Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Discover Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP) is in south-western Uganda next to the Virunga National Park and on the edge of the Albertine Rift. The designated World Heritage Site covers an area of 331 sq km of both montane and lowland forest, accessible only on foot.

BINP which was originally known as Impenetrable Central Crown Forest was formed when two blocks combined; northern Kayonza Crown Forest Reserve, and the southern Kasatora Crown Forest Reserve. Two more forest reserves became part of the main reserve, and the region was designated as an animal sanctuary to provide extra protection for its mountain gorillas.

The reserve was first managed by both a game sanctuary and forest reserve but later Uganda Wildlife Authority took over management, reclassified the forest to a park evicting Batwa pygmy community from the forest and started gorilla tracking for tourist in April 1993.

The park contains riverine woodland, wetland, savannah, tropical forest, Borassus palms, and acacia trees. The park hosts 76 mammals and 451 bird species. Many wildlife species are found here, including four of the Big Five animals. You can enjoy and appreciate the impressive waterfall by hiking up to the top of the falls and taking the launch boat trip. You can also enjoy chimpanzee trekking in Budongo forest. Permanent residents at the riverbanks include hippos, Nile crocodiles and aquatic birds while regular visitors are elephants, giraffes and buffalos. The park has a big collection of water birds such as the rare shoebill stork.

Scenery of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

At an altitude of 1,190m to 2,607m, the park is dense, ecological, and biologically rich with diverse species. Located at the edge of Kigezi Highlands, the park has variations of elevation that resulted in a dense population of trees, wildlife, birds, reptiles, and butterflies. Its topography is very rugged, with narrow valleys intersected by rivers and steep hills. The park has more than 220 tree species, 1,000 flowering plant species, and more than 100 fern species including the threatened brown mahogany and Brazzeia longipedicellata.

The forest has a dense network of streams flowing to many rivers including; Ivi, Munyaga, Ihihizo, Ishasha, and Ntengyere rivers, which flow into Lake Edward, Lakes Mutanda and Bunyonyi.

Best time to visit Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Bwindi has a tropical climate with the climate and environment regulated by the forest. Annual mean temperature ranges from a minimum of 7 to 15 °C to a maximum of 20 to 27 °C. Its annual rainfall ranges from 1,400 to 1,900 mm. The rainy season occurs from March to April and from September to November. The park's forest vegetation has high amounts of evapotranspiration increasing the rainfall around the region. The forest vegetation lessens soil erosion, flooding and ensures that streams continue to flow in the dry season.

Gorilla tracking in Bwindi is open for all year round, but the best times to visit are in the dry season from June to August and December to February. The forest trails are drier and therefore less slippery, photography is easier. The high season with many tourists coming in is from June to September and booking of permits in advance is adviced. The low season is in the months of March, April, May, October and November but this time there is heavy rainfall making trails hard to use but the permits are discounted at this time. You may track gorillas for long and the rainfall may interfere with taking photos. You may, however, find migratory birds at this time.

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Wildlife of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Bwindi is located on the edge of the Albertine Rift, a hotspot conservation harboring a huge number of endemic and threatened species. The park contains diverse species habitat for 120 mammals species, 348 birds species, 220 butterflies species, 27 frogs species, chameleons, geckos, fish and many endangered species. Bwindi is home to 10 primate species including the mountain gorillas, rare l'Hoest monkey, red-tailed monkeys, vervets, and black-and-white colobus. Chimpanzee are present but not habituated and therefore rarely seen. Apart from mountain gorillas and primates, other mammal species include; African elephant, African green broadbill, and cream-banded swallowtail, the giant forest hog, bushbuck, duiker, side-striped jackal, African golden cat, and African civet.

Gorilla groups

The main attraction in Bwindi is its mountain gorillas which generates much revenue for Uganda Wildlife Authority. The population of gorillas is approximately 400 individuals, half of the world's population of the critically endangered mountain gorillas, with more than 100 habituated. Tourists wishing to track gorillas must first obtain a permit. Selected gorillas families have been habituated to human presence, and the number of visitors is tightly controlled to prevent risks to the gorillas and degradation of the habitat. The gorillas seldom react to tourists. There are strict rules for tourists to minimize the risk of diseases passing from them to the gorillas. 12 habituated mountain gorilla groups are open to tourism in four different sectors of Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga and the Nkuringo all under the management of Uganda Wildlife Authority.

