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Bwindi was gazetted as a National Park in 1991 and declared a UNESCO Natural World Heritage site in 1994. Previously designated as a forest reserve, with relatively liberal (and rarely enforced) regulations regarding access rights, it was accorded higher protection status in 1991 as a national park, in recognition of its high levels of biodiversity and the perceived threats to its long-term integrity. The new national park was renamed Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP). This had the immediate effect of closing all access to the forest for adjacent communities, but it's benefits to them remained and increased.

Bwindi as a large area of exploration

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP) covers an area of 321 km² between 1,160m and 2,607m above sea level. That is, 321 km² ready for you to explore any time of the year mostly on foot with Dream Treks Africa Limited. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest represents one of the oldest (50 million years), most complex and biologically rich systems on earth. In addition to its biodiversity value, Bwindi also has a significant regulatory function on local climate of the surrounding areas of Kisoro, Rubanda, Kabale and Kanungu, and acts as an important water catchment area.

The sixteen habituated gorilla groups of Bwindi:

As of June 2019, there are 16 habituated gorilla groups in Uganda which are for tourism purposes. Of these 16 groups, 15 are within different locations in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and 01 in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. The Mubare gorilla group at Buhoma was the first to be habituated for tourism in Bwindi in April 1993. A total of fifteen groups have now been habituated for tourism and are tracked from four trailheads with each group comprising of 8 to 40 members of varying ages headed by a silverback gorillas (the oldest male) in the group. At Dream Treks Africa  we will naturally organize your trip to any of the 16 habituated gorilla groups or families available or of your choice,  contact us for planning your itenary and/or gorilla tracking.

These include Mubare, Habinyanja, Rushegura, Bitukura, Oruzogo, Nkuringo, Nshongi, Mishaya, Kahungye, Bweza, Busingye, Nyakagezi and the research group at Kyaguriro among others.

The Bwindi gorilla groups are organized according to the location; Buhoma area currently having 5 groups, Ruhija area currently having 4 groups, Nkuringo area group having 2 Gorilla groups (One group for habituation experience only) and Rushaga area having 5 groups (One group for habituation experience only). The two groups under Gorilla Habituation Experience have a special arrangement where one can visit these groups for habituation experience spending a maximum four hours in each visit. There is only one gorilla group available for tourism in Mgahinga gorilla National Park.

Mountain Gorillas
Mountain Gorilla Family

Uganda’s foremost tourist attraction, and indeed one of the world’s most remarkable wildlife encounters, is tracking mountain gorillas through the remote Bwindi Impenetrable forest of south-western Uganda. These magnificent apes are both rare and endangered; their total population numbers less than 800 animals divided between the forests of Bwindi Impenetrable and the nearby Virunga volcanoes. With fifteen groups habituated for tourism, the Impenetrable Forest is the world’s primary mountain gorilla tracking destination.

The waterfalls and rift valley view points

There is however much more to Bwindi than gorilla tracking. Forest trails lead to scenic waterfalls and rift valley viewpoints while community walks through local villages provide insights into the lives of the Batwa (Pygmy) and Bakiga people living beside the forest. Bwindi is also one of Uganda’s top birdwatching destinations with many Albertine Rift endemics present, notably in the high, draughty Ruhija sector.

The ice age clues of Bwindi

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is one of Africa’s oldest and richest forests - one of few that predate the arid conditions of the last ice age, 12,000-18,000 years ago. The Bwindi Impenetrable National Park has been weaving itself into tangles across the fissured and folded margin of the Albertine Rift Valley for some 25,000 years. In the process it has accumulated a remarkable biodiversity, thanks also to an 1147m altitudinal range that accommodates habitats ranging from lowland forest at 1,160m to rare Afromontane vegetation above 2,600m.

 Diversified animal Species

Species counts range between 348 to 357 species of birds as recorded by different sources, and other sources extend the number of bird species to 360.  Others include 220 -310 butterflies, 88 moths, 200 trees, 51 reptiles with 27 species of frogs and 120 types of mammal. The latter includes several primates, among them chimpanzees, blue monkeys, L’Hoest’s monkey, and, the star of the Impenetrable show; the mountain gorilla. Floristically, the park is among the most diverse forests in East Africa, with more than 1,000 flowering plant species, including 163 species of trees and 104 species of ferns.

 

Birdlife is exceptionally rich including 23 endemics (90% of all Albertine Rift endemics) such as the shorttailed warbler, Shelley’s crimson wing, African green broadbill and the blue-headed sunbird, and seven IUCN Red Data List species. Fourteen species, including the brown-necked parrot and the white-bellied robin chat, occur nowhere else in Uganda

The human residents

The Bwindi area is the home of the Bakiga, a farming people who are responsible for the striking terraced hillsides that extend up to the edge of the forest to the south of Bwindi. Traditionally the interior of Bwindi was home to Batwa (Pygmy) hunter-gatherers who now live on the edge of the forest. The Batwa were the only inhabitants of Bwindi forest and its surrounding areas up until the mid 16th Century.

