Day 1: Welcome to Rwanda, the Land of a Thousand Hills
Rwanda's rolling green hills make it one of the world's most distinct and beautiful countries. This friendly nation provides a warm welcome to everyone and is regarded as one of the less visited gems of Africa. You'll be met at the airport in Kigali and driven to the Kigali Serena. Located on a charming boulevard, the Kigali Serena is Rwanda's most prestigious 5-star hotel. Relax and rest before your gorilla trekking excursion in the Virunga Mountains.
What’s Included: airport transfer, bed and breakfast
Day 2: Kigali City Tour and a Journey to the Sabyinyo Mountain
Spend the morning exploring Kigali on a half day guided city tour. Rwanda has had a turbulent history and a visit to the Genocide Memorial Center increases admiration for the country and its people. Almost 20% of the population was slaughtered during a three-month period in 1994. Yet, 20 years later, the peacefulness and genuine hospitality of Rwandans is a highlight of visiting the country. In the afternoon, you'll head into the lush land of a thousand hills, driving through the vibrant valleys of Ruhengeri on route to Kinigi. Every turn brings another stunning view, while the local sights of rural Rwanda have an indelible charm. Mud and straw huts dot the hills, gazing down on fresh grazing pastures. Wandering livestock often covers the road, while colorfully dressed women carry baskets of bananas on their heads.
It takes two hours to reach Ruhengeri, then another spectacular twenty minutes of driving to reach Kinigi and the base of the Sabyinyo Mountain. The precise shapes of the Virunga Volcanoes provide the backdrop, their high mountain craters dominating a vividly green landscape. Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge is the most luxurious of bases for viewing gorillas, and the lodge's income is used to finance local community development including water, health, and education projects. Situated on the edge of the Parc National des Volcans, gazing out onto rich rainforest, this lodge combines elegance with style. On clear days the views are spectacular. At other times, a mysterious blanket of mist dances over the treetops. Gorilla trekking isn't the only activity on offer here, and you'll also have opportunities to visit the lodge's community and conservation projects, the bustling markets of Ruhengeri, beautiful alpine lakes, and the genocide memorial.
What’s Included: accommodations, all meals
Days 3: Unforgettable Gorilla Trekking in the Parc National des Volcans
Gorilla trekking offers perhaps the most exhilarating and touching wildlife experience on the planet. Less than 1,000 wild gorillas remain, and roughly half of the world's population live on the Rwandan slopes of the Virunga Volcanoes. You'll first take a short drive to the Parc National des Volcans headquarters and meet your excellent local guides and trackers. They'll provide a talk on gorilla etiquette and lead the journey to these critically endangered primates. Enjoy a fresh cup of local coffee and a traditional dance from a local cultural group before setting off.
The overgrown forests of the Virungas offer a true wilderness that has remained untouched by human hands. The terrain can be rough and sometimes muddy, while the undulating slopes mean occasionally steep climbs. Trekking can last from one to four hours depending on the gorillas' location, and although this can be physically demanding, the thrill of the adventure and the breathtaking beauty of the forest make it worthwhile. You'll first trek to where the gorillas were seen the night before, then your trackers use their impressive skills to locate them. Any fatigue from the hike is then immediately forgotten as you get your first glimpse.
But gorilla trekking isn't about stealing a glimpse through the trees. On every trek you will see a whole gorilla troop and spend an hour admiring them. People are officially allowed to come up to seven meters from the gorillas. This is more than close enough to appreciate their phenomenal size and power. Great silverbacks thump their chests, emitting an impelling sound that is difficult to describe with words. Sharp black eyes return your stare, the gorillas watching you as much as you watch them. Individuals interact, playfully continuing their day and not bothered by your snapping cameras. Then there are the cute babies, suckling their mothers or cheerfully rolling around the forest floor. This is one of the world's greatest natural experiences and chatting about the gorillas' behavior will continue long into the night.
What’s Included: accommodations, all meals
Note: gorilla trekking permits are not included
Day 4: A Second Exhilarating Gorilla Trek and Journey Back to Kigali
No two groups of people are the same, and neither are any two troops of gorillas. A second gorilla trek will take you to a different part of the pristine forest and a new group of gorillas. On these treks waterproof clothing is essential, as is a waterproof bag for your camera. Note that plastic bags are illegal in Rwanda and any brought from outside the country will be confiscated if discovered at customs. Even when it rains, the forest has a mysterious serenity, the landscape helping to slow down the heart rate as you approach your second gorilla troop.
In many ways the second trek is more enjoyable than the first. On your first encounter with gorillas it's sometimes too much to take in. Even when you descend back to the lodge you're constantly pinching yourself and wondering whether the experience was actually real. On your second trek you'll have another full hour with these unforgettable primates. And this time you can really savor the experience. A silverback sits on the forest floor, just a single tree branch between him and your quivering camera. Some forage through a clearing on their knuckles, while others lounge in the trees just above your head. It's impossible not to be awed by both their beauty, and the real sense of how closely related these creatures are to humans. Poignant, thrilling, and achingly real; few experiences in the world can compare to gorilla trekking. After your second trek you'll be transferred back to Kigali and the Kigali Serena. Enjoy a relaxing evening in the Executive Lounge and reminisce about what you've just seen.