Buhoma Region

-Mubare group - named after the Mubare hills. This was the first group habituated in 1991 and received its first tracking visitors in 1993.
- Habinyanja group - This was habituated in 1997 and received tracking visitors in 1999.
- Rushegura group - This was habituated in 2000 and received tourists in 2002. It was split from the larger group Habinyanja group. They crisscross each other and co-exist peacefully.

Ruhija Region

- Bitukura group- habituated in 2008
- Oruzogo - habituated in 2011.

Rushaga Region

- Nshongi group- This is the biggest habituated group with 25 members.
- Mishaya group - following a family dispute, 10 members of this group split from the biggest group Nshongi group.
- Busingye group - habituated in 2011.
- Bweeza group - habituated in 2011.
- Kahungye - habituated in 2011

Nkuringo Region

Nkuringo Group- it has 19 members and is the most challenging hikes, although worthwhile, as it is the most pleasing. Habituated in 2004.

Primate Safety Precaution

Mountain gorillas are, in essence, gentle giants. They show very little aggression toward each other and their overall vibe is extremely peaceful. There is always potential for danger when you are close to wildlife, but these risks can be limited greatly by exercising caution and safety measures and following park rules.

•Keep a safe distance from primates.
• Do not visit chimps when you are ill or with an infectious disease.
• Human waste must be buried 30cm deep.
• Do not use flash photography.
• Back away slowly if the animal approaches you.
• In the forest, the path or trail does not belong to you. Never block the animal's path.
• If a gorilla charges follow the example of the guide - crouch down slowly, do not look the gorillas directly in the eyes and wait for the animals to pass.
• Don't make any quick movements.

How to book for a gorilla permit

Once you decide you want to have a gorilla tracking experience, your travel agent such as Nkuringo Safaris will book and arrange for your permit depending on your itinerary. A lone traveler, however, can book for permits from Uganda Wildlife Authority offices in Kampala or can check for availability in the information centers in Kisoro or Buhoma. You are however encouraged to book permits in advance.

The permit buys you one hour with the gorillas but the trek to them may vary being strenuous or easy. Permits are usually $600 for foreigners, $500 for foreign residents and Ugx 250,000 for East Africans.

Birding

Bwindi is a bird-watchers’ paradise, with 347 bird species. It is home to 24 of the total 25 Albertine Rift endemic bird species. Furthermore, Bwindi is the dwelling place for 76 of the 144 Guinea-Congo-forest biome bird species that are found in Uganda. The area also qualifies for the Afro-tropical-highland biome bird species with 68 of the total 86, as well as for the Lake Victoria-biome with 4 of the 12 species.

Birds are very abundant and very easy to spot; several species connecting in assorted feeding flocks which are active all through the day. The main birding trails where birders can catch sight of these amazing creatures are the Bamboo Zone, the Mubwindi Swamp trail in Ruhija and the Waterfall trail in Buhoma.

Some of the bird species include; Western Green Tinkerbird, African Wood Owl, Archer’s Robin-Chat, Red-throated Alethe, Fine-banded Woodpecker etc.

Safety and security

In our opinion, Bwindi is comparable to most parks and reserves, in that you can visit it safely. The list of people whom you will encounter includes staff of parks, camps and tour operators, as well as other tourists such as yourself.

• The horrifying attack of the kidnap of 14 foreign tourists by the 150 former Rwandan Interahamwe guerrillas in 1999 led to the government to be more vigilant and enforced more security at the border. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is now a safe and more stable adventure with well-trained armed guides accompanying every tour group.
• It is recommended to take anti-malarial medication and apply mosquito repellent because there is a high risk of transition during the rainy season (March to May and October to December). However, mosquitoes are rarely present in this high altitude area.
• Wear long pants and long-sleeve shirts, sturdy boots to prevent bug bites and your ankle.

What to pack for gorilla tracking safari

You must consider the weather when packing for this trip. If your trip entails a chartered flight, you may be required to pack light since baggage is limited to 10 to 20 kgs. Make sure you have packed sunscreen, poncho or raincoat, warm clothing, insect repellant, money belt, long range camera, sturdy hiking shoes, flashlight, extra rechargeable batteries and many more. Nkuringo Safaris has a detailed list of items to pack for your safari upon confirming your booking.

