Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

The remoteness, natural beauty and enthralling biodiversity attracts a number of visitors to the park. However, it is those magnificent great apes-the gorillas that have made Bwindi Impenetrable National Park Uganda’s single most important tourist destination.

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is a large primeval forest located in south-western Uganda covering parts of Rukungiri, Kisoro and Kabale district. The forest is on the edge of the Albertine Rift, the western branch of the East African Rift at an elevation ranging from 1,160 to 2,607 metres (3,806 to 8,553 ft.). Bwindi’s altitudinal span, antiquity, remoteness, and flora have contributed to creating one of Africa’s most biodiverse forests. Bwindi is undoubtedly one of East Africa’s most ancient habitats dating over 25000 years back and it’s a home to over 120 mammal species, more than any other Ugandan park with the exception of Queen Elizabeth National Park. There are more than 160 tree and 100 fern species.

Of the mammals, the mountain gorilla is the most famous with the biggest population of approximately 340 gorillas of which 116 of the estimate are habituated. Just like humans, gorillas are intelligent, majestic, gentle giants that share over 93% of their genetic material with humans. However, another 10 primate species are present including chimpanzees (unhabituated), olive baboon, black-and-white colobus, L’Hoest’s monkey, red-tailed monkey and blue monkey. There is a seldom-seen herd of over 30 ‘forest’ elephant in the southeast of the forest and 6 antelope species: bushbuck and five duiker species.

Even though Bwindi has very little wetland habitat, it still holds about 350 species of birds. Of these, 23 species are endemic to the Albertine Rift and at least 14 species are recorded nowhere else in Uganda. Butterflies add colour and a good indication of the ecological health of a forest. Bwindi has at least 200 species, plus an incredible range of reptiles and amphibians. The birds in Bwindi offer one of the best birding experience, there are an estimated 350 bird species with 23 endemic to the Albertine Rift and 14 recorded nowhere else in Uganda.

Bwindi’s vegetation has been weaving itself into tangles over 25,000 years, in the process accumulating an extensive species list. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is old, complex, and very biologically rich. Diverse species are a feature of the park, and it became an UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its ecological importance. Among East African forests, Bwindi has some of the richest populations of trees, small mammals, birds, butterflies, reptiles, and moths. The park’s diverse species are partly a result of the large variations of altitude and habitat types in the park, and because the forest was a refuge for species during glaciations in the Pleistocene epoch.

The park’s forests are Afromontane, which is a rare vegetation type on the African continent. Located where plain and mountain forests meet, there is a continuum of low-altitude to high altitude primary forests in the park. One of the few large tracts of East African forest where this occurs. The park has more than 220 tree species, (more than 50% of Uganda’s tree species) and more than 100 fern species. The Brown Mahogany is a threatened plant specie found within the park.

In conclusion, Bwindi has various vegetation types that are defined by their altitudes and they are worth visiting as they offer unique biodiversity. Visiting the park is more than interacting with mountain gorillas but also a chance to enjoy abundant wildlife right from flora to fauna that are still unexploited.

What to do in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

Gorilla Trekking

Gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is the major activity that involves visitors moving into the dense tropical rainforests in search of the mountain gorillas and be able to view the environment they stay in as well as their daily activities.

The park has four gorilla sectors including Buhoma, Ruhija, Nkuringo and Rushaga, a maximum of eight people are allowed to trek each gorilla family after a briefing at the Buhoma park headquarters at around 7am. Some of the groups might start trekking the gorilla family near the park offices while others will need to be driven to starting points in one of the four sectors of the park. The park guides from the Uganda Wildlife Authority, two armed rangers and porters move with each group. The guides are very experienced, knowledgeable and well trained and are willing to share information about each of the gorilla group members and Bwindi forest in general.

Trekking gorillas in Bwindi depends on the gorilla group one is assigned to which is only known during briefing. Some groups can take only 30 minutes to locate while others can take hours. A team of trekkers normally goes ahead of the group to identify the location of the family and inform the lead guide by radio call of the location of the gorilla group. Trekkers know where the gorilla group last built their sleeping nests and will head to that direction. There is no guarantee of seeing the gorillas but the chances of spotting the gorillas is very high. There have been a few cases where the gorilla family heads too far into the forest that the activity is cancelled to allow visitors get back to their hotels before it gets dark. But again, this is extremely rare.

