Legends of East Africa: A Gorilla Trekking and Masai Mara Safari

A 12 day trip to Kenya & Uganda 
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Uganda and Kenya are home to some of East Africa’s legendary safari encounters. Wild mountain gorillas can be discovered in a forest engulfed by mist, and endless herds of zebra and wildebeest will cross the Masai Mara as you do the same. Lions can be seen on the prowl and climbing trees as hippos, giraffe and elephants pass through your lodge accommodation. This 12-day East Africa itinerary will celebrate the icons and bring intimate safari experiences on the Ugandan savannah, through the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, and on a private Masai Mara conservancy.  As you consider your gorilla trekking safari, consider reading some of our other Ugandan itineraries for more inspiration. 

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General Information

Photos
Detailed Itinerary

Places Visited 

Entebbe, Lake Victoria, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Kazinga Channel, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Nairobi, Giraffe Centre, Mara North Conservancy, Masai Mara National Reserve

Departure Dates 

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: Entebbe – Relax on Lake Victoria

Arrive in Africa, and you will be immediately compelled by one of the continent’s most famous images as Lake Victoria sits majestic beneath the shimmering sun, colors rippling across its soft facade. The lake seems to extend forever and is sporadically dotted with small islets along the horizon. Land at Entebbe International Airport and you will be transferred to a five-star hotel on the banks of the lake with a waterfront terrace that will provide space and tranquility after your journey. Your wilderness experience will begin tomorrow, so today is about sitting back and taking in the charms of this soporific body of water.

What’s Included: accommodation, airport transfer

Day 2: Queen Elizabeth National Park – Big-Game Safari Along the Water

East Africa’s landscape is best connected by light aircraft with planes that touch down on dusty airstrips surrounded by animals. These flights provide expedited connections to remote and relatively inaccessible worlds but more than that, they also bring an early insight into the landscapes where wildlife thrives. From the plane window, there will be glorious views onto ochre-hued plains, the rusty-yellow savannah, and the thick equatorial rainforests. As you touch down, you may find an elephant in the distance with scattered herds of antelopes cantering away from the airstrip.

Queen Elizabeth is Uganda’s most visited national park, a classic savannah that is punctuated by the curves of the Kazinga Channel. Transfer to the lodge and then spend the rest of your morning on your boat safari to explore the animals that line the waterside. Hippo congregates in large numbers, and you will see them yawning to reveal their huge gaping jaws and elongated teeth. Elephants and giraffe join herds of Ugandan kob to take a leisurely drink along the water. In just three hours, you will enjoy a broad overview of the classic big-game savannah animals for an easy introduction to the safari experience that can then complemented by a late-afternoon game drive.

What’s Included: accommodation, airport transfer, domestic flight, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 3: Queen Elizabeth National Park – Walk and Drive to the Big Game of the Savannah

The savannah stretches onwards and you will start to drive, crossing wild swathes of scorched grass and acacia trees. Hyenas stare as you pass, elephants hoot their approval, and often draped across the tree branches you may find lions. It is rare to see lions climbing trees, but this is probably the best park in Africa to witness the phenomenon. Sometimes the whole pride is in a single tree with over ten lions finding their own private perch. At other points, you might watch the lionesses descend as they bound down and set off on a hunt.

Spend the morning on a long game drive across this savannah, mostly to follow the trail of the predators and to soak up close encounters with the big cats. After lunch at your lodge, there will be an option to game drive or boat safari in the afternoon, or to gain a new perspective with a walking safari. Walking follows different trails and will approach the ungulates and avoid the predators. Hundreds of Ugandan kob will surround you, zebra will gaze at you from meters away, and it will all feel much bigger when you are not in the vehicle. In the evening, there will also be also an option for a nighttime game drive, a fourth distinctive perspective that helps make Queen Elizabeth National Park an excellent place to enjoy a wide overview of the African safari experience.

