After landing at Kilimanjaro International Airport, you'll connect onto the micro flight across the Serengeti, first soaring past the peaks of Kilimanjaro and Meru in the morning light. Pass Ngorongoro Crater and then admire the endless expanse of grass that flows beneath the wingtips. Your first impressions of the great wildebeest migration come from the air, a light aircraft taking you across the plains and showcasing the scale of the phenomenon. Those black dots you see are wildebeests and zebras, clumped together like stitches on nature's carpet. From the airstrip, it's usually a short drive to the camp, one that's likely to encounter a range of animals; perhaps an elephant herd, maybe a giraffe tower, and usually a first close-up of the big herds. The exact camp used will depend on the month on your vacation. From January to March, it will be in the Southern Serengeti, while from April to June, it could be at various points on the migratory route.
Including the international flight, it's been a long journey to get here. So settle into the camp, perhaps enjoying a siesta, and open your senses to the rhythm of the Serengeti. Rustling herds are grazing nearby, the odd elephant trumpets a call, and from the spacious verandah, you can see hundreds of animals. There are no fences in the Serengeti, so you're continually surrounded, whether on a game drive or at the camp. Later in the afternoon, you explore in a safari vehicle, quickly ticking different animals off your revered list. While it's the wildebeests and zebras that form the migration, few destinations can rival the Serengeti for such intense encounters with a whole array of life.
Grazing lightly on the grassland is a zebra herd, perhaps 2,000 of them crowded together. Look the other way and you see hundreds of Thomson's gazelle, adorable antelopes that skip across the plains. Of course, there's also wildebeest, the males bucking and charging beneath the females' critical eye. There are around two million mammals in total, the greatest concentration of four-legged wildlife anywhere on the planet. And where there are herbivores, you don't have to look far to find the carnivores. Hyenas and jackals scamper around, sometimes seeking scraps and other times waiting for the weak to fall. Cheetahs stand on rocks and survey the scene, plotting their morning hunt. Spend four days with the migration, and the chances of seeing a leopard are extremely high, the spotted hunter often the most remembered of safari sights.
Then there are the lions. One pride is slumbering, dozing away on a huge rock. As you approach they open their eyes, inspecting you with curiosity before yawning and drifting off again. Drive a little further and you find three young males, two of them baring the scars of battle. Ten minutes later, there's a large pride, three cubs playing around the father as the lionesses disappear into the grass. Over the next hour, you watch them hunt, admiring the stealthy movements and the explosion of power that brings a breakfast meal. On Serengeti game drives, you're never just seeing the big cats; you're marveling at the savannah's greatest hunters meeting the world's greatest collection of mammals.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 3 - 4
The great wildebeest migration is never static. Especially in recent years, the migratory routes have been pulled in different directions, rather than following the traditional trails through the Western Corridor. Being fully immersed in the migration means being in the right place at the right time, as the herds can move quickly on their journey north. Private mobile camps are a guaranteed way of being immersed in the spectacle. By packing up and moving every few weeks, they're always within short distance of the main herds. Oftentimes, you can see the wildebeest from the camp, and you can reach them within a short drive.
You spend two days at a mobile camp, a safari-under-canvas experience that's alive with sight and sound. Hundreds of thousands of hooves emit a reverberating drumroll while the throaty warble you hear is of lions roaring nearby. While everything is unfenced, these luxury mobile camps are very safe and use traditional Masai methods of keeping the predators from approaching. A private host organizes everything at the camp while a private guide tailors the game drives to your interests. The focus is on getting you in and amongst the beauty of nature's theater, from the scale of the spectacle to the intimate wonders of seeing the big cats on a hunt.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Light aircraft connects the distant realms in East Africa. From the Serengeti, there is a daily connection to Entebbe, Uganda's old capital city, where a second micro flight crosses into the distant forests in the east of the country. Going from Serengeti to Bwindi, the connections are seamless. However, traveling the other way would require an overnight in Entebbe. From the small aircraft, the views are staggering, the journey showcasing the transition from iconic East Africa to mystical Central Africa. Soar over the Serengeti plains, and then switch scorched yellow-green for blue as the plane swoops over Lake Victoria. Once in Uganda, there's a distinctive redness to the soil, a deep hue that winds beneath the country's lush green slopes. After leaving the Serengeti in the late morning, you should be settled into your Bwindi lodge by mid to late afternoon. Gorilla trekking starts tomorrow, but you can already sense the mystique by gazing out across the precipitous folds of the mountain rainforest.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
There's a childlike wonder to the first moments with wild gorillas. Your eyes open in astonishment, there's an uncontrollable urge to point, and the mind has a thousand thoughts yet you're lost for words. There they are, a dozen giant apes slowly going about their day. Some have wrapped their arms around tree trunks, feverishly gnawing at the bark. Others have taken to the canopy, swinging and climbing around to feast on red berries. Three have hidden away, burying themselves in the bush far from any eyes. It's hard to know which way to look; then there's a big crash and you turn around to see a baby gorilla falling out of a tree.
