Day one will see you arrive in Uganda into the Entebbe airport in the Ugandan capital of Kampala. Straight out of the airport your own personal safari guide, who will stick with you for the duration of the tour, providing unparalleled knowledge and first-class assistance as well as some great company along the way, will welcome you warmly to the country. The first stop along the road is by the Royal Drum Makers where you can achieve the landmark experience of standing astride the equator, one half north and one half south of this pivotal line. Once the moment has passed, you will continue on the road to the idyllic Kyambura Gorge Lodge.
Arriving at the lodge you will have a relaxing evening to recover from your flight and accustom yourself to the very different world of Africa. Enjoy some pre-dinner drinks (everything but champagne is included in the price of the safari) on the veranda that overlooks the savannah with a stunning panoramic view, the mystical Rwenzori Mountains highlighted on the horizon. Dinner will be served around 7:30 and you can follow that with your complimentary massage or an evening relaxing in the jovial company of friends and fellow travellers in the main lodge building. Feel free to kick up your feet and chill out in your own banda as well, where you can enjoy all the luxurious features of the lodge in peace and quiet.
Day two will see you with the option of taking an early morning drive to see game in the Queen Elizabeth National Park. Though what kind of wildlife you see depends on the season, the Kasenyi plains are renowned for lion, leopard, elephant, wildebeest, hippo, water buffalo, hyena, mongoose and Uganda kob, in addition to which there is a vast number of bird species available to be spotted as well as primates such as the olive baboon, black and white colobus monkey and chimpanzee.
The Mweya peninsula is one of the best places to find leopard, which can be found hiding and skulking in the dense thickets and brush around the waters’ edge, waiting for unsuspecting prey to let their guard down. After your excursion, which will see you rest in the savannah during the main heat of the day and enjoy some time simply being in the iconic landscape of the African plains you will be able to visit the Kyambura Women’s Coffee Co-operative, time permitting of course. The coffee processing station here is supported by the Volcanoes Safaris Partnership Trust (VSPT) and helps supplement the local income. You could also choose to visit the regenerated wetland reserve that the VSPT initiatives have created, returning and rejuvenating the land, reclaiming it for the bird life that now thrives in the area.
Day three marks your visit to the Kyambura Gorge itself. The gorge is an extraordinary naturally formed environment that sits in almost hidden stark contrast with the surrounding grassland. One of the primary activities here is tracking the chimps, which can be unpredictable because they are very mobile, offering a markedly different experience to tracking the gorillas you’ll experience later. The forest in the gorge is nothing short of enchanting and the trees and other vegetation are remarkable.
The afternoon allows you the chance to visit the Kazinga Channel, a stretch of water that flows between Lake Edward and Lake George. You’re able to take a boat cruise along the water at a leisurely pace and enjoy the sights including hippo, elephant, pelican, fish eagle and even crocodile. The diversity of wildlife in this small area of Uganda really is spectacularly unique and makes it a top holiday destination. That evening, you will return to our Kyambura Gorge Lodge for the last night there, enjoying the local hospitality and any of the other activities around the lodge that you haven’t already tried. A hot dinner will be served and in the morning your journey continues south.
Day four will see your guide will drive you down to the Volcanoes Bwindi Lodge, stopping on the way (subject to road conditions) at the intriguing Ishasha town to see the unusual behaviour of the tree-climbing lions. The journey itself is engaging in itself as it speeds through a rapidly changing series of landscapes before arriving at the Bwindi Lodge. The lodge itself sits so close to the mythical Impenetrable Forest (sounding more like something out of Arthurian legend than the real world) that you can feel the wind from the trees as you relax in the decorative gardens. If you arrive in time, there may be the opportunity to engage in some activities around the lodge before dinner is served. The river walk following the river around the grounds is a marvellous way to explore the lodge and prepare yourself for the excursions you’ll enjoy the following day tracking the gorillas.
The following day (five) you’ll be woken up early by the staff and given a wake-up call with a hot drink of your choice before being served breakfast in the main lodge building. They’ll give you a packed lunch and send you off with your guide to the Bwindi Park HQ to begin your tracking experience. The moment has finally arrived. You’re going to track the endangered, rare and fascinatingly human mountain gorillas. The tracking around Bwindi is hard going because the terrain is rather tough but this shouldn’t stop you from going all out with the experience. The forest is dense and vibrantly alive with all sorts of plants and animals. It’s personal, atmospheric and every bit what you’d dream a jungle to be. The moment when you finally set your eyes on the gorillas is inspiring.
After having walked for a few hours to the group you’ve been assigned, the gorilla permits allow you one hour with the gorillas and it will doubtlessly be one of the most exhilarating and enchanting hours of your life as you share the time with these magnificent animals. Describing the experience is to do it a disservice and an injustice but it really is magical.
That evening you’ll return to the lodge and a full hot dinner and an evening of relaxing around the lodge. The proximity of the trees and the forest will make you feel like you’re right in the middle of it, blocking out all conception of the wider world as you enjoy the more isolated, personal connection with the natural world before you. You can enjoy a massage to help you recuperate after the day’s trekking or relax in the main lodge building, swapping stories with the other travellers there and heightening your communal experience.
