Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, a prime Uganda safaris destination, is located in southwestern Uganda, with thick vegetation like its name suggests. Every day when tourists go out for the famous gorilla trekking adventure the ranger guides have to cut vegetation for trackers to access way to where gorillas nested the previous night. It is the true African jungle with droplets of the sun coming through the think forest cover giving you a feeling of being in paradise with zero pollution from several emissions common to our daily environment. The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994 because of its rich diversity in hosting different flora and fauna and being home to half of the worlds remaining mountain gorillas.
The park covers an area of 321 km2 all of which is forested with some areas being covered by bamboo and shrubs. The forest lies on steep slippery valleys with ridges and hilltops. The weather in Bwindi is chilly because of the immerse canopy, you are advised to carry some warm clothing for evenings and long sleeved shirts/trousers for trekking. For the ultimate experience to anyone who chooses to trek the mountain gorillas or search for birds, butterflies or shrubs, you need to be in good physical condition to go up and down the terrain. It lies at an altitude between 1160m-2607m above sea level.
Gorilla families in Bwindi Impenetrable forest national park
Bwindi Impenetrable forest is divided into different trail heads where gorilla trekking tours happens. The gorillas habituated for tourism are in families based at different trailheads. When you choose to visit Bwindi, be sure to know which trailhead you are allocated before you book your hotel. After knowing your allocated trailhead then you can book the hotel in that location. Currently 12 gorilla families are habituated for tourism. The trail heads include; Ruhija, Buhoma, Rushaga, and Nkuringo.
Wildlife in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest national park
The parks is home to about 120 mammals’ species that are rarely seen as they hide in the thickets of the dense forest. These include the large mammals and the very small mammals. The animals of Bwindi forest include; Elephants, duikers, buffaloes, golden cats, bush pigs, giant forest hogs, black-fronted Duiker, yellow-backed duiker, clawless otter, side-striped jackal, civet, numerous bats and rodents etc.
Bwindi forest is home to 11 primate species which are; black-and-white colobus monkeys, L’Hoest’s monkeys, De Brazza monkeys, Red-tailed Monkey, Blue Monkey, Potto, Demidoff’sGalago, Spectacled Galago, Baboons, Chimpanzee and the gentle giants of Bwindi – Mountain Gorillas.
Bwindi impenetrable forest national park is home to about 350 species of birds. It is by the best place for birding in Uganda owing to its unique species of birds. The forest is home to 23 Albertine Rift endemics and 14 of which are recorded nowhere else in Uganda. The globally threatened species include, Grauer’s broadbill, Chapin’s Flycatcher, Shelley’s Crimson-wing. More species include; Handsome Francolin, Mountain-masked and Collared Apalis, White-bellied Robin Chat, Black billed Turaco, Fraser’s Eagle, Western Bronze-naped Pigeon, Purple-breasted, Blue-headed and Regal Sunbirds etc.
Birding in Bwindi happens mainly in the Mubwindi Swamp in Ruhija sector of the park, ‘The Neck’ a stretch of the forest joining Ruhija to the Buhoma sector and the Buhoma area especially on the waterfall trail.
Butterflies and Amphibians
It is home to over 200 butterfly species including eight Albertine rift endemics. They include the African giant swallowtail and Cream-banded swallowtail. The amphibian species identified in Bwindi forest are 27 with 11 endemic to the Albertine rift. Fourteen snake species, 14 lizard species.
Safaris and Activities to do in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
When most people think of Bwindi Impenetrable national park, they think of mountain gorilla trekking/tracking, which is rightly so because it is the main attraction. However, Bwindi being heavily dense rainforest, it is home to many birds and animals and several other activities.
