Gorilla Trek

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Oct 1st, 2005, 02:40 PM
  #1
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Gorilla Trek

I have become obsessed with this idea of gorilla trekking. I seemed to have spread it to my father and husband as well.

What is the difference in trekking between Rwanda and Uganda? Also, are there any luxury hotels in the area to stay at?

TIA
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Oct 1st, 2005, 02:53 PM
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I trekked in both Bwindi (Uganda) and Parc Nacional Volcans (Rwanda) on the same trip in August 2003, and the treks are similar (the hikes can be short or long depending on where the gorillas are, and the hike in Bwindi is thru rain forest, and in PNV was through a bamboo forest up the side of a volcano). PNV is much easier to reach by land, as its only two hours or so from Kigali, while Bwindi is much further from Kampala (we drove, but maybe you can fly into Bwindi, but I really like to see the country that I'm traveling in instead of just flying from place to place).

There are comfortable places to stay at both parks, but I wouldn't characterize them as luxury hotels. But, they are comfortable and all you really need.

If you absolutely need a 5-star hotel, you can stay at the Intercontinental in Kigali and leave very early for PNV, and return to Kigali after your trek. In my mind, that would be much too much traveling for one day to stay at an anonymous, international hotel. We stayed at Mountain Gorillas Nest and its fine, and only 10 minutes from the departure point.

I posted a trip report that you can find my searching for gorilla or clicking on my screen name and scrolling down (my trip was in Aug 2003 so the trip report may be buried by now).

Its a great trip.

Michael
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Oct 1st, 2005, 04:57 PM
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Obsessed? Me too. I keep going back.
But it is one of the most amazing travel experiences out there. At least I think so.

It appears the obsession is contagious and has spread to your other family members. The more the merrier.

Here is what I found have as to the differences in Uganda vs. Rwanda during the months of June-Aug (the only times I've been):

Accommodations:
Uganda's Bwindi does have what I think is a pretty luxurious tented camp--Gorilla Forest Camp. Beautiful tents/rooms on a forested hillside with long walkways between them. Delicious food and a very attentive staff. High end all the way.

I've also stayed at Mantana Camp in Bwindi that was also really nice with great food and staff.

What is nice about Bwindi is that either of these accommodations, as well as others, are right in the national park. To get to the ranger headquarters, where all treks start, it is a 5 minute walk.

In Parc National des Volcans in Rwanda the accommodations are from 15 minutes to an hour or more away from where you start trekking. I stayed at the same place as thit cho, Gorilla Nest. It is made up of nice enough stone huts in a circle on the grounds. There are fancier accommodations at the edge of the Gorilla Nest property too. A resident flock of crowned crane were a highlight for me at Gorilla Nest.

The Gorilla Nest restaurant was a bit quirky and required ordering in advance from a menu that was not quite accurate and then returning for food later. But the food was good. Maybe it runs smoother now. This was in 2004. A 15 minute drive through village roads is needed to get to the start of the gorilla treks at the ranger station.

There is also the the Virunga Lodge that had just opened when I was there and I took a tour but did not stay there. The tents looked very luxurious, and were on a beautiful hilltop location overlooking two lakes. But it is about an hour's drive to the ranger station at Parc National des Volcans.

Weather/climate:
Speaking from experience in only June-Aug, trekking in Bwindi was beastly hot and humid. At times the actual hiking was not enjoyable for me and a means to an end, albeit a very special end!

In Rwanda, I found the altitude kept the extreme heat and humidity away and the climate was most pleasant. I did not even sweat very much even though the difficulty of the Rwanda hikes was about the same as Uganda. I enjoyed the hikes in Rwanda due to the pleasant temperature.

Actual gorilla viewing experience:
There was never a bad viewing experience for me in either country. But I have to say that Bwindi's name of "The Impenetrable Forest" is there for a reason and it was harder to see gorillas in Bwindi than PNV. When I compare 10 visits in Uganda with 3 in Rwanda, my best photos are from the 3 Rwanda visits.

Bwindi allows a max of 6 visitors and PNV allows 8. On only 1 PNV trek did we have 8, and on the others it was 5 or 6 total.