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Other Activities

Canoeing
You will enjoy a dug-out canoe ride at Lake Mutanda on your way to or from Bwindi. This scenic lake has marvellous views of birds, Virunga ranges, papyrus swamp and community interaction.

Batwa Pigmy Experience

There is rich culture showcased by the indigenous Batwa pygmies who were evicted from the forest to protect the endangered gorilla. You will be taken to see how the Batwa used to live, upon trees! A hands-on historical and cultural demonstration will allow you to see the forest through the eyes of the first people, the Batwa Pygmy. They will describe their ancient way of life as hunter and gatherers including honey gathering, basket weaving, cave dwelling and traditional dancing.

Nature Walks

Bwindi Impenetrable forest is biologically rich and is important for the conservation of the afromontane fauna, especially species endemic to the western rift valley's mountains. You will marvel at the variety of 200 tree species. This can be enjoyed when also doing some bird watching or taking the Buniga forest walk through the forest from Nkuringo to Buhoma.

Community Walks

You can walk around the rural community who live around the border of the forest and understand their cultural aspects. They will explain their farming methods, perform cultural dances, introduce their traditional healers and blacksmiths and the women would explain their weaving skills. You can purchase arts and crafts from the local people which is an economic uplift for them. You will notice hard-working women tending to their gardens with babies on their backs. There are many community hospitals and schools that have been set up to assist the local community. These hospitals usually rely on donations from sponsors. At Nkuringo, you can visit and support community projects such as donating to a sewing machine, community hospital, primary school, water tank, and many more.

Where to stay in Bwindi

There is a variety of accommodation option to choose from when on a safari. Nkuringo Safaris will give you the various options in your itinerary ranging from budget to high-end facilities, all to suit your needs. You may choose to reside in lodges, or tented camps set in traditional style, or the beautiful bandas.

In Buhoma sector - Buhoma Lodge, Volcanoes Bwindi Lodge, Silverback Lodge, Mahogany Springs lodge, Buhoma Community Rest camp and more.
In Nkuringo sector - Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge, Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge and more.
In Rushaga sector - Gorilla Safari Lodge, Nhongi camp, Ruhaga gorilla camp, Ichumbi Gorilla Lodge and many more.
In Ruhija sector -Ruhija Gorilla Safari Lodge, Bakiga Lodge and many more.
Lake Mutanda region - Lake Chahafi resort, Mutanda Lake Resort, Chameleon Hill Lodge.
There are many more accommodation facilities found in Kisoro and Kabale towns.

Getting to Bwindi

Please look at the passport, visa and other entry requirements for travelling to Uganda. Once you arrive in Uganda through Entebbe International Airport, the distance to reach Bwindi Impenetrable Forest from Kampala which is 46 km from Entebbe is approximately 550km. You can get there by road or air.

By Air

- Scheduled flights - from Entebbe to Kihihi (40km from the park) or Kisoro.
- Chartered flight - from Entebbe or Kajjansi airfield to Bwindi. Those going to Buhoma can go to Kayonza airstrip.

By Road

- Kampala - Kabale through Kanungu /Butogota to Ruhija or Buhoma - 9-10hours- 390km tarmac, 82km murram (road surface).
- Kampala - Kabale - Rushaga or Nkuringo- 9-10hours
- Kampala - Kabale - Kisoro- Nkuringo or Rushaga- 9-10hours
- Kabale - Bwindi - 105km- 4 hours
- Queen Elizabeth NP through Kihihi to Bwindi - 4-6 hours.
- Lake Mburo NP to Bwindi- 4-6 hours.

During the rainy season, travel by 4WD vehicle is necessary.

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is indeed an ideal tourist attraction for visitors in Uganda. There is excellent gorilla tracking with guaranteed sightings, superb bird-watching, dense conserved rainforest, rich culture and community projects. Gorilla tracking is much cheaper in Uganda than in neighboring Rwanda.

Would you like to visit Bwindi Impenetrable National Park? Contact us and we can arrange your tour or provide you with more information.
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