Gorillas and Masai Mara Photo Safari - September 2011

September 3-15, 2011

Safari Leader:
Andy Biggs

Please see our Safaris and Workshops section for more workshop and safari dates.

Mountain Gorilla

About The Photographic Safari

In September 2011, Andy Biggs will lead a private group of photographers to Kenya and Rwanda. The safari will focus on photographing the critically endangered mountain gorillas of Rwanda and the amazing array of predators and herds in Kenya's Masai Mara. This safari combines some of Africa's finest wildlife photography experiences, superb accommodation, and expert guiding. We have selected these two locations in order to create a private safari geared specifically toward serious photography and game viewing.

Safari Highlights

• Three private treks to photograph the endangered mountain gorillas in Rwanda. Once we reach the gorilla family, our time is limited to one hour only, so we will spend three days in Rwanda.
• Spending time in the company of the lovely mountain gorillas is perhaps one of the most dramatic, thrilling and poignant wildlife experiences possible.
• Expert guides will accompany us for the gorilla treks. We will also have the services of trackers (who will locate the gorillas) and porters to help carry gear.
• Game drives in the private Olare Orok Conservancy (where our camp is located), bordering the Masai Mara to the north. Unlike the Mara itself, this reserve is private to the very few camps located here, so we will not experience the larger crowds present inside the Mara proper. With this said, we will have the option of driving into the Mara each day if we decide to, although the game viewing is as good or better in the Orok. We will also have the option of returning to camp after dark since we are not subject to the rules of the National Park.
• We have private vehicles for the Kenya safari game drives, with only 1 person per row of seating (the vehicles have either 2 or 3 rows behind the driver, plus a seat next to the driver if you want to be lower down to the ground.) The vehicles are open 4x4 vehicles, allowing for unhindered movement for photography.
• Private and exclusive use of the safari camp in Kenya and the gorilla lodge in Rwanda.
• Safari is limited to 14 participants, plus Andy and James Weis as trip leaders.
• Private air charters between Nairobi and our private camp in the Masai Mara region.
• Extra luggage allowances to accommodate the special needs of our photographic equipment. The Nairobi-Mara charter flights will allow for an average of 288 pounds per person (including body weight). For Rwanda, we will get quite close to the gorillas, so only a mid-range zoom and a wide angle lens are recommended. We have a secure storage lockup in Nairobi to leave behind our long lenses and other equipment during our journey to Rwanda. The weight allowance for our flights between Nairobi and Rwanda is 66 pounds (luggage only) plus a carry-on.
• This itinerary focuses on up-close and real wildlife experiences from the surroundings of premier accommodations.

Is This Safari For You?

Here are some key points to help you decide:

1. We welcome photographers of ALL levels. This safari will be conducive to learning from one another and offer an experience that will suit everyone’s photographic needs.
2. We are BIG on photographing in the field. We will spend most our time and effort on safari / photographic activities and making images.
3. Non-photographer or videographer spouses / travel companions will love this safari. The wildlife experiences on this trip will appeal to anyone with a love for animals and nature.

The Schedule

September 03-04, 2011; (1 Night)
NORFOLK HOTEL - Nairobi, Kenya

On your arrival in Nairobi, you will be met by our local representative, who will assist you across the terminal and to check in at the hotel. We will meet up as a group and dinner will be at a nearby restaurant (cost of which is included).

The Norfolk Hotel has played a leading role in Kenya's colorful history (the original being first opened in 1904) and it continues to be Nairobi's finest and best-known luxury hotel. Today, the hotel offers accommodations in 165 guest rooms and suites, has eight conference rooms, a heated outdoor swimming pool, a health club with gym, sauna and steam room, a beauty salon, book shop and gift shops.

On the morning of the 4th, our group will transfer back to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport the next morning, where we catch our scheduled flight to Kigali, Rwanda.

September 04-07, 2011; (3 Nights)
SABYINYO SILVERBACK LODGE - Virunga Mountains / Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

On arrival in Kigali, we will be met by our local representatives, who brief us and then take us on a tour of the genocide memorial in Kigali. Afterwards we will proceed by road to Ruhengeri and Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, which we will occupy exclusively for the next three nights. Dinner at the lodge.

The lodge is situated in the foothills of the mighty Virungas, the chain of 15,000-ft volcanoes stretching through Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Accommodation comprises five double cottages, two suites and one family suite. All are stone buildings with Rwandese terra cotta tile roofs, and feature large sitting areas, fireplaces, stylish en-suite bathrooms finished with Venetian plaster, a dressing room and a sheltered veranda. Heat exchangers in the fireplaces provide a plentiful supply of hot water.

The main lodge building comprises reception, sitting room with snug area, dining room, library / games room, a responsible tourism / community awareness room, shop and bathrooms. Two patio areas afford wonderful and dramatic views to the Virunga Volcanoes and the surrounding lowland farmland.

