Bwindi Impenetrable National Park Uganda is located in southwestern Uganda in edge of East African Rift Valley. The park is part of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest one of Uganda’s oldest and most biologically diverse rainforests, which dates back over 25,000 years and it is situated along the Democratic Republic of Congo border next to the Virunga National Park and on the edge of the Albertine Rift. It comprises 331 square kilometers (128 sq. mi) of jungle forests and contains both montane and lowland forest and is accessible only on foot. The Bwindi Impenetrable National Park was gazzetted in the year 1991 and it was declared UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site in the year 1994.
This biologically diverse region also protects an estimated 320 mountain gorillas which is representing half of the world’s total population of the endangered species of the mountain gorillas, including several habituated groups, which can be tracked in the park. In addition the park provides shelter to a further 120 mammals, 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. The park houses220 species of butterflies, 27 species of frogs, chameleons, geckos and many endangered species. Floristically Bwindi is amongst the most diverse forests in East Africa, with more than 1,000 flowering plant species including 163 species of trees and 104 species of ferns. The northern (low altitude) sector is rich in species of the Guineo-Congolian flora. These include two species internationally recognized as endangered, the brown mahogany and Brazzeia longipedicellata. In particular the area shares in the high levels of endemism of the Albertine Rift.
Geographically the park consists of Precambrian shale phyllite as well as quartz, granite, quartzite and schist. It is positioned at the edge of the Western Rift Valley in the highest altitude parts of the prominent Kigezi Highlands in south western part of Uganda which were formed by tectonic forces of up-warping which forced the Western Rift Valley to rise up. The topography around Bwindi National Park is rugged, with narrow valleys crossed by rivers as well as the steep hills. The Altitudes in popular Bwindi Impenetrable National park ranges from 1,190 to 2,607 meters above sea level. The highest elevation in the park is identified as Rwamunyonyi hill found in the eastern extremity of the park and the lowest part of the park is found at the park’s northern part.
The area around Bwindi Impenetrable National park experiences a tropical type of climate and the annual mean temperature of the Park Range from a minimum of 7–15°C to a maximum of 20–27°C. The park’s peak rain pour is from the month of March to April and also from the month of September to November and during this period the rain fall received in this places ranges from 1,400 to 1,900 millimeters.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is very remarkable water catchment area because much of the park’s rain fall creates streams and the forest has calm dense network of water streams. This makes the forest to be the source of various rivers that mainly flow into the low altitude northern, southern and western parts of the park. The notable rivers that originate from the park are Ivi, Ishasha river, as well as River Munyaga and Ihihizo river and these prominent rivers in the area with the park flow direct to Lake Edward were they pour there water.
The park is covered with rare vegetation type which is afromontane unique in the whole of African continent. The park is located at point of conjunction between the mountain forests and the plains and in the park there is varying difference between low-altitude to high altitude primary forests in the park. Bwindi Impenetrable National park is a sanctuary for colobus monkeys as well as chimpanzees and various birds’ species fir instance hornbills, turacos among others.
The popularly known park Bwindi Impenetrable forest park is home to an estimated total population of a round 340 individual member mountain gorillas also known as Gorilla beringei beringei. The total number of the mountain gorillas surviving in park constitutes almost half of the total population of mountain gorillas surviving in the whole world and the rest of the other half of the surviving mountain gorillas are protected in the neighboring parks of Virunga national park in Congo and Volcanoes national park in Rwanda.
Bwindi has a population of around 400 Mountain gorillas. Gorillas are intelligent, majestic, gentle giants that share over 90% of their genetic material with humans. All of Bwindi’s habituated gorillas are known individually by the rangers and have been given names in order to identify them. The males can weigh more than 500lb and some silverbacks exceed 6ft.
The research that was carried out by Craig Stanford showed that the Bwindi gorilla’s mainly feed on leaves, fruits, shrubs, and generally they are vegetarians. In Bwindi national park, mountain gorillas are habituated in four main regions within the park and these regions include Buhoma region which is the first region where gorillas were first habituated and opened into tourists by the year 1993, Nkuringo as well as Rushaga and Ruhija regions.
