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Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park

‘The home of almost half of the world’s population of the endangered mountain gorillas’

Bwindi Impenetrable forest national park was named the oldest national park in Uganda. This was after the park was confirmed to have survived the last ice age.  The park encompasses the Bwindi Impenetrable forest, rivers Munyaga, Ihihizo, Ishasha and Ntengyere and an enchanting assortment of wildlife. The trees and plant life in this forest are believed to be 25,000 years old.

The park was named “Impenetrable” because of its thick vines and creepers that grace the floor of the forest, making it nearly impossible to walk through. Standing at an elevation of 1,190 to 2,607 meters above sea level, Bwindi Impenetrable forest national park thrives at the edge of the western rift valley in the highest parts of the kigezi highlands. The highest point is at Rwamunyonyi hill in the east and the lowest point is further up north.

Bwindi Impenetrable forest national park displays a fascinating spread of rare afro montane vegetation where the plain and mountain forests touch. It is a safe haven for more than 220 tree species, 100 fern species and more than 50% of Uganda’s tree species including the threatened brown mahogany. This natural vegetation is supported by large fault structures that overflow with water on the bed of the western rift valley and an annual rainfall ranging from 1,400 to 1,900 millimeters. The vegetation in the Bwindi forest has only grown better over the ages.

Owing to its ecological importance, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park was declared a UNESCO natural world heritage site in 1994. The forest is a dense green harbor for a variety of wildlife including over 310 butterfly species, 51 reptiles and 350 bird species. Some animals that one will definitely spot include; mountain gorillas, common chimpanzee, l’hoest’s monkeys, African elephant, black and white colobus, red-tailed monkeys, vervets, side-striped jackal, African golden cat, African civet and giant forest hog.

The African green broadbill and Grauer’s Rush Warbler are some of the endangered birds found in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. Other birds include; Short-tailed Warbler, Jameson’s Antpecker, Waller’s Starling, Pink-footed Puff back, Crested Guinea fowl, Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo and African Olive-pigeon among other birds.

After making Gorilla trekking an official tourist activity in 1994, tourism in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National park has grown to a satisfying level and it is growing even more. Tourists within and outside Uganda pour in to meet the gentle mountain gorillas along with other primates like the chimpanzees, the black and white Colobus monkeys, blue monkeys and baboons.

The rich history, mesmerizing scenery and abundant wildlife has put Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National park high up on the ranks as a top destination for any ecologist, adventurer and wildlife fanatic.

Location:

Bwindi Impenetrable national park is located in south western Uganda covering over 331 square kilometers of thick forest at the boarder of Congo and Uganda. It is spread at the fingertips of the eastern Albertan rift valley about 25 kilometers from the Virunga Mountains. This unique location supports the park’s elevation and gives it a steep mountainous landscape.

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National park can be accessed by road and is about an 8 hour drive from Kampala via Masaka highway. However, one can also opt to travel by air taking flight off Entebbe International airport or Kajjansi airfield to Kisoro from where one would take a ride to the park. For the best experience, it is advised that one books and makes travel plans with our travel agency beforehand.

 Main activities at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park:

  • Mountain gorilla trekking:

This is the most famous activity that can be done in Bwindi Impenetrable forest national park. The park is believed to harbor almost half of the world’s population of mountain gorillas. This makes it the perfect place to observe these gentle giants as they go about their day to day lives. The mountain gorillas live, feed and breed in the darkness of the forest away from the chaos of the world.

The mountain gorillas have been grouped into families, habituated and distributed among the four major gorilla trekking regions of Bwindi.  The Buhoma area is the oldest trekking region in Bwindi Forest. It is located in the north and contains 3 gorilla families; Mubare group, Rushegura group and Habiyanja group. The Mubare group was the first habituated family in 1991 followed by the other groups.

The Rushaga trekking area contains two gorilla families; the Nshongi group which consists of 25 gorillas and the Mishaya group which was broken off from the Nshongi group. This trekking area of Rushaga is located in the southern part of Bwindi Impenetrable forest.

The Nkuringo group consists of 19 Gorillas and is found in the Nkuringo trekking region while the Bitukura group is found in the Ruhija area. The Nkuringo region is located in the south while the Ruhija region is in the eastern part of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.

