After reading through the reviews and forum posts for tour operator recommendations, I've booked a seven day Uganda/Rwanda gorilla/chimp safari (with budget accommodations) through Katona Tours. Although I said they could advertise and perhaps find someone to join me to lower my cost, it is at the moment a private tour, which gives me quite a bit of control over how I spend my time. I'm pretty happy with the itinerary, but as written it's really focused on getting me to and from the three big events (chimp tracking in Kibale, gorilla trek in Bwindi, gorilla trek in Rwanda). Totally understandable! But since it's just me (so far), I'd like to figure out how to actively occupy my downtime.
From everything I've read about Katona, I expect my driver and guide will be lovely people who are open to my suggestions and will make suggestions to me in turn... but I'd rather be safe than sorry. I've hired plenty of drivers/guides in the past who just wanted to take me from Point A to Point B, and only the fact that I'd done plenty of research in advance made it possible for me to insist that no, seriously, we absolutely were going to stop at [site] along the way. Can't insist on seeing what you don't know exists, after all!
I do plan to talk to Katona Tours directly about how much leeway I have in determining my departure/arrival times and other ways I might augment the trip, but first I thought I'd see if anyone has input on how to spend the hours I have free so I can make some reasonable alternative suggestions if I don't like Katona's usual built-in stopping points.
Here is the schedule as written:
Day 1: Pick up from guest house in Kampala, drive to Kibale NP. Lunch at Fort Portal, overnight at Primate Lodge or Kibale Forest Camp, evening Bigodi cultural walk.
Day 2: Morning chimpanzee tracking, 2-4 hours in the forest. Overnight at same lodging.
Day 3: Drive to Bwindi via Queen Elisabeth/Ishasha sector, overnight at Kisoro Guest House.
Day 4: 8am gorilla trek, overnight at Kisoro Guest House
(Days 5-7 I'm in Rwanda, so I won't clutter up the Uganda forum with those details.)
So here's a general idea of what I'm trying to figure out for each day:
Day 1 seems to be between 5-7 hours of driving. At Fort Portal, I plan to ask to stop at the Rubona Basket Weavers shop Any recommendations on other places to stop along the way? I wouldn't think I have time to do something as involved as a tea or vanilla plantation visit, sadly.
Day 2 seems to be empty from noon onward, possibly even earlier depending on how quickly my group finds its assigned chimp group. I'm really not much of a "sit around the lodge and relax" person, and since I've opted for budget accommodations, it's not like I'm passing up the opportunity to relax in luxury anyway! Suggestions on how to occupy the time? I don't mind paying to hire a guide for local hiking trails or paying a fuel supplement to have my driver take me somewhere outside the park, whatever is necessary to avoid twiddling my thumbs and reading my Kindle for hours on end.
Day 3 seems to be approximately 6 hours of driving if we're taking the route through Queen Elizabeth NP. Suggestions on stopping points or for activities that could be realistically added to the drive?
Day 4 seems to be empty from as early as 10:30am to as late as 2pm, again depending on how long it takes to reach my assigned gorilla group. As with day two, I'd love suggestions on how to occupy the afternoon and early evening.
Again, I do plan to ask Katona Tours directly about what they usually do for this itinerary, but I always like to get an outside perspective as well so I can say, "Well, as lovely as a two hour restaurant lunch sounds, I'd rather eat a sandwich in the car while driving and instead visit [place] along the way."