African Dawn is a 27-day tour that will show you many faces of this great continent. It’s a mix of diverse experiences and sights, from Lake Victoria and the source of the Nile in Uganda, to the rare mountain gorillas of Rwanda and on to Ethiopia – the cradle of civilisation.
Imagine an adventure that starts with the thrill of seeing Lake Victoria and the River Nile, as it starts its epic journey northwards; an adventure that continues across the ‘Mountains of the Moon’ and onto one of the great wildlife parks in Africa, Queen Elizabeth National Park; an adventure that then heads south through the islands of Lake Bunyonyi before crossing the border and heading to Rwanda’s magnificent rainforests, home of the rare mountain gorilla. Imagine a walk that will bring you into close contact with a gorilla family on the slopes of the Virunga Mountains; an adventure that then moves eastward to Ethiopia, the cradle of civilisation, for arguably the most amazing festival in the world, Timkat, which celebrates the Baptism of Christ. Remarkable rock-hewn churches, medieval castles and ancient stelae provide a spectacular finale to a truly extraordinary and varied 27-day adventure.
Tour Fitness Level: Active
- Three-night stay at the magnificent Speke Resort on the shores of Lake Victoria
- Take a boat trip to the source of the Nile at Jinja
- Exclusive picnic at the spot where John Hanning Speke first saw the Nile
- Visit the chimpanzees at Kibale National Park
- Private Travel Directors’ BBQ on the shores of Lake Victoria
- Watch sunrise over the Rwenzori ranges ‘The Mountains of the Moon’
- Two-night stay at Queen Elizabeth National Park
- Explore the Kazinga Channel by boat and see hippo, crocodiles, water buffalo and an extraordinary concentration of birdlife
- Enjoy lunch with the students at a remote school sponsored by Travel Directors
- Visit the islands of Africa’s most beautiful lake, Bunyonyi
- See the extinct volcanoes that are home to the mountain gorillas
- Get up close to gorillas in their natural habitat on the slopes of the Virunga Mountains*
- Exclusive Travel Directors’ dinner at ‘Hotel Rwanda’ overlooking Kigali
- Visit a cultural village
(* Due to Travel Directors’ close relationship with the park wardens we visit the nearest gorilla family, which is within an easy 45-minute trek from the start point.)
- See the oldest discovered human skeleton ‘Lucy’ in the fantastic National Museum of Ethiopia
- Experience one of the greatest festivals in the world, Ethiopia’s Timkat, celebrating the baptism of Christ
- Visit the source of the Blue Nile at Bahir Dar
- Marvel at the paintings and artifacts of the island monasteries on Lake Tana
- Enjoy an exclusive dinner and bonfire party at Gondar castle, a UNESCO World Heritage site
- Day trip to the Simien Mountains
- See the amazing and indigenous gelada baboons in their natural habitat
- Visit the holy city of Axum with its ancient stele, and building that houses the Ark of the Covenant
- Enjoy a private Travel Directors’ dinner with local Ethiopian students and priests
- Explore the eighth Wonder of the World, the amazing rock hewn churches of Lalibela
- Watch the finest sunset in Africa from an escarpment in Lalibela
- All flights between Australia and Africa
- All flights within Africa
- All ticketable air taxes (may be subject to change)
- USD $1500.00 Gorilla Permit (access to Parc National des Volcans)
- All accommodation (twin share)
- Meals as specified
- Travel Directors’ tour leader throughout
- Expert local guides
- All entrance fees in specified sightseeing
- All local sightseeing as per itinerary
- All tips and gratuities
Please note that whilst every effort will be made to adhere to the above pricing, currency fluctuations beyond our control can affect final tour costs. A booking form is to be completed by all passengers, and a non-refundable deposit of AUD $3,000 paid at the time of booking. All escorted tours are based on a minimum group size of 10 people travelling.
05/01/2019 Australia – Dubai
Depart from your chosen Australian airport on the flight to Dubai.
06/01/2019 Dubai – Entebbe – Munyonyo (D)
On arrival in Dubai we connect with the flight to Entebbe.
Depart Dubai Emirates EK 729, 08.30
Arrive Entebbe 12.55
On arrival in Entebbe we transfer to Munyonyo, superbly situated on the banks of Lake Victoria. This evening we enjoy dinner on the terrace of our beautiful resort.
The Speke Resort
07/01/2019 Kampala (BLD)
After breakfast we take a city tour of Kampala including the markets. The afternoon is at leisure and in the evening we enjoy a BBQ at the edge of Lake Victoria.
