Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda is famous for gorilla tracking, gorilla habituation and birding safaris. There are about 880 mountain gorillas in the whole world and half of these gentle Mountain gorillas call Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga Gorilla National park their home which was made a wildlife Reserve in 1932 and gazetted as a national park in 1991. The forest located in South Western Uganda bordering Rwanda and Congo. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is a world UNESCO heritage is close to other national parks in Uganda that include Queen Elizabeth National park, Kibale National park, Rwenzori Mountain National park and Semliki National park. This makes it easy for visitors on a Uganda – Rwanda safari to easily combine gorilla tours with chimpanzee and wildlife safaris in the national parks mentioned above.
How Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National park got its name according to locals
The name Bwindi derives from a local phrase “mubwindi bwa nyinamuraki”. 500 years ago, Bwindi Impenetrable National park and Mgahinga Gorilla National park were one forest. People who came from Rwanda to settle in Kigezi highlands or gorilla highlands regions separated the two forests. One clan called Abarenje settled in Rubuguri, the Southern part of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest who shifted from place to place looking for fertile soils to cultivate since they were cultivators. One day they were shifting from Rubuguri to Kayonza in the Northern part of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, through the forest until when they got to a boggy swamp in Ruhija (the Eastern part of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest). They tried to cross the swamp, and when they crossed it half way, it started moving with them. This movement of the swamp made them realize that they were going to die.
They asked the swamp spirits for guidance and they were told if only they sacrificed their most beautiful virgin daughter nyinamukari, the family would cross the river peacefully. After two days of deliberation, the family decided that they could not turn back to Rubuguri in the South and so they threw the girl into the water to drown, the swamp accepted them to cross safely to the other side. When other people heard about the news of the sacrifice, they began to avoid the swamp calling it mubwindi bwa nyinamukari – dark place of nyinamuraki. The swap is still known as Mubwindi although the whole forest area is referred to as Bwindi- Thus the name Bwindi.
Mountain Gorilla families in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National park:
In April 1993, the Mubare gorilla family in Buhoma, the Northern sector of Bwindi was the first family to be habituated for gorilla tracking in Uganda
In Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, there are about eleven habituated gorilla families which include Mubare, Habinyanja and Rushegura (In Buhoma the Northern sector), in the Eastern Sector also known as Ruhija which is by the way the highest point of Bwindi impenetrable forest at approximately 2000 Meters above sea level are Bitukura, Oruzogo and Kyaguriro, and Nshongi, Mishaya, Busingye, Bweza, Kahungye in Rushaga and finally Nkuringo Gorilla Family all in the southern sector of the park.
Bird life in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National park
Bwindi Impenetrable National park is one of the hottest birding spots in Africa with about 350 bird species that include 23 Albertine Rift endemics, 14 of these only recorded here. The park is home to some of the globally endangered species like the African Green Broadbill, Shelley’s Crimson wind and Chapin’s flycatcher. Others are Mountain Masked and Collared Apalis, handsome Francolin, white bellied Robin chat, black billed Turaco, Regal sun birds among others.
Animal kingdom of Bwindi Impenetrable national park
Apart from mountain gorillas, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest hosts 120 mammal species that include primates (chimpanzees and different types of monkeys) of which 7 are diurnal, forest elephants which are darker and smaller than their Savannah counterparts, forest buffalo, duikers, golden cat, giant forest hogs among others. There are also reptile species and amphibians that include frog specie which is still being researched about by scientists.
Butterflies of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
Bwindi Impenetrable rain forest is home to approximately 300 species of butterflies that include swallowtails, one of the two endangered butterfly species
Trees of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National park
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, the Afro-montane forest is characterized by fern, vines and shrubs. The park has approximately 324 tree species, 10 of which are only found in Uganda
Activities to do in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National park
There are many activities visitors can do while in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National park but gorilla tracking and gorilla habitation are the most popular activities:
Gorilla tracking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National park:
Gorilla tracking of the different habituated gorilla families ranks among one of the highlights of a safari to Africa for almost all travelers on a safari to Uganda. Tracking the endangered mountain gorillas gives one a feeling that is had to describe. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest national park, a UNESCO World heritage is home to half the Mountain gorillas. It is estimated that there are only 880 mountain gorillas left in world shared between Rwanda and Congo with half of them in Uganda.
