Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda is Africa’s top tourist destination for mountain Gorilla trekking and viewing, with a spectacular vegetation cover, a great view, culture, and tour activities.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park lies in southwestern Uganda on the edge of the Rift Valley. Its mist-covered hillsides are blanketed by one of Uganda’s oldest and most biologically diverse rainforests, which dates back over 25,000 years and contains almost 400 species of plants. More famously, this “impenetrable forest” also protects an estimated 400 mountain gorillas – roughly half of the world’s population, including several habituated groups, which can be tracked.
This biologically diverse region also provides shelter to a further 120 mammals, including several primate species such as baboons and chimpanzees, as well as elephants and antelopes. There are around 350 species of birds hosted in this forest, including 23 Albertine Rift endemics.
The mountain gorillas are the prime attraction in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park with gorilla trekking happening all year round.
A gorilla trekking safari is a once-in-a-lifetime wildlife encounter. Imagine coming eye-to-eye with a mountain gorilla. A big part of what makes the gorilla trek so special is that these big apes are so closely related to humans (the difference in DNA is only about 1.6%).
They do seem to touch a nerve when they look at us with interest. The gorillas’ natural habitat is restricted to a relatively small area in a historically turbulent region. But this region has stabilized and tourism is picking up throughout, which make gorilla tours increasingly accessible.
Habitat loss is now the main obstacle to the survival of gorillas, and money spent on gorilla tourism goes a long way in securing their survival.
The Park boundary is clearly delineated with planted trees and concrete pillars as markers along areas where rivers do not form the boundary. This clear boundary line has mostly stopped encroachment by the local communities, although with increasing population, agricultural encroachment will remain a potential threat. However, community participation programmes have enabled the neighbouring communities to derive various benefits from ecotourism and regulated plant resource use which significantly contributes to improving their livelihoods. There are no commercial activities inside the property other than ecotourism. B
windi shares a common border with the small (c. 900 ha) protected Sarambwe forest in DRC, into which the gorillas and other species enter at times. This provides an opportunity for population dispersal and gene flow, and an avenue for international collaboration in conserving the region’s endemic and endangered flora and fauna.
Managed by Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA, UWA replaced Uganda National Parks (UNP) that was the management authority of the property at the time of designation), Bwindi is protected under the provisions of various national laws (The Constitution (1995), Uganda Wildlife Act Cap 200 of 2000, National Environment Act (2000), Local Government Act (1997), The Land Act (1998), the Forest and Tree Planting Act 2003 and the Uganda Wildlife Policy (1999).
All these laws mentioned above were not in place by the time the property was inscribed as a World Heritage Site. However, the Uganda National Parks Act (1952), and the Game Act were already in place to support its creation) and international conventions (Convention of Biological Diversity 1992 (CBD), Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the Ramsar convention 1971 and the World Heritage Convention 1972).
The site has an approved management plan and is highly respected and supported by local communities as a conservation site. The property attracts substantial support from a number of local and international NGOs. The Park has a permanent research institute located within the site which is engaged in research and continued monitoring of the site’s integrity. These factors as well as strong political support provide an assurance for the property’s long-term protection and conservation.
The management of the site has developed ecotourism programmes that support community livelihoods, a major reason for community support. The Park is a model for integration of community sustainable resource management in the country and possibly in the East African Region. However, there are still strong long-term needs for greater primate protection given the new tendency of trafficking mountain gorilla babies and chimpanzees.
As the mountain gorilla is so closely related to people, it is also threatened by transmission of human diseases as a result of tourism activities. UWA is closely monitoring these threats and working with stakeholders and NGOs to mitigate these threats. Continued enhancement of conservation is required in law enforcement and monitoring.
The Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is located in the south-west of Uganda. The park is part of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and is situated along with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) border next to the Virunga National Park and on the edge of the Albertine Rift. Composed of 321 square kilometers (124 sq mi) of both montane and lowland forest, it is accessible only on foot. BINP is a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization-designated World Heritage Site.
Species diversity is a feature of the park. It provides habitat for 120 species of mammals, 348 species of birds, 220 species of butterflies, 27 species of frogs, chameleons, geckos, and many endangered species. Floristically, the park is among the most diverse forests in East Africa, with more than 1,000 flowering plant species, including 163 species of trees and 104 species of ferns. The northern (low elevation) sector has many species of Guineo-Congolian flora, including two endangered species, the brown mahogany, and Brazzeia longipedicellata. In particular, the area shares in the high levels of endemisms of the Albertine Rift.
The park is a sanctuary for colobus monkeys, chimpanzees, and many birds such as hornbills and turacos. It is most notable for the 400 Bwindi gorillas, half of the world’s population of the endangered mountain gorillas. 14 habituated mountain gorilla groups are open to tourism in four different sectors of Buhoma, Ruhijja, Rushaga, and the Nkuringo in the Districts of Kanungu, Kabale, and Kisoro respectively all under the management of Uganda Wildlife Authority.
