Discover Bwindi, Uganda’s Iconic National Park
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is located in the Kanungu District in the southwestern part of Uganda covering an area of 331km2. It is a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its natural beauty and ecological uniqueness. This park is governed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and was established in 1991. It is among the most diverse and ancient forests in East Africa.
Bwindi is one of Uganda’s most popular destinations, home to over 400 Gorillas with 14 habituated gorilla groups hence making it the top natural habitat with half of the world’s total mountain gorilla population. The habituated groups of gorillas are open to tourists for trekking in 4 different sectors which include; Rushaga, Nkuringo, Ruhija and Buhoma found in the districts if Kisoro, Kabale and Kanungu respectively.
The park also hosts over 120 mammal species, 27 frog species, 220 butterfly species, 163 tree species, 1,000 species of flowering plants, 348 bird species and 104 fern species, geckos, chameleons and many endangered species.
Gorilla Tracking/Trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Gorilla Tracking is a fascinating experience where a group of trekkers enter the lush thick forest to track or hike with the aim of seeing mountain gorillas and the surrounding environment.
Bwindi hosts half of the remaining gorilla population in the whole world and has 4 recognized sectors where Gorilla tracking is done. I.e. Rushaga, Nkuringo, Ruhija and Buhoma. In order to track gorillas, one needs to have a gorilla tracking permit.
Gorilla Tracking Sectors in Bwindi
The gorilla tracking sectors are more like the parts of Bwindi where gorillas are tracked, and they are located in different districts. These include;
- Rushaga Sector: It is found in the southern part of Bwindi in Kisoro district, it has the highest number of habituated gorillas. Travellers can do gorilla tracking and gorilla habituation from this sector. The gorilla families in Rushaga include Kahungye, Nshongi, Bweza and Mishaya
- Nkuringo Sector: It is in the southern region in Kisoro District and has the lowest number of habituated gorillas. Nkuringo sector gorilla families include, Bikingi, Bushaho, and Nkuringo.
- Ruhija Sector: It is located the northern region of Bwindi in Kabale district, it regarded as the nearest sectors for those travelling from Kampala. It can also be accessed as one drives from Buhoma. The Ruhija gorilla families include, Oruzogo, Bitukura, Kyaguliro A and B.
- Buhoma Sector: This sector also lies in the northern part of the park and is located in Kanungu District. It is the oldest trekking sector in Bwindi. The gorilla families in Buhoma include; Habinyanja, Mubare and Rushesgura. Buhoma sector can be accessible from Queen Elizabeth National Park via the Ishasha sector.
What is a Gorilla Permit?
A Gorilla Permit is a paper/document that allows an individual to track mountain gorillas or go for gorilla habituation. It is issued by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). Every tourist or traveller that needs to track gorillas ought to have a permit. It costs USD 700 for the foreign non-residents, USD 600 Foreign residents and UGX 250,000 for East African Citizens.
In order to purchase the permit, you ought to go through a tour operator who will buy it on your behalf from UWA or can inquire from UWA directly about availability and payment methods.
What is the Gorilla Trekking Procedure in Bwindi?
Just like all the other National Parks in Uganda, the management of Bwindi also has procedures it follows concerning Gorilla Trekking. The trekker/tourist must have a gorilla trekking permit, which allows him/her to track gorillas. The permit is given by the Uganda Wildlife Authority. The price of the gorilla tracking permit depends of the individual’s nationality. I.e. East African citizens pay 250,000 Uganda shillings, Foreign Residents pay USD 600 and the foreign non-residents pay USD 700.
The gorilla permits show the tacking date and the sector where the tourist will track and ought to be presented at the gate on the day of tracking. On the tracking day, you ought to be early enough and present your permit, tracking starts at 8:00am.
