Rare encounters with Africa’s endangered primates—an MTS experience of a lifetime!
The touching humanity of Rwanda’s mountain gorillas is a powerful thing to witness. No wonder so many MTS guests claim this journey is one of their most moving experiences ever! Your trip is optimized to include two unforgettable days of encounters with the gorillas, which are highly endangered and cannot live in captivity—and our permits are guaranteed, even during peak season! Discover the thrill of tracking these magnificent primates through their varied habitat, and observing them in their natural behaviors. Listen to the hooting cacophony of chimpanzees as you walk through the misty rainforests of Kibale, and gaze at rare tree-climbing lions in Ishasha. Journey overland through the arresting beauty of Uganda: deep green jungles, volcanoes, wetlands, crater lakes, and open savannahs. See leopards, elephants, lions, and vast herds of hippos on game drives through the fertile landscapes of Queen Elizabeth National Park. It’s a classic African safari combined with the incomparable excitement of viewing great apes in the wild—truly one of the most memorable adventures you’ll find anywhere.
5 days moderate to strenuous hiking
- Track mountain gorillas over moderate terrain in Rwanda's Parc des Volcans—one of nature’s most powerful experiences—against the stunning background of the neighboring volcanoes
- Visit both Rwanda and Uganda, including the Ishasha region, home to remarkable, tree-climbing lions (experiences you won’t get with most other operators)
- Gaze up at fig tree forests filled with dozens of highly social chimpanzees
- Spend an extra day observing lions, leopards, elephants, hippos and other classic big game in Queen Elizabeth National Park
- Enjoy the benefits of MTS’ expert planning—permits are guaranteed for our departure dates, even in peak season
Duration: 11 days Start Location: Entebbe, Uganda End Location: Kigali, RwandaDownload Detailed Itinerary
Day 1 : Arrive in Entebbe, Uganda.
You may arrive anytime today into Entebbe, Uganda. A Mountain Travel Sobek representative will meet you outside the customs and immigration area at the airport. He or she will answer questions, brief you on the immediate arrangements, and escort you to our group hotel located on the shores of Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest freshwater lake.
Day 2 : Entebbe to Kibale Forest National Park
We board our Land Rovers in the morning and drive into the lush green countryside of Uganda, a country described by Winston Churchill as “the Pearl of Africa.” We pass through landscapes where African farmsteads crammed with bananas and tropical trees mingle with wetlands and patches of forest or bush, and give way to tea plantations as we gain elevation. After a picnic lunch en route, we enter Kibale Forest National Park, where we may catch our first glimpse of chimps, baboons, or other primates. While in Kibale, we’ll stay at Primate Lodge, a luxury tented camp consisting of eight deluxe safari tents. They are raised on wooden platforms and feature verandas, comfortable beds, and en-suite bathrooms. We gather for meals in the open-air restaurant and can relax in the cozy bar, lounge, or around the fireplace. (6-7 hours driving)
Day 3 : Kibale Forest National Park
Kibale is home to more than 500 chimpanzees and twelve other primate species, including black-and-white and red colobus, galagos, and L’Hoest’s monkeys. The forest, which averages about 3,300 feet in elevation, is inhabited by three large communities of chimps, each numbering more than 100 individuals. Over time, scientists have cut a grid of walking trails through the forest, which facilitates tracking these well-studied and protected chimps.
After a hearty breakfast, we’ll spend the morning in the forest tracking chimps! Chimp tracking sessions are carefully regulated by the Uganda Wildlife Authority. Morning and afternoon tracking sessions take place at Kibale.* Each is limited to a maximum number of 16 visitors, who are divided into groups of four. Each group is accompanied by an experienced ranger-guide and a tracker. Typically, we locate the chimps by listening for their pant-hooting calls, then rush to the area where they are calling. They spend the majority of their day high in the fig trees, eating fruit and socializing, though it is not uncommon for one to swing down from the canopy to watch as we pass by. Getting this near to one of mankind’s closest relatives is an awesome experience that you won’t soon forget!
After a traditional Ugandan lunch, we’ll take a swamp walk (along the edge of the swamp—not through it!), looking for other primates which may include red-tailed monkey, red colobus monkey, black-and-white colobus, gray-cheeked mangabey, olive baboon, and vervet monkey. The forest is also the habitat of a wide array of birds, including the spectacular great blue turaco and the African gray parrot, and is alive with the tantalizing sounds of elusive birds such as the Angola pitta. On our walk, we’ll have the opportunity to learn more about the wetland flora, and how these natural resources are used in daily life and protected by the people of Uganda.
In the evening, we walk in search of nocturnal primates, including pottos and bushbabies. On all walks at Kibale, expert national park guides accompany us. They will use their tracking skills and share their knowledge of primates and birds, as well as reveal some of the botanical secrets of the forest. Twenty percent of your park entrance fees help support the local Batooro and Bakiga tribes.
*NOTE—we may be assigned either morning or afternoon tracking sessions, in which case we will adjust the rest of the day’s activities accordingly.
