Rwanda & Kenya Mountain Gorillas & Great Migration


Rockjumper Luxury Safaris is proud to present a Mountain Gorillas and Big Cats Wildlife Safari, to two of the worlds most iconic and thrilling wildlife destinations, Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve. Immortalised by award-winning nature documentaries and Hollywood blockbusters alike, Rwanda and Kenya need little introduction to any wildlife and nature enthusiast.

Join us on what will be an unforgettable journey that will take you through mythical forests, walk in the shadows of volcanoes and introduce you to the gentle giants of the Virunga. This adventure will also take you to the vast open plains of the Maasai Mara where the Great Migration unfolds into one of the most amazing wildlife spectacles on earth that draws Africa’s most iconic predators to the foreground in the ultimate show of endurance and survival.

Your safari route

Your safari in detail

Day 1, Aug – Oct: Arrival in Kigali Intl. Airport and transfer to Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge.

Following our arrival at Kigali Internationl Airport, we will enjoy a scenic two hour drive to the beautifully situated Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, located in Rwanda’s north-western province. The road winds through lush valleys and over mountain tops as we make our way to volcano country.

Following our arrival at Kigali Internationl Airport, we will enjoy a scenic two hour drive to the beautifully situated Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, located in Rwanda’s north-western province. The road winds through lush valleys and over mountain tops as we make our way to volcano country.

Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge is situated on the foothills of the mighty Virungas, the chain of 15,000ft volcanoes that straddle the border region between Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The lodge itself is approximately 300 meters from the boundary of Volcanoes National Park on the gentle foothills of Sabyinyo, one of the most impressive of the six volcanoes visible from the lodge. Following an afternoon rainshower, you are able to count as many as 11 different waterfalls pouring water over its sheer slopes, a truly beautiful sight. On arrival at Sabyinyo Silverback we will take a short hike up to the lodge where friendly smiles, a warm face towel and a refreshing welcome drink await us before you are shown to your beautifully situated cottage.

Tonight, before dinner we will meet for pre-dinner drinks in the lounge for a discussion of the program and answering any questions you might have in preperation for the following morning’s Mountain Gorilla trek.

Day 2, Aug – Oct: Mountain Gorilla Trek 1 – Volcanoes National Park.

After a delicious 6am breakfast, we will be fitted with gators, gloves, a snack and backpack before we set off for a short drive to the National Park headquarters where we will receive a quick briefing on our Gorilla trek. Hereafter, it is a short drive to the trailhead leading to the Gorilla family that we have been allocated. We will also hire a local porter who will carry your backpack and assist you on the trek itself. This is a great initiative to support the local community and these people prove themselves invaluable if your trek turns out tougher than expected.

The scenic and refreshing hike is set at your own comfortable pace with plenty of stops and photo opportunities when our park guide and tour leader will share some of his knowledge and answer any questions you have. Once we reach the armed trekkers, who guard each Gorilla family, we will abandon our porter, backpack and walking stick.

Mountain Gorillas were first discovered in 1902 by Capt. Oscar von Beringe, hence their scientific name Gorilla beringei beringei. Unfortunately, 43 Mountain Gorillas were captured and killed in the twenty years that followed, all in the name in scientific research. In 1921 a young naturalist, Carl Ackley came to the Virunga eager to learn about gorillas and determine if killing them for museum dioramas was justified. Akeley led an expedition to Mt. Mikeno in the Virunga Mountains at the edge of the then Belgian Congo. At that time, gorillas were quite exotic, with very few even in zoos, and collecting such animals for educational museum exhibitions was not uncommon. Akeley himself killed four Mountain Gorillas and afterwards felt great remorse for his actions and ended up becoming one of the biggest advocates for the protection of the Mountain Gorillas and their habitat. Greatly influenced by Carl Akeley, King Albert l established the Albert National Park, since renamed to the Virunga National Park in 1925. This is the oldest National Park in Africa, followed by the Kruger National Park in South Africa, established in 1926. Mountain Gorillas do not survive in captivity and it is therefore of the upmost importance that their natural habitat is protected to ensure the survival of the species.

Female Mountain Gorillas reach sexual maturity at the age of 8 years. After a gestation period of 9 months, a healthy Mountain Gorilla baby is born weighing in at half that of a human baby at only 3.3 pounds. This makes it hard to believe that a fully-grown Silverback is able to push the scales at over 500 pounds in its prime. For the first 2 years of their lives, the youngsters will hardly leave their mother’s side. Males aged 8 to 10 years are referred to as “Blackbacks” and only after 12 years of age the males start developing the silver/grey saddle across their backs. Hereafter they are referred to as Silverbacks. Group sizes vary from as few as 8 or 10 individuals to as many as 35 and more. These are highly intelligent creatures and this is evident in the way in which they communicate and go about their daily routine. The sheer size of these gentle giants is enough to make your heart skip a beat and at first they appear to be intimidating, but once the youngsters begin their antics, nerves will give way to laughter. Years of habituation mean these animals show very little interest in their human spectators, especially the big Silverbacks.