The rangers and guides were of equal quality as far as I could tell in both parks.

In Bwindi we usually ate a packed lunch after viewing the gorillas. In PNV, lunch was usually at a restaurant after viewing the gorillas.

Accessibility:
Thit cho gave a good comparison. Many Rwanda itineraries allow about 3-4 days for the gorilla tracking. It was common for people to fly into Kigali (usually from Nairobi), leave the next morning at 4:15 am to arrive for their first gorilla trek. Then take a second gorilla trek the third day and either leave after that second trek or the next day.

I did not have any 4:15 departure and I wouldn't, but it was quite common.

You can charter a flight to Bwindi from the Entebbe airport. Otherwise it is about a 10 hour drive. I did not go straight to the gorillas on my Uganda trips. Instead I also visited Queen Elizabeth National Park with its amazing Kazinga Channel (constant hippo and birdlife action) and Kibale where you can see wild chimps. These stops allow a leisurely westward journey across Uganda and are very worthwhile stops.

I finally got my Kodakshare act together so you can compare the Bwindi and PNV photos.

Copy and paste the link below:
http://www.kodakgallery.com/I.jsp?c=...h&x=1&y=mykbxa

It is not too early to secure permits a year in advance since the supply is so limited.

Email me for a trip report if you like.
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Oct 1st, 2005, 05:56 PM
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Wow! Thanks! Can you tell me more about the chimps? Do the gorillas ever touch the visitors? You always see these programs with celebrities visiting gorillas and touching them.
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Oct 2nd, 2005, 05:40 AM
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While watching gorillas in Bwindi, a medium size female reached out and touched my leg while she passed. You are advised to stay a certain distance from the gorillas, but the gorillas are not given the same instruction.

We also stopped at Queen Elizabeth NP on the way from Kampala to Bwindi, and its a nice park (lots of lion, buffalo, all sorts of antelope and a nice boat ride to see lots of hippos). Chimps live in the park, and while we tried, we were unsuccessful.

We didn't visit Kibale, but I understand chimps are practically guaranteed in that park. On my next trip to Uganda, I will visit Kibale, but I'm currently researching a trip to Mahale in Tanzania to see chimps (from your other posts, you may be interested in this park since it does have very expensive, 5-star lodging).

Michael
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Oct 2nd, 2005, 05:46 AM
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Dr_Andrea, I topped my trip report for you.
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Oct 2nd, 2005, 06:23 AM
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Dr Andrea,
Iíll mention chimps in three Uganda locations that I have visited.

In Kibale, a dayís drive from Entebbe or a couple hour charter flight, there are the regular chimp walks but there was also the "habituation walk" where you stay out all day with the chimps. Ideally, someone has done the habituation walk the day before so the location of the chimps' nests from the night before is known. You leave very early and get to the nests before dawn to see the chimps getting up. Then you follow the chimps throughout the day, plus look for other monkeys, see butterflies, etc. At dusk you watch the chimps make their nests for the night, then leave the forest with a flashlight. That unfolding of events is in theory.

What actually happened to me was there was not a group that had left the chimps the night before so we spent until about noon trying to find the chimps and eventually located them. We did not see them wake up. We were with two troops off and on for the rest of the day, then stayed with one of the troops until evening when they made their nests in the trees. That was awesome to see.

The next morning we were able to find the chimps more easily because the guide knew where we had left them.

I did that in 2002 and since then, I believe the chimps have become more accustomed to people, enhancing the viewing experience.

I also saw chimps at Ngamba, a Jane Goodall Chimp Sanctuary on an island off of Entebbe in Lake Victoria. These have been rescued from poor captive situations or rescued from border or airport smuggling so these chimps are not truly wild, but they now live in a wild setting.

You can visit for a half day, whole day, or stay overnight. Depending on the speed of your boat, it takes 45 to 90 minutes to reach Ngamba from Entebbe.