Before tracking starts, all trekkers have to go through briefing which is done by the park rangers who elaborates more on how the whole gorilla trekking process goes. After briefing, the ranger guides assign every person to a group that will track a particular gorilla family. After that tracking begins led by the skilled ranger guides who take you through the whole process. Gorilla tracking can take two hours or up to 6 hours depending on the location of the Gorillas.
A maximum of an hour is given to trekkers to spend and interact with the mighty giants. In this one hour, you will get to know the background of these gorillas, their feeding, nesting and behaviors. After tracking, you return to the park headquarters where you are given a certificate that shows that you tracked. It is an amazing experience altogether.
Gorilla permits are always on high demand hence it requires the traveller to book earlier before the tracking dates to avoid any inconveniences especially in the peak season. Some travellers book 3 months, 6 months or one year in advance. Also note that, only persons above the age of 15 are allowed to track gorillas.
How long does Gorilla tracking last?
Tracking gorillas can last for 2 hours to 5 or 6 hours. The trekking time depends on several factors such as the movement and location of the gorillas or the pace at which the trekkers are moving because some might be fast and others slow.
What is the Chance of Meeting Gorillas while Tracking?
The chance of meeting or seeing gorillas in Bwindi is over 99%. It is rarely heard of that someone didn’t see Mountain Gorillas as they tracked, actually research shows only one person didn’t see them on the first day of tracking in the past decade, however, they were able to see them on their second day of tracking.
The only way a person might not see gorillas while in Bwindi, is when they don’t go for tracking by choice or when they get an illness and are not able to track.
When to Track Gorillas
In Bwindi, gorilla tracking is done all year round, however the main seasons which many refer to as the ‘peak season’ are from December to March and from Mid-June to Early-October. These seasons are the dry seasons hence the park is easily access and tracking is made easier since the tracks are dry and not slippery.
However, Bwindi forest is a tropical rainforest and it can rain anytime of the day whether in the dry or in the wet season. That is why trekkers are advised to always pack rain gears and other accessories as they plan to go for gorilla trekking.
Gorilla permits are on high demand during the peak season hence you are advised to make your booking and payment or the permit before the tracking date, if you intend to travel in the busy season.
This is likened to gorilla trekking except it allows trekkers to spend more hours around 4 hours with the gorillas than the normal trekking which lasts one hour. Gorilla Habituation is very exciting because it allows the tourist to learn more about the gorillas, especially their behaviors.
In Uganda, Gorilla Habituation experience takes place only in Rushaga Sector, found in Bwindi. Gorilla habituation can be anytime of the year however the best time is around December to March and from June to September.
What to pack for Gorilla Tracking
You ought to carry or pack; a gorilla tracking permit, personal identification, sturdy shoes or hiking boots, insect repellents, a camera, rain gear, pair of trousers, long-sleeved shirt, snacks, drinking water, and sunglasses.
Other Activities/Attractions in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
When Bwindi Impenetrable is mentioned somewhere, all someone thinks about is the breathtaking gorilla trekking experience, which is true since it is the main activity and attraction in the park. However, Bwindi is a thick forest and harbors other wildlife species, birds, butterflies and several other features which offer opportunity to engage in other activities.
Wildlife Viewing in Bwindi Impenetrable
There are over 120 species of mammals found in Bwindi, however some are rarely seen as they hide in the thick forest. The mammals include both the small and large mammals such as the forest buffaloes, forest elephants, golden cats, duikers, giant forest hogs, bush pigs, civets, jackals, clawless otters, and a number of rodents and bats.
The park has over 11 species of primates in Bwindi and these include; the Mountain Gorillas which are the main attraction in this park, the L’Hoest’s monkeys, Baboons, Red Tailed Monkeys, Chimpanzees, Black and White colobus monkey, De Brazza monkey, Galago, Pottos and the Blue Monkeys.
