EJ Clients Took Advantage of Deep Discounts for Best Uganda Safari Bucket List Gorilla Trek

In December, 2020, the Uganda Wildlife Authority announced deeply discounted gorilla permit rates ($400 per person per trek through March 2021, typically $700) to encourage last-minute travel during the Covid-19 pandemic. Extraordinary Journeys clients Ryan and Kelly of San Diego, Calif. took the plunge over the holidays. They’ve offered to share their account about the best Uganda safari and traveling during Covid, safety precautions on the ground in Uganda, and their experience with our team to make their bucket-list dream a fast reality. Read on! 

ryan and kelly bovia stopping for a photograph on safari in Uganda
Ryan and Kelly at “The Top of the World” at Clouds Mountain Lodge overlooking Bwindi Impenetrable Forest on the best Uganda safari

Pandemic Travel Experience

Q: Did you feel prepared for the testing requirements and protocols required for travel during Covid?

Yes, we 100% felt prepared, EJ was extremely helpful supporting us, and everyone was diligent about taking precautions along our journey.

Q: What were your concerns around air travel regulations during the COVID pandemic?

Initially, our concerns centered around finding COVID testing facilities, and then actually getting the results within the 96-hour window requirement prior to arrival in Uganda.  EJ was very helpful with this! We were able to order test kits online that guaranteed a 24-hour turnaround. We also took a second test locally 48-hours prior to departure. With two negative results in hand, we were able to board our flights and were granted entry into Uganda.  

Q: Not many of us have flown internationally since the pandemic started. What were your thoughts about being on long-haul flights on the Uganda gorilla safari?

The only “concern” we had was the flight from San Diego to Seattle, as that airline did not require passengers to show a negative COVID result to board. However, our KLM flight from Seattle to Amsterdam required a negative result as did the flight from Amsterdam to Entebbe.  We wore good masks the entire time and (luckily) were upgraded so we had some added space. The flights were not 100% full, so that made us feel better too as we were able to keep distance from others.  All-in-all, flying was the one aspect of the trip that was a little worrisome initially but, with the airlines’ safety measures in tandem with wearing our masks and washing/sanitizing our hands constantly, we felt more at ease. 

Q: What was your impression of the on-the-ground safety precautions while you were traveling throughout Uganda?

Honestly, Uganda does MUCH better than the U.S. in terms of safety precautions. Most everyone at the lodges wore masks, and our wonderful guide, Julius, (who was with us for a week) wore a mask as well.  Our temperatures were taken just about everywhere we went (i.e. lodges, National Parks, etc.), and we were required to wash our hands (even in the bush!) or sanitize frequently. The COVID rates are low (relatively speaking) in Uganda, and we felt very safe. 

guide wearing a mask in a village in Uganda
Ryan and Kelly’s community walk guide, Noah, wearing his mask during their afternoon excursion.

Q: How did you navigate the testing requirement to return to the U.S?

In Uganda, the day before traveling home, EJ arranged for us to get COVID tests in Kampala and placed us at a beautiful hotel to spend our last day relaxing while awaiting the results. And if we had tested positive, Latitude 0 Hotel had beautiful “Work from Hotel” facilities and we would have been happy to stay!

Q: Were there any hiccups in your travels as a result of the additional testings/screening measures?

Not really.  The only small “hiccup” we encountered was in Kampala when the testing facility did not email Kelly her test results within the guaranteed ~12-hour window.  After testing at noon on Friday and waking-up Saturday morning, Ryan had his results in his Inbox but Kelly did not.  We immediately sent a message via our travel support text group that was set-up between us, EJ, and the Uganda gorilla safari company. We received an immediate response from Rachel at EJ stating she was on it! Rachel contacted the testing facility in Kampala and a couple hours later, Kelly had her results. Overall it was a relatively smooth process, and we had full confidence that EJ would handle it.  

silverback gorilla in uganda
Silverback gorilla, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda

Choosing Uganda Gorilla Safari: Gorillas on the Bucket List

Q: What ultimately drew you to Uganda over the other destinations you were considering?

Mountain gorilla trekking was on our bucket list, and we knew that Rwanda and Uganda are the only two places in the world where you can have this experience and support the conservation of these beautiful creatures. Because the COVID testing requirements were slightly more relaxed in Uganda, we decided that Uganda would be the better option for us, logistically  Also, gorilla trekking permits (even in non-COVID times) are roughly half the price in Uganda and, due to COVID and the decline in tourism, Uganda dropped their permit prices in half about three weeks prior to Christmas – so, we decided to take advantage of the opportunity and JUST GO!  

Q: With such a quick decision, did it feel rushed or stressful? 

