Bwindi Impenetrable National park
The Bwindi impenetrable forest is regarded to be the most biologically diverse forest in Africa. Largely due to its antiquity (it dates to before the Pleistocene ice age making it over 25,000 years old) and an altitude range of between 1160m above sea level. Bwindi is a true rain forest spread over a series of steep ridges and valleys that form Albertine rift valley.
The name Bwindi is derived from the local phrase Mubwindi bwa Nyinamukari, which most probably originally referred to the Mubwindi swamp in the southeast of the park rather than the forest itself. The forest was proclaimed as the impenetrable in forest reserve in 1942 and its official name until 1991 where it was gazetted as a national park and named Bwindi. Realizing that this local name allure to tourists than the colonial name (though the two words are close in meaning).UWA expanded it to be the Bwindi impenetrable national park. Today, most people refer to the park as plain Bwindi, though the murderous swamp is still known by the so called name of the Mubwindi.
Tourism in Bwindi focuses on gorilla tracking. Slightly more than half of the world’s mountain gorilla population is resident in Bwindi, An estimated 280 -320 living in 15 troops.
Bwindi can be cold especially in the morning and at night with the annual average temperature range of 7?.c – 20?c with the coldest period being June and July.
How to get there
Bwindi is located in southwestern Uganda 530km from Kampala. The park can be reached by road from several directions.
The Buhoma entrance
This route passes the park in the south Ishasha sector, providing viewing of famous tree- climbing lions. Bwindi is 160km from Mweya and 64km from Ishasha.
The 414km drive to Kabale follows murram road the whole way, and it typically takes about 5-6hours a bit longer after rain. Hence follow the Kisoro road for 18km.
The next section which follows winding murram roads for 120km passes through Kanungu and takes 4-5 hours. A 4WD is required.
This is the most inexpensive and most direct route from Kampala. It follows tarmac roads to Rukungiri at about 390km followed by 82km on murram to Buhoma.
This drive way takes about 98km on murram road and takes about 3-4 hours. It should be noted however this route is in a poor condition and should only be attempted with a 4WD vehicle. Note: this route is not frequently used by the public.
Coming directly from Kampala is the best route to Bwindi it entails following the surfaced road towards Kabale as far as Ntungamo roughly 60km past Mbarara. At Ntungamo you need to turn right on the 45km road to Rukungiri. From here you need to follow a murram road in a roughly westerly direction through Kyambura to Kanungu where you converge with the route from Kabale described above.
A bus runs daily from Kampala to Butogota from where a taxi can be hired. For the last 17km to Buhoma, there are is no public transport to Nkuringo but vehicles can be hired in Kisoro.
Travelers who need air services can fly from Kampala or Entebbe (Kajjansi airfield) to a modern tarmac air strip at Kisoro. Also visitors to Buhoma chatter planes to the grass Kayonza airstrip.
A wide range of accommodation caters for both up-market and budget visitors. It is advisable to book well in advance.
Up-market and there locations
. Gorilla resort
. Lake Kitandara camp
. Buhoma homestead
. Volcanoes Bwindi camp
. Mantana tented camp
. Gorilla forest camp
. Buhoma community campground
. Bwindi view canteen
Self contained guesthouse can be booked through Uganda wildlife authority headquarters in Kampala.
Flora and fauna
Tourism in Bwindi focuses on gorilla tracking slightly more than half the world’s population living in 15troops. Given the focus of gorilla it may come as a surprise to learn that Bwindi harbors at least 120 mammal species.
This list consists mainly of small mammals such as rodents and bats but it does include the eleven types of primate, including a healthy chimpanzee population with a substantial numbers of I’Hoest, red-tailed and blue monkey, as well as black and white Columbus and olive baboon. Of the so called big five, only elephants are present, though the herd of 30 animals in the southeast of the park- assigned to the forest race is very seldom seen by tourists.
Six antelope species occur in the park. Bushbuck and five types of forest duiker. A total of 350bird species have been record in Bwindi, a remarkably high figure when you consider that, unlike most other national park checklist, it includes very few water associated birds. Of particular interest to birds are 23 species endemic to the Albertine rift valley, and at least 14 species recorded nowhere else in Uganda, among them the African green broadbill, white tailed blue flycatcher, brown-necked parrot, white-bellied robin chat and frazers eagle owl. In addition to its extensive bird checklist, Bwindi is also home to at least 200 butterfly species, including eight Albertine rift endemics, and dedicated butterfly watchers might hope to identify more than 50 varieties in one day.
