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Gorilla Safari to Uganda and Rwanda for Allana Botha

Queen Elizabeth Park/Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda

Little did I know what a whirlwind adventure awaited me. After an overnight in Entebbe, Uganda greeted my senses with its old world charm. My drive from Kampala to Queen Elizabeth National Park meandered through villages and green hills, banana plantations, small crop farms and eager children calling 'hello'. Enterprising 'bike taxis' and stall keepers of a ll merchandise highlighted the road ways as we crossed the Equator.

Drive from Kampala to Queen Elizabeth National Park meandered through villages and green hills at uganda

The beautiful plains of the Queen Elizabeth National Park le ft me speechless with its never ending vistas. Prolific Uganda kob and topi with elephant and tree climbing lions made for fabulous game viewing. Ishasha Wildern ess Camp was welcoming after a hectic day offering a peaceful haven along the river, until the evening when a lion came roaring through the camp! The camp staff was attentive and the food was sumptuous!

The beautiful plains of the Queen Elizabeth National Park

We continued onwards to Bwindi National Park. Climbing up mountain passes we viewed red tail monkeys, black & white colobus monkeys, blue monkeys and r'host along the roadside. The valleys and sights were just breathtaking. Arriving at Gorilla Forest Camp was mesmerizing with the forests and rumbling skies in the late afternoon.

Bwindi National Park

There was great excitement the morning of our gorilla trek. We were trekking the Habinyanya family. We met with our guide and trekked for two hours. The guides, trekkers and porter s were just great. Any tiredness from the trek faded immediately on sighting our first gorilla. The lazy sounds of them munching away and rustling leaves made one aware that they were all around us. The guide cleared the vegetation for better viewing an d seeing our first silverback was breathtaking.
The Gorilla Forest Camp was wonderful to return to. The ladies enjoyed a massage before dinner at our camp. The staff was exceptional as was the food.

The Gorilla Forest Camp

The next day we climbed and curved through mountains and valleys to the Rwanda border. We cleared customs and continued onwards to Gorilla Mountain View Lodge with Sabyinyo Volcano in the background. In the evening we enjoyed a cultural show.

Gorilla Mountain View Lodge with Sabyinyo Volcano in the background and enjoyed a cultural show

The following day brought the excitement of a golden monkey trek. This was different than the gorilla trek as we hiked through farmlands and a bamboo forest. These delightful creatures were all around and quite at home with us being there.

Gorilla Safari to Uganda and Rwanda for Allana BothaGolden monkey

The following morning I left our group and went onwards to Kigali which is a clean, developing city. After a very emotional visit to the Genocid e museum, I did some last minute shopping at the local market before leaving for the airport to connect with my return flight home.  

Kigali which is a clean, developing citKigali which is a clean, developing cit

An amazing journey and adventure!

- by: Allana Botha

Szilvia Hegyi in Kenya and Rwanda

Szilvia Hegyi -  Safari in Kenya and gorilla trekking in Rwanda 2011
After spending a night at the lovely House of Waine in Nairobi, we started our Kenyan safari in Amboseli where we spent time at Tortilis Camp and Tawi Lodge. Both Tortilis and Tawi Lodge a re located on private concessions just outside Amboseli National Park, and both have a waterhole on their property, so guests can also enjoy viewing animals while spending time in the main areas. Tawi Lodge is one of the newest lodges in Amboseli and a great option for a romantic getaway.

Amboseli is famous for its large population of elephants and during our game we had a wonderful time observing the elephant families moving in and out of the swamp, caring for their young on es or bathing in mud and dust. Amboseli is also one of the best parks to enjoy an amazing view of Mount Kilimanjaro and we were lucky to have a chance to see Mt. Kilimanjaro before we bid farewell to our fantastic guide, Stanley.

Click on the link for more information about Amboseli National Park

Amboseli is famous for its large population of elephants
Amboseli National Park by Szilvia Hegyi

Our next stop in Kenya was the famous Maasai Mara. We spent time at Rekero, Mara Ngenche and Mara Plains Camp. Every day while in the Mara during our game drives we saw lions, leopards and cheetahs alongside lots of giraffes, impalas, buffalos and many other species. The advantage of spendi ng time in the Mara in the non -migration period was that we saw very few vehicles around which definitely enhanced our game viewing experience. During the non -migration period the Mara stays home for plenty of resident wildebeests, zebras, lions, cheetahs, leopards, giraffes and many other species including some amazing birds. Our guide Felix was great, we learned a lot about animal behavior, flora and fauna and the Kenyan culture from him.