In 2004 I did volunteer work at Ngamba, which is an option open to all, and got to feed the younger chimps bowls of fruit through the bars of their cages. They eat in their cages (where they come in to spend the night by choice but once in awhile a chimp decides to stay out on the island for the night) twice a day, and forage all day long if they wish on the island. Plus there are two outdoor feedings when guests arrive for viewing.

I also did walks in the forest with the young chimps and they would climb on my back, head, and want to be carried. When we reached a clearing in the forest they would climb trees or play with each other or with the people.

I was never allowed anywhere near the adult chimps. Only the experienced staff were.

In your question about touching the animals, the chimp walks with the babies would be the place. The walks serve the purpose of getting the little ones accustomed to the island and to leaving their enclosure. They are hesitant to venture out alone and prefer the security of people.

It is also possible to see chimps in Chambura (spellings vary) Gorge in Queen Elizabeth National Park. If you stay in the park, a visit to the chimps is easily arranged. I saw them in 1995 by trekking through the forest. There is a 45% of seeing them in Chambura, I've been told, much lower than Kibale.

The Kibale viewing was better, but also required several days and a long drive, whereas Chambura is easily accessible within Queen Elizabeth.

As far as touching the gorillas or any of the other primates, other than on the chimp walk in Ngamba, it is not allowed and could be dangerous. Not only dangerous to us, but the gorillas can contract our diseases so a distance of about 10 feet is kept at all times.

On one visit a young male did brush by the woman next to me and he touched her foot in passing. So it does happen but is not encouraged.

Once 4-year old juvenile gorilla wanted to play in the water with us and approached swinging moss. It was so tempting to join in the fun but the ranger moved us back away from the playful gorilla. She ended up just playing peek-a-boo through the moss.

Hey, I wonder if that would count as tool-using behavior? I just read that gorillas in Congo have been documented using sticks as tools!

I don't know about celebrities touching the gorillas. Maybe they are interacting with those in captivity or at Ngamba. The celebrity you saw wasn't Johnny Rotten, was it?

He was doing a documentary when I was at Ngamba and even assisted in surgery. True to his persona, he was very interested in the anal thermometer used to monitor the chimp patient's temperature. (I got to help in the Ngamba operating room too so that's how I know about the thermometer.)
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Oct 2nd, 2005, 06:47 AM
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I was thinking about Julia Roberts holding a baby gorilla. Wow! I just checked out Ngala. Its all very amazing. I also read thit's trip report. How did you become so interested in primates?
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Oct 2nd, 2005, 07:07 AM
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Greystoke Mahale seems really great. Now I am second guessing the safari I have planned. But I guess we should try the safari and then try something more adventurous. Not vice versa. Right?
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Oct 2nd, 2005, 10:51 AM
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Lynn, Great pics of the gorillas!!! Now I want to go gorilla trekking next year!
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Oct 2nd, 2005, 11:02 AM
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Dr Andrea,

As I recall your South Africa safari looked very good. You can see loads of game on Safari #1 then concentrate on primates (and game too) on Safari #2.

But if your further investigation into what is offered has made you change your mind, I see nothing wrong in changing your itinerary to reflect that. That's what research and this site is all about. Now if you have $ down that will be lost if you change your original plans, that adds a new wrinkle.

If you went to Mahale, you could combine it with the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti and have primates and fantastic game and even see the migration. Mahale is on my list too.

Thanks matnikstym! I'm sure you'll get to the gorillas.
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Oct 2nd, 2005, 12:20 PM
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hi, i did uganda in june. two gorilla treks. in the beginning of the trip. thats how i felt it should be. thinking it would be knocking the hell out of me. it pretty much did. mostly because i hardly get any sleep on safari and tusker beers haha.
lynn helped me with much info on this trip. gorillas were great. But, i also did 2 chimps trackings in kibali. that was awesome. i really enjoyed that. we hooked up with the chimp researchers the 2nd day. thats was cool. i also found out you can do a special visit there with the researchers. i would go back to do just that plan. to be honest if i had to pick one or the other. i would have to pick the chimp tracking option. but you have to do both at least the first time. queen eliz park, beautiful place for sure. but, i wouldn't go back there again. i would even pass it up. not crazy about the boat ride either. too many people in the way. it is possible you may not have anything along the shore to see.we did though, still was just ok. the next group was going to find nothing. all was gone on our way back.
spend the time someplace else.
even if you don't see the chimps. you can here them, sounds like thousands of them. awesome!! they way the bang the hell out of those tree roots. can't remember the name of that tree.
not sure if this helps. just my 2cents worth.
cheers, david
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Oct 2nd, 2005, 12:43 PM
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Dr. Andrea,
If I had deep pockets and enough vacation time, I'd certainly try to do it all. Why not?