08/01/2019 Source of the Nile: Jinja (BLD)
The main reservoir and source of the Nile, Lake Victoria is the second largest freshwater lake in the world after Baikal in Eastern Siberia and is situated between the Western and Eastern Rift Valleys. Like Baikal, many rivers flow into Lake Victoria but only one flows out: the Nile. Today we drive to Jinja where we board a boat that takes us to the very spot where the Nile bubbles up from Lake Victoria and begins its epic journey to the Mediterranean. Lunch is a picnic beside a memorial to John Hanning Speke at the spot where he first saw the Nile.
09/01/2019 Kampala – Fort Portal (BLD)
This morning we drive through lush countryside and banana plantations as we pass Kibale Forest. After lunch at Fort Portal we enter Kibale National Park, home to 12 species of primates including a population of habituated chimpanzees. After visiting the chimps we drive into the Rwenzori Mountains – the famous Mountains of the Moon.
Mountains of the Moon Hotel & Resort
10/01/2019 Fort Portal – Queen Elizabeth National Park (BLD)
After breakfast we cross the Equator and enter Queen Elizabeth National Park. Here the country is untouched, with lush vegetation and rich in wildlife. To the west of our lodge lie the Rwenzoris, while to the east are the spectacularly raised Rift Valley Hills. The two are separated by the meandering Kazinga Channel that flows into the great George and Edward lakes.
Mweya Safari Lodge
Queen Elizabeth National Park
11/01/2019 Queen Elizabeth NP (BLD)
Queen Elizabeth National Park is home to lions, leopards, elephants, hippos, hyenas, crocodiles and waterbuck, as well as more than 600 species of birds that flock around the Kazinga Channel. This morning we enjoy an early sunrise game drive before returning to the lodge for breakfast. In the afternoon we take a boat ride to see the diverse animal and bird life of the Kazinga Channel.
12/01/2019 Queen Elizabeth NP – Kabale (BLD)
This morning we have another early morning game drive before leaving for the border town of Kabale. Passing many coffee and banana plantations en-route, we arrive in Kabale in the evening and transfer to our hotel.
13/01/2019 Kabale (BLD)
After breakfast we take a boat ride on beautiful Lake Bunyonyi and visit a Pygmy colony of the Batwa people. These people are the oldest recorded inhabitants of the Great Lakes region of central Africa and are a significant minority group. Originally they were hunters and gatherers, but they have now been relocated from the Kigezi forest to make way for protected gorilla parks and today they are farmers and builders.
14/01/2019 Kabale – Ruhengeri (BLD)
After breakfast we head further south to the border and, after completing customs and immigration formalities, we enter beautiful Rwanda, ‘the Switzerland of Africa’. We then drive to Ruhengeri in the Virunga Mountains and Parc National des Volcans, stopping en-route to visit the Iby Iwacu cultural village where we enjoy a lively display of music and dance. After lunch we head to our home for the next two nights, the aptly named Mountain Gorilla View Lodge.
Mountain Gorilla View Lodge
15/01/2019 Ruhengeri (BLD)
After a short briefing from park rangers on gorilla protection and protocol, we enter Parc National des Volcans. These are the ‘Mountains of the Mist’, which are world renowned thanks to the eminent primatologist Dian Fossey, who lost her life here in 1985 in her quest to protect her beloved gorillas. Today her ‘gorilla family’ and their offspring live in the Virungas, free from fear and poachers. Our exhilarating walk through the cultivated foothills of the mountains offers stirring views in all directions. Our first contact with the gorillas will be unforgettable.
16/01/2019 Ruhengeri – Kigali (BLD)
This morning we head south from the park to the Rwandan capital of Kigali. Kigali is a very pleasant modern city situated among rolling hills. Although it is home to a million people, it enjoys a very relaxed pace of life and it is extremely friendly and safe. Kigali and its people bear witness to a country that has successfully forged reconciliation and enjoyed social and economic stability for more than ten years. Today we take a walking tour of this delightful capital, passing by the presidential palace, craft markets and the famous ‘Hotel Rwanda’.
Kigali Serena Hotel
17/01/2019 Kigali – Addis Ababa (BLD)
This morning is at leisure and after lunch we depart to the airport for our flight to Addis Ababa.
Depart Kigali Ethiopian Airlines ET 806, 16.00
Arrive Addis Ababa 19.30
Welcome to the ‘Cradle of Civilisation’! Ethiopia is one of the world’s most extraordinary, yet least visited, countries. Lying in the mountains at an elevation of 2,500m, Addis Ababa is the third highest capital city in the world. It enjoys a superb climate with an average year-round temperature of 25 degrees. On arrival in Addis Ababa we transfer to our hotel, where we enjoy a late dinner.