My favorite camps in the Mara included Rekero, Naibor and Salas Ca mps. The camps are beautifully located overlooking the Talek River (Rekero and Naibor) and Sand River (Salas) where during the migration period clients may have a chance to witness a river crossing while sp ending time at the camps. The camps are quite small and not fenced allowing animals to roam around freely. Every night we fell asleep listening to hippos grazing outside and lions roaring, best sleeping pill ever! I would highly recommend these camps for g uests who want to experience the Maasai Mara in a nice, exclusive bush setting. Many of the camps have special family tents with 2 connected rooms (each with their own bathroom), so nicely cater for families. These three camps reminded me of the Botswana bush camps, and offer a great option for repeat safariers who have spent time in the Southern Africa region, and would like to experience something similar in East Africa.

Click on the link for more information about the Masai Mara National Reserve

Other great camps in the Maasai Mara include Mara Intrepids, Mara Explorer and Mara Ngenche. I would highly recommend Mara Explorer and Mara Ngenche for couples and honeymooners, and Mara Intrepids for families as the camp is extremely child -friendly offering many fun activities for the young adventurers.

Guests can spend time within the Maasai Mara reserve (above mentioned camps) and/or outside the reserve in private concessions. At the camps located outside the reserve guests can enjoy activities like a night game drive which is not allowed within the reserve. Furthermore the private concessions located outside the reserve accommodate limited amount of guests due to concession rules, so there are fewer vehicles around while on a game drive which provides a more exclusive experience. In order to maximize the game viewing experience I would strongly recommend spending time both inside and outside the reserve to experience the wide variety of activities and different areas of the Mara region.

We enjoyed our last night at Mara Plains which is located just north of the Maasai Mara Reserve on the Olare Orok Conservancy. At Mara Plains Camp we enjoyed a night game drive, and had a chance to see lots of nocturnal animals like bush babies, white tail mongoose. We came across a pride of lions feeding on a wildebeest while surrounded by about 12 hyenas and 4 -5 jackals who wanted to steal away their kill. The scene was super intense especially after the hyenas started to circle our vehicle!!

Beautiful cheetahs..  One male and female lion which look angry to each other.

During our time in the Maasai Mara we also visited a Maasai village where we had the pleasure to see the Maasai boys and ladies dancing, and were invited into a Maasai house where we learned a lot about their way of life including their traditions regarding marriage, family functions, role of the men and women in the village and their responsibilities.

Check out our '10 Day Kenya Exclusive Locations' safari

While in Kenya we had the privilege to enjoy our game drives with two of our wonderful guides, Stanley in Amboseli and Felix in the Maasai Mara. Stanley and Felix are specialist guid es who obtained the Silver (highest) level certificate from the Kenya Professional Safari Guides Association . They were very knowledgeable, shared a wealth of information about flora, fauna and the Kenyan culture with us.

Check out our privately guided '14 Day Kenya Explorer' safari

Check out our privately guide d '14 Day Kenya Family Adventurer'

Click on the link to read about our amazing guides

14 Day Kenya Explorer Safari

Our next stop was Rwanda, one of the cleanest countries I have ever seen. After a night in Kigali we enjoyed a nice 2-hour drive to Musanze. Next morning after an early wake up and delicious breakfas t we gathered at the Volcanoes National Park headquarters with other equally excited people who could not wait to see the mountain gorillas. Every day 8 groups each with 8 people have a chance to trek to the gorillas. The treks vary from 1 to 3 hours one way through some beautiful farmlands and bamboo forest. During the trek the guides and trackers advise the group about safety regulations (e.g. no flash photography, etc). Once at the gorillas, the group can spend an hour with the gorillas.

On our first trek we visited the Hirwa group where twin babies were born in February. First the babies were nowhere to be seen, and suddenly their mom came out of the bush carrying them. She sat down in front of us for a few seconds where we have managed to steal a glance of two little hair balls and tiny hands. What an amazing sight!

Our second trek led us to the Agasha group which was same as thrilling as seeing the first group. In both groups we saw about 12 -15 individuals including babies, juveniles, females and the silverbacks. Seeing the gorillas was a truly amazing experience! We observed them grooming each other, feeding, young ones playing with trees and jumping around. The experience itself cannot be described, you have to go and experience it! Even the pictures do not truly reflect how wonderful it was standing in front of a 400 lbs silverback, hearing their '˜conversations', smelling them and seeing the families in perfect harmony.