05 September
• Early breakfast and drive to the park offices, where we will have a briefing by our trackers and then drive to the beginning of the trail.
• From there we will begin our trek up the path to meet up with the gorillas -- (see important information on gorilla trekking below).
• Upon sighting the gorillas, we will stay with them for a magical hour before returning to the base where our driver will be waiting for us.
• Lunch at the Lodge.
• This afternoon we offer an optional tour to the ex-poachers' village, where we will learn about the traditional methods of fire-making, archery, traditional medicine, traditional dances and other local customs.
• Dinner back at the Lodge.

06 September
• Up early again for our second morning up to see the gorillas, this time a different family of gorillas will be visited.
• Lunch at the Lodge.
• This afternoon we have the option of a visit to the nearby local markets or a scenic drive to visit the twin lakes of Burera and Ruhondo.
• Dinner back at the Lodge.

07 September
• Our third and last morning of gorilla trekking, where we will visit yet another family of gorillas.
• Lunch at the Lodge.
• This afternoon we drive to Kigali for an overnight.

The gorillas you will track in Volcanoes National Park will belong to one of five 'habituated' family groups, The Susa Group (38 individuals), The Sabinyo Group (11 individuals), Group Thirteen (18 individuals), the Amahoro A Group (15 Individuals), or the Umubano Group (8 Individuals). Eight permits per day are issued for each group. Gorilla groups tend to move around a lot and their home ranges often overlap.

For many years, these groups have undergone an extremely delicate process that has gradually made them used to the presence of humans and allowed a few privileged visitors to interact with them briefly in the wild.

The gorillas are by no means tame. They are completely wild animals, which even now tolerate human presence for an hour a day at most. Experienced guides will accompany you on your tracking, many of whom have been involved in the habituation process themselves. These guides will brief you in detail on your arrival on the various aspects of 'gorilla etiquette', but the information contained in this set of guidelines is to help you arrive for your track well prepared and ready to enjoy this unique opportunity to the full.

The gorilla permits are in extremely short supply, and are often booked as much as 18 months in advance. Only persons over the age of 15 are allowed to track the gorillas.

Gorilla tracking is a year-round activity, with no season as such. The rain forest is moist, and it rains very often in Volcanoes National Park, even in the dry season. Tracking commences every morning from the park headquarters at 8:30 AM. There is a daily maximum of 8 visitors to each gorilla group, and each group is accompanied by a guide and by porters who will carry your shoulder pack for you. The gorillas cover large distances overnight, and they are never constantly in one area. The guides will use their knowledge of the gorillas' habits and information from the previous day to locate the group's whereabouts.

Because of this, the time taken to track the gorillas varies enormously, from as little as half an hour to as much as 9 hours before returning to camp. The terrain is extremely difficult, with steep trails (often steeper than a flight of stairs) covered in dense vegetation that gives the park its name. In addition, the altitude of 5200 feet and more means participants do need to be physically fit to enjoy the track.

Once the gorillas are located, we will be allowed a maximum of one hour with them. After this, we will return to the park headquarters and our camp.

Mountain Gorilla

September 07-08, 2011; (1 Night)

Ideally located on one of Kigali's most charming boulevards, the five-star Kigali Serena Hotel is built around a polished granite atrium, which showcases the very best of Rwandese cultural art. Relaxed yet elegant, the hotel centres on the Executive Lounge and Bar, which opens onto a wide sun deck overlooking the newly refurbished swimming pool. Also overlooking the pool, the popular Milima Restaurant offers a wide range of all-day buffet choices, while the relaxed Sokoni Café offers inside and outside pool side seating.

September 08-09, 2011; (1 Night)
NORFOLK HOTEL - Nairobi, Kenya

This morning we will be transferred to the Kigali Airport in time to catch our scheduled flight back to Nairobi.

On arrival in Nairobi, we will be met and transferred back to the Norfolk Hotel, where we will overnight before heading on to the Masai Mara the next day.

Mountain Gorilla
September 09-15, 2011; (6 Nights)

MARA PLAINS CAMP - Olare Orok Conservancy, Masai Mara region, Kenya

On the morning of the 9th, we will be transferred to Wilson Airport, where we will catch our private charter flight to Mara Plains Camp.

Mara Plains is located on the northern border of the Masai Mara Game Reserve in the Olare Orok Conservancy. Rarely a night passes without lion roaring nearby, while leopard are regularly found to wander through the camp and cheetah have established territories on the savannah off the main area.

Mara Plains Camp is a small, high quality, seven-roomed camp under canvas and on raised decks with sweeping views across Kenya’s notable savannahs. It is among the smallest and most personal camps in the Mara region. As one of just three camps currently operating within the Conservancy, which boasts the region’s lowest vehicle density, no mini-buses and only one guest room per 700 acres. It is possible to avoid the high tourist density of the Masai Mara Game Reserve proper, if desired.

