Mountain Gorillas and Whale Sharks
Embark on a unique adventure to witness the giants of the forest and the ocean. Meeting gorillas deep in their forest habitat and swimming next to the goliath whale shark are amongst the best wildlife based experiences the planet has to offer.
Prices: On request
Duration: 7 nights
Availability: Year round
Destinations: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Mafia Island
i) Mountain gorilla trekking
ii) Swimming with whale sharks
iii) Cultural experiences
iv) Beautiful beaches and marine life
v) Remote and authentic locations
A unique itinerary combining arguably two of the most exciting wildlife experiences on earth. Trek deep into the jungle of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in search of the magnificent mountain gorilla before flying out to Mafia Island to swim next to the largest fish in the sea, the enormous whale shark.
Best time to visit?
So when is the best time of year to take this trip to maximise your overall experience? Without knowing you yet this is a difficult question to answer. With so many variables to consider we need to know what is important to you before we advise on the preferable time for you.
There are many variables to consider when attempting to recommend the best time to visit. Specific considerations include the whereabouts of migratory animals, the effect the density of the vegetation and height of the grass has on wildlife viewing, special wildlife moments such as the birth of baby animals, and the effect weather patterns has on wildlife behaviour. Other factors to consider are the variation in prices at different times of the year, visitor traffic, whether you prefer a lush or relatively arid environment and of course the annual climate, namely temperature and rainfall values.
For this reason we present detailed information for each individual destination in the locations section to help you understand what may work best for you. We will of course have an in-depth discussion with you prior to making a booking so you are completely happy with the time of year you decide to travel.
- Mountain gorilla trekking
- Bird watching
- Forest walks at Bwindi
- Cultural visits to see the Batwa Tribe
- Bwindi local community interaction.
- Swimming with whale sharks
- Excursions and picnics to isolated islets, sandbanks or islands
- Scuba diving at PADI 5 star Diving Centre
- Return domestic flight Entebbe to Kihihi Airport
- International flight Entebbe to Mafia Island
- Airport transfers in Uganda & Mafia Island
- night’s accommodation as stated
- All meals as stated
- 1 gorilla trekking permit per person
- Daily swimming with whale sharks
- All relevant taxes and surcharges
- International flight to Uganda
- International flight from Mafia Island
- Airport transfers in home country
- Any meals not stated
- Drinks unless otherwise stated
- Applicable VISAS
- Tips and gratuities
- Health innoculations and medications
Your Ultimate Wildlife Adventure Begins
Board your overnight international flight to Entebbe International Airport, Uganda.
No.5 Boutique Hotel, Entebbe (L, D)
This morning you will arrive in Uganda and be met by one of our enthusiastic representatives at Entebbe International Airport. You will be transferred to your accommodation where you will have the opportunity to laze around the swimming pool and contemplate the exciting journey ahead. For wildlife enthusiasts, and those with energy in abundance, there may be an opportunity to visit the nearby Mabamba Swamps to observe and photograph the elusive and prehistoric shoebill stork.
Mahogany Springs Lodge, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (B, L, D)
This morning you will take the short ride back to Entebbe Airport to catch your flight to Kihihi Airstrip close to Bwindi National Park. The airport is located on the shores of Lake Victoria, therefore offering you a birds-eye view of the world’s third largest lake. Panoramic views from above helps you experience and appreciate the beauty of Uganda’s topography.
On arrival at Kihihi you will be met by a representative from Mahogany Springs Lodge and transferred to the accommodation. The transfer to the Buhoma sector of the park takes approximately one and a half hours on bumpy roads. Sit back and admire the beautiful scenery and culture of the area and enjoy the only free African massage of your trip.
Mahogany Springs is the perfect place to introduce you to the forest. Its open design invites the atmosphere of the forest indoors. Relax on the verandah with a cold beverage whilst listening to the chatter of the forest. For those who are feeling eager to experience the forest the lodge offers guided nature walks, visits to the indigenous Batwa Tribe or a trip to the local community neighbouring the lodge.
