Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Reserve was gazetted in 1942 and upgraded to a National Park in 1992 with recognition as a world Heritage site in 1994. Bwindi National Park is impenetrable with 327 km of tangled vegetation draped over deeply fissured landscape of steep, slippery valleys and high, draughty ridges. In the local Rukiga language BWINDI means Impenetrable. A trek through Bwindi, one of Africa’s most ancient rainforest in search of the endangered mountain Gorilla ranks among the worlds premier wildlife encounters and experience. Bwindi can be cold especially in the morning and at night with the coldest period being JUNE and JULY. The annual average temperature range is 7 degrees Centigrade to 20 degrees centigrade. Bwindi receives up to 2390 millimeters of rain per year and is concentrated during two wet seasons of MAR to MAY and heavy rains in SEP to NOV. Rain in Bwindi often falls as long hours of soft drizzle. Warm clothing and wet Gear is required by Tourists who wish to visit the Bwindi Impenetrable national Park for Gorilla tracking.
The local People neighboring the Park are mostly the Bakiga and the Bafumbira with small communities of Batwa pygmies supporting one of the highest population densities in Uganda with 350 People per square kilometer.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park lies in south western Uganda, approximately 530 Kms from Kampala and can be reached by Air and road transport from several directions which include;
a). The Queen Elizabeth National Park to Kihihi then Buhoma Route which passes the Parks southerly Ishasha sector, providing Tourists the chance of a stopover to search for the famous tree climbing lions. Bwindi is 160 Kms from Mweya and 64 Kms from Ishasha.
b). Kampala to Kabale to Kanungu and the Buhoma route which follows a tarmac highway to Kabale and take approximately 5 to 6 hours. The next section follows winding murram roads for 120 Kms passing through Kanungu and Kanyantorogo and takes 4 to 5 hours for which a 4 wheel drive vehicle is required.
c). Kampala to Ntungamo to Rukungiri to Kihihi and then Buhoma route which is the quickest and most direct route from Kampala with tarmac roads to Rukungiri of 320 Kms and followed by 82 Kms of murram roads to Buhoma.
d). Kampala to Kabale to Ruhija and the Buhoma route of which 95 Kms is on a murram road and takes 3 to 4 hours. The Ruhija section is not frequently used by the public and is in a poor condition for which a 4 wheel drive vehicle should be used.
e). Kampala to Kabale then Nkuringo route which takes 4 hours on a mountainous murram road. Nkuringo is 105 Kms from Kabale. Most visitors overnight in Kisoro which is 8o kms from Kabale before proceeding to Nkuringo, 35 Kms away and take approximately 2 hours in a 4 wheel drive vehicle.
A Public transport by Bus runs daily from Kampala to Butogota from where a taxi can be hired to reach Buhoma which is 17 Kms away.
Travellers using Air transport can fly from Entebbe Airport or Kajjansi Airfield to the tarmac Airstrip at Kisoro while Tourists to Buhoma can charter planes to the grass Kayonza airstrip.
FLORA AND FAUNA IN BWINDI IMPENETRABLE NATIONAL PARK
Bwindi supports a tremendous biodiversity as a result of its slopes which extend over a broad altitudinal range of 1447m to create habitats ranging from lowland forest at 1160m to rare Afromontane vegetation above 2600m and also its being extremely old as it survived the arid conditions of the last ice age that saw most of Africas forest disappear between 12,000 to 18,000 years ago of which Bwindi was one of a few refugia that persisted. Bwindis vegetation has been weaving itself into tangles over atleast 25,000 years in the process accumulating a lengthy species list which includes 310 species of butterflies, 51 reptiles, 200 trees, 88 moths and an exceptional 120 types of mammal that include 10 primates like Chimpanzee, L’Hoests, red tailed and blue monkey, black and white colobus, baboon and Bwindi’s famous resident, the mountain Gorilla. With over 350 species of Birds, Bwindi is a prime destination for orthinologists and birdwatchers of which an experienced and bird enthusiasts can easily view and identify up to 100 species in a day.
ACCOMMODATION IN BWINDI IMPENETRABLE NATIONAL PARK
A variety of accommodation in the Park and its surroundings cater for both up-market and budget visitors which have to be booked well in advance. These include Gorilla Forest camp, Mantana Tented camp, Volcanoes Bwindi Camp, Gorilla Homestead, Buhoma Homestead, Lake Kitandara camp, Gorilla Resort for the up-market and Buhoma Community Campground, Wagtail Eco Safari Camp, Cuckooland, and Bwindi view canteen for the Budget visitors. The Ruhija sector has Ruhija Gorilla Resort and a self catering Guest house among others.
TOURIST ATTRACTIONS AND ACTIVITIES IN BWINDI IMPENETRABLE N.P.
