Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is located in southwestern Uganda at an area of 321km2 and altitude between 1,160 – 2,607 km above sea level. This gorilla safari park stretches for 32,092 ha and is one of the giant afro montane lowland forests in East Africa. The park at its altitude is said to have a bigger number of trees than any other similar forest in east Africa.Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is rich in bio-diversity with a great number of butterfly species, tress, wildlife and massive mammal concentration in the whole of Africa.
The most common and worldly known attraction in Bwindi impenetrable Forest National park is the mountain gorillas which are critically endangered on the global scale as listed by the IUCN. This forest park is categorized under the most forests on the continent of Africa with at least 163 species of trees and 104, 214 species of birds, 120 species of mammals, 7 species of diurnal primates, and 202 species of butterflies.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park features dense undergrowth mixed with mature tropical trees on a rugged landscape, all of which justify this park as an impenetrable forest. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is home to nine endangered species of African montane wildlife which include Cercopithecus l’hoesti, l’Hoest’s monkey, mountain gorilla, common chimpanzee, African green broadbill, Grauer’s rush warbler, African giant swallowtail, African elephant, Chaplin’s flycatcher and cream-banded swallowtail.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest national park started as Kayonza and Kasatora crown forest reserves in the north and southern sectors respectively at an area of 20,700ha. In 1948, the two crown reserves were added to the Impenetrable central crown forest reserve and in 1961, the whole area was gazzeted as a sanctuary for animals because of need to protect the mountains gorillas. In 1991 the area finally received the status of a national park and hence the current Bwindi impenetrable forest national park.
The image of Bwindi national park is still surrounded by mystery because of the horrific legend from which its name (Bwindi) was derived. History believes that, over the century back, people from the distant areas were transferring from the dense populated south to the less populated north, looking for a bigger and fertile area for farming. Because the only means of transport by then was by foot, people would trek for days, weeks and sometimes months up to the destination. Sadly, as one family was transferring from the south to the north, they reached a swamp which they could not traverse and as they were still stranded, the swamp spirit offered them help but at an exchange of “Nnyinamukari” the family`s favorite daughter. The family felt stuck, they spent two days in contemplation but could hardly do anything else other than giving in their daughter and they were assisted to cross to the north. As you know how bad news spread, the whole communities around the place got to know about the incident and they started fearing the place. They nicknamed the swamp “Mubwindi bwa Nnyinamukari” (the dark place of Nnyinamukari). This historical swamp still exists and the whole forest is now called Bwindi.
Attractions in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Forest National Park, Uganda
Mountain gorillas are shy vegetarian apes that are less offensive as they appear to be. But when provoked, the gorilla rises to erect position and beat its cupped hands on the chest to frighten the enemy. The male gorilla weighs between 140 to 275kg and the female gorilla is 40 to 50 % smaller than the male one. Gorillas whether male of female have enough energy to pull trees and rip tree branches. They spend most of their daily time foraging, however they make resting breaks.
Bwindi Impenetrable forest national park is home to more than half of of the 1008 mountain gorillas that live freely in the world.
The four regions of Bwindi inhabit a total of 12 gorilla families that have been habituated for trekking and these include;
- Ruhija- Bitukura, Oruzogo and Kyaguriro
- Buhoma- Mubare, Habinyanja and Rushegura.
- Nkuringo – Nkuringo Gorilla group.
- Rushaga – Nshongi, Mishaya, Kahungye, Bweza and Busingye
Mubare Gorilla Family. It is the oldest gorilla family with 8 members and 1 silverback. It is the first family to be habituated for trekking in 1991 after this family was first sighted in the Mubare hills of the park. It received its first official visit two years later in 1993. Kanyonyozi is the family head (silverback of the Mubare group) and he succeeded Ruhondeza who abandoned the family after serious attacks.
Because of easy connection to Buhoma region from queen Elizabeth national park, gorilla permits are on a high demand and trekking this group needs advance booking.
- Habinyanja Gorilla Family.
This has 18 members with two silverbacks. This family started receiving visitors in 1999 (3 years after habituation). Nyanza from which this gorilla family`s name was derived means a pool of water-referring to that in Buhoma region where this gamily was first sighted. This groups however splint into two and formed another group called Rushegura.
- Rushegura Gorilla Family.
Rushegura has 19 members with 1 silverback. This group started in 2002 after separation from Habinyanja. It is a very calm family of gorillas and it lives in close proximity of Buhoma village. This group is sometimes seen in the gardens of Gorilla Forest Camp, this gives chance for guests to watch from their room.
Ruhija region of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park
- Bitukura Gorilla family.
Bitukura has 14 members with 4 silverbacks. This group was first sighted around river Bitukura in 2007 and that’s how this family name came about. The group members of this group are first learners, at on 15 months of habituation, these gorillas were ready for tracking and yet others take 2 years. This family group had 24 members but because of instabilities in the family, they went on separating up to the current number.