Gorilla Tracking in Bwindi Forest
Bwindi is home to half of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas. Gorilla tracking is done daily after purchasing a gorilla-tracking permit from the Uganda Wildlife Authority. You are advised to book your permit at least 3 months prior to secure your day especially if you prefer a certain location. Only 8 individuals from 15 years of age are permitted to visit a gorilla family per day. You need to be in good health condition otherwise you will not track because humans and Gorillas can easily pass diseases to each other. You will be briefed by your guide way before tracking and advices to stay at least 8m from the gorillas, do not use flash photography and do not look directly in the eyes of the gorilla for an extended period of time. You need to wear long sleeved pants and shirts to avoid scratches as you trek through the forest, carry a rain poncho, seasoned boots, lots of water, lunch (sometimes it takes an entire day to locate them) and finally consider hiring a potter because the terrain can be difficult.
Bwindi forest is a prime Uganda birding spot and was named as Africa’s number one birding spot by Africa Bird Club. If you have limited time in Uganda and you must choose only one park for birding then, Bwindi should be your choice. It is easily accessible for birding with birding trails in the forest leading to different area including the waterfall trail. It is home to about 350 species of birds which include 23 Albertine Rift endemics and 14 of which are recorded nowhere else in Uganda. There are excellent site guides in the communities who are very knowledgeable about the birds in the area especially the endemics. These join you as you take your trip into the forest re-enforcing the team you will have started with on your trip.
Nature and waterfalls walks
There are various trails into the forest for your different interests. You have trails leading to beautiful waterfalls where you can dive in the water. You walk along with an armed Uganda wildlife ranger guide for your protection in case you meet a wild animal but also as a guide. The available trails; Buhoma – Nkuringo trail which takes 3-4 hours crossing through the national park. Rushura Hill walk – a trail through forest shared between Congo and Uganda. Muyanga waterfall walk, Ivi River Walk – 14 kms and takes about 7 hours. Muzubijiro Loop – 6km walk around the hill where you have chances of interacting with primates and birds.
Mountain Hiking and biking
Kigezi region where Bwindi impenetrable forest is located is a mountainous area with beautiful scenery. Most lodges have bikes you can rent per day to take on the special trails created in the community otherwise ask them for a project you can rent from.Ivi river trail from Buhoma park headquarters to Ivi river organized by ‘ride for a woman’.
Community walks and Cultural experiences
The community surrounding Bwindi forest is full with activities and cultural experiences for you. You can choose to take on the Batwa experience – a people that lived in the forest for many years. Here you will be to re-visit the forest with them and experience how they lived in the forest, how they co-existed with the gorillas and the other animals for years. The different walks include Buniga Forest nature walk in Nkuringo – a forest reserve adjacent to Bwindi impenetravle national park. Nyundo community Eco trails and King Bakyara’s waterfall trail. Tour the village Aquaponics project with Conservation through Public Health (CTPH). Buhoma community tours – areas of interest, handcraft shops, Batwa community, traditional healer, primary school and finally learn how bananas are used to make juice, beer and gin and taste.
Access to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
There are scheduled/ charter flights from Entebbe International Airport to Kihihi town connecting to Buhoma area or to Kisoro Airstrip, which connects to Ruhija, Nkuringo and Rushaga. There are also flights from Kajjansi Airfield, which lies between Kampala and Entebbe.
Driving: From Kampala, the route depends on the trailhead you are visiting i.e. Kampala – Kabale – Ruhija OR Kampala – Ntungamo – Rukungiri – Kihihi – Buhoma/Nyondo OR Kampala – Kabale – Kisoro – Rushaga/Nkuringo.
Bwindi Safari Lodges and Camps
- Buhoma Lodge
- Bwindi Lodge
- Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Lodge
- Mahogany Springs
- Buhoma Haven Lodge
- Engagi Lodge
- Silverback Lodge
- Buhoma Community Rest Camp
- Chameleon Hill
- Bwindi Jungle Lodge
- Ichumbi Gorilla Lodge
- Mutanda Lake Resort
- Gorilla Safari Lodge
- Rushaga Gorilla Camp
- Gorilla Valley Lodge
- Bakiga Lodge
- Broadbill Forest Camp
- Agandi Lodge
- Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge
- Nkuringo Safari Lodge