Days 1 - 2: Nairobi – Nakuru – Eldoret. Kenya is East Africa’s most popular destination and has a long tradition of tourism and of welcoming visitors. Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, has seen rapid growth in recent years but still has a comparatively small city centre and interesting city market, numerous craft shops, book shops and plenty of cafes and restaurants. We recommend you arrive the day before the tour departure in order to relax and overcome any jetlag. We depart Nairobi early on Day One and descend into the ‘Great Rift Valley’, an enormous cleft in the Earth’s surface stretching from the Red Sea to Madagascar but with particularly marked escarpments here in Kenya.
Our first stop is Lake Nakuru National Park, a relatively small park (by African standards) on the Rift Valley floor. The shallow soda lake attracts a huge variety of birdlife – especially flamingos, which may gather in such numbers that (when viewed from above) they form a strikingly pink ‘fringe’ around the lake-shore. However Lake Nakuru is not simply a bird sanctuary, it is also home to buffalo, lion, rhino, leopard, warthog, baboon, antelope, and a variety of smaller animals. A delightful introduction to East Africa’s wildlife diversity. From Nakuru we continue northwest to Eldoret, and the Uganda frontier.
Days 3-5: Kampala – Queen Elizabeth – Lake Bunyonyi. We cross into Uganda, Winston Churchill’s ‘Pearl of Africa’ and to the capital, Kampala. This is an attractive hilly city, bustling with roadside traders, markets and busy matatu (mini-bus taxi) stands. From Kampala, we travel west to Queen Elizabeth National Park. Uganda is a wonderfully fertile country of green terraced hillsides, lush banana plantations, steep mountains and tangled forests.
We enter the QENP, with a view (further to the west) of the mountains that separate Uganda from central Africa. We gamedrive in the morning in search of the Uganda Kob (a type of antelope) as well as elephant, lion, buffalo, hyena and hippo. Nearby the park we visit the Kyambura Gorge for the trek to see the chimpanzees. Unlike the larger gorilla, chimps live mostly in the trees and so our viewing is necessarily at some distance. However the experience of seeing man’s closest relative in the wild is a memorable one. Continuing deep into the Kigezi Highlands we come to the picturesque Lake Bunyoni, an ancient flooded valley, where we usually base ourselves for the gorilla trekking.
Days 6 - 9: Gorilla Trek - Kampala. This region of Africa is home to the world’s remaining 700 mountain gorillas, many of which inhabit the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. [Occasionally we may travel into neighbouring Rwanda to trek for the gorillas.]
On the day of our trek we gather in the early morning to meet our local guide and tracker. Walking in small groups we trek into the thick rainforest. The trek can be demanding at times with uneven terrain and hilly rainforest but the privilege of spending time with a family of these gentle primates makes the effort well worthwhile. To many people, even those who stay in Africa longer than this two week tour, the day’s trek and time with the gorillas remains their most exciting wildlife encounter in Africa.
The usual procedure, once we have located the gorilla ‘family’, is to squat or sit down and simply observe them for around an hour – the time set by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (the national body charged with controlling and maintaining the gorillas in Uganda). Gorillas are sociable creatures, living in groups between 12 and 20 individuals, usually led by an ‘alpha male’ (the ‘silverback’ - so called because of the silver hair on his back which grows once the male gorilla attains maturity).
Most people find that the gorillas are remarkably human-like at close quarters – particularly in the social interaction between family members and in ‘play’ activity in which the young engage. Photography is permitted (although not with a flash and there are restrictions for those who wish to use a video camera). Your permit allows you one trek and gorilla viewing (time limited to one hour). However because the authorities maintain strict limits on the number of visitors allowed to view the gorillas each day we may spend several days in the area while all passengers in our group complete the trek and viewing.