Buhoma region is located to the northwest of the park in Kanungu district and faces the dark, hilly forests of Bwindi. Buhoma region is well known by tourists because it was the first region where mountain gorillas in Uganda where first habituated and opened to be visited by tourists in the year 1993 .The region has three gorilla groups that can be trekked by the tourist in this region and among this includes the oldest gorilla group that was first habituated in this region i.e. Mubare gorilla group Mubare Group which received its first tourists in the year 1993, the group which had around 18 members since then has lost most of its group members and current the group has only 5 individual gorilla members.
The second gorilla group in this region is the Habinyanja Group that was habituated in the year 1997 and managed to receive its first time visitors in the year 1999 .The group has total number 17 individual members and these include the two silver backs that lead the group.
The third group of gorillas in Buhoma is the Rushegura Group that was habituated in the year 2000 and received its first tourists in the year 2002. Currently it’s the biggest group with 19 individual members of gorillas including one silver back within the Buhoma trekking region of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest national park.
Besides mountain gorillas, 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.
Buhoma region of Bwindi Impenetrable National park has various lodges and these involve luxury, mid -range and Budget accommodations for instance Luxury lodges are Buhoma Lodge, Gorilla Forest Camp and Mahogany Springs. Mid-range properties such as Engagi Lodge, Silverback Lodge and budget accommodation such as Buhoma Community rest camp and Bwindi View Lodge.
Nkuringo gorilla area is located on the southwest side of the Bwindi forest and lies near to the well –known Buhoma region at an estimated distance of round10km from Buhoma through the Impenetrable forest and roughly takes visitor 4 hours walk to link to Nkuringo. Linking by the car from Buhoma to Nkuringo takes about 7 to 8 hours’ drive due to the hilly nature of the land. The gorilla group which can be trekked here is the Nkuringo group. Trekking gorillas in this area offers tourists an exciting but challenging experience because the activity is done through walking in the steep hills forest side. But the region is not busy compared to Buhoma.
The Nkuringo gorilla group which can be found here has 19 individual members. There are also other opportunities to discover the Bakiga culture through village walks, and here visitors can have cultural encounter filed with vibrant dance performances and cultural workshops organized by community groups.
It is situated in the southeast of the Bwindi and it was opened for gorilla tourism in the year 2009 and positioned in Kisoro district. There are five Gorilla groups which can trekked in this area i.e. Nshongi as well as Mishaya and Busingye, Kahungye and Bweza. The trail in this area takes visitors into the Centre of the Impenetrable forest straight to the south part of the park. It lies between Kabale and Nkuringo for those coming from either Ruhija or Kampala.
Rushaga regions as well as the southern part of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park are located at highest point in terms of altitude. The region is mainly occupied by high hills and this has resulted to subdivisions and separations of different habituated mountain gorillas in this area because the different groups have ended up occupying separate hills found in the region.
Due to the presence of many hills in the region gorilla trekking is bit hectic because it involves hiking hills when searching for mountain gorillas Because of these hills, however tourists participate in gorilla trekking in this area are highly rewarded with great scenic views plus even enjoying the sights of the Virunga Massifs both in Uganda and Rwanda and Uganda and these involve views of the Mt. Mgahinga as well as Muhavura Volcanoes plus the oldest Mt.Sabinyo and the highest Karusimbi mountain, Bisoke among others. Avisit in this area also offers opportunities to visitors to enjoy Lake Mutanda Uganda’s lava damned lake
The region is positioned on the eastern side of the park but sitting on top of the hill at an estimated height of 2,345m. Ruhija region is habitant to three Gorilla groups’ such as the Bitukura gorilla group, Kyaguriro and Oruzogo Gorilla groups. The region is Uganda’s trekking trail located at highest altitude and its one of the only two regions in the park where elephants reside.