18/01/2019 Addis Ababa (BLD)
This morning we visit the fascinating National Museum where the oldest human skeleton ‘Lucy’ is on display. Today is also the start of the Timkat Festival and in the afternoon we join the throng of white-veiled worshippers as they dance and sing in the streets to the beating of drums. The Arc of the Covenant is paraded through the streets and the procession then moves to a water source where the festival proper will take place early in the morning.
19/01/2019 Addis Ababa – Bahir Dar (BLD)
Today the festival reaches its climax as priests in satin robes and the Patriarch celebrate a communal service and bless the pool of holy water. Thousands of joyous people throng to the compound waiting for a drop of holy water which priests spray into the crowd. It is a truly remarkable spectacle and the atmosphere is one of great excitement and joy. We are privileged to view this extraordinary festival from within the compound with the priests and Patriarch. After lunch we transfer to the airport for our flight to Bahir Dar.
Depart Addis Ababa Ethiopian Airlines ET 143, 17.10
Arrive Bahir Dar 18.10
20/01/2019 Bahir Dar (BLD)
Bahir Dar was the capital of Ethiopia in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. This attractive town was, and still is, an important commercial centre, located on the shores of Lake Tana. Today we head to the Blue Nile Falls.
21/01/2019 Bahir Dar (BLD)
Today we board a boat to explore Lake Tana’s famous island monasteries, founded in the Middle Ages. In the afternoon we visit local villages as well as the colourful marketplace, where traditional wares such as baskets, pottery and hand-woven clothes are traded.
22/01/2019 Bahir Dar – Gondar (BLD)
After breakfast we begin a leisurely drive north towards the Sudanese border and the fabled highland city of Gondar, popularly known as ‘Ethiopia’s Camelot’. On arrival the rest of the day is at leisure. Our hotel is spectacularly perched on top of a hill, offering magnificent views of the city and its surrounds.
23/01/2019 Gondar (BLD)
Gondar was the 17th- and 18th-century capital of Ethiopia. Founded by Emperor Fasilidas around 1635, the city is famous for its stunning medieval castles and beautiful churches. Today we explore this amazing UNESCO World Heritage listed complex and, this evening, enjoy an exclusive dinner in the castle grounds.
24/01/2019 Gondar (BLD)
Today we visit the beautiful Simien Mountains where canyons, gorges and soaring 4,000m peaks create a startling wilderness. In places the dramatic topography, dominated by basalt lava flows, is reminiscent of the Grand Canyon. Here we see the amazing indigenous gelada baboons, and also visit remote villages where the way of life has changed little over the centuries.
25/01/2019 Gondar – Axum (BLD)
After breakfast we embark on an astonishing drive through deep canyons gouging high plateau lands for hundreds of kilometres. This is some of Africa’s most spectacular scenery. The road to Axum, originally cut by the Italian occupiers in the 1930s, is a masterpiece of road building! Its dramatic switchbacks supported by extensive brick work are truly impressive. Ears pop with endless pressure changes as the road winds down, across, then up again in a seemingly endless series of mountains and valleys. By mid-afternoon we reach Axum.
26/01/2019 Axum (BLD)
Axum is the oldest and holiest city in Ethiopia and was the country’s capital during the reign of the legendary Queen of Sheba in the 10th century BC. Today we visit the palace and bath of the Queen of Sheba, the Zion Cathedral – where the original Arc of the Covenant is said to be housed – and Stele Park, where magnificent and mysterious obelisks have stood since the 3rd century.
27/01/2019 Axum (BLD)
Today we travel just outside of Axum to the historic and spectacular Adwa Mountains. It was here in 1896 that King Menelik II decisively defeated the Italian invaders and forced them out of Ethiopia, in the triumphant Battle of Adwa.
28/01/2019 Axum – Lalibela (BLD)
Following breakfast we will transfer to the airport for our flight to Lalibela.
Depart Axum Ethiopian Airlines ET 123, 11.15
Arrive Lalibela 11.55
UNESCO World Heritage-listed Lalibela is one of the world’s most extraordinary ancient sites and is simply breathtaking. A total of 13 churches were chiselled out of solid red volcanic rock more than 1,000 years ago. A complex and bewildering labyrinth of tunnels connect the churches with narrow passageways, offset crypts, grottoes and galleries. Throughout this mysterious and wonderful settlement priests and deacons go about their timeless work, seemingly unaware of their extraordinary surroundings.
29/01/2019 Lalibela (BLD)
This morning we visit the second group of churches including the awe-inspiring rock-hewn Bet Gyorgis, the ‘House of St George’. We then explore the town of Lalibela and its amazing market. In the evening we enjoy an exclusive dinner with local priests and students, followed by a bonfire and display of traditional dancing.
30/01/2019 Lalibela – Addis Ababa – Dubai (B)
This morning we fly from Lalibela to Addis Ababa and connecting on to Dubai.
