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Trip Report Uganda & Tanzania Trip Report

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I returned two weeks ago from a three week trip to Uganda and Tanzania which I can honestly say I could not have planned without the information that people so freely share on this forum. Because of the generous info on this site we asked the right questions, picked the right tour operator, packed the right stuff, went to the right places and had a trip that EXCEEDED our expectations (not an easy thing to do!)

I have launched a one person campaign to promote Uganda as a tourist destination! It offers amazing cultural and wildlife experiences with stellar personal service and lodging. If primates are of interest to you, Uganda is where you want to be. Playing with chimpanzees (yes, WITH chimpanzees) lounging with gorillas in the forest, and seeing authentic African culture (more so than in Tanz) are the gems of Uganda, in addition to the lions, hippos, elephants, giraffes et al that roam Uganda. Uganda needs tourists to justify the conservation of the areas where the primates live. If the chimps and gorillas are not worth more alive to tourists than they are to poachers, there is no reason to save the forests and protect their habitat from logging, farming and burning for charcoal. As the villagers experience economic gains from tourism, they take it upon THEMSELVES to protect the animals.

Rather than talk about how absolutely fantastic the animals were (and they were!) I've decided to share the information that I have not seen discussed on this forum. Sort of an 'insider's guide' with tips that I hope will be useful. My entire itinerary (including prices) is listed below. I'm happy to answer questions about specifics if necessary.

After conducting an insane amount of research that included the creation of spreadsheets for side-by-side comparisons, we decided to go with Good Earth Tours (GET) to book our entire trip. We settled on GET for the following reasons: 1- they have offices in both Africa and the USA, 2- they were very responsive to our e-mailed inquiries, 3- they give back to the African communities where they operate, 4- the price was right! GET subcontracted the Uganda part of the trip with Travelust, but we wanted one company to be responsible for us the whole time we were in Africa to avoid any problems in transferring from one to the other.

We were 110% satisfied with our trip and I believe that Narry Ernest with Good Earth Tours made that happen. We were high maintenance even before we booked the trip, and creating a custom itinerary for Uganda that included very specific requests wasn't easy. Through the entire process Narry got us the info we needed and I think that we spent exactly the right time at each location and the lodging was even better than we had expected. Without hesitation I can give Good Earth Tours my absolute highest recommendation.

Read every report you can from others that have used your company, determine who the best guides are, and specifically request (as early as possible) that they be scheduled for your tour. Narry got us the exact guides that we wanted. We were very pleased to have had some very serious conversations with both of our guides about social and political issues in Africa. Both were very candid and forthcoming with information, and shared their personal views, which made for some of the most interesting and thought provoking conversation I've had in quite a while. We appreciated their willingness to discuss the good, bad and ugly, and not just paint a pretty picture for the tourists.
In Uganda, we had Medi, who we think should be nominated as 'man of the year' in Uganda. He knew EVERYONE and was very highly regarded by all. It was clear that we were given unbelievably exceptional service at each location because we were with Medi. He was like an older brother, making sure that we were well cared for at every turn.
For Tanz we had Raphael, who was an absolute genius with regard to knowledge about EVERY animal we encountered. He has a fantastic sense of humor and he tailored our daily schedule around what we most wanted to see. I swear he has X-ray vision for spotting animals! Often we were the first group to spot an animal, with the other vehicles rushing to see what Raphael has found.

We booked on Expedia and when Northwest/KLM changed one leg by FIVE HOURS that messed-up some other plans that we had made. When I called NW/KLM to see if there were other flight options, one of the questions that my electronic 'new best friend' asked me was if I'd booked my ticket with NW/KLM. I swear, when you say 'no' your call is transferred to the bottom rung of the customer service ladder and you're treated like a second class citizen. I had no idea that there was such a snob factor against those who dare to book tickets anywhere but with the airline directly. In hindsight I would have called the airline armed with my laptop and asked them to match the fares that were showing on Expedia. Even if they didn't it might have been worth it to pay a little extra and book with the airline.

