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Uganda & Rwanda Gorilla Trek, Chimps Tracking Safari - 5 Days

5-day Uganda Rwanda gorillas trekking safari with 2 gorilla treks in Bwindi and Volcanoes Park as well as Chimps tracking in Kibale National Park with over 12 other primates. The gorillas and chimps tracking safari can start from Rwanda or Uganda but you will have the best of your time with gorillas and chimpanzees in both countries. We can start this gorilla tour from Rwanda or Uganda but ending would be in either countries (not the same as the starting). If you prefer to start and end the same country, please let us know in time.

Overview
Itinerary
Accommodation
Inclusions
Overview

Uganda- Rwanda Gorillas Trekking, Chimps Tracking Safari - 5 Days

5-day Uganda Rwanda gorillas tracking safari with 2 gorilla treks in Bwindi and Volcanoes Park and Chimps tracking in Kibale National Park with over 12 other primates.

The gorillas and chimps tracking safari can start from Rwanda or Uganda but you will have the best of your time with gorillas and chimpanzees in both countries. 

  • Day 1: Meet in Entebbe or Kampala at your hotel, drive to Kibale National Park, afternoon guided walk in Bigodi Wetland
  • Day 2: Chimpanzee Tracking in Kibale National Park & Afternoon drive to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
  • Day 3: Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
  • Day 4: Transfer to Rwanda via Chanika border in Kisoro.
  • Day 5: Gorilla Trekking in Parc des Volcanoes & transfer to Kigali Airport for departure.
Itinerary

Day 1: Meet at hotel in Kampala or Entebbe, drive to Kibale National Park

Briefing on the safari before we drive westwards towards Fort Portal to the Kibale Forest National Park (about 5 hours).

Traveling on both asphalt and unpaved roads, you pass through traditional Ugandan villages where you see people at work tending their traditional crops of millet, sorghum, beans and maize. The lush rolling hills of this region provide good photo opportunities.

As you approach Fort Portal in the foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains, you enter Uganda's famous tea plantation region. A carpet of green spreads before you, as far as the eye can see, and seems an unusual contrast to the countryside through which you have just passed.

You arrive at Fort Portal, then, continue toward Kibale Forest, one of the great African rainforest research reserves. Years of study by scientists (who have cut a grid through the forest) have habituated many of its animals to human observers. This forest is famed for the variety of primates found here and it is a terrific area for birds. This rural Ugandan town (Fort Portal) is locally famous for its weaving and basketry, and we can spend some time briefly to examine some of this local art.

Accommodation options available (all on full board basis)

Up-market: Kyaninga Lodge | Primate Lodge Kibale | Ndali Lodge

Moderate: Isunga Lodge or  Turaco Treetops Lodge or  Kibale Forest Camp

Low Budget: tents at Kibale Forest Camp or Chimpanzee Forest Guesthouse

Day 2: Chimpanzee Tracking in Kibale National Park & Transfer to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Assemble at Kanyankyu River camp at 08:00 hours to go for the most popular activity in this park which is chimpanzee tracking.

Chimpanzees are man’s closest cousins though they are one of the most threatened primate species. More primates like black and white colobus monkeys, L’Hoest monkeys, grey-cheeked mangabey, red-tailed monkeys, bush babies, pottos and many bird species like the yellow spotted nicator, rumped tinker bird, little greenbul, green breasted pitta, the crowned eagle, black bee-eater and mammals like elephants can be seen in this walk.

Kibale National park, which averages about 3,300 feet in elevation, is an extension of the great rainforests of Central Africa. It is inhabited by three large communities of chimps, each numbering more than 100 individuals. Each community has a complicated social structure. The big adult males dominate the group and defend the community territory against incursions by male outsiders; the females usually wander in small family groups.

Typically, we locate the chimps by listening for their pant-hooting calls, then hustle to the area from which they are calling. We get to observe them as they feed in fruiting trees, lounge, and socialise with each other, or even, occasionally hunt.

After the chimps trek,  we proceed driving to Bwindi via Queen Elizabeth National Park and here you may spot many wildlife including Elephants, Buffaloes, among others. This is the lushest highland rain forest on earth, filled with primates and exotic birds, valleys, hilltops and papyrus swamps.

