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 320 mountain Gorillas- roughly half of the world’s population, including several habituated groups, which can be tracked.
This biologically diverse region also provides shelter to120mammals 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.
You can reach Bwindi 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. 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 is 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.
Good walking boots if attempting any hikes or climbs, wet weather clothing and warm layers for the evenings – it gets cold and damp at this altitude. The sun is still fierce during the day – even when overcast – so be sure to still wear sunscreen and a sun hat. You may also want to bring waterproof bags to protect cameras and other equipment when hiking.
This park has several areas of interests which one can explore on a visit.
Buhoma is located to the northwest of the park and faces the dark, hilly forests of Bwindi. Three gorilla groups can be tracked from here, and there are also community-run village walks for exploring the culture and lifestyle of the local Bakiga and Batwa tribes. Bird watching is also a major activity with great opportunities to see various Albertine Rift endemics such as the Short-tailed Warbler. Other activities include mountain biking and nature walks to waterfalls and parts of the forest. There are also numerous accommodations to suit all budgets and many local craft stalls.
Nkuringo, on the southern edge of the park, became Bwindi’s second gorilla tracking trailhead in 2004. Tracking the Nkuringo groups is strenuous, for their forest home lies a full 600m below the trailhead at Ntungamo village on Nteko ridge. Walks along the ridge-top road provide superb views north towards the forested hills of Bwindi and south to the Virunga volcanoes. There are also opportunities to discover the Bakiga culture through village walks, vibrant dance performances and cultural workshops organized by community groups.
Shongi trailhead, in the southeast of the park opened for gorilla tourism in 2009. Three groups (Shongi, Mishaya and Kahungye) can be tracked from this point. The trail descends into the depths of the forest directly to the south of the park. This area also offers village walks, bird watching and a spectacular waterfall.
On the eastern side, sitting on top of the hill at 2,345m, Ruhija is home to the Bitukura, Oruzoojo and Kyaguriro gorilla groups. This is Uganda’s highest tracking trail, and one of only two areas (the other being Nshongi) where elephants reside.
A six-hour bamboo trail leads to Rwamunyoni Peak; at 2,607m, it is the highest point in the park and notable for good birding. Also of interest to birders is the three-hour trail descending to Mubwindi swamp along which one could find the endemic and localized African Green Broadbill. Nyundo community, a short drive north of Buhoma, sits on the DR Congo border and offers wonderful guided hikes along the hill crests and rivers to discover waterfalls, glorious views, and the traditional lifestyle and folklore of the Kigezi people.
The neighboring towns of Buhoma and Nkuringo both have an impressive array of luxury lodges, Rustic bandas and Campsites, as well as restaurants, craft stalls and guiding services. Discover the local Bakiga and Batwa Pygmy culture through performances, workshops and village walks.
Bwindi is chilly in the morning and at night with average temperatures ranging from 7°C – 20°C. The coldest period in Bwindi is June and July, while wet seasons are March-May and September-November with total annual rainfall of up to 2390mm. Rains in March-May are short. They are heavier in September-November but can just be long hours of soft drizzle.
On your next visit to Uganda, come to Bwindi Impenetrable National park for the Ultimate Gorilla experience!