The park is composed of two blocks of forest that are connected by a corridor of forest. The shape of the park is a legacy of previous conservation management when the original two forest blocks were protected in 1932. There is agricultural land where there were previously trees directly outside the park’s borders.
The park’s underlying geology consists of Precambrian shale phyllite, quartz, quartzite, schist, and granite. The park is at the edge of the Western Rift Valley in the highest parts of the Kigezi Highlands, which were created by up-warping of the Western Rift Valley. Its topography is very rugged, with narrow valleys intersected by rivers and steep hills. Elevations in the park range from 1,190 to 2,607 metres (3,904 to 8,553 ft) above sea level and 60 percent of the park has an elevation of over 2,000 metres (6,600 ft). The highest elevation is Rwamunyonyi Hill at the eastern edge of the park. The lowest part of the park is at its most northern tip.
The forest is an important water catchment area. With a generally impermeable underlying geology where water mostly flows through large fault structures, water infiltration and aquifers are limited. Much of the park’s rainfall forms streams, and the forest has a dense network of streams.
Bwindi has a tropical climate. Annual mean temperature ranges from a minimum of 7 to 15 °C (45 to 59 °F) to a maximum of 20 to 27 °C (68 to 81 °F). Its annual rainfall ranges from 1,400 to 1,900 millimetres (55 to 75 in). Peak rainfall occurs from March to April and from September to November. The park’s forest plays an important role in regulating the surrounding area’s environment and climate. High amounts of evapotranspiration from the forest’s vegetation increases the precipitation that the region outside the park receives. They also lessen soil erosion, which is a serious problem in south-western Uganda. They lessen flooding and ensure that streams continue to flow in the dry season
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is best known for its Mountain Gorilla populations and gorilla tracking. There are 4 locations for tracking gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest; Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga, and Nkuringo. The 4 locations have a total of about 18 families as of December 2018.
Bwindi a varied habitat which is Uganda’s oldest forest mean it is the ideal home for a variety of birds, with 350 species recorded, including 23 endemics (90% of all Albertine Rift endemics) such as the Short-tailed Warbler and Blue-headed Sunbird as well as seven IUCN red data listed species. Easy to see are the African Emerald Cuckoo, Common Bulbul, African Blue and White-tailed Blue Flycatchers, and Red-headed Bluebill.
Bwindi Impenetrable national park is open to visitors throughout the year, but the park is best visited during the dry seasons of the year that is from the month of June, July, August, December, January to February, these months receive little or no rainfall at all which has influenced a number of activities to take place including Gorilla trekking, birding experience, nature walks, and others, during this time, the trails are dry and the ground is less slippery enabling easy access through the trails.
Bwindi Impenetrable national park can also be visited during the wet season from the month of March, May, and September to November since the park is open and all the activities take place regardless of the rain. During the rain season, the park is green with plenty of food and fruits which attracts Many birds, and by this time, there will be a lot of Migratory birds.
Bwindi can be reached from Queen Elizabeth National Park to the north (2-3 hours), from Kabale to the south (1-2 hours), or from Kampala via Mbarara (6-8 hours). The roads meet at Butogota, 17km from the Buhoma entrance gate. A 4WD vehicle is necessary during the rainy season. Daily bus service leaves Kampala for Butogota via Rukungiri and Kihiihi. A matatu (public minibus), hire car, or boda-boda (motorcycle taxi) can be taken from Butogota to the park entrance gate at Buhoma.
Travelers can fly from Entebbe or Kampala (Kajjansi airfield) to the modern tarmac airstrip at Kisoro. Planes can also be chartered to the grass Kayonza or Savannah airstrips. Bwindi is well served by three airfields at Kayonza and Kihiihi for the northern sector and Nyakabande in Kisoro for those going to track gorillas in the southern sector (Nkuringo, Nshongi, and Mishaya).
Bwindi’s various trailheads can be reached by vehicle. However, there are no roads within the park itself, which is explored on foot. Bwindi has aptly named the ‘impenetrable forest’; paths pass through dense vegetation and can be steep. Take advantage of walking sticks offered at the start of a walk.
All the four (4) sectors for Gorilla trekking offer an remarkable collection of luxury lodges, budget campsites, restaurants, rustic bandas and craft stalls in addition to guiding services.
Depending on your budget, we can tailor make for your vacation that suits your budget and travel needs.
