7 Day Rwanda, Uganda and Congo gorilla safari

VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK (RWANDA) INFORMATION

Volcanoes National Park is 160 square kilometers in size; it is the oldest national park in Africa, established in 1929 as the Albert National Park.  In 1967, the American zoologist, Dian Fossey, who had been doing research on Mountain Gorillas in the forests of the Congo, fled from insecurity and established her research base at a place between Visoke and Karisimbi volcanoes, now known as the Karisoke Research Center.

Fossey spearheaded the conservation campaign of the Mountain Gorillas and mobilized resources to fight against poaching; a fight she continued until she was murdered in 1985.  She is buried at the Karisoke Research Center, next to the grave of her favorite Gorilla, Digit.

The Volcanoes National Park is home to not only the Mountain Gorillas, but also Golden Monkeys, Spotted Hyena, Buffaloes, Elephants, Black-fronted Duiker and Bushbuck.  The park has almost 200 bird species including 29 endemics to Rwenzori Mountains and the Virungas.

The park is only a 2 hour drive from Kigali, and as such, allows people to visit the park for just one day and go on a Mountain Gorilla Safari.  The park opens at 7 am; unfortunately, there is no public transport to the park gate from Kigali.  In addition to Gorilla Trekking, one of the more popular activities is hiking Karisimbi Volcano (3,800 meteres).  Also there is a one-day Mount Bisoke volcano hike, visiting Dian Fossey’s research center and the twin lakes of Ruhondo and Bulera.

The Mountain Gorillas are the most sought after safari adventure in Africa; these primates only exist in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The permit fees are higher than any other wildlife permit, first to limit the number of people visiting, to limit stress on these apes and on their habitat,that might result in their change of behavior or even their death.  Secondly, the fees are used to help sustain the livelihood of the Mountain Gorillas.  There are a maximum of 8 people per day per gorilla group, which low numbers help in not overwhelming the Gorillas.

VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK (DRC) INFORMATION

VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK is Africa’s oldest national park and the continent’s most biologically diverse protected area.  The park is 3000 square miles in size and includes forests, savannas, lava plains, swamps, erosion valleys, active volcanoes and the glaciated peaks of the Rwenzori Mountains.

Here in Virunga National Park, live one quarter of the world’s endangered Mountain Gorillas; there are two other Great Ape species as well, the Eastern Lowland Gorilla (Grauer’s Gorilla) and Chimpanzees.  Virunga National Park is the only protected area in the world that hosts three of the Great Apes.  The Okapi, another endangered species that resembles a zebra but is more closely related to the Giraffe.  The park also has large colonies of hippopotami, forest and savanna elephants, lions and numerous rare bird species.

The park is divided into three distinct areas.  The Northern Sector is defined by the snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains that border Uganda. The snowmelt from the Rwenzoris is one of the primary sources of the Nile River.  Here, along the Semiliki River valley, the Okapis can be found.  The park’s Central Sector is defined by Lake Edward, the Ishasha River valley and the Rwindi plains.  Lake Edward contains over 50 species of fish as well as numerous bird species.  Here by the lake and adjacent Ishasha River valley you will find the park’s recovering hippo population and the highest concentrations of elephant, buffalo and warthogs.  The Rwindi plains is the area that the Topi can be found.  The Southern Sector is best known for the Mountain Gorillas that live on the flanks of the dormant Mikeno Volcano.  Most of Southern Virunga is covered with dense forests, which make an ideal habitat for Chimpanzees and numerous species of Monkey.

BWINDI IMPENETRABLE FOREST NATIONAL PARK (UGANDA) INFORMATION

BWINDI IMPENETRABLE FOREST NATIONAL PARK is Uganda’s foremost tourist attraction.  Here one can find half of the world’s population of Mountain Gorillas; 400 in the park. In addition, there are 120 mammals, including numerous other primates such as Chimpanzees, Black and White Colobus, Blue Monkeys, Grey-cheecked Mangabey, and L’hoest’s Monkey.  Bwindi’s diverse rainforest also protects 350 species of birds, over 200 species of butterflies, 27 species of frogs, 163 species of trees and 100 species of ferns.  Many of these are endangered species.  Bwindi has been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage site.  Many consider the encounter and subsequent eye contact with a mountain gorilla, the most exciting and poignant wildlife experience in the whole of Africa, and possibly in the world.

The park is 3,315 square kilometers in size and provides unequalled access to the popular Mountain Gorillas.  There are 4 tracking trailheads.  One of the trails leads to the highest peak, Rwamunyonyi, at 2,607 meters.  There are 10 groups of mountain gorilla families that have been habituated and only 8 tourists booked per group per day.  This limits and controls the encounters with humans.  These trails also provide access to other attractions in the park such as rivers, waterfalls, swamps and a high level of wildlife concentration throughout.  Birding is a huge attraction at Bwindi as well; great opportunities exist to see various Albertine rift endemics, including the short-tailed warbler.