Once you spot the family, you will be allowed to spend only one hour with.  Watching gorillas can be an extremely emotional event as gorillas behave like humans and share about 98 percent of our DNA. Take your time to observe their behaviour and different personalities while taking some great photos for your memories.

Cultural Encounters

The Batwa trail and batwa experience in Buhoma are the most popularized and well-known cultural experiences in Bwindi. These indigenous people were the original dwellers of the ancient forest and were known as the ‘keepers of the forest’. The Batwa lived in harmony with the forest and survived by hunting small game using bows and arrows as well as gathering plants for both food and medicinal purposes.

The Batwa community trail offers an exceptional feeling of being close to the ancient life of the batwa who were the first inhabitants of the tropical forests about 4000 years ago and believed to have migrated from ituri forests of Democratic Republic of Congo. The batwa community trail in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is connected to the Batwa Community Trail in Mgahinga National Park.

The experience starts from Batwa Craft Shop in Buhoma Trading Centre few meters from Bwindi Impenetrable National Park gate. The trail begins with a nature walk, hike through the forest as you learn from the first keepers of the forest. This takes a full day or 5 hours as you get entertained by their traditional dances, local songs sang in perfect tunes, enjoy storytelling of their traditional ways of farming, handling the bow, gathering honey and picking herbal medicine from roots and leaves a local way of treating people. Get a chance to share a local meal with them. The experience shows you how they lived in grass thatched houses, caves, hunted small animals they used for food.

The batwa community experience is led by an experienced batwa leader who was their before the eviction. The experience is a mimic of what used to be the pygmy life in the forest and when you get a chance to interact with them, you will see their overflowing love for the forest and pain of eviction through their eyes. You will also get to know the mysterious stories of the batwa as you continue to interact with them and get to witness their ancient homestead.

The batwa community trail experience is a spectacular way of learning and enjoying the lifestyle and culture of the most ancient endangered group of people in Africa. This can be added to your gorilla trekking safari in Uganda.

Hiking /Nature Walks

Bwindi has more to offer than just gorilla trekking. Besides the popular adventures such as mountain gorilla trekking, birding and cultural encounters, you can actually enjoy fascinating nature walks when you visit Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. There are six nature trails found in Buhoma, the trails take different directions and expose visitors to a number of sites including waterfalls, primate encounters, mountain views, tranquil nature and impressive birdlife.

There are six main nature trails in Buhoma for those who wish to explore the “Impenetrable forest”:

Muyanga Waterfall Walk departs from Buhoma along the River Ivi-Nkuringo trail and culminates in the sensational sight of the falls plummeting 33 meters.

Rushura Hill Walk passes through one forest shared by two countries. On a clear day, you can view Lakes Edward and George and the Rwenzori Mountains as well as the conical peaks of the Virunga Volcanoes.

Muzubijiro Loop is a 6km walk around a hill, where you will encounter primates and birds and enjoy a view of the Virunga’s.

The Ivi River Walk is 14km and takes around seven hours. The trail passes through a place known as Mukempunu – meaning “a place of pigs” – where wild pigs can often be found.

The Buhoma-Nkuringo Trail takes three to four hours, and crosses right through the park, connecting the two villages and offering impressive views of the misty hillsides as you ascend the hills towards Nkuringo. You can leave our luggage with your driver, who will meet you at the other side. This trail can also be completed as part of the Ivi River Walk.

The Habinyanja (Railegh) Trail takes 4-6hrs. After crossing the Munyaga River, it takes in a fairly steep ascent of the Habigorogoro and Riyovi Ridge overlooking Buhoma River. Found along this trail is the legendry “African Corner” named after a rock piece depicting a map of Africa. Following the steep ascent, keen hikers can enjoy a more relaxed gentle slope to the mighty Habinyanja swamp. Birders on this trail should watch out for the Pel’s Fishing Owl, African Black Duck and Black Bee Eaters, among others.

Birding

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is a bird watchers paradise with over 347 bird species, with ten of the 26 globally threatened species in Uganda, five(5) of which are in danger. The forest has 24 of the 25 Albertine species endemic bird species in Uganda and have partial distributions in other place in their range including the Shelley’s crimson wing, Chapin’s flycatcher as well as the African green broad bill. This national park is gifted with 90% of the Albertine Rift endemics that are not so easy to spot in other areas of East Africa and 7 IUCN red data listed bird species. A skilled birder can identify more than 100 species in a day session of birding.

