Gorilla & Rwenzori Expedition
Duration: 16 Days
Activity: Gorilla Trekking, Primate tracking, Mountain Climbing
Destinations: Bwindi forest, Rwenzori mountains, Kibale forest
A mountaineering adventure to one of Africa’s tallest mountain ranges – Rwenzori’s climbing up to the highest peak combined with gorilla trekking in Bwindi & Chimp tracking in Kibale forest.
This Rwenzori expedition tour starts with the gorilla trekking experience in Bwindi impenetrable forest in south western Uganda. This is an exciting journey along the forested slopes, entwined vines, bushes and bamboo forests before you eventually get close to the mountain gorillas. The trekking can be at times challenging and one needs to be reasonably fit before undertaking to venture into this activity. There will be community visits either in Buhoma or Rushaga depending on the tracking permits available.
The Rwenzori Mountains – Africa’s tallest mountain range exceeding in altitude Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya, are notable for their majestic scenery and varied vegetation and anyone seeing them from a distance can really tell they are one of Africa’s most beautiful mountain parks. They are also homelands for the Bakonzo & Bamba indigenous people. The Mountaineering adventure starts in Kasese at the Trekkers hostel (1450m) and climbing up to sine hut (2,585m). The hiking continues passing through the Bamboo-Mimulopsis Zone which is a steep climb going up to the Alpine Zone until you reach the highest peak – Magherita at 5,109 meters.
Descending at Kiharo camp, your tour will continue with a Crater Lake hike in fort portal and Chimp tracking in Kibale forest. The forest is also known as the primate capital of the world and 13 other primate species can be found here. A Swamp walk in Bigodi wetland sanctuary will take you through grassland, small communities and some beautiful scenery but normally to catch a glimpse of the Great Blue Turaco!!
Day 1: Airport pick up
Your driver/ guide will pick you up from the airport. From here he will transfer you to your overnight stay in Kampala.
Accommodation at Serena hotel (Luxury) or Cassia lodge (Comfort)
Meal plan: Lunch & Dinner
Day 2: To Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
Today, after an early morning breakfast, you drive to Kisoro in the south-western part of Uganda, close to the borders with Rwanda and Congo. Drive through the “Switzerland of Africa” area known as the Kigezi Highlands with its terraced hillside and winding roads to Bwindi (5 hours).
Accommodation at Bunyonyi Overland Resort (Standard), Rushaga Gorilla Camp (comfort) Silverback lodge (luxury).
Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch and Dinner.
Day 3: Bwindi Impenetrable Forest – Gorilla Tracking
Today is the big day. Prepare yourself for an encounter with one of Bwindi’s gentle giants: the rare Mountain Gorilla. For most people this is the absolute highlight of their tour in Uganda. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest boasts both Mountain Gorillas and Chimpanzees – the only forest in Africa which can make this claim in fact. It also hosts five other species of primate, 113 species of mammal, over 200 butterflies and 360 birds. The Gorillas you will track belong to one of seven habituated family groups who can tolerate the presence of humans for a brief period every day. Your trek will be an exciting journey along forested slopes, entwined vines, bushes and bamboo before you eventually reach the Gorillas’ habitat. En-route, your guide will point out signs of previous Gorilla activity, including dung, nests and chewed bamboo shoots. The time taken to track the Gorillas can take as little as 2 hours to as much as 7 hours before one returns to the camp! Once the Gorillas have been located, your group will be allowed a maximum of one hour with them. Coming face-to-face with a Mountain Gorilla is a truly humbling and emotional experience. This is a fantastic and privileged opportunity to get up close and personal with Uganda’s very own ‘Gorillas in the Mist’.
Accommodation at Bunyonyi Overland Resort (Standard), Rushaga Gorilla Camp (comfort) Silverback lodge (luxury).
Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch and Dinner.
Day 4: Drive to Kasese;
We depart early today, because it’s a fairly long drive to Kasese at the Trekkers hostel. This is where your simple but reasonable guesthouse is situated. From here you will start the Rwenzori Trekking tomorrow. Trekkers Hostel is 12 kilometres from Kasese town in a deep valley at the end of the road leading to the Rwenzori Mountains National Park. Behind the hostel meanders the Nyamwamba River which is the valley the Kilembe trail follows deep into the Rwenzori Mountains National Park. The sorroundings are delightfully green and you can enjoy the cool weather as the hostel is situated at 1,450 metres which is nearly 500 metres in height above Kasese town. Make sure you bring something to drink and to bite on the way.
Day 5: Steady walk with a steep climb for the last kilometer.