Days 4 - 5 : Drive to Queen Elizabeth National Park
Today we drive 3-4 hours to Queen Elizabeth National Park, located in the western branch of Africa’s Great Rift Valley. With 2,000 square miles of deep jungle, volcanoes, crater lakes, and open savannahs, this diverse landscape is home to a similarly broad array of wildlife, including nearly 100 mammal species and 606 species of birds spotted (so far). We will delve into the varied landscape and waterways of the park in search of elephants, leopards, waterbucks, topis, and horned kobs, to name a few of the regularly sighted species. In addition to game drives, we’ll take an exciting launch trip on the Kazinga Channel that connects Lake Edward with smaller Lake George to get a different perspective on the wildlife. This is an absolutely spectacular experience: we are certain to see tremendous numbers of hippos and water birds of every type and hue, plus elephant and leopard are often encountered along the shore. From the thick tree canopies and chattering chimps of Kyambura Gorge to the world’s largest congregation of hippos (30,000!) in the Kazinga Channel, Queen Elizabeth National Park offers a truly world-class safari experience.
And, you’ll have incredible wildlife experiences even when you’re not out on a game drive—you can enjoy some of the best birdwatching in East Africa right from your deck at Jacana Lodge! Set on the edge of Uganda’s largest crater lake, the tree house lodge is naturally built of rock, wood, and rope. Seven luxury chalets have en-suite bathrooms with hot water and enclosed verandas with large windows offering panoramic views of the forest and Lake Nyamusingire. Enjoy evening sundowners or morning tea in the lounge area, beautifully accented with a large stone fireplace and handmade Persian carpets.
Twenty percent of your park entrance fees help support the local community surrounding the park, including funding schools and medical clinics.
Days 6 - 7 : Maramagambo Forest – Ishasha
We'll explore the remote southern Ishasha region of Queen Elizabeth National Park, known for herds of elephant, buffalo, and many species of antelope. Game drives provide a good chance of seeing buffalo, elephants, kob, topi, and the park’s renowned tree-climbing lions. It’s not known how the lions learned to climb fig and acacia trees here, but they seem to do it to escape the heat.
At night, we'll relax around the fire at Ishasha Wilderness Camp. Each of the ten spacious East African Meru tents is comfortably furnished and has an en-suite bathroom and dressing area with a hot water shower. Because the camp is within the park boundaries, they maintain a low energy profile by using solar power and eco-friendly toilets. This is often our guest's favorite lodging on the trip!
Day 8 : Kisoro – Kinigi
Drive through the region known as “the Switzerland of East Africa” for its awe-inspiring mountains. We travel through the famous Kanaba Gap, one of East Africa’s most scenic areas, before arriving in the lovely town of Kisoro, which is dominated by volcanoes—Sabinyo (11,923'), Mgahinga (11,397'), and Muhabura (13,540'). We cross over into Rwanda, then continue through volcanic uplands to Kinigi, headquarters of Parc National des Volcans (Volcanoes National Park). We settle into the simple comforts of Gorilla Mountain View Lodge, our base for gorilla trekking in the Parc National des Volcans. This is our longest driving day--about 9-10 hours with stops for lunch, photography, and the border crossing--but it's incredibly scenic.
Day 9 : Parc National des Volcans
Local trackers lead us through misty rainforest for our first adrenaline-filled encounter with the mountain gorillas. Although park rangers try to keep tabs on the whereabouts of the gorillas, they are free-ranging wild creatures and can be difficult to locate depending on the animals’ movements. Sometimes finding them is very easy, as they may remain close to the area where they had been feeding the previous day. On other occasions, they require lengthy tracking, which can be arduous. Once found, we will stay with the gorillas and observe them closely for up to one hour (the park service requires we maintain a distance from them of 22 feet).
Six to eight people per day are allowed to visit each gorilla group; each day, we will try to assign group members to track the gorilla family most appropriate to their strength and hiking abilities. The difficulties we may encounter include steep muddy slopes, stinging nettles, safari ants, hanging and low-lying vines, and rain. The reward is an extraordinary opportunity to observe the gorillas at close range.
NOTE—These gorillas are NOT tame, but they have been scientifically habituated to accept the presence of quiet and non-threatening human observers.
Day 10 : Virunga Volcanoes – Kigali
Today we trek up the forested slopes of the Virunga Volcanoes for our second gorilla encounter. There are currently 10 family groups of gorillas in the park which are available for tracking by the public. Each family group lives in a very different part of the park. The Sabinyo Group lives on the hills below the jagged peak of Sabinyo Volcano. These hills are mostly covered with forests of giant bamboo. Umubano and the Amahoro Groups live on the forested slopes between Visoke Volcano and Sabinyo. Visoke is a lovely volcano that reaches up to 12,175 feet on its rim, and its interior is filled with a crater lake. Fortunately, the gorillas tend to range in the moss-draped hagenia forests of its lower slopes. Group Susa lives on the middle-level slopes of the largest volcano, the giant Karisimbi (14,787'). Although the Susa Group tends to inhabit the forest at altitudes of 9,000-10,000 feet, they do range widely and sometimes venture higher up on the mountain, into the zone of bizarre and wonderful Afro-alpine vegetation. Susa is therefore considered the most strenuous group to track. Other family groups we may track include the Kwitonda, Ugenda, Bwende, Karisimbi, Agashya, and Hirwa Groups. The number of gorillas in each family group varies from 11 to 33.