Mountain Gorillas are found in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo only. Fortunately for the Mountain Gorillas, the governments of these three countries realized their value as a draw card for tourism to their individual countries. It is because of this value that extra measures were put in place to help protect the natural habitat of the Mountain Gorillas as well as that of the species itself. Their numbers have risen from a very concerning 250 individuals back in the mid eighties, to the official figure of 890 today.

An initially perceived look of intimidation from the dominant Silverback soon turns into an incredible emotional connection. We will spend a magical hour with the family of gorillas until its time for us to reluctantly depart from their presence. Fortunately we still have another gorilla experience still to look forward to.

Following this amazing morning with the gorillas, we will return to our lodge for lunch and to freshen up. Hereafter we will take to the vibrant markets in Ruhengeri town. Tuesdays and Fridays represent the best days of the week to view the markets and is quite a sight, with all the colourful fresh produce neatly laid out for purchase.

Day 3, Aug – Oct: Visit Dian Fossey’s old research centre and grave.

This is an optional day which can be eliminated from the programme.

After gathering at the park office this morning we will make our way to the trailhead to commence our trek to the site where Dian Fossey lived for the 18 years she spent protecting and studying the Mountain Gorillas. This is a very picturesque walk, through tall moss draped trees and across beautiful streams.

In 1966, a young American woman, Dian Fossey, came to the Virungas after pleading with Dr. Louis Leakey for a research position to conduct an intensive study on Mountain Gorillas. Turmoil and civil unrest in the DR Congo, then called Zaire, forced Dian to flee across the border into Rwanda. She settled here in 1967 between the two volcanoes, Bisoke and Karisimbi, from which she derived the name Karesoki for her new home and research center.

Dian faced great resistance and difficulties in her efforts to ensure the survival of the Mountain Gorillas; poor living conditions, harsh climate; conflict with poachers and farmers and isolation from the outside world. But thanks largely to her fearless dedication, we are today privileged enough to trek the slopes of the Virunga volcanoes to view these magnificent animals in their natural habitat. Dian was also responsible for the introduction of The Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, now known as Gorilla Doctors. Dian was brutally murdered in her house, where her body was discovered on Boxing Day in 1985. Despite numerous speculations, the reason and the person responsible for her death still remains a mystery. She was buried next to her favorite Mountain Gorilla, the young Silverback Digit.

This afternoon is set aside for sightseeing. A one-hour drive through the countryside will take us to Twin Lakes where we can enjoy the breathtaking views over the lakes and the neatly cultivated farmlands below.

Day 4, Aug – Oct: Mountain Gorilla Trek 2 – Volcanoes National Park

Today brings you a second opportunity to enjoy the company of these majestic primates. By far, the majority of people say they enjoyed their second gorilla experience even more than the first. You know now what to expect and you are just generally a lot more relaxed. The uncertainty about being fit enough, the altitude and safety are now a thing of the past and today is all about excitement and enjoyment.

We will make the most of today, using this second opportunity to also focus on some of the behavioral aspects of Gorilla interaction and taking particular notice of the features and behaviours that we share with these close relatives such as their hands and feet, caring mothers, facial expressions and much besides. Depending on the time we return to the lodge, our afternoon activity will take us to Gisenyi, a small town located at the water’s edge of Lake Kivu. This beautiful drive will take us approximately one and a half hours and offers beautiful views of the farmlands and the surrounding countryside.

Day 5, Aug – Oct: Golden Monkeys and transfer to Kigali.

This morning will be our final outing in this paradise and our focus will be on the smaller primates with whom the Mountain Gorillas share this beautiful forest. We will make an easy trek to find the adorable Golden Monkeys. These medium sized and very beautiful monkeys are generally found along the park periphery, enjoying the fresh bamboo shoots and therefore the treks are generally less strenuous than that of their much larger relatives.

As with the Mountain Gorillas, Golden Monkeys are also highly range restricted, only being found in the Virunga Volcanoes and a small forest island called Gishwati. Their diet consists mostly of bamboo shoots and fruit, though they are also believed to feed on insects. These monkeys are very well habituated and will approach within a few feet of their human observers. Following this amazing experience, we will return to the lodge to freshen up and have lunch after which we will depart for Kigali. After check-in at our accommodation, we will transfer to the genocide memorial. This is a must visit monument to the 1994 genocide that occurred in Rwanda when an estimated 1,000,000 people where massacred. Not only will this visit answer any questions you may have regarding this dark period in Rwanda’s history, but also make you appreciate where this little country finds itself today.