What’s Included: accommodation, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 4: Queen Elizabeth National Park to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park –Game Drive to See Tree-Climbing Lions and the Misty Forest

All journeys are special in East Africa thanks to the endless landscapes, the vibrant colors, and the wildlife found along the highway. This morning you will drive slowly south to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, most of the journey also a game drive across the remote southern reaches of the Queen Elizabeth savannah. Find more tree-climbing lions, pass dozens of elephants, watch strange antelope gallop onwards, and slowly weave into the thickly forested hills of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Mist swirls and birds dance, painting a picture of color beneath a tangled canopy. Arrive in the middle of the afternoon and spend the rest of the day lounging at your lodge to gaze over the canopy and prepare yourself for gorilla trekking the next morning.

What’s Included: accommodation, transfer, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 5: Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park – Intimate and Expressive: A Day With Wild Mountain Gorillas

Through the green, you will soon see a troop of gorillas foraging for food. From a distance, they may appear like big unruly creatures as their jet black color contradicts the green of the forest. Get closer, and you will begin to see the exquisite details like eyes set with emotion, faces that twitch with gestures and fur that ripples on the soft breeze. Walk even closer, and the gorillas will be staring straight back at you. Two will wave their arms, a display that immediately instills respect for the troop. Juveniles are exploring the trees, wrapping their arms around trunks and gnawing at the bark. You will likely soon see a silverback pulling down branches with effortless ease.

Officially, you can get within seven meters of the gorillas, although it often feels much, much closer. Sometimes the younger members of the troop will approach you, their curiosity tinged with a certain trepidation. Gorilla trekking requires a challenging walk through an untamed forest, mostly to follow forest elephant trails, and this is all part of the experience to give you a brilliant appreciation of the gorillas’ remote world. Then you can spend an hour with a habituated troop to admire their socialization. Glances are shared, watching their behavior is savored, and every so often one of the gorillas will look you straight in the eye. Treks vary in length, but it is typically a five to six-hour day in the forest followed by downtime at the lodge.

What’s Included: accommodation, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 6: Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park – A Day With Another Gorilla Troop

Return to the trailhead and set off towards a different gorilla troop, the trackers hacking a path with their machetes as the forest canopy envelopes you with its mystique. Like any primate family, every gorilla troop is distinctive. Perhaps this time you will visit a troop with two silverbacks, giant males that rock the ground as they walk on four knuckles. Or you may get to encounter a gorilla baby, something that is very rare when there are less than 1,000 mountain gorillas in the wild. Quarreling siblings, nurtured infants, adorable couplings, and comical interactions between four gorillas intent on mischief may all be taken in as these two gorilla treks will give you chance to observe it all, from the fun and friendly to the defiant and proud.

What’s Included: accommodation, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 7: Entebbe to Nairobi – Leisurely Afternoon With Giraffe in Kenya’s Colorful Capital

From Bwindi, you will fly back to Entebbe by light aircraft and then transfer onto a scheduled flight to Nairobi, the vibrant capital of Kenya. Spend the afternoon in a leafy suburb on the edge of the city, surrounded by endangered Rothschild’s giraffe. The giraffe are inquisitive individuals who will sometimes poke their necks through the open window of your hotel, craning towards you in a search for affection. This juxtaposition of wildlife and urban life is famous in Nairobi, and you might even see elephants from the main highway going into the city. These sightings give an indication of the abundance of wildlife found in Kenya, a country where legendary mammals are not restricted to national park boundaries. Dinner at the hotel is included and comes with a view onto the giraffes with all of their antics.

What’s Included: accommodation, domestic and international flights, transfer, tour, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 8: Mara North Conservancy – First Impressions of the Masai Mara

Touch down in the Mara, and it will be just how you imagine it to be as the flowing grasslands reach on beyond the horizon. Animals are everywhere, and at first, you might not see the Thomson’s gazelle, a small antelope that blends into the color of the grass. But as your eyes adjust, you will discover that there are thousands of them in a single panorama. Zebra cluster together, appearing like black balls from a distance, but brilliant shocks of black and white stripes appear as you get up close. Wildebeest gallop, their beards flowing, their enthusiasm giving real energy to the plains. Elephants and giraffe are incredibly easy to spot on such an open landscape, and it is never long before you encounter the big cats.