No other camp in the greater Masai Mara Game Reserve or Olare Orok Conservancy has the privilege of traversing opportunities of Mara Plains Camp. Guests are able to traverse three areas as part of their stay at Mara Plains.

For the next six days we will have exclusive use of the camp, as well as five private vehicles at our disposal day and night. Since we have the entire camp at our disposal, there are no set camp schedules or meal times. Plans are tailored around the whims of the day, and as the wildlife dictates.

Typically, we rise just before dawn, have a quick bite, and head out at first light to see what has happened overnight. We look for tracks and signs of nocturnal activity, perhaps heading in the direction of the lion calls and hyena laughs we heard from bed. The big cats are usually quite active in the early hours. As the sun begins to rise in the sky, and the heat mounts, we head back to our mid-day resting post, Mara Plains Camp for a brunch and a bit of a siesta. Or, if guests prefer, it’s a lovely time sit quietly and bird on the river. Our guides will introduce us to the abundant bird life and can help you identify trees and local plant species, or sharpen our wildlife tracking skills.

In the late afternoon, as the sun wanes, we are off again in search of wildlife. It’s a time to savor the African sunset with refreshing sundowner drinks and snacks before continuing our drive as nocturnal animals become more active with dusk. A hearty dinner awaits us back at camp, whenever its time to return. We share stories of the day around the campfire and under the stars. So goes another blissful day in Africa.

We may also do full-day adventures to the Masai Mara Game Reserve. For full day expeditions, lavish picnic boxes with cold drinks are provided.

We will also have the opportunity to visit a local Masai village (or "Enkang" in Maa) to learn more about the traditions and culture of the surrounding community and photograph the people and their village.

Hot air balloon safaris are available (at extra cost). This is a very early morning activity, giving stunning views of the sunrise, the landscape and a sense of the sheer size of the Masai Mara region.

Mountain Gorilla

September 15, 2011

Today we will catch our private charter flight back to Wilson Airport in Nairobi. On arrival, we will be met by our representatives and will have some day rooms at our disposal to shower and get ready for our international flights back home. International flights may be scheduled to depart that evening to home destinations. See note below regarding travel extensions.

The Cost

The cost of this all-inclusive safari is $14,950 per person. This fee includes all in-country ground and air transportation as well as hotel accommodation (double occupancy) and all meals (except as noted above and in exclusions below).

Note regarding gorilla trekking permits: At present the cost of a permit (which covers a single trek) is US$500. Any increase in the cost of permits before the time we purchase them will passed through to the guest.

What's Included?

• Accommodation on a shared basis (singles only available in Nairobi and Kigali on a limited basis and at extra cost).
• 2x trip leaders (Biggs, Weis).
• 3 guided gorilla treks in Rwanda, including porters and guides.
• 5x private safari vehicles in Masai Mara camp
• Luggage allowance Nairobi-Kigali: 30kgs plus carry-on.
• Luggage allowance Mara charters (2 caravans): 288 pounds including body weight.
• All safari activities and transfers to/from the airports and the hotels.
• Daily laundry.
• Olare Orok / Mara North Conservancy fees and Masai Mara Game Reserve fees.
• Meet & Assist service on arrival in Nairobi.
• All meals in Nairobi and Kigali except as noted in exclusions below.
• All meals and drinks at Mara Plains Camp.
• All meals and wines, beers and soft drinks at Sabyinyo.
• Round-trip airfare: Nairobi to Rwanda.
• Round trip private air charter: Nairobi to Mara Plains Camp.
• The current Tourism Levies and all relevant Value Added Tax or Government Sales Tax .
• One row per guest on game drive vehicles at Mara Plains - (note that the front seat next to the driver is also counted as a row for this purpose).
• Kigali Genocide Memorial tour.
• Visit to ex-poachers' village in Rwanda.
• Visit to market or Twin Lakes in Rwanda.

What is Not Included?
• International airfare and/or other transportation between your home and Nairobi.
• Drinks in Nairobi and Kigali (except at breakfast).
• Visas
• Travel Insurance
• Personal purchases (including curios, spirit liquors, telephone calls etc.)
• Gratuities for guides and hotel staff, except for gorilla treks, for which tips are included.
• Pre- and post- safari tours and meals or accommodation before or after the safari

What Do I Do Next?
Our group size is a maximum of 14 participants and we expect that this trip will fill up. If this exciting trip has your name on it; if you're excited by the thought of becoming a member of this trip, then now is the time to register. Remember, there will be limited space available for this workshop. When they're spoken for, that's it. If you have any questions before registering, send us an e-mail with any inquiries to info@andybiggs.com.