It was exhilarating! EJ put together a trip for us quickly, and we booked about two weeks in advance.  Ordinarily people do one gorilla trek on a trip but, because of the once-in-a-lifetime-prices, we decided to book three gorilla treks in three different areas of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Incredible!

ryan and kelly bovia at Clouds Lodge
Finding the gorilla family they were assigned to trek on the map of Bwindi.

Q: What, in your mind, stands out as being particularly special about gorilla trekking?

When trekking, tourists are put in groups of eight and are assigned to a particular gorilla family.  Once the group reaches the family, you have exactly one hour to spend with them.  It was so interesting to learn about their familial structures, behavior, breeding patterns, and general way of life.  It was fascinating to watch a creature that has almost 99% shared DNA as a human.  Their eyes are so expressive! They played, goofed-around, posed and showed affection the way humans do. 

Only ~1,000 mountain gorillas are left in the wild and are found in this region. Learning about gorilla conservation and the community education/support required for these gorillas to have a future on this planet was very eye-opening – it’s such a delicate balance between the gorillas and humans. It felt really good knowing our permit dollars were going toward their conservation and to the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) to educate and involve the local community.  

Q: Was it difficult to find the gorilla families on your Uganda gorilla safari? 

No. The habituated gorilla families are protected almost 24/7 by trackers who monitor where they move and relay that information to the guides in the morning prior to your trek. UWA is a remarkable conservation program and one that is worth your time, effort, and support!

Q: Because of the discounted permit price, you wound up doing three gorilla treks! Are you happy you made that decision?

Absolutely. Each gorilla family has a different story and different characters, and each trek was different in difficulty and length. I noticed many others in our groups spent their time snapping photos trying to get the “perfect” shots. Of course we did that a bit at first, but then we were able to settle in and just BE with the gorillas and really enjoy the special moments we had. 

Q: What advice would you give someone planning a similarly last minute trip to Uganda?

You only live once so JUST DO IT.  EJ took care of everything and the trip was really very easy and seamless.  We would do it a million times over in a heartbeat.  No regrets.

Q: What sort of travelers would you recommend a Uganda gorilla safari to? 

Uganda is the only country I’ve been to that seemingly has every African creature – it’s heaven on Earth.  If you are a seasoned traveler who is willing to go with the flow, be present, and enjoy the magic of Africa unfold, then Uganda is for you. Or, if you’ve been on a traditional safari and are looking for something different, this is the trip. The people of Uganda are delightful – quite possibly the happiest and kindest humans we have met.

Q: This was your second safari. How would you compare it to your first one, if there is any comparison?

The first safari we took was with EJ to Kenya in 2013.  In Kenya, we visited Meru and the Masai Mara, which is teeming with animals (and also tourists).  In Uganda, in between our chimpanzee trek and gorilla treks, we were able to do some traditional safari game drives in Queen Elizabeth National Park and at Ishasha Wilderness Camp.  Although the number of animals was not like Kenya, neither were the tourists.  The parks were smaller but we saw many many elephants, a family of lions, hippos, and TWO leopards in one afternoon – incredible!  We took a private boat cruise on the Kazinga Channel and watched a family of elephants descend a hill right in front of us for a drink of water.  It was just us and the elephant family – pure magic. 

Q: Any other highlights you’d like to share?

On our third (and last) gorilla trek, our guide made sure we were assigned to a gorilla family that had a baby since we had not yet visited a family with a baby.  As such, we were granted the opportunity to share an hour with a 5-mo old baby gorilla, watching him play and be clumsy just like a human baby.  It was such a special and tender experience.

The elephant family on the Kazinga Channel was definitely another highlight as we were able to be within fairly close proximity to them while in the safety of our boat not far from shore.  Another highlight was spotting two leopards on one afternoon game drive in Queen Elizabeth N.P.  Our wonderful and fearless guide, Julius, said he had never – in all his years being a guide – seen two leopards in one day.  What amazing luck!  

elephant herd at the Kazinga channel in Uganda
Elephants young and old looking for a drink from the channel

Another really fun activity we did was have lunch at Tinka’s House – a local woman who made delicious traditional Ugandan dishes for us at her home.  After lunch, we had a community experience and had THE BEST coffee in the world made from scratch for us at a local family’s home before visiting the “Rest in Banana Gardens” in which two local men showed us how they make banana juice, gin, and beer by hand.  Such a neat afternoon!

Follow in Ryan and Kelly’s Footsteps Across Uganda

Hotel No.5

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Kyaninga Lodge

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Kyambura Gorge Lodge

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Ishasha Wilderness Camp

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Bwindi Lodge

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Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge

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Latitude 0 Degrees

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