A). GORILLA TRACKING
Buhoma on the northern edge of the Forest is Bwindi’s busiest Tourism site with the trailhead for tracking three Gorilla groups and a wide range of accommodation options. Gorilla tracking is a captivating and unforgettable experience more than repays the effort needed to reach Bwindi and to trek through the Forest. Bwindi has four habituated Gorilla groups that are tracked by Tourists in the vicinity of Buhoma and one at Nkuringo. Though Gorilla tracking is the main attraction and activity, a range of other walks provide Tourists with a more relaxed opportunity to spot birds and monkeys while exploring one of the worlds and Uganda’s loveliest rainforest. These walks depart in the morning at 0900 Hrs and in the afternoon at 1415Hrs.
B). NATURE WALKS
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park offers Nature Walks to Tourists which are arranged to depart in the morning at 0900 Hrs and afternoon at 1415 hrs as follows;
• Munyanga River Trail in the valley below Buhoma provides Tourists an ideal short walk to view a variety of birds and primates along the forest edge.
• Waterfall Trail leads Tourists through one of Uganda’s most pristine tracts of rainforest, passing beneath the tree ferns, epiphytic ferns and orchids to visit three sparkling waterfalls.
• Rushura Hill trail provides Tourists expansive views across the plains of the western rift valley to the west and Lake Edward and the Rwenzori Mountains to the north on a clear day.
• Muzabajiro Loop trail climbs to the summit of Rukubira Hill for breathtaking views of Bwindi forest, the western rift valley and the virunga volcanoes.
• River Ifi Trail which follows an old road through beautiful forest emerging near Nkuringo on the southern edge of the Forest and is highly recommended for bird watchers.
C). BUHOMA COMMUNITY WALK AND CULTURAL PERFORMANCES
The local community surrounding Bwindi operate village walks which take up to 3 hours and immerses visitors with village life. Sites visited include typical homesteads, traditional healers and a banana local beer brewery. The communities also formed local dance groups which perform traditional dances and music in the evenings of which proceeds from these events are used for community development and empowerment projects.
Just 10 kms from Buhoma is Nkuringo the second Gorilla tracking location on the southern edge of the forest. This distance is covered by the impenetrable forest and a nature walk between these two sites takes atleast 4 hours. The Nkuringo trailhead lies on the isolated Nteko ridge which enjoys grandstand views across Bwindi forest to the north and towards the Virunga volcanoes in the south. Gorilla tracking is the main activity at Nkuringo and Visitors should be fit as the Park boundary lies in a steep valley 600m below the road which provides good exercise before and after tracking Gorillas.
The communities in Nkuringo also operate community walks that take Tourists to visit a traditional healer, rural homestead, blacksmith and brewers.
Visitors to Ruhija can consider crossing the centre of the park from Buhoma Park headquarters with 4 wheel drive vehicle. This ridge-top route offers vistas into deep valleys containing undisturbed rainforest and can sight duickers, primates, both forest and grassland bird species. Birders can take the 3 hour hike to visit the Mubwindi swamp and may also climb through the bamboo zone to find Afromontane vegetation and panoramic views towards Lake Bunyonyi and Mafuga forest.
GORILLA HABITUATED GROUPS
Bwindi has Four habituated Gorilla groups that are tracked by Tourists in the vicinity of Buhoma and one at Nkuringo which include;
– The Mubare group ( M group ) was opened for Tourism in 1993 and consists of 10 Gorillas with one silverback.
– The Habinyanja group ( H group ) was opened for Tourism in 1998 and is composed of 21 individuals with 2 silverbacks.
– The Rushegura group ( R group ) is composed of 10 Gorillas and one silverback and was opened for Tourism in 2002
– The Nkuringo group ( N group ) was opened for Tourism in 2004 and is composed of 19 Gorillas and one silverback.
Gorilla tracking is Uganda’s most sought after Tourism activity and can be challenging. Tourists are required to book well in advance and must be physically fit. Registration and briefing at the Park offices in Buhoma and Nkuringo commences at 0745 hrs and tracking starts at 0830 hrs lasting from a few hours to the whole day depending on the location of the Gorillas.
GORILLA TRACKING RULES
In order to protect the Gorillas and the Visitors, the following rules set by the park authorities must be adhered to as follows;
• No one with a communicable disease, such as flu or diarrhea is allowed to visit the Gorillas.
• Do not surround the Gorillas but remain in a tight group.
• Leave a distance of atleast 5m between you and the Gorillas. If they approach you move back slowly.
• Flash photography is strictly forbidden.
• Do not eat or smoke within 200m of the Gorillas.
• If you need to sneeze or cough, turn away from the Gorillas and cover your nose and mouth.
• Burry all human feaces in a hole dug atleast 30cm ( one foot ) deep and ensure that it is properly filled in afterwards .
• All litter must be removed from the Park for disposal.
• No Person under 15 years is allowed to track Gorillas.
• When with the Gorillas, avoid making loud noises or sudden movements.
• Contact time with the Gorillas is strictly limited to one hour.
• Please Tourists must observe all instruction from the Park guide.