquarters to pick up your guide by 6 AM because you try to get to the nests where the chimps spend the night - once they get up, they are moving and could cover great distances in a short period of time.)

It is possible to combine the swamp walk (morning) with the colobus monkeys in the afternoon, but you would not go back to the lodge for lunch.

I also stayed 3 nights at Murchison Falls (Aug. 2001), at the very intimate and charming Nile River Lodge overlooking the river. I would have loved another day! I believe there are now scheduled flights available from Murchison to Entebbe, an option one may want to look at if budget permits, as it is a very long drive - don't quite recall the exact hours, but it was an all-day.
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Jun 4th, 2005, 06:37 PM
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Thanks Africaholic! An Entebbe-Murchison Falls flight, if it is scheduled and not your own charter would be a great option.
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Jun 6th, 2005, 10:32 AM
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Thanks again everyone for the great input.
J
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Jun 8th, 2005, 02:25 AM
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wow. What great reports. I don't know if we'll be planning another trip to Africa in the very near future, but perhaps in a couple years. This sounds VERY intriguing! I'll keep an eye out for trip reports....
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Aug 30th, 2005, 06:20 PM
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You've gotten a lot of good information about the gorilla treks, so I'll be brief.

I have done gorilla tracking in Rwanda, Uganda (twice) and Zaire. Probably Rwanda and Uganda are comparable, although I am partial to Uganda. I've been to Uganda three times, the last in July 2004. I can highly recommend the guide we used all three times. His name is Cliff Kisitu - he speaks excellent English, is extremely competent and knowledgeable. His email address is [email protected]l.com He used to work at Volcanoes, but now is an independent guide. You might want to contact him to get prices. Remember to always negotiate. I also have his phone number some where if you are interested.
Gorilla permits in Uganda are sometimes booked many months in advance. When you book, you are assigned to a certain group. There is one group which is relatively easy to locate - the others take a longer time and require a very strenous hike. Cliff can secure the reservations for you, and you should specify the "easy" group if that's what you want. I would be hesitant to go to Bwindi without permits. There is another gorilla park in Uganda - called Mgahinga. It is cheaper and easier to get permits for. But I've heard that the gorillas - who seem to have no respect for national borders - often wander off into Rwanda, a border that the tourists can't cross over.

My personal e-mail is [email protected] Please copy in that e-mail with any reply

Lynda
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Aug 31st, 2005, 02:01 AM
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Will be in Rwanda next week. Has anybody hired a car, if so would appreciate if you could tell me where and how much it cost. Thanks.....shaymus
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