Bird watching in Bwindi Impenetrable National park is commonly done along the main trail, Buhoma waterfall trail that is along bamboo zone and Mubwindi swamp in Ruhija. The Ruhija sector is the best place for birding as it rewards with views of stunning bird species, which are entertaining, unique with the opportunity of experiencing different birds feeding and roaming in the park. The best time for birding is during early morning hours. The birding session takes place during day from 8am to 5pm, one can spot bird species like Common Buzzard, Black Bee-eater and Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Red-throated Alethe, African Shrike-flycatcher Ayres’s Hawk-eagle, to mention but a few. Other things to look out for include mammals, primates, chameleon’s, the different tree species, geckos and many more.

 

Mountain Biking

Mountain biking safaris is an interesting experience offered by a women organisation called Ride 4 a woman organisation, a woman self- made organisation who keep the bikes in safe and good conditions. Travelers use bicycles instead of walking treks or tour cars. The activity starts in the morning hours from the Bwindi headquarters in Buhoma following a well-maintained 13km trail to a river known as lvi

This memorable experience is conducted under the guidance of a well-trained guide who guides you through the thick Bwindi Impenetrable forest. One can decide to take on the Forest trail mountain bike safari, which can last for 3 hours, this trail rewards with views of wildlife like squirrels, duiker, bushbuck and primates such as chimpanzee, red tailed monkeys, black and white colobus monkeys and even mountain gorillas. Remember there is an altitude factor here since Bwindi impenetrable forest is one of the higher spots in Uganda. There is also the village bike ride, follows the route that you take when on a village walk. On this trail, get to know about the Batwa people who were the first to inhabit the forest areas of Bwindi Impenetrable National park, learn about their today life.

Bwindi impenetrable Forest is more fantastic than you thought you would enjoy on a bike safari, this is one of the oldest and ancient forest. Bike safari enables one to enjoy amazing sceneries in the Pearl of Africa wildlife.

WhEN TO VISIT Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

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 park is open all year and the best time to visit the park is during the dry season, it is also the peak season of the park. It is the best time to do gorilla trekking and other safari activities. This includes the months of June to September and December to February. During these months the park receives less rainfall, the trails used to climb through the thick forests are passable as they are less slippery and muddy.

The low season takes place in the heavy rain months of March, May, September and November. In this season the park is misty and wet, this period is best for bird lovers as many migratory birds come to the park and for the budget travellers, gorilla permits and accommodation facilities offered at discounted prices. The months of March, April, May and November receive heavy rainfall making the trails to be impassable. Some travellers take advantage of the wet season since the lodges are not over booked and even the gorilla permits are not on high demand as compared to the high season.

Regardless of when you go, gorilla permits must be booked far in advance.

HOW TO GET To Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

The park can be accessed by both road and air transport

By Road, There are various means of road transport such as public means, self-drive in your personal car or use of safari vehicle. When using road transport means you will drive from Kampala via Masaka, Mbarara, Ntungamo, Kabale, and then connect to any sector in Bwindi impenetrable national park headquarters where you will be trekking. The journey from Kampala to the park takes about 8 to 9 hours.

The park can also be accessed from Queen Elizabeth national park; one can drive from Mweya peninsular, which is situated in the heart of the park through the Ishasha sector where you will get an opportunity of viewing the tree-climbing loins, lying up in the acacia and fig tree branches. Continue to the park headquarters in one of the sector. The journey from Queen Elizabeth national park takes about 3 to 4 hours.

By Air; there  are domestic flights in Uganda such as Aeorlink Uganda Limited which operate scheduled and chartered flights daily from Entebbe international airport or Kajjansi Airfield to Kihihi or Kisoro Airstrip. Upon arrival at the airport, you will connect to the park headquarters by road in a safari vehicle.

The park can also be accessed from Kigali Rwanda where you will fly to Kigali international airport and then connect to the park headquarters by road via Katuna border in Kabale or Cyanika border in Kisoro. When connecting from Kigali, there are two sectors in the park, which can easily be accessed such as Rushaga and Nkuringo sector. The distance from Kigali to the park headquarters takes about 3 to 4 hours’ drive.

Air transport is the fastest way of getting to Bwindi Impenetrable national park and the best option for visitors who do not like travelling long distance journeys.