Rwanda or Uganda

Jul 31st, 2019, 05:25 AM
  #1  
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Rwanda or Uganda

Hello old and new travel buddies,
I have a travel goal of looking into the eyes of a gorilla for my big a$$ birthday next year. I've just started research so I'm looking for any guidance you have. Thus far, I've contact a few safari companies to get some numbers, have read a few reports and past oldish threads here. My question - from your experience is the viewing and logistics of Uganda as good as Rwanda. We don't need chi chi digs but do want comfort, good views and don't want unnecessary schlepping to get from one location to another.
How far ahead do I need to book? Is September a good month to go or does it matter? Lastly, have any of you viewed the chimps - how was the experience? Please recommend any book or links that you think will help me research.
Gracias
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Jul 31st, 2019, 08:40 AM
  #2  
 
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I only went to Rwanda and chose it because (a) the treks were reported to be somewhat easier, and (b) the drive from Kigali to the park was much shorter (2.5-3 hours if I recall), so a short trip (3 mights at the park for two gorilla treks and one monkey trek the day we departed) added on to a Tanzania safari worked out. Note, my understanding is that the altitude of the Uganda treks is a bit lower. Note, our trip was before the price of the Rwanda permits increased. We loved the experience and were lucky to have two very easy treks well under an hour each way (those who asked for "moderate" worked harder/longer). I will say it is an incredible experience that I highly recommend if one's circumstances allow.

Our trip was in February, so I can't speak to September, but I believe that is the dry season. I read somewhere that the gorillas go deeper into the forest making the treks longer in the dry season, but who knows if that is true.

Best of luck. Sure it will be a memorable trip of a lifetime whichever you choose.
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Jul 31st, 2019, 09:13 AM
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I did two treks two years ago, February 2017, one in Uganda and one in Rwanda. I did another one this month in Uganda again. Of the three hikes Rwanda was still the easiest but it is the luck of the family you get for sure. The first one in Uganda was in thick bush so you could see them one at a time but not all together in a clearing. It was still exciting. The second one in Rwanda was a much easier hike and they were much more exposed and could see a few together.
This last one we did was the hardest for me physically, but I have had some health challenges, most managed better than I did. But the sighting was in a cleared area and the best of the three hikes and close to the top of the mountain.

I booked all three a year in advance. I wanted Buhoma the first time in Uganda but the company screwed up and didnt get it, but this month I did and stayed at Haven Lodge both times which was community run, very nice and a 5 minute drive to the site.
I think September should be fine to visit.

We flew in and out of Kigali because it is much closer than flying into Entebbe if all you are doing is the gorillas. Hiking in Rwanda would be the closest to the airport, but since they upped the price to $1500 we went for Uganda. Ruhija in Uganda is closer to the border. We hiked there the first time

As for the chimps we did that the first time too and I did not find it great. We had to go to a different area for some reason but I spent a lot of time trying to chase them through the unforgiving jungle, they are fast, and then when we did see them they were high up in the trees. I think others have had a better experience.
If you want to see my blog it is
https://debbeanddougstravels.travellerspoint.com/101/ this is the last one in July

https://debbeanddougstravels.travellerspoint.com/53/ this is the safari in Uganda and both gorilla treks near the end of the blog. There is s video at the end of this one

Last edited by live42day; Jul 31st, 2019 at 09:20 AM.
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Jul 31st, 2019, 10:22 AM
  #4  
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Thank you for your response. Your trip sounds wonderful. We're in pretty good shape but I do have a tricky knee so your luck sounds appealing. How was your monkey trip?
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Jul 31st, 2019, 10:27 AM
  #5  
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Excellent info. Thank you. I'm curious about your appeal to Buhoma. Also curious if you noticed a marked difference in geography, beauty and culture between one country and the other.
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Jul 31st, 2019, 11:28 AM
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I trekked in Rwanda in 2017. We did two gorilla treks and the golden monkey trek. I think we booked in July for February. I used Treks2Rwanda because I'd used their sister company for Tanzania and loved the experience. At the time, pricing was half what it is now.

I got proposed itineraries from about 9 different safari planners for this, some in Uganda and some in Rwanda. Ultimately I went with Rwanda for a few reasons: logistics getting there from where we flew in were easier, I really wanted to see Kigali and I'd heard the treks were easier there.

It was a scenic 2 hour drive from Kigali to Volcanoes NP, uphill the way there and downhill going back. We were able to hike on our last day and drive back to Kigali after the trek so we could leave Kigali for Nairobi first thing the next morning (or even very late day if there was a flight after dinnertime).

The other thing I learned researching this trip is about the gorilla and chimp habituation experiences (GEX and CHEX as they're sometimes called). These are only available in Uganda and are extended stays with either gorillas or chimps (not the one hour the usual trek is). The reason for this is that they are exposing the gorillas or chimps to people. You are the guinea pig. To that end, they are not as used to you being there and you may not have the same calmer, closer, more relatable experience as with a fully habituated group. I now know 5 people who have done it and all said the same thing, they spent more time trying to chase and keep up with the group than viewing them the way the regular group does. Something to think about if you are offered that. I think it'd be neat to be part of the experience, but knowing how good my one hour treks with them were, I wouldn't swap those out for more but less quality time with them.