Mahogany Springs Lodge, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (B, L, D)
Today is the day you embark on arguably the world’s greatest wildlife interaction experience, a meeting with the gorillas of Bwindi. After a hearty breakfast you will be transferred to the gorilla trailhead at Buhoma in time for the briefing by your Uganda Wildlife Authority guide. After discovering which family you will be visiting you will begin the steep trek deep into the forest. An advance party of trackers will have headed into the forest to locate where the gorillas slept the previous night and begin to track their recent movements. The duration is dependent on the whereabouts of the gorillas. Occasionally they may be close to the trailhead but sometimes they may be located 3-4 hours of difficult trekking deep into the jungle.
On locating the gorillas you will have 1 hour to spend with them as to minimise disturbance to their daily habits. This is a magical hour and the experience will be unique to you and your group. Each family and each day is different so your experience will be entirely unpredictable. Some families will accept your presence and get on with their daily routine. Other families on other days may be more interested in you and intend on interacting with you.
Pole Pole Lodge (B, L, D)
Enjoy breakfast overlooking the forest for the final time before heading back to Kihihi Airstrip in preparation for your flight back to Entebbe. At Entebbe you will board your connecting flight to Mafia Island via Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam, arriving in the evening. On arrival, a representative from Pole Pole Lodge will greet you and transfer you to the lodge. Enjoy dinner before retiring to bed for a much needed rest after your long day travelling.
Pole Pole Lodge (B, L, D)
Wake in anticipation of your amazing ocean adventure, swimming with whale sharks in their natural environment. Your time on Mafia Island is predominantly dedicated to whale shark experiences. Each full day at Pole Pole Lodge qualifies you for a half day excursion with these giants of the ocean. This gives you the opportunity to spend 3 consecutive days sharing the ocean with the sharks.
When not swimming with the sharks you may choose to relax back at the lodge. Pole Pole has a wonderfully laid back vibe that is infectious. Should you feel energetic and hungry for more experiences there are a plethora of other activities that are available as part of your stay at Pole Pole. See the included and optional activities in the overview section for further details of what is available to you.
The End of Your Ultimate Wildlife Adventure (B)
Sadly today marks the end of your ultimate wildlife adventure but what an experience it has been. Combining the giants of the forest and ocean will no doubt have left you in awe of these two magnificent creatures.
You will be transferred back to the airport on Mafia Island in preparation for your flight to your final destination.
No.5 Boutique Hotel
Overview: Nestled in the leafy suburbs of Entebbe, Hotel No.5 is a stylish boutique hotel. Only a short hop from Entebbe International Airport, the hotel is an ideal place to base yourself either before or after your wildlife adventure. With all luxurious rooms opening onto the garden and swimming pool, this is a great option for guests looking for an intimate stay in a tranquil setting.
Accommodation: 10 luxury suites in double or twin configuration and 5 luxury apartments. All rooms are equipped with air conditioning, television and fully equipped en-suite bathrooms.
Facilities & Amenities: Outdoor swimming pool, gymnasium, fine dining restaurant, a cocktail bar and a Spa & Wellness Centre.
Power & communication: The hotel operates on full electrical power. Complimentary WiFi is available throughout the property. Mobile phone network coverage is widely available.
Activities: Enjoy the hotel’s facilities. Mabamba Wetlands shoebill tour may be booked externally. Explore Entebbe.
Children: All ages are welcome.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Overview: Set back on the pristine water of the Munyanga River and facing the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, the natural setting of Mahogany Springs is beyond imagination. It is quite simply the perfect place to base yourself for tracking the endangered mountain gorillas.
Accommodation: Ten luxurious suites. Each has its own private terrace to enjoy panoramic views over the river and forest. Bed configuration in the superior suites can be twin, double or even triple. The lodge also boasts a presidential suite that houses two bedrooms and two bathrooms. It can be configured as a double, twin, triple or quadruple. This option is ideal for families. There is also a honeymoon suite with the same high-specification design as the other suites but with particular enhancements such as a Jacuzzi style bath tub.
Facilities & Amenities: The main building is equipped with a living room with open fireplace. Here you are welcome to borrow a book from the library or relax watching a DVD. The inviting bar serves up a great selection of wines and beverages. Relax in the bar or take your drink outdoors to the large terrace and listen to the sounds of the forest interspersed with the flow of the river. The dining room serves up a-la-carte meals that change on a daily basis.
Power & communication: All suites come with full electrical power including charging sockets in the room and en-suite bathrooms with all the expected amenities. Free WiFi is also available. Mobile phone network coverage can be unpredictable.
