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Travelers Corner: A Birthday Exploration of East Africa

September 22, 2023  By: Gretchen

Erin S. decided she wanted to do something special for a milestone birthday, so she started planning a trip to Africa. Erin decided that traveling first to Kenya and then to Uganda made perfect sense.

lion roaring
“I had wanted to go to Africa for as long as I can remember! I don't remember when I learned about mountain gorilla trekking but once I learned about it, I put it on my dream vacation/maybe someday list.” - Erin S.
elephant herd

Erin had many memorable moments on safari. She shares some of her top highlights below.

Within 5 minutes of being picked up by my guide in Kenya on my first day “in the bush”, we pulled up next to three cheetahs lounging on the savanna. The firsts kept coming on the drive to Basecamp Eagle view and seeing elephants as we rounded a corner almost took my breath away. There was a little baby who was very shy and kept hiding behind his mom. I loved watching them.

lilac breasted roller

My first guide at Basecamp eagle view had been a camp naturalist. When he found out I was a birder, he pointed out tons of interesting birds and made sure to find great photo ops, including for one of my target birds, the lilac-breasted roller.

cheetahs with kill

On my second full day, we saw a cheetah chase/kill.  It was fascinating to watch and then all the scavengers started showing up – first the jackals and then the vultures flew in from all over.

leopard up close

Seeing a leopard felt super special! As I reached the reception area, I noticed most of the staff were clustered on the viewing platform. My guide saw me and came over to tell me they had been watching a leopard that crossed the open savanna and it had just disappeared into the bushes by the stream below the camp. The staff beckoned me over and pointed to where the leopard had gone into the bushes. And didn’t the leopard pick that moment to come back out into the open?! Our guide hurried everyone to the safari vehicle and off we went. We arrived at the stream bed and spent almost an hour patiently waiting, moving back and forth but no luck. And then, as we were about to give up and move on, someone in our vehicle spotted him–or rather, the tips of his ears. Soon after, the leopard stood up and walked around for a bit before going into the shrubs.

golden monkey

In Uganda, I had plans to do a golden monkey trek and two gorilla treks. I asked the chances of seeing the gorillas on the golden monkey trek as well. She told me that it probably wouldn’t happen. So off I went on my golden monkey trek. We reach the monkeys and have a great time watching them, and at some point during the hour, the guides told us “the gorillas are close!” The tracker I was with pointed me towards some kids watching up the hill. Sitting in a bamboo patch was none other than a silverback gorilla!


On my first gorilla trek in Bwindi, we had just located the group and climbed down and up several really steep hills to get to them. The guides parted some foliage and we had the chance to watch a mama nursing her infant.

2 blue turacos

On my last day in Africa, I traveled back to Entebbe and had the whole day before my flight home. asked if there was anything I wanted to see and I said that I would like to see the botanical gardens and do one last birdwatching walk. That afternoon, I took a walk through the gardens with a local guide, and saw, among others, an African wood owl, turacos (great blue, and Ross’s), kingfishers, hornbills and many more. As we were leaving, the guide told me he heard gray parrots. Sure enough, a small flock swooped into a tree nearby and began feeding. This was the one bird on my list I really wanted to see that I hadn’t seen yet. It felt like a perfect way to say goodbye to Africa.

zebra up close

Other special moments for Erin included hearing hyenas at night; watching zebras and dik dik come into view from her veranda; watching elephants, giraffes and lions from the camp viewing platform; hearing lions roaring at dinner; the warm and friendly staff who treated her like family; and the views of the Virunga Volcanoes from Lake Mutanda.

Erin has some great advice for those considering a safari.

“Just do it. Even if you are scared or will be traveling solo. I promise you will never regret it. There is nothing like being mere feet from lions, cheetahs, leopards, giraffes, elephants, chimps and gorillas. But don't forget to look for the little creatures too! Appreciate the reptiles, small mammals and birds you see. Ask your guides all about them--they love the animals and are so happy to share their knowledge and to know that people care too. Do not be afraid to go on safari. I realized I could be scared and stay home, or I could be scared and go anyway. So I went and realized I had nothing to worry about. Everything was well planned and arranged. I always felt safe, I met great people and I had the time of my life.” - Erin S.

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Photos courtesy AAC Livingstone Club member Erin S.