Safaritalk.net has trip reports from both Uganda and Rwanda that you can read without a login. I'd look there for more in-depth reviews and photos to help you decide. My trip report is on here at this link

One thing I noticed with some of the itineraries in Uganda is that we'd be staying in one place and have to drive up to 2 hours in the early morning before the trek. That made no sense to me, so I suggest you clarify that where you're staying is near where you're trekking to avoid that. In Rwanda, we were staying less than 15 minutes from the main ranger station where all assignments for gorilla groups and golden monkey groups are given out. In some cases, you start hiking right there, in others you drive 10 minutes or so to another trailhead. All very convenient, especially at the end of the day when you really just want a shower and a meal and are back at your lodge in a matter of minutes.

As I've not done a trek in Uganda, I can't speak to the differences in difficulty, but I will say it's all relative. We did three treks in a row, the golden monkeys first (mostly flat but uneven terrain) and then two gorilla treks. The ranger took pity on us on our third day and got us an "easy" group but I think our second day was easier. It's not just the incline but the amount of mud on the trails. The last day was by far muddier but not as steep, but it took longer. So bear that in mind. We were fortunate in that we got two different groups of gorillas, one in a bamboo forest and another in open scrub brush, so different interactions and different lighting. Also the second group was far more active and interesting. I always recommend trying to do two if you can afford it. I'd also recommend not doing trekking three days in a row. I consider myself extremely fit (and I trained for this trip) and that third day was a killer.

Last edited by amyb; Jul 31st, 2019 at 11:30 AM.
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Jul 31st, 2019, 01:32 PM
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As Amy said find out where you are trekking first and then book accommodation. That is one reason I was so upset about not getting Buhoma the first time as that is where we were staying and had to get up extra early and endure the drive on a bumpy road for almost two hours before we even started our trek. We found that in July it was far less muddy than Feb. Although it did rain hard during the day around 4PM but only for about an hour. I also concur with Amy about not doing three hikes in a row. A day in between is much better.

As for beauty and culture, Rwanda is so much smaller than Uganda but both countries are absolutely beautiful. Very green with terraced mountainsides. Tea plantations. Rwanda, the part that we saw anyhow, seemed cleaner, more manicured and better roads than Uganda, but we didn't explore much other than the border to the airport and the gorillas. We found the people in both counties very friendly and lovely.
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Jul 31st, 2019, 03:16 PM
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Rwanda is immaculate as well as beautiful. The last Saturday of every month is mandatory “clean-up day” and everyone is required to spend 4 hours outside cleaning up everything. I found that made people less likely to drop trash and I even saw a lot of people picking up things they themselves hadn’t dropped. They also do car-free days routinely too. It is striking and you can see what a difference it makes.
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Aug 1st, 2019, 09:17 AM
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Itís been. About 15 years now, but I saw the gorillas in Rwanda while doing some volunteer work there. The drive from Kigali to Ruhengeri was about 2 hours as I recall, over a well maintained road. At that time visitors met at the ORTPN headquarters in Ruhengeri, where we were divided up into groups and had some say in which gorilla family we wanted to see.

I, and a South African friend chose the Susa group, which at that time was the largest with 35 gorillas. It was also the most difficult trek, which I had some misgivings about, as I was just shy of my 60th birthday and had a history of heart problems. I was in fairly good shape, though, so decided to give it a try.

To make a long story short, we reached the park boundary after 2 hours of uphill walking through farmerís fields, and had a rest before proceeding into the forest. While sitting there we could hear the gorillas vocalising nearby. Luckily the group was just inside the boundary, so after another 30 minutes we were surrounded by gorillas. They happened to be in an open space, so the viewing was very good. The rangers kept us at the mandatory distance, but the gorillas didnít know that as they were foraging and slowly moving along. At one point I had to step aside for the senior silverback to move past me.

More recently my daughter and son-in-law chose Uganda, partly because the fees were lower and partly because they wanted to see both gorillas and chimps. It took longer for them to reach the gorillas in Bwindi, and visibility wasnít as good, but they enjoyed the experience. They were very lucky with the chimp trek, and my daughter said she enjoyed that more than the gorillas.

