Enjoy a Gorilla Tour at Bwindi National Park
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is now well known world over as the home of the endangered Mountain Gorillas in Uganda. Here, a visitor is indeed treated to an unforgettable ultimate gorilla experience. Meeting the Mountain Gorillas in their natural habitat, and the consequent eye contact is the most exciting wildlife encounter in the whole of Africa. But Bwindi is more than just gorillas; it has a lot more to offer when it comes to tourist activities and nature.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park Size:
This national park is 331 sq.km in size with spectacular mist covered hillsides and impressive forest views. It is also important to note that the park has four (4) different gates or locations where the gorilla treks begin from. There is Buhoma in the North, Ruhija in the East, Rushaga in the South and Nkuringo in the South West.
There are 16 gorilla families which have been habituated for viewing. But to trek the mountain gorillas, you need a gorilla permit. This permit is always reserved well in advance to avoid disappointments. Gorilla permits are reserved by location not by name of the gorilla family.
Location and Accessibility:
The National Park is located in South Western Uganda; about 530 km from Uganda’s capital, Kampala. There are several roads that connects to Bwindi. But it all depends on a particular location one is going to. This is because there are different locations or gates leading into the park.
Getting to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park:
The most commonly used access route is the Mweya – Kihihi – Buhoma route that passes through the Southern sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park (the Ishasha sector). For those interested in seeing the tree climbing lions, this particular route gives you a chance to for a stopover in search of the same. The park is 160km from Mweya and 64 km from Ishasha.
1. Kampala – Ntungamo – Rukungiri – Kihihi – Buhoma (9 hours)
2. Kampala – Kabale – Kanungu – Buhoma (10 hours)
3. Kampala – Kabale – Ruhija (8 hours)
4. Kampala – Kabale – Nkuringo (10 hours)
Please note that these routes are long (but more adventurous) and take many hours of driving. So it is advisable to plan for your gorilla trek accordingly. It is always best to travel and reach Bwindi before the day of your scheduled trek.
However, should a long road trip be not your favorite way of adventure; then you can opt to make use of the domestic flights. You can fly either from Entebbe Airport or Kajjansi Airfield to Kisoro. Kisoro is just a 1 hour drive to Bwindi (for Rushaga or Nkuringo locations). However visitors to Buhoma location may opt to charter planes to Kayonza (near Butogota) or Savannah (Kihihi) airstrips. See Chigo Tours Fly in Gorilla Safari.
How is the weather like in Bwindi? This is a very important question as it helps you plan accordingly – what to pack or wear. The whole geographical scenery of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is basically hilly and mountainous. At an elevation between 1160 to 2607m (3806 to 8553ft), rains can shower anytime. It is therefore recommended that visitors pack rain wear, waterproof clothing and appropriate hiking shoes to wear on during gorilla tracking or forest walks. Daytime temperatures range from 23C/73F at times dropping to as low as 11∘C/52 ∘F.
Activities in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park:
With mist covered hillsides, this impenetrable forest is the oldest and most biologically diverse rainforest, with over 400 plant species. It lies on the edge of the Great Rift Valley in Southwestern Uganda and protects at least 120 species of mammals. In addition, the forest has 346 species of birds, 202 species of butterflies, 27 species of frogs, chameleons, geckos and many other endangered species. This is makes Bwindi one of the richest forest in the area and a tourist destination with lots of activities to offer.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park has gorilla tracking as the major tourist activity; with four gorilla tracking trailheads. It is also the only park where both mountain gorillas and chimpanzees co-exist. Currently, 16 gorilla families are habituated for viewing but only 8 tourists are booked for each family per day. On the way to the gorillas, there are many forest trails that lead to various attractions including waterfalls, rivers, swamps, not to mention lots of other wildlife.
Gorilla tracking is a captivating and unforgettable experience; although it may be challenging. Therefore, one needs to be reasonably fit before undertaking to venture into the activity. But meeting the mountain gorilla more than repays the effort needed to reach Bwindi and the hike through the forest. A Gorilla Permit costs USD 700 for Foreign Non residents and USD 600 for foreign residents. East African citizens pay 250,000 Uganda shillings. On the other hand, Gorilla habituation goes for USD 1500, USD 1000 and 750,000 UGX respectively.
Birding is another attraction that provides great opportunities to see various Albertine Rift endemics such as the short tailed warbler and the Grauer’s broadbill. A 3 hour descent to Mubwindi Swamp leads a visitor to endemic and localized African Green (Graeur’s) Broadbill and other beautiful bird species. On the other hand, a 6 hour bamboo trail leads to Rwamunyonyi peak (2607m). This is the highest peak and a notable spot for birding. Visitors pay USD 30 for a birding excursion.
Hiking / Nature Walks in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest:
Though Gorilla tracking is the main attraction, a wide range of nature walks provide more relaxed opportunities to spot birds also monkeys as well; while exploring one of Uganda’s loveliest rainforests. A short drive North of Buhoma offers wonderful hikes along the hill crests and rivers to discover waterfalls, glorious views and the traditional lifestyle and folklore of the Kigezi people. A day nature walk in Bwindi goes for USD 30.
There are 6 mains nature trails that give a visitor a chance to explore the “impenetrable forest” intimately. The scheduled time for walks is at 9:00AM in the mornings and at 14:15 PM in the afternoons.
- In the North, there is the Munyanga River trail in the valley below Buhoma Park Office. This provides an ideal short walk to view birds and primates along the forest edge. It also leads to the sensational Muyanga Falls.
Similarly, the Waterfall Walk leads through one of Uganda’s most pristine tracts of rainforest, passing beneath tree ferns, epiphytic ferns and orchids leading to 3 sparkling waterfalls.
- Another notable trail is the Muzabajiro Loop Trail which climbs up to the summit of Rukubira Hill for breathtaking views of Bwindi Forest, the Great Western Rift Valley and the Virunga Volcanoes.
Furthermore, the Rushura Hill Hike provides expansive views across the plains of the rift valley and on clear days (no mist), Lake Edward and the Rwenzori Mountains are seen.
- In the South West, there is the River Ivi trail. This follows an old road through beautiful forest and emerges near Nkuringo. It is also a highly recommended trail for bird watchers.
Important Tip: If you plan to travel to Bwindi for Gorilla tracking, then it is important for you to reserve the permit first; then accommodation next. This gives you a better idea on which lodge to book and in what location.
Here is a list of some lodges in Bwindi: