To DIY Travel or to Not DIY?

There is a definite superiority complex out there for some travellers who enjoy DIY travel. Sometimes DIY travel is lumped in with the vague “authentic travel“, where only the purest, “untouched” places are worth travelling to and there is no chance that could be achieved on an organized tour. Whether or not any of that is true, we’ve all met that bragging backpacker who travels so much better than you because he does it all on his own and only visits “authentic” places.

Back from Canada, eh? photo credit: Pinterest

While our personal preference is to organize most of our travel ourselves, Philip and I have dabbled in organized tours as well.

My last post touched on a cautionary tale for letting go of the reigns when travel planning. Philip and I had a lacklustre, yet very physically demanding experience in the Rwenzori Mountains because we deferred the planning of that part of our trip to a third party, Amagara Tours. We agreed that if we could do it over again, we would research the different hikes in the area and choose which outfitter we would like to use and then pass those preferences on to the organizer. That being said, we do not regret partnering with Amagara for part of our 5 week East African adventure for a number of reasons.

First, while researching options for gorilla tracking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, we found that they offered the most affordable option. For less than $1000 USD (as of July 2014), you can do a 3-day gorilla safari including transfers from Entebbe or Kampala to Bwindi and 2 nights at the beautiful Byoona Amagara lodge on the superlative Lake Bunyonyi. Keeping in mind that the permit for gorilla tracking alone is $600 USD, this is an incredible deal, so booking with them was an easy choice. They were also very well-reviewed so we decided to reach out to them for planning some of our other activities in Uganda. Our itinerary was certainly ambitious, and Uganda doesn’t always have the best infrastructure for getting around, so having a driver for 11 days helped us make the most of our time there, all for a fraction of the price charged by other tour operators.

*Ugh, Lake Bunyonyi is the worst.
*Denotes sarcasm font.

Second, our driver was also our guide and friend. Bosco explained the local culture to us, had incredible knowledge about the plants and animals we saw along the way and we developed a rapport that made the trip both enjoyable and memorable. He identified birds, found us lions in Murchison Falls National Park and when we grew tired of being dropped off at overpriced tourist traps for lunch, he found us some barbecued pork and fried plantains to mix things up.

Bosco waves at us while we finish our hike in Murchison Falls National Park. 

Third, Amagara has a well-established repertoire of environmentally friendly, community-driven lodging that it uses when booking. Some of which, we likely wouldn’t have found ourselves. Their most famous is without a doubt Byoona Amagara, but we also loved staying at the Boomu Women’s Group Camp near Murchison Falls National Park, Fort Murchison on the other side of the park, Ruboni Camp by the Rwenzoris, and Eagle’s Nest near Lake Mburo National Park which offered incredible views.

View overlooking Lake Mburo National Park from our room at Eagle’s Nest

In the end, we were able to enjoy a jam-packed itinerary that had us moving all over Uganda while enjoying the relative comfort of travelling in a private vehicle versus one of Uganda’s notoriously unreliable coach buses or cramped and sweaty matataus that only leave when impossibly full. We would experience all of those in Uganda; no trip to Uganda would be complete with out it after all, but for those 11 days, we rolled in what we considered style.

Matatau riding, not so much in style. 

That being said, we are not likely to switch over completely to organized tours. There’s a certain satisfaction to be found in arriving somewhere yourself, even if it’s by matatau.  But organized tours do have their time and place, and can be an affordable, efficient way to make amazing memories.

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Trekking the Rwenzori Mountains in the Rain

Even the most Zen of travellers knows that keeping your spirits up in bad weather can be challenging. Especially if you are cold and wet, physically tired, mentally exhausted, or experiencing any other common travel-related ailment. Yet more often than not there are hard-won views, memorable experiences or at the very least, an important lesson to learn to make continuing on worthwhile.  This was the case when we went trekking Uganda’s Rwenzori Mountains in the rain.  
 

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Baboon Theft and Hippo Threats at Murchison Falls National Park

 
After a peaceful first day driving and animal watching in Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda, Philip and I were excited to explore the park both by boat and by foot.
 
We started the day with an early morning game drive and then headed toward the boat launch where we had crossed the river the day before. As we went to eat our packed lunch under a tree, our driver Bosco warned us to “watch out for the baboons!” How could baboons be so bad? We thought naively. 
 

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Peaceful Safari in Murchison Falls National Park

Few things can harsh your Zen while travelling worse than dealing with massive crowds. Safaris in Murchison Falls National Park are much less busy than the crowded parks in other parts of East Africa  so we were keen to add it to our itinerary on our trip to Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania.   
 
After a long drive from Entebbe, which included the requisite car troubles which left us stranded in sleepy Masindi for a couple hours while our driver sorted things out, we finally arrived at our place to stay for the night just outside the park. 
 

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How we Made our Travel Dreams Come True in 2014

2014 was a banner year for us at Zen Travellers. Hard work, and deliberate and consistent budgeting meant that we were able to make one of our biggest travel dreams come true: a five week adventure in East Africa.

I had been dreaming of going back to Africa since my first time there in 2010. I had spent 5 months working in West Africa, and a month in Morocco touring around after my contract was over. The experience was incredible, but I still wanted to see the Big 5 on safari, watch the Great Migration, track gorillas in the jungle and watch more majestic African sunsets.

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