The week before I left for my trip everyone in my office was sick with hacking coughs, drippy sneezing noses and sore throats. Because I was scheduled to play with chimpanzees at Ngamba just after arriving in Africa (something that could not be done if I was sick) and also because I didn't want to start my trip out being sick, I worked from home that whole week. Actually, I think that I got more done than if I'd been in the office.

The airlines are VERY serious about the regulations for taking liquids in carry-on bags. I swear I think you could carry on a bazooka, but heaven help us if someone sneaks on mouthwash! Read the rules very carefully and follow them exactly. My friend had two items less than 3 oz in a zip lock bag which was the next size up from a quart bag. They were going to make her throw them away, even though it was MUCH less than others had crammed into quart sized bags, just because it was in the wrong sized bag. Luckily, I had packed several zip lock bags in various sizes and gave her one. It was ridiculous.

Some items that I packed and found very useful- A drawstring backpack, this was great for carrying my camera, sunscreen, bottled water, field guide etc. and took-up almost no room. A super absorbent yellow camping towel (they sort of look like felt.) After washing and ringing out my underpants and socks, I'd roll them in the towel, step on them to soak-up as much dampness as possible and then hang them all to dry on the handy elastic braided clothesline that we used ALL THE TIME. Also, make sure that your socks are a cotton synthetic blend. If they're all cotton or wool, they'll take forever to dry. Field Guide- I took Wildlife of East Africa by Withers and we had fun checking off the animals as we saw them with dates and locations. The only thing I would add is to tie a string around the spine and attach a pen, since we were always looking for the pen. A travel coffee mug which was great for brushing teeth with bottled water and then rinsing (also with bottled water) and then using for coffee or tea on those 6 am game drives. Bandana for wiping the buckets of sweat from my brow! This was in Uganda when we were doing some serious trekking (more on that later).

One final packing tip; take clothes/items that you are willing to give away. I gave away everything except for the clothes I wore on the plane, my safari vest and my $80 convertible pants. We gave most of our stuff to our guides, telling them that we needed the space in our backpacks for souvenirs' and asked if they (or their wives) could use the items or could find someone who could use them. They were very happy to have the stuff (especially my fleece hoodie and hiking boots) and it wasn't awkward at all. We also left items in our rooms for the cleaning staff, along with a note so that a) they'd know that we didn't just forget those things and b) so that they'd have something to prove that the items were indeed given to them if questioned.

I packed everything that I absolutely had to have in a hiker's back-pack and carried it on with a medium sized duffle (as my personal item). Because we didn't need the checked baggage allowance, we packed big suitcases with toys to give to an orphanage and checked them. Our bags got lost and although they eventually arrived in Uganda (we picked them up ten days later) it would have been devastating if we'd had essentials in those bags. We met at least a dozen other travelers who were also without bags and who were really having a hard time finding what they needed in the very limited shops. My advice- do whatever you have to do not to check anything important.

Uganda ended-up being more a more physical trip than we expected. We are both in our mid 30s and in average physical condition. We were prepared for the gorilla treks in Bwindi to be strenuous, but there were some other adventures in Uganda that were pretty challenging as well. None were too extreme, and I'd do all but one of them again (waterfall in Bwindi was not worth the 4 hour trek, see below). I just think it's important to others know what to expect if they're considering a trip like this. Unlike most of my other vacations, I lost five pounds on this trip and got great exercise!

Playing with the orphaned chimpanzees on forest walks at Ngamba Island was my very favorite experience of the whole trip (followed by gorilla trekking in Bwindi and seeing the big cats in the Serengeti). There are not words to describe the emotion one feels when interacting with chimpanzees. They climb on your back to be carried, as if you were their mother, they reach out to hold your hand, they groom you with affection and look deep into your eyes and examine your soul. We booked two forest walks and are so happy that we did. For good reason, they are very serious about having the correct vaccinations, and I suggest that you fax or e-mail your vaccination records prior to leaving for your trip to make sure that they are acceptable. The term 'forest walk' understates the physical aspect of this experience. It's not easy to climb over logs, under vines and through brush with a 50 lb chimp on your back! We could have put the chimps down, but didn't want to. If you're concerned about it being too physical, just mention that to the keeper and I'm sure that they modify it for you. PLEASE visit their facility and consider making a donation (cash only) to help with the care of these amazing animals. We were not able to donate more than $50 each, since they didn't take credit cards. If someone is looking for a project, find a way that visitors and people all over the world can support this cause by making credit card donations!

