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The Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda
and the Kwita Izina
Naming Ceremony


Limited to Six Participants

No one has more experience in conducting
a Rwanda Photo Safari for Mountain Gorillas.
We have been doing tours for 15 years, and have
personally led over 100 Treks for Mountain Gorillas.

gorillas from 2012



August 30-September 5, 2017
Limit 6 participants Price: $7995
Single supplement: US $936.00

(Deposit: $3,500 non-refundable)

gRead all of our Rwanda trip reports to get the full scoop!

There is no greater honor than naming a baby mountain gorilla. There are very few wildlife photography experiences like the one that you have while photographing mountain gorillas, on foot, only feet away from your camera’s lens. And there is no place on earth like the Land of a Thousand Hills to experience the warmth of a people, the dedication of a nation and the support of a president for conservation efforts for one of the world’s endangered primate species; the mountain gorilla. That place is Rwanda and the ceremony is the Kwita Izina Gorilla Naming Ceremony.

In 2016 I had the honor of naming a baby mountain gorilla during the Kwita Izina Naming Ceremony. Along with 21 others, I stood in front of nearly 60,000 people, plus President Kagame, and named a little girl gorilla from the Hirwa group Ntamupaka, which means ‘No Borders’. This coming year, Joe has been invited to come and name a baby mountain gorilla. Along with government officials, public figures and top conservationists from around the world, Joe will have the same privilege and honor that I had last year and we would like you to come and join us for the festivities. Besides having a VIP pass for the naming ceremony, you will also join us for three days of gorilla trekking in the beautiful Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda. Let me tell you more about this special tour.

We take 6 people with us so that our group numbers 8 in total; the maximum number of people permitted to visit any one group at a time. With all of the permits taken by our group, it makes for a homogenous shooting group and one that will work together as a single unit. Our lodge, the Mountain Gorilla View Lodge, is located within 20 minutes of the park headquarters where we have to check in every morning before our trek and where the Naming Ceremony will take place. The lodge is also close to several of the parking areas for the different treks. Our driver/guide from Primate Safaris is one of the best in Rwanda and is known as one of the best ambassadors of Rwanda. Plus Primate Safaris is the top tourist operator in the country. We are treated like VIP’s by both the park management and the local people and our groups often get preferential treatment. What more could you ask for?

The Special Kwita Izina Naming Ceremony

This year, 2017, is the 50th Anniversary of when Dian Fossey established the Karisoke Research Centre on the saddle between the Karisimbi and Visoke Volcanoes. She was an avid defender of the mountain gorillas and the research that she started back then continues through today and you will be one of the few people who will stand beside one of these incredible animals in their own backyard. What also makes this trip so special is that you will have VIP passes for the Naming Ceremony on September 1st. You will be among other dignitaries and invited guests from around the world, including foreign ambassadors to Rwanda, government officials from other African countries and the EU, conservationists, business people and other celebrities. It is rumored that Sigourney Weaver (who played Fossey in Gorillas in the Mist) has been invited to name a baby gorilla. I don’t know if that is true but if it is, well that’s pretty special. And if we are all lucky, President Kagame will attend the ceremony as he did this past year. You will experience the love and admiration of a country for someone who puts his country first before himself. We can’t wait to share all of this with you! Here are the details:

Dates: August 30 – September 5, 2017
Price: USD $7995
Single Supplement: USD $936
Limited to 6 participants

Please note: This trip is based on 6 participants with permit prices at US $750/person/day.
There will be a surcharge of US $500 for 5 participants, and a surcharge of US $1200 for 4 participants.
Thank you for understanding on this business matter.

Deposit: $3500 non-refundable. (We need to purchase the gorilla permits and secure rooms upon registration).
Payment Schedule:
Payment #1 due: May 3 (this will be half of all monies due)
Payment #2: July 1 (this will be the final payment of remaining balance)

Note #1. The non-refundable deposit is truly that because once you register, we will be purchasing the gorilla permits to secure our requested dates.
Note #2. This trip is based from Kigali, Rwanda. For convenience sake, we are working with our Kenyan outfitter, Origins Safaris, for all logistics on this trip. They work in conjunction with Primate Safaris in Rwanda.
Note #3 - the Special Note: This trip can be strenuous and should not be approached in a cavalier manner! Our lodge is at 7800 feet; we can trek up to near 9000 feet; the trails can be steep or they can have a gentle slope; we can encounter the gorillas outside of the park or 1-2 hours inside of the park’s boundaries; for the one-hour of our visit, you need to carry your own camera gear. I don’t want to scare anybody but you do have to be in reasonable shape to do this trip. Upon registration I give some good tips so that you can prepare for the trip. We just don’t want to mislead anybody that this trip is a ‘walk in the park’. It can be and yet again, it can be tough. But from the last three groups to trek with us, everybody made all of the treks! So if you are prepared, you can do it. As someone on our very first trip stated “It is exhausting yet exhilarating!"

Price Includes:
Lodging, double occupancy, from Day 1 (August 30), the first night at the Kigali Serena Hotel, to and including Day 6 (September 4), the final night at the Mountain Gorilla View Lodge
Dayroom at the Kigali Serena Hotel Day 7 (September 5) until 6:00pm
Meals beginning with breakfast on Day 2 through lunch on Day 7
All ground transportation including airport transfers in Kigali and a vehicle with driver/guide in Rwanda provided by Primate Safaris

Park fees including the Gorilla trekking permits.
The permits allow one hour of gorilla viewing per visit and trust me when I say that this will be one of the most intense hours of your life!
VIP pass for the Kwita Izina Naming Ceremony on September 1st
Services of the local guide and staff
Gratuities for Primate Safaris driver/guide, gorilla trackers, gorilla guides, photography subjects, National Park staff, Rwanda lodge staff
Visit to Genocide Memorial in Kigali
One non-alcoholic drink per meal at the Mountain Gorilla View Lodge (including water and soda)
Water during treks and in the car during excursions
Accommodation taxes and current tourism levies

Price does not include:
International airfare to/from Kigali, Rwanda
Visa fees for Rwand
Note: Visa Information will be sent with a final packet of information in June
Single lodging supplement for the main trip
Extra room reservations pre- or post- photo tour
Extra excursions pre- or post- photo tour (options will be forwarded in a subsequent packet)
Meals prior to Day 2
Dinner on Day 7
Alcoholic beverages throughout the trip
Laundry at the lodge
Tips for camera porters on the gorilla treks
Tips for hotel/lodge personnel including room stewards, bartenders, luggage porters,other service personnel
Items of a personal nature
Gifts, carvings, maps, etc.

For this trip I strongly recommend for people to fly in a day earlier than the start of the trip. Weather or mechanical delays can occur at any time of year and I would hate for you to arrive late in to Kigali and miss the Naming Ceremony. You will be amazed at the number of people who attend this ceremony so you will need to be at the event grounds early on Friday morning. In the Welcome packet I will send out a Flight and Travel Memo to aid in your flight reservations. I will also have several options for side excursions if you come in several days early to Rwanda. Here is the itinerary for this trip:

Read all of our Rwanda trip reports to get the full scoop!

Quite simply, this shoot may be the most exciting and exhilarating wildlife experience of your lifetime. Approximately 800 mountain gorillas survive in the wild and our photo tour will visit many of Rwanda's habituated groups open to tourism. You'll be seeing silverbacks face-to-face and eye-to-eye, an incredible, humbling, yet up-lifting encounter you'll never forget!

Why is our Trip Unique

There are several reasons! Perhaps most importantly, most groups only do one or two visits to the Gorillas. Very few do three. Why? First, there are eight different groups, ranging in size from around 9 individuals to one group of over thirty gorillas! Each group is different, in terms of group composition (the number of impressive silverbacks, the number of babies, the number of playful juveniles) and the physical conditions of the shoots may vary greatly -- from open clearings to bamboo forests (but more on that, below).

Tourist groups are limited to no more than 8 visitors, in addition to the trackers, gorilla guide, park rangers, and porters that accompany you up the mountain.

By having three days of trekking, we'll have the chance to visit our favorite group (which might be the biggest, or the closest, or the one with the best baby!) twice, as we will have the option of doing one group twice. Further, the weather can be quite varied, and having multiple chances to photograph gorillas gives you the best chance of shooting in great light. And what is 'great light?' Cloudy bright skies! Gorillas are dark gray or black, and when there is sunlight the contrast can be very taxing. Ideally, the best conditions are light clouds that create bright, soft light.

With 100 treks, and having brought other photographers with us for each, we know Rwanda and we know mountain gorillas, and their photography. Perhaps even more important, the Park staff, guides, and trackers know and appreciate our support, which translates into the best possible experience you can have with mountain gorillas.

To get the absolute most out of these safaris
consider taking one of our
Complete Digital Nature
Photo Courses

next summer!

The Treks

Gorillas live in the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park, a forested region of the northwestern section of Rwanda. Unlike most African game viewing, Mountain Gorillas are visited on-foot by trekking to their mid-morning resting and feeding locations. We're led by a Rwandan guide and accompanied by Park staff -- guards employed to protect the gorillas, and your gear is carried by a porter. That's right -- your gear is carried for you!

All that is required of you is to get to the gorillas, which may involve a half hour hike but more typically requires a 'trek' of one or two hours one-way. The trekking is not difficult if you are in-shape and relatively fit, but we would not recommend this trip for anyone who is truly over-weight and out-of-shape. Hiking to the gorillas generally requires at least one-half hour of uphill hiking, and it may involve one or two hours (or more) of steady uphill hiking. The pace is slow, and your porter and the guides and rangers will help you with steep steps or muddy spots but, bottom-line, you have to be able to do the hike. Most treks begin around 7,500 feet (I'm giving figures based upon our scouting trip, which are typical hikes and distances) and involved a vertical gain of 800 to 1,000 feet over a one or two hour period. Expect to be at 8,500 feet, or higher, while photographing the gorillas.

When we find the gorillas, they may be feeding or lounging or resting or playing in an open clearing, in a forest, or in a bamboo thicket. Incredibly, almost every opportunity is a good one for shooting, as the guides actually clear vegetation that separates you from the animals. Sure sometimes an errant vine or leaf blocks a view, but it is almost unbelievable how the trackers and guide clear viewing windows to provide easy shooting access

Can You Do This Trip?

If you're in shape, or get into shape, there's no question anyone can do this trip. One of our scouting trip participants, who lives at sea-level and was bed-ridden with a serious illness for weeks a few months before the trip, made four of the five treks, taking one rest day on Day 5 just to 'not push it' after the illness. If you can climb five flights of steps without risking death, or if you could work out on a step-master or climb 5-10 flights of steps once a day for a few weeks to get your legs in shape, you can do this trip. But the fact is, you'll be hiking, uphill, at some elevation, and we don't want to mislead anyone who has health issues or fitness concerns -- it's too great a trip for that! Once a trek begins, the group will continue on to the gorillas. Anyone unable to complete a trek will be left behind, with his or her porter, until our return from the trek. The 'show will go on' even if you cannot, so please don't expect the group to be compromised if your fitness level precludes your completing a trek. Fair warning, and we're serious about this.

We do not advise this trip for anyone with heart problems or any other physical concern that might pose a health risk. Quite frankly, we are out in a fairly remote area and any health emergency could be life threatening. If you have any concerns about your health, please consult your physician. We cannot accept any responsibility or assume any liability for any health risks or results.

Final Details

If you choose to join us, please send in your deposit along with the completed registration form and the signed and dated trip cancellation policy that are included with this mailing to our office.
VERY IMPORTANT: At the time of your registration, a copy of your photo page and personal ID page of your passport is also required. You can either send a hard copy of these pages with your registration paperwork and deposit. If you prefer to send a scanned copy, please contact Berni at and she will give you the necessary information for our secure dropbox.