Accommodation options available (all on full board basis)

Up-market: Mahogany Lodge | Buhoma Lodge | Chameleon Hill Lodge

Moderate: Engagi Lodge |Silverback Lodge| Gorilla Mist Camp | Lake Mulehe Gorilla Lodge

Low Budget: Buhoma Community Campground | Ruhija Gorilla Friends Camp | Rushaga Gorilla Haven Lodge

Day 3: Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

After breakfast, proceed for the morning briefing before enjoying the highlight of the trip - gorilla trekking, which may last the entire day.

We trek through the rainforest and bamboo covered slopes, accompanied by a guide and trackers, in search of a mountain gorilla family. The walking can sometimes be tough and long, but when you catch a glimpse of the magnificent silverback, any discomforts will be quickly forgotten. When sighted, visitors will be guided to within 6 metres from the gorillas, sit around them for a whole hour while gazing into their big round eyes.

Gorilla trekking is unpredictable. It's difficult to foresee how many hours you will hike. The gorilla excursion can take from 2 up to 8 hours. Expect to walk along distance in steep and muddy conditions, sometimes with rain overhead, before you encounter any gorillas. A good physical condition is recommended. For conservation purposes, time spent with the gorillas is limited to one hour. A ranger will brief you on how to behave with the gorillas.

Accommodation options available (all on full board basis)

Up-market: Mahogany Lodge | Buhoma Lodge | Chameleon Hill Lodge

Moderate: Engagi Lodge |Silverback Lodge| Gorilla Mist Camp | Lake Mulehe Gorilla Lodge

Low Budget: Buhoma Community Campground | Ruhija Gorilla Friends Camp | Rushaga Gorilla Haven Lodge

Day 4: Transfer to Rwanda

Take breakfast and depart for Rwanda. You will cross the border via Kisoro or Kabale then clear at the border - Rwanda is 1 hour behind Uganda.

Located in the far north-west of Rwanda, Parc des Volcans is home to the steep slopes of this wonderful mountain range – home of the rare mountain gorilla – and the rich mosaic of montane ecosystems, which cuddles evergreen and bamboo forest, open grassland, swamp and heath.

Accommodation options available

Up-market: Five Volcanoes Lodge | Mountain Gorilla View Lodge

Moderate: Le Bambou Gorilla Lodge | La Palme Hotel | Volcanoes Gorilla Lodge

Low Budget: Hotel Muhavura 

Day 5: Gorilla Trekking in Parc des Volcanoes & drive to Kinigi for departure flights (only possible with late evenning flights)

Have breakfast and go to ORTPN offices for briefing after that set off in the forest for gorilla trekking.

A thrilling trek through the refined foothills of the Virungas provides inspiring views in all directions. Then, suddenly, the trail enters the national park, engrossing trekkers in the strange closeness of the rainforest, alive with the calls of colourful birds and chattering of the rare golden monkey, and besieged with fresh spoor of the mountains' elusive populations of buffalo and elephant. Through gaps in the forest canopy, the marvellous peaks are sighted, easily easy to get to and among the uppermost in Africa, indicating an ascent.

Gorilla trekking is quite strenuous but a worthwhile on encounter of these gentle giants. The enthusiasm of your coming across with these apes will wipe away your intricacy of the strenuous trek. Spend time watching gorillas, watch the adults feeding their young ones, brushing and resting as the youngsters play from vines in a pleasurably playful display.

After the gorilla trek, drive back to the hotel for lunch, drive back to Kigali and transfer at airport for your flight.

TIPS FOR THE BEST GORILLA TREKKING EXPERIENCE IN UGANDA

 Secure Gorilla Trekking permits early

Gorilla Trekking is the most popular foreign tourist activity for Uganda. On every single day, only 128 tourists can trek the gorillas in Bwindi. Uganda has the cheapest gorilla permits prices at USD600 (or USD700 beginning July 2020) for safe gorilla tracking as Rwanda's gorilla permits cost USD1500. This means the competition is quite high for the few gorilla permits in Uganda and it becomes hard to secure gorilla trekking permits a few days to your Uganda gorilla tour (although it is often possible with luck more so in the green season months of October, November, April and May).  It is best to have your gorilla trek permit fully confirmed at least 4 months in advance.