- Oruzogo Gorilla Family.
Oruzogo contains 23 members with one silverback called Tibirikwata who is also the head of the family. The official trekking of the Oruzogo family started in 2011 and it is one of the most entertaining gorilla groups because of a number of juveniles and toddlers in this group that are more playful.
Kyaguriro Gorilla Family. Kyaguriro is a 15-member gorilla family with 2 silverbacks. For the past years, this family has been used for research but not it is even open for trekking by the tourists.
- Nkuringo Gorilla Family.
This is a group to 19 members with 2 silverbacks and trekking this family started in 2000. What fueled this group was mainly because it used to encroach people’s plantations and spoil their crops like potatoes. This group had two twin baby gorillas (Katungi and Muhoozi) unfortunately katungi died. Trekking this gorilla family is considered as the most challenging however trekkers have not complained, because of the experience.
- Nshongi Gorilla family.
This family derived its name from the local river Nshongi where the group was first sighted. It has 18 members and it is one of the oldest gorilla families to be habituated. The family has 4 silverbacks and the head is called Nshongi, the leading silverback is surprisingly not the oldest but bit has lived in harmony with the remaining 3 silverbacks, and that’s a true sign of leadership. Nshongi gorilla family had a big number of members but they went on separating and the last groups to separate from the Nshongi group is the Mishaya in 2010 and the Bweza in 2013.
- Mishaya Gorilla Family.
It has 7 members with 1 Silverback. Mwiine is the leading silverback who succeeded from Mishaya a strong fighter who would raid other groups and conquer females into his family. Unfortunately, he died in 2014 and Mwiine had to take over.
- Kahungye Gorilla Family.
It has 13 members with 3 silverbacks. This name is derived from a local hill called Kahungye. Rumanzi is the dominant silverback of the family. Official trekking of this gorilla family started in 2011. This group was big with 27 members but later it separating and other groups were formed mainly Busingye and Kahungye.
- Bweza Gorilla Family.
This is a family of 7members headed by 1 silverback. The members of this family split from the Mishaya gorilla family in 2012. It was anticipated by the management of the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) that at some day this group will later go back to re-unite with the Mishaya group but this has not happened and the Bweza group is now an independent gorilla family, well habituated and available for visitors to trek.
- Busingye Gorilla Family.
In this gorilla family group, the members are 9 headed by 1 Silverback. This group was established in June 2012 after the adult members split themselves from the Kahungye group. The family has 2 female adults, 1 silverback and the rest of the members are juveniles. Busingye is a local word which means peace, however the name of this group is contrary to what the group members do, it is among the most provocative family groups which like fighting other gorilla families in the impenetrable forest.
Batwa People Near Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park
The Batwa also called the pygmies are said to be the last group of short people also known as the Twa. Their physical structure and cultural heritage of the Batwa has become a hot spot for most visitors who undertake safaris in Uganda. Originally, the Batwa live in Bwindi Impenetrable forest national park where they survived as hunters and food gatherers but after the establishment of Bwindi National park, the park authority evicted the Batwa from the forest for purposes of conserving the rare mountain gorillas which were almost facing extinction and now they flourish on the communities around Bwindi forest national park but not in the forest itself.
The Batwa considered themselves as the keepers of the forest, they hunt small game using arrows and bows. They would also harvest honey, gather wild roots and wild fruits. They would use climbing plants and tree leaves to build their houses.
After the eviction of the Batwa, some personalities and non-government organizations came up to help them improve their lives. They built for them schools, good houses and hospital to support their lives.
Birds in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is one of the most ideal afro-montane birding areas in the continent of Africa. The park is home to 350 species of birds of which 23 bird species are endemic to the Albertine rift and 14 species only endemic to this park in the whole of Uganda. Some of the rare bird species that are found in Bwindi impenetrable Forest National park include; African Green Broadbill and Shelley’s Crimson wing. There are also other interesting bird species like Handsome Francolin, Black and Cinnamon-chested Bee-eaters, Black-billed Turaco, Western Green Tinker bird, African Broadbill, Regal Sunbirds, western Green Tinker bird, Purple-breasted, Short-tailed and Black-faced Rufous Warblers, yellow-streaked Greenbuls, Mountain-masked and Collared Apalis, red-faced woodland Warbler, colored Bush-Shrike, Ruwenzori batis, handsome Francolin, Mountain and Yellow-streaked Greenbuls and white-tailed crested Flycatcher among others. Ruhija region is a great birding area with many counts of bird species.