After returning from our second memorable visit with the gorillas, we drive through the scenic countryside and quickly understand why Rwanda has been nicknamed “the land of a thousand hills.” These hills are intensively cultivated by rural people who live on tiny farmsteads, so they form a terraced patchwork of banana plantations, sorghum fields, and vegetable gardens. Rwanda is densely populated so we may see many people walking along the roads and working their fields while en route to the nation’s capital, Kigali. Here we stay at the Kigali Serena Hotel, a full-service, western-style hotel with a gym, swimming pool, lounge, terrace, and a taste of the “real” world—Internet access!
Day 11 : Kigali
We’ll tour bustling Kigali, including a tour of the genocide museum, the Kigali Memorial Centre, commemorating the one million Rwandans killed in 1994. Transfer to the airport for departure on homeward-bound flights via Entebbe or Nairobi. It's best not to schedule departure flights before 2pm.
DATES: Best time to go: May - September, December Departures: Dec 20 - 30, 2014
Minimum age is 15
Protea Hotel EntebbeEntebbe
This newly-built 73-roomed hotel is ideally located on the glistening shores of Lake Victoria and a convenient 1km from the airport. Protea Hotel Entebbe has a trendy restaurant that offers an exciting and truly inviting a la carte menu seven days of the week. Specialities include Tilapia and Nile Perch, while guests can also relax on the terrace and bar. With elegant furnishings and a warm, inviting feel, the hotel’s decor and rooms create a luxurious atmosphere. The outside terrace, with its own special ambience and superb lake views is the perfect place to take it all in.
Ideally located on one of Kigali's most charming boulevards, the five-star Kigali Serena Hotel is built around a polished granite atrium, which showcases the very best of Rwandese cultural art.
Ishasha Wilderness Camp
Ishasha Wilderness Camp is situated inside the Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park on the Ntungwe river, and is an idyllic retreat for people who truly enjoy the wilderness. Being the only upmarket accommodation in the area, this exclusive tented camp offers quality accommodation and services in this unspoilt remote southern sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park famous for its tree climbing lions that can sometimes be spotted resting in the branches of the large fig trees in the area.
Gorilla Mountain View LodgeParc des Volcans, Rwanda
This new hotel in the Volcanoes National Park offers 30 individual cottages located on the lower slopes of the Virunga Mountains. Just 15 minutes from park headquarters, it is perfect for gorilla trekking!
Primate LodgeKibale Forest National Park, Uganda
Luxury tents, private cottages, and a tree house are situated in the forest, each with their own veranda, spacious bedroom, and en-suite bathroom (except the tree house), just a short walk from the main lodge and chimpanzee tracking.
Properties shown are representative of the accommodations we use on this trip, may not be inclusive of all accommodations we use, and are subject to change.
Expert leadership is the key to an exciting, unforgettable experience. Our trips feature gifted leaders for whom leading trips is a true vocation. Besides showing you wonders you’d never find on your own, they make sure everything runs smoothly and safely without a hitch. They are knowledgeable about all aspects of your trip, and take great pleasure in sharing their insights with you. More than just guides, they positively elevate your experience by being teachers, companions, and the best of friends. You’ll be in good hands with them every step of the way.
Born in Eastern Uganda, Denis is of the Kumam Tribe and grew up in a rural village, where his father is a local chief. After completing secondary school, Denis moved to Kampala where he obtained his license and became an escort driver for an NGO delivering relief supplies to Southern Sudan. After 4 years, he decided to go for a career change and entered the tourism industry, pursuing a childhood interest in wildlife. Through a combination of on-the-job and formal training courses with the Queen Elizabeth Bird Observatory and Bird Life International, Denis has gained extensive knowledge as a general interest Tour Guide specializing in birding. He has worked as a driver/guide for the past 12 years and is a member of the Uganda Driver/Guide Association and the Uganda Birdwatching Society
As both his parents worked for the Park Authorities, Sula was born and spent his early years growing up in Queen Elizabeth National Park. Subjected to invaluable exposure to wildlife during his childhood, it came as no surprise when Sula decided to follow in his parents footsteps and enter the tourism and wildlife industry. Having completed a Diploma in Tourism, Tours and Travel, Sula furthered his experience by working with a research organisation studying the flora and fauna of Queen Elizabeth. He has been driving and guiding safaris for the past six years. Sula is a keen birder and is very passionate and knowledgeable about all of the wide variety bird species found in Uganda. In his spare time, Sula loves to read and watch wildlife documentaries, comparing the wildlife of Uganda with other countries. He is married with one daughter and one son.