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Clothing

Rwandans, Uganda and the rest of East African countries appreciate modest clothing, so please be aware of local sensitivities and be prepared to cover legs and arms when away from tourist lodges and beaches. Be sure to pack plenty of cotton clothes to remain comfortable by day. Layers of light clothing are most suitable. Bring boots, a sweater and rain jacket for travel into mountainous and hilly areas. For gorilla tracking, please look through our packing list entitled ‘Gorilla Tracking Equipment’ below.

Electricity

Rwanda and Burundi: 2-pin sockets (round), 240 V

Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania: 3-pin sockets (square), 230/240 V

Please remember to bring along your own adapter unless you’re visiting lodges where adapters are provided. Most lodges and camps are able to make arrangements to recharge batteries even if the accommodation itself isn’t equipped with power. If you need to recharge your batteries, please consult with your guide.

Flights to Uganda

Here at Around Africa Safaris, we don’t sell or organize international flights. The following companies provide flights to Uganda’s Entebbe International Airport: Emirates, British Airways, Turkish Airlines, Qatar Airways, Brussels Airlines, Egyptair, KLM, Ethiopian Airlines, South Africa Airways, Kenya Airways and African Express. Aerolink offers 2 flights daily between Kibale Forest, Murchison Falls, Kidepo, Bwindi and Queen Elizabeth. To fly to Rwanda you can catch a flight using Kenya Airways, KLM, Brussels Airlines, Turkish Airlines, Qatar Airways, Ethiopian Airlines or South Africa Airways.

In East Africa, flights are operated by Rwandair, Kenya Airways, Coastal Aviation and Precision Air. Connections between the savannah plains of Tanzania/Kenya and Rwanda/Uganda are now easier than they have ever been. Helicopter transfers can also be arranged on a daily basis within Rwanda to destinations such as Virunga Lodge. The airlines that are operating in the region may change from time to time, so make sure to check with your airline before adding a flight to your schedule. Importantly, make sure that your flight connections coincide with the start and conclusion of your Safari.

Gorilla Families and Parks

Mountain gorillas make their homes in four different parks in Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo). Mountain gorillas can be found in Mgahinga National Park and Bwindi National Park in Uganda and in Rwanda they can be seen in Parc National des Volcans where research was conducted by famous primatologist Dian Fossey. In the DRC, there are gorilla families living in Virunga National Park but at this time Around Africa Safari does not arrange any tours there for clients.

There are nine families of habituated gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and on a daily basis there are eight permits available for each group. If you’re looking for a more challenging gorilla trek, Bwindi is the place to go. The tropical forest is thicker than it is in Rwanda’s Parc National des Volcans or Uganda’s Mgahinga National Park. Once you have left the ranger’s base for your pre-trek briefing, it can take anywhere from 3 to 10 hours to complete the trekking, due to the steeper hillsides. If you stay at the lodges in the Buhoma area north of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, you’ll be able to access five of the gorilla families including the Rushegura, Mubare, Oruzogo, Habinyanja and Bitukura. If you stay at Mount Gahinga Lodge or Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge, amongst others to the south of Bwindi, you’ll have the chance to track one of four gorilla families: the Nshongi, Nkuringo, Mishaya and Kahunje.

The Mubare gorilla family – There are 7 members in this family and this includes one silverback. This is Uganda’s oldest habituated gorilla family. It was first habituated back in 1991 – 1993 and received its name from the Mubare hills after first being spotted there. The group originally contained 12 members with silverback Ruhondeza leading the family. At one point in time it grew to 18 members then later scaled back to 7. This group is located 15 to 30 minutes away from your accommodation with in Buhoma sector.

The Oruzogo gorilla family This family contains one silverback and 16 members. The group, which was given the name of a common plant that grows locally, is located 2 hours away by car or truck from your host lodge at Buhoma area and 15 minutes from lodges around Ruhija area.

The Habinyanja gorilla family This family comes complete with 2 silverbacks and 15 family members. This group was first habituated back in 1997. It started off as a larger group but then split into 2 separate families: the Habinyanja Family and the Rushegura Family. These gorillas are located approximately an hour away from your host lodge with Buhoma sector.

