Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP) in South Western Uganda is the most sought after world class tourist destination as it harbours more than a half of the world’s surviving mountain gorillas listed as critically endangered species. Recognised by UNESCO as a world heritage site in 1994, Bwindi (which locally refers to darkness or impenetrable) was since 1942 a forest reserve before it was elevated to a full national park in 1991.
The 321 km² national park is characterized by tangled vegetation, draped over a deeply ﬁssured landscape of steep slippery valleys and high-draughty ridges. It’s ever chilly weather and challenging terrain oﬀers unequalled ambience and serenity for the visitors seeking to meet and interact with their closest cousins. A trek through one of this Africa’s most ancient rainforests, in search of the endangered Mountain Gorillas, ranks among the world’s premier wildlife encounters.
The National Park is about 530km from Kampala, the capital city. The park can be reached by road from several directions that include: Through Queen Elizabeth National Park (Mweya) – via Kihihi to Buhoma. This route passes through Queen Elizabeth National Park’s southerly Ishasha sector, providing a chance for the tourists to stop and search for the famous tree-climbing lions. BINP is about 2.5 hours drive from Mweya and about 1.5 hours drive from from Ishasha.
From Kampala you can also access Bwindi Impenetrable National park via Kabale through Kanungu to Buhoma 5-6 hours journey); Ntungamo via Rukungiri through Kihihi to Buhoma (5-6 hours journey); via Kabale-Ruhija-Buhoma (5-6 hours journey); Kabale-Nkuringo (6-7 hours journey); KisoroRubuguri/Nkuringo (2hrs journey) Note: 4×4 vehicle is recommended for Bwindi visit.
Air Travelers’ can ﬂy from Entebbe Air port or Kampala (Kajjansi airﬁeld) to the tarmac airstrip at Kisoro town. Visitors to Buhoma can also charter planes to Kayonza (near Butogota) or Savannah (Kihihi) and Ishasha airstrips. Pre arranged transport arrangements for transfer to the park are recommended.
The forest can be cold especially in the morning and at night; the annual average temperature range is 7⁰C-20⁰C with the coldest period being June and July. Warm clothing is required plus wet weather gear since Bwindi receives up to 2390mm of rain per year.
WHEN TO VISIT
The park can be visited any time of the year.
A range of accommodation facilities catering for up-market, medium range and budget visitors are available. It is advisable to book well in advance.
Flora and Fauna:
Bwindi supports a tremendous biodiversity as a result of three major factors. Its slopes extend over a broad altitudinal range of 1447m to create habitats ranging from lowland forest at 1160m to rare Afromontane vegetation above 2600m. It is also extremely old and part of the exceptionally rich Albertine Rift Endemic area.
When most of Africa’s forests disappeared during arid conditions of the ice age (12,000-18,000 years ago), Bwindi was one of the few ‘refugia’ that persisted. Consequently, while most of today’s forests are no more than 12,000 years old, Bwindi’s vegetation has been weaving itself into tangles over at least 25,000 years, in the process accumulating a lengthy species list. This includes 310 species of butterﬂies, 51 reptiles, 200 trees, 88 moths and an exceptional 120 types of mammals.
Mountain gorillas live in structured groups with deﬁned home ranges. Bwindi has more than ten habituated gorilla groups that are tracked by tourists. These are in the vicinity of Buhoma, at Ruhija, while others are tracked from the southern sector (Nkuringo/Rushaga) and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
Bwindi National Parks boast of 10 species of primates including the mountain gorilla. Other exceptional primate attraction in this impenetrable forest includes chimpanzee, baboon, L’Hoest, red tailed and blue monkey, black and white Colobus and the nocturnal bush babies.
The varied habitats of Uganda’s oldest forest mean it is the ideal habitat for variety of birds, with over 350 species recorded, including 23 endemics (90% of all Albertine Rift endemics) such as the short tailed Warbler, Shelly’s Crimson wing, African Green Broadbill and Blue-headed Sunbird as well as seven IUCN red data listed species. Easy to see are the African Emerald Cuckoo, Common Bulbul, African Blue & White-tailed Flycatchers and Red-headed Bluebill.
