Bwindi Impenetrable National Park lies in south-western 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. Diverse species are a feature of the park.
Tourists can visit the park any time throughout the year, although conditions in the park are more difficult during the rainy season.
Situated along DR Congo (DRC) border, next to the Virunga National Park, and on the edge of the Albertine Rift, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is old, complex, and biologically rich. Among East African forests, Bwindi has some of the richest populations of trees, small mammals, birds, reptiles, butterflies, and moths.
More famously, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest protects an estimated 340 mountain gorillas— roughly half of the world’s population, including several habituated groups that can be tracked. This “impenetrable forest” lives up to its name— it is accessible only on foot.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is a habitat for 120 species of mammals, 348 species of birds, 220 species of butterflies, 27 species of frogs, chameleons, geckos, and many endangered species. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its ecological importance.
The park’s topography is very rugged, with narrow valleys intersected by rivers and steep hills. Altitudes in the park range from 1,190 to 2,607 meters above sea level, with 60% of the park having an elevation of over 2,000 meters above sea level. The highest elevation in the park is Rwamunyonyi hill at the eastern edge of the park and the lowest part of the park is located at its most northern tip.
BINP is thought to have one of the richest faunal communities in East Africa. The park is a sanctuary for colobus monkeys, and many birds such as hornbills and turacos. It is most notable for the 340 Bwindi gorillas, half of the world’s population of the critically endangered mountain gorillas. An estimated 116 are habituated, these live in groups located around Mubare, Habinyanja, Rushegura (near Buhoma), and Nkuringo.
Mountain Gorillas are an endangered species, with an estimated total population of about 650 individuals. They are intelligent, majestic, gentle giants that share over 90% of their genetic material with humans. In the 1960s and 1970s, mountain gorillas were captured to begin a population of them in captive facilities, no baby gorillas survived in captivity and no mountain gorillas are known of that are currently in captivity.
Along with mountain gorillas, species in the park include the common chimpanzee, L’Hoest’s monkey, African elephant, African green broadbill, and cream-banded swallowtail, black and white colobus, red-tailed monkeys, vervets, the giant forest hog, and small antelope species. There are also many carnivores, including the side-striped jackal, African golden cat, and African civet.
Bwindi offers some of the finest montane forest bird watching in Africa, and is an unmissable destination for any birder visiting Uganda. The varied habitats of Uganda’s oldest forest mean it is the ideal habitat for a variety of birds, with 350 species recorded, including 23 endemics such as the Short-tailed Warbler and Blue-headed Sunbird as well as seven IUCN red data listed species.
Globally threatened species such as African Green Broadbill and Shelley’s Crimsonwing are also found here. Other birds include the Handsome Francolin; Black-billed Turaco; African Broadbill; Black and Cinnamon-chested Bee-eaters; Western Green Tinkerbird; Purple-breasted, Blue-headed and Regal Sunbirds; Short-tailed and Black-faced Rufous Warblers; Mountain-masked and Collared Apalis; Mountain and Yellow-streaked Greenbuls; and Many-colored Bush-Shrike, among others.
Easy to see are the African Emerald Cuckoo, Common Bulbul, African Blue, and White-tailed Blue Flycatchers, and Red-headed Bluebill. Birding takes place along the main trail, the Buhoma Waterfall Trail, and along the bamboo zone and Mubwindi Swamp trail in Ruhija.
Floristically, the park is among the most diverse forests in East Africa, with more than 1,000 flowering plant species, including more than 220 tree species, (more than 50 percent of Uganda’s tree species) and more than 104 fern species. The brown mahogany is a threatened plant species found within the park. BINP The park is important for the conservation of the Afromontane fauna, especially species endemic to the western rift valley’s mountains.
Accommodation facilities in BINP are top-notch: both luxury and camping facilities are available in all sectors where tracking takes place. The park is located in a remote area, and the journey by road can be long and difficult but is also accessible by air. The road from Kampala to Kisoro is all paved and first class. The bad section of the road is only about 35 Kms to the forest (southern sector).
ACTIVITIES IN THE PARK
Gorilla Tracking is the park’s main tourist attraction, followed by birding. Selected gorillas families have been habituated to human presence and the number of visitors is tightly controlled to prevent degradation of the habitat and risks to the gorillas.
BINP is a model for the integration of community sustainable resource management in East African. The park’s management has developed ecotourism programs that support community livelihoods, a major reason for community support. Revenues from gorilla tracking go to conservation efforts and supporting neighboring communities.
Gorilla Tracking: Gorilla tracking limited to a maximum of 8 people per particular gorilla group per day – Permits must be booked before since they are in very high demand all year round. Once a habituated gorilla family has been located by your guides, you can settle down for an hour to observe them as they feed and groom while their babies tumble about the undergrowth – all under the watchful gaze of the great silverback male. Sitting only a few meters from a gorilla and looking into its soft brown eyes is a spine-tingling experience not easily forgotten.
The males can weigh more than 500lb and some silverbacks exceed 6ft! All of Bwindi’s habituated gorillas are known individually by the rangers and have been given names in order to identify them. The gorillas seldom react to tourists.
Birding: Birding takes place along the main trail, the Buhoma Waterfall Trail, and along the bamboo zone and Mubwindi Swamp trail in Ruhija. The varied habitats of Uganda’s oldest forest mean it is the ideal habitat 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: Mountain biking follows a well-maintained trail from the park headquarters at Buhoma to the Ivi River. Along this 13km trail, you may see wildlife such as bushbucks, black-and-white colobus, and red-tailed monkeys. The six-seven hour round trip departs in the morning and is organized by Buhoma Community Rest Camp under the Ride for a Woman community development initiative.
Hiking/Nature Walks: There are six main nature trails in Bwindi for those who wish to explore the “impenetrable forest”: Muyanga Waterfall Walk, Rushura Hill Walk, Muzubijiro Loop, the Ivi River Walk, Buhoma-Nkuringo Trail, Habinyanja (Railegh) Trail. Depending on which trail you take, there are sightings of waterfalls, views of the Virungas and far-off features like Lake Edward and Lake George, and the rare opportunity to walk in a forest shared by two countries.
Cultural Encounters: There is a number of community walks with visits to a traditional homestead, a traditional healer, cultural performances, and opportunities to observe or participate in traditional crafts like brewing, blacksmithing, etc.