The Rushegura gorilla family There is one silverback and 19 members in this family that splintered off from the Habinyanja group. They were named after a type of tree called the ‘Ebishegura’ that grows in their local habitat and they are the closest family to the Bwindi Lodge, Buhoma lodge, Gorilla forest camp and Mahogany springs. The family makes their home approximately 15 minutes away from it and they are a calm family that frequently visit some lodges around Buhoma sector.

The Bitukura gorilla family This family consists of 4 silverbacks and 12 members and their name comes from “Bitukura River”. This is one of the newer families to live in the Impenetrable Forest since their habitation only dates back to 2007. Tracking of this family started in 2008 and they are located about 2 hours away from your host lodge (buhoma area) and 15 minutes from lodges around Ruhija.

The Nkuringo gorilla family There are 2 silverbacks and 19 family members in this group. The group was is located at the southern part of the park, initially spotted at Nkuringo Hill, which is where the name comes from. They were first habituated in 2004 and at the time they were destroying local farmers’ crops. Now the farmers are able to benefit from all of the local tourism that they provide. The family is located 5 minutes walk from Clouds mountain gorilla lodge, 2 hours away from Mount Gahinga Lodge and 6 hours away from Buhoma the northern sector of park.

The Mishaya gorilla family This group contains one silverback and 12 members. This family was formed following aNshongi family dispute when they splintered off and went in their own direction. The group was named Mishaya, meaning “lucky one” and they make their home 6 to 7 hours away from Buhoma the northern sector, 45 minutes from clouds mountain gorilla lodge, 5 minutes from Gorilla safari lodge and 2 hours away from Mount Gahinga lodge.

The Nshongi gorilla family There are 4 silverbacks and 25 members in this group. The family got its name from the river that was in close proximity to the area where the family was originally sighted for the first time. They were tracked for the first time in 2009 and it is the largest family to be habituated. If you travel from Mount Gahinga Lodge it will take you 2 hours to reach this family or, if heading out from Buhoma the northern sector of the park, it will take 6 to 7 hours, 45 minutes from clouds mountain gorilla lodge, 5 minutes from Gorilla safari lodge.

The Kahungye gorilla family This is a newly habituated group that consists of 3 silverbacks and 27 members. This family name came from the Kahungye hill and they have only been tracked since 2011. The group lives 2 hours away from Mount Gahinga Lodge, 30 minutes away from Clouds mountain gorilla lodge and 6 to 7 hours away from Buhoma the northern sector of the park.

There is only one gorilla family to be found in Mgahinga National Park. The Nyakagezi Family consists of 3 silverbacks and 10 members and it is a very nomadic group that crosses the borders of the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda. At times it can appear only five minutes away from mount Gahinga lodge, 2 hours from Clouds mountain gorilla lodge, but since it does tend to travel the distance can vary.

In Rwanda, the Parc National des Volcans has 10 gorilla families that have been habituated and every day each group is allowed eight permits. The families include Karisimbi, Susa, Sabyinyo, Umubano, Amahoro, Kwitonda, Agashya, Hirwa, Ugyenda and Bwenge. It usually only takes about a half a day of walking to meet up with one of these groups but it can take up to 7 hours to reach the Susa group.

The Susa gorilla family group – This group has 3 silverbacks and 28 group members and its original name comes from the Susa River. It was the largest group of its kind before dividing into 2 separate groups. This family became popular due to the studies originally conducted by Dian Fossey and its set of twins named Impano and Byishimo. The group is situated approximately 40 minutes away from Virunga lodge lodge, 15 minutes from Sabinyo and mountain Gorilla view lodges to reach this family.

The Karisimbi gorilla family group –With 3 silverbacks and 15 members, this is the group that split away from the Susa family. The group always remains in the general area of the Karisimbi Volcano on the lower slopes. It takes about 40 minutes from Virunga lodge, 15 minutes from Sabinyo and mountain Gorilla view lodges to reach this family.

The Sabyinyo gorilla family group – Named after the Sabyinyo Volcano, this group has 2 silverbacks and 12 members. It likes to gather between the Gahinga and Sabyinyo Mountains to enjoy the gentle terrain there. You can access this family by traveling about 40 minutes from Virunga lodge, 15 minutes from Sabinyo and mountain Gorilla view lodges to reach this family.

