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Itinerary for Uganda Gorilla Trek and Elephant Whispers

Travel Forums Africa and The Middle East Itinerary for Uganda Gorilla Trek and Elephant Whispers

1. Posted by hmwende (Budding Member 4 posts) 1w Star this if you like it!

My husband and I are avid travelers. Generally, our major focus is on authentic experiences away from the tourists. We prefer to spend our money on bucket list experiences as opposed to luxury accommodations. Of course, if luxury exists in our budget, we wouldn’t turn it down, but it’s just not our priority. We enjoy adventure and activity, but don’t want to be run ragged by packing in so much into each day. We don’t generally do not go on package tours as we find we can often make our own arrangements to get exactly what we want. But certainly open to a tour if it meets our needs. I suspect that we won’t be able to find what we want on an existing tour and therefore, we are comfortable piecing together our own trip as long as it is safe.

I’ve done a little research on Africa and following are some MUSTs followed by things we would enjoy:

1. This will be the most expensive trip of our lives and I expect it will cost about $10,000 total (which is still budget for African Safari standards. But certainly, we are seeking to spend as little as possible to still get the experiences we want and if we need to increase, we can as well.1. We are looking at 2-3 weeks
2. A MUST for Heather is want to include Uganda and track Gorillas – This is in east Africa
3. We really also want to go to Elephant Whispers and spend a whole day with the elephants and go on a ride. This is in South Africa - http://www.seasonsinafrica.com/adventure-activities-in-south-africa/lowveld-activities/elephant-whispers/.
5. We want to be with private guide or a very small group away from the tourists.
6. We must be in a place that uses open air vehicles (some places have closed vehicles with a pop up roof and people have to take turns putting their head up to get a photo - YUCK
7. We want to be in a place that will optimize our chances of seeing the big 5. My husband MUST see Elephants and Giraffe. I want to see Lions and Zebras and if we don’t get to see buffalo or rhino, that is okay. We know that Kenya is known for being the best, but we are concerned about the crowds. We don’t want to have to stand in line to take a photo. So, I’ve also been looking at Tanzania and Zambia.
8. Being able to stay in a camp that allows viewing of animals right from the camp would be awesome (One website I found for accommodations is www.go2africa.com)
9. We really want to experience a local tribal visit

Wish list
I would love to go to an animal rescue and pet lion cubs
It would be great to go on a hot air balloon ride, but the ones I’ve seen are $500 and that just seems ridiculous to me. We’ve already been on a hot air balloon in California wine country and therefore, we can pass on this.
I am an amateur photographer, so any place that focuses on photography would be good
It might be neat to go to Zanzibar for the last 2 days to relax on the pristine beaches (but certainly not necessary). I think this might pack too much into the time we have.
I would like to see Victoria Falls, but I think it is the dry season and the falls will be minimal
We love to hike, Mt. Kilimanjaro would be awesome, but don’t want to spend our whole vacation doing this. If there were a day hike, that would be cool
We’ve seen some safari packages that offer guided walks and game viewing from a canoe – that would be cool, but not necessary

Not necessary
Don’t really need to visit any cities like Capetown or Johannesburg, although if an opportunity presented itself to visit Capetown, that would be cool
Don’t really need to see the wildabeast migration (although if we happen to see it, that’s fine too)

So as you can see, it might not be practical to do all the things we want because they may be very far from each other. But hopefully, someone can assist us with how to fly into airports, will transfers from lodges booked privately pick us up? Any suggestions for itineraries or tips to know would be GREATLY appreciated!

2. Posted by berner256 (Moderator 841 posts) 1w Star this if you like it!

Your best bet would be a mix of organized tours as well as independent travel. You're right, $10,000 for two isn't much. The Uganda gorilla permits currently cost $600 per day, discounted to $450 in April, May and November. Rwanda recently increased its daily fee to $1,500. The cheapest is $400 per day in Virunga National Park in the DRC. Suggest joining a tour to either Uganda or the DRC. Besides cost, another reason is availability of permits. Visitor numbers are restricted. I went to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest NP in Uganda with an accommodated tour organized by Nomad in Cape Town. I traveled independently in Rwanda hiring a driver to take me around and wasn't able to get a permit to see gorillas in Volcanoes NP.

The type of tour vehicle depends on the NP. Some parks have the pop up vehicles, others don't.

