TIPS AND BITS FROM MY TOUR

K and T and Rwanda Tips and Bits
We used Qatar Airlines for the trip, first time using Business class from JFK, stopping in Doha and then to Arusha. Return flight from Kigali, Doha, JFK
We have been taking business class flights more consistently for about two years now and this was the best so far—- you can completely close off your seat from the aisle. You can eat whenever you want in what ever order. Coming home when the flight was leaving at 4-30 pm, I chose to sleep first and actually slept better than I ever have on a plane. When I awoke, I ordered dinner. Later, I had Afternoon tea complete with Warm scones and clotted cream. Service was excellent.
For those who like to travel with pared down toiletries, there is no conditioner in the first two hotels.
It’s worth collecting the plastic shower caps to hold used toilet tissue if you go to potty in the bush. Useful for wet swimwear, dirty shoes etc. these are ok to carry since not even zip lock bags are allowed in the countries.
Plastic shopping bags banned. Zip lock bags banned—- silicone type reusable bags in all sizes easily found on Amazon, as are shoe bags in many colors.
Footwear—- there were people on our tour who did not bring adequate footwear, so much so that the Tour Director was considering emailing her next group coming directly after us to ask them to bring adequate shoes.
We brought hiking boots for the Gorilla trek which we kept in our large suitcases until we got to Kigali. We each traveled in a pair of Merrill type waterproof suede shoes with a good tread. Mine were actually really old Lands End brand. In addition, we brought another similar pair each, again, quite old ones. Mr B deliberately left one pair behind with a note on them saying please give to anyone in need, and they were snapped up from the room at the next room service. We had rain and very soggy walking conditions in K and T. One pair of shoes got very muddy. When we got back to the lodge, the staff took them and returned them later looking like new. Meanwhile we were able to use our other pair of shoes. We also had a surprise walking trek that required good closed toe shoes. Unfortunately the tour director did not specify footwear that day, so those who liked to wear open toe nice sandals on the game drive had to walk in those. I don’t want to spoil the surprise here, but good shoes could have been life saving. I would advise wearing good shoes on every game drive, you don’t know what you might encounter
Finally we took a pair of flip flops for going to the pool and one other pair of shoes each, Mr B his favorite deck shoes, think Sperry style. I took some Clarks Teva style sandals which were fine with my one khaki colored simple cotton jersey midi length dress, my green linen pants and two tops I took, one African fabric top and one cotton shirt leopard print—- the extent of anything other than my safari gear and totally sufficient for this tour—-some had nothing but safari gear which was also absolutely fine.
Buffs—- we love buffs and always bring several each. I love mine for cushioning my neck from my camera strap. Good for dust, not that there was much dust on this tour, conditions were too damp, mud was the enemy on this trip.
Laundry, very reasonable prices at the lodges. Takes planning because you only stay one or two nights everywhere except Fairmont Mara and that was where we got very muddy on the last day and had to pay 50% extra price to get the clothes laundered in time for early next day departure. We avoided laundry at The Four Seasons and Mount Kenya Safari club. Four Seasons supposed to offer 50% off laundry to Tauck, but turns out this only kicks in if the bill is over $50 as one couple found out, getting a bill for $47 that they thought would be halved.
Food—- lots of choice, lots of Indian food. Always gluten free options. Mostly buffets. Most dinners served no earlier than 7-30pm.
Early starts, but not so early as our first K and T trip thirteen years ago when most days we got wake up drinks at 5am.
Safari vehicles—- much easier to get in and out height wise than on Southern African safaris. Still quite a drop for me and no help offered when alighting most of the time, no little step stool or anything. The vehicles in Rwanda were quite a drop down to the ground. I’m short and like to jump down very carefully these days because I’m cautious of any osteoporosis I might have. Yep, too much nursing knowledge.
Freebies. I have never been on a Tauck tour where the Tour Director gave you so many gifts, one took quite a lot of room in your bag. Be prepared.
Shopping opportunities—- Masai village visit in Kenya——our TD said rules had been modified about this experience because both Tauck customers and the Masai had complained about the bargaining. So prices were basically more or less fixed. Prices were very high in my opinion form my previous two experiences visits to Masai and quality not half as good. I was focusing on buying a large white Masai beaded collar, there was only one, they wanted $110 for it, in the past it may have been say $30, I really wanted it and have given generously to the Masai in the past, so with buying other things they gave it to me for $90. Crazy I know, but it completes my collection. I also wanted some more talking sticks, these were far less nice than the ones I bought years ago which had carved elephants or rhinos on the tops. Just for other comparison, they had beaded handle fly swats with Wildebeest tail swot, they wanted $70. I got one elsewhere with no bargaining for $25.
The hotels had a good array of souvenirs, the best if I remember correctly was the Fairmont Mara.
Cultural Centre in Arusha—- you are given quite a lot of time to shop here. I already have anything I want from here but was on the look out for fabric, found a place with some and bought 2.5 meters at $10 a meter, I’ll be making cushions from that.
In Rwanda, just a five minute walk from the One and Only, there is a little village craft center. A member of staff from the hotel will walk there with you. I was focused on getting gorilla walking sticks I had seen mentioned on the forum. These are different to the ones you can use on the gorilla trek, being more decorative and break down into three pieces for easy packing. Good prices here, I don’t like to bargain hard with these lovely people but got them for $12 and $13 and my son and son in law loved them.
I always look for books from a series which features a different animal for each book, for young children, these can be found in most places on the tour, $12.
Note, Mr B has strict rules about the amount of time shopping, so for example, I spent no more than ten minutes looking at all the shops at the Rwanda place.
If you like Tanzanite, it’s around.
Needless to say, we utilized one of the Tauck duffels for our return home, neither of us had more than 50lbs each in both bags but it was the bulk and dirty laundry expands so much.
After the gorilla trek, people were given a gorgeous presentation box of teas. Our vehicle only learned of this from the other two vehicles, we did not get them. The TD was in our Vehicle and unaware. We asked about it and it became really embarrassing to find our gifts. It was only after quite a bit of communication with the drivers for us to get them literally in the last minutes of the entire tour. We love tea, we wanted ours, but it made us feel uncomfortable to be asking for what others were just give.. Don’t miss out, it was a gift from the National Park that you have given $1500 for your trek.
That’s all I can remember. Happy to answer any questions.

