Safaris in Kenya and South Africa are truly captivating for Africa-bound travelers, but if you have clients who’ve been there and done that, recommend gorilla trekking in Rwanda and Uganda. Three tour operators tell us why now is the time to send your seasoned travelers on this unique excursion.
What type of client should travel agents be speaking with when recommending gorilla trekking tours?
African Travel, Inc.: “These tours will usually be for second-time visitors to Africa or first-time visitors with a particular wish to see gorillas in their natural setting before they become extinct,” says Jim Holden, president, African Travel, Inc. “There are only something like 800 mountain gorillas left in the world and about half live in Uganda and the rest split between Rwanda and the Congo, all grouped around the same Volcanic Mountain Range called the Virungas. Trekking gorillas in Uganda sometimes takes more exertion than in Rwanda, being more mountainous. That said, sometimes the gorillas come and visit the camps to see the visitors! One doesn’t have to be a fit hiker to do these treks as the guides are very good at cutting paths through the jungle and helping clients over obstacles.”
G Adventures: “Travelers must have an open-mind, an adventurous nature, and shouldn’t mind burning a few calories for a rich reward at the end,” says Taylor Hess, who has gone gorilla trekking and is G Adventures’ global purpose specialist for U.S. Southwest, Texas and Mexico. “The gorillas are not in a petting zoo, and move a lot. Once a family of gorillas is tracked, you could hike anywhere from 20 minutes to three hours on rough trails to find them. The reward is infinitely worth it!”
Lion World Travel: “Africa is really for any client,” says Lucille Sive, president, Lion World Travel. “It is definitely on most people’s bucket lists. For the gorilla trekking, clients should be aware that there could be a lot of hiking through dense forest areas. These trips are obviously for the adventure-minded clients.”
Since these are short trips, what other safaris should they be combined with?
African Travel, Inc.: “When trekking gorillas,” says Holden, “clients often extend their trip with a safari to neighboring Kenya or Tanzania, visiting the wildlife parks of the Masai Mara in Kenya or the Serengeti in Tanzania. For Uganda, gorilla trekking can be combined with good wildlife viewing in the national parks of Uganda such as Murchison Falls and Queen Elizabeth Park.”
G Adventures: “Kenya is very close by,” says Hess, “and an amazing destination. Could pair it well with the 11-day Masai & Tanzania Camping Safari.”
Lion World Travel: “We recommend safaris in either Kenya or Tanzania,” says Sive, “or a beach stay in Zanzibar.”
Beyond the gorilla trekking, why should North Americans visit Uganda and Rwanda and this part of the world?
African Travel, Inc.: “As with all travel, it broadens the mind to see how other nations and countries live. In the case of Rwanda,” says Holden, “it is called ‘Little Switzerland’ as the country is small, densely populated but very hilly and fertile with industrious people growing their own crops. The scenery is stunning and the people friendly and welcoming as they are throughout Africa. In Uganda, there is huge variety in topography from the Virunga Mountains where the gorillas live to Lake Victoria, now known as the source of the Nile River, to the romantic Ruwenzori Mountains referred to by the early explorers as the Mountains of the Moon as they always appeared covered in clouds, to the verdant Wildlife National Parks with elephants and lions. So varied is Uganda in its attractions that none other a personage than Winston Churchill referred to the country as the ‘Pearl of Africa.’”
G Adventures: “Uganda is a country full of unique landscapes and wonderful people,” says Hess. “The cloud-forest of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is absolutely majestic, and the lush low-lands offer amazing safaris. The people are warm and friendly, and love interacting with tourists. In Kampala, you can visit remains of the Buganda kingdom (a UNESCO World Heritage site), and learn more about the vicious dictator Idi Amin by visiting his palace and remnants of the atrocities that he committed.”
Lion World Travel: “Clients can also do other game-viewing and encounter different cultures such as the Batwa tribe in Uganda,” says Sive. “They can also visit the Rwandan genocide memorial or they can take a boat ride on the Nile River. The scenery in both Rwanda and Uganda is breathtaking!”
African Travel, Inc.: The tour operator offers the 8-day Pearl of Africa tour that explores Uganda, traveling to the green city of Kampala, to the Kibale Forest, Queen Elizabeth National Park, and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Highlights include exploring the Kazinga Channel aboard a small boat, discovering the forest dwelling of the country’s indigenous pygmy tribes and watching a mountain gorilla family move in their forest home. Rates for departures through October start at $6,995 pp dbl. The company’s 4-day Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda includes exploring the Parc National des Volcans to trek habituated gorilla families. Rates start at $3,795 pp.
G Adventures: This adventure company is offering a 9-day Rwanda and Uganda Gorilla & Chimp Adventure that includes jungle trekking, embarking on boat and jeep safaris in national parks, and learning about Rwanda’s fascinating culture and history, as well as encountering even more primates on a chimp trek in Uganda. Rates start at $3,999 pp, with remaining departures in October and departures next year June through November.
Lion World Travel: The 4-night Gorillas of Rwanda itinerary includes a tour of Kigali’s Genocide Memorial Centre, a permanent memorial for victims of the genocide of 1994, as well as a scenic drive to Kinigi at the base of Sabyinyo Mountains, with views of the Virunga Volcanoes Mountains. Rates start at $2,499 dbl. The 9-night Primates of Uganda tour, with rates starting at $6,199 dbl, visits Entebbe, Kibale Tropical Rainforest, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Lake Mburo National Park. ●
An Up-Close Viewpoint
Kim Severini, v.p., sales & marketing, African Travel, Inc., recently returned from a gorilla trekking expedition in Rwanda and Uganda. When we caught up with her at the recent Vacation.com conference in Las Vegas, she was over the moon with the experience. Here, in a nutshell, are some of the takeaways from her journey:
Uganda is the “raw Africa” with roads less traveled by Westerners, very poor, and certainly off the beaten path. The country is absolutely beautiful!
Rwanda is much more civilized with great infrastructure, accommodations, etc. Rwanda is a much easier to get around than Uganda due to the infrastructure of the roads.
Gorilla viewing in both is fantastic but the terrain is different. In Uganda, the mountains are much steeper and much denser than Rwanda’s bamboo flat forests.
For the American market, Rwanda is a short 3- or 4-night, fly-in/fly-out extension trip. The easier of the two for sure.
Uganda offers much more general wildlife viewing but the wildlife viewing is small in comparison to Tanzania, Kenya or Southern Africa. Again, a reason why it is not a first timer destination.
The most amazing WOW of both destinations was how close you actually got to these amazing creatures. I had no idea and always thought that the photos featured in our brochure and website were with super lenses. Not so. I didn’t even need a zoom lens! These gentle giants actually look and observe you just like a person would. Truly amazing.
African Travel, Inc.: (800) 421-8907; africantravelinc.com
G Adventures: (888) 800-4100; gadventures.com
or sherpa.gadventures.com/login (travel agent login)
Lion World Travel: (800) 387-2706; lionworldtravel.com