Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is a medley of wonders located in the south western part of Uganda and famously known for inhabiting the endangered mountain gorillas.
In 1932, two blocks of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest were designated as Crown Forest Reserves and in 1964, a reserve was designated as an animal sanctuary to provide extra protection for its mountain gorillas and renamed the Impenetrable Central Forest Reserve. In 1966, two other forest reserves became part of the main reserve increasing its area to almost 321 km2. The park continued to be managed as both a game sanctuary and forest reserve and in 1991, the Impenetrable Central Forest Reserve, along with the Mgahinga Gorilla Reserve and the Rwenzori Mountains Reserve was designated as a national park and renamed the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and later declared a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site in 1994 and its management was changed to Uganda Wildlife Authority
This park is located in Kanungu district in south western Uganda and it covers 321km2 in size with most of it covered by diverse rainforests. The forest contains about 200 species of plants, over 400 mountain gorillas that is the reason why it’s called “The ultimate gorilla experience”, 120 mammals including several primate species such as baboons, as well as elephants and antelopes. There are also over 350 species of birds hosted in this forest, including 23 species which are Albertine Rift endemics.
Attractions in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Bwindi impenetrable national park has a lot of attractions ranging from wildlife such as Mountain Gorillas and other mammals, bird species, reptiles and butterflies and other insects as explained below:
- Wildlife: the park is home to over 120 species of mammals of which eleven are primates including 400 mountain gorillas which is half of the world’s mountain gorillas. These are the major attractions in this park. Mountain gorillas are endangered species, with only around 800 remaining in the world. This has improved since Bwindi Impenetrable Forest reserve became a National park, and the Bwindi gorilla population has increased from around 300 to around 440 since 1991.
- Other wildlife species include; the black and white colobus, the rare L’Hoests’ monkeys blue monkeys red tailed monkeys olive baboons, the Eastern Chimpanzees known as Pan Troglodyte’s schweinfurthi, nocturnal Ape species like the Perodicticus potto, the spectacled Galago and the Demidoff’s Galago and other 45 mammal species including elephants, mongoose, Bush Pigs, Giant Forest Hog, Black fronted Duikers, Yellow backed Duiker, Clawless, Otter Civet and Side stripped jackal as well as bats and rodents and many more wildlife species
- Bwindi impenetrable forest harbors over 350 Bird species of which 23 are endemic Albertine species, 25 are restricted-range species and 4 are world widely threatened species. The following are the most common species that you won’t miss out on your safari in Bwindi impenetrable forest during birding and they include; the Handsome Francolin, African Wood Owl, Rwenzori Nightjar, Bar tailed Trogon, Black Bee-eater, Western Green Tinker bird, Dwarf Honey guide, Fine-banded Woodpecker, African Green Broadbill, Grey Cuckoo-shrike, Shelly’s Greenbuls, and many others.
- More so, there are over 220 species of butterflies such as the Cream banded swallowtail, Graphium gudenusi and Charaxes foumierae and endangered African giant swallowtail of which 42 of them are Albertine Rift endemic species, over 27 frogs such as the Western Rift Leaf folding frog and Ahl’s Reed Frog, 14 snake species, 14 species of lizards, 6 chameleons, geckos and many other insect species that will be seen during birding and nature walk in Bwindi impenetrable national park.
- There are over 1000 flowering species including the 163 tree species such as Brown Mahogany and Brazzeia longipedicellata and 104 ferns.
Activities in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
The following are the activities which visitors engage in during their visit in Bwindi impenetrable forest national park
Gorilla trekking: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is best known for its Mountain Gorilla population and Gorilla Trekking and this activity can be done any period of the year. Mountain Gorillas can be found in only three countries that is Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Uganda, Gorilla tracking became a tourist activity in April 1993 in Bwindi impenetrable national park, and the park became a popular tourist destination. The first Gorilla group to be habituated and available for tourism in Uganda was Mubare gorilla group in 1993. Visitors are allowed to track in any of the four sectors in Bwindi impenetrable forest national park including Buhoma sector, Ruhija sector, Rushaga sector, and Nkuringo sector. To track these gorillas, a visitor must obtain a gorilla permit either directly with the reservations office at Uganda Wildlife Authority Headquarters or through a reputable tour agent. The Gorilla tracking permits can be paid two years in advance. This activity takes some few hours to a full day depending on the location of the gorilla family where it was seen nesting the previous evening. And once the Gorilla family is reached, the visitors are given one hour to interact with the gorillas as they learn much about their nature. There are 13 Habituated Gorilla Groups that are designated for tourism in Bwindi impenetrable national park and there are four different sectors where visitors can track the mountain gorillas in Bwindi national park which include;
The Buhoma sector which is found in the northern side of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. This sector is the most famous trailhead with three habituated families set for visitors to track including the Mubare which is the oldest and most famous of all the groups in the Buhoma area, Habinyanja and Rushegura family. Gorilla Trekking in this sector is easier than in other sectors.