Comments

  • I for got to mention that the Rwanda visa fee is now $50

  • I was on this same tour and after taking a few days to recover from the considerable jet lag, I will add some comments to those of British.
    The trip was fabulous but the structure and communications need some fine-tuning.

    First, when packing be sure to carry at least one change of clothing in your carry-on bag. I usually do but forgot this tour; my luggage was lost for four days and I had to live with just what I had and a few ugly tee-shirts from the first hotel's very meager gift shop.
    Clothing and shoes: I think Tauck did an inadequate job of providing information about the special needs for this tour. My travel agent inquired about this and was told by Tauck to "just go to REI and they will outfit you." Luckily REI did sell me some pants and excellent hiking boots for the gorilla trek but Tauck needs to beef up this information in their deposit confirmation package. I did a lot of on-line research and upon leaving the tour gave our TD a clothing and equipment list prepared by a Tauck competitor that was a far better resource than anything provided by Tauck. I hope the TD will forward that to the personnel at Tauck responsible for these communications. Also, the TD must be more familiar with the hiking conditions each day - as British noted we had a strenuous hike down a wet and slippery hill at the Oldupai Gorge. I was wearing Ked-type sneakers and the TD told me those were fine despite her not having done that hike before. I fell on some slippery rocks and luckily landed on my ample bottom. I specifically asked about using my hiking boots but was told those were unnecessary. Heavy hiking boots are not comfortable when getting in and out of the safari vehicles for normal game drives but the TDs need to give more thought to advising guests ahead of time about what gear is appropriate each day.
    British notes that not all guests were prepared - especially with footwear - for the gorilla trek. I encourage you to invest in good hiking boots - eight to ten inches high - as you will likely slosh through mud, rocks, gorilla dung, etc. (We had our share!!) As British noted, the hotel takes your footwear at the end of the trek and when returned they will look better than when you left. Don't bother investing in "gaiters" (nylon pouches that cover the top of your boots and the lower part of your pants) as the hotel will supply these. They also have a limited number of ponchos but you may want to bring your own or a light nylon-type rain jacket.

    Also, if you are apprehensive about the gorilla trek - especially if you are a solo like me with no companion to assist - talk with your TD about hiring additional porters. Tauck will provide one porter to carry your gear (water, food, camera, etc.) but you can hire one or two extra porters to help you up and down the mountain. The extra porters were critical to helping me over rocks, jumping up or down areas between water streams, etc. The cost is currently $10 per porter per day, plus the suggested tip is $20 per porter. It was worth every penny to me in terms of making it up and down the mountain, plus I was happy to give employment to people in the area who desperately need it.

    In terms of the hotels, I agree with the comments made by British. The Four Seasons was supposed to be a highlight but the dining and social areas were so dark you could not see in front of you. My room was not cleaned properly (the only hotel on the trip where this occurred) and I had dark bugs in my bathroom constantly. I couldn't wait to leave there. My favorite hotels were the Mt. Kenya Safari Club (can't believe they will stay here only one night in the future!) and the One & Only in Rwanda. The latter is a beautiful hotel in a beautiful setting and they have a wonderful structure for the gorilla treks. A wonderful finale to the trip. The other hotels were all fine for their settings & locations. Food on this trip is more than plentiful and healthy but heavy on buffets and very few ala carte choices. We had a number of wonderful "surprises" and I won't spoil those by saying any more.

    I also agree with the comments made by British about the composition of our group - having a family with small children in an already small group of travelers changes the dynamics of the tour. This is my 23rd trip with Tauck and only the second time I have traveled with a family group - the former had just one teenager who was able and willing to communicate with the adults on the group. It was uncomfortable having to jockey for seats at the "adult" dinner table and the TD was very constrained about what she could say about the animals' mating habits, etc. when the children were around. In the future I will have my travel agent ask about the participation of family groups in my tours BEFORE I make the final payment.

    I am also happy to answer any questions. This is truly the trip of a lifetime - if you have interest in the gorillas, sign up and go!

  • edited January 2020

    Here is a photo of Smarks and I after seeing the Gorillas. Once the group left the forest, we all stopped for a snack in the farmlands area. Ok I’m not the gorilla, I am on the left of the second photo!

  • This looks like a trip of a lifetime! Thanks for sharing it.

  • British, are you saying reusable packing bags found on Amazon are also banned now? You have a "-" between that and ziplock bags and I wanted to make sure I understood.

  • Hi, I am not sure what you mean about reusable packing bags? Zip lock bags are banned, I assume of any size since even the ones that you put your small toiletries in are banned. I took reusable rubberized or silicone ones for small toiletries. You can find details on the government websites for the countries. Tauck gave a strong warning in their final green book about the details.

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