Activities: The main activity and reason for guests to visit is for the opportunity to track mountain gorillas in the nearby forest. However, other activities are on offer at Mahogany Springs, including, but not exclusive to, bird watching, tree planting, various local nature walks, cultural visits to see the Batwa Tribe and a tour of the local community.
Children: Kids of all ages are welcome at the lodge but please note only those aged 15 or above are permitted to visit the gorillas.
Accessibility: Mahogany Springs can be reached by road from Kampala or Entebbe but is most often accessed by air. The flight from Entebbe to the nearby Kihihi Airstrip takes approximately 1 hour.
Pole Pole Lodge
Overview: Pole Pole is located in the Chole Bay area, near Utende village on the southeast coast of the Mafia Island Marine Park. It lies on the beach, within a tropical garden, overlooking a spectacular view of the Mafia Archipelago and the Indian Ocean.
Accommodation: 7 luxury bungalow suites, elegant and spacious, are set among the coconut palms overlooking the bay. The rooms are furnished with carved and antique pieces, and both twin and double beds are available. Two bungalows are family suites, containing two rooms separated by a shared bathroom and a small corridor for privacy. The large private verandas are furnished with a Zanzibari daybed, chairs and a coffee table. All bungalows are self-contained, and all have ceiling fans to keep them cool.
Facilities & Amenities: Public areas include a library and a beautiful swimming pool. The beach is an excellent place to relax with its fine white sand.
Power & communication: Solar-generated electrical power. WiFi is unavailable. Mobile phone network coverage is unpredictable.
Activities: Swimming with whale sharks. Other available activities in the marine park are scuba diving, snorkelling, sailing and visiting the local villages. Pole Pole organises boat excursions and picnics to isolated islets, sandbanks or islands every day. The Diving Centre provides PADI Federations’ certificates (medical certificates are mandatory to do a beginners course).
Children: Due to the intimate and serene nature of the lodge children must be 10 years of age or older.
Accessibility: Mafia Island is approximately 30 miles off the Tanzanian coast. It is well connected to both the northern and southern safari circuits via Arusha and Dar Es Salaam respectively. Light aircraft flights arrive at Kilindoni. The onward overland journey to the resort takes only 20 minutes.
- Special Status: UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Location: South-west Uganda
- Land mass: 321 km²
- Mammal species: 120
- Bird species: 348
- Big 5 reserve: No
- Mountain gorilla trekking experiences
- Mountain gorilla habituation experiences
- Forest walks and hikes
- Bird watching
- Batwa pygmies cultural experiences
- Indescribable interactions with mountain gorillas
- Beautiful wilderness
- Exceptional lodge options
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in south-west Uganda. At only 321 km² it is a relatively small wildlife sanctuary by African standards. Despite its small size it packs quite a punch in terms of biodiversity and of course its main attraction, the rare and endangered mountain gorillas.
It is renowned as being one of the best places on the planet in which to interact with wild mountain gorillas. The Mubare gorilla group at Buhoma was the first to be habituated for tourism in Bwindi way back in 1993. There are now fifteen habituated groups tracked from four trailheads. Three of the groups are found at Buhoma in northwest Bwindi, four at Ruhiji in the east, and eight at the park’s southern trailheads at Nkuringo and Rushaga.
Although this is overwhelmingly the primary reason for tourists to visit Bwindi it must be recognised these forests are amongst the most biodiverse areas in Africa. The forest consists of more than 160 species of trees and over 100 species of ferns. These in turn support an astonishing 120 species of mammals, 202 species of butterflies and 348 species of birds. Mammal species include the mountain gorilla, common chimpanzee, forest elephant, L’Hoests monkey and black and white colobus monkey, amongst others.
Activities other than mountain gorilla activities include birding, forest nature walks and cultural interactions with Batwa and Bakiga tribes.
Its location in the south-west naturally ensures it is often used within a safari circuit along with Queen Elizabeth National Park and Kibale National Park. Bwindi can be accessed by both air and road. Travellers can fly from Entebbe International Airport or Kampala’s Kajjansi Airfield to Kisoro (for Nkuringo, Rushaga and Ruhija) and to Savanna and Ishasha Airstrips (for Buhoma). Buhoma is about 460 kilometres from Kampala which on Uganda’s roads is an arduous journey. Visitors often approach from the north after completing safari in Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP). The southern sector of QENP, Ishasha, is 62 km from Bwindi.