Tourist activities in Bwindi impenetrable Forest national Park
Gorilla tracking in Bwindi
Gorilla trekking is the major tourism activity in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and it has set this park above many protected areas in the world. Bwindi national park is home to over half of the 1008 mountains gorillas that still thrive freely in the whole world. Bwindi is the most ideal park for gorilla trekking in Uganda and the whole world as a whole. Bwindi has fully habituated mountain gorillas available for tracking from four respective regions namely Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga and Nkuringo.
Only 8 people are allowed to track a single gorilla family in a day spending strictly one hour while interacting with the gorillas. The starting time for gorilla trekking in Uganda is 8am with a briefing at the park headquarters and the entire gorilla trekking process takes between 2 to 8hours.
Every visitor requires a gorilla permit to track mountain gorillas and this permits costs 600USD per person. Gorilla tracking in Uganda is done all year round but best done in the dry season.
Nature walks in Bwindi
There are mainly six nature trains that are designed to enable visitors explore Bwindi impenetrable Forest National Park. These include Munyange waterfall trail in Buhoma region- good for primates and birdwatching, Rushura Hill trail which provides with the opportunities to view the peaks of Rwenzori and Virunga Mountain ranges, and lakes like lake Edward and lake Gorge as well as the scenery of the Rift Valley floor. Muzabajiro loop also allows the views of Virunga ranges, primates and birds. At the top of this trails, picnicking is much rewarding. Other trails include Ivi River walk, Buhoma-Nkuringo Trail and Habinyanja trail.
Birdwatching in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park
Birders in Bwindi national park are exposed to over 350 species of birds of which 23 species are only found here. Birding in Bwindi is best done in the evening of early morning through the trails in the park and this would provide a memorable experience to visitors on a birding tour. Visitors in Bwindi for birding should expect to encounter birds such as African blue and white-tailed blue flycatchers, African Emerald cuckoo, Short tailed warbler, Blue headed sun bird, Red headed blue bill, Common Bulbul. Birding spots in Bwindi include the Buhoma waterfall trail, and Mubwindi swamp trail in Ruhija.
Diverse cultural groups surround Bwindi National Park, they include the Bakiga, Bafumbira and the Batwa with their interesting traditions that are designed to entertain visitors to Uganda with a memorable rewarding experience. Some of the community groups that provide visitors with rich Ugandan cultural traditions in Bwindi include Buhoma Community Tours / Mukono Development Association, Nkuringo Community Conservation and Development Foundation (NCCDF), Buniga Forest Nature Walk, Nkuringo Cultural Centre (NCC), Nyundo Community Eco-Trail and Rubuguri Village Walk (NCC) among others.
Accommodation/ where to stay in Bwindi
There are various accommodation facilities in Bwindi impenetrable National Park from High end, midrange/ standard and budget facilities. Some accommodations facilities in Bwindi National park include;
Buhoma Region: Ride for a Woman Homestead for Budget Option, Buhoma Haven Lodge, Engagi Lodge, Silverback Lodge for Midrange, for upmarket options Buhoma Lodge, Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp, Mahogany Springs, Volcanoes Safaris Bwindi Lodge, Trackers Safari Lodge.
Nkuringo Region: Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge, Nkuringo Gorilla Lodge, Nshongi Camp, Chameleon Hill Lodge
Ruhija Region: Ruhija Gorilla Safari Lodge, Gorilla Friends Lodge, Ruhija Gorilla Mist Camp, Trekkers Tavern cottages, Gift of Nature Lodge, Ruhija Community Rest Camp, Rubugiri Area, Wagtail Eco-safari camp.
Rushaga Region: Gorilla Safari Lodge, Ichumbi Gorilla Lodge, Four Gorilla Lodge
How to get to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
Bwindi National Park has 4 regions namely; Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga and Nkuringo. These regions can be accessed by visitors from different areas of the country and they include the following.
From Kampala, Buhoma region is located 527km 10hrs drive), Rushaga is 510km, Ruhija is 473km and Nkuringo is 517km.
From Kigali in Rwanda, Buhoma is located 232km (5hours drive), Ruhija 170km, Rushaga 169km and Nkuringo 214km.
From Kibale National Park, Buhoma is located 280km (7hours drive), Ruhija 338km, Rushaga 429km and Nkuringo 436km.
From Mweya (Queen Elizabeth National Park), it takes 160km (5hours) of drive to reach Buhoma, 309km to reach Rushaga, 218km to reach Ruhija and 316km to reach Nkuringo.
All the routes heading to Bwindi Impenetrable National park require visitors to use a 4×4 wheel drive especially in the rainy season.
There are domestic airlines which conduct scheduled flights from Entebbe international airport to Kihihi and Nyakabande airstrips in Kisoro for example Aero link. The easiest connection from Kihihi airstrip is to Buhoma and Ruhija regions while from Nyakabande airstrip in easier for Nkuringo and Rushaga.