Amphibian, Reptile and Butterfly Species in Bwindi
Bwindi Forest harbors over 27 amphibian species with 11 of them being endemic to the Albertine rift. It is also a great place for researchers that are interested in butterflies since it hosts over 200 species of butterflies, this number entails the 8 endemics of the Albertine Rift. There are also 14 species of lizards and 14 species of snakes
Birding in Bwindi Impenetrable
Bwindi Forest ranks among the top birding spots in Uganda with over 350 species including 23 endemics of the Albertine Rift. The birds are very unique and beautiful and they include the Chaplain flycatchers, Grauer’s Broadbills, Fraser’s Eagle, Black-billed Turaco, Collared Apalis, Sunbirds, Pigeons, Kivu ground-thrush, Green tinker birds, Handsome Francolin, Black Bee-eater, Rwenzori Batis and many more.
Birding while in Bwindi takes place in Buhoma and Ruhija Sector along the waterfall trail and Mubwindi Swamp respectively.
Guided Nature Walks in Bwindi
The park has a number of trails through the forest that suit the tourist’s interests. They include, the Muyanga Waterfall trail that lead to the waterfalls, there is a 5 hours trail from Buhoma to Nkuringo, 6km Muzubijiro Loop which has birds and primates and others.
Mountain Biking and Hiking
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is situated n a mountainous region of Kigezi, hence has a spectacular scenery. And for those that would like to explore its beauty more can do it by hiking or biking along the mountain slopes. You can rent bikes from the lodges at a fee and follow various trails through communities and farmlands.
Cultural Experiences and Community Visits
The Batwa Pygmy of Bwindi
These are an ancient group of people that used to stay in Bwindi forest, however after Bwindi forest was gazetted as a national park, they were driven out of the thickets, and they currently live outside the park. They are known as hunter-gatherers who majorly depend on gathering fruits and hunting wild animals for food. Up to today, the Batwa still practice hunting and gathering.
When visitors come to Bwindi Park, they usually crown the day of tracking with a visit to the Batwa Community/Village for a cultural experience. This community visit rewards you with amazing stories about this culture, and also allows you to see them use their hunting materials, build houses, sing and dance.
Getting to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
The park can be accessed from any region of Uganda and the Northern Part of Rwanda. From Kampala, which is the Capital city of Uganda, the journey time by road is 8-9 hours as you drive to Bwindi following the Masaka-Mbarara Highway, to Kanungu, to Kabale and to Kisoro respectively. Please note that the journey time depends on which sector of Bwindi you are going to.
Bwindi can also be accessed by road from Kigali, Rwanda from the different border posts. It takes about 4 hours to get to the park, but also the journey time depends on which sector you will be trekking gorillas from.
It is also possible to access Bwindi by air using charter flights flying from Entebbe or Kajjansi to the different airfields near the park. The Kihihi airstrip serves both Ruhija and Buhoma sectors. There is also another airstrip in the southern part of the park that serves Nkuringo and Rushaga sectors.
Where to Stay in Bwindi
The park has many accommodation options ranging from Budget to Luxurious facilities. The choice of where to stay is up to the traveller or the traveller can seek guidance from the accommodation facility or the tour operator they are using for their safari.
Also choosing the accommodation facility depends on which sector of Bwindi you will track gorillas. Like we mentioned above the park has four sectors (Buhoma, Rushaga, Ruhija and Nkuringo) where gorillas can be tracked.
We advise travellers, to also choose the accommodation facility early prior to the tracking date especially during the peak season.
We have listed below some lodges and the location where they are found.
Ruhija Sector: Bakiga Lodge, Agandi Lodge, 4 Gorilla Lodge, trekker’s Tavern, Ruhija Safari Lodge
Buhoma Sector: Mahogany Springs, Silverback lodge, Buhoma Lodge, Bwindi Lodge, and Haven Lodge.
Nkuringo Sector: Nkuringo Safari Lodge, Clouds Lodge, and Gorilla Heights,
Rushaga Sector: Bweza lodge, Rushaga Gorilla Camp, Chameleon Hill lodge, Ichumbi Lodge.