At the edge of the rift valley in South western Uganda, at altitude between 1,160 meters and 2,607 meters, is a destination I recommend any traveler, tourist or nature lover to visit – Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. It is spread over a series of steep ridges and valleys and is a source five major rivers that flow into Lake Edward.
Just like its sister national park – Mgahinga Gorilla National Park – it was gazetted as a national park in 1991; making it a permanent sanctuary to over half the entire world’s mountain gorilla population.
Mountain Gorillas cannot survive in captivity, so Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is a perfect home for over 400 of them, which live in 35 groups, 14 of which are habituated.
The Mubare gorilla group was the first to be habituated in April 1993 and one group is used for research purposes. The habituated mountain gorillas are in four main sections of Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga and Nkuringo.
This 128 square mile national park is also home to about 120 mammal species. The notable ones being antelopes, birds, elephants, other primates like the baboons, chimpanzees and colobus monkeys.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park was declared a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site in 1994.
Location of the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is located in Kanungu district, in the south western part of Uganda. The park can be reached by air and by road.
By air; there is an airstrip in Nyakabande, Kisoro that can be reached from Entebbe International airport or from Kajansi airfield in Kampala, by scheduled or chartered aircrafts. It is normally a one and a half hour flight. This flight favours visitors who want to go to the southern sector of the national park.
To visit the northern sections of the park, airfields of Kayonza and Savannah are available.
By road; there are various routes that can be taken to get to the national park.
There is the Kampala – Kabale – Kanungu – Buhoma route which covers about 525 kilometers and needs 11 hours to complete your journey.
The Kampala – Ntungamo – Rukungiri – Kihihi – Buhoma route covers requires about 10 hours to cover 490 kilometers.
The Kampala – Kabale – Ruhija – Buhoma route covers about 508 kilometers taking almost 10 hours.
The Kampala – Kabale – Nkuringo route is a 9 hour drive that covers 485 kilometers.
This journey can best be enjoyed using 4 wheel drive vehicle, especially during the rainy season.
When to Visit the National Park
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is known for Mountain Gorilla trekking as the main activity among many and the best time to see them is from January and February and from June to September. These are months with relatively low rains and the sun is out more.
This also a perfect opportunity for bird watchers to check out the more than 350 bird species as well as chimpanzee trekking.
December is a good month too with good weather but it is the busiest since most vacations are planned for that time.
The other months are low seasons due to the rains but the advantage with this is that accommodation becomes cheaper. However, experience has revealed that gorilla trekking can be enjoyed all year round.
Adventure Tourism Activities in Bwindi
This is the premier activity of this national park. The great thing about Mountain Gorilla trekking is that it happens all year round though there are six months every year when gorilla trekking is at its peak.
Mountain Gorilla trekking is conducted by both Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. However, Bwindi has more gorilla families than Mgahinga and tends to sell more permits. A permit goes for USD 600 and it is recommended the booking is done with a Safari agent. This fee is fair compared to the fee charged by Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda of USD 1,500.
The daily estimate of visitors who take a trip to Bwindi is 70 people, while only 8 people are allowed to see a gorilla family. This is to maintain the gorillas’ fragile natural habitat.
This wonderful national park allows you to interact with the Batwa pygmies, the first inhabitants of this natural forest. They will show you how they prepare for a hunt, the hunting techniques they used and what they gather to make a living in the jungle.
They protected the Mountain Gorillas as family and considered killing to eat one as cannibalism.
For birdwatchers and birders, this place is ideal to have your moment to see some of the 350 bird species like the Blue-headed Sunbird, the Short-tailed Warbler, the African Emerald Cuckoo, the Dark caped Bulbul, White-tailed Blue Flycatchers and Red-headed Bluebill, among many.
Hiking or Nature Walks
As years go by, this national park is increasingly becoming the ideal place for hiking and nature walks. The hiking trails in this impenetrable forest have been around for hundreds of years, used by The Batwa Pygmy people. The good thing about these trails is that they are moderate and are easy to maneuver even for amateur hikers.
There are six nature trails in Buhoma, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park are:
The Muzubijiro Loop is a six kilometer long walk around a hill. The beauty with it is that you will see birds, primates and a view of the Virunga area.
The 14 kilometer Ivi River Walk is a 7-hour journey that will lead you through a place with wild pigs called Mukempunu.
The Muyanga waterfall walk starts from Buhoma along the River Ivi-Nkuringo. The sight of the falls is the main attraction here.
The Rushura hill walk allows a clear view of Lake Edward, Lake George, the Rwenzori Mountains and the conical peaks of the Virunga Volcanoes.
The Habinyanja trail takes 4 to 6 hours along the legendary “African Corner” (a rock piece that looks like the map of Africa).
The Buhoma-Nkuringo 4 hour trail gives good view of the misty hillsides as you cross the park.
Mountain Biking or Cycling
There is a 13 kilometer well maintained trail reserved for mountain biking. It starts from the national park headquarters at Buhoma and ends at the River Ivi. The eye-catching attractions along this trail are the black-and-white colobus monkeys, bush bucks, squirrels, red-tailed monkeys and of course mountain gorillas. The time budget for this is three hours; and don’t forget to carry your water bottle.
Key Facts to have in Mind
Mountain Gorillas should be not be hard for you to distinguish. The males, referred to as Silverbacks, are bigger, usually twice the size of the females. They can grow up to six feet tall and weigh between 150 and 230 kilograms. They are called silverbacks because as they grow older, the hair on their backs turns to a silver looking color.
A male Mountain Gorilla is nine times stronger than the strongest man. The Guinness Book of Records states that a silverback gorilla can lift up to 815 kilograms of dead weight with its 7 feet long arms. They can live up to 50 years.
For hikers, a good pair of walking boots is recommended to get you through the thick forest trails. This should accompanied by wet weather clothing (it can rain any moment), a good hat to shield you from the day sun, and warm clothing for the evenings.
It is recommended that you carry a waterproof bag to protect your electronics, clothes and hiking equipment.
Suitable accommodation is available at the six prime locations of the national park. A good number of them have websites and can be reached online. They charge between USD 150 and USD 900 a night.
Buhoma has 15 safari lodges, Nkuringo has 4, Nyundo has 1, Ruhija has 7, Rubuguri has 2, and Rushaga has 3.
It is recommended that you choose a suitable Safari package if you are to have the best moments in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Packages for 3 to 9 days range from USD 2,500 and USD 5,500.