Assess your fitness levels 

There is a likelihood you could walk for 3-6 hours on a gorilla trek. Gorillas are located deep in Bwindi forest with thick undergrowth over several steep volcanic slopes. Gorilla groups keep roaming this forest looking for their favorite food. They are never stationed in the same place over days. Your gorilla trek will follow this same trend and it is quite unpredictable knowing how long or tough your gorilla trekking shall be. The longer trek is not necessarily a problem, just something to be prepared for.  A bit of moderate physical fitness is needed for gorilla trekking in Uganda.

Guides & Porters for the gorilla trek

You will be guided through the forest on your gorilla tracking by a Uganda Wildlife Authority guide whom you will meet at the departure point in the morning of your trek. Your guide can help you book a porter (or two!) so that you can track without having to carry the few essential items listed below in a day pack which you should bring with you. The porters are from the local community and very used to the local conditions and can assist in pushing, pulling and supporting you during your trek to the gorillas. They are usually an additional fee, over and above your safari cost, and you should budget on approximately USD15-20 per porter per day as a fee with additional tipping being optional.

As the porters do not have tracking permits they will be stopped a short distance from the point you will be viewing the mountain Gorillas. Please remember to take whatever you may need from your bag to view the gorillas and rather leave valuables at the lodge/camp.

You will be allowed up to one hour for viewing of the gorillas from when they are sighted by your group. This is to ensure that the wild animals are not overexposed to human presence. Whilst in their presence you will also be required to keep minimum distances from them – generally between 5-7 metres and your guides will ensure this is enforced.

What to pack on gorilla trekking

• Plenty of water – 1-2 litres per person
• High energy snacks in addition to your packed lunch provided by the lodge/camp
• Spare film and batteries for videos and cameras
• Gloves (gardening type are good)
• Waterproof bag to protect photographic equipment
• A hat, sunscreen, mosquito repellent and band-aids might be useful
• A lightweight waterproof jacket/poncho
• Walking sticks are made available at the start of the trek for some of the steeper and more slippery tracks and may prove to be very handy.

Gorilla Trekking Age Limits

The age limit for gorilla trekking is 15 years and the authorities are very strict on this! With special written permission however, a 14yr old might pass.

Accommodation
Inclusions
  • Two gorilla trek permits (one in Rwanda and one in Uganda)
  • Kibale Chimps/ primate trek permit
  • Meals indicated on programme
  • Drinking water
  • Services of an experienced English-speaking safari guide
  • Accommodation as per safari programme
  • Park fees for the various parks
  • Private transport using a 4x4 safari vehicle

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THE MOUNTAIN GORILLA TREKKING EXPERIENCE

Mountain gorillas are wild animals and, as such, sightings cannot be guaranteed. However, for the last 14 years, no one has trekked the gorillas and failed to see them in Uganda. Certainly, you won't be the one with bad luck! On the trek, once you find the gorillas, you will be allowed an hour with the gorillas and you can only go not more than 6 meters from them.  As the gorilla tracking can sometimes take a full day, you will need to go with your packed lunch and lots of drinking water when trekking to the gorillas.

Gorilla trekking timings and conditions vary tremendously as the gorillas move continuously through the rain forest. It is good to be prepared and remember the weather can change with very little warning. The terrain is often steep and through areas where there are no marked paths.

TIPS FOR THE BEST GORILLA TREKKING EXPERIENCE IN UGANDA

 Secure Gorilla Trekking permits early

Gorilla Trekking is the most popular foreign tourist activity for Uganda. On every single day, only 128 tourists can trek the gorillas in Bwindi. Uganda has the cheapest gorilla permits prices at USD600 (or USD700 beginning July 2020) for safe gorilla tracking as Rwanda's gorilla permits cost USD1500. This means the competition is quite high for the few gorilla permits in Uganda and it becomes hard to secure gorilla trekking permits a few days to your Uganda gorilla tour (although it is often possible with luck more so in the green season months of October, November, April and May).  It is best to have your gorilla trek permit fully confirmed at least 4 months in advance.

Assess your fitness levels 

There is a likelihood you could walk for 3-6 hours on a gorilla trek. Gorillas are located deep in Bwindi forest with thick undergrowth over several steep volcanic slopes. Gorilla groups keep roaming this forest looking for their favorite food. They are never stationed in the same place over days. Your gorilla trek will follow this same trend and it is quite unpredictable knowing how long or tough your gorilla trekking shall be. The longer trek is not necessarily a problem, just something to be prepared for.  A bit of moderate physical fitness is needed for gorilla trekking in Uganda.