Officially you can come within seven meters of the gorillas, although the gorillas don't always follow this rule. When they're climbing on all sides of you, there's a good chance that keeping to seven meters is impossible. Much like a human family group, some individuals are naturally curious, returning your gaze with inquisitive eyes and a playful smile. Others are bashful, staying away from the camera and seeking personal solace. All reveal individualized behavior; a mother's adorable look towards her infant, two blackback males creating an air of tension, a silverback standing proud and sending an echo across the forest by drumming on his chest. By spending an hour with the troop, you can take in all the charming behaviors, watching the infants scurry away then refocusing to find the older females eating languidly from the base of a tree. The time limit is generously observed and you have enough time to take photos, then to stand back and admire the wildlife show.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
This morning, you trek to a different troop, stepping beneath the forest canopy for another hour of magic with the gorillas. Exhilarating and at times challenging, the trek through the rainforest is a huge part of the experience. Trackers have already located the gorillas and you're heading straight for them, but it's difficult to move quickly in such thick virgin forest. Guides slice the path clear and the uneven ground requires good hiking boots, especially between March and May, Uganda's rainy season. Even without seeing the gorillas, you can sense you're getting close, from the chatter on the guides' radios and the feeling that the forest is closing in. While each trek starts on one of the park's trails, the last part of the journey requires an intrepid walk through the thickest swathes of rainforest. You could reach the gorillas in 30 minutes. But it could also be three hours, dependent on their location. A maximum of eight trekkers are assigned to one troop and people are divided based on the length of the trek, rather than a specific troop you might want to see. Your guides will request a shorter trek today, as you have a flight to Entebbe later in the day.
Step, step, step, you approach the troop, this time being greeted by a blackback male flailing his arms. Peering closer, you see the gorillas are huddled together, perhaps a family meeting going on. Suddenly they're off, and it's not because of you. They smell a forest elephant, and they'd rather avoid confrontation, so you're following the black balls of fur as they crawl on their knuckles deeper into the forest. It's all part of the thrill and the experience of visiting the world's largest apes. Only a thousand remain in the wild and Bwindi is one of only two places to see them.
When they stop, there's a calm, the troop relaxing, their faces switching from concern to tranquility. Slowly they start feeding, the silverback pulling down a whole bush for three gorillas to eat from. Getting closer you start to count: 14, 15, a total of 16 gorillas filling the forest clearing in front of you. Like yesterday, the camera is snapping feverishly, capturing the intimate encounters. But the atmosphere compels you to put the camera down. Now you can really absorb the raw beauty of the experience and the rare connection with one of nature's most endangered species. Following the trek, you return to the lodge to freshen up, and then fly out of Bwindi by light aircraft. Touch down in Entebbe and spend a relaxed evening in the old colonial capital, a place of broad tree-lined boulevards and pristine views over Lake Victoria.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Depart from Entebbe, connecting in Nairobi onto your intercontinental flight. You can use all the hotel's facilities before departure and will be transferred with plenty of time for your flight.
East Africa's wildlife spectacles are world-famous for their size. In the thick forests of Uganda, you encounter wild mountain gorillas, the largest of the apes, a majestic showcase of primate power. On the Serengeti grasslands, you're surrounded by the great wildebeest migration, some two million animals marching across the plains, the greatest concentration of wild mammals found anywhere on the planet. Yet these famous experiences are defined not by their scale but by their exquisite details. A baby gorilla curling his hand around a tree, a lioness pouncing from the grass, a silverback walking past on two legs, the adorable glance between two startled zebras. While these regions may be large and famous, every visitor enjoys a new angle and a fresh experience, one that truly evokes the authenticity of the wild.
Gorilla trekking and the great wildebeest migration are two of Africa's most sought-after experiences, and it's possible to combine them on a 7-night itinerary. It could be done even quicker, but spending a week ensures you can also relax and settle into the cadence of these mystical animal worlds. From January to June, the great wildebeest migration is in Tanzania's Serengeti and this safari is tailored for visits during these months (as the migration is in Kenya's Masai Mara from July to September). The Serengeti grasslands are connected to Uganda's Bwindi National Park by light aircraft, with two micro flights providing a seamless journey from wild grasslands to remote mountain forest. Note that flight connections mean it's more time-efficient to travel from Serengeti to Bwindi rather than vice versa.
First the rolling grasslands and a landscape that seems to stretch for eternity. Mammals are everywhere, and you're quickly lost in the scale, herds marching around the camp at all hours of the day. The zebras congregate together, a huddled expanse of black and white stripes. Wildebeest spread out beyond the eye can see, larger males galloping and bucking with the rest slowly plodding and grazing. Such abundant food creates thrilling predatory scenes and spending four days with the great wildebeest migration is likely to bring encounters with a full array of big cats on a hunt. You spend the first two days at a luxury camp, using game drives to explore the intricacies of the migration. Then the next couple of days is at a mobile camp that moves with the herds, giving you exclusive access to this remarkable phenomenon.
The Serengeti is open, and your visibility extends for many miles. Sometimes you just sit back and watch it all unfold. But beneath the Bwindi canopy, it's rare to see more than 20 meters; such is the density of the ancient rainforest. After the journey to Bwindi, you spend the next two days gorilla trekking. Head deep into the forest and spend an hour with a wild troop, relishing the proximity to such rare and unique creatures. Redolent emotion fills their eyes, every expression revealing a feeling, and there are always fascinating moments as you watch the remarkable family behavior. The intensity of the experience makes it all thrillingly real, yet gorilla trekking can also seem strangely surreal. Going once is forever memorable. Going twice doubles the memories, taking you to a different gorilla troop and a whole new set of interactions and encounters.
$3795 per person (excluding international flights)
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