The Great Uganda Gorilla Safari
Look into the eyes of our close primate relatives. Travel to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest with this expert operator for this unforgettable experience.
Uganda: Drink It In
You push aside a tangled rope of vines, pressing through the maze of foliage, when at last you see them. Ten or 12 gorillas sit in a forest clearing, two more up in a tree. They stop munching for a moment to observe you, nonchalant. A few feet away, you spy the big silverback. Twice the size of the young females, he sits on massive haunches, stripping leaves from branches. He’s close enough to hold your gaze with his liquid brown eyes. Something primal, inexplicable, connects the two of you in that moment. The rest of the world slips away outside this rare encounter. On this riveting wildlife expedition, meet mountain gorillas at close range and observe a host of other primates, too.
Travel Curator’s Insights:
- • Two separate treks through the rain forest of Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park offer captivating close encounters with endangered mountain gorillas.
• Observe wild chimpanzees on two treks in Kibale National Park, and view a wide array of classic African plains game in Queen Elizabeth National Park.
• With highly expert guiding and a collection of very comfortable lodges, this program offers one of the highest quality gorilla experiences.
Trip Sustainability Awards
Fantastic advances in minimizing carbon footprints at locations.
On the East African Energy Renewal Board
Runs local educational facilities for children.
Day 1: Entebbe, Uganda—Botanical Gardens
Our Uganda tour begins in Entebbe, where you're met at the airport and transferred to our hotel. If time permits, you may opt to visit the famous Entebbe Botanical Gardens. Established in 1902, the gardens'fine collection of plants spans the country's tropical, sub-tropical and temperate zones. The gardens are also home to many different avian species, offering an excellent introduction to Uganda’s diverse birdlife. We commonly spot vervet and black-and-white colobus monkeys here, too. Meet your Expedition Leader at a welcome dinner this evening.
Accommodation: Hotel No. 5 or similar
Hotel No. 5: Hotel No. 5 is a stylish boutique hotel tucked away in Entebbe’s leafy suburbs, just 10 minutes from the international airport. Its luxurious accommodations on Lake Victoria provide a peaceful escape from the urban buzz. Ten airy rooms open onto a lush lawn, palm-studded garden and shaded swimming pool. Plush beds feature mosquito-net canopies, and oversized upholstered furnishings, including armchairs, add to a cozy and contemporary atmosphere.
Days 2-4: Kibale National Park—Chimpanzee Trekking
A mid-morning flight and short drive take us from bustling Entebbe to Uganda's verdant highlands, where fertile volcanic soil supports a tapestry of tea, coffee and banana plantations. Arrive at our hilltop lodge in time for a late lunch and settle in before the sun dips behind the Rwenzori Mountains. The following morning, a “swamp walk” through a wetland sanctuary reveals more than 100 bird species. After lunch, we meet our local trackers and begin our first chimpanzee trek in Kibale National Park. This equatorial rain forest reserve has one of the highest concentrations of primates in the world, including 1,300 chimpanzees. We may also see red colobus, black-and-white colobus, red tail, gray-cheeked mangabey and other monkeys.
Our final morning in Kibale National Park offers a second chimpanzee viewing opportunity at a different time of day, in hopes of catching these agile primates engaged in their morning routine. We spend another full hour in their presence before hiking back to the ranger station. After lunch back at Ndali, choose among several afternoon options: a walk around one of the nearby crater lakes, a visit to the library on the property that this operator’s philanthropy arm has helped fund, or simply relax and take in the grand view from our boutique lodge perched on the rim of a crater lake.
Accommodation: Ndali Lodge
Ndali Lodge: Ndali Lodge in Kibale Forest is one of the most exciting accommodations we offer... anywhere! The setting is one of the most dramatic in Africa: the lodge is perched on the rim of an extinct volcano that has filled with water to become scenic Lake Nyinambuga –
250 acres in size and 430 feet deep. The main thatched lodge has a spacious sitting room, reception area and dining room flanked by eight cottages providing luxurious accommodation for 16 guests.
