Bwindi forest was listed as a UNESCO world natural heritage site in 1991 because it protects over 500 individual gorillas which represent half of the world’s total mountain gorilla population and bird species that are endemic to the Albertine rift valley. Therefore, the most popular attraction are the mountain gorillas that draw visitors to Uganda the pearl of Africa for gorilla trekking safaris.
Gorilla tourism started in 1993 when 3 gorilla families were habituation for tracking in Buhoma sector. More families were habituated and today Bwindi has 19 habituated gorilla families for trekking as the main activity for visitors. This is the largest number of Gorillas ever to be habituated.
At the time when Bwindi was gazetted as a park, the BaTwa pygmies originally forest hunter gatherers were driven out of the forest and forced to live in the community putting them at risk. Though, they have adapted normal lifestyle, BaTwa still showcase their ancient cultural traditions like hunting through organized village walks which you can do after the gorilla trek.
Bwindi impenetrable forest national park covers 331 km2 that span three districts of Kisoro, Kanungu and Kabale in southwestern Uganda at the edge of the Albertine rift valley. It’s an evergreen tropical rainforest at an altitude of 1100 m in the north to 2607 meters above sea level in the south with steep mountains and valleys often covered in mist.
The Bwindi ecosystem is rich in flora and fauna besides the mountain gorillas, there are 346 species birds including 23 species endemic to the Albertine rift valley, 120 species of mammals, 220 butterflies, 100 ferns, 163 species of trees, 27 species of frogs as well as 27 geckos and reptiles. There are also primate species such as chimpanzees, black and white colobus monkeys, L’hoest’s monkeys, red tailed and blue monkeys.
Birds and primates are commonly seen during nature walks which offer an opportunity for nature lovers to enjoy hiking into the heart of the forest to see some of the hidden gems of Bwindi such as waterfalls.
Bwindi Gorilla Trekking Sectors
If you are visiting Bwindi there are four gorilla sectors where gorilla families that have been habituated can be trekked namely; Buhoma the park headquarters has 4 gorilla families and lies in the north at the park’s lowest altitude, Rushaga sector in the south with 7, Ruhija in the north east with 4 and Nkuringo with 2 families. Gorilla treks are challenging in Rushaga, Ruhija and Nkuringo because they are at higher altitude than in Buhoma.
The sector you decide to visit to see gorillas is determined at the time of booking the gorilla permit and so, your lodge must be in the same sector. Buhoma and Ruhija sectors are easier to reach when coming from Queen Elizabeth National park while Rushaga and Nkuringo are good for those starting from Rwanda.
Gorilla trekking safaris
This is the main activity due to the presence of 19 gorilla families that are habituated for trekking in the four Bwindi sectors of Buhoma, Rushaga, Ruhija and Nkuringo. Its best done in the dry season from June to September and December to February. However, you can visit gorillas in the wet season April to May and October to November and it comes with advantages such as discounts on the price and high availability of Uganda gorilla permits.
Once a gorilla permit confirmed, your chance of seeing gorillas will be 100% unless if you get sick and cannot be allowed to see gorillas as per the rules. The gorilla permit gives you strictly 1 hour to spend with gorillas in their natural. Among other gorilla rules include wearing a mask, not using flash photography and keeping a social distance of 7 meters away from the gorillas.
Gorilla Habituation Experience
To get more time with gorillas, gorilla habituation experience is the right activity as it gives you 4 hours with semi-habituated gorillas. This activity is available only in the sector of Rushaga where two families of Bushaho and Bikingyi visitors can be visited by tourists interested in doing habituation experience.
It’s much more than seeing gorillas, habituation is a research process where trackers, researchers train gorillas to get used to human presence without changing their natural behavior and so, visitors are allowed to take part in research based activities such as chewing on vegetation, walking on knuckles, imitating gorilla vocals among others.
Hiking and Nature Walks
If you want to experience the biodiversity of Bwindi forest, make sure to include some nature walks on top of gorilla trekking. These walks begin in the morning at 09 am or afternoon at 2 pm. Buhoma is a favorite place for both guided and self-guided nature walk such as the waterfall trail and Iyv river trail and Rushura trail. There’s also a 35 km walking trail from Buhoma connecting to Nkuringo on foot through Bwindi forest.
In Ruhija sector you can take the bamboo forest trail or hike to Mubwindi swamp in the middle of the forest and it’s best for birders looking for African green broadbill. For the best view of Bwindi, go to Nkuringo because trails take you to the top of Nkuringo ridge where the views are most stunning.
Bwindi is Africa’s number one bird watching destination according to the African Birding Club. Because there are more than 345 species including 90 % of the bird species endemic to the region. The birding trails if looking for endemic species are in Ruhija and Buhoma where you can spot species like short tailed warbler, African green broadbill, stripe breasted tit can be observed in Ruhija sector.
You will get to meet and interact with people living around Bwindi forest some of which have set up their own cultural tours, art and craft workshops as well as conservation projects. Walks are led by local guides introducing you to southwestern Uganda’s cultures like the BaTwa pygmies, Bakiga and Bafumbira. While visiting the local villages around Bwindi, you will learn how many experiences like weaving, tasting banana beer, fire making without match sticks, hunting, bow and arrow shooting with BaTwa and be taken into another world by their energetic traditional dance performances and drumming. There are also health and education projects where funds from gorilla tourism provide local communities around Bwindi with access to clean water, building schools and many more that empower the people to improve their well-being as well as support conservation.
To strike a balance between wildlife conservation, tourism and community development, the park has 4 operational departments namely; community conservation and education, research and monitoring and eco-tourism development. Through these departments, visitors can apply for opportunities to volunteer as well as research and internships.
These are available through Uganda wildlife authority and the support organizations such as such as conservation through public health (CTPH), Bwindi community hospital, international gorilla conservation program. These have been able to support local people by engaging them in management of the park which has now increased awareness and increased tourism development and conservation
How To Get There
Bwindi is located in southwestern Uganda about 512 km (9-10-hour drive) from the capital city Kampala/ Entebbe airport. It’s a long journey but gives you a chance to stopover at the equator and go through Lake Mburo National Park the only park to see zebras and impalas in western Uganda.
Bwindi can also be accessed from Kigali Rwanda which take about 4-hour drive. This means that visitors can stay in Rwanda and undertake a day gorilla trekking trip to Bwindi. However, to do a day trip from Rwanda to Bwindi, one must be willing to set off at 4:00am in the morning to ensure you arrive in Rushaga sector on time for briefing.
Visitors can fly by charter aircraft into Kisoro airstrip which is 1-hour drive to Rushaga and Ruhija sectors or Kihihi airstrip.Book This Safari