Uganda offers the cheapest mountain gorilla trekking permits currently at $600 while Rwanda permits go for a whopping $1500. This puts the permits in Uganda on high demand therefore one intending to embark on a mountain gorilla trekking safari in Bwindi Impenetrable forest National Park would need to book at least 10 months in advance to avoid disappointments. The permits are purchased from Uganda Wildlife Authority offices in Kampala and cannot be accessed at the forest headquarters.

With effect from July 2020 however, the mountain gorilla trekking permits will be available for as much as $700. The $100 increase is intended to support the communities living around the Bwindi Impenetrable forest such as the Buhoma community, the batwa people among others. This project is intended to improve on the lives of local people through building schools, medical centers along with other social services.

Mountain Gorilla trekking is, however, done on foot because of the thick impenetrable tubers of the forest and can only be undertaken by a maximum of 8 people in a day. The tourists are grouped up and each group given a guide. One can come within a close range of 2metres to watch the gorillas feed their young, gather food and bask in the dull sunlight. The activity can last well from 2 hours to half a day but the reward is worth it. Mountain gorilla trekking safaris are available for booking before the actual trip with our travel agency.

  • Birding:

A keen birder will argue that the forest is the perfect place to relax and enjoy viewing lots of birds. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest national park has been dubbed “a birding haven” by tourists all over the world. This is owing to the fact that it harbors over 360 bird species including Uganda’s national bird; the grey crowned crested crane and the globally threatened Shelly’s crimson wig. Bwindi Impenetrable forest was voted Africa’s number one birding site by the African Bird Club in 2012.

Bwindi Impenatrable forest National Park offers endless bird watching points while on a walk through the forest. Any keen birder can observe the birds as they fly about in trees, peck on twigs, collect straw to make nests and enjoy the beautiful serenades erupting from the songbirds in a bid to communicate. It is the perfect place to watch a variety of birds like African green broadbill, cream- banded swallowtail and the 23 Albertan endemic species.

  • Cycling:

Cycling or mountain biking is one of the most rejuvenating activities that one can undertake at Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National park. The cycling trail is about 13km long, takes about 6-7 hours on a round trip and its has been well maintained under Buhoma Community Rest Camp for “Ride for a Woman” community development initiative. The project is meant to help empower the local women in Buhoma who are struggling with poverty, HIV and domestic Violence.

The mountain bicycles are well maintained and available hire for full or half day and the proceeds go to supporting the Buhoma women though training them in businesses like sewing, catering, art and crafts and other forms of trade. A lot of wildlife like the blue and white colobus monkeys, red tailed monkeys, and bush bucks among others can be spotted while cycling around Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park.

  • Hiking and nature walks in Buhoma Community:

Hiking and nature walks in Bwindi Impenetrable forest are as adventurous and thrilling as they are calming. The first part would be through the forest on some major trails .3 of them start off In Buhoma; the Muyanga River, the waterfall trail and the Rushura trail. One would need to book in advance to ensure that a guide is available to them while they hike.

The Muyanga river trail is the shortest from the edge of Bwindi Impenetrable forest national park through the forest south of the waterfall trail. This trail is perfect for bird lovers as you can easily spot the bar-billed turaco, barred long-tailed cuckoos, bar-tailed trogon, white- billed robin-chat and yellow-eyed black flycatcher. The L’Hoest’s monkey is also fairly available.

The Waterfall trails lasts about 3 hours on a 12km walk from Buhoma through the forest to the 33m high waterfall on Muyanga River and finally winding up into the camp area. The Rushura hill trail also takes 3 hours through the hilly part of Bwindi Impenetrable forest. This trail offers spectacular views of the Virunga Mountains and the park and the Western Rift Valley.

Another trail starts from Ruhija mountain gorilla trekking region for 3 hours through the thick forest to the Mubwindi swamp in the centre of the park with a lush view over the Virunga Mountains. The other major trail would be the 8 hour Ivi River trail through the forest on the southern boundary of the park. On his trail, you might see some wild pigs at Mukempunu.

The nature walk through the Muzubijiro loop is a 16km stretch around a hilly landscape in Bwindi offering a primate and birds encounter. The famous “African corner” is found on the 4-6hours Habinyanja (Railegh) trail. The hike begins with an ascent through the Habigorogoro and the Riyovi Ridge then descend into the Habinyanja swamp. This trail is a great place to spot the Pel’s fishing owl, African black duck and Black bee eaters.

The second part of the nature walk would be the cultural encounter through the local communities. It starts off at    Buhoma community rest camp. The walk usually lasts around 3 hours as you navigate the main activities at the heart of the natives living around the park. The first stop would be the arts and crafts centre. While here you will meet women at work busy weaving baskets, making craft jewelry and other decorative art. You can purchase some of these beautiful artifacts to take home with you.

The second stop would be the Muyanga River. Here local women are always dotting its banks with colorful laundry and other household items that require cleaning. These African women wash and dry their clothes naturally and also fetch water for home use from the river. You will proceed to the vast tea plantations which are the main source of income for the locals. If it’s within season, you can watch as the skilled tea pickers sort and harvest the tea.

Further ahead lies enormous banana plantations that are the centre for local brew making. You will be amused to learn that the local people make and sell their own alcohol from sweet bananas. The local brew, locally called “mwenge bigere”, is a delicacy in most parts of the country and it is part of traditional marriage rituals in the central region of Uganda. If time and luck allows, you might have the chance to actually taste it.

Meet the local traditional healer of the community after your visit to the banana plantations. This local herbalist uses purely roots, leaves and different tubers from the forest to cure most local ailments. You might just be able to watch as he mixes the plants to make contortions for local clients who have sought his medical help. It might come as a surprise to you but most local people would turn to this herbal treatment as an alternative to modern medicine. If luck is on your side, you might find him treating one of his patients.

The educative yet fun nature walk winds up in paying a visit to the batwa pygmy community. Also known as the “echuya batwa”, this native community is the oldest and original community of the forest. Having been evacuated from Bwindi forest when the park was created, this pygmy community resorted to settling on the outskirts of the forest. You will have the opportunity of learning their rich history, enjoying their traditional music and dance.

 Where to stay:

  • Buhoma community rest camp: This is a stylish mid range and budget accommodation facility located in the gorilla highlands of southwestern Uganda within Bwindi Impenetrable forest national park with prices ranging from budget to midrange.
  • Sanctuary gorilla forest camp: This is a luxury tent accommodation in the heart of Bwindi Impenetrable forest national park. The camp rests a few minutes away from where the gorilla trekking starts so often, the mountain gorillas show up.
  • Buhoma lodge: This is a top quality luxurious lodge located within Bwindi Impenetrable forest National Park with a walk able distance from the trekking point. It offers a bar and spa facilities along with a central elevated lounge area.
  • Mahogany springs: This is a luxury lodging facility located 2km from the park’s gate on the pristine waters of the Muyanga River. This unique positioning offers a perfect base for bird watching.
  • Engagi lodge: The Engagi lodge is located within the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, provides bar, restaurant, laundry services and wifi.
  • Silverback lodge: The Silverback lodge is located in Buhoma on a hilly landscape overlooking the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. The lodge offers free wifi, meals and rental cars.
  • Gorilla safari lodge: This lodger is located on the boundary line of the forest with solar powered lighting, private washrooms, wifi, spa and bar. There is a shared lounge area where guests can have their meals served.
  • Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge: This lodge is located in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. The lodge offers spacious accommodations with private washrooms, free toiletries, a sun terrace and shared lounge area. Nkuringo lodge also provides meals with a top notch restaurant and bar, free wifi, laundry services, 24 hour front desk as well as a playground, garden and grill.
  • Rushaga Gorilla camp: This lodge is located in Bugambira in Bwindi Impenetrable forest National Park. The camp offers free wifi, parking, meals, plus a terrace overlooking the garden at every unit. The lodge also has a spa, an outdoor swimming pool and runs a bicycle and car rental service.
  • Ruhija Gorilla safari lodge: This lodge offers accommodations ranging from Deluxe cabins, the superior cabins to standard rooms. Each room has fitted washrooms with both hot and cold water. The lodge also provides free parking, wifi, a dryer for your clothes plus a well stocked restaurant and bar.

Best time to visit and what to pack:

Bwindi has two rainy seasons: one from March – May and the other from September – November. It is advised to visit during the drier months: June, July, August, January and February. December is the busiest month hence one ought to book in advance to avoid disappointments. During the low seasons, accommodations are cheaper and more expensive during the high seasons. Carry warm clothes since the forest receives a lot of rain most of the year. Trousers will help protect your legs from scratches from plants. One is also advised to wear comfortable hiking shoes.

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