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Thoughts on our potential Ethiopia/Uganda/Rwanda Itinerary?

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Feb 13th, 2006, 05:45 PM
  #1
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Thoughts on our potential Ethiopia/Uganda/Rwanda Itinerary?

My wife and I are in the final stages of planning our second trip to Africa. Our first time (Sept. 2003), we did a luxury camping safari in Botswana, followed by almost a week in Cape Town with Selwyn. Now, we're contemplating one that I regard as far more daring. However, our plans aren't yet final, so I thought I would put our proposed itinerary out for comment.

Our planned departure date is December 23, arriving in Addis Ababa December 24. After staying one night at the Addis Sheraton, we fly to Bahar Dar to tour the island monasteries on Lake Tana, then head to the Blue Nile Falls. After an overnight at the Tana Hotel, we fly to Gonder to see the various castles and palaces there. Following that, we fly to Lalibela for 2 days to thoroughly tour the various rock-hewn churches there. From there, it's off to Axum to see the stelae field and other monuments there. Then we return to Addis Ababa and prepare for phase 2 of the trip.

From Addis, we'd fly to Entebbe on New Year's Eve and head out to Ngamba Island on Lake Victoria to ring in the new year with the chimps, including the forest walk with the baby chimps. The next day, we'd fly to Kigali and have a bit of free time to tour the city.

Following that, we would do the 8-day Volcanoes gorilla-trekking trip that does 2 gorilla treks in PNV, one in either Mgahinga or Nkuringo, and one in Bwindi. After returning to Kigali, we'd return home via Addis Ababa, probably quite tired!

We've been wanting to go gorilla trekking for years, and now we believe that Rwanda and Uganda are sufficiently safe to allow us to visit PNV/Mgahinga/Bwindi with confidence. The Ethiopia part was an add-on, but one that I think will be enchanting and unique.

Any thoughts from the Fodorite community on our plans? We'll probably make our final decisions later this week.

Thanks!
Chris
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Feb 14th, 2006, 05:59 AM
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That, in my book, is an A+ trip.
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Feb 14th, 2006, 06:50 AM
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Chris -
Your trip sounds great! I have a suggestion on the Ngamba Island portion. (I was in Uganda about two weeks ago, but have not yet gotten around to posting a trip report.) I would really consider doing two chimp walks - you can do one at night after the evening feeding, and one early the next morning. The youngest chimps are now four years old - still absolutely delightful and one of the highlights of my trip, but they are all old enough now that they generally run off and play as soon as you get in the forest. Thus, when I told Stany - the head caregiver on the island - after I arrived that I wanted to do two chimp walks, he suggested that we do the first one just sort of hanging out in the enclosed area where the juvenile chimps are during the day rather than walking through the forest. This means that you get a LOT of one-on-one time with about seven chimps since they aren't all off climbing trees (they will all want to sit in your lap at the same time, will be climbing all over you, grooming you and just wanting to play...so much fun...the second I walked into the area where they were I had one jump up on me and give me a hug) I'm not sure I'd specifically ask the Director, Lily, about structuring it this way, as (and I could be wrong) I didn't get the sense she would necessarly be on board with any deviation from the actual chimp walk. I got the impression that Stany usually does the forest walks this way for people that sign up for two - so I assume he'd suggest this or you could just ask him when you got there. The actual walk the next morning through the forest was great also, and Nakku, my favorite, never left my side, but it really didn't compare w/the time w/the chimps the previous evening since most of the chimps were off playing.

Also, I think the tracking in Mgahinga has been suspended since the gorillas have moved over to Rwanda but who knows a year from now. I did the Nkuringo group in Bwindi - I would really really push Vocanoes to get you permits for one of the groups starting from Buhoma, as you have an hour and a half drive in the morning from Kisoro (where you stay if tracking Nkuringo group) to the Nkuringo office. (After an 11 hour drive the day before, we certainly would have preferred to not hop in the car again for another drive...) Regardless, although the extra drive was a teeny bit of pain - it certainly didn't diminish the experience. (We were told initially we'd be in Buhoma but they did not get our permits in time.)
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Feb 14th, 2006, 07:44 AM
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I visited Rwanda and Uganda in August 2003, also with Volcanoes Safaris, and their services were excellent. I constructed a custom tour taking me to Queen Elizabeth NP for safari and gorilla treks in Bwindi and PNV. My only comment on your itinerary is that four treks is a lot, but its a matter of personal preference.

I have long wanted to visit Ethiopia and I have done a lot of research about the northern loop, and from what I understand planes fill quickly, so you may want to secure those intra-Ethiopia flights as soon as possible.

Michael
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Feb 14th, 2006, 07:50 AM
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Maxwell,
Thanks for that advice. Seems like with respect to Ngamba Island it will be something we need to deal with on arrival rather than in advance -- all of the Island's literature seems to suggest they are not flexible on any element of those forest walks! So for now we will concentrate on getting all the vaccinations, etc.