The Amahoro gorilla family group – This is a peaceful and gentle group as should be expected since the word Amahoro means “peaceful”. They are located about 40 minutes away from Virunga Lodge, 15 minutes from Sabinyo and mountain Gorilla view lodges to reach this family. You’ll experience a tougher climb reaching this family that contains one silverback and 17 group members.

The Umubano gorilla family group – This group has one silverback and 11 family members. This family was originally a part of the Amahoro group and even though the 2 groups no longer live together they still share a lot of the same territory peacefully. This group can be found about 40 minutes from Virunga lodge, 15 minutes from Sabinyo and mountain Gorilla view lodges to reach this family.

The Kwitonda gorilla family group – The name of this group means “humble one” and consists of 2 silverbacks and 18 members. Although the gorillas usually like to stay on the Mount Muhavura lower slopes, it is a group that is more difficult to track. They are located about 40 minutes from Virunga lodge, 15 minutes from Sabinyo and mountain Gorilla view lodges to reach this family.

The Hirwa gorilla family group – The name of this group means “lucky one” and consists of 12 members and one silverback. This is a relatively new group that formed from splinter groups when Group 13 and the Sabyinyo family merged together. There is a set of twins in this family and they can usually be found on Mount Sabyinyo, which is about 40 minutes from Virunga lodge, 15 minutes from Sabinyo and mountain Gorilla view lodges to reach this family.

The Agasha gorilla family group – This is a large group with 2 silverbacks and 25 members. This group used to be known by another name, Group 13, but was later renamed when a leader named Agasha challenged the silverback that was dominant at the time and led the group away. Other gorillas that were wandering on their own or wanderers from other families began to assimilate into the group.

The Ugyenda gorilla family group – There is one silverback and 11 members in this family and the name of the group means “departure”. This is an easier group to track than many others since it tends to remain in the region of Mount Visoke, about 40 minutes from Virunga lodge, 15 minutes from Sabinyo and mountain Gorilla view lodges to reach this family.

The Bwenge gorilla family group – The name of this group means “brightness” and there is one silverback and 10 members in the family. They share a lot of territory on Mount Visoke with the Ugyenda group and can be found approximately about 40 minutes from Virunga lodge, 15 minutes from Sabinyo and mountain Gorilla view lodges to reach this family.

Gorilla Tracking Equipment

The following clothing is required for gorilla tracking:

Light wool or fleece sweater, warm clothes, a lightweight parka or rain poncho and rain hat, a sun hat, undergarments with moisture wicking, long sleeve shirt, woollen lightweight socks, heavy trousers, gardening gloves for gripping vegetation and waterproof walking boots that are strong and comfortable enough to handle hiking steep hills. Pack with the intention of layering your clothes since the temperature tends to fluctuate.

The following equipment is required for gorilla tracking:

Sunscreen, fast film, sunglasses, binoculars, a torch and a small backpack for carrying a packed lunch and water. If you require a walking stick you can either borrow one from the lodge or a guide can make you one.

Gorilla Trekking

Each gorilla park only allows a certain number of daily permits so it is important to book gorilla tracking well ahead of time. When you book your initial safari you’ll need to pay for the permit at the same time so that it can be secured immediately. Failure to do so can mean losing out on a permit.

Please make sure that you are set up properly for gorilla tracking before leaving home. Feel free to check our recommended packing list on our website. Children under the age of 15 are not permitted to track gorillas nor are people with any illnesses. This policy is in effect to protect the gorillas from unwanted disease.

If you plan on tracking you must be in good health and fit since you’ll be traveling through thick forest and may have to climb to heights of 3000m or more. You can also expect to get wet as you travel up the mountains and down into ravines. If necessary, you can hire a porter to carry your equipment.

Permits for tracking are non-refundable unless you can provide a medical certificate to prove that you cannot attend for medical reasons. As well, tracking may be called off on short notice due to border closures, gorillas heading out of range, national park closures or due to security changes. In these types of situations, refunds are left up to the authority’s discretion and are beyond our control. There is no guarantee that you will see a gorilla if you purchase a gorilla tracking permit.

