Bwindi Impenetrable Forest , the famous gorilla territory in the world is one of the top exclusive places to visit in Africa. Tours to this renowned safari park have become popular among travellers traveling to East Africa most especially Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya or Tanzania. A Uganda safari cannot be complete without taking a gorilla safari that leads you into the jungles of Bwindi tropical Forest, an exploratory tour to meet the endangered mountain gorillas eye to eye in the wild.
Though gorilla tourism is still in the infant stage, Uganda as a country has become famous among world travellers largely because of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Because of its popularity it is no surprise that Uganda was recently voted as number one tourist destination for 2012 by Lonely Planet (the largest travel guide book and digital media publisher in the world).
Where is Bwindi?
Bwindi Impenetrable Park is located in south western Uganda and hosts 120 species of mammals and about 360 species of birds and over 200 species of butterflies. A maximum of eight visitors per group are allowed to trek every day. There are hiking trails to see and learn about primates, birds, trees and butterflies.
Bwindi impenetrable national park lies in southern Uganda on the edge of the Rift valley. It is 331sq km; it is home to half of the world’s mountain gorillas, whose encounter and consequent eye contact is the most exciting and poignant wildlife encounter in the whole of Africa.
Its mist-covered hillsides are blanketed by one of Uganda’s oldest and most biologically diverse rain forests, which dates back over 25,000 years and contains almost 400 species of plants. More famously, this impenetrable forest also protects an estimated 320 mountain gorillas roughly half of the world’s population, including several habituated groups, which can be tracked.
This biologically diverse region also provides shelter to a further 120 mammals, including several primate species such as baboons and chimpanzees, as well as elephants and antelopes. There are around 350 species of birds hosted in this forest, including 23 Albertine Rift endemics. The neighboring towns of Buhoma and Nkuringo both have an impressive array of luxury lodges, rustic bandas and budget campsites as well as restaurants, craft stalls and guiding services. Opportunities abound to discover the local Bakiga and Batwa pygmy cultures through performances, workshops and village walks. Bwindi national park is a UNESCO designated world heritage site popular for mountain gorillas and chimpanzees, the two great African apes listed as endangered animals in the IUCN Red Data Book.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park has gorilla trekking as the major tourist attraction with 4 gorilla tracking trail-heads. Also, 9 groups of mountain gorilla families have been habituated and only 8 tourists booked per group per day. Forest trails in the park lead to various attractions including rivers, waterfalls, swamps and high level of wildlife concentration. Birding is another attraction that provides great opportunities to see various Albertine rift endemics such as the short-tailed warbler. A 6 hour bamboo trail leads to Rwamunyonyi peak, at 2607m, is the highest peak and notable spot for birding. While a 3hr descend to Mubwindi swamp could lead a visitor to endemic and localized African green broadbill. Other rewarding activities are mountain biking and nature walks to waterfalls and parts of the forest. A short drive north to Buhoma, which sits on the Congo border, offers wonderful hikes along the hill crests and rivers to discover waterfalls, glorious views and the traditional lifestyle and folklore of the Kigezi people. Tourism to Bwindi focuses on gorilla tracking at four locations: Buhoma in the northwest of the park, Ruhija in the east, Nkuringo in the southwest and Rushaga in the south.
A gorilla safari in Uganda is one of the highlight of most travels made to this beautiful country located in Eastern Africa. Most holidays in Uganda cannot end without taking a gorilla trekking trip to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park or Mgahinga Gorilla Park, two of the four national parks in Africa that host the mountain gorillas. These two parks are all located in south western Uganda.
Places to Go
The wild Bwindi National Park which occupies an estimated area of 331 square kilometers is habitat to almost half of the world’s endangered species of the mountain gorillas. A drive by car from Kampala to the park takes around 8 to 10 hours. However gorilla trekking activities are done in the four different sectors where several mountain gorilla families have been habituated. These four sectors are Buhoma sector, Ruhija sector, Rushaga and Nkuringo sectors.
Among these sectors, Buhoma sector was the first to be established for gorilla tourism and it’s the well-known by tourists. This is where most of gorilla trekking activities are done. The sector is also starting point for various nature walks trails and among these include; the Munyanga River Trails, Rushura Hill Trail as well as the Muzabajiro Loop Trail and the River Ivi Trail.
Within Bwindi Forest, gorilla trekking safaris are also carried out in the Nkuringo sector which is positioned next to the Buhoma sector. The sector is located just a distance of about 10km from Buhoma. A drive through the Impenetrable forest roughly takes 4 hours to reach the Nkuringo side from Buhoma.
The Ruhija sector is one of the best trekking areas when one can enjoy gorilla trekking safaris in Uganda. The region is the most remote part of the park compared to other trekking sectors and the sector is very much recommended due to its being gifted with various bird species which can be easily sighted when one is trekking the mountain gorillas.
Trekking gorillas in this particular sector exposes the visitors to a three hour hike trail where visitors can tour the Mubwindi swamp which is the heaven for the bird watchers because in this place they can enjoy the sounds and sights of countless bird species. The habituated gorilla families which can be trekked in this area include the Ruhija gorilla family as well as Bitukura gorilla group and Kyaguriro gorilla group.
The Rushaga sector is one of the prominent regions where one can enjoy gorilla trekking safaris but it comes at cost of walking and hiking the various hills which are dominant in the sector.Trekking is challenging but very rewarding to those visitors who take time to participate in it.The region is where one can get the various habituated gorilla families living in various hills located in the area. Some of these gorilla groups include Mishaya gorilla group, Nshongi gorilla family, as well as Kahungye, and Busingyegorilla groups. It lies between Kabale and Nkuringo when one is travelling from either Kampala or Ruhija.
Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi
There are several ways you can reserve the gorilla permits in Uganda;
- Through the Uganda Wildlife Authority
- Through a local tour operator
- Booking a fully inclusive gorilla safari with a local tour operator or a travel agency.
Today there are 20 habituated gorilla families that can be visited in Bwindi and are open to receiving travellers every day through out the year. These include Nkuringo, Habinyanja, Rushegura, Busingye, Kahungye, and Mubare Every year, many tourists flock to Bwindi to see the endangered mountain gorillas in the wild on a pre arranged safari. There are several requirements for a gorilla trekking experience;
- Booking a gorilla permit in advance especially for tours within the Peak Season (June – September & December). Eight gorilla permits are available per day and are not transferable, yet expired the day on which they are reserved.
- You need a passport to book a gorilla permit for your adventure
A gorilla permit costs US$700 (foreign visitors), US$600 (East African Foreign Residents) and Ushs. 250,000 (for Ugandans).