Our safari and gorilla trekking adventure was magical and we will savor our memories of Kenya and Rwanda for a very long time!!! Gorilla trekking can easily be combined with safari in Kenya or Tanzania.

Check out our '11 Day Kenya and Rwanda Plains and Primates Safri'

Szilvia Hegyi close encounter with gorillas
Szilvia Hegyi close encounter with gorillas
Szilvia Hegyi close encounter with gorillas

- by: Szilvia Hegyi

Mark Nolting in East Africa - Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda

On arrival in Africa, I had the pleasure of spending the night at the House of Waine, located in the suburb or Karen outside Nairobi. Set in beautiful gardens with a large heated swimming pool, this small luxury hotel is now my favorite place for guests to overnight before beginning their safaris in Kenya or flying to Tanzania.

  • After taking an hour scheduled flight by Mt. Kilimanjaro to the airport bearing the same name, I was transferred to Ndarakwai Camp, a small, personable permanent tented camp located on a 10,000 acre private reserve set on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro. The owner Peter Jones, the camp guide and I took an afternoon walk through the bush and encountered many herds of eland, along with other plains game. As the sun was going down, we walked to a Maasai Village located just outside of the reserve. The villagers were very welcoming - especially as our guide was Maasai and knew them all very well. Later we took a night drive. As night drives, walks and quality Maasai visits are not possible in the national parks, Ndarakwai should be considered as an add -on to a traditional safari. We feature this sustainable tourism and eco -conservation property in our Signature program Serengeti Unexplored Group Safari.

Mark Nolting in East Africa Mark Nolting in East Africa Mark Nolting in East Africa

I spent time in Arusha meeting up with all the guides who take our clients out on safari and where the guides of the year were announced - Omar Seif and Mohamed Rassul . I also visited Teneguru School for a formal present ation of a $5,000. 00 donation in partnership with Rotary - Fort Lauderdale

Mark Nolting in East Africa, meeting up with all the guides. Mark Nolting in East Africa, meeting up with all the guides.

I flew by a private charter flight to Shompole, located near Lake Natron and the Tanzanian border. The flight took me over Lake Magaadi with views of flamingo below.

Shompole is a small, luxury lodge set on a high ridge over looking a privat
e reserve. The units are architecturally spectacular, each with private plunge pools and surrounded by pools of water - the evaporation from which helps cool the air in this arid l and. (See our 15 Day Legends of Kenya Safari)

Shompole is a small, luxury lodge in Kenya Lake Magaadi in Kenya with views of flamingo Shompole is a small, luxury lodge in Kenya

This is one of the best reserves to see lesser kudu, and we were fortunate enough to see a number of herds, along with buffalo and other plains game. The night drive was very productive, with sightings of African wild cat, bat -eared fox, black-backed jackal, civet, large-spotted genet, and banded mongoose. We walked through a beautiful forest, and visited a small Maasai village where we were warmly received. This and Ndarakwai are two of the best places for Maasai visits I have experienced in East Africa !!!

Small Maasai village

Ol Donyo Wuas, located between Amboseli and West Tsavo national parks, was my next stop. The camp has been totally rebuilt to a five-star status. Each unit has a private plunge pool and rooftop observation deck where some guests spend the night to view the millions of stars that seem so close you could almost touch them. During my stay the waterhole in front of camp was dominated by elephant bearing some of the largest tusks I have seen in years.

The food, service and management of this camp are superb. Day and night game drives, quality escorted walks, and some of the best horseback riding available on the continent are offered. This is certainly one of Africa's best camps!

Ol Donyo Wuas received recognition as a finalist in the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards for the wildlife and tourism partnership with the local Maasai land community. The property is featured in our 10 Day Kenya Exclusive program.

Ol Donyo Wuas Ol Donyo Wuas

Campi Ya Kanzi, situated with a magnificent view of Mt, Kilimanjaro offer s an 'Out of Africa' experience at the beginning or end of your safari. Your hosts are Luca Belpietro and Antonella Bonomi and their brood of children. This is a very homely style of accommodations with hands on attention. His partnership with the local community has also been a successful conservation story in securing the future of the local wildlife. The property is featured in our 10 Day Kenya Exclusive program.

