Best of East African Safari: Gorilla Trekking, Maasai Mara, Ngorongoro, Serengeti

A 14 day trip to Kenya, Rwanda & Tanzania 
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106 reviews

Legendary tales flutter across East Africa to narrate the stories of the wild mountain gorillas, the migrating wildebeest, the evocative grasslands, and the utopian volcano. They sound like folklore as mythical stories that whisper from the ancestors as if handpicked from a phantasmal realm. Even when witnessed in the flesh, East Africa's legends sometimes remain a place of mystery and mythology yet when a silverback stares you down, or a leopard hunts a zebra, there is no place on earth that feels as real. 

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General Information

Giraffe Manor. Photo by TheSafariCollection on Flickr
Detailed Itinerary

Places Visited 

Kigali, Genocide Memorial Center, Ruhengeri, Kinigi, Virunga Mountains, Volcanoes National Park, Nairobi, Masai Mara, Ngorongoro Crater, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Serengeti, Serengeti Western Corridor, Grumeti Reserve, Kilimanjaro

Departure Dates 

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: Kigali – The Resplendent Surprise of Rwanda

One of Rwanda's fables includes the wild mountain gorillas. Another, more documented, is that of the 1994 genocide, a story that everyone struggles to comprehend. With that tale in mind, landing in Kigali provides an incredible surprise. This is not a city or country of squalor, and it is not a place of fear and danger. It is one of the most forward-thinking and safest countries on the African continent. Rwanda's transition from the nineties is remarkable, and Kigali provides a wonderful introduction to East Africa. Serene in its soul, and draped across dozens of rolling hills, Kigali delights in its ability to surprise visitors. You will stay at the five-star Kigali Serena, set upon a charming boulevard. Some might say you're on the Champs Elysees of the East, but there's nothing French about it as this is proudly East Africa.

What's Included: accommodation at the Kigali Serena, airport transfer

Day 2: Kigali to Kinigi – Exploring Rwanda's History and Into the Virunga Volcanoes

The transition from genocide to a modern nation is even more impressive after a visit to the Genocide Memorial. While the photos and stories are difficult to take in, the moving memorial paints a personal picture of what happened, one less concerned with numbers and more focused on the who and the why. Visiting the memorial is the conclusion of a half-day Kigali tour and after lunch, you will drive across The Land of a Thousand Hills, rolling and rising towards Ruhengeri, and then Kinigi, located at the base of Sabyinyo Mountain. With photo stops along the route, it is a three-hour journey. From the opulent Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, there are uninterrupted views over the Virunga Volcanoes, where layers of mist ripple across the green canopy. You will gaze into the rainforest that contains over half of the world's wild mountain gorillas that you will be tracking the next day.

What's Included: accommodation at Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, tour, transfer, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 3: Kinigi – Thrilling Rwanda Gorilla Trekking

On a gorilla trek, it will sometimes feel as if you sense them. The rainforest is dense and tropical and reduces visibility with the overhanging branches and wild grasses that are swiped clear by the guide. Occasionally, you will reach a clearing and gaze over at the mist, but mostly you are journeying along the rugged trails left by elephant herds, and an armed ranger accompanies the group, mainly in case of the rare encounters with forest elephants. Smells will guide you, as do sounds, like a distant call or chesty drum beat. It might take 30 minutes before you find the gorilla troop, perhaps even hours as trekkers are allocated to troops based on their fitness levels, but you can request a shorter or longer hike. However long it takes, you can sense the gorillas during the last few moments before you see them.

And then they appear. A silverback will dominate a bush as he chomps off the fruit, a playful baby will test its tree-climbing skills as three serene mothers will gnaw at the tree bark. Don't take your photos just yet and this is the time to savor your first impressions as the fable becomes real just meters from your eyes. Watch the emotion glisten across their eyes and admire the social structure. The troop is habituated, and they accept your presence. After a few moments of everyone sizing each other up, the gorillas will continue with their daily routine, and you will watch with delighted eyes. Now is the time to bring out your camera to document the experience.