Days 10 - 15; Kampala - Jinja - Nairobi. When all members of the group have completed the gorilla trek we pack up and make our way back to Kampala. Pausing for the night we continue on to Jinja and our camp on the grassy banks of the River Nile. It was in 1862 that the British explorer John Hanning Speke recognised Lake Victoria as the ‘source of the Nile’ settling a long running dispute about Africa’s (and the world’s) longest river. From this modest monument the Nile begins its 4132 mile course through Uganda, Sudan and eventually Egypt to the Mediterranean Sea.
Our camp overlooks a dramatic set of rapids known as Bujagali Falls. It is here that we usually have the option to try rafting - an exciting day out for those enjoying the thrill of ‘white water’. There is also the opportunity to make some difference to local children at a local school project: ‘Softpower’ is a locally run voluntary programme aimed at building and improving schools in the Jinja area to which your contribution of a few hours of painting or plastering is always most welcome. Other activities at Jinja include quad biking, village walks and even bungy jumping! From Jinja, we move on to Uganda’s capital Kampala. Finally we make our way back into Kenya, passing through Eldoret and the Rift Valley once again to the lights and bustle of Nairobi, where we will spend the next two nights enjoying the city attractions at your own leisure.
NB: Depending on the availability of gorilla permits the tour itinerary may vary in day to day running order from the above running order which is based on the brochure itinerary. From time to time we may visit neighbouring countries, eg Rwanda, for the gorilla trek (instead of Uganda) and this may entail extra visa fees although we shall endeavour to advise you before departure of any significant change to the tour itinerary.
Days 16-18: Nairobi, Masai Mara National Reserve. Kenya is East Africa’s most popular destination and has a long tradition of tourism and of welcoming visitors. We recommend you arrive the day before the tour’s scheduled departure in order to relax and overcome any jetlag before starting your trip. Nairobi, has seen rapid growth in recent years but has a comparatively small city centre, ideal for walking, a very interesting city market, numerous craft shops, book shops and plenty of cafes and restaurants.
We depart the city early Day One of the tour and make our way across the Great Rift Valley to the Masai Mara National Reserve. We spend two nights camping on the edge of the Reserve with time to explore the park on morning and afternoon game drives. The sweeping plains, distant horizons, low slung acacia trees, occasional coppices of vegetation, and plentiful wildlife form a deeply evocative introduction to this wonderful continent. The ‘Mara’ is crossed every year between July and October by great herds of wildebeest, zebra and other grazing animals in their migration from the adjoining Serengeti plains to the south (in Tanzania).
Predators (such as lion, cheetah, leopard) and scavengers (hyena, vultures) follow the grazing animals and this enormous congregation of wildlife forms a spectacular display of Africa’s natural resource. But the Mara is excellent for game viewing at any time of year and regardless of when you can visit we hope to see some, if not all, of Africa’s ‘Big Five’ (elephant, lion, rhino, buffalo and leopard) and an array of other wildlife. From the Mara, we return to Nairobi, where we usually overnight, on our way south into Tanzania.
Days 19-22: Arusha, Serengeti National Park, Olduvai Gorge, Ngorongoro Crater. After crossing the border at the busy Namanga frontier we come to Arusha. Situated mid-way between Cape Town and Cairo, this is very much Tanzania’s ‘safari capital’ - a bustling city with colourful markets, shops, vehicles and people, all nestling in the shadow of the brooding Mt Meru (4556m). After exploring the curio markets, we head to our camp outside Arusha on the open plains to the west of the city. There is the opportunity to walk to one of the local Masai villages. For those who are interested there is a local school and small clinic near the campsite, or you may wish to visit the small but very informative Masai museum and to walk through the – also very informative – Meserani Snake enclosure.