Is a captivation and unforgettable experience which more than repays the eﬀort needed to reach Bwindi and to trek through the forest. Gorilla tracking can be challenging and one needs to be reasonably ﬁt before undertaking to venture into the activity. Registration at Buhoma, Ruhija, Nkuringo and Rushaga visitor receptions commences at 0730 hours with general brieﬁngs conducted at 0800 hours. Gorilla tracking starts at 8:30am and can last from a few hours to a whole day depending on where the gorillas were left the previous day.
To protect the gorillas and visitors, a number of rules and guidelines have been set and must be adhered to. Ensure you adhere to the guidelines as will be briefed by your guide.
Around the Park Though gorilla tracking is the main attraction, a range of other walks provide more relaxed opportunities to spot birds and monkeys while exploring one of Uganda’s loveliest rainforests. Mountain biking is also a good activity around Bwindi, this is usually done through a well maintained trail 13km trail of Ivi River from the park oﬃce.
GORILLA TRACKING GROUPS
There are a number of Gorilla groups you can spend an hour with upon location. The number in each Gorilla family usually changes as some family members die and other new members born into the group. There are also instances where Gorilla families split in newer groupings. At the time of tracking, one can confirm the number of members in the family to be visited.
Arrangements can also be made for Gorilla habituation, where you not only visit the gorillas but study and learn about their behaviors and habitat among other. The experience is done with researchers and special prior arrangements need to be made. At Great Value Safaris, we assist with all the arrangements.
Gorillas live in families with lead Silver backs. Below are some of the Gorilla groups available for tracking in Bwindi.
The Bitukura group is one of the gorilla families that have more than one silver back living in harmony. The family can be tracked from Ruhija side of Bwindi forest national park. Family members are 13 with Ndahura as the family head.
With a big number of 17 individuals, Oruzogo family can also be tracked from Ruhija. It’s a vibrant group with playful juveniles.
Kyaguriro is usually found in the deep jungles of the forest and is also tracked from Ruhija side of Bwindi Forest. The members in this family are many to bout a number of 20.
Nshongi Gorilla family is found in Rushaga with a number of 7 members. The group is named after the Nshongi River where the Gorillas were first discovered and accessed for tracking in 2009.
Mishaya group a break away from the Nshongi gorilla group has 12 family members. This group started with few numbers but with time were able to conquer and add to the family by the lead silver back who is known to be a fighter.
Mubare translated to mean in the stones or rocky areas, is where this group d of gorilla that has been tracked since 1993 was found. The gorilla group is found in Buhoma area and has 11 members.
Locally translated to mean near the river (Nyanja) is where this gorilla family was discovered near the swamps of Bwindi Forest. It has 17 members and usually roam in large expanses of the forest in search of meals.
Tracked from Buhoma side, the Rushegura family is another family has a number of 16 individuals. The family tends to be near the park headquarters; however, tracking time may vary from season to season depending on where the gorillas will be located on your day of tracking.
Found in Rushaga side of Bwindi Forest, Kahungye was first discovered in Kahungye hills of the Bwindi forest thus the name. The family was first opened for tracking in 2011.
The 9 member Busingye family separated from Kahungye in 2012, and is open for tracking to visitors.
Another breakaway family in Rushaga, Bweza has 12 members and can also be accessed for tracking.
Rushaga is found in Nkuringo area of Bwindi Forest, Nkuringo translated to mean small round stones found in this part of the park, offers the most challenging trek to the mountain gorillas in this area of Bwindi. The encounter upon location and viewing of this 12 member family erases the thought and feeling of a tough trek that may require one to be physically fit because of the terrain to and from the gorilla trek.
Mgahinga Gorilla National park has a 10 member Nyakagezi gorilla family. This family tends to move between Uganda, Rwanda and Congo forest.