The next day (six) will again see you enjoying the various activities available at the Bwindi lodge and there is plenty to choose from. If you’re into birding and butterflies then a guided walk through the rainforest will yield spectacular results, otherwise you can enjoy any number of community visits around the local highly populated area. Projects such as the Amagara farming project and the Bwindi Community Hospital are important parts of the local community supported by VSPT and will present you with both an enduring connection with the local people and an enjoyable tour of the premises.
Another opportunity is to connect with the cultural history of the area by discovering the traditions of the Batwa pygmies. They are the native tribal inhabitants of the forest and from them you can learn about how they survived in the forest hunting and gathering food and harvesting plants that have medicinal qualities. The night will be your last in the Bwindi Lodge, nestled closely into the borders of the forest.
On the morning of day seven, following breakfast at Bwindi, you will leave for Mgahinga. The route you’ll travel will wind through mountain roads and bamboo forest rendering fantastic views of the Virunga volcanoes along the way. Passing through Kisoro you will arrive towards the end of the day at the Mount Gahinga Lodge to be greeted by pre-dinner drinks and the following hot meal. That evening you’re encouraged to relax by the fire that roars in the main lodge building before turning in for the night in your own personal luxurious banda.
The eighth day of your Volcanoes adventure gives you a large amount of choice but most opt to track the gorillas in Nkuringo, despite the fact that it can be steep and muddy going. Keen hikers can hike the Muhavura or Gahinga volcanoes. Gahinga is a gentler and easier hike through a bamboo forest that are rich with birds and marshes which will take most of the day to tour. Muhavura will also take the better part of the day and is a tougher climb but the more adventurous among you will be adequately rewarded for your efforts with more than the wonderful sense of accomplishment and achievement but there are spectacular views of the surrounding area from the top of the mountain, particularly on a clear day.
Day nine allows you the opportunity to engage in whatever you opted out of the day before (bar gorilla tracking). Other options for the day include a guided nature walk through the park to track the golden monkeys that takes you through the bamboo to a forested gorge and elevated moorland that boasts more than just the wonderful golden monkeys. The Batwa Trail is also available to wander accompanied by the Batwa Elders. They will demonstrate the traditional methods of survival in the forest and provide you with a truly extraordinary opportunity to involve yourself in a rich cultural exchange. You’ll visit their sacred Ngarama Cave and enjoy the traditional music and dance of this fading culture enjoying the twilight of their years.
The afternoon will take you south again to the final of the four lodges we operate as you cross the border into Rwanda. Located on a hilltop overlooking Lake Bulera and Lake Ruhondo, the views of the Virunga Mountains are sublime from the idyllic and luxurious lodge surrounds. From the terrace you can enjoy a panoramic sunset over the lakes and enjoy a performance from the Intore Dance Troupe, a collection of locals performing the traditional Rwandan dance often referred to as Rwandan Ballet. You will see out the remainder of your stay with us at the beautiful Virunga Lodge.
Day ten offers you another opportunity to track the gorillas, this time in the Parc National des Volcans where you can track more gorilla groups and even choose which you see, depending on permits and other travellers. The terrain here is easier than in Uganda and the slopes of the Virunga range are genuinely magical. Enchanting isn’t enough to describe the atmosphere in this remote area but you’ll rapidly be immersed and absorbed into the forest as you track the elusive gorillas. Feeling like an intrepid explorer despite having tracked gorillas at least once already on your journey will revitalise the excitement in you and set your heart racing for when you find the gorillas. Some families are harder to find than others and depending on which you choose, you may even make it back to the lodge in time for a late lunch. Even if you don’t, a packed lunch is provided by our friendly and welcoming staff.
Day eleven gives you the chance to explore the numerous activities around the lodge (or book another permit and go tracking again). There is a wide variety of activities on offer around the Virunga Lodge, including visiting the grave of iconic researcher Dian Fossey and her companion, Digit. Her exploits with the gorillas around the Parc National des Volcans made international headlines until her death and she has now been immortalised by the locals. Other options for visits include the various program of projects supported by VSPT, including the Roz Carr Imbabazi orphanage. Lake Kivu is home to some of the finest inland beaches in Africa and is a perfect way to see out the final hours of the safari as you relax in the sun on the shores of the peaceful lake. It’s an idyllic place that will do nothing if not calm you and relax you after the excitement of tracking the gorillas. Return to the lodge for an evening of hot food and free drinks, the opportunity to see the Intore dancers and your last night in the heavily luxurious banda.
Day twelve marks the end of the safari and the end of the road for your journey with us (unless you’ve booked an extension, perhaps to return to Mount Gahinga to hike up Karisimbi or another of the Virunga Mountains). Before arriving at the airport, depending on what time you left the lodge and how many stops you made along the way, there may be time to explore Kigali on a city tour. The capital of Rwanda is a vibrant place and has much to see, particularly surrounding the genocide memorial, a stark reminder of a past that the Rwandan people proudly united to overcome.
The experience will end with our guide dropping you to the airport in Kigali and saying goodbye. He has been with you from the moment you arrived in Uganda and has accompanied you on almost all of your treks and activities so he is now more of a friend than a guide. After saying goodbye you will return home with trinkets, photographs, stories and memories that will last you a lifetime.