With regard to Bwindi/Mgahinga, my understanding from Volcanoes is that our itinerary includes one definite day trekking from Buhoma already. But there is an additional day that starts from their property at Mt. Gahinga. If the Mgahinga gorilla group is over the border (as they currently are), they instead take you to the single habituated family in southern Bwindi (Nkuringo). So I believe we will have permits for both one of the Buhoma groups (which should be available now, since we are booking well in advance), as well as either the Mgahinga or Nkuringo group (which permits are not available until much closer to our departure time).
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Feb 14th, 2006, 07:55 AM
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Michael --
Thanks for the advice. The primary reason we wanted to do four gorilla treks was to ensure we got maximum opportunities for good expereinces, good weather, and good pictures. We have learned from past wildlife-oriented trips that wild animals can't be counted on to cooperate. Although the gorillas are relatively more cooperative because they don't move around all that much, we could still experience adverse weather or adverse photography conditions during the 1 hour permitted for each interaction. That's why we decided to do four days.
Our Ethiopia tour includes all our intra-country flights, so I assume all those reservations will be made, but your comments makes it clear that I will need to verify that rather than simply assuming it. I had thought Ethiopia was not a heavily-visited destination, so I was not anticipating full planes for those flights. Thanks for that intelligence.
Chris
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Feb 14th, 2006, 08:17 AM
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Kind of wonder about the Blue Nile Falls. Heard there was a hydro electric plant diverting water and there was not much to be seen at the falls now. I was there in '96 and it was worth the trip then. You should well enjoy your trip to Ethiopia. One part that you are missing is going to the Omo River/Mago Park area. Lots of interesting different tribes in the vicinity.
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Feb 14th, 2006, 08:27 AM
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I actually had the same question about the Blue Nile Falls after reading about the hydroelectric dam in my Bradt guide. Since this is a private tour, we may end up blowing off the falls if the dam is interfering with the water flow at the time of our visit.
Visiting the Omo River area and tribes was something we had the option to do, but it would have meant skipping most or all of the northern historic route cities, and so we had to make a hard decision driven by limited time. Perhaps we can visit that area on a subsequent trip.
Chris
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Feb 14th, 2006, 08:54 AM
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Chris-

I too live in Atlanta and my wife and I be taking my first safari in August to visit Uganda and Kenya. Here's a suggestion about the uncertain Mgahinga/Nkuringo gorilla trek. Why not do a different activity that day? We will be tracking the golden monkey in Mgahinga on our trip. The cost in Uganda is 1/5 that of PNV ($20 vs $100). You would still have three gorilla treks, but you'd add a new experience, remove the uncertain and last minute nature of the gorillas, and save almost $700. Just a suggestion.

-Matt
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Feb 14th, 2006, 09:16 AM
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Matt,
First off, I hope your August trip goes great! Be sure to take some good pictures and then submit them to the AJC's annual travel photo contest, which will come around in November.
The golden monkey tracking sounds very interesting to me, so that is definitely an option. I believe we may have the opportunity to do that on a non-gorilla-tracking day in our itinerary, although I don't remember if it is in PNV or Mgahinga.
Please be sure to post your trip report after you get back from Uganda and Kenya later this year. We will be eager to hear about your experiences!
Chris

And thanks again to everyone for all the comments so far. I now have a running list of questions to ask our travel providers to make sure all of these details are taken care of.
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Feb 14th, 2006, 12:46 PM
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Great trip. I'd push for Bwindi for the Uganda gorilla tracking. Better odds since the gorillas there are not as likely to head to Congo. All my Bwindi gorilla treks were successful. Never been to Mgahinga, though. The golden monkeys were a delight in Rwanda. No need for binocs, they were low enough in the trees.

I agree that the non-forest interaction with the chimps is a good idea, along with the forest walk. One of my interactions had to be non-forest because some of the adult chimps would not come in from the forest. It was too dangerous to go out there with the adults, so we had playtime on the grounds that turned out excellent.

Would you mind sharing who your operator is? Either here or you can email me personally.

Please post a report! Have fun.
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Feb 14th, 2006, 01:13 PM
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I've sent you an email, but the short answer is that our current choice of operator for the Uganda/Rwanda part of the trip is Volcanoes Safaris. Our research, including looking at postings on this forum, suggests that they are reliable, trustworthy, and provide excellent service.
Chris
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Feb 23rd, 2006, 10:30 AM
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Chris -
Who are you working with for the Ethiopian leg of your trip or did you book all your intra-country flights yourself through ethiopian air?
I'm trying start planning more than a month or two in advance like I normally do.
thx for any info -
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Feb 23rd, 2006, 01:48 PM
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We are booking it through our travel agent, African Horizons. This far in advance, it's difficult to get Ethiopian Air to commit to schedules, etc., but if you're planning something sooner than the end of the year, you might have better luck.
Chris
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