Upon receipt of your completed registration packet we will send you a Welcome packet of information including flight information and a suggested reading list. Please do not make any flight reservations before you hear from our office. I just don’t want someone making flight reservations before we confirm your spot on the trip. Thank you for your understanding and cooperation.

Scroll down to the Day-to-Day Ininterary for this trip.


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group BBC gorilla tourists

dance kids girlmary
In addition to our Mountain Gorilla photography, we'll also be touring the towns, villages,
and the rural countryside. The Rwanda people are friendly and photogenic, and we always enjoy
spending time with and photographing the people.

Our Itinerary

Early arrival day: August 29, 2017
                Arrive early in to Kigali, Rwanda
                Overnight in hotel of your choice (there is a Marriott a block away from the Serena)

PLEASE NOTE: There are two other national parks in Rwanda: Akagera NP and Nyungwe Forest NP. The first park offers bird and mammal viewing similar to an African safari. Nyungwe offers birds as well as other primates, including black-and-white colobus monkeys and chimpanzees. If you want to make a more complete Rwanda experience, you can arrange a visit to one of these national parks either before, or after, this trip. It takes between 3-4 hours to drive to these parks. I recommend at least 2 nights for a more complete experience if you choose to visit one of the destinations.

Day 1: August 30, 2017
                Day of rest or daytrip in Rwanda for those who arrive early
                Arrive in to Kigali, Rwanda
                Overnight, Kigali Serena Hotel

Day 2: August 31, 2017
                Breakfast at Serena Hotel
                Transfer to Kinigi
Met upon arrival by Joe and MA
                Lunch at lodge followed by an orientation briefing
                Dinner and overnight, Mountain Gorilla View Lodge

Day 3: September 01, 2017
                Early breakfast at lodge
VIP passes to the Kwita Izina Naming Ceremony
Lunch at lodge, optional afternoon of touring the area and photographing scenic and people
Dinner and overnight, MGVL

Day 4 – 6: September 02 – 04, 2017
                AM gorilla treks
                Lunch at lodge, optional afternoon of touring or shopping in the area
                Dinner and overnight, MGVL

Day 7: September 05, 2017
                Breakfast at lodge
                Transfer to Kigali
                Lunch and dayroom at Kigali Serena Hotel
                Afternoon visit to Genocide Museum

                Late afternoon/Evening transfer to Kigali International Airport for departure flight

joe and maryAbout Your Leaders

My wife Mary Ann and I strive to provide the most comfortable and thorough safari you will experience. Both Mary and I are professional photographers, and I'd hope you've seen our credits. These included National Geographic, National Wildlife, Ranger Rick, Natural History, Living Bird, Birder's World, and most nature/wildlife calendars.

As a husband/wife team, Mary Ann and I have won more times in the prestigious BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition than any one. To date we have had 15 firsts, seconds, or thirds -- and we have not entered every year. Our trips are not about us, however, they are all for you, but credentials seem to matter, and we have them.

Mary has written twenty-nine (29) children's books, including Leopards, Grizzly Bears, Woodpeckers, Flying Squirrels, Sunflowers, Cobras, Jupiter, Boas, Garter Snakes, Pythons, Rattlesnakes, Ducks, Chickens, Horses, and Cows, and a coffee table book, Out of the Past, Amish Tradition and Faith.

I've written several how-to wildlife photography books -- A Practical Guide to Photographing American Wildlife, The Wildlife Photographer's Field Manual, The Complete Guide to Wildlife Photography, Designing Wildlife Photographs, Photographing on Safari, A Field Guide to Photographing in East Africa, and the New Complete Guide to Wildlife Photography, African Wildlife, Creatures of the Night, The World's Deadliest, and several ebooks. We have produced an instructional video, A Video Guide to Photographing on Safari with Joe and Mary Ann McDonald.

We are both editors for Nature Photographer magazine.

In addition to leading our trips to Tanzania, Mary and I personally lead photo safaris to Kenya, Brazil's Pantanal, Chile, Galapagos, Svalbard, India, Alaska, Rwanda, Yellowstone, Ecuador, Costa Rica, the Falklands, Antarctica, South Texas, Arizona, and some other spots, too!