It's virtually impossible to avoid tourists wanting to see animals in southern and East Africa. It's unavoidable even in the private game reserves near Kruger NP. When a guide sees animals, he radios other guides; and vehicles from several lodges will converge on that spot. You'll see more animals in the Serengeti but you'll also have to contend with more tourists. But who doesn't want to see leopard, cheetah, lion, ostrich, elephant, giraffe, zebra, etc. Keep in mind that these are not zoos. You're not guaranteed to see them; and it varies day by day and hour by hour.

I've traveled in Africa independently (hiring drivers/guides) and joining tours. I think there are advantages to both. If you want a tribal experience, join a tour. If you're interested in staying at a game lodge near Kruger, there is a shuttle from hotels near the Johannesburg Airport to the lodges, including Naledi, where I stayed at its two locations, including one on the Enkoveni River, where I saw elephants from my deck.

If you want to do it completely on your own, perhaps you should consider renting a vehicle and traveling in Namibia, including a visit to Etosha NP to see elephants, giraffe, etc. You also can rent a vehicle in South Africa and travel on your own.

Hope this helps. Sorry I can't go further into detail, as I am now in Okinawa, on my way to South Korea and Siberia.

P.S. Flights between countries in Africa can be expensive. However, if you have Star Alliance miles (United Airlines, for example) redeem them. It'll help you save quite a bit of money. Star Alliance members include South African Airways and Ethiopian Airlines. I've used my United Miles extensively throughout Africa, saving thousands of dollars.

P.P.S. I forgot to add that some tour companies, such as Nomad, allow you to buy only a segment of a tour, assuming they have space available. So you could conceivably buy a segment to see gorillas and chimpanzees, then leave shortly after.

[ Edit: Edited on 09-Aug-2017, at 15:40 by berner256 ]

3. Posted by berner256 (Moderator 841 posts) 1w Star this if you like it!

Another point, you will not be allowed to carry bags or water bottles when you finally approach the gorillas. These are left behind with porters. Obviously, you won't be allowed to carry camera bags. On my visit, an Italian doctor insisted he bring his camera bag with lenses. After his many protestations, the head guide finally agreed. But when it came to seeing the gorillas on the mountainside, he got no help from any of the guides. We saw the gorillas, but he saw nothing. Also, he refused to hire a porter. So when he got stuck in the mud, our porters had to help him out.

It would be wise to carry a cloth (microfiber is best) to cover your camera when you're on a vehicle. It can be very dusty, particularly when you're behind another vehicle. Under those conditions, it would be unwise to change lenses.

Want to see rhinos and elephants come to a water hole? Try Hlane Ndlovu Camp in Swaziland. I enjoyed my stay there, even though there was no electricity.

If you don't want to see tourists, try countries such as Gabon, where I was recently. But when you're hiking in forests on paths created by elephants it's often difficult to see animals. You can hear them; but seeing is another matter. I've hiked through forests, savannah and deserts in Africa; and if you want to readily see the most animals in a short period of time, then I suggest the Serengeti, even if it has many tourists, too. They are there for a reason.

[ Edit: Edited on 09-Aug-2017, at 16:55 by berner256 ]

4. Posted by Teoni (Full Member 142 posts) 1w Star this if you like it!

We love to hike, Mt. Kilimanjaro would be awesome, but don’t want to spend our whole vacation doing this. If there were a day hike, that would be cool

I would cross this one of the wish list. A day hike won't get you very far so it wouldn't be much point. People die doing this trek, this is a hard core trek, you can be in peak fitness and still risk an embollism. My uncle went over just for this trek and he said it took a lot out of him. He was glad he didn't add it to a larger trip.

I would like to see Victoria Falls, but I think it is the dry season and the falls will be minimal

The dry season is actually the best time to visit Victoria Falls as during the wet season due to flooding and overflow the area is more restricted and certain activties can be shut down. Victoria Falls doesn't turn into a trickle, it's still impressive.

I would love to go to an animal rescue and pet lion cubs

Be really careful when choosing where to do this. There are a lot of dodgy businesses especially when it comes to the petting of lion cubs. The petting of lions cubs is a major feature of canned hunting businesses (of course if you agree with this practice, then no worries for you) and they will sometimes advertise as animal rescue. Whatever place you go to that promises any interaction with animals make sure they are a legit animal rescue place. Most legit animal rescue places allow very little interaction since they are usually aiming to have them released into the wild at some point (unless it is a place that keeps animals that have no hope of rehabilitation) and so do not want to them to be friendly with humans. There are businesses that keep animals locked up just to sell their interaction with tourists. Contributing to these businesses only adds to animal exploitation.