This was a great experience, but was also more physical than we expected. We kept-up with the group as we trekked up and down the mountain paths looking for the chimps. It took about two hours to find them and we moved at a pretty quick pace. I'm not trying to scare anyone, but I think it's important for people to know that this is a serious hiking/trekking experience. You'll need good hiking boots, long pants and sleeves to protect your arms from the thorns. Be sure to take plenty of water (I carried mine in my drawstring backpack) and be ready to sweat it out as you hike! Seeing the chimps in their natural habitat was breathtaking. They were so fascinating I could have watched them all afternoon!

Hire a porter! You'll give someone a much needed job and even the best athlete will need help navigating the terrain. There were several times that my porter pointed out holes that were covered by vines/leaves that I'm sure I would never seen without his help. We did two days of gorilla trekking and saw the M group first and the H group second. They were very different treks and gorilla experiences, so I'm glad we did them both. After a 3.5 hour trek to the M group we signed-up for a waterfall walk. Little did we know that it was going to be a four hour trek! It was really too much to do right after the gorilla trek and the waterfall was lovely, but not spectacular enough to justify another four hours of hiking.

We had scheduled a day of R&R in between our two days of gorilla treks and Medi arranged for us to take the village walk. The 'walk' ended-up being another trek, so make sure to wear your hiking boots. Long pants/shirts are not necessary, but the terrain is steep and uneven.

I loved Tanzania, but it's so much more touristy than Uganda, there is much less new info to report. The only experience that we had in Tanz that is worthy of discussion was our visit to the Maasai village. I'd read very mixed reviews on this forum and couldn't decide if I wanted to go or not. Many had reported it to be contrived and not very authentic; however, I decided that I'd see for myself. The singing and dancing was underwhelming, and the 'tour' of a hut was interesting for the first few minutes.

After exiting the hut we were literally mobbed by every person in the village who proceeded to shove their jewelry in our face, grab our arms to put bracelets on our wrists, put necklaces over our shoulders and push their babies into our arms to show that they needed us to buy from them. I can't begin to describe how uncomfortable we felt, since we didn't want to be the Ugly Americans, but we also did not want to buy the dozens of pieces of beaded jewelry. We didn't even know which pieces belonged to which person! Since the women wouldn't take the items off of us, we had to take them off of each other. Because we'd paid $50 to enter the village, I decided that they had enough of my money and bought nothing. My friends wanted to be nice and buy a few things but our Maasai village guide would not give them prices for anything. He made them look at EVERYONE's jewelry and carry with them anything that they were interested in (which is hard, since you don't know how interested you are, until you know what it costs!) and then he gave them a price at the end for the whole bundle. It became a sort of 'all or nothing' deal, since it was impossible to see how much it would be if certain items were removed from the equation. We left with very bad feelings about the whole experience, but were happy to have it behind us.

Had I any idea of what we were going to experience, I would have videotaped our experience so that it could be posted and people could decide for themselves if this is something they want to experience. If someone is going in the future and would be willing to video and post their visit (including the shopping) I think it would be helpful.

One last thought to share: During one of our candid conversations with our guide, the custom/ritual of female genital mutilation (aka female circumcision) was discussed. When our guide told us that it although it is illegal (very loosely enforced) the Maasai continue this practice on their girl children. I was very bothered by this and when we returned to the lodge, I did some brief research on the web and learned that approx 97% of Maasai girls are circumcised prior to marriage which usually occurs at 12 or 13 years old. Since some Maasai girls have reported to school teachers that their parents are planning her circumcision (forcing the government to fine the family) many parents now circumcise their daughters at 3 years old prior to them going to school.

