A Memorable Lifetime Experience with Gorillas in Uganda & Rwanda

This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, we booked our tour with the Rwanda Gorilla Safaris and we wanted to first meet our friends in Uganda for their wedding but nevertheless Moses, planned our trip well straight away from Uganda. The trip began with our driver picking us up in Kampala from our friends home in Kololo. They were on time and did not charge extra for picking us up at the location of our choice. Our driver was very knowledgeable about the surrounding areas and also a very efficient and safe driver. He conducted our game drives the way we planned and coordinated all of the park fees, lodging and meal arrangements.

Our first destination was Mburo National Park which included a boat ride on Mburo Lake. We high recommend this boat ride as they were many schools of hippos, crocodiles, and birds. Also, while driving through the park we spotted many impala, warthogs, water buck, zebra, and buffaloes. Our package also included a horse ride through parts of the park where we saw these animals at eye level. We signed up for the Budget accommodations and they were great. Our first night at Eagle’s Nest Lodge was very beautiful and the service was great. We had a tent on a platform with comfortable beds inside and a self-contained bathroom. There was no running hot water but the staff heated water and brought it to our room gladly whenever we asked. The food was good even when we showed up very late for dinner. Breakfast was on time and was exactly as we ordered.

On the drive to Bwindi we stop at the museum of Southern Uganda which was very informative called Igongo cultural centre. Also, to reach Bwindi we drove through Queen Elizabeth National Park where we spotted all of the previously mentioned animals but also elephants and lions as well. In Bwindi we stayed at Buhoma Community Lodge which was inside the park. It had the same platform/tent layout with a self-contained bathroom including running hot water. We stayed here 2 nights, the food was good and the atmosphere was very pleasant. Everyone staying there was either finished with or on their way to the gorilla trek so there were many stories to be shared. The staff was very attentive.

Our gorilla trek happened the next day and it was great. We were separated into groups at the bottom of the mountain according to which gorilla family we would track and see. Porters to carry your gear and walking sticks were available for extra purchase. My wife and I did not purchase these and we were freely fine during the hike. Our hike lasted about 4 hours until we came across the gorilla family. Other groups saw their gorilla family much sooner the first being 40 minutes. It was a beautiful hike and the guides stopped as often as the group requested.

Be sure to bring plenty of water since there is no way of telling how long you will be hiking. Also it is recommended to wear long sleeves as sometime bush walking shoes are necessary to catch up with the gorilla family. Once we got to the gorilla family we met the trackers that had been communicating with our guide via Radio call to direct us to them. You have 1 hour to view the family and the guides try to clear away good view points for you to see the family. It was an amazing thing to see these animals in their natural habitat as they were swinging of tress playing and eating with each other.

After the hike we took a community walking tour of Buhoma Village were the showed us the local banana beer and gin makers, the school grounds and a beautiful walk through banana fields and along the river.

The next day was a quick breakfast and half way drive back to Kigali. The Lodge served us breakfast, packed us lunch, and we also stopped at a restaurant for lunch. There was no shortage of food.

Be prepared for few hours of time in the car transferring to Rwanda via the Cyanika border to Ruhengeri Volcanoes National Park where we had the second gorilla trekking on the following day, hike to the famous Dian Fossey and we loved and show the great work she did and she left good legacy for the survival of mountain gorillas in Africa.

Our driver, Emma was great. He was very knowledgeable and made sure that we stayed on schedule. He asked us always whether we are all fine and we used to respond as team “we are all fine” and it was fun for us, making sure that our trip was comfortable every step of the way. He even bought us avocados, pineapples, jack fruits and others later after my wife, daughter and son expressed interest in purchasing some from a roadside stand.

Overall, we highly recommend this trip. The coordination across continents was easy with the management office and the driver was excellent.

