Locking eyes with an almost-500 pound silverback mountain gorilla, with just a few feet of African forest standing in between, travelers participating in Crystal Cruises’ newest Overland Adventure may share a scene few on earth will ever see. With just 600 mountain gorillas left in the world, and only a handful of active guests permitted on the excursion, Crystal’s new “Bwindi Forest Gorilla Tracking Experience” is an ultimate bucket list trip. The five-night journey is only available to guests sailing back-to-back on two of Crystal Serenity’s 2014 World Cruise segments: an 18-day March 10 voyage from Singapore to Cape Town and the following 21-day March 28 cruise from Cape Town to London. From South Africa’s port of Durban, outing participants will travel deep into Uganda, then reconnect with the ship in Cape Town.
Over two days, participants will follow expert guides into the UNESCO World Heritage-classified Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, tracking the gorillas’ paths. Guests can then safely watch their playful interactions, observe their distinctly individual personalities, learn about their habits and history, and possibly see other residents like forest elephants, giant forest hogs, blue monkeys, or one of 350 bird species and 200 types of butterflies.
“This excursion allows guests to enjoy the ruggedly beautiful simplicity of nature in comfort and ultra-luxury,” says John Stoll, vice president of land programs. “Although one of the most remote in all of Africa, our camp has a spa, plus private tubs and decks overlooking the forest. But it pales in comparison to the opportunity to trek through Africa’s densest rainforest, deep valleys, and mountain waterfalls to encounter one of the planet’s most remarkable, nearly-extinct creatures in its natural habitat.”
On non-tracking days, the group will also learn about Uganda’s wetland, savannah, and forest eco-systems at the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre and participate in a mock Batwa Pygmy (considered the “keepers of the forest” for more than 5,000 years) hunting party, including tribal singing and dancing. Luxury accommodations include two nights at The Lake Victoria Serena Resort, set on the world’s largest tropical lake, and three nights at the silver-service Sanctuary Gorilla Camp.
The “Bwindi Forest Gorilla Tracking Experience” starts at $11,676 per person. The combined, 39-day cruise itinerary calls in Singapore (overnight); Jakarta, Indonesia; Mauritius/Port Louis, Republic of Mauritius; Durban and Cape Town, South Africa; Walvis Bay, Namibia; Luanda, Angola (maiden call); Bom Bom Island/São Tomé, Principe; Takoradi, Ghana; Dakar, Senegal; Agadir, Morocco; Lisbon, Portugal; and London/Southampton.
Crystal is also offering ten other Overland Adventures (shore excursions wherein guests stay inland overnight during a cruise) in Africa next year, taking guest to Nelson Mandela’s former home, through the countryside by Victorian-era railcar, and on multiple safaris in Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Africa.