Depart Ethiopian Airlines ET 123, 12.15
Arrive Addis Ababa 14.20
Depart Addis Ababa Emirates EK 724, 16.15
Arrive Dubai 21.20
31/01/2019 Dubai – Australia
In Dubai we connect with the flight to our chosen Australian airport.
How long is the flight from Australia to Entebbe?
Total flying time to Dubai is between 11 and 15 hours, depending on your Australian capital city of departure. Flight time from Dubai to Entebbe is 7.5 hours.
Is personal security a problem on this tour?
Security is not a big problem, however we remind our guests to take sensible precautions. These include not wearing ostentatious jewellery, not showing or counting money in public, and not going to certain areas at night. Basically it’s a case of using common sense, particularly in large cities.
Is the gorilla permit included in the tour cost?
Yes. These permits are bought well in advance of the tour due to the high demand for them. Only a limited number of people can see the gorillas on any given day. Recently the Rwandan Government doubled the cost of the permit to USD$1500 per person. While this is expensive, the cost helps support the gorilla conservation programme.
How long does it take to get to the gorillas?
The trek to the gorillas can take up to two hours or even longer, depending on which gorilla family we visit. Due to our close association with the park wardens we normally visit one of the closer families, usually within a 45-minute trek from the start point. However, it is wise to be prepared for a longer, more challenging hike.
What kind of clothing should I take?
For game drives, comfortable clothing in earthy colours is best. Layering is recommended as it can be quite cool on early morning game drives. For trekking to the gorillas, comfortable walking boots, long-sleeved shirts and long trousers are best as some vegetation is prickly and can sting bare skin. Wet weather gear is recommended
How much spending money do I need for the entire trip?
Because almost everything is included, USD $500 per person is usually ample for the whole journey. However, if you’re a keen shopper and like to buy lots of gifts and souvenirs, you may require more.
Are credit cards acceptable?
Credit cards are not always accepted and ATMs will not be readily available. Cash in small denominations of USD is recommended.
Do I need vaccinations for this journey?
A yellow fever vaccination is mandatory, and you must carry the vaccination certificate with you as it is required by Australian authorities on re-entry. Tetanus should always be up to date and medication for malaria prevention is highly recommended. Insect repellent is essential. You should also seek advice from your doctor. NOTE: Due to the sensitive nature of visiting the gorillas, please be aware that if you show signs of illness/cold/flu, you may not be permitted to see them. We suggest you dose up on vitamins and consider cold and flu medication at the first sign of a sniffle.
Is the water safe to drink en-route and what is the general standard of hygiene?
We err on the side of caution on all of our tours and advise travellers to drink only bottled water. This is easy to obtain everywhere. The hotels and restaurants we use are all of a high standard in terms of hygiene. We recommend the use of hand sanitizer before each meal and occasionally during the day as we will be handling local money and visiting public places.
What is the climate like in January?
The weather will be pleasantly warm most of the time throughout the tour, with slightly higher temperatures in Uganda. It can be quite cool in the evenings.
If I want to travel to Africa before or after the group departs, is this possible?
It is possible, with reasonable notice, to fly to Dubai ahead of the group or stay on after the group has departed.
Do I need visas?
An Australian passport holder will need a visa for Rwanda, Ethiopia and Uganda. These are included in the tour cost.
A lot of companies have many expensive optional extras on their tours. Do you?
We don’t believe in a lot of expensive ‘optional tours’. Our itineraries are designed to make the best possible use of time and to include all the must-see sights, plus additional surprises. Therefore practically everything is included in the tour cost.
What is the standard of hotels like on this tour?
We endeavour to use centrally located hotels throughout. The hotels on this trip are generally rated 4 star and of a high standard. In smaller regional areas, with fewer hotels, we use the best available.
What currency should I take and are travellers cheques a good idea?
The currency for this journey is US dollars. They should be in low denominations, clean and undamaged. We do not recommend travellers cheques in Africa as it can be very difficult and time-consuming to change them.
Are internet facilities available en-route?
Internet facilities are available in all the major centres. However in the country areas there is limited or no internet access.
Do mobile telephones work?
Telstra and Optus mobiles generally work throughout the entire journey. You will need to ensure you have global roaming and a tri-band phone. Contact your service provider for further information.
How much should we tip the guides and porters?
There is no need to tip guides or porters as all tipping and gratuities are included in the tour cost.
Listed below is a selection of books which you may wish to read prior to, or during, your journey.
Spectrum Guide to Ethiopia
The Hospital by the River
Dr Catherine Hamlin
Off the Beaten Trail
Woman in the Mists
The Last King of Scotland
Shake Hands with the Devil
Uganda 4th The Bradt Travel Guide