A traveler needs a gorilla tracking permit to be able to track the gorillas. The permits are on first come first serve with a very high demand and can sell out many months ahead.
Permits can sell out months ahead. Gorilla Link Tours will help you book your permits.
Gorilla habituation is a process where wild mountain gorillas are made comfortable with the presence of man with out charging. Instead of being with the gorillas for 1 hour as it is with gorilla tracking, one is with gorillas for 4 hours starting from where the gorillas nested the previous night. You can only be part of the habituation process in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable forest, in Rushaga in the Southern sector. Two gorilla families Bikyingi and Bushaho are being habituated and visitors can part of the process with researchers. Gorilla habituation process takes three years to be completed and researchers keep visiting the wild family being habituated learning about each individual gorilla and how they behave. The research you will make with the researchers will be added into the data base, and if you like, you will get constant updates about the gorillas you habituated while you back home.
Bird watching safari in Bwindi Impenetrable National park:
With a size of 321sq.kms, and at an elevation of 1190 – 2607 meters above sea level, about 357 bird species have been recorded in Bwindi Impenetrable and birding watching in this forest should be on every birder’s itinerary on a birding safari to Uganda. Bwindi Forest is home to 10 of the 26 globally threatened bird species, with 5 vulnerable ones. It has 23 local Albertine Rift endemic species in the country like the Africa Green Broadbill, Chapin’s flycatcher and Shelley’s Crimson-wing found no where else in Uganda. The Forest was also named as Africa’s number one birding spot by Africa Bird Club. Gorilla Link Tours has specialized bird guides for a traveler birding needs and there are also bird guides on sites.
Forest walk to waterfall trail:
Apart from gorilla tracking and birding watching, a visitor in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National park can go for guided forest walks to the beautiful waterfalls.
During the waterfall trail, you will learn about Bwindi Forest’s trees, butterflies and the amazing bird life that decorate the forest. The forest nature walks normally take 3 hours or longer and may be moderately difficult. One can also go for the Buhoma – Nkuringo trail which takes about 3-4 hours, through Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National park with an armed ranger guide from Uganda Wildlife Authority. The time taken to get to Nkuringo depends on the pace of the traveler. The other one is the Rushura waterfall walk, a 14 km walk that takes approximately 7 hours and this too depends on the pace of the traveler. This walk goes through a forest which is shared between Uganda and Congo. And lastly, one can go for Muzubijiro loop that is 6km and takes place around Rukubira hill and offers amazing views of some of the Volcano Mountains
Buhoma Community Walk and Cultural Experiences
Travelers can go for optional guided community walks and cultural experiences after their gorilla trek or the next day. One needs at least two days in Buhoma to go for this village trail.
You will visit a hand craft place, learn how to brew Uganda waragi and visit a traditional healer who will show you some of the traditional herbs used to as medicines and the natural Viagra plant.
The walk goes on to Mukono community school where you will meet the children and the teacher, proceeding to Bwindi Community hospital
Lastly, you will visit the Batwa Pygmy community who are the original people of Bwindi Forest. They lost their forest home when Bwindi Impenetrable National park was created. They will perform their traditional dances, show you forest survival skills like making fire and tell you stories about their lives in the forest
Mountain Hikes and bike rides
Most lodges around Bwindi Impenetrable Forest which is located on a hilly area can rent out bikes to you to be able to enjoy biking through some of the developed trails with a beautiful scenery of the area. Ride for A Woman, a community run project rents out bikes for Ivi River trail that starts from Buhoma park offices and takes you up to to Ivi River.