You will take a flight directly to the Mara North, a private conservancy in the north of the Masai Mara ecosystem. Access is carefully restricted here, so the panoramas are never ruined by dozens of other safari vehicles. Special rules make the sightings more impressive as the drivers can take you off of the trails to get closer to the wildlife. Female leopards and cheetahs are especially fond of this unfenced conservancy and come here to nurture their young cubs. You will spend the day exploring on a game drive, quickly lose count of the number of animals, and be continually baffled by the abundance of the famous grasslands. As evening falls, the safari will continue as so many animals can be seen from the comfort of your luxury camp.

What’s Included: accommodation, domestic flight, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 9: Mara North Conservancy – Astonishing Close Ups in a Private Mara Concession

Start walking, perhaps tentatively at first, and then more confidently as the plains open out in front of you. These are the famous Masai Mara grasslands, that of lions and leopards and elephants, and you will be on foot. The local Masai people have always coexisted with the wildlife, and use centuries of knowledge and tradition to live harmoniously alongside the big cats. The Masai will lead this unique walking safari and skillfully avoid any prints left by the predators as you track zebra and wildebeest over the plains. It will be a thrilling experience and can last for one hour or up to half a day dependent on your mood and fitness level.

Then in the afternoon, you will return to the vehicle to stay out on a long game drive that can continue after dusk. Stop alongside the lions and hold your breath as the lionesses approach the vehicle, circling it before sleeping in the shade that has been created. Watch a leopard dip its neck, solemnly disappearing into the grass when hunting for Thomson’s gazelle. Spot hundreds of hyenas over your four-day safari in the Mara, finding a charm behind their slightly repugnant appearance. Jackals and vultures fight over carcasses, and it will be impossible to recount the predators you have seen, such is the profusion of life in the Masai Mara. Then when the sun disappears, the grasslands turn into an entirely different world where the cats have an even bigger advantage, and the ungulates cower together in huge herds.

What’s Included: accommodation, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 10: Mara North Conservancy – Full Day Game Drive in the Masai Mara National Reserve

Your time spent in the Mara North will be fully flexible with a full choice of game drives and walking safaris. It is widely recommended to spend one of your days in the nearby Masai Mara National Reserve. The conservancy provides a wonderful insight into the Mara’s details, while the larger reserve creates a staggering impression of the grasslands’ scale. Spend the whole day driving, and the animals will never stop as tens of thousands of wildebeest and zebra fill the plains. Even when you are not here in the great migration months of July to October, there is a remarkable level of life to discover, not just with the big cats, but also with the wonderfully diverse range of antelope species and birdlife. Spending a full day here will show you what a special place the Masai Mara has always been.

What’s Included: accommodation, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 11: Mara North Conservancy – Balloon Above the Grasslands and Unique Mara Walking Safari

Rise in a hot air balloon for a new appreciation of scale as the grasslands open out for many miles below. From the air, you can see the subtle changes of color that indicate where the wildebeest have grazed and where they have yet to go. You can see how the herds move as the zebra walk slowly in a tight line while the wildebeest scatter wildly. You will come to understand how the ecosystem operates, from the rocks that hide the lions to the rivers that are always surrounded by wildlife. Your early-morning balloon flight will be followed by a final day of safari in the Mara North, and a chance for a final game drive and walking safari on the Kenyan grasslands.

What’s Included: accommodation, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 12: Mara North Conservancy to Nairobi – Departure

It will be a short flight back to Nairobi Wilson Airport, where you will be met by a representative and transferred to the nearby Nairobi International for your departing flight home.

What’s Included: domestic flight, transfer, breakfast 

Price

Starting Price 

$5,695
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.