I know you said you are not interested in visiting cities and I suspect with what you want to do you won't have time, but if you did I wouldn't dismiss the idea entirely. You want authentic experiences away from tourists then the cities are a great place to see modern Africa, one that is not designed for tourists. Majority of Africans live in major cities, in a sense cities are where the real Africa is these days. A tribal experience is good but much like a Luau in Hawaii they are designed for tourists, after all real tribal life is dull and monotonous, so they have to make it more exciting for the tourists. Again like with the animal rescues make sure you choose one that doesn't exploit the people and where most of the proceeds go back to them. In fact if you can choose one that is owned and organised by the tribe that is the best. I have heard in Kenya the Masai run a pretty good tourist esperience that they own and operate themselves.

It would be great to go on a hot air balloon ride, but the ones I’ve seen are $500 and that just seems ridiculous to me. We’ve already been on a hot air balloon in California wine country and therefore, we can pass on this.

You may have experienced the mode of transport but it is the view you have to take into account. The view over Africa will be nothing like Nappa Valley. For example Ngorongoro Crater has probably the most spectactular aerial view you could experience. Of course if you find a scenic flight for a similar price or less then I would consider that instead. Not to mention you wouldn't have to get up so early, though the sunrise is apparently amazing.

[ Edit: Edited on 09-Aug-2017, at 18:27 by Teoni ]

5. Posted by Borisborough (Moderator 719 posts) 1w Star this if you like it!

We did much of this eighteen months ago in December 2015/January 2016 - climbing Kilimanjaro, safari, chimps & gorillas, Vic Falls and more - we took about seven weeks!

You won't climb Kilimanjaro in a day. Most trips are a minimum of 4 days, 3 nights and their success rate is barely 50%. We took the Rongai route and had six nights on the mountain - all four of us (all aged 50-60) managed to summit. The more time you have to acclimatise, the greater your chance of success so based on the time you have, give it a miss.

With a different company, we went on a 7 night, 8 day safari around Tanzania - a day in Arusha NP (elephants, giraffes monkeys, antelopes, hyenas), a day on Tarangire NP (elephants, giraffes, antelopes, monkeys), a day in Lake Manyara NP (giraffes, lions), a day in Ngororngoro CA (zebras, rhinos, lions, antelopes, crocs) (in the campsite on the crater rim), two nights, three days through the Serengeti NP (cheetahs, leopards, hippos, wildebeest, buffalo, antelopes) (including a 'cultural, tribal experience') and a day at Lake Natron. In Arusha, we did an hour in kayaks. Overall, we saw and photographed the big five plus lots of other wildlife - it was a magical week and well worth it. We did it on a budget, sharing with a total stranger (who is now a very good friend) and camping in tents. To cut it shorter, perhaps a day at Ngorongoro and two days on the Serengeti would suffice since time is a factor. Our transport for this safari was a large Toyota Landcruiser. There seats for about six or seven in the back and a roof that folded back completely so that everyone could stand up and look out and photograph as we were moving and as we were still. The only time the roof was closed was when we had a bit of rain for half an hour on the Ngrorongoro crater. There were around thirty of these vehicles in the crater for the day when we were there. On the Serengeti, the jeeps would gather when there were leopards to spot - around fifteen jeeps at the most in one spot. For the cheetahs and one beautiful lioness a yard away from us on the roadside, we were the only jeep to be seen for miles around.

We then flew to Entebbe and had a two night, three day trip through Kibale NP for the chimps and then Bwindi for the Gorillas - the best New Year's Eve ever! We got the swamp gorillas which was a good ninety minutes or so through rough jungle terrain (and the same return trip). We had small daypacks which we carried ourselves and then left with a guide five minutes from the gorilla family. There were about eight of us in this group walking with around four or five guides with guns (to protect us from animal attack if necessary but more in case of poachers). I took my camera and lenses in a camera bag and that was no problem at all. Again, the accommodation was in tents (but luxury tents!) and early the next morning we were dropped off near the Rwandan border so that we could cross that ourselves. We eventually flew out of Kigali and into Lusaka, catching a bus to Livingstone. We saw the Falls from both sides (the flow of water on the Zambian side was light - possibly due to the new up-stream power station but the flow on the Zimbabwean side was superb), walking across the border into the town in Zimbabwe before catching a Nomad Tours bus through Namibia, Botswana and into South Africa, taking in Chobe NP and the Okavango Delta (a bit of kayaking here up to the hippos too). We eventually ended up in Soweto for two nights - brilliant.

