Bwindi Impenetrable National Park straddles within the extreme southwestern part of Uganda and it is undoubtedly a few most spectacular protected areas in East Africa. It is located just at the border area between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) just at the edge of the Albertine rift valley. This forested conservancy area expands for more than 331 square kilometers comprising of mainly the montane and lowland forests. It lies between altitude 1160 and 2607 meters and it was gazetted mainly to offer refuge to the critically endangered mountain gorillas and other most incredible wildlife species.
This park offers refuge to about 120 mammal species, 350 bird species, 27 frogs, 220 species of butterflies and 1000 flowering species of plants including 163 tree species as well as 104 ferns. As you head to the northern sector, you will find numerous Guineo Congolian flora that include 2 endangered species, brown mahogany and brazzeia longipedicellata.
The people and culture
Like most African parks, there are people that live around the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and mostly the Batwa pygmies and Bakiga. The two are credited for their sound and vibrant cultures which entirely features as one of the main tourist attractions at this park. Most tourists are attracted to the Batwa encounters where they get a chance to learn more about the Batwa pygmies’ unique life styles, dances and music performances. The Batwa are known to have lived in the forest for more than 500000 years while hunting and gathering making them to be true forest dwellers.
The best time to visit Bwindi National Park
The fact that this park is entirely a tropical rainforest, it receives heavy rainfall amount of about 1500mm. It is a major rainfall catchment area and weather conditions are always ideal for different safari activities. This UNESCO World Heritage Site also experiences two significant seasons-both the wet and dry season. The wet/rainy season starts from March to May and from October to November then the dry season begins from June to September and December to February. The dry season is usually considered the peak season and it is characterized by low rainfall.
What to do in Bwindi National Park
Tracking mountain gorillas is remarkably one of the major and the most exciting safari activities in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. This rare adventure entirely is involves you hiking through the dense tropical rain forest and steep slopes to look out for a group of mountain gorillas in the wilderness. There are four (4) main trailheads where the usual treks normally kick start from and these include Buhoma, Ruhija, Nkuringo and Rushaga sectors. Each of these areas comprise of habituated gorilla groups of which today, Bwindi National Park consists of about 15 of them and they are all readily available for gorilla trekking and research purposes. Permits are a must to have if you are to be part of this rare primate experience and you can obtain one at $600.
Gorilla habituation experience
For those of you who may need to spend a little more time with mountain gorillas, the best thing you can do is to embark on gorilla habituation experience which is only conducted within the jungles of Bwindi National Park. Unlike the usual treks, with gorilla habituation experience you have all the 4 hours to be with a group of mountain gorillas in the wild. This is one of a few unique primate experiences the fact that it takes you through semi-habituated gorilla families compared to the usual treks where you explore mostly the habituated groups.
If you love birding, Bwindi National Park is also features among the very few exceptional birding habitats in Uganda that is worth exploring while on Uganda safari. More than 350 bird species call this park a home, 23 of which are endemic to the Albertine rift. While on bird watching tour at this park, do not miss to catch a glimpse at the African green broadbill, short tailed warbler, blue headed sunbird a mention but a few. The main areas for birding in this park include-Buhoma waterfall, bamboo zone, Mubwindi swamp trail in Ruhija and others.
For nature lovers, you can also embark on nature walks along the 6 (six) nature trails most of which are found within Buhoma sector. This experience allows you to discover the hidden treasures in this protected area and among other the many areas you will explore include waterfalls, primates, mountain views as well as bird species. The nature trails in this park include the Munyaga waterfall walk, Ivy River walk, Rushura hill walk, Muzubijiro loop, Habinyanja trail and many others.
Besides, you can also be part of cycling or mountain biking, cultural encounters and many others.
Where to stay in Bwindi National Park
Bwindi National Park has many accommodation options and the available safari lodges for you to make a choice for your overnight stay range from luxury to budget. The luxury safari lodges include Chameleon Hill lodge, Buhoma lodge, Mahogany springs lodge, Silverback lodge, Gorilla Forest Camp, Volcanoes safari Bwindi lodge, Ruhija gorilla safari lodge, Gorilla safari lodge. Midrange safari lodges at Bwindi National Park include Gorilla valley lodge, Nkuringo Bwindi gorilla lodge, Eco Marvels Gorilla Resort, Engagi lodge Bwindi, Lake Kitandara Bwindi Camp. If you are interested in budget safari lodges include Broadbill forest camp, Buhoma community rest camp, Wagtail eco safari camp, Bwindi view Bandas, Gift of Nature lodge, Nshongi gorilla resort, Ruhija community rest camp, Ruhija gorilla friends resort, Trackers safari lodge and others.
Getting to Bwindi Forest
Bwindi National Park lies in the southwestern part of Uganda and it takes you about 9-10 hours to drive from Kampala/Entebbe. It is accessible both by road and by air. By road, there are so many routes that lead you up to this magnificent protected area and most of them converge around Butogota approximately 108 kilometers from Kabale Town to Buhoma sector through Ruhija about 3 hours’ drive. For those of you who are will travel from Kampala, you will drive up to Buhoma along a finest road linking up to Kabale-Ntungamo approximately 60 km. While at Mbarara Town or rather take a drive from Ntungamo and take the right side approximately 45 km to Rukungiri and then Kambuga to Kanungu where you will finally come to Butogota-17 km to Buhoma sector. From Kampala to Bwindi National Park, it is about 550 kilometers’ drive. If you pass via Kasese/Fort Portal-there are two (2) routes-one which leads you through Katunguru, Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park that also rewards you with excellent views of the rare tree climbing lions and then you come to Kihihi approximately 3-5 hours’ drive. The other route takes you via Mbarara then to Ishaka about 33 km to Kagambe through Kabale road at a junction with Ntungamo to Rukungiri route then you arrive to Buhoma area.
By air, you can take a flight from Entebbe International Airport or Kajjansi Airfield where you will land into Kisoro/Kihihi Airstrip. From here, you can easily connect to Bwindi National Park for you to enjoy your thrilling gorilla experiences. This means that you will need car rental and a 4wheel drive safari vehicle is the best option for you to navigate through the remote country side of Uganda to Bwindi. Interestingly, Fly Uganda now offers scheduled flights from Kajjansi/Entebbe to Bwindi.
Conclusively, visiting Bwindi, one of the most endowed protected areas in Uganda is such a memorable trip. There is a lot to see in terms of biodiversity and there are diverse tourist activities that can be done during your trip ranging from popular mountain gorilla treks to cultural encounters.