What’s Included: bed and breakfast
Note: gorilla trekking permits are not included
Day 5: Feeding Giraffes From Your Hotel Window: Welcome to Nairobi!
You'll fly from Kigali to the Kenyan capital Nairobi, where you'll be warmly met at the airport and transferred to the unique Giraffe Manor. Bustling Nairobi is a fascinating city, and the rural suburb of Karen has retained much of its mid 20th century charm. Quiet lanes are lined with mature gardens, while large stone houses and verandahs look out onto Nairobi's green surroundings. Built in 1932 by Sir David Duncan, Giraffe Manor is one of the world's most unique hotels. Initially, five endangered Rothschild giraffe were brought to the property to aid conservation efforts. These giraffe successfully reared their own young and many of them now happily roam around the 120-acre garden. The owners founded the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife (AFEW) and chronicled the giraffes in the book Raising Daisy Rothschild.
Exclusive and spacious, Giraffe Manor is more like a home than a hotel. Admire the views, enjoy the sumptuous interiors, and relax in the elegance of the surroundings. All the giraffe are comfortable with human interaction and you'll be able to feed them from anywhere on the property. Give them some food from the second floor window of your superior room, be greeted by a giraffe at the front door, and watch them impishly wander across the lawns. You'll also have a chance to visit the AFEW Giraffe Centre and learn more about these stunning creatures. The suburb of Karen is home to many elegant restaurants and transportation to anywhere within the Karen / Langata area is included.
What’s Included: flight to Nairobi, airport transfers, accommodations, all meals, local drinks, laundry, entrance to AFEW Giraffe Centre, transportation within Karen/Langata area
Days 6 - 8: Spectacular Big Five Safari in the Maasai Mara
The Maasai Mara is East Africa's most iconic nature reserve, and the open grass plains provide an experience that feels like something from a wildlife documentary. You'll be transferred to Nairobi's Wilson Airport for a morning flight that takes you into the heart of the Maasai Mara. Choose between either the Serian Ngare or Little Naibor Lodges and enjoy three full days of game drives in this unforgettable landscape. In this classic savannah, grass grows at phenomenal rates. This makes it a haven for millions of four hoofed mammals, and such numbers attract an astonishing collection of big cats.
Zebra and wildebeest herds dot the plains, their numbers almost hiding the grass below. They're joined by Thompson's gazelle and impala, these graceful antelopes always having their ears and eyes open for the danger that surrounds them. Lion prides lounge in the open, the kings of this environment not shy to show off their power. A lazy yawn reveals humongous teeth while graceful females slowly stalk their prey on the plains. Leopards are equally deadly, and the sight of one out hunting is one of nature's great spectacles. Hyenas saunter through the grass, while wild dogs, cheetahs and jackals, also find prey in this flourishing landscape. The interaction between predator and prey mark every day in the Maasai Mara, and this intensifies during July to October when the Great Migration brings two million wildebeest, Thompson's gazelle, and zebra to the fresh grass of the Maasai Mara. They're escorted by more predators, and this time of year always offers plenty of raw hunting scenes.
There are more treats in store. Herds of elephant ignore the predators, rove throughout the plains and exert their dominance at waterholes. Hippos sink into cooling pools or roll around muddy embankments. Endangered black rhino stop and stare at the safari truck, their impressive horns and armored frames always leaving an impression. The often forgotten last member of the African Big Five is the buffalo, and there will be plenty of these bushy haired beasts grazing on the grass. As well as the safari truck, it's also possible to see it all from above in a hot air balloon ride. In the Maasai Mara there are no fences or barriers. Animal life continues as it always has, and the spectacles often have a dreamlike feel. This is a luxury Kenya trip that you won't forget!
What’s Included: airport transfers, park entry fees, flight to Maasai Mara, accommodation choice of Serian Ngareor Little Naibor
This itinerary offers two different choices of superior accommodations, both of them ideally located for full immersion in the Maasai Mara. The Serian Ngare carefully blends into nature, and has huge well decorated en-suite tents. These have thick wooden floors, large exclusive balconies, flush toilets, and hot showers. From the balcony, the whole Maasai Mara extends onto the horizon, and wild animals are regular visitors to the camp. Enjoy the exclusive use of an open 4x4 vehicle and guide for game drives. This allows you to tailor each day and explore different areas of the Maasai Mara on every drive.
What’s Included at Ngare Serian Mara Camp: all meals, house wines, soft drinks and beer, non-premium spirits, laundry, and exclusive-use of open 4x4 vehicles and guide for game drives
Little Naibor is a luxury tented camp that is strategically located close to all the major Mara River crossings. It's made up of two spacious suites with private dining areas that overlook the wildlife of the Talek River. At Little Naibor the wildlife spotting continues all day and all night, as from every balcony there is something new to spot. A small herd of zebra canter past, a lone bull elephant drinks from the river, or a big cat stealthily lurks in the woodland. With its contemporary style and dedicated team of staff this is also an excellent luxury choice in the Maasai Mara.