The six-hour bamboo trail in this region takes visitors to Rwamunyoni Peak (2,607m,) which is the highest point in the whole of the Bwindi Impenetrable National park and its recommendable region for bird watching activities. The other interesting bit to bird lovers is the three-hour trail which descends to Mubwindi swamp where the rare endemic African Broadbill species can be easily seen.
Other Wildlife Species
There are least 120 mammal species living in the forest, making Bwindi second only in mammal numbers to the vast Queen Elizabeth National Park. The eleven primate species found here include black-and-white colobus and L’Hoest’s monkeys, baboons and chimps. Of Bwindi’s 200 butterfly species, 42 are endemic to the Albertine Rift.
Bwindi offers some of the finest montane forest bird watching in Africa, and is irreplaceable destination for any birder visiting Uganda. There are an estimated 350 bird species with 23 endemic to the Albertine Rift and 14 recorded nowhere else in Uganda. 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.
Gorilla Tracking in Bwindi
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is found in southwestern Uganda on the edge of the western arm of the Great East African Rift Valley, about 530km from Uganda. The gorilla trekking activity is carried out in four (4) regions of Bwindi that have got habituated gorilla groups. The Buhoma region in the north is gifted with Habinyanja gorilla family, Rushegura Gorilal Family and Mubare gorilla family; Rushaga in the south with five (5) gorilla families namely Bweza, Kahungye, Busingye, Nshongi and Mishaya; Nkuringo in the south west with one (1) Nkuringo gorilla family and Ruhija in the east with three (3) habituated gorilla families namely; Bitukura, Oruzogo and Kyaguliro. Each gorilla family takes eight (8) gorilla trekkers per day and the gorilla trekking encounter commences at 8am with briefing at the respective park headquarter per region. The duration for gorilla trekking is unpredictable and it would definitely depend on the gorilla movement that day. However, the acceptable duration range is between 2 – 8 hours. And because of this extended time packed lunch is relay necessary.
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. Birding takes place along the main trail, the Buhoma Waterfall Trail and along the bamboo zone and Mubwindi Swamp trail in Ruhija
It is at this sector where other walks have been developed including; the Munyanga River Trails in the valley of Buhoma, which is a short walk for viewing birds and primates along the forest edge. The waterfall trail which passes beneath tree ferns, epiphytic ferns as well as orchids to visit three dazzling waterfalls. The Rushura Hill Trail, Muzabajiro Loop Trail and the River Ivi trail of which the latter follows an old road through the forest, emerging near Nkuringo on the southern edge of the impenetrable forest.
The Buhoma community walk and cultural performances which takes up to three hours visiting a typical homestead, the traditional healer and a banana beer brewery is organized by the local community. Of recent, the Batwa cultural experience has been developed in this section of the park.
Buhoma Community Tours / Mukono Development Association
The three-hour village walk begins with a visit to the handcraft shop – selling handmade artifacts such as fabrics, beeswax candles and wood carvings, all produced by talented local craftsmen and women. The neighboring Batwa community performs songs and dances about their former life in the forest, introducing you to another unique local culture. You will also meet the traditional healer who treats the sick with medicinal plants, and the teachers and pupils of the local primary school. Finally, you can learn how bananas are used to make juice, beer and gin – and taste the results!
Proceeds from the tour support community development projects such as a secondary school, maize mill and microfinance circle, and the Batwa receive all proceeds from their performances.
Nkuringo Community Conservation and Development Foundation (NCCDF)
Set in a lush hillside bordering Bwindi Impenetrable Forest with dramatic views towards Congo, Nkuringo is a wonderful place to visit for those who want both a cultural experience and beautiful scenery.
A visit to Nicholas the blacksmith rewinds time to the Stone Age with the sound of sheepskin bellows spewing air into a charcoal-fired furnace, from which Nicholas hooks out red hot metal and hammers it into tools; from knives to machetes. Sesilia welcomes you into her home – a series of traditional huts housing a millet-grinding stone, cooking pots and apparatus for distilling local waragi banana gin. Pena is the village´s traditional healer who uses native plants to make tea, ointments and herbal powders that cure a range of ailments.