Ruhija sector which is situated in eastern side of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and the habituated gorilla families in Ruhija include; Kyaguriro which is mainly used for research purposes but in case the demand for trekking is high, this family can also be trekked, Bitukura and Oruzogo families are also found in Ruhija region.
The Rushaga sector is located in the southern part of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and it has the following habituated families ready for tracking including; Busingye. Kahungye, Busingye, Mishaya, Bweza and Nshongi. This is also the only region in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park where Gorilla Habituation Experience.
And finally, the Nkuringo region also located in the southern part of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park harbors only one habituated gorilla family called Nkuringo.
Gorilla habituation: This is a tiring activity is carried out in Rushaga sector in Bikingi and Bushaho families which involves in both the tour guides and visitors to move in search of wild gorillas which have not been used to people and once they are found they spend some time with them training them how to interact with human beings and socialize with them. This is a both half day and full day activity.
Birding: Since this park is mostly forested, it harbors several bird species with 350 recorded species which includes 23 endemics. The most common bird species seen during birding are the Common Bulbul, African Blue and White-tailed Blue Flycatchers, Red-headed Bluebill, Short-tailed Warbler, Blue-headed Sunbird and the African Emerald Cuckoo. These species are best seen when the birders use the main trail, the Buhoma Waterfall Trail and along the bamboo zone and Mubwindi Swamp trail in Ruhija during the forest walks
Hiking and Nature walk: hiking and nature walk is usually done in Buhoma sector and this activity can be done in any of the six nature trails such as the Rushura hill walk, the Muyanga Waterfall Walk, the Ivi River Walk, the Buhoma-Nkuringo Trail, the Muzubijiro Loop, and the Habinyanja Trail. Throughout these trails, visitors are able to carry out different activities such as primate encounters, forest walks, waterfall walks, mountain views, impressive birdlife, butterflies and other insects. These trails are explained bellow
The Rushura Hill trail passes through the forest and in the process visitors can see lakes such as Lake Edward and Lake George, the Rwenzori Mountains, and the Virunga volcanoes.
In Muzubijiro Loop, the visitors walk around the hill and in the process, they are able to encounter primates such as gorillas, mammals such as Red tailed monkey, Hamlyn’s monkey, blue monkey, Dent’s Mona monkey, blue monkey, De Brazza’s monkey, mantled guereza, grey cheeked mangabey, olive baboons bird species, and enjoy a view of the Virunga mountains. This trail is 6km
The Buhoma-Nkuringo Trail crosses through the park and connects the two villages of Buhoma and Nkuringo. Visitors using this trail get an opportunity to see the misty hillsides as they ascend the hills towards Nkuringo village. This trail can also be completed as part of the Ivi River Walk and it takes three to four hours
The Ivi River Walk passes through Mukempunu which means “a place of pigs”. In this trail visitors get a chance to have a look at the wild pigs. This is a 14km trail and takes around seven hours.
Muyanga Waterfall Walk starts from Buhoma along the River Ivi to Nkuringo trail and culminates in the sensational sight of the falls plummeting 33 meters.
The Habinyanja Trail crosses the Munyaga River towards the Habigorogoro and Riyovi Ridge overlooking Buhoma River and slope down towards Habinyanja swamp which is the best place for Hikers. Birders on this trail should watch out for the Pel’s Fishing Owl, African Black Duck and Black Bee Eaters, among others. This trail takes about 4-6hrs.
Cycling/Mountain Biking: this is yet another activity enjoyed by the tourists. Mountain biking passes through a 13 km trail starting from the park headquarters at Buhoma to the Ivi River. In the process of cycling, several wildlife species are seen such as bushbucks, black-and-white colobus and red-tailed monkeys. This activity is organized by Buhoma Community Rest Camp under the “Ride for a Woman “community development initiative and starts early in the morning taking a six-seven hour
Cultural encounter: In these encounters, visitors will be able to meet several cultural groups including the local Bakiga and Batwa communities who reside and cultivate in the foothills of Bwindi. In this community, you will be able to interact with them about their standards of living, blacksmith visits, craft shops and vibrant dances. You will also meet the traditional healer who treats the sick with medicinal plants, and the teachers and pupils of the local primary school. Proceed 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. And finally, a visit to Buhoma Community Tours during the cultural encounters won’t be a bad idea as you will be able to view clearly the hillsides of Bwindi Impenetrable forest with its mist swirling over the summits.
Conclusion: Bwindi impenetrable national park is one of the richest ecosystems in Africa. This park is perhaps one of Uganda’s most remarkable destinations for visitors. Come with your cameras and observe different species of trees, species of mammals, species of frogs, geckos and chameleons, species of butterflies, species of birds and other endangered species in their natural habitat. And of course, take advantage of the opportunity to