Rwanda and Uganda

 

David Rubin
David Rubin with a family of 28 gorillas in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda.

 

Gorilla, chimp, golden monkey, rhino and mongoose trekking were magical adventures on my recent Rwanda and Uganda journey. I can sell these two countries to the same affluent clients I send to Kenya and Tanzania. The quality our clients want is there. However, the destinations and the design of a trip will be guided by asking, “How intrepid is the traveler?” 

Adorable Children Fascinated
Some of the many adorable children fascinated to see visitors.

My trip was an intensive fam for 10 intrepid travel professionals from seven countries, including travel advisors, DMCs (destination management companies) and tour operators. Seven sell Africa exclusively, and three of us sell the world. The fam was sponsored by Patrick Shah, CEO and founder of The Far Horizons, based in Uganda, with an office in Rwanda. The Far Horizons is an excellent DMC that caters to a prestigious roster of clients. E-mail [email protected] for more information.

Key factors to weigh when designing travel to Rwanda and Uganda are the availability of gorilla trekking permits, duration of trip, time of year, level of luxury and comfort required, and budget. For clients who look for five-star accommodations and quality infrastructure, I recommend Rwanda rather than Uganda. For those who are hearty travelers, want more than a focus on gorillas and chimps, and have already been on safaris in Africa, I recommend sending them to Uganda, and, if time permits, to Rwanda as well. Uganda is fantastic for birders. During our trip, we saw the rare, massive shoebill in Uganda and my birder colleagues were ecstatic. 

Kahungye Gorilla family
Gorilla Mum & two-monthold baby are part of the Kahungye Gorilla family in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

Rwanda is a perfect “add-on” to other travels with a visit of one to eight nights. It is possible to go gorilla trekking with only one night in Rwanda. Uganda, on the other hand, requires at least three nights. Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is easier than in Uganda’s steep, dense rain forest. (In both countries, eight guests may visit a gorilla family in the morning and stay with the family one hour with rangers once the gorillas are located.) Gorilla trekking permits cost $750 per person per day in Rwanda and $500 per person per day in Uganda.

In Rwanda, the start of a gorilla experience feels touristy because everyone trekking meets at one central tourist center. The trekking experience in Uganda feels privileged with each group of eight traveling to a different, rustic point in the forest to meet rangers.

There is much to be thought about when designing a trip to this region because Rwanda and Uganda are so different.

Rwanda has risen and in fact, is on its way to being the Switzerland of Africa. Rwanda’s progress since the 1994 genocide is a tribute to the human spirit. It is virtually crime-, corruption- and litter-free. The infrastructure is impressive with good roads, air service, telecommunications, schools and health care.

An ideal “Best of The Best” visit to Rwanda would be: One night in Kigali at the Kigali Serena (www.serenahotels.com; book the new wing only) or in the soon-to-open Kigali Marriott; three nights in Volcanoes National Park for gorilla and golden monkey trekking, staying at Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge (www.governorscamp.com; should be the first choice. The lodge just reopened on May 9) or Virunga Safari Lodge; three nights in Nyungwe Forest National Park (drive here, fly back) for chimp and monkey trekking in an enchanted forest with East Africa’s only forest canopy walk, staying at the stunning Nyungwe Forest Lodge; and one night at the Kigali Serena or Marriott.

Nyungwe Forest Lodge, owned by Dubai World, is the perfect refuge to refuel for the journey home. It is a small, five-star lodge complete with A/C, heated infinity pool, spa, fitness room, conference room, Wi-Fi throughout and sophisticated interiors. The F&B is good, but not exceptional.

Nyungwe Forest National Park
Rubin On The New Canopy Walk in Nyungwe Forest National Park, Rwanda.

Uganda, while next door to Rwanda, is much larger and more complex. The political situation is fairly stable. The infrastructure and telecommunications are okay and improving with internal air services increasing and Chinese money paving its roads.

To visit Uganda only for gorilla trekking, flying Entebbe-Bwindi-Entebbe, the best option for the minimum three nights needed is: One night in Entebbe at The Boma—avoid Kampala because of the terrible traffic; one night (ideally two to three nights) in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest for gorilla trekking, staying at the new Mahogany Springs, Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge, Bwindi Safari Lodge or Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp; and one night in Entebbe at The Boma. 

For clients who are enthusiastic about an authentic, non-touristy, African overland journey in jeeps staying in diverse three-, four- and five-star lodges with good food and are okay with traveling on “not so great” roads, this route breaks up the drives and visits all of the nature highlights in 19 nights: One night in Entebbe at The Boma; one night in Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary for rhino trekking, staying at the rustic Amuka Lodge; three nights in Murchison Falls National Park in northern Uganda, staying at Paraa Safari Lodge– Note: Request a room with air-conditioning and hike around the falls and enjoy fantastic riverboat safaris — one night in Budongo Forest Reserve in Murchison Falls National Park, staying at the basic Budongo Eco Lodge, which is within walking distance to your chimp trekking; four nights in Kibale Forest National Park (with the highest primate density on earth), staying at two different and wonderful lodges each with great, eccentric owner/managers, Kyaninga Lodge and Ndali Lodge; two nights in Queen Elizabeth National Park for mongoose trekking, staying at Mweya Safari Lodge—best to book are the tents or cottages; two nights on the edge of the Kyambura Gorge and Queen Elizabeth National Park, staying at the stunning, new Kyambura Gorge Safari Lodge for safari drives, chimp trekking and birding; one night in the Ishasha region of Queen Elizabeth National Park famous for lions who have learned to climb trees, staying at the basic Ishasha Wilderness Camp; three nights in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest (see above); and one night in Entebbe (fly there) to stay at The Boma or drive three hours from Bwindi to Kigali, Rwanda, to begin exploring the country.

When I mention I went gorilla trekking, all eyes light up and everyone asks about going.

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