NCCDF supports local artisans and the local Batwa community through its crafts shop. They train orphans who perform at a nearby lodge, and can make arrangements for visitors to sponsor them.
Buniga Forest Nature Walk
Discover the gorgeous hidden treasures of Buniga Forest and its diverse flora and fauna on this trail, led by locals who are expert regional guides.
Buniga Forest Reserve is one of the three remaining pocket forests adjacent to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Due to the increased encroachment on the forest and associated loss of biodiversity and other forest resources, the trail was created by Nkuringo Community Conservation and Development Foundation (NCCDF) to protect the forest and manage it for ecotourism activities. As well as protecting this precious forest, proceeds from the tour also benefit surrounding communities, and encourage them to actively participate in its conservation.
Nkuringo Cultural Centre (NCC)
Why not learn a new skill during your trip to Uganda? At Nkuringo Cultural Centre, after a long day spent tracking gorillas or bird watching, you can enjoy one of our fascinating cultural evening workshops. Choose from African cooking, traditional weaving, or for those who are feeling a little more energetic – a dancing and drumming workshop is available.
You can also take one of our guided village walks during the day to meet the residents, learn about life in Rubuguri and participate in a crafts demonstration. You will then visit the primary school to watch this region´s most famous cultural attraction – the dynamic Kiga dance. The best dancers are said to be those who make the earth shake!
NCC creates employment opportunities for local residents and a percentage of profits is used for community projects such as IT classes and a stage and costumes for local dance groups.
Nyundo Community Eco-Trails
Nyundo’s residents were firsthand witnesses to climate change. They cultivated crops on the hillsides bordering Bwindi Impenetrable forest, but noticed erosion, changing rain patterns and the disappearance of the characteristic mist. Ultimately, their crops began to fail. The community decided to protect the land and allow the forest to grow back, and now the trees, the rains and the mist have all returned.
Nyundo Community Eco Trails were developed by community members as a sustainable alternative to agriculture, poaching and logging; providing both an income and an incentive to conserve the forest.
On King Bakyara’s Waterfall Trail, enjoy spectacular scenery surrounding a waterfall where only kings may bathe! Visit a blacksmith, a local banana beer distillery, a beekeeper, a cattle farm and a banana plantation.
During the Traditional Skills Trail, learn about millet-bread preparation, yoghurt making and craft making. Visit a traditional birth attendant and traditional homesteads, and meet the friendly villagers.
Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH)
Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH) is a grassroots organization that has improved the health of wildlife, livestock and some of the poorest people in Africa. In Buhoma, visitors can take a tour of the Gorilla Health Centre to learn about their health and how diseases are transmitted between wild animals and livestock, as well as other conservation issues addressed by CTPH.
Tour the Village Aquaponics project where you will learn about sustainable methods of farming fish, which is then sold to local lodges. If booked in advance, CTPH staff can also offer presentations on conservation issues in Bwindi and guided tours of local communities to demonstrate how improving the health and livelihoods of people and their livestock supports the conservation of gorillas.
Lodging is available at the Gorilla Conservation Camp; all fees support the work of CTPH. There are also volunteer opportunities and working holidays which contribute directly to all these activities.
Rubuguri Village Walk (NCC)
Reached by rustic roads clinging to steep hillsides, this small community makes up for its isolation with the warm welcome of its inhabitants. The Village Walk takes you past a swamp to a small homestead, where you will have the chance to meet the residents and learn about life in Rubuguri, as well as participate in a crafts demonstration.
You will then visit the lively St Peter´s Primary school to meet the pupils and teachers, and to watch this region´s most famous cultural attraction – the dynamic Kiga dance. The best dancers are said to be those who make the earth shake – and as the barefooted students leap several feet into the air to the rhythm of joyful songs you will be able to decide for yourself if they achieve their goal!