Gorilla Trekking Experience and Cultural Tours in Rwanda

Top of my “bucket list” was visiting the mountain Gorillas in the mist and it did not disappoint. It is amazing. We chose Tours Rwanda, as the is the safest country to do it from and the Volcanoes National Park which habits over half of the world’s remaining Mountain Gorillas (reputed to be 450 mountain gorillas in the confines of this park), and they are used to seeing humans once a day for an hour. Each group has a name and “territory”.

We booked through Nature Adventure Africa Safaris Ltd, though were looked a complete gorilla tour in Rwanda. The gorilla permit each costs: $750 USD per day. I thoroughly recommend going twice as it is such an amazing experience.

Guide books are right. We were at the park at 7am, stood around for 30minutes whilst Freddie and the other guides determined who go where to see the gorillas (usually based on your fitness and your attitude). Freddie then introduced us to the total of 8 people we’d trek with and the licensed Gorilla guide (from the Volcanoes National Park) who gave us a short briefing – showing us photos of the gorillas we’d see. We were then driven by Freddie to the parking lot closest to our gorilla group. There are lots of different Gorilla groups – different numbers and ages. (Note: There are trekkers who are with the gorillas all day – so they know where they are and how long it will take each and every group to reach them – so you will know before you head out – give or take 30mins unless something has caused the gorillas to move more).

We trekked to the Susa group. An arduous trek for an hour – straight up hill – before we actually got to the national park. The walk took its toll on our group as the altitude affected a few. To give you an idea of fitness – we had two US military guys with us, two fit Germans and ourselves – fairly fit – but do not attempt unless you aerobically exercise or you will not make it to see the Susa group (other groups are easier walks to get too). It then took us only 20 minutes once we were in the park to find the group. (We were lucky as the Susa is often a long way away and it takes hours to find them). Support the locals by hiring a porter (US $10) to carry your bags – it is such a small cost that makes such a difference to the locals. The porters also help you walk through difficult areas – yes holding your hand and clearing the way. Once you find the gorillas your 1 hr starts. The Susa group had the full gamut – babies, teens beating their chests and rumbling and the silver backs “sleeping”.

Second day we trekked to the Sabyinyo group – a group of gorillas in the volcanoes national park – 19 in all – including 3 Silver backs and the smallest baby you’ll see (at only 3mths). Some of the fingers/toes of the gorillas were missing due to trapping in the DRC. This group was the highlight of our two days – they played for the full hour within a metre of us. One particularly cheeky teenager kept irritating the largest black back – ensuring there was constant rumbling. Two babies played in a tree – swinging around and around. One of the silver backs just rested and kept an eye on both the babies and the teenager. Just as we were leaving, two of us got caught between a silverback and a black back – within a foot of both – which resulted in a huge adrenaline rush ! Our porter this day was William who was amazing – so caring and so helpful – and an amazing smile (most porters have limited English).

We “scored” on both days – the two best groups but more importantly the best guide in the park. He also loves the gorillas and cares about taking the tourists to them – helping them trek, assisting them with porters, and sharing his knowledge and passion. We had a number of people on our second day that had “other” guides.

After our double gorilla experience we took a great cultural experience at Iby ‘Iwacu cultural village linked to reality with a community walk. We spent an evening and two mornings at the cultural village. Upon arrival, we were greeted by traditional song, dance and drumming. We then visited the King’s house and finished with some bonfire singing and dancing. The next morning, we walked in the hills around the village with our host, Tom, introducing the various flora and explaining the agricultural methods used in the area. This was followed by a consultation with the healer, trying out the drums and shooting traditional arrows.

We then relaxed in the King’s house with some banana beer and Tom presenting traditional soap made from a local fruit. We also presented goats to villagers who belong to cultural village programme. The money received from the visits is distributed to members of the cultural village, who also perform during the visit. The last morning we were given the tour of the actual village to see how the locals live today. One of the families showed us how they are building a new house with the support of the cultural village programmes and thanked us profusely for helping them. A great experience and all for a great cause as well.