To think that I had given money to a group of people who perform this barbaric abuse on girls upset me greatly. I believe that the Maasai have the rights to practice their traditional customs and rituals (within the law) but I also have the right to withhold financial contributions from groups that IMHO abuse women/girls. Enough said'

We were worried about the baggage weight limit (50 lbs) on the plane from Uganda to Tanzania, so we didn't do as much shopping in Uganda as I wish we had. The prices in Ugnada were a FRACTION of what they were in Tanzania. I almost died when we went into the first souvenir shop in Tanz and saw the prices. Many of the same items in Tanzania had been available in Uganda 10-20% of what they were in Tanzania. We found shopping in Tanzania to be VERY expensive, even by American standards. We bargained some in the tourist stores, but had the best bargaining when we'd stop by roadside stands. They wanted to trade for our watches, clothes, shoes, sunglasses etc. ANYTHING you have is worth something to them, so don't be shy!

I took $1,000 cash and ended-up needing more. Luckily we had another person meeting us in Tanzania mid-way through our trip and she brought me more money including more small bills for tipping. We never used a credit card and kept our cash and passport on our bodies at all times. In Uganda we needed shillings, but in Tanzania we could easily have operated exclusively with US dollars.

16th December 2007: Arrive Entebbe and transfer to The Boma Hotel ( in Entebbe , for overnight. Overnight location: Entebbe / The Boma Hotel. Meals included: NONE
Travel Time: Only from airport to hotel (minimal)

17th December 2007: Full day In Entebbe , The Boma Hotel, B. Visit to Kids of Africa Orphanage to deliver toys. Overnight location: Entebbe / The Boma Hotel. Meals included: Breakfast only
Travel Time: NONE

18th December 2007: Morning transfer to Entebbe for speedboat to Ngamba Island, a Jane Goodall Institute Chimpanzee Orphanage. Activities at the island may include cleaning of the holding area, feeding the chimps, PRICE OF TOUR INCLUDES TWO CHIMP FOREST WALKS, THE FIRST OF WHICH WILL TAKE PLACE ON THIS DAY; Ngamba Island, B,L,D. Overnight location: Ngamba Island. Meals included: BLD
Travel Time: 40 minutes by road, 1.5 hours by speedboat

19th December 2007: Second chimp forest walk and transfer to Fort Portal . Overnight location: Fort Portal / Mountains of the Moon Meals included: BLD Transit time: 1.5 hours by boat and 5 hours by road

20th December 2007: Morning drive to Kibale for chimpanzee trekking. The trekking starts following the different trails as you search for the chimpanzees, red tailed Monkeys, Grey Cheeked Mangabeys. Have a picnic lunch along the way then drive to the Queen Elizabeth National Park. Drive to the Chambura gorge for another primate/ naturewalk. Meals and overnight at Jacana Camp.
Meals included: B,L,D
Transit time: 2.5 hours

21st December 2007: You are out of your bed by 0530hours to have your breakfast before starting your drive by 0600 hours. The drive to the game viewing area takes about 1 hour, which gets you to the Kasenyi track to see the animals at sunrise. Look out for Lion , Uganda Kob, Waterbuck and bushbuck, Warthogs, Spotted Hyena, Cape buffalo and other wildlife. Later, have your picnic lunch before taking a cruise on the Kazinga Channel. It is believed that the largest concentration of hippo in Africa is here. Resident and migrant birds, Monitor Lizard, solitary buffalo are all seen here. At the end of this trip, a camp fire at the hotel crowns the day as you exchange our experiences of the day. Dinner and overnight at Jacana Tented Camp.
Meals included: BLD
Transit time: none

22nd December, 2007- Have a walk in the Maramagambo forest to the Bat Caves and the Blue Lake before driving down to Bwindi with picnic lunches. Overnight Location: Bwindi/ The Gorilla Resort.
Meals included: BLD
Transit time: 5 - 6 hours

23rd December 2007: Gorilla trekking in Bwindi (could take as long as 9 hours, 4 hours to the gorillas, one hour viewing them and 4 hours back. Overnight at The Gorilla Resort., B,L,D.