Start at Trekkers at 1,450 meters and sleep at Sine Hut at 2,596 meters being a height gain of 1,146 meters. We start by walking up the valey floor through tall forest trees of the Afro Montane Forest Zone. This is a steady climb with multitudes of birds and a chance of seeing a wild chimpanzee or blue monkey scampering off through the forest. At times visitors may see troupes of 15 to 20 Colobus monkys scampering through the tree tops. There are rare sightings of the L’Hoest monkey which are part of the Bukonzo cultural emblems and are protected by the virtue of the King or Omusinga. There is wide variety of plant species from forest trees to bamboos thickets, low shrubs, flowers, fungi, and with many moss and lichen covered vines hanging from the tall trees creating an awesome appeal. Enock’s Falls are just 200 meters from Sine Hut and offer a splendid opportunity to capture a great screensaver for your memories. The wooden hut with 10 beds is a set between tall forest trees on a narrow ridge, with ten beds and a large verandah where you may sit and enjoy the beauty of the Afro Montane forest while you look down at a fantastic waterfall crashing over the rocks far below. Sine is just below the bamboo zone and the area around has many different bird species. Sleep at Sine Hut – 2,585 metres.
Day 6: Rwenzori Expedition
After a good breakfast, trekking starts at 8.30am and you soon enter the Bamboo-Mimulopsis Zone which is steep climb with many high steps. In the wet season the bamboo area is rather muddy and slippery making the going slow. However the atmosphere and the forest is beautiful as you climb 551 metres altitude and a distance of 1.8km to Kalalama Camp at 3,147 meters which is in the Heather-Rapanea Zone where you can take a rest and a quick cup of tea or coffee before heading on to Mutinda Camp. The trail meanders up and over several small knolls along a ridge top then drops down the side of the valley before climbing again, and in doing so cross several small streams and passing close to moss covered waterfalls. You then climb steadily along the side of a beautiful mossy river which tumbles down over the rocks under the Giant Heather trees whose trunks are covered in green moss with old man beards (Usnea lichen) hanging from the branches. The trail twists and turns as you climb up the deep valley, which has an enormous variety of plants and flowers. This valley is unique with many Giant Heather trees creating a beautiful atmosphere often shrouded in mist. Eventually you get to Mutinda Camp which is set near a small river that drops off a waterfall and offers a chance to wash, refresh and relax or, you may wish to climb up to the top of the Mutinda Lookout (one and a half hours up and one hour down) The view and the atmosphere is amazing as you stand on moss covered rocks at 3,925 meters with views across the Rwenzori Mountains, down to Kasese town and Lake George.
Day 7: 4.9km starting at 3,688 meters climbing to 4,062 meters Alpine Zone
The trail here is boggy particularly in the wet season but with a little skill you can step from tussock to tussock to make the going easier. You cross the Mutinda valley through the tussock grass and everlasting flowers interspersed with many Giant Lobelias before climbing a steep section up to the Namusangi Valley (3,840 meters), which ends abruptly with sheer waterfalls and fantastic views of Mutinda Peaks. The Namusangi Valley is wide, with many ups and downs and crossing several bogs as the trail climbs steadily to Bugata Camp at 4,062 meters. Bugata Camp is situated way up Bamwanjara Pass high above Bugata Lake with views across Lake Kopello to Weismann’s Peak, which is often covered with snow then down the valley views of Lake Africa and Lake Kanganyika and the many small peaks towards Mutinda Camp. The area is covered with tussock grass, everlasting flowers (Helichrysum), St John’s Wort (Hypericum becquaeritii), giant groundsel (Senecio adnivalis) and Giant lobelia (Lobellia gibberoa). There are a many Red Forest Duiker (Cephalophuc nigrifrons rubidus) which are a sub-species only found in the Rwenzori Mountains. In the past they have been very hard to see due to the thick vegetation but since the fire, which burnt across the alpine region of the Rwenzori Mountains, they are now easier to see in the new shorter growth. In the dryer season you may choose to walk directly up the valley but a more scenic trail meanders along the hilltops with fantastic views of Lake Nusuranja from Plozza Rock. From Plozza Rock you also get fantastic views down the valley of nine lakes ringed by rugged peaks and ridges Bugata Camp has good facilities, solar lights, good toilets and bathrooms where the guides may prepare some warm water in a basin for you to wash. Bugata also has a heli pad (GPS reading N 18.312 E29 53.457) in case of any need for rescue by helicopter.