Guides & Porters for the gorilla trek

You will be guided through the forest on your gorilla tracking by a Uganda Wildlife Authority guide whom you will meet at the departure point in the morning of your trek. Your guide can help you book a porter (or two!) so that you can track without having to carry the few essential items listed below in a day pack which you should bring with you. The porters are from the local community and very used to the local conditions and can assist in pushing, pulling and supporting you during your trek to the gorillas. They are usually an additional fee, over and above your safari cost, and you should budget on approximately USD15-20 per porter per day as a fee with additional tipping being optional.

As the porters do not have tracking permits they will be stopped a short distance from the point you will be viewing the mountain Gorillas. Please remember to take whatever you may need from your bag to view the gorillas and rather leave valuables at the lodge/camp.

You will be allowed up to one hour for viewing of the gorillas from when they are sighted by your group. This is to ensure that the wild animals are not overexposed to human presence. Whilst in their presence you will also be required to keep minimum distances from them – generally between 5-7 metres and your guides will ensure this is enforced.

What to pack on gorilla trekking

• Plenty of water – 1-2 litres per person
• High energy snacks in addition to your packed lunch provided by the lodge/camp
• Spare film and batteries for videos and cameras
• Gloves (gardening type are good)
• Waterproof bag to protect photographic equipment
• A hat, sunscreen, mosquito repellent and band-aids might be useful
• A lightweight waterproof jacket/poncho
• Walking sticks are made available at the start of the trek for some of the steeper and more slippery tracks and may prove to be very handy.

Gorilla Trekking Age Limits

The age limit for gorilla trekking is 15 years and the authorities are very strict on this! With special written permission however, a 14yr old might pass.

Videos & Photography for Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

In Uganda, it can be difficult to capture good photos under the dark canopy of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, as the name suggests! If you are very lucky, you may encounter your gorilla family in a clearing.

Here are a few tips for photographing the gorillas in Uganda:

  • If you’re taking photos using a standard point-and-shoot camera, then make sure your camera is fully charged.
  • Always take extra memory cards.
  • Remember that flash photography is not allowed when you are with the gorillas. Make sure you have your camera manual with you so you know how to disable the automatic flash and automatic focus light functions.
  • We recommend a good SLR camera. The best lenses are those with a wide aperture such as f2,8 which allow in max light and are best in gloomy conditions.  A 24 – 70 mm and a 70 – 200 m is a good combination. If you have space then consider a 300mm and a wide angle but it’s a steep walk so consider hiring a porter. A 50 mm 1.4 lens is also ideal for low light shooting and something to consider as a standard lens.
  • Professional filmmakers require permission and need to purchase filming permits in advance from UWA (Uganda) or RDB (Rwanda).
  • Keep your camera and/or phone in a waterproof bag (such as a large Ziploc bag). Cue: you’re in the rainforest.

Professional photographers, film makers or media should advise us at the time of booking as special procedures are required as well as costs to be incurred for photographing and filming.

CAMERA SETTINGS FOR GORILLA PHOTOGRAPHY

File format

Shooting in RAW format is the way to go. A jpeg is smaller in size because it discards a lot of information and so information cannot be retrieved if your exposure is slightly out. If you are shooting in jpeg, make sure your camera is set to the largest file size and also set your white balance according to the light conditions.

ISO and shutter speed

It can get dark in the forest – very dark. And gorillas are very dark subjects. If you have a Nikon D3x or D800 you can shoot at ISO 3200 and get away with it very well. My recommendation however is to try to keep in the range of IS0 800 to 2000 for maximum quality of image. High ISO gives a faster shutter speed but can affect quality and cause noise. Keep ISO as low as possible without getting blurred images. A rule of thumb is don’t shoot below 1/200th of a second with a 200mm lens. If you are using an 80 mm lens then you can shoot at slower speeds of say 1/80th and so on. If the gorillas are on the move you should up your shutter speed to 1/1000th of a second or more.