25th December 2007: SECOND Gorilla trek in BWINDI. Overnight Location: Bwindi/ The Gorilla Resort.
Meals included: BLD Transit time: NONE

26th December 2007: This is a full day drive to Kampala. Overnight location: Kimpala/ Hotel Bouganviller.
Meals Included: B,L. Transit time: 9-10 hours or even more depending on the number of stops you make along the way.

27th December 2007: Morning shopping in Kampala before departing to Entebbe . Transit time: 40 Minutes, B.

Price: US$4,400/person

Price includes:
-Arrival and departure Entebbe airport transfers
-Accommodation as indicated (2 people sharing a double room)
-Meals (B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, D=Dinner) as indicated
-All park fees, and government taxes.
-Gorilla permits, chimp walks (2 chimps walks), feeding of chimps at Ngamba, and other activities mentioned on the itinerary
-Services of Professional English-speaking driver- guide.
-Game drives in Land Rover/Cruiser with pop up roof and guarantee window seat!
-Bottled water while on safari
-Maximum of 4 passengers in our safari vehicles

Price excludes:
-International airfare
-Items of a personal nature such as passport, visa, traveler's insurance.
-Tips to driver-guide.

Dec 27th, 2007: Air Tanzania flight leaving EBB at 1:50pm; arriving JRO/TANZANIA at 3:50pm (you can pick up the tickets from Air Tanzania booth at Kigali airport); met on arrival and transfer to hotel in Arusha, New Arusha Hotel TIP- REQUEST ROOM IN THE NEW SECTION OF THE HOTEL!!!!!! They're fantastic, comparable to a very nice hotel in any large US or European city.

Dec 28: Lake Manyara
After breakfast, we leave Arusha for Lake Manyara National Park in the Great Rift Valley. The park is home to tree-climbing lion, colorful birds, elephant and hippo. Game drive in Manyara, Gibbs Farm / E 'Unoto Lodge, B,L,D.

Dec 29: Serengeti
Today we drive to Serengeti national park, game drives in Serengeti with a chance to see leopard, hyena, gazelle, lion, ostrich, giraffe, buffalo and many more animals, Serengeti Sopa Lodge, B,L,D.

Dec 30~January 1, 2008: Serengeti
More games in Serengeti, in search of the large predators and the gentle herbivores on which they feed, Serengeti Sopa Lodge, B,L,D.

Jan 2: Serengeti / Ngorongoro
After breakfast, we will drive to Ngorongoro, with optional ($50/group) visit of Masai Village, and optional ($3/person) visit to Olduvai Gorge. Arrive in Ngorongoro for afternoon game drive in the Crater, Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge, B,L D.

Jan 3: Ngorongoro / Arusha / Departure
Descend into Ngorongoro crater for another game drive in the crater exploring the short-grass plains of the crater floor. This extinct volcano embraces 100sq miles alive with lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, buffalo, and many more games, then drive to Arusha, day room at Impala Hotel, evening transfer to Kilimanjaro airport for your return flight home, B,L.
Day 10: Amsterdam / US / Canada
Arrival in Amsterdam this morning, then connect with another KLM flight to US / Canada, arriving US / Canada on January 4th.

Price $2,350 (Safari) + $100 (holiday surcharge for the safari) = $2,450 pp.

Price includes:
-Arrival and departure Kilimanjaro airports transfers
-Accommodation as indicated
-Meals (B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, D=Dinner) as indicated
-All park fees, and government taxes.
-Services of Professional English-speaking driver- guide.
-Game drives in Land Rover/Cruiser with pop up roof and guarantee window seat!
-Bottled water while on safari
-Maximum of 4 passengers in our safari vehicles
-FLIGHT: EBB to JRO, one way, including taxes

Price excludes:
-International airfare
-Items of a personal nature such as passport, visa, traveler's insurance.
-Tips to driver-guide.

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