There are two gorilla trekking spots in Uganda: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
The reason why travelers come to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is to see the magnificent mountain gorillas. Being able to witness these impressive animals in their natural habitat is an experience you’ll never forget. Besides gorilla trekking, you can also go on a nature walk in the park.
a) Trekking Mountain Gorillas
The worldwide Mountain Gorillas are the rare but most interesting primates to see. Uganda has the highest percentage of Mountain Gorillas in the world. There are currently less than 1000 mountain gorillas left in the world and almost half of the population resides in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Gorilla trekking is therefore the major tourist activity in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and Uganda at large.
Read more about the reasons why you should visit this park.
There are other interesting hiking trails here. Before or after your visit to the gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park;
Mountain gorilla trekking is a squint wildlife experience in the Virunga; these vast animals weigh three times the weight as well as the average man. Mountain gorillas have no tails, shorter arms, and dense black hair than lowland cousins, Gorillas are visited on a daily basis than any other wild animal, and they are fascinating animals to the extent that some try to interact with their visitors, often approaching them and greeting them as they walk past.
It is very important for trackers to pack lunch, mineral water, and cameras are highly recommended for the trek. The hike usually takes one to four hours depending on which group you are tracking. Usually, visitors spend one hour with the gorillas and it is prohibited to smoke or eat in their presence.
Bwindi a varied habitat which is Uganda’s oldest forest mean it is the ideal home for a variety of birds, with 350 species recorded, including 23 endemics (90% of all Albertine Rift endemics) such as the Short-tailed Warbler and Blue-headed Sunbird as well as seven IUCN red data listed species. Easy to see are the African Emerald Cuckoo, Common Bulbul, African Blue and White-tailed Blue Flycatchers and Red-headed Bluebill.
Cycling/ Mountain Biking
The number one item on the list of planning a gorilla safari in Uganda is the gorilla permit. The permit is your gorilla trekking access pass.
Issued by the Uganda Wildlife Authority, the permit allows you one to four hours with a single gorilla family. It comes with complementary offers like two armed rangers for your security, a trekking guide, and a team of rangers to track the gorillas ahead of you for assurance of meeting the jungle giants.
Any foreign non-resident above the age of 15 can trek Uganda’s gorillas for a permit price of USD 700 per person. Foreign residents pay USD 600, and East African Nationals pay 250,000 Uganda Shillings (UGX). Thus, without Gorilla permit you can not trek the mountain Gorillas.
To get more time with the gorillas in their natural habitat, go for the Habituation permit that currently costs USD 1,500. The Habituation permit offers at least four hours with a gorilla family. If you’re keen to find a physical challenge that will lead to spending priceless jungle hours with gorillas, this is it!
Occasionally, the Uganda Wildlife Authority discounts the gorilla permits at least once every year. For example, between Dec 2020 and June 2021, UWA discounted the permit to $400/$300/150,000 (UGX) for foreign non-residents/residents/EA Nationals. To take advantage of the discounted permits, reach out to Kubwa Five Safaris
Uganda Wildlife Authority, a government conservation arm, is the only one authorized to issue permits on behalf of the government. You can purchase yours directly from UWA offices in Kampala.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to deal with the cumbersome logistics of rescheduling, canceling, or even just processing to buy a permit, get one through a licensed tour operator in Uganda like Kubwa Five Safaris
UWA licenses several local operators to sell 80% percent of the permits. The other 20% is what is sold directly to tourists. Operators charge about 5-30% of the permit price to deal with the logistics. It is a fair deal considering the modalities of permit processing.
Most of the 1070 plus world’s mountain gorillas are wild and far from human reach. However, researchers in Uganda have Habituated 21 gorilla families for tourism and research. 19 gorilla families are available for gorilla trekking, and two are reserved for research and habituation experience. UWA allows only 8 people to visit and spend one hour with a single gorilla family per day for trekking. Only 4 people can participate in the habituation process with a single wild gorilla family.
Therefore, the Uganda Wildlife Authority issues 152 gorilla trekking permits and 8 Habituation permits per day, all year round.
Volcanoes National Park has a total number of about 380 mountain gorillas and 10 habituated gorilla families which are for tourism intentions, a maximum of 8 people can visit each gorilla group per day spending a maximum of one hour each visit.
Susa Gorilla Group (Susa A Family)
This group was first studied by famous by the zoologist Diane Fossey on the slopes of Mount Karisimbi. It is comprised of 40 individuals with 3 silverbacks; the second largest group of mountain gorillas in the world. The group is the hardest to trek as it tends to span high in the mountains. Susa group is totally catchy, with gorillas genuinely tumbling the bush and Bamboo forest.
Dian Fossey’s research activities are one of the most preferred gorilla groups by visitors. The name “Susa” in Kinyarwanda was borrowed from the nearby Susa river. The gorilla group initially had 42 members before it broke into two because of a feud. This gorilla family tends to live high up in the mountains and hence the most difficult to track, sometimes taking a whole day.