People neighboring Bwindi are mostly Bakiga and Bafumbira and also small communities of the Batwa (Pygmies) are also present. The park area supports one of the highest rural population densities in Uganda with 350 people/km.
Located in the northern end of the forest, Buhoma is one of the busiest tourism sites. It known for tracking three gorillas and a wide range of accommodation is available. Though gorilla tracking is the main attraction, a range of other walks provide more relaxed opportunities to spot birds and monkeys while exploring one of the Uganda’s most attractive rainforests. Such walks can be arranged to depart in the morning at 09:30 and in the afternoon at 14:15.
Cultural performances in Buhoma
In the evening, participate in captivating performances by the community. This is done in order to immerse visitors in village life; sites visited include a typical homestead, the traditional healer and a banana beer brewery. Local dance groups also perform traditional dance and music in the evenings by arrangement. Proceeds from these events are used for community development projects.
Buhoma is located 10km from Bwindi’s second gorilla tracking located at Nkuringo on the south age of the forest. Should be noted however that the distance is covered mostly by the impenetrable forest and the attractive walk takes four hours at least. This trailhead lies on the isolated nteko ridge which enjoys grandstand views across Bwindi forest to the north towards the Virunga volcanoes in the south.
The primary activity at Nkuringo is gorilla tracking thus visitors should be fit as the park boundaries that lie in a steep valley 600m below the road. This provides good exercise before and after tracking gorillas.
Nkuringo community walk
This is an activity done by the villagers at Nkuringo to visit traditional healers, rural homestead, blacksmith, and brewers.
This was the research centre and headquarters for the impenetrable forest reserve before it was gazetted as a national park in 1992. Its one of the most beautiful places ever. Visitors with their own vehicles have to consider crossing the centre of the park from Buhoma park headquarters through Ruhija a 4WD vehicle is needed. This ridge-top route offers vistas into deep valleys containing undisturbed rainforests. Hence you should watch out for the duiker, primates and both forest and grassland bird species. At Ruhija, birders have a three hour hike to visit the Mubwindi swamp. It should be noted however that visitors may also climb through the bamboo zone to find afro stone vegetation and panoramic views towards Lake Bunyonyi and Mafuga forest.
Gorilla tracking is one of the best activities that take place in Bwindi and such an activity leaves you with no chance but to trek through the forest. Bwindi has four habituated gorilla groups that are tracked by tourists. Three of these are in the vicinity of Buhoma and Nkuringo.
First and foremost there is the Mubare group which contains (10 gorillas and one silverback) and it was opened for tourism in1993.
Second is the Habinyanja group this consists of 21 gorillas and two silverback was opened for tourism in 1998.
Third is the Rushegura group which is composed of 10 gorillas and 1 silverback and it was opened for tourism in 2002.
Fourth is the Nkuringo group which was opened for tourism in 2004 and it is composed of 19 gorillas and 1 silverback.
It should be noted however that gorilla tracking is one of Uganda’s most wanted tourist activity. Booking should be made in advance to ensure that permits for your requested dates are available when you come.
For conservation purposes, visits to the gorillas are tightly controlled. Registration and briefing at the park offices at Buhoma and Nkuringo commences at 07:45. Tracking starts at 08:30 and can last from a few hours to the whole day depending on where the gorillas are in the forest.
The following rules apply and must be followed strictly.
- First and foremost no one with a communicable disease such as flu, diarrhea is allowed to enter the park.
- Secondly, stay together in a tight group while with gorillas hence they should not be surrounded.
- Distance of about 5m between you and the gorillas should be considered. In case they approach you move back slowly.
- Flashes while photographing the gorillas are not allowed.
- Smoking and eating when with the gorillas or in a closer distance of about 200m is not allowed.
- Turn away from the gorillas if you need to sneeze or cough and you should cover your nose or mouth in the process.
- Human feaces should be buried in minimum of one foot deep and secure that the whole is properly covered.
- All litter must be must be collected and disposed off from the park.
- Persons below the age of 15 are not allowed to track gorillas.
- Avoid making loud noises or sudden movements when with the gorillas.
- You are given strictly one hour to track the gorillas.
- Your group must not be more than 8 tourists and must all be over 15years of age.
- You should observe all instructions from your guide.