But perhaps I'm just a little greedy...

Enjoy your safari!
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Oct 2nd, 2005, 02:33 PM
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Safaris become very addictive, and while I thought I would go on several in my life, I didn't realize it would become an almost annual event.

August 1999 (first safari) -- Masai Mara and Amboseli (Kenya) and Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti (Tanzania)

June 2000 -- Kruger and Sabi Sands (South Africa) [I had free tix from BA to anywhere they flew, so in June I flew to Johannesbury, and then in November to Ghana)

August 2001 -- Okavango, Linyanti and Chobe (Botswana), Victoria Falls (Zim), South Luangwa (Zambia) and Lake Malawi

August 2002 -- Mkhaya (Swaziland -- great for rhinos) and Etosha (Namibia)

August 2003 -- Queen Elizabeth and Bwindi (Uganda), Parc Nacional Volcans (Rwanda) and Samburu (Kenya)

December 2003 -- I wanted to get back on safari, but we went to Galapagos instead

2004 -- no safaris

May 2005 -- Madagascar

July 2006 -- planned trip to Hluhluwe and Kgalagadi (South Africa)

December 2006 -- I'm currently debating going to Antarctica or Tanzania (Mahale, Katavi and Selous)

There's so much to see, and I prefer to visit different parks, rather than repeat, but I do intend to get back to the Masai Mara, maybe August 2006, but that's less than 50/50. I am thinking instead of visiting St. Petersburg (where I have never been) and Moscow (where I have been several times, but all on business and not since 1997) in August 2006. There's just too much to see.

Michael
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Oct 2nd, 2005, 06:45 PM
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Thanks for all the responses. This is all so fascinating. I spoke with my sister and dad tonight who gave me the go ahead to do some more research. Perhaps, we will plan a trip for the summer or January 2007. How are the prices for Uganda for two days of gorilla trekking and Greystroke in Mahale for the chimps?
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Oct 2nd, 2005, 08:21 PM
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I think the gorilla permits are around $350 or so, but they may be a bit more, not counting transport and lodging. Mahale is very pricey. They are about two of the most expensive wildlife encounters in Africa. I have only done the gorilla trek, so far, but its worth it.
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Oct 12th, 2005, 09:03 PM
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How hard is it to see the chimps?
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Oct 13th, 2005, 06:24 AM
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I heard chimps in the gorge at Queen Elizabeth, but didn't see them. But I understand Kibale has a very high success rate.
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Oct 13th, 2005, 04:47 PM
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536547869

To play odds-maker,

Ngamba, A Jane Goodall Chimp sanctuary on an island off of Entebbe, Uganda--though they're not wild, but live on a large island refuge, it is as close to 100% as can be.

Chambura Gorge in Queen Elizabeth Nat Park in Uganda--I have been told a 45% chance. I saw them on my one visit and my friends saw them on their one visit the next day.

Kibale in Uganda--Very good odds and getting better all the time as the troops become more habituated to people.
Photo ops were only fair when I was there but the viewing was wonderful. Numerous chimps in trees, running on the ground, even observed tool use with a stick used to cut figs from branches.

Mahale in Tanzania--Never been, but this is supposed to be THE PLACE to see chimps. I did read a travel article where the author was there for 2 days and missed them. I think that's rare, though.

Sweetwater in Kenya, another refuge where the chimps are not truly wild--near 100% odds, I believe, but have not been.

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Oct 13th, 2005, 06:16 PM
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Are there chimp parks that are famous in Rwanda?
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