About Instinct SafarisInstinct Safaris is a community adventure safari and tour company based in Uganda. It is organized by Ugandans and through their great experience. Each of the team members has stayed in this unique environment and in harmony with nature for many years. Most of us were even born in the Great Lakes region and now offer safari tours to the Pearl of Africa.
I hope that some people can use my review as some sort of guidance when they search for a safari operator for their gorilla hike in Uganda. I travelled with Instinct Safaris, who surprised me with their expertise when planning the trip (by fast and detailed emails and personal phone calls). On the ground, the weather and animals we had/got to see made it easy for me and my wife to love Instinct Safaris and Raban, our guide. I can recommend you to opt in for south Bwindi for gorilla trekking rather than the north. We also did a second track in Mgahinga national park, which is at the border to Rwanda and DRC. This was great, as time with the gorillas is limited to only one hour per track. We had discounted gorilla trekking permits in November.
Initially, my girlfriend and I - we both work with a NGO in Kampala - wanted to simply see mountain gorillas before leaving the country. Instinct Safaris was recommended to us by friends and we decided to approach their office, directly. We also had their business card and flyer in our office.
After two meetings at their location, our itinerary/travel plan was complete and we were ready to go. I am not going into detail about the gorilla track in Bwindi, which was truly breathtaking and the sole purpose of our booking, as I would like to talk about the company more. Our guide and driver Raban's service was exceptional and in all situations - including traffic jam on the main road and resulting late arrival at a lodge outside the forest - we felt in safe hands. Our car was an extended Toyota Land Cruiser with numerous safari modifications, such as an pop roof at the top and larger windows than the usual model. Travel times were relatively long with about 9 hours from Kampala to our lodge near the rain forest. Therefore, it was great to have the comfortable seats and leg space provided in the vehicle. We are planning to come back to Uganda within the year and plan to go see Queen Elizabeth National Park and Murchison Falls. My girlfriend and I are already pretty sure who to go with :)
Frank and Susanne
Our initial communication with Instinct Safari was good however once in Africa it was definitely downhill. About three days before we were due to fly into Uganda we received the following email.
As the DR Congolese single entry visa is not officially part of our included services, please let us know if you have already applied for it on www.visitvirunga.org and have a confirmation. If, however, you did not yet do so, please let us know (we would further require your job title - in addition to the passport copies we already have - to fill out their online form) and we do it for you. Please understand, that in that case we have to charge the extra US $105 per person they ask for their single entry visa. As your safari lies only a week ahead, please provide us with the requested information as soon as possible.
This was very disturbing as in every correspondence prior to this they had said the following
The DR Congo visas are usually purchased by us as the tour operator simply because details such as border checkpoint and address in DRC etc. have to be submitted during the application process.
.......Highest priority is assigned to the activities in DR Congo, now. With your passport photocopies at hand, it is easy for us to proceed and acquire your travel visas along with the volcano hike.
In this instance I contacted the Director who to his credit rectified this but it did add stress as we had limited internet access at this stage.
The day before we flew in we received another email explaining that we would need a special type of sleeping bag and parkas for sub zero conditions to prevent us suffering Hypothermia while trekking up to the volcano.
The packing list we had received before we left home did not mention this.
Decidedly unimpressed on arrival, the guide not for the last time said it wasn't his fault as he had only just received the information himself, although later in the conversation he said he had been to the volcano a number of times before so I'm not sure why the company would not know what you need.
He did explain this situation could also be solved!!!!!
The car they picked us up in was really really old we had just come from a self drive safari in Namibia where we had no dust in the car.
The guide was EXTREMELY difficult to understand his English was poor and his attitude poorer.
He had minimal text book knowledge of the area. Quite honestly I think he and the driver thought it was their holiday. Soon as we arrived at places they would take off and chat with people. There were many instances where either ourselves or someone else would have to search for them.
Communication was almost non existent at the second lodge on arrival he just took off to relax in the lounge. Other guests thought they were also guests there, enthused to tell us some other tourists staying there were travelling to the Congo.
After we trekked with the golden monkeys we were supposed to go back to the lodge for a shower and lunch. They were particularly agitated and wanted us to be ready in 30 minutes?!
They then drove dangerously to the Congo border. I kept asking why we didn't cross the Congo border that was quite near. He just kept saying it was unacceptable. We finally arrived at the border he was on the phone and then said it was too late to cross. I then asked to speak to the lodge owner who told me she had expected us at 8.30am and had emailed him this information. He had had wifi access at the lodge. She said you can't drive in the Congo at night. One wonders why a company would create an itinerary that is unachievable as we were always trekking golden monkeys that day, the lodge owner was very helpful and suggested we stay just across the border. He instead checked us in at a hotel on the Rwanda side. I asked him to confirm this with her. He assured me he would. Next day we crossed the border my daughter and I were standing on the side of the road with all our gear, yet again they were nowhere to be found. My daughter eventually located them sitting out the back chatting with friends. The driver was late but they hadn't bothered to tell us. As it turns out they had gone to the hotel they thought we were staying at!!!!! ( the one they recommended)
We had consequently held everyone up to start the trek up the volcano. Again on arrival no explanation that we could put some belongings in bags that had been provided for us. We had been told we would each be provided with a porter but they were carrying our sleeping gear not our belongings. The food for the day was two warm ham sandwiches which would have been in the sun for at least four hours before consumption and a non refrigerated boiled egg. Although they were not responsible for the food they did not care about resolving the situation. During the trek the driver and guide spent most of their time taking selfies at one point when my daughter slipped they laughed and kept walking.
At one stage the cook asked the guide to come over and interpret but he was busy taking photos and initially said "no "until the chef demanded it.
We traveled with Instinct Safaris this summer and couldn't be happier. Since they have an office right here in Zurich, Switzerland, we had both peace of mind and a great worked out/detailed plan when going to Uganda. We went mountain gorilla tracking twice, which was a breathtaking experience for me and my wife. If we were to plan another trip to the gorillas, we would definitely again go with Niels and Raban!
We chose Uganda as our destination on our last trip mainly because of the close proximity of attractions and national parks. We were not disappointed, because Instinct Safaris was able to take us from viewing lions to tracking the mountain gorillas within just a few hours. A highlight of the tour - besides mountain gorilla tracking, that is - was a night game drive in search for leopards. We recommend you opt for some of the so-called experimental tourism items available in this country. Our hot air balloon ride, horse back safari, and different walking/hiking trips along the way never let any aspect of our tour be repetitive. We did choose luxury accommodation and - especially around Bwindi rain forest - were highly satisfied. Our safari planner and guide/driver were a pleasure to work with! Keeping them in mind for a volcano hike (Nyiragongo in DRC) some time soon!