ITINERARY

DAY 1:  KIGALI AND TRANSFER TO VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK (RWANDA)

Your Gorilla Cousins Rwanda guide will meet you at the Kigali International Airport and give you a briefing of the upcoming itinerary.  This ultimate Mountain Gorilla Tour includes visiting the only three countries that are home to the rare and endangered species….Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Your guide will go over your travel documents to ensure that all is in order for the various border crossings coming up the next few days.  Immediately afterwards, you will begin your travel in Rwanda to the Volcanoes National Park.  This is a 2 hour journey on good roads; if time permits, your guide can give you a city tour of Kigali before departing the city, including the Genocide Memorial Center and any other cultural or historical sites you may be interested in.

You will be taken to your accommodation in the Volcanoes National Park, where you will have dinner.

DAY 2:  MOUNTAIN GORILLA TRACKING IN VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK (RWANDA)

After an early morning breakfast, your Gorilla Cousins Rwanda guide will escort you to the park headquarters of Volcanoes National Park to register for the Mountain Gorilla Tracking.  At the center, there are local artists that perform dance routines with music accompaniment while you take a cup of coffee or tea, while the paperwork is done.  After being assigned to a group and a Park Ranger, you will begin your  Mountain Gorilla Safari.  Encountering your particular assigned gorilla family can take some time, as the Gorillas move about in the forest and it can take up to a few hours to locate them.  You are permitted one hour to observe and photograph the Gorillas.  Your accommodation will pack a lunch for you to take with, as its unknown how long you will be in the forest; these foods are not permitted to be eaten in front of the Gorillas, you must enjoy them either before or after your encounter.

After your Gorilla Trek is completed, you will reunite with your Gorilla Cousins Rwanda guide, who will then take you to a local cultural center, where you will encounter the indigenous people of the area, listen to their music, look over their crafts etc.  Before nightfall, your guide will return you to your accommodation, where you will have dinner.

DAY 3:  TRANSFER TOWARDS VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK (DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO)

After breakfast, your Gorilla Cousins Rwanda guide will pick you up at your accommodation and take you to Kisoro in Western Uganda.  This will involve traveling across the Rwanda/Uganda border, which is about 2 hour’s drive, and then continuing your journey in Uganda to the town of Kisoro, where you will spend the night.  Dinner will be served at your accommodation.A

DAY 4:  MOUNTAIN GORILLA TRACKING IN VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK (DRC)

After an early morning breakfast, you will travel to the Uganda/DRC border, some 30 minutes away. After proceeding across the border, you will then drive directly to the Virunga National Park headquarters and register for your Mountain Gorilla Tracking.  Similarly as in the Rwandan experience, you will be assigned to a group and a Park Ranger and then begin your tracking of the Mountain Gorillas.  After you have spent your allotted time with the particular Gorilla family you were assigned to, you will then reunite with your Gorilla Cousins Rwanda guide, who will then escort you back to your accommodation in Kisoro.  Here you will have dinner and spend the night.

DAY 5:  TRANSFER TO BWINDI IMPENETRABLE FOREST NATIONAL PARK (UGANDA)

After breakfast, you will begin your journey from Kisoro to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and check in at your accommodation.  The journey is not far, just about an hour, which will enable your Gorilla Cousins Rwanda guide to take you to one of the villages en route to meet up with the local people.  Here you will be able to not only meet and greet the people, but also to possible learn a bit about their livelihood, particularly with regards to their unusual agricultural methods.  Here in the mountains, crops are grown on the mountain sides and everything from planting, irrigating and harvesting is complicated and very different from other areas.

You will be taken to your accommodation for lunch, and you will have an opportunity to rest up or if you are interested in another cultural encounter, your Gorilla Cousins Rwanda guide will go over the options,

Dinner will be served at your accommodation.

DAY 6:  MOUNTAIN GORILLA TRACKING IN BWINDI IMPENETRABLE FOREST NATIONAL PARK (UGANDA)

After an early breakfast, your Gorilla Cousins Rwanda guide will take you to the Park Headquarters to register once again for your third Mountain Gorilla tracking.  This time, it is the home of over half the Mountain Gorillas in existence; Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park seems to be their favourite habitat and the density of the forest, coupled with the safe environment that the Ugandans have maintained for the Mountain Gorillas make it so.  After your tracking has been completed, you will reunite with your Gorilla Cousins Rwanda guide who will escort you back to your accommodation.  Dinner will be served at your accommodation.

DAY 7:  RETURN TO KIGALI

After breakfast, you will begin your journey back across the Ugandan/Rwandan border to Kigale.  Time permitting, your Gorilla Cousins Rwanda guide can give you a tour of Kigali city, including the Genocide Memorial Center and possibly any other cultural, historical or shopping site you may be interested in.  Your guide is very familiar with what is offered in Kigali, and going over the options with him will give both of you some idea of what you may be interested in seeing.

When the time is right, your guide will take you to the Kigali International Airport to meet your flight.