Introduction to Bwindi
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is one of the most visited safari parks in Uganda. Located in the southwestern region and bordered by the Democratic Republic of Congo, this magical park is known worldwide for its high population of stunning mountain gorillas. An 8-9 hour drive from Entebbe, or a one-hour flight, Bwindi has a typical tropical rainforest climate with an annual mean temperature ranging from 7-15°C to a maximum of 20-27°C, and with an annual rainfall between 1,400 and 1,900 millimeters peaking from March to April and from September to November.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is renowned for its abundant flora and fauna, as well as its half of the remaining mountain gorillas in the world. Located in the southwestern region, bordered by the Democratic Republic of Congo, this UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the most visited safari parks in Uganda.
Covering an area of 331 square kilometers, it is situated in the highest parts of Kigezi highlands, with an altitude of 1,190 to 2,607 meters above sea level, and 60% of the park having an elevation that is over 2,000 meters above sea level. The highest elevation in the park is RWAMUNYONYI Hill located at the eastern edge and the lowest at the most northern tip.
This Impenetrable forest is known for its abundant wildlife, with more than 360 mountain gorillas spread out in the 800 plus gorillas that remain in the world. Although threatened by poaching, habitat loss and diseases, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is nonetheless one of the most profitable parks for travelers experiences in Uganda Wildlife Authority.
Experience the majestic wildlife for yourself and take a visit to this incredible place. With a variety of recommended gorilla safari companies, you can be sure to have an exceptional safari expedition in the wilderness of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO TREK GORILLAS IN UGANDA?
The best time to go Gorilla trekking in Uganda is between mid-June and October, as well as December through March. These are the drier months of the year, making them the optimal time to go. Trekking is possible all year long, but these are the peak seasons for the activity.
Gorilla habituation is an amazing opportunity for tourists to spend an extended amount of time with mountain gorillas. During the experience, these primates are taught to live peacefully among humans. This is available in Rushaga sector, located in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park.
The best time to take advantage of this experience is between June and September, as well as December to March. These months provide the most ideal conditions, making it the peak season for gorilla habituation.
Bwindi national park attractions
Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi
Departing from one of the four trailheads on the perimeters of the forest, the Buhoma, Nkurongi, Rushaga, and Ruhija, trekkers join an experienced guided group of up to eight people setting out in search of one of the 11 habituated gorilla families. Led by trained Uganda Wildlife Authority guides, visitors are introduced to the ecology of the forest and its changing landscape as they trek through the terrain.
The trackers will give directions as to the location of the gorillas, who could be spending the day far away or relatively close. Trekkers will be prepared to walk through a challenging landscape of steep ridges and valleys, following animal paths through the dense undergrowth of the tangled forest. Although sometimes contact is made within a distance of 45 minutes and other times after six hours.
Once contact has been made, visitors have a maximum of one hour in which to observe the gorilla family from within 7 metres. However, you should be prepared for surprises – very relaxed mothers, or an inquisitive young gorilla could easily close this gap considerably! With the trackers in charge, trekkers will learn what to do in order to remain safe and get the most out of their experience.
Gorilla permits are in high demand and so the peak seasonal months of June to September and January and February should be booked as early as a year in advance. Although permits are non-refundable, if trekkers do not see a gorilla, the Uganda Wildlife Authority will refund 50% of the permit cost. This is a very unlikely phenomenon and so travelers are encouraged to plan accordingly for this unique and unforgettable safari experience.itted conservation efforts have resulted in a dramatic increase in the population of endangered species, including the Mountain Gorillas. Keeping the precious population safe, the park is well protected.
In addition to Bwindi’s impressive gorilla population, the national park is also home to a large variety of other wildlife species. The park is famous for its chimpanzee populations, the threatened giant forest hog, rare species of birds, including 19 species of Albertine Rift endemics. A vast flora of over 100 species of trees, 102 species of ferns and a variety of flowers, fungi, and lichens make the area an ideal habitat for these species. The altitude of the park ranges from 1160m to 2607, creating a mosaic of habitats for the various species ranging from montane forests to lowland forests. This, combined with its diverse and rugged landscape, makes it an ideal natural habitat for many species.
GORILLA TREKKING SECTORS
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is home to four gorilla trekking sectors: Buhoma, Rushaga, Ruhija, and Nkuringo, as well as Mugahinga which was recently added. Rushaga is the only sector in Bwindi that allows for Gorilla Habituation. All of these areas offer incredible experiences to visitors, making it a must-do for anyone visiting Uganda for the first time.
To best prepare for a gorilla trekking trip to Bwindi, it is important to be aware of the specific sector one will be visiting and the possible activities that can be expected. While all sites offer the opportunity to view gorillas, Rushaga stands out due to its unique habituation process. With such a variety of activities, visitors of the Bwindi region are guaranteed a memorable experience.
Buhoma sector, located in the northern part of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, is the most popular and frequented sector within the park. It was the first area opened for gorilla trekking, with the Mubare family being the first to be habituated in 1992. Three families are found in this region: Mubare, Habinyanja, and Rushegura. These are great opportunities for visitors to view the gorillas in their natural atmosphere.
Buhoma sector consists of three gorilla families namely
Mubare gorilla family
The Mubare gorilla family is a part of Buhoma sector in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Not only is it the first area that was opened for gorilla trekking, it is also the first family that was habituated in 1992. Currently, there are 5 individuals within this family, which was given its name after the Mubare Hills, where they were first spotted. Kanyonyi is the dominant silverback within the group, while there is one adult female, two subadult females, and one infant.
Habinyanja gorilla family
The Habinyanja gorilla family derives its name from a Rukinga word meaning “place with water”. Following its habituation in 1997, trekking to view this family began in 1999. They were first spotted near the swamp ponds of the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. This group is led by Makara, a dominant silverback. Overall, this family consists of 13 members: Makara, Rwansigazi, Maraya, Kisho, Nabukye, Binyonko, Rugyendi, Nyamuhango, Elsa, Hamusini, Hakato, Gacyaro, and Bangenyi.
Rushegura gorilla family
The Rushegura gorilla family was split from the Habinyanja family after it was habituated in 2000 and opened for trekking. It currently consists of 19 individual gorillas, with Mwirima being the dominant silverback and leader of the group, as well as Kabukojo the blackback. Additionally, there are five adult females (Kyirinvi, Kibande, Buzinza, Nyamunwa, and Karungyi), two sub-adult females (Kalembezi and Ruterana), five juveniles (Nyampazi, Kafuruka, Kibande, Karungyi, and Kanywanyi), and five infant gorillas (Kyirinvi, Buzinza, Nyamunmwa, Kibade, and Katabazi).
Buhoma sector of Bwindi is relatively easy to access, with routes available from Kabala, Kihihi Airstrip, and Queen Elizabeth National Park, more specifically Ishasha Sector in the Southern part.
Nkuringo sector is located in the southern part of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, in Kisoro district. This particular sector houses only three gorilla families: the Nkuringo Group, the Bushaho Group, and the Bikingi Group. Each of these families offers a unique and unforgettable experience.
Nkuringo gorilla family
The Nkuringo gorilla family was the first to be habituated within the southwestern region of Bwindi back in 1997. The family is currently composed of twelve individual gorillas, including one silverback, two adult females, two subadults, three juveniles, and two infants. This particular family is significant in history, as it is the first in Bwindi to accomplish the birth of twins. Initially the group was made up of seventeen individuals, yet many have since split away, leaving only twelve that remain.
Bikingi gorilla family
The Bikigi gorilla family provides a unique experience for those wanting to participate in its habituation. This family was first habituated in 2012 and it is currently composed of fifteen individuals: one silverback, five adult females, two subadults, two juveniles, and five infants. As the habituation process of this group is still ongoing, it has yet to have a leader.
Bushaho gorilla family
The Bushaho gorilla family is comprised of eight members: one silverback, one blackback, three adult females, one sub-adult, one juvenile, and one infant. This family was formed after members split off from the Nkuringo gorilla family, and is currently led by the silverback, Bahati.
Rushaga sector is one of the most frequented sectors of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, conveniently located next to the Cyanika border in Kisoro district. Therefore, it is easily accessible for tourists coming from Kigali. This region is situated in the Southern region of the park and is home to the greatest population of mountain gorilla families, including:
Nshongi gorilla family
The Nshongi gorilla family is a remarkable one located in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Its members consist of seven individuals led by the silverback, Bweza. Its composition is made up of one silverback, one juvenile, one infant, three adult females, and one subadult.
Kahungye gorilla family
The Kahungye gorilla family has a total of seventeen members and is named after its original sighting spot on Kahungye Hill. Led by the dominant silverback, Rumaz, its members include three adult females, three silverbacks, two infants, three juveniles, and three subadults.
Busingye gorilla family
The Busingye gorilla family is made up of nine members, which split from the Kahungye gorilla family. It is currently led by the dominating silverback, Busingye, from whom the family received its name – inspired by the local word for peace.
Mishaya gorilla family
The Mishaya gorilla family boasts a total of twelve members, each of whom is led by the dominant silverback, Mishaya. It was formed in 2010 after Mishaya broke away from the Nshongi gorilla group.
Bweza gorilla family
The Bweza gorilla family is the largest family within the Rushaga sector, made up of 23 mountain gorillas. Its leader is the silverback Kakono; other notable members include two silverbacks, four blackbacks, one subadult, three adult females, and two infants.
The Ruhija sector of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is situated in the eastern region and consists of three gorilla families – Oruzogo, Bitukura, and Kyagurilo. Here, visitors can partake in an unforgettable mountain gorilla trekking experience.
Bitukura gorilla family
The Bitukura gorilla family was habituated in 2007 and currently consists of fourteen individuals – four silverbacks, four adult females, two juveniles, three infants, and one baby. Initially, it was made up of twenty-four members, however; constant conflicts have caused many to run away.
Oruzogo gorilla family
The Oruzogo gorilla family is one of seventeen individuals, with a single silverback. It was opened to tourists in 2007 and has a few prominent members, including Bakwate “old silverback”, Kaganga (silverback), Kasumali (silverback), six adult females (Nyangaro, Katoto, Ruchura, Mutesi, Nyakina and Mukwano), one black back Bwengye, three sub adult males (Nyakashunja, Musenene, Nyabirano, and Muhumuza), two infant males (Mufuruki and Paska), and one infant female (Musana).
Kyaguliro gorilla family
The Kyaguliro gorilla family is quite large, with a total of twenty members. It has been designated for research purposes, and is therefore not visited frequently. The tragic death of the group’s former leader, who was struck by lightning, caused the family to split into two subgroups: Kyaguliro A and Kyaguliro B.
Kyaguliro A consists of ten members, led by the dominant silverback, Rukara. It consists of one silverback, two blackbacks, three adult females, two juveniles, and two infants.
Kyaguliro B, meanwhile, is composed of one silverback, four adult females, one adult, and four infants, and is led by the silverback Mukiza.
Mammals and other primates
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is known for its mountain gorillas, but its thick forests are also home to a variety of other amazing mammals. These include forest elephants, giant forest hogs, antelopes, side-striped jackals, and African civets. Additionally, the park’s wildlife extends to include various primate species, such as chimpanzees, black-and-white colobus monkeys, vervets, L’hoests, De Brazza monkeys, red-tailed monkeys, nocturnal pottos, and various galago species.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park rests upon a remarkable ecological system graced with a great amount of vegetation. Here the lowland and montane vegetation zones meet, making it one of the few tropical forests in Africa. It is crisscrossed by many rivers, such as Ivi, munyaga, Ihihizo, Ishasha, and ntengyrere, that eventually filter down into Lake Edward and make it a notable water catchment area.
The park’s canopy is comprised of numerous plant species, including Red stinkwood, Newtonia, Symphonia globulifera, East African yellowwood, and Strombosia scheffleri, alongside those that grow beneath the main forest – Xymalos, Neoboutonia Macrocalyx, Monospora, Myrianthus holstii, Teclea nobilis, and Allophylus abyssinicus.
Bwindi is also considered a rare Afromontane forest, as it has been recorded to contain as many as 220 tree species and 100 fern species.
The River Ivi trail is the perfect way to enjoy some bird watching while journeying along the Nkuringo escarpment. It takes up to seven hours to complete, covering a distance of fourteen kilometers. For those wanting to experience a bit of the park’s awe-inspiring waterfalls, the Waterfall trail can be completed in four hours. The Habinyanja trail, meanwhile, offers a slightly longer route of four to six hours in which visitors can traverse past the River Munyanga, and is a popular post-gorilla trek option. The Kashasha River trail also takes about five to seven hours to complete and travels between the Nkuringo and Buhoma sectors. For amazing views of the surrounding birds, the Bamboo trail takes around six hours, while the Muzabajiro trail takes six kilometers, with a sublime backdrop of the Virunga volcanoes, ferns, and a variety of bird species.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park features a tremendous diversity of birds, particularly forest and aquatic species, making it a prime spot for montane-forest birdwatching in Africa. The park is home to more than 350 bird species, 14 of which are endemic to Bwindi, and 23 of which are found exclusively in the Albertine Rift. Popular sightings in the thick forests include Chapin’s flycatcher, Handsome francolin, Rwenzori Batis, Tit Hylia, Strange weaver, Dusky Twin spot, Montane Oriole, Regal sunbird, African wood owl, Bar-tailed trogon, Western Green Tinkerbird, Black bee-eater, Dwarf honeyguide, Grey gecko-shrike, Kivu ground-thrush, Yellow-striped greenbul, Shelly’s greenbul, Red-throated alethe, Collared apalis, Handsome francolin, and Strange weaver.
The top trails for birdwatching at Bwindi include Buhoma Waterfall trail, Mubwindi Swamp Trail, and Bamboo Zone. Each of these are superior locations to view the various avian species that call Bwindi Impenetrable National Park home.
The Batwa pygmy people
The Batwa Pygmies are the ancient inhabitants of Bwindi forests, but when the park was demarcated as a protected area they were expelled to the periphery. Regarded as the keepers of the forest, the Batwa people rely upon hunting wild game and gathering fruits to sustain themselves. Thus, they still hold onto their ancestral lifestyle to this day. Visiting Bwindi Impenetrable National Park offers the opportunity to experience a cultural encounter with the Batwa people, witnessing them construct dwellings from local materials, hunt small animals, perform dances and plays, and partake in various other fascinating activities.
Bwindi national park attractions
When visiting Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, the adventure does not end with mountain gorilla trekking/tracking – though it is the primary attraction. The heavy, rainforest environment is also home to a variety of birds and animals, and is a hub for numerous activities, making it an excellent destination for nature-lovers and adventurers alike.
Gorilla Tracking in Bwindi national park
When visiting Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, one of the main attractions is mountain gorilla tracking. Home to half of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas, gorilla tracking is done with a permit, purchased from the Uganda Wildlife Authority. It is recommended to book the permit three or more months prior to ensure your day and choice of location. A daily limit of eight individuals from the age of fifteen are allowed to visit a gorilla family. Individuals must also be in good physical health; direct contact between humans and gorillas can lead to disease transference. Prior to trekking, you will be briefed by a guide, who will advise you to stay at least eight meters from the gorilla, avoid direct eye contact, and stay away from using flash photography. Additionally, for a successful experience, remember to dress in long pants and a shirt – to minimize scratches from the foliage – bring a rain poncho, comfortable boots, lunch, and enough water. Finally, it is worthwhile hiring a porter, as the terrain can be tough.
Bird watching in Bwindi national park
Bwindi Forest is one of Uganda’s premier birding spots, and was dubbed Africa’s #1 birding destination by the Africa Bird Club. If you have limited time in Uganda, Bwindi should be your pick – the park is easily accessible, with well-developed trails leading to different areas including the waterfall trail. It is home to approximately 350 species of birds, including the 23 Albertine Rift endemics, with 14 species being unique to the park itself. Experienced guides are available at the nearby towns, highly knowledgeable about the park’s avian species and endemics. They will join you during your trip, reinforcing the team you have brought with you.
Nature and waterfalls walks
Visiting Bwindi Impenetrable National Park offers an abundance of trails, each catering towards different interests. For instance, trails leading to stunning waterfalls, wherein visitors can swim and enjoy the scenery. As for safety, visitors are accompanied by a knowledgeable, armed Uganda Wildlife Ranger Guide – as both a protection against wild animals as well as a source of information and guidance. Popular trails include the Muzubijiro Loop (6km), fuelling the opportunity to interact with primates and birds; the Muyanga Waterfall Walk; the Ivi River Walk (14km), estimated to take around seven hours; and the Buhoma – Nkuringo Trail, a four- to five-hour venture within the national park itself. Finally, there is the Rushura Hill Walk, spanning the forest situated between Congo and Uganda.
Mountain Hiking and biking
The Kigezi region – in which Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is located – is a picturesque mountainous area. The lodges there may offer bike rentals for the day, to take on the various trails within the community. Additionally, ‘Ride for a Woman’ organizes a special trail from the Buhoma park headquarters to the Ivi River.
Community walks and Cultural experiences
The surrounding community of Bwindi Forest offers many activities and cultural experiences. Visitors can enjoy an encounter with the Batwa people – the original inhabitants of the forest. Through these interactions, one is granted the opportunity to explore and understand how the Batwa co-existed with the animals, sharing the forest for all these years. Further trails to explore include the Buniga Forest Nature Walk in Nkuringo; the Nyundo Community Eco Trail; King Bakyara’s Waterfall Trail; and a tour of the village Aquaponics project with Conservation through Public Health (CTPH). Finally, visitors are invited witness and learn about bananas, from how they are used to make juice, beer, and gin, and to taste some of each.