Best Time To Visit
Bwindi has a wet but mild climate and is accessible all year round. Temperatures are pretty consistent throughout the year with daytime highs of 23 degrees Celsius dropping to lows of 11 degrees Celsius overnight. The altitude in the park varies from 1300 metres to 2462 metres above sea level and sees approximately a 6.5 degrees Celsius decrease in temperature for every 1000 metre of altitude gained.
With the absence of a true dry season rain can occur at any time. However, the least rainfall occurs in the months of June to August and between December and February. The wettest months are October and November and March to May. However, don’t be put off going at these times of year as you may experience rain at any time of year.
The high season months of June to September see the heaviest tourist traffic and gorilla permits can be difficult to obtain at this time of year. However, overcrowding is never an issue due to strict permit regulations limiting the number of tourists visiting each gorilla family.
The low season months of March to May and November can be an excellent time to travel for those considering a tighter budget. Gorilla permits are reduced from $600 to $450 during these months which represents excellent value.
Overall, Bwindi offers an excellent experience at any time of year.
- Special Status: N/A
- Location: Indian Ocean east of the Tanzanian mainland
- Land mass: 435 km²
- Marine species:400 species of fish
- Mammal species: Unrecorded
- Bird species: Unrecorded
- Swimming with whale sharks
- Beach and remote island retreats
- Swim with the largest fish in the sea, the whale shark.
- Experience some of the best and most challenging dive sites in the world.
- Enjoy the laid-back nature and authenticity of this rarely visited island
Mafia Island is the southern-most island of the 3 main islands of the Zanzibar Archipelago, with Zanzibar Island in the middle and Pemba to the north. With a land mass of only 435 km² (49 kilometres in length and 17 kilometres wide) it is a relatively small island. Although Mafia is within the Zanzibar Archipelago it has never been politically a part of Zanzibar, instead governed by the Pwani Region on the Tanzanian mainland.
The big attraction of Mafia is its reliability in producing exceptional whale shark experiences. Wildlife, whether terrestrial or marine, is never guaranteed but the promise of swimming with whale sharks carries more reliability here than arguably anywhere else in the world. The diving is also exceptional but leans more towards the experienced diver than the first-timer.
Tourist numbers are low on Mafia Island in comparison to Zanzibar Island and this is in effect due to the relative obscurity of good quality accommodation and the fact the beaches are much inferior to those of their larger cousin’s. The accommodations are generally more geared towards the outdoorsy and adventurous types. Having said that, the eco-lodges on the island must not be underestimated as some are world-class. The coastline is dominated with mangrove forests rather than the postcard-perfect beaches characteristic of Zanzibar Island.
Mafia Island is not for everybody and certainly most of our guests are more suited to Zanzibar. However, for those wanting authenticity and a laid back vibe combined with exceptional diving and reliable whale shark sightings then Mafia is the perfect destination for you..
The months of October to February are deemed the whale shark season, with November and December providing the most reliability. It is at this time of year that the north monsoon wind, known as Kaskazi, pushes plankton rich surface water from the Rufiji River towards Mafia Island. The whale sharks are attracted to this area and hoover up the plankton with their huge mouths. Swimming next to these marine giants is a truly extraordinary and exhilarating feeling and can be regarded as one of the most breathtaking wildlife experiences anywhere in the natural world.
Best Time To Visit
The weather and the reliability of whale shark sightings are the main considerations when planning a trip to Mafia Island.
Due to its location on the equator Mafia Island is warm and pleasant year round with very little variability in temperature from month to month. You can expect lows of between 20-25 degrees Celsius with highs of 28-32 degrees Celsius most days of the year.
There are two distinct dry seasons, the hotter one being in January and February and the slightly cooler one between July and October. The months with the lowest rainfall are July followed by June and August.
As with the Tanzanian mainland there are two rainy seasons. The short rains fall in November to early December and the longer, more persistent rains fall between March and May, with April being the wettest of all the months.
Mafia remains a hidden gem so is never busy with tourists in any season. However, price fluctuations should be noted in the more popular drier months.
The whale shark season runs from October to March with arguably the most reliable months for successful sightings being November and December. However, if you do travel in season then, although never guaranteed, you have an excellent opportunity of swimming with these huge fish.