Kigezi region where Bwindi impenetrable forest is located is a mountainous area with beautiful scenery. Most lodges have bikes you can rent per day to take on the special trails created in the community otherwise ask them for a project you can rent from. Ivi river trail from Buhoma park headquarters to Ivi river organized by ‘ride for a woman’.
Get in touch with us to book your gorilla permits. Gorilla tracking and habituation permits are issued out by Uganda Wildlife Authority and we do recommend that you book your permits way in advance since there are on a high demand based on first come first serve basis but also they are very limited. Passport details are required in order to get the permits
A gorilla tracking permit costs 600 US Dollars and a gorilla habituation permit costs 1500 US Dollars. You don’t have to book a whole safari with us for us to book these permits for you. You will only pay us handling fees.
Only persons who are 15 years and above can go for gorilla tracking and habitation
What to bring for the gorilla tracking and habituation experience
- Light rain jacket
- Packed lunch and drinks (provided)
- Camera and extra batteries
- Long pants, long sleeved shirts, hats
- Garden hand gloves
- Hiking boots
- Walking stick (provided)
Accommodation in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park
There are many accommodations in Bwindi for every traveller. One can choose from luxury, mid range or budget accommodations in the different sectors of the park
Accommodation in Buhoma- Northern Sector of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
- Buhoma Lodge- Luxury
- Bwindi Lodge- Luxury
- Gorilla Forest Camp- Luxury
- Mahogany Springs- Semi luxury
- Silver Back Lodge- Mid range
- The Haven Buhoma Lodge- Mid range
- Engagi Lodge- Mid range
- Buhoma community camp- Budget
Accommodation in Ruhija- Eastern Sector of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
- Gorilla Ruhija Lodge- Mid range
- Gorilla Mist Camp- Mid range
- Broadbill Forest Camp- Budget
- Trekkers Haven- Budget
Accommodation in Rushaga- Southern Sector of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
- Chameleon Hill Lodge- Semi-Luxury
- Mutanda Lake Resort- Mid range
- Ichumbi Gorilla Lodge- Mid range
- Gorilla Safari Lodge- Mid range
- Bwindi Jungle Lodge- Mid range
- Rushaga Gorilla camp- Mid range
- Gorilla Valley Lodge- Budget
- Nshongi camp- Budget
Accommodation in Nkuringo, Southern Sector of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
- Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge- High end
- Nkuringo gorilla Lodge- Mid range
- You must go for briefing at the park offices before the trek begins. Make sure to be in good health since gorillas get diseases from humans because of the DNA (97%) we share
- When gorillas are seen, you will be required to leave all your bags and food. You will only get closer with your camera.
- No flash photography is allowed. Make sure the camera you are using does not need a flash since there is no much light in the forest
- Keep a distance from the gorillas, at least 7 meters away from the gorillas
- Stay closer in your group when near the gorillas
- Keep your voices low, although you can still ask your guide questions
- Do not litter the forest and make sure you take your garbage
- Do not reach out to try and touch the gorillas, it is not allowed to have any physical contact with them
- Some times the gorillas may charge, do not run away and follow instructions from your guide as you crouch down slowly. Please do not look the gorilla in the eye
- Children below 15 years are not allowed to track gorillas
How to Access Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National park is easily accessed and accessibility is from Entebbe or Kampala and even via Kigali
By road transport:
It takes about 8 or 9 hours respectively on road to get to Bwindi forest. The park can also be accessed from Rwanda and this takes about 3.5 hours from Kigali to the Southern Sector (Rushaga) of Bwindi
By Air transport:
Through our partners Aerolink, one can get to the park by scheduled and charter flights from Entebbe International airport to Kihihi that connects to the Northern and Eastern sectors and to Kisoro airstrip to connect to Rushaga and Nkuringo; both in the Southern sector of the park