Day 1: Entebbe, Uganda
Arrive in Entebbe and transfer to the Lake Victoria Hotel. If time permits, you may opt to visit the famous Entebbe Botanical Gardens nearby. Established in 1902, the gardens house a diverse plant collection from tropical, sub-tropical and temperate zones. Also home to a wide variety of birds, the gardens offer an excellent introduction to Uganda’s avian species. Vervet and black-and-white colobus monkeys are commonly spotted here as well. Meet your Expedition Leader at a welcome dinner this evening, where we'll have a full orientation to our gorilla tour.
Days 2 & 3: Kibale National Park
A drive across Uganda’s green highlands takes us to Kibale, the equatorial rainforest reserve that is home to more primates, including 500 chimpanzees, than any other place in the world. Trackers help us spot chimps and monkeys, which we'll have plenty of time to watch and photograph, with tips from our Expedition Leader on how to capture the best shots in the low forest light. We may also see up to 100 different bird species in a wetland sanctuary. Overnight in thatched cottages at Ndali Lodge on the rim of a crater lake, with magnificent views.
Days 4 & 5: Kibale / Queen Elizabeth National Park
We rise early this morning to track and photograph chimps again, then depart by road for Queen Elizabeth National Park, skirting the Western Rift Valley. On the Kazinga Channel we take a boat ride among the world’s largest concentration of hippos, as well as crocodiles, baboons and myriad birds. The park is also home to lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and antelope, all of which offer exciting photography opportunities.
Day 6: Queen Elizabeth / Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
On a morning game drive we may be fortunate to see the park’s famous tree-climbing lions—a dream subject for a nature photographer! Continuing into the western mountains to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, we visit a local school before reaching our gorilla trekking base in the rainforest, Mahogany Springs Lodge.
Days 7 & 8: Gorilla Trekking
Here we discover one of nature travel’s peak experiences, a visit with wild gorillas in their natural habitat. Fewer than 700 mountain gorillas remain in the world, half of them in this preserve. Our safari includes two chances to spend time among the gorillas, maximizing our prospects for amazing photographs, often at very close range. Early in the morning we depart on a trek through the dense rainforest on a quest to locate one of the "habituated" family groups. Our local guides are expert trackers, reading signs of the gorillas’ recent presence in the undergrowth. Finally we hear and see them, and watch, enrapt: they sit in the trees and chew leaves; babies cling to mothers’ backs; juveniles swing from branches; the big male silverback surveys all, including us. It’s hard to tell who is more captivated, them or us!
Day 9: Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
Leaving Bwindi, we descend to the Rift Valley floor, passing local villages and coffee plantations. Entering Rwanda, we continue to Parc National des Volcans—Volcanoes National Park—named for the string of jungle-draped volcanoes inside its borders. Our camp, Mountain Gorilla View Lodge, is ideally situated as our base for the next three nights. Set seamlessly into its lush surroundings, the simple yet welcoming ecolodge offers individual chalets with fireplaces to take the chill off the cool mountain air. The lodge is just a short drive from the headquarters of the national park, where all gorilla trekking expeditions depart.
Days 10 & 11: Gorilla Trekking in Volcanoes National Park
After breakfast, we drive to park headquarters for a briefing from our guides. This area is where Dian Fossey made her groundbreaking studies on mountain gorillas before she was killed in in 1985, and her grave is nearby. Several habituated gorilla families live in the park, and we learn how important our ecotourism presence is to their survival before trekking in search of them. We set out early each morning along paths into the forest, eventually leaving them behind as our trackers follow signs that lead them to the gorillas' current location. The altitude is above 8,200 feet, so while our pace is unhurried, the hike is tiring, lasting from 30 minutes to several hours. But what a reward: our destination is a specific group of habituated gorillas, which have become used to visitors and behave normally, nonchalant to human presence. With a full hour to sit with a gorilla troop, we are able to capture extraordinary photographs.
Day 12: Golden Monkey Trek
While gorillas are the highlight, even without them Volcanoes National Park would be fascinating. Its varied ecosystems harbor elephant, buffalo, giant forest hog, bush pig, bushbuck, duiker and hyena, as well as a habituated group of endemic and highly endangered golden monkeys, which are our focus today. On a much less strenuous hike, we look for these agile entertainers who swoop through the forest canopy and delight us with their antics. Our Expedition Leader is on hand to offer tips for capturing shots of the active primates in this low-light environment. This afternoon, we depart for Rwanda’s capital, Kigali.
Day 13: Kigali / Home
After breakfast, we’ll take a city tour and visit the Kigali Memorial Center, a deeply moving tribute to the 800,000 people killed in the Rwandan genocide of 1994. This afternoon, our gorilla safari comes to a close as we transfer to the airport for flights home.