What’s Included at Little Naibor Camp: all meals, soft drinks, beer, house wine, selected spirits, laundry, and shared game drives
Days 9 - 10: The Breathtaking Ngorongoro Crater
You'll fly from the Maasai Mara back to Nairobi and connect with a flight to Kilimanjaro. From here you'll be met at the airport and transferred to Arusha for your flight to Manyara. The drive is wonderfully scenic with hillside villages and dramatic views as you head to Ngorongoro. This inactive volcanic crater has a remarkable concentration of wildlife. Thick woodland on the crater slopes is home to rhino, elephant, and leopard. A flat crater floor is covered in impala, buffalo, eland, and numerous other antelopes. Lion prides live in close proximity, and it's extremely rare to visit Ngorongoro Crater without spotting at least one of them. Then a lake shimmers pink beneath the sun, innumerable flamingo flooding your vision as you descend into the crater.
Perched on the crater rim, the views from the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge are legendary. From here the wildlife never stops, particularly when elephants and zebra regularly pass at dusk. Look down into the imperious crater from your luxury suite, then enjoy the opulent colonial style interiors of one of Africa's most regal hotels. Antiques, raw silk curtains and chandelier lit bathtubs, combine with a focus on blending the lodge into its natural environment. A personal butler discreetly tends to all of your wishes, while Maasai warrior guards ensure the wildlife never gets too close.
In the early morning there is an often a sensational layer of mist in the crater. Descending through it is like entering a mythical world. Lions are returning from a hunt, great numbers of hippo frolic on the mud beside the lake, while black rhino grunt and pace through the grass. Ngorongoro is known as Africa's “Garden of Eden” and once in the crater there is always a 360º view of the volcanic slopes. That means that all the wildlife is visible with just one sweep of the binoculars. The question is which way to look. Maybe at the buffalo herd and their impressive curled horns? Perhaps at the 100 bird species that live along the lake's edge, or at the majestic hartebeest beside the truck? A lion pride lounges in the shade beside the path, but turn around quickly to find that a hyena has stopped barely meters from the safari truck. Not only does Ngorongoro have the Big Five and an indelible supporting cast, but it can all be offered in just one game drive. After arriving at the lodge on day nine, you'll have the whole of day ten to explore the wonders of this UNESCO World Heritage site.
What’s Included: flights, transfers, accommodations, all meals, house wines, soft drinks and beer with meals and on drives, water, laundry service, all game viewing activities
Days 11 - 13: Luxury Indulgence in the Serengeti and Grumeti Reserves
Your exclusive African adventure ends in the Serengeti, the most famous of Africa's game reserves. The vastness of the Serengeti takes the breath away. Endless plains of grass continue as far as the eye can see, the flat landscape punctuated by a giraffe neck or a herd of elephant. Huge wildebeest herds appear like specs on the horizon, dark marks accompanied by the ferocious creation of dust. Lion prides are following them, picking out the sick, lame or young, that won't complete their Great Migration. The exclusive Grumeti Reserve is located in the Western Corridor and is right on the trajectory of the Great Migration. It's also one of the best places on the planet to spot the endangered black rhino. You'll fly directly to the northern plains of the Serengeti and the luxurious Singita Serengeti House.
The Serengeti is a wildlife experience that nobody forgets, regardless of whether it's during the time of the Great Migration. With three days in the Serengeti you'll have lots of opportunity to take game drives that explore different areas of this unique savannah. However, staying at Singita Serengeti House also offers a chance to experience this animal world from a new vantage point. Experienced riders can take championship horses onto the plains and enjoy the thrill of galloping with zebra or slowly approaching a large herd of antelope. Walking and mountain bike safaris also bring you closer than you could ever imagine. From eye level, the wildlife is even more impressive, and you get a sense of the true size of these creatures. For example, from the safari truck a kudu looks impressive. But only at ground level can you appreciate that they weigh 500 pounds and are as tall as most men.
The Singita Serengeti House is an exclusive lodge that's surrounded by 350,000 acres of rugged wildlife. Gourmet meals and a carefully selected wine cellar epitomize the lodge's attention to detail, while dedicated staff ensure that you can enjoy all of the Grumeti Reserve’s facilities. That includes 16 highbred horses, archery, swimming pools, yoga and spa facilities, and various outdoor decks that are in prime position for wildlife viewing. It also includes unique safari experiences like going on a bush picnic or sailing above the Serengeti in a hot air balloon. This is a safari of Tanzania at its most exclusive. Enjoy, indulge, and explore the breathtaking spectacle of the Serengeti.
What’s Included: flights, transfers, park entry fees, accommodations, all safari and game viewing activities, soft drinks, teas and coffees, local beer and spirits, fine wines, sparkling wines, selected champagnes and cognacs
Day 14: Farewell to Africa
Enjoy your last day in the Serengeti before boarding a flight to Kilimanjaro in time to connect with your international departure.