Mark Nolting in East Africa Mark Nolting in East Africa

Next - off to Rwanda! Kigali must be the cleanest city in Africa. There was no litter to be seen at all. Plastic bags are not allowed. Even along the roadsides I saw no litter whatsoever. We visited the Genocide Museum, which was very moving. I ran out of time to visit the local market and the

The 2.5 hour drive to Ruhengeri (Volcanoes National Park) was very scenic and beautiful. During the day there are always people walking along the road, riding or pushing bicycles often la den with banana or sorgum beer. We toured the market at Kinigi. There are many bicycle taxis and motorcycle taxis taking clients short distances in and near town.

Mark Nolting in East Africa

On arrival at Park Headquarters trekkers fill out a form including their ages. The driver/guides will have a short briefing with the chief warden when they request special groups or short/medium/long hikes. Trekkers are then separated according to the gorilla groups they will be visiting and given a briefing by their guides that lasts about 15 minutes. Trekkers then return to their vehicles and are driven to the departure points by their guides.

Our guides have a very good relationship with national parks, and because of that, they have a better chance than any other tour company of getting guests assigned to gorilla groups that are the level of difficulty that the clients request. Most travelers in good condition can trek to the close groups, as the guides take many rest breaks enroute. There is no rush to find the gorillas as you will have 1 hour with them regardless. Seven gorilla groups are visited by tourists and seven groups are visited by researchers. The Parks Department always sell 56 permits; if one of the tourist groups goes to the Congo or Uganda, then one of the research groups will be substituted.

Once at the departure point, trekkers are given a walking stick and assigned a porter if you wish to choose to have one, for a $10 tip.

Mark Nolting, gorilla trekking in Rwanda. Mark Nolting, gorilla trekking in Rwanda.

You hike to the stone wall marking the border of the park, which is designed to keep the buffalo and elephant in the park and to mark a clear border of the park for the people not to cross. After a gorilla etiquette briefing, you begin trekking. When you are getting close to the gorillas you leave your hiking sticks and backpacks and bring only cameras.

My first trek was to the Kwitonda Grou
p. It was a beautiful hike through cultivated fields. The guide stopped frequently to talk about the crops and other plants along the way. This gave the slower trekkers time to catch their breath and rest.

We were fortunate to encounter the group in fairly open areas with scattered sunlight. The group is made up of 17 individuals including one silverback. At one point I laid down on the forest floor and a baby approached several times within one meter. The guide said it was curious about my camera, and he kept chasing the baby gorillas away. The whole experience was exhilarating and was over in a flash.

Mark Nolting, gorilla trekking in Rwanda.

 Mark Nolting, gorilla trekking in Rwanda.
Mark Nolting, gorilla trekking in Rwanda.

The following morning we hiked to the Sabinyo Group, composed of nine individuals including the largest silverback in the park - Guhondo. He is getting quite old and was not too active , but the rest of the group was active indeed. This trek was longer than the first one, mostly through bamboo forests that we sometimes so dense we had to crawl through sections. Francois, our guide, worked with Diane Fossey. He was very entertaining as he would demonstrate what the gorillas eat by eating it himself. I tried the bamboo, which they say can make the gorillas a bit drunk, and it was quite sweet.

I stayed at the Sabinyo Silverback lodge- a five-star property with two guest suites, five cottages and one family complex and is definitely the best lodge in the region. During my time not trekking I made site inspections of Gorilla Nest Lodge, Gorilla Mounta in View Lodge, Volcanoes Virunga Lodge and a fifth new lodge that is coming on line (name still to be advised).

There is a cultural village near Kinigi that is worth a visit to get a good idea of the history and cultures of the area. Another attraction of Volcanoes National Park and Gisyeni area is that they have no mosquito es, and I encountered no flies anywhere.

We drove for 1.5 hours to Gisenyi, set on the shores of Lake Kivu. I overnighted at the Kivu Serena Hotel, which is set right on the lake with a private sandy beach, large swimming pool and attractive co
mmon areas. This was an enjoyable ending to my stay in Africa. Our 4-Day extension to Rwanda with two gorilla treks is featured in many of our combo trips.

A highlight was spending time with Francois - the highest ranking conservationist at Parc d u Volcanoes!
A highlight was spending time with Francois - the highest ranking conservationist at Parc d u Volcanoes!

- by: Mark Nolting