You will spend an hour with the troop before you return to the trailhead. The trek leaves in the morning and on most treks you will back for lunch. But you never know as these are wild mountain gorillas, the largest primates on the planet, so nothing is completely predictable. The hike is physically demanding, but the splendor of the rainforest more than compensates. Dedicated gorilla trackers are way ahead of you to ensure that it's never an aimless journey, and you will hike directly towards where the gorillas are. For these gorilla treks, the maximum group size is eight per gorilla troop, but five to six guests are more common.

What's Included: accommodation at Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, trekking, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 4: Kinigi to Kigali – Second Gorilla Trek and Returning to the Capital

Yesterday you encountered one gorilla troop but today you will trek to another to see a different family group with very different behavior. The contrasts are inspiring and further showcase how similar the primates are to ourselves. For photographers, a second gorilla trek provides a new opportunity. For wildlife lovers, it's another chance to be surrounded by a troop's antics. And for everyone, it's a chance to experience one of the great fables of East Africa. Note that today's actual trekking is likely to be shorter than yesterday’s, and following the trek you will return to the lodge for a chance to shower and freshen up before the journey back to Kigali and a night in the Kigali Serena.

What's Included: accommodation at the Kigali Serena, trekking, transfer, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 5: Nairobi – Relaxing at Giraffe Manor

Direct flights connect the capitals of Rwanda and Kenya to bring you across the region and into the land of very different mammals. You will be picked up at Nairobi International and transferred to Giraffe Manor, where Rothschild giraffe poke their heads through the bedroom windows. They are part of a very successful breeding program that's saved this species from near-extinction. Relax at this colonial-style lodge, admire the loping giraffe, and enjoy a quiet day in the Kenyan capital. When combining gorilla trekking with big game safari, an easy day like this is important to ensure that your energy levels are restored before the next part of your adventure.

What's Included: accommodation at Giraffe Manor, airport transfers, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Days 6 – 8: Masai Mara  – Evocative Big Five Safari in the Heart of the Mara

Fly south to the next fabled area, the Masai Mara. The Masai Mara is a strange realm where grass rolls without interruption and lion pride rest on their high rocks.  Zebra congregates in their thousands and the wildebeest gallop through the morning as Africa's biggest mammals come together in this big space. Your stay at Little Naibor Camp helps maintain nature's story as the small luxury camp blends contemporary comfort with the sense of being fully immersed in the wild. You are in the heart of the Masai Mara, literally surrounded by thousands upon thousands of animals, from the roaming ungulate herds to giants like elephants, hippos, giraffe, and buffalo, and most of these are spotted from your own verandah.

On your first game drive, the imagination switches from myth to striking reality. A cheetah is on a hunt, chasing down an injured impala and sends a flurry of dust and a yelp of protest across the plains. A little later, another intimate scene as this time a leopard rises and falls in the grass as she stalks a Thompson's gazelle. The landscape is fertile and fresh and provides a paradise for so many animals as it's these plains that the wildebeest migrate to every year with their arrival around late-June to early-July. This landscape is also a place of danger and apprehension as such plentiful predators mean that everyone must always be on alert. For predator-prey encounters, the Masai Mara is arguably the premier destination on the continent.

For these three days, you will enjoy twice-daily game drives as you head out in the morning and late-afternoon hours, and then rest at the camp throughout the middle of the day. Often, wildlife is clearly visible from your camp. You may be eating dinner when an elephant rumbles past just a few meters away, and it's all very safe, despite the lack of fences. Game drives explore the enormity of it all as they take you along the Mara River and across the mystique of this world-famous landscape. Even when the wildebeest migration is not in the Mara, there is a mammal abundance that remains hard to fathom. On day six, you will reach the Masai Mara by light aircraft from Nairobi.

What's Included: accommodation at Little Naibor Camp, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 9: Nairobi to Ngorongoro – Scenic Flights Across East Africa's Wilderness

East Africa's dazzles from the sky and today's three flights will provide a string of incredible sights. First back to Nairobi to admire the Masai Mara from the air and pick out the herds on the plains. Then, from Nairobi to Kilimanjaro International and the plane's route will dissect the volcanic peaks of Mount Meru and Mount Kilimanjaro. After a 30-minute transfer to Arusha, you will take another light aircraft to Manyara and the Ngorongoro region, an idyllic introduction to the landscapes of Tanzania. The views continue by as you stay in the opulent Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, perched on the rim of the crater. Masai warriors accompany you through the grounds as many wild animals pass through here, including elephants, and a personal butler will discreetly attend to your needs.