Day 8: 6.2km starting at 4,062 meters climbing over 4,450 meters sleeping at 3,974 meters
Commence trekking at 8.30am to climb up Bamwanjara Pass, the trail climbs steadily with several long flat bogs. The area is covered by everlasting flowers and Giant groundsel with the bogs being mainly tussock grass and Giant lobelia whose nectar is the main food source for the Scarlet-tufted Malachite Sunbird (Nectarinia johnstonu dartmouthi) which is common in this area and unique to the Rwenzori Mountains. As you climb you look back to see the glacial lakes far down in the valley. On reaching the top of Banwamjara Pass you get excellent views of all the main snow capped peaks where we have a small shelter for you to rest and enjoy the scenery. The walk down to Kacholpe Lakes is steep and often very muddy but offers fantastic views of Kachope Lakes and McConnell’s Prong. Butawu Camp (3,974m) is set on a ridge high above Butawu River which flows down from Scott Elliott Pass through Kitandara Lakes and has excellent views of the snow capped Mt Baker.
Day 9: 4.2km Starting at 3.974 meters climbing to 4.485 meters
Walk back along the ridge before crossing several wet areas and small rivers coming from Mt Baker and Freshfields Pass to join Butawu River. The walk up Scott Elliott Pass is enjoyable as you climb through the pass and up the ridge of Mt Stanley to Margherita Camp at 4,485 meters which is below Elena Hut. It is sheltered with a ring of high rocks and it is the original camp used by the Italian Prince Luigi Amadeo di Savoia, Duke of the Abruzzi, who mounted a very powerful expedition in 1906, composed of biologists, surveyors, a geologist and a photographer. The Italian led team, between June and July 1906 climbed the mountains, opening a new page in the history of mountaineering and exploration in Africa, and providing an answer to the most unresolved geographical questions in the region for centuries. Some of the peaks still have the names, which the Duke chose to honor the Italian Kingdom and Queen Margherita hence our naming this camp Margherita Camp. From here you have great views of Mt Baker, Scott Elliot Pass and some of the high glaciers on Mt Stanley.
Day 10: Climb up to Margherita peak at 5,109 meters
Day starts at 4,485 meters climbs to Margherita Peak at 5,109 meters return to Margherita Camp then descend to Butawu Camp at 3,974 meters to sleep. Distance 3.5km to the peak then 3.5km return to Margherita Camp plus 4.2km down to Butawu Camp.Total distance 11.2km. Wake up at 4.30am have a quick snack and start climbing so as to get on the Stanley Glacier before sunrise. The climb up from Elena can be difficult if covered in snow and ice but it is classed as a difficult scramble. Once on the Stanley glacier the going is easy however, the climb to Margherita glacier can be challenging and slippery in bad weather. Rwenzori Trekking Services has recently installed a new fixed static rope with bolts every three meters leading down a ledge to the top of a six-meter aluminum ladder. This is a safe route and anyone with reasonable fitness and head for heights is able to pass. It is not classed as technical and it is easy in dry conditions. The climb up Margherita glacier is steep and requires that you are fit. On getting near to the top of the glacier you then climb around an exposed section of rock, which is also bolted and roped, to get on the ridge running up to the top of Margherita Peak. On a clear day the views from Margherita Peak are awesome and your goal is achieved! After summiting you then descend directly to Butawu Camp or in the case of bad weather, you may need to stay in Margherita Camp however the following day it will be necessary to bypass Butawu Camp directly to Bugata Camp.
Day 11: 6.2km starting at 3,974 meters climbing over 4,450 meters sleeping at Bugata Camp 4,062 meters
A late breakfast at 8.30am start trekking by 9am. The climb up Bamwanjara Pass which is steep and in wet weather can be rather boggy making it slow going and tiresome. While crossing the pass you get the chance to see hyrax sitting at the entrance to their rock shelter warming in the sun. Their main predator is the Rwenzori Leopard Panthera pardus ruwenzori, which is rarely seen, but occasionally people do get a glimpse. The leopard has been heavily poached for it’s skin in the past and there are few left. There is a skeleton nearby in a small rock shelter for those who doubt the existence of leopard at those heights. However on a rare occasion on a misty or overcast day, you may be lucky to see one briefly as they move between the rocks. Sleep at Bugata Camp.
Day 12: Descend to either Kiharo Camp 3,460 metres or Samalira Camp 3,170 metres.
Early morning set off around Lake Bugata and the outlet of Kopello Lake then climb 200 metres to the confluence of the two valleys . As you descend down the upper areas of the Nyamwamba Valley there is a large area of thick Giant Groundsel with dense evergreen undergrowth and moss with the rocky peaks towering above. As you descend the valley you will notice the terrain is made up of several flat boggy areas where millions of years ago glaciers sat and melted leaving a wall of big rocks in front of where it lay. The valley is home to many Red Forest Duiker (Cephalophuc nigrifrons rubidus) At night you may stay in Kiharo Camp at 3,460 metres an area rich in evergreen plants and babbling streams. At night the air is filled with the calls of the rock hyrax as they sit in the rocky cliffs high above. Note:- As it is necessary to skip one of the camps you may either stay in Kiharo and enjoy the lush vegetation and rocky cliffs or may descend to Samalira Camp at 3,170 meters making a shorter trek down to base camp the following day.
Assuming that you slept in Kiharo Camp, you wake up to the shrill calls of the Ruwenzori Turaco (Ruwenzorornis johnstoni) and other birds. After a hearty breakfast you walk down the valley which is home to many species of birds who dive in and out the thick vegetation. Chameleons are a common sight as they crawl along the branches of the thick vegetation feeding on insects. In the clear areas you may catch a glimpse of a Duiker quietly feeding surrounded by Giant Lobellias and a variety of flowering plants. After descending a few kilometres you climb two hundred metres height to a ridge overlooking the valley before crossing several small valleys and streams to Kyalavula which means view or lookout in the local Bakonzo language with beautiful views down the valley and across to Lake Edward in Queen Elisabeth National Park. Samalira Camp 3,147 meters is situated in a closed valley at the top of several waterfalls and is the alternative to sleeping In Kiharo Camp. From here you descend down a long ridge, through the Bamboo-Mimulopsis Zone and Afro Montane Forest Zone back down to base camp in Kilembe.
Day 14: Crater lake hike Fort Portal – Kibale Forest
After a 2 hour drive to Fort Portal you can stretch your legs by making a nice hike around some of the Crater Lakes in this Area. The views are stunning and with clear weather you can even see the white peaks of the Rwenzori Mountains. You have lunch in Fort Portal as well (not included) After this hike it’s only 1 hour driving to Kibale Forest. On arrival, you will enter a completely different world… some serious monkey business! Although you are here specifically to track Chimps, the forest is home to at least 12 primate species including: the Red Tailed Monkey, Olive Baboon, Black and White Colobus Monkey, and the Blue Monkey. The bird life in the forest is also prolific and includes the beautiful Great Blue Turaco. If you are very lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of the meandering herd of Forest Elephant.
Accommodation at Kibale Forest Camp (Standard), Mountains of the Moon Hotel (Comfort), Papaya Lake lodge (Luxury)
Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch and Dinner.
Day 15: Chimp tracking and swamp walk in Kibale Forest
Today, you will track Chimpanzees and do a swamp-walk. Kibale Forest boasts the highest number of primate species in the world, including our delightful cousins, the Chimpanzees. Today, in Uganda, there are approximately 4,950 Chimps left in the wild, which makes it a perfect place to spot them! (Although this cannot be guaranteed). During the trek, your ranger will point out the other species living in the forest, including birds, flora and fauna. Your swamp walk (2-3 hours) will take you through grassland, small communities and some beautiful scenery, where the locals are likely to greet you with enthusiastic waves. It is usual to spot 3 or 4 different primate species during this walk, though the highlight is catching a glimpse of the Great Blue Turaco! If you are tired from the Chimpanzee tracking you can do this walk as well tomorrow morning.
Accommodation at the Kibale Forest Camp (Standard), Mountains of the Moon Hotel (Comfort), Papaya Lake lodge (Luxury)
Meal plan: Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner
Day 16: Return to Kampala – Airport transfer
Today, after an early breakfast, you return to Kampala. From Kampala we drive to Entebbe airport for your flight connection. Make sure your flight departs after 8 pm to make sure you can make this program. If your flight leaves earlier we suggest booking an extra night in Entebbe.
Meal plan: Breakfast & Lunch.
End of tour
- Transport in a 4WD vehicle with pop-up roof.
- All fuel for the tour
- English speaking Ugandan driver/guide.
- Accommodation and Meals on Full Board (Breakfast Lunch and Dinner)
- Park-entrance fees for all National parks
- 1 gorilla permit per person
- 1 chimp permit per person
- All activities described in the itinerary
- Drinking water throughout the safari.
- International air fares
- Entry visa Uganda
- Meals that are not part of your accommodation.
- A porter for during the gorilla tracking’s (someone who carries your daypack).
- Personal (medical/travel) insurance
- Tips and gratuities to rangers, driver/guide, porter, hotel staff, etc.
- All expenses of personal nature (e.g. drinks, laundry, optional activities, souvenirs etc.)