So this was four separate tours with the transfers organised ourselves, independently. We organised our own flights into Kilimanjaro International Airport where we were picked up by one company and dropped off by another. We flew to Entebbe where another company picked us up. After being dropped off at the Uganda/Rwanda border, we made our own way to Gisenyi and then Kigali by bus, flew to Lusaka and then went on to Livingstone by bus, crossed into Zimbabwe and picked up the Nomad truck at Victoria Falls.

If you want any more details on this, pm me and I'll do my best to answer. It was definitely one of our most memorable trips.

[ Edit: Edited on 09-Aug-2017, at 22:46 by Borisborough ]

Post 6 was removed by a moderator
7. Posted by Utrecht (Moderator 5635 posts) 2d Star this if you like it!

Lots of things have been mentioned already.

We did a great tour of the northern Tanzania/southern Kenia route and considering wildlife, landscapes etc that is definately one of the areas you want to go. But apart from places like Kruger NP it is also quite touristy. We did a tour with Leopard Tours or something, based in Arusha if I remember correctly.

But by far a better experience is to rent a car and drive yourself in Southern Africa. I have visited Namibia and South Africa on 4 different trips and I can seriously recommend visiting Etosha NP in northern Namibia, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in northwestern South Africa (great for predators!) and one of the best experiences I had (visited twice) was in Madikwe Game Reserve in central northern South Africa (border with Botswana). There are expensive places, but one place that is not and still is great is Mosetlha Bush Camp. Extremely well organised, great place to spend the night, great food, very good guides and management! Big 5 area, with open 4wd vehicles and a great opportunitely to also see wild dogs!

I am planning a trip to Rwanda/Uganda myself as we speak and there are loads of options for tour operators (check http://www.auto.or.ug/ for official listings, as there are some malafide ones as well). In Rwanda, Amahoro Tours gets constant positive reviews as well. Habari Travel (based in Netherlands, but also international office in Kampala) offers very comeptitive prices for personalized trips. They offer Toyota Landcruisers as well.

But if you are not planning on spending more time in that region you could also just make sure to secure the Gorilla Permits and arrange transport in Kisoro to Bwindi park. Getting to Kisoro is easy from Rwanda as well as Kampala/Entebbe region with public transport.

Anyway: enjoy!

8. Posted by moonetau (Budding Member 3 posts) 10h Star this if you like it!

Just a couple of points to add to Utrecht's post: If going from Kisoro to Bwindi, the road is quite long. You might consider walking if you feel up to it. There are companies who do walking safaris. I did the reverse direction over a few days, staying at Nkuringo for a couple of nights. You get to see things you would never do if travelling by road. Gorilla tracking in Bwindi I.F. can be a lottery: you are allocated a family at random and have no control over how far you will have to walk to find your family of gorillas. My group was lucky as we only had to hike for an hour or two to the oldest habituated family. Others we met on the days after had to walk several hours in each direction (from Nkuringo towards Bwindi). I organised my own Uganda travel and saved a lot of money but you have to be prepared to travel by public transport.

Kilimanjaro: you might want to consider Mt Meru (which is next door). Much more interesting with spectacular scenery and only 4566m. You get to see Kili at sunrise which is awesome! Also it only takes 3 or 4 days, is much cheaper and you get to stay in huts. From what I can discover the attraction of Kili seems to be that it is the highest in Africa. Each to his own I guess.....

I was at Victoria Falls in January 1980: even then, just before the wet, it was an amazing experience. Wouldn't miss it. One of my top 5 after 10 overseas trips to 30+ countries.

[ Edit: Edited on 18-Aug-2017, at 05:57 by moonetau ]

9. Posted by Borisborough (Moderator 719 posts) 1h Star this if you like it!

Quoting moonetau

Kilimanjaro: you might want to consider Mt Meru (which is next door). Much more interesting with spectacular scenery and only 4566m. You get to see Kili at sunrise which is awesome! Also it only takes 3 or 4 days, is much cheaper and you get to stay in huts. From what I can discover the attraction of Kili seems to be that it is the highest in Africa. Each to his own I guess.....

Mt Meru is often used as an acclimatization climb for Kilimanjaro. Mt Kilimanjaro is the highest peak in Africa and that certainly makes it an attraction. It's also the fourth most prominent peak in the world - the tallest thing around for thousands of miles. So, on a clear day, it's possible to see into Kenya (quite easily) and to the Indian Ocean. The trek is interesting and has spectacular scenery but it's a matter of opinion whether it is more scenic than Mt Meru or not. It is possible to stay in huts up Kili too but camping in tents is much more exciting (opinion!)

People seem to be naturally attracted to 'the highest' - that's why there are always hordes of people queuing to climb Mt Everest when the season comes round.