Park rangers always know their location but on days when they wander too far away, tourists may not be allowed access to them. The famous playful young twins Byishimo and Impano make this gorilla group full of activity and exciting to watch. Then there are Poppy one of the oldest habituated gorillas. If you are adventurous and fit, this might just be the gorilla family for you.
Sabinyo Gorilla Group
This group lies on a gently forested area between Mount Gahinga and Mount Sabinyo, the group consists of 11 individuals and 2 silverbacks. The group is located on a flat to gently sloping, and the trek takes around 40minutes or less, generally the slopes aren’t too intimidating though very slippery after rain. The group is led by the largest and powerful silverback Guhonda and heaviest gorilla ever at 220kg.
Amahoro which meaning peaceful, this group consists of 17 individuals and 1 silverback. The group was named after its peaceful silverback called Ubumwe.
Agashya Gorilla Group
This group had only 13 individuals with 1 silverback and 12 adult females, but today the group consists of 25 individuals. This group is the dearest to the guides because its silverback is more approachable than those in other groups.
This group was known as “Group 13” and led by Nyakarima before Agashya challenged him to a deadly fight after which he made off with the entire family up the volcano. This complete takeover was the first to be observed by gorilla researchers. After moving as far away as possible from Nyakarima, Agashya continued increasing his family number by stealing members from other groups and taking on loners.
The group leaves near the Sabyinyo gorilla group. Whenever he senses trouble for the group, Agashya gathers all members and flees to his favorite safety spot on top of the volcano. Because of this, the gorilla group can be difficult to track. The group has now grown from 13 to about 25 members.
Bwenge Family Group (13 Gorilla Group)
Bwenge means “wisdom”. Some of the gorilla group members featured in the drama “Gorillas in the Mist”. The group was formed in 2007 by Bwenge the dominant silverback after leaving his group of birth and being joined by female members from other families.
The family contains 11 individuals but reaching them is difficult as they live up a steep and sometimes muddy hill on the slopes of Karisoke Volcano.
Umubano Gorilla Group
Umubano literally meaning live together, the group consists of 11 individuals and 1 silverback. This group was originally a member of the Amahoro group but split after Ubumwe and Charles fought, and later Charles grabbed a few females from Ubumwe and formed his own group.
Hirwa Gorilla Group
This was formed in 2006 by a silverback that had broken away from the Susa group; the group consists of 9 individuals i.e. 1silver back, 3 babies, 3 adult females, and 2 sub-adults females.
Kwitonda Gorilla Group
The group crossed into Uganda from DRC, due to the Congolese civil war, the group stayed in Mgahinga National Park in Uganda and late crossed to Volcanoes National Park. This group consists of 18 individuals led by 1 silverback called Kwitonda which literally means humble.
Karisimbi Gorilla Group (Susa B Family)
This group consists of 15 individuals, the group split from the Susa group because they used to stay in the same region on Mount Karisimbi.
Ugenda Gorilla Family
The Ugenda group lives around the Karisimbi area and contains 11 members including 2 silverbacks. Ugenda means “being on the move” in Kinyarwanda and was used in reference to the roving nature of the group. Because of their wandering habit, tracking them can be very difficult on some days.
Gorilla Trekking Rules:
Each of the mountain gorilla family is tracked by strictly a group of 8 tourists in a day which means 88 mountain gorilla tracking permits are available every day.
Currently, Uganda is the number one and most preferred mountain gorilla-tracking destination.
In order to ensure the wellbeing of the mountain gorillas and the tourists, the Uganda Wildlife Authority put up mountain gorilla tracking rules and guidelines that should be followed and observed by tourists so that they enjoy the exclusive mountain gorilla safaris to the fullest and they include the following
Before The Mountain Gorilla Trekking
During The Mountain Gorilla Trekking
Tourists are allowed to be in the presence of the mountain gorillas for strictly one hour, which is intended to minimize the chances of disease, spread from the humans to mountain gorillas. There are high chances of disease spread from humans to the gorillas because about 98%of their DNA is similar to humans.
If the above are observed and well followed by tourists, you can enjoy exclusive and once in a lifetime experiences. Tourists heading for tracking should carry enough drinking water because the hike through the forest is a little strenuous causing a lot of sweat and it is, therefore, wise to keep hydrating (drinking water).
Tourists are also recommended to wear long sleeved shirts and long pants because mountain gorilla tracking is done in the forest with a lot of plant vegetation some of which cause skin irritation when in contact.
Carrying a raincoat or waterproof pant can never be a bad idea because rainfall in volcanoes national park Is highly unpredictable and can therefore occur at any time of the day.
What To Carry For Gorilla Trekking: