Primates & the Big Five: Rwanda & Uganda
Highlights: The mountain-gorilla-filled Virunga Mountains, encompassing Parc des Volcans, in Rwanda, and Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest; the adjacent Queen Elizabeth National Park and Kibale National Park, both in Uganda, famous for chimps and a dozen other primates.
Since 2000, Africa’s central highlands have seen a dramatic rise in gorilla tourism, most of it from the United States. Rwanda is easier on trekkers, with its gently graded walks into the mountains, while Uganda’s dense jungle, which holds a larger gorilla population, requires better fitness. But a safari to the region no longer need focus solely on gorillas. Thanks to sounder conservation policies, Uganda is seeing a resurgence in plains game at its parks. Volcanoes Safaris recently opened the Kyambura Gorge Lodge on a former coffee estate on the edge of Queen Elizabeth National Park—perfectly sited for lion, elephant, and chimp tracking. The operator can round out a trip with stays at its Bwindi Safari Lodge or across the border at Rwanda’s Virunga Lodge. For a traditional safari experience, consider the recently rebuilt 36-room, 21-tent Chobe Safari Lodge, in Uganda’s Murchison Falls National Park. Since the establishment of the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, it’s now possible to see the Big Five in the country again.
When to Go: Dec.–March, June–Oct.
Safari Expert Brad Horn
From: Australia, but lived in Botswana for many years
Company: Epic Private Journeys
Adrenaline Rush: “The biggest of the silverback gorillas in Rwanda’s Virunga Mountains was yards away when he unexpectedly rose on two legs and ran past us beating his chest, meting out his punishment on a devious son. Incredible.”
Malawi: The gin-clear waters of Lake Malawi have attracted operators such as Wilderness Safaris, while the African Parks Network is reintroducing elephants and black rhinos into the Majete Wildlife Reserve in the country’s south.
Mozambique: Gone are decades of poaching: the big story is Gorongosa National Park, where conservationist Greg Carr’s namesake foundation has spent millions to reintroduce elephants and opened a tented camp.
Republic of the Congo: Not to be confused with the war-torn Democratic Republic, Congo is establishing eco-camps in Odzala-Kokoua National Park, home to rare forest elephants and the highest density of Africa’s western lowland gorillas.
Zimbabwe: After years of political turmoil, Zimbabwe is starting to regain its footing. Investors are renovating properties at Victoria Falls and Lake Kariba, while independent operators now offer cross-border trips to Zambia.