Last edited by Heimdall; Aug 1st, 2019 at 09:19 AM.
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Aug 2nd, 2019, 05:19 AM
  #10  
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Thank you so much for your informative response. I think you've now explained why some would choose to take a more difficult trek to see the gorillas. In my case, I don't feel the need to physically punish myself... but if there's a primo reward at the end of the stick I'm there.
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Aug 2nd, 2019, 07:37 AM
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Some gorilla families in Volcanoes NP in Rwanda are very easy to reach, maybe only about 30 minutes from park HQ. I believe there are now 10 habituated gorilla groups in Rwanda, and sightings are almost guaranteed. The Susa group, which I saw, has now divided into two. Trackers locate the groups early in the morning, and guide the rangers and visitors by radio to the location. You might find this link helpful:
https://www.volcanoesnationalparkrwa...la-groups.html
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Aug 2nd, 2019, 07:44 AM
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By the way, the photo in the above link is very much like what I saw when visiting Susa Group.
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Aug 2nd, 2019, 09:20 AM
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Originally Posted by cybor View Post
Thank you so much for your informative response. I think you've now explained why some would choose to take a more difficult trek to see the gorillas. In my case, I don't feel the need to physically punish myself... but if there's a primo reward at the end of the stick I'm there.
Like anything else that Mother Nature plays a hand in, there are no guarantees. One of the groups we trekked for was moving while we were moving toward it. The ranger had to keep getting location checks from the trackers and readjusting our course. What started out as "just under an hour" to the gorillas ended up being 75 minutes. But I've also heard stories where the treks end up being 2-3 hours each way because the gorillas the group is assigned to move quickly. You just don't know. But what I can absolutely guarantee is if you do make it to them, it is life changing. As others have said, we humans have to respect the 3 meter rule, but the gorillas don't. I was brushed past a few times by gorillas when I couldn't get out of their way fast enough. To be that close to such a wild, powerful close relative is awesome (in the full of awe way, not the totally awesome way!)
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Aug 3rd, 2019, 05:11 AM
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Again. This is exactly the type of invaluable info that I'm looking for. Thanks for the link
I sure wish that the fees in Rwanda weren't so high. Does anyone know if you don't have an encounter or the one you have isn't so great if you can get a second permit for a day or two out? Perhaps it's wishful thinking that they may have a couple permits not spoken for that you can get while there if needed... or if you can get 2 permits ahead and transfer the second one to another party if interest.

Last edited by cybor; Aug 3rd, 2019 at 05:17 AM.
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Aug 3rd, 2019, 08:31 AM
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Cybor, there are no guarantees of course with anything having to do with Mother Nature, but I’ve yet to encounter someone who has done the hike and not seen gorillas. The way they track them makes that almost impossible. (The trackers stay with them until they nest for the night, then go back to the nest area before dawn the next day and radio back to the trekking groups the location and updates as it changes.) Getting a do-over the next day is probably unlikely because the limited number of licenses do sell out well ahead of time. But I definitely know you don’t get a free repeat if you think your encounter wasn’t good. I’ll admit, you really won’t know how “good” your experience was until you do more than one. I was over the moon with both of mine, but really thought the second one was a lot better (more active group doing more interesting things, very close encounters, a couple of babies).
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Aug 3rd, 2019, 09:00 AM
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I suppose it would be possible to get a permit for a second day (at full cost), but as amyb wrote permits sell out well in advance these days. When I was there in the early 2000s it would have been much easier to get a permit on the spot, and I could have had I not needed to get back to Kigali the next day for a flight back to Nairobi. You could also check to see if there are places available for a visit to Dian Fossey's old HQ at the Karisoke Research Center.

My choice of the Susa Group was vindicated by the sheer number of gorillas I saw that day, but it could have been very different had the group moved further from the park boundary. At that time the road ended quite far from the Mt Karisimbi park boundary, and the most time consuming part of the trek was up the slope through farmer's fields. It may be that access has been improved since then, but I don't know.
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Aug 4th, 2019, 05:30 AM
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I suppose at this time I'm hoping to find some comparison data on the difference between the geography, jungle density, amounts of gorillas etc to help me decide between the 2 countries. Is anyone familiar with this type of info?
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Aug 4th, 2019, 07:32 AM
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You could probably find the gorilla group info online; I had the link for the Rwanda groups at the time and looked our group up when we were assigned to them. Speaking for geography and jungle density in Rwanda, I can attest that I had two entirely different environments. One was very dense low bushes with no tracks to walk on in hot sun, the other was a dark, damp bamboo forest where it was much easier for us to move around but a bit more challenge for photos. (If you look at my trip report, you’ll see the difference between the two treks) I’m not sure what difference it’ll make though. If you request a particular group, you’ll go wherever they are regardless of terrain. If you just take the group that’s dealt to you (based on your preference for how difficult a trek you can handle, which is what they usually do when assigning a group) then you’ll go to whatever terrain that group is in.
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Aug 5th, 2019, 04:27 AM
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Thank you. I did find a bit of info regarding the numbers of gorillas. Some of it's good, some outdated etc. I'm still tossing the pro and cons on whether it's worth going to Rwanda or Uganda... or both... or even a side trip to Congo. Thus, the question about terrain comparisons (visibility) and gorilla density and habitation. In any event, I'm enjoying researching Africa again.It's been too long.
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