Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19) & Its Effect on Safaris and Gorilla Trekking in Uganda, Rwanda & Congo

The whole world has been engulfed by the highly contagious Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) which started from Wuhan in China back in 2019 and has eventually spread everywhere. The virus can be spread through coughs, sneezing or talking so it can enter the human body through the nose, mouth or eyes.
To date, there is no known medicine or cure for COVID-19 and the number of infections worldwide have continued to soar forcing most countries to declare total lock-down to control / slow down the spread to enable the health systems to cope.
Africa has not been an exception and most countries have announced travel bans and total lock down. As a result, Africa’s famous safari industry has greatly been affected as bookings continue to plunge and cancellations on the increase.
Tanzania, which is one of the leading destinations for safari in Africa has not yet announced a lock down but the number of infections there has rapidly increased which is worrying to the rest of the East African countries.
Gorilla trekking is the next big thing for most travelers to Africa and because of the pandemic, the Gorilla parks have all been closed. Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park will be closed up to 1st June 2020 but the closure could be extended if the situation doesn’t significantly improve.
Congo’s Virunga, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga National Park in Uganda, remain closed as the authorities continue to monitor the situation and advise on the next steps. The gorilla parks in particular were closed because the Gorillas share 98% human DNA and as such can easily contract the virus which has no known cure and they are already highly endangered species!
The survival of these Gorillas however, depends much on the revenue obtained from selling the Gorilla permit to visitors looking to take part in Gorilla trekking which supports the authorities in executing their duties to protect the park, fend off poachers and ensure their survival.
The local communities where these Gorillas live also earn a living by working as porters and selling souvenirs to visitors who go trekking. With this closure therefore and the looming Coronavirus pandemic, there is surely much at stake.
So, what next? Because of the uncertainty of this situation, some tourists have panicked to cancel their trips and lost money while others have abandoned the idea of visiting Africa altogether and you might now be contemplating what to do!
Should I cancel my safari / Gorilla trek in Africa? Is it possible to rescheduled my safari or when will the parks open?
If you are planning to go on a safari in Africa or Gorilla trek, here is what to expect and what you can do;
1.      Stay safe; the virus has no known cure yet so follow the guidelines provided by the authorities in your country and stay safe and protect everyone around you from the virus.
2.      Do not cancel your booking; if you have already booked a trip, you do not cancel. This will hurt the industry more and threatens the survival of the wildlife. You can instead reschedule your trip to a later date or move it to 2021. This is what the park authorities advise. Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) for example, allows tour operators to reschedule the already booked gorilla permits twice up to March 2022. This means, you can change your dates twice between now and March 2022 so you do not have to cancel your trip.
3.      Book your trip; yes, the situation is uncertain but if you have concrete plans of going on safari or Gorilla trek this year, you need to plan early and confirm your booking. There is a faint chance that this virus will be controlled and tourism will resume especially towards the end of the year (September to December)!
If that happens, there will be many looking to go and you could miss out. It is best that you book with a local operator and agree to make payment on arrival so you don’t have to commit any deposit upfront
If you are planning a Gorilla trek in particular, you can book only the Gorilla permit so that if you are unable to go, you can always reschedule or your permit can be sold and get your refund. You can get in touch with a reliable local tour operator like Gorilla Holidays Uganda for your gorilla trekking trips in Uganda, Rwanda and Congo.
All in all, it is important to observe the following guidelines;
·       Stay home and away from public gatherings
·       Regularly wash your hands with soap and water
·       Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with 60% and above alcohol
·       Do not touch your mouth, nose and eyes with unwashed hands
·       If you have to step out, wear a face mask
·       Lastly, find some form of exercise which you can do from home.
STAY SAFE and we will travel again soon.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Uganda Named on cool 19 list for 2019 by National Geographic Traveler

Uganda makes it on the top 19 destinations list for 2019 by National Geographic Traveler
Dubbed “the cool list 2019”, the list features the 19 destinations that are believed to make the travel headlines in the coming year – 2019. Uganda stands out among other African destinations including Zimbabwe, Eritrea and KwaZulu Natal and the reasons are clear;
Gorilla trekking continues to stand out as a bucket list adventure for African travelers and there is no better destination than Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National park. It should be noted that after Rwanda doubled its Gorilla permit price from $750 to a whopping $1,500 in 2017, Uganda Gorilla Permits remained at $600.
That, coupled with the closure of the Virunga National Park in Congo due to insecurity, leaves Uganda as the hot spot for mountain Gorilla trekking in Africa! However, there’s more to explore and adventure in Uganda considering the country has 10 National Parks, the source of the Nile River and a host of adrenaline activities in Jinja, diverse cultures and the friendliest people on the African continent!
You can read about the full National Geographic cool list 2019 here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Tourism Activities in Virunga National Park Suspended, Park Closed

All tourism activities in DR Congo’s Virunga National Park have been suspended. These include mountain Gorilla trekking, Nyiragongo & Nyamuragira volcanoes hiking or any foreign visit to the area. The closure was announced on Friday 13th May 2018 by the park’s chief warden Mr. Emmanuel de Merode – the Belgian prince.
According to the statement on the park’s website, tourism in Virunga national park will be suspended until 4th June 2018 but it is yet to be confirmed whether it will stay that way or if the suspension is indefinite. This has come as a result of a series of insecurity to both the park rangers and tourists in the recent months. The park can no longer guarantee the safety of its visitors.
The decision to close the park came up after the release of two British tourists who were kidnapped together with their driver and the death of a female ranger – 25 years old Rachel Masika Baraka who lost her life while trying to protect the two tourists - Bethan Davies and Robert Jesty from being kidnapped but sadly in vain! It is still unknown how the two were released and as to whether the kidnappers have been caught.
Working as a ranger in the Virunga national park is considered one of the most dangerous jobs in the world but these men and women have made a choice to die for a cause; Mr De Merode himself survived a deadly ambush in 2014 as he was shot 4 times in the stomach and legs.
Ms. Racheal Baraka was the eighth ranger that Virunga has lost in this year and the first female ranger to die in the line of duty!
Virunga national park is Africa’s oldest and most biologically diverse natural park covering 3,000 square miles and its huge size makes it a big challenge to pacify considering that there is an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 armed fighters within the region that belong to different militia groups.
The closure will definitely be a big blow as tourism has been contributing $2M of the $9M required budget to maintain conservation efforts. The park has so far received 17.000 visitors since it was re-opened in 2014
Those with booked trips to Virunga are advised to get in touch with their booking agents and find alternative solutions or work out refunds as it cannot be confirmed when the park will be open again to welcome visitors!