How to get to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

The main trailhead at Buhoma located in the  North  of Bwindi is about 460kms from Kampala and can be reached by road from several directions.  So, why  is Buhoma  the main trailhead and not any other? The main safari circuit approaches from the north through the Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park, providing a chance to search for the famous tree-climbing lions. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is 160kms from Mweya in central Queen Elizabeth National Park and 62 kms from Ishasha corridor. The most direct route from Kampala follows a surfaced road to Rukungiri via Mbarara and Ntungamo. A slow dirt road then winds through the highlands to Buhoma via Kihihi and Butogota.  Buhoma in  there are  five habituated gorilla families, that is,  
 (i) Mabare  gorilla family why nine members and  it got  ideas name from Mabare  hills in Kanungu  District.
(ii) Habinyanja  gorilla family with  fourteen members.
(iii) Rushegura gorilla  family with sixteen members.
(iv) Muyambi  gorilla family with six  members
(v) Katwe  gorilla  family, which is said to have emerged in 2018 and has eight  family members

Ruhija trailhead is best accessed from the Kampala-Kisoro road, turning north from the surfaced highway 18km beyond Kabale town. The southerly Rushaga and Nkuringo trailheads can be reached using dirt roads leading west from Muko, midway on the surfaced Kabale -Kisoro road, and north from Kisoro town. Note: a 4x4 vehicle is recommended for a Bwindi visit. Air Travellers can fly from Entebbe International Airport or Kampala’s Kajjansi airfield to Kisoro (for Nkuringo, Rushaga and Ruhija) and to Savanna and Ishasha airstrips (for Buhoma). Prior transport arrangements for transfer to the park are required.

 The climate in Bwindi

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. As well as warm clothing, wet weather gear is essential since Bwindi receives up to 2,390 mm of rain per year. The park can be visited any time of the year.

Where to stay

There  are accommodation facilities at the four trailheads  that cater for up-market, mid range and budget visitors. Ruhija trailhead can also be reached from hotels in Kabale and Lake Bunyonyi, while visitors to Rushaga and Nkuringo have the option of staying in Kisoro or Lake Mutanda. At Dream Treks Africa, we help you with the best and safest lodging arrangements that suit your specific taste and budget.

Attractive things to do in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Mountain gorilla tracking is the highlight of a visit to Bwindi - and the climax of the long journey to the Impenetrable Forest by any transport means, say air, car, bike or  forest trail - with a thrilling hour in the company of a family of mountain gorillas. Tracking the gorillas can last from a few hours to a whole day, depending on how far the group has moved since it was observed nesting up the previous evening. Bwindi has fifteen habituated gorilla groups that are tracked from four trailheads. Three of these groups are found in the vicinity of Buhoma in northwest Bwindi; four at Ruhija in the east; and eight at the park’s southern trailheads at Nkuringo and Rushaga.

About gorilla tracking permits

Eight permits are available to track each of the fifteen habituated groups, giving a daily maximum of 120 permits. Permits can be booked for tourists through Dream Treks Africa in advance. Registration commences at 07.30 hours  followed by a briefing at 08.00 hours. Tracking starts at 08.30.


Gorilla rules To protect the gorillas and visitors

A number of rules and guidelines have been set and must be adhered to. Ensure you get a copy of these rules from the reservations office or at the park, or easier from Dream Treks Africa as your tour travel agents. Note that visitors participating in gorilla tracking must be aged 15 or over.

Birding in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Bwindi’s four trailheads all offer excellent birding opportunities with the prospect of checking off forest rarities. The River Ivi Trail between Buhoma and Nkuringo is recommended, as is Buhoma’s forest-edge Munyaga River Trail. Ruhija’s Bamboo Trail, leading to the 2607m Rwamunyoni peak, and Mubwindi Swamp Trail are renowned for Albertine Rift endemics including the localized green broadbill. Nature walks Though gorilla tracking is the main attraction, other walks provide more relaxed opportunities to explore one of Uganda’s loveliest rainforests. The following walks can be arranged to depart in the morning at 09.00 and in the afternoon at 14.00.

Munyanga River Trail, in the valley below the Buhoma trailhead, provides a short walk to view birds and primates along the forest edge. Waterfall Trail leads through one of Uganda’s most pristine tracts of rainforest, passing beneath tree ferns, epiphytic ferns and orchids to visit three sparking crystal clear waterfalls.

Rushura Hill Trail provides expansive views across the plains of the Albertine Rift Valley and (on clear days) to Lake Edward and the Rwenzori Mountains to the north.

Muzabajiro Loop Trail climbs to the summit of Rukubira Hill for breathtaking views of Bwindi forest, the Albertine Rift Valley and the Virunga volcanoes.

River Ivi Trail follows an old road through beautiful forest emerging near Nkuringo on the southern edge of the forest.

Community walks through forest edge villages at Buhoma and Nkuringo provide insights into the lives of the local Batwa (Pygmy) and Bakiga peoples. The Buniga Forest Walk at Nkuringo is conducted by Batwa guides who demonstrate their traditional forest lore.

 
Conclusion:

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is one major and interesting destination you should not only include on your wishlist,  but include on that list of places you must visit before leaving Uganda. There is more to this natural forest than writing can include. Book your visit to Bwindi through Dream Treks Africa and you'll have the best exploration and adventure time of your life.

Information sources

1.     Brochure by Uganda Wildlife Authority in Pdf - http://ugandawildlife.org/download/category/3-park-brochures?download=1:bwindi-cc-2018-2

2.     The impact of (forest) nature conservation on indigenous peoples: the Batwa of south-western by Penninah Zaninka

3.     Natural resource conflict management: the case of Bwindi Impenetrable and Mgahinga Gorilla National Parks, southwestern Uganda by Tom Blomley. CARE International (Uganda)

4.     https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bwindi_Impenetrable_National_Park#Biodiversity