What can I say about my summer trip?! It was over the top and absolutely fantastic! We went to Rwanda for gorilla trekking, Seychelles, Maldives, and Greece! I flew United and their partner, Turkish airlines, business class for five flights, costing $86 and 160,000 miles, and the value of this trip was $11,758 (priced right after it’s booked)! I flew from the USA to Istanbul to Africa to Seychelles to Greece! I transferred Ultimate Rewards from the Chase Ink card for this redemption. I was also able to use the “Excursionist” loophole and got one segment free, using no miles. This is a great bonus and something to research if you use United miles. And another thing to note is these trips with miles are booked one year in advance (fortunately I’m a good planner)!
Because I was on a business ticket, I could use the new United Polaris lounge in Chicago and it was wonderful! They had nap rooms, showers, a restaurant with a menu…it really is one of the best US airline lounges.
Turkish airlines business class was fun and after our stop in Istanbul (and the lounge there, which is HUGE), we were on our way to Rwanda!
Our first night was in Kigali at the Marriott, which was booked with points. This was a beautiful property with amazing baskets! Before we left Kigali, we went shopping for baskets – I just love African baskets! And I absolutely loved the country of Rwanda – I always felt safe and the people are industrious, friendly, and ALWAYS busy!
The gorilla trek included a driver and the gorilla trekking permit. Since we’ve been, the permits have actually doubled in price. We used Africa Tours Adventure and Nicholas was our contact person via email. Although our driver didn’t pick us up at the airport as promised, everything else went smoothly throughout the trip, and I would recommend them. Our accommodations were basic, nothing fancy.
Central Africa is the only place where mountain gorillas exist, in three parks and three countries. Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park has ten gorilla groups, and only eight people allowed to view for one hour. Each of the “families” has distinct and unique characteristics and we visited two different families each of our two days. The park is very concerned with conservation and I was impressed with their love and care for the gorillas. Rangers go out early in the morning to locate the families and keep in contact with the guides via walkie talkie. When the gorillas have a stomach ache, they go closer to the villages to eat the eucalyptus leaves! The villagers don’t bother them, even though sometimes they are destructive to their crops. They’ve come to understand their value to tourism.
Our first day visit was a very strenuous trek to reach the Pablo family. We climbed 500 meters and hiked 4.5 hours round trip. The Pablo group used to be for research only and they are from the Susa family, which was made famous by Dian Fossey and her research. We were in a clearing the entire hour we watched them. They had a five month old baby, which you can see in the middle of all these adults. Enjoy these photos of these absolutely amazing creatures! (Photos are from two cameras and my phone, all untouched, no filter).
The second day was much less difficult, with a three hour hike and not too much climbing. We visited the Agashya family, with one silverback of the same name. This group went five months without a male and gorillas came from other places. The silverback came, stayed two weeks, and returned with his family. While we were watching them, they moved a lot, so we climbed and slid down mountains, while the rangers cleared paths with a machete! This family had a ONE DAY OLD BABY, born the previous day!
These last photos were not taken by me, but a man from Brazil who was in our group shared them, and you can see the new baby very clearly!
Next up, Seychelles…