Days 5 & 6: Queen Elizabeth National Park
An early start launches an activity-filled day exploring Queen Elizabeth National Park, located along the western Rift Valley. The park is a microcosm of East Africa's safari highlights, home to a great diversity of wildlife residing among its volcanic craters, grassy plains and tropical forest. More than 600 bird species—one of the highest concentrations of any park in Africa—and nearly 100 different mammal species are found in the park, including the Ugandan kob, an endemic antelope featured on the country's currency. On a morning game drive, search for classic African wildlife, possibly spotting lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and antelope in the park's northern sector. We then cruise the Kazinga Channel on a private boat trip among one of the largest concentration of hippos in Africa. The waterway is also home to abundant colorful birdlife, and baboons frequently entertain us from the banks.
The Rwenzori range, also called the “Mountains of the Moon,” provides a dramatic backdrop, with snow-capped heights rising above 16,000 feet. Glimpse magnificent views over Lake Edward before transferring via a wildlife drive into the southern Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth Park. As we explore this region, look for the park's famous tree-climbing lions—one of just two populations of lions that climb trees as part of their regular behavior (the other is found in Lake Manyara National Park in Tanzania). Though no one knows for sure, some speculate that these lions seek respite from the heat by availing themselves of cool breezes blowing through the branches on high.
Accommodation: Mweya Lodge
Mweya Lodge: Mweya Lodge enjoys an unsurpassed location atop a peninsula jutting into Kazinga Channel, the waterway at the heart of Queen Elizabeth National Park. Every room overlooks the channel, which boasts the world’s largest concentration of hippos. Guests also enjoy magnificent views of Lakes George and Edward, not to mention wild forest hogs grazing just outside the windows and an abundance of colorful local birds. The volcanoes of the Rwenzori Range, the famed “Mountains of the Moon" rise in the distance. With 54 en suite rooms, Mweya is a larger lodge than we typically use on our safaris, but we've chosen it for its outstanding location directly on the Kazinga Channel.
Day 7: Queen Elizabeth Park—Ishasha Sector / Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
From Ishasha, head westward to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, watching the scenery gradually change from open savanna to mountain slopes covered in dense green rain forest. Time permitting, we'll visit a school in a nearby village, then settle in for three nights at Buhoma Lodge, the luxury mountainside camp that is our gorilla-trekking base. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park lies on the edge of the Great Rift Valley.
Its mist-shrouded hillsides are covered by one of Uganda's oldest and most biologically diverse rainforests, which dates back over 25,000 years and contains some 400 species of plants. More famously, the park also protects an estimated 400 mountain gorillas—roughly half the world’s population, including several habituated groups that visitors spend time with. It also provides shelter for another 120 mammals, including several primate species such as baboon and chimpanzee, as well as elephant and antelope. Some 350 bird species inhabit the forest, including 23 Albertine Rift endemics.
Accommodation: Ishasha Wilderness Camp
Ishasha Wilderness Camp: Ishasha Wilderness Camp enjoys an isolated setting on the Ntungwe River in the remote southern Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park. The region is famed for its tree-climbing lions, which can sometimes be spotted in the branches of the large fig trees in the area. Ten spacious framed canvas tents are situated in the wooded area beside the river, furnished with large mosquito-netted beds.
Days 8 & 9: Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi
Two full days of gorilla trekking are our focus in Bwindi as we rise early each morning in anticipation of a peerless experience: a look into the eyes of a wild gorilla. The trail through the primeval rain forest can be challenging, sometimes slick and steep, but full of rewards. We are hiking in the jungle that early explorers called the “Impenetrable Forest,” and the name feels apt. Bwindi is home to nearly half the world’s mountain gorillas—about 459—a population that is growing, but still threatened by the increasing human population in the surrounding communities.