Day 6, Aug – Oct: Flight Kigali to Nairobi and onto the Maasai Mara National Reserve.

After an early morning breakfast, we will transfer to the Kigali International Airport and fly to Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyata International Airport from where we will transfer to the nearby Wilson Airport for a very scenic small plane flight into the Maasai Mara National Reserve.

Little introduction is necessary for this world-renowned wildlife destination in East Africa, made famous by the annual Great Wildebeest Migration, the BBC Big Cat Diary series and the spectacular wildlife images which grace the covers of countless magazines. Mention the name in any public area and you will have the attention of anyone with a passion for Africa and its wild inhabitants.

The Maasai Mara National Reserve is one of Kenya’s biggest draw cards to international tourism and offers a mind-blowing number and diversity of both mammal and avian life. An area of breathtaking vastness, soul soothing sunsets and a deafening silence only interrupted by the sounds of wildlife.

The majority of the camps in the Maasai Mara have been there for many years and the animals have become very accustomed to their presence, and often the best game viewing can occur from the comfort of your camp itself. At night, Hippopotamus brush against your tent as they graze on the taller grass at the base of your canvas accommodation. With cushioned soles of thick skin and muscle, a herd of Elephant moves through camp making their presence noticeable by a few broken branches. The eerie whooping sounds of the nearby Hyena clan, taunting the king of beasts in an age-old feud. Together with the almighty roar of the African Lion, these are the sounds that will put you to sleep at night.

We will touch down at the Musiara Airstrip and transfer by safari vehicle to the nearby Governors’ Il Moran Camp. This beautiful camp is located on the banks of the Mara River amongst the tall trees and forest that follow the contours of the river. This lodge is also situated in the heart of the famous Marsh Pride territory. Scar, the incredible battle-scarred dominant male Lion has become a Maasai Mara icon. Together with 3 other males, Sikio, Hunter and Morani, Scar dominates the Marsh Pride and the prime territory in the Maasai Mara National Reserve.

From this lodge, we will be in close proximity to the all the major crossing points on the Mara River where the large wildebeest herds cross the treacherous waters on their annual migration route.

This location also offers some of the best wildlife activity found anywhere in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, and in Africa itself. Though not guaranteed, this time of the year offers some of the most phenomenal sightings of the Great Wildebeest migration and we can expect to see several river crossings and plenty of large predator action.

This is undoubtably one of the greatest wildlife spectacles on earth. An estimated 1,500,000 wildebeest, accompanied by hundreds of thousands of zebra and gazelle, will visit the Mara plains over this period, a sight to behold.

After settling in at our accommodation, we will set off on our first long awaited afternoon safari, exploring the riches that the Maasai Mara has to offer.

Day 7, Aug – Oct: Maasai Mara – Governors’ IL Moran Camp.

We will make full use of today by taking a packed breakfast and possibly a packed lunch with us. The crossings on the Mara River can happen at any time, so it is best to ensure that we are completely flexibility to stay out or return to camp as we see fit or as the wildlife activity dictates.

Our safari focus falls squarely on the Great Migration and the incredible obstacles these animals have to face including treacherous river crossings with strong currents, steep riverbanks and hungry crocodiles. This is also the time of plenty for the predators, which they will encounter along the way, large Lion prides, elusive Leopards, sprinting Cheetah and the ever-opportunistic Hyena clans. It is estimated that about a quarter of a million of these wildebeest will not survive this journey.

Day 8: Aug – Oct: Governors’ IL Moran Camp and balloon safari.

This morning we will have a very early start as we travel the short distance to Little Governors’ Camp from where we will take to the sky in a Hot-Air Balloon. This activity offers us a bird’s eye view of our wild and natural surrounds.

The general wind direction takes us along the Mara River in the direction of the Tanzanian border, with spectacular views of the sunrise. From our comfortable balloon basket we should see large Hippo pods, plenty of crocodiles, elephants and the vast expanse of the Wildebeest herds. Hereafter we will enjoy a mouthwatering breakfast prepared out on the plains, with a beautiful view of the escarpment towering in the west. Following breakfast, we will do a three-hour game drive back to camp. After lunch, we will once again continue our quest for the most amazing Great Wildebeest Migration sightings.

Day 9, Aug – Oct: Last full day in paradise.

This morning marks our last full day in this game-rich location. We will continue our focus on the different crossing points on the Mara River and at the same time keep an eye out for some of the other most sort-after bird and mammal species that frequent this area.

From the colourful Lilac-breasted Rollers to the beautiful and most elegant of the cats, the leopard.

Day 10, Aug – Oct: Final morning activity and departure.

After a final morning After our final morning activity and breakfast, we will sadly depart the Maasai Mara from the Musiara Airstrip. After landing at Wilson Airport in Nairobi, we will be transferred back to Jomo Kenyata International Airport from where you will depart to your final destination.