Switching to smaller more ‘gamepark friendly’ vehicles we drive west across the Rift Valley, passing through Mto Wa Mbo (‘mosquito creek’) and enter the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area. We pass into the park and drive around the Crater rim and down onto the Serengeti plains. Stopping at the Olduvai Gorge, made famous by Drs Louis and Mary Leakey for explorations into early man we descend onto the open plains and wide horizons of the Serengeti. Green after the rains, brown and burnt in the dry this is home to an enormous variety of grazing animals, predators, and birdlife. Flatter and larger than the Masai Mara the Serengeti is simply huge - indeed the name derives from the Masai word Siringitu – ‘the place where the land moves on forever’. Game viewing here can be superb and camping out in the designated (but unfenced) campsite where lion and hyena roam nearby is an unforgettable experience.
The following day we drive out of the plains for gamedriving and after lunch ascend the outer wall of the Ngorongoro Crater. We spend the night camping on the rim (you may need a jacket; it can be cold at night). At 326 square kilometres in area the Ngorongoro is Africa’s largest intact caldera and is a World Heritage Site. If the view from the rim (2400 metres above sea level) is spectacular, the site from the Crater floor (some 600 metres below) is equally enjoyable. All the major mammals are present except giraffe (which cannot manage the steep slopes leading down onto the Crater floor) and we descend the steep access road for a morning of game driving. Time her is limited however and we drive back up the access road after lunch for a final view over the Ngorongoro before we retrace our steps to Arusha and our camp for the evening.
Days 23 - 28: Dar es Salaam - Zanzibar. We have time in Arusha to replenish our stores before continuing past the shadow of Mt Kilimanjaro (Africa’s highest peak at 5895m) to Dar es Salaam and the Indian Ocean. ‘Dar’ is Tanzania’s main port and is a hub of commerce and industry - a hot, humid and bustling city. We set up camp at our campsite on the beach just outside of the city centre, usually having time to browse curio markets - best known for ebony wood - and prepare for our trip to Zanzibar.
Evocative and exotic, Zanzibar conjures up images of idyllic, sandy, palm fringed beaches, romantic winding cobbled alleys and lush tropical forests. You will find all of these here – and an intriguing history. Zanzibar was the base for the great 19th century explorers John Hanning Speke, Richard Burton and David Livingstone and was once a major trading centre for spices. Indeed the spice trade is central to the island’s history – Zanzibaris have traded with the people of the Arabian peninsula for generations, plying the ocean in simple dhow sailboats using the annual trade winds for passage. The Arab influence is evident in the architecture and diverse street stall offerings of Stone Town. Indeed the Arab influence can be seen right along the East African coast - the Swahili language itself the result of the mixing of Arab and African languages and cultures over many centuries.
Zanzibar’s other history is not so romantic. The island was a staging post for slaves brought from the African interior, held before shipping to slave owners in the middle east. You can still see the places where these men and women were held – and even a short visit is enough to convey the appalling conditions they had to endure.
Our time on the island is not structured and your time is at leisure. Perhaps the best way to see Stone Town is on foot: explore the bazaars, shops, mosques, palaces, courtyards and alleyways of the old town. Spices are grown in plantations nearby and you can take day-tours to visit some and have your senses dazzled by the tastes and scents experienced. If it’s white sand, sparkling ocean and hot sun you prefer – head for the northern beaches and enjoy the Indian Ocean at its best. Try snorkelling and diving, indulge in some sumptuous seafood, or simply relax beneath a coconut palm with a cocktail and a good book.
After three nights we cross back by ferry to the African mainland and Dar es Salaam where your arrangements end
NB As we leave the truck on the mainland, basic tourist class accommodation on Zanzibar is included in the Local Payment but for the sake of flexibility meals are left for your own account. Typically we spend one night in Stone Town and the next two nights in the north of the island at one of the beaches. Your tour leader will be available to assist if you experience any problems but there are no set activities - the time is entirely at your leisure.
- Age: 18-39.
- Local payment: USD 1100 – covers food camping, Lake Nakuru National Park, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Chimpanze Excursion, Masai Mara excursion, Gorilla trek transfer, Zanzibar excursion (including Accommodation)
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Africa Tanzania Botswana Kenya Nature & Wildlife National Parks
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