What's Included: accommodation at Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, transfer, domestic flights, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 10: Ngorongoro – Exploring East Africa's Wildlife Eden

Ngorongoro is East Africa is microcosm as the crater is home to six different habitats and an astonishing diversity of the big game. The region will feel like a utopian world as an Eden for a colorful collection of species. Flamingo tinge the lake pink to guide you down towards pride of black-maned lions and giant elephant bulls. Warthog and hyena scurry around while large buffalo herds slowly graze. Impala and hartebeest are on the move past the watchful herds of zebra. Jackal appear, and then eland and the furtive moves of a leopard. Often, it's difficult to know which way to look.

Some 25,000 large animals occupy this crater and with a single panoramic photo, you can nearly capture all of them. It seems as if everything is here and creates a giant animal party, or a celebration of nature's perennial rhythm. There is also drama, as lionesses bite into a fresh zebra carcass, jackals harry for scraps, elephants clash by the water and then a huge ruckus erupts as hippos fight in the lake. While it may appear to like Eden, there is still the fabulous interaction between the cast of animals. You are permitted to spend six hours on the crater floor and with your accommodations near the rim, you can enter at sunrise before the day-trippers arrive around late morning. This scheduling will help to give Ngorongoro a more exclusive feel and let you see it at the most active time of day.

What's Included: accommodation at Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Days 11 – 13: Serengeti (Grumeti Reserve) – Exclusive and Diverse Big Game Safari on the World-Famous Grass Plains

The Serengeti stretches far beyond the horizon with great sweeps of grassland that are dotted with up to two million mammals. Wildebeest gallop, hyenas snarl and vultures circle while lions hunt, elephants march and hippos bathe in the mud.  It is all here, and it plays out in high definition. The Serengeti rumbles north, where it meets the Mara River and the Masai Mara, and it continues west, towards the private Grumeti Reserve along the Serengeti's Western Corridor. You will arrive here by flight and soar over the plains from Ngorongoro to Grumeti.

You will have exclusive use of Serengeti House, a decadent place with elegant views over the grasslands. Sit back and sip fine wines as the wildebeest gallop past. Ride a horse onto the plains and encounter wild zebra or mountain bike along trails left by an elephant. Take bush picnics on rocks that overlook the great wildebeest migration or relax in the spa as the sound of lions roars float through the windows. The reserve and your private accommodation provide a luxurious and contemporary conclusion to your journey through East Africa's fables. It's still in the Serengeti, so there is always wildlife roaming around.

Using the private concession opens up new activities. Horse riding and mountain biking safaris can encounter all the antelopes. Bush walks are guided by Masai warriors, who have expert knowledge of tracking the herds. Nighttime game drives have an eery intimacy while daily game drives are private and always tailored to your interests. Create your own program and live out your own fable as it is just you and the world-famous wonders of the Serengeti. Just when you think it's all been documented, that the final chapter is closing on your East Africa story, a black rhino will slow amble past the house as rare as the gorillas in Rwanda, one of only a thousand left in the wild. That's the thing with East Africa; there is always a new treat when you least expect one.

What's Included: accommodation at Singita Serengeti House, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 14: Serengeti to Kilimanjaro – Departure

Your small plane will sweep over the Serengeti plains to provide an evocative final impression as the sun will start to call time on the day. You will land at Kilimanjaro International Airport in time for your intercontinental connection. The early part of the day is flexible, and there is an opportunity for a final safari activity, perhaps a last game drive across the thrilling Serengeti plains.

What's Included: domestic flight, safari, breakfast, lunch


Starting Price 

This trip is customizable for your private travel.

What's Included 

  • Accommodations
  • In-country transportation
  • Some or all guided tours and activities (dependent on season)
  • Expert trip planning
  • 24x7 support during your trip
The starting price is based on travel during the low season for a minimum of two travelers staying in shared 3-star accommodations. Please inquire for a custom trip quote based on your travel preferences and travel dates.