Metering and priority settings

A good default setting is to use centre weighted metering, aperture priority and an aperture of f5.6 or so. If there is a lot of dark gorilla in the viewfinder you will need to underexpose by up to two stops of light – 2 using your AE +/- button or you will overexpose your image. It is also a good idea to consider manual shooting if you are in fairly consistent lighting conditions. Your camera likes shooting subjects where the differences in exposure are not too extreme and its for this reason that cloudy or shady conditions are often best for shooting dark subjects like gorillas.

Focus

Single point focus is usually always best – you don’t want the camera focusing on the tree instead of the gorilla and usually you will want to lock your focus on the eyes. If you have a group of gorillas that you want to keep as much in focus as possible then focus about 1/3 into the picture. You may want to change focus to multi -point if you have lots of moving subjects but suggest single focus points will give you more control.  You will probably shoot on single shot, but may want to change your focus settings to continuous focus and rapid fire if they are on the move and playful.

SHOOTING TIPS FOR GORILLAS

When you are with the gorillas there is a 7 meter buffer rule between you and animals. The reason is that their DNA is so close to ours that it is very easy for them to pick up flu and colds. Gorillas don’t know this rule and so don’t be surprised if they do approach closer (and be ready for it with a wide lens available), but if the guides ask you to move away then always do so smartly.

Your time with the gorillas is precious. Don’t shoot away wildly. Plan your shots. Close ups, wide shots, angles and framing. Think about your options. Also don’t forget the wide shots of Make sure that you don’t spend the whole time looking through the lens. Sit and watch and consider the fact that you are watching one of the gentlest and most fascinating creatures on the planet.

As with all wildlife photography it’s about the moment. Try to catch the little moments such as when the gorillas are interacting or when the sun catches their eyes. Also why not video your friends as soon as its over and let them tell you about their experiences of this fantastic experience.

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

The park is located in south western Uganda, covering parts of Rukungiri, Kisoro, and Kabale Districts. It is situated in a hilly country-side that, together with some remnant lowland forest outside the boundary constitutes an important water catchments area for many rivers, supplying the agricultural land of the surrounding region.

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is a true equatorial jungle, inhabited by four gorilla groups. Amongst the dense vegetation the columbus monkey jumps from branch to branch, chattering its warning to its fellows hidden by the foliage. Chimpanzees, in families of 20 or 30, make the rounds, searching for fruit and edible plants.

It is situated in a hilly country-side that, together with some remnant lowland forest outside the boundary constitutes an important water catchments area for many rivers, supplying the agricultural land of the surrounding region.

The best time to visit Uganda is late December to late February, and from June to September, as the weather at this time of year is generally dry, and warm. Temperatures average at around 25 degrees Celsius.

 

Chimpanzee tracking in Uganda

Uganda provides the greatest opportunities for tracking Chimpanzees in East African region. You can do chimpanzee tracking in various parts of the country. The country is home to over 5000 chimpanzees in protected and unprotected areas. The Chimpanzee tracking areas described here are habituated, meaning that they are used to humans and will go about their days while you are near them.  Meanwhile you can see chimpanzees in zoos or sanctuaries, there is nothing like seeing the chimpanzees in their natural habitat in the wild. There are also chimpanzees in Bwindi (not habituated) and other degraded forest fragments on private land across western Uganda. The increasing demand for tourism and research is leading to more groups of chimpanzees being habituated. The table below gives a basic guideline to Research and tourism sites with habituated chimpanzees in the Albertine Rift, Western Uganda (Please note that chimpanzees habituated for research only are meant for research not tourism. You can’t see this as a tourist).

Kibale National Park:

Kibale Forest is the leading Chimpanzee destination in East Africa. The jungle rainforest is a home to about 30% of the Chimpanzee population in Uganda. The recent census of Chimpanzees in Kibale forest puts it at about 1500. In addition to Chimpanzees, there are also twelve other different species of primates. Literally, it is referred to as the Worlds Capital City of Primates. You can not only see privates while tracking chimpanzees, there are also various mammalian species including forest elephants, forest buffaloes, both local and exotic birds, several butterfly species, mammals. While tracking Chimpanzees, you can see at least 5 of the 13 primate species in Kibale Forest. If you want to spend more time with Chimpanzees, you can do Chimpanzee habituation experience, meaning you can be with Chimpanzees for the whole day. If you go to Kibale, please don’t miss Bigodi Wetlands Sanctuary. This is a large wetland where you can also see various primate species, countless butterflies and birds, mammals and much more.

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