You are allowed to view the gorillas for one hour and must stand a minimum of 7m away from them. Bring along fast film that is 400 to 1600 ASA since no flash photography is allowed. You can, however, bring along your DVD recorder. If you are a film making professional you’ll need to get permission first to purchase a filming permit.

When you meet the ranger at the national park they will inform you further about the rules and regulations and will lead you to the gorilla families. We kindly ask that you follow the regulations.

Gratuities and Tips

Gratuities are graciously accepted and are left to the complete discretion of the customer. We can offer the following recommendations for tips but they are suggestions only:

Restaurants – Approximately 3% to 5%

Camps and lodges – $3 to $5 USD per guest based on a 1-3 day stay

Guides and drivers – $5 to $10 USD per client per day

Gorilla tracking head ranger – $10 USD per client per day

Park porters – $20 to $25 USD per person per day

Baggage porters at lodges and hotels – $1-$2 USD per stay per client

Walks in the forest – $5 USD per client

Hiking Equipment

The following clothing will be required for hiking:

Overmitts, mittens or mountain gloves for climbing, rain gear, fleece sweater and jacket, long sleeved shirts for trekking, rain and sun hats, mountain jacket, a warm hat for climbing at high-altitudes, T-shirts, shorts, climbing and hiking pants, long lightweight underwear and lightweight gloves for the camp.

Footwear – Sandals or camp shoes, a set of gaiters for low altitudes and a set for high altitudes, mountain boots that can accommodate crampons, walking/running shoes.

The following equipment is required for hiking:

Crampons, climbing rope, climbing harness, ice axe, sleeping mat, sleeping bag, tent, slings, climbing pack or day pack, carabiners and waterproof sacks. Canoe bags, such as those made by Ortleib, are recommended and can be used for packing your gear, clothing, sleeping bag and tent.

Medical – Dark sunglasses, sun screen that is anywhere between 45 – 60 spf, Malaria prophylaxis, sleeping pills if you find it hard to sleep at a high altitude, a first aid kit, any prescribed medication, non-prescription painkillers (avoid aspirin). Diamox helps with acclimatization and also reduces the risk of developing edema. If your local pharmacist does not stock these items, various stores online can supply them.

Insurance

Make sure that you get proper medical coverage before leaving home. When you book an east African tour, you must show evidence of adequate travel insurance to the company before your departure. The travel insurance should cover the entire duration of your tour. Details regarding evacuation cover.insurance can be found on the AMREF Flying Doctors insurance website.

Internet and Telephone

If you’re visiting Kigali or Kampala you’ll have no problem making international calls but it can be rather difficult from some of the areas up-country although the mobile telephone network is expanding rapidly across East Africa. Most American and European mobile phones work in Rwanda and Uganda with a roaming agreement. Many outlets also sell local SIM cards. If you need to use the Internet while here, there are facilities available in Kigali, Kampala and in most Rwandan and Ugandan major towns. Please note that the speed and quality of the Internet connections can vary from one location to the next. Our guides can accept incoming calls on their cell phones.

Medical/Health/Fitness

Before traveling you are advised to seek medical advice. In the United Kingdom, the Medical Advisory Service for Travelers Abroad (MASTA) can be contacted at www.masta.org or you can give them a call on +44 9068 224100. If you live in the United States, you can contact CDC through their website at www.cdc.gov

When visiting East Africa, bring along any personal medication and be sure to pack mosquito repellent and anti-malaria tablets. You may be required to get vaccinations and if you are planning to visit the DRC you’ll need to get an inoculation (and certificate) for Yellow Fever. Upon your arrival, drink boiled or bottled water only and be aware that medical services are basic, especially when you’re traveling up-country.

Money

Travelers are recommended to travel with cash since few facilities accept credit cards or Visa. Only a few lodges and hotels up-country, and a few outlets in Kigali and Kampala, will take credit card or debit cards, and charges can be very high. Make sure that the money you carry doesn’t have any tears or stains on it and is in excellent condition. US Dollar notes MUST be dated after 2006, or even after 2009, and you should expect to spend between $30-$50 USD per day. ATM machines are only available in Kigali, Kampala and a handful of big towns. One dollar USD equals approximately 2,500 shillings in Uganda and 640 francs in Rwanda. Traveler’s checks are no longer accepted anywhere in Uganda.