Three family groups are habituated to human contact, and we hope to reach one of them by midday. Tracking them to their last known location, our guide looks for signs of their presence: broken vegetation revealing a night nest, stripped bark indicating feeding, a mound of dung. Our anticipation mounts as we climb over vines and foliage to approach the group. Our guide signals for silence, then proclaims our intentions with amiable grunts. We may see a range of ages among the individual gorillas: youngsters playing in the trees, mothers carrying babies, and the mighty silverback, patriarch of the troop. No wildlife encounter can surpass the thrill of meeting these magnificent primates, so much like us, in their own habitat.
Yet the significance of our visit goes beyond our personal experience: our presence here among the gorillas is crucial for their survival. Responsible tourism has been integral to sustaining these critically endangered animals, and the dollars we infuse into the local community help support their protection through economic sustenance of the people who live in proximity to the gorillas. We go home not just with incomparable memories and photos, but as ambassadors for the gorillas' welfare, committed to their future. If time permits, we’ll visit Conservation Coffee, a local co-op of farmers who grow, process and roast their beans to sell at a premium price that benefits gorilla conservation. We may have a chance to walk through the coffee fields, pick some beans and see firsthand how this sustainable community enterprise unfolds.
Accommodation: Mahogany Springs Lodge or Buhoma Lodge
Mahogany Springs Lodge: Mahogany Springs Lodge enjoys one of the finest locations in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, on the edge of the national park with close proximity for gorilla trekking. Eight large thatched cottages and two family rooms overlooking the Munyanga River face the dense rainforest that's home to half the world’s endangered mountain gorillas. The lodge combines scenic views, privacy, serenity and exceptional comfort to create a gorilla and birding safari base with few peers. Every room at Mahogany Springs is a spacious suite, with large double doors and windows that bring the outdoors in.
Buhoma Lodge: This inspiring ecolodge provides an ideal location for gorilla treks into Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, since trails into the forest leave directly from the grounds. Eight large cottages are built of local natural materials including sustainably sourced stone and wood, with decor in earthy, muted colors. Each has a private veranda offering expansive views of the virgin rainforest. Comfortable beds welcome you after a long day of gorilla trekking, and each cottage has en suite facilities with flush toilets, hot-water rain showers, locally produced natural bathroom amenities and a secure safe.
Day 10: Entebbe / Depart
Our Uganda safari comes to a close today with a flight back to Entebbe. A day room is provided on arrival, to relax and refresh for those preparing to depart. We share a farewell meal before transferring to the airport for departing flights.
Limited to 12 Travelers: A very important feature of this safari through primate destinations in Uganda is the limited group size, as ecotourism expeditions are best experienced with fewer travelers, for the most intimate wildlife encounters and less impact on the natural environment.
Specialized 4x4 Land Rovers and Land Cruisers: Our vehicles are a key component of the superlative safari experience we offer. They were designed especially for adventures in Uganda and Rwanda, with two goals in mind: offering comfort during overland drives on sometimes-rough roads, and providing excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. We use Nissan Patrols, Toyota Land Cruisers and Land Rovers in several sizes. Depending on our group size, we may use a vehicle that seats seven, five or three passengers, plus a driver, and each traveler will always be guaranteed a window seat. On photo safaris, we ensure extra space for gear and optimal photo opportunities.
Every vehicle has roof hatches that we leave open during wildlife drives for 360-degree viewing and photo opportunities, but which can be closed for comfort on longer drives. All have 4-wheel-drive and are fitted with high-quality imported tires to ensure that we can press on through rough spots. Seat belts are three-point, instead of the typical lap belts found in most safari vehicles, for added safety. All vehicles are outfitted with a cooler box with drinks, as well as tea and coffee; guide books on mammals, birds and trees; umbrellas and bean bags upon request for avid photographers. Each vehicle was designed with an environmentally friendly oil bypass filtration system that allows for an extended engine service period. This limits the amount of waste oil that must be disposed of, as Uganda and Rwanda do not yet have oil-recycling facilities.
I've sent many travelers on this program and this operator always does a fantastic job. Their expert guides are what make their adventures so memorable.
Joy Martinello, Founder
What’s Included & Cancellation Policy: