Mountain gorillas are Uganda’s foremost attraction and one of the world’s most remarkable encounters that you will get involved in across the misty slopes of the remote Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in the south western part of Uganda. The park’s beauty and incredible life has featured in different international travel magazines and Blogs.
Bwindi is known to have a rich fauna community in East Africa with over 120 mammal species making it only second in mammal numbers to Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Apart from gorillas, there are 11 primate species in the park. They include: Black-and-white colobus and L’Hoest’s monkeys, baboons and chimps among the many. Other residents are: Forest Elephants and several species of antelopes. Of Bwindi’s 200 butterfly species, 42 are endemic to the Albertine Region. Out of around 350 species of birds, 23 Albertine Rift endemics. In order to safe guard this biodiversity, the 331sqkm forest was gazzeted as a national park in 1992 and declared a UNESCO Natural heritage site in 1994.
Gorilla tracking in Uganda
The Gorillas are unconditionally Bwindi’s key tourist attraction. Gorillas were first tracked in 1993 when tourist tracked Mubare Gorilla family, the first to be habituated.
Gorilla habituation is a process that takes about two years as people habituating them spend days with them until they get used human beings and remain doing their routine activities in the wilderness even when human beings are present.
As of 2019, Uganda had a total of 14 habituated Mountain Gorilla families. Eleven of them are in Bwindi and one in Mgahinga Gorilla National Parks. Out of the 11 families in Bwindi, one is reserved for research.
Only 8 adult visitors are allowed to track each of the habituated gorilla group each day. Tracking gorillas can take a few to several hours because they never stay in one place. Due to high demand for tracking permits, it is advisable to book your tracking permit six months in advance.
The high months for gorilla tracking are January, February, June, July, August, September and December. The low months are April, May, October and November. Gorillas can be tracked any time of the year but note that drier seasons are better as during wet season some access roads and trails are wet and slippery.
Bwindi is the Bird watcher’s haven holding up to 348 species of birds with 90% of all Albertine rift Endemics hard or not possible to see in any other part of East Africa. The four trails of Bwindi are all excellent for birders with the prospect of checking off the forest rarities. The river Ivi trail between Buhoma and Nkuringo is rewarding as is Buhoma’s Forest-edge Munyanga River Trail. Ruhija’s Bamboo trail, leading to the 2607m Rwamunyonyi peak and the Mubwindi swamp trail are renowned for the Albertine Rift Endemics.
These provide a relaxed way of to explore the beautiful rain forest. Forest trails lead to scenic waterfalls and ascend to view points for breath taking views of Bwindi Forest, Albertine rift valley and the Virunga Volcanoes.
Walks through the forest edge villages provide insight into the lives of the local Batwa (Pygmy) and Bakiga people.
Batwa Forest Experience
The Batwa People are said to have lived in the forest for over 60,000 years and were basically fruit gatherers and hunters. When the forest gained a national park status in 1992 they were moved out. But now a new product has been developed to allow travelers experience what a life of these people was and directly benefit from tourism.
Can be accessed from Queen Elizabeth National Park after 2 to 3 hours’ drive passing through Ishasha, the land of the tree climbing lions. Ishasha is 64km from Bwindi.
Kampala through Mbarara is about 6 to 8 hours’ drive. It takes 2 hours from Kabale. A 4×4 vehicle is needed through the rainy months. A daily bus service leaves Kampala for Butogota via Rukungiri and Kihihi.
Bwindi is served by 3 airfields at Kihihi, Kayonza and Nyakabande in Kisoro for people going to track mountain gorillas within the southern area (Mishaya, Nshongi and Nkuringo. Planes can be chartered from Entebbe Airport or Kajjansi. Those who may want to visit Buhoma may take on the charter planes and land off from Kayonza airstrip.