Photography

Come prepared to take plenty of pictures, but please ask before photographing any people. Taking pictures of soldiers or areas near military buildings is not permitted. Be sure to bring along extra batteries and a car charger for your digital camera, since not all camps and lodges are equipped with electricity. If you are a professional filmmaker, you’ll need to ask for permission before filming in the National Parks and will have to purchase a permit. Around Africa Safaris are happy to advise on this. Flash photography of wildlife is forbidden so bring fast (400 to 1600 ASA) film to get the best results. DVD recorders are permitted. You should also take note that it is usually easier to photograph gorillas on cloudy days.

Security

As it is with travel anywhere, you should exercise basic security precautions and use common sense on your journey to East Africa and during your stay. Leave your expensive jewelry at home and never leave your money lying around. When safety deposit boxes are available, use them to store your valuables and travel documents. Make use of your driver guides and the lodge staff and do not walk alone at night. If you ever have any security questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to consult with your Around Africa Safari guide.

Time

Rwanda is +2 hours GMT and Uganda is +3 hours GMT.

Visas

East African Single Tourist Visa

Rwandan Tourist Visa

A Rwandan visa is required unless you are a national of the following countries:

  • USA
  • Great Britain
  • Germany
  • Sweden
  • South Africa
  • Singapore
  • Mauritius
  • Hong Kong
  • Kenya
  • Burundi
  • Uganda
  • DRC
  • Tanzania

A single entry tourist visa is quite easy to obtain, whereas multiple entry visas require more negotiation.

Rwandan visas are no longer offered at Kigali Airport. If you’re not a national of one of the countries listed above, you’ll need to apply for a tourist visa before your trip to Rwanda. You can either request a visa online through the Entry Facility Form or you can request one from the Rwandan Embassies/Diplomatic Missions. If you fill out an online request, you’ll be able to pick the visa up once you arrive at the airport. For further details please visit the Migration Rwanda website.

You’ll be asked to show a copy of the Entry Facility Form that was accepted before your visa is given to you. The cost for a single entry Rwandan visa is $30 USD. The Rwandan Embassy in the United Kingdom is located at 120 – 122 Seymour Place in London, UK, W1H 1NR. You can call the embassy at +44 020 722 49 832.The Rwandan Embassy in the United States is located in Washington DC at  1724 New Hampshire Avenue NW, Washington, 200091. The phone number there is +1 202 232 2882.

Ugandan Visa

If you are a citizen of Japan, the United States or the European Union, you’ll need a visa to visit Uganda. If you are from another country you should check first and find out whether a visa will be required. You can obtain an entry visa at land borders, at Entebbe Airport or through Ugandan overseas missions.

A single entry Ugandan visa will cost $50 USD and will be valid for between two weeks and three months. For further information about the visa requirements to enter Uganda please visit the official website at www.immigration.go.ug/page/requirements-entry-uganda. The Ugandan Embassy in the United Kingdom is located here: Uganda House Embassy, 58-59 Trafalgar Sq., London UK, WC2N 5DX. You can reach the embassy at +44 (0)20 7839 5783.

The Ugandan Embassy in the United States is located in Washington DC at 5811 16th Street NW, Washington DC USA, 20011. You can reach Embassy officials at 1 202 726 7100.

Weather

Both Rwanda, Uganda and other East African countries are situated close to the equator. This means that there isn’t a lot of fluctuation in the climate, making both countries a perfect year-round destination for tourists. The rainy season runs from March to April and from October to November in most areas but rain can be expected at any other time of the year – especially in the areas near the gorilla parks. Even though the rainy season can slow down travel times, the views are often better in these conditions. Gorilla tracking remains open during the rainy season and you can expect to run into some mud along your way.

There is more rainfall in the mountains and the surrounding areas and it is also much colder there than it is on the plains. In general, the temperature range is from 21°C to 30°C on the plains and during certain months the temperature can go as low as 10°C in the mountain areas. We advise our clients to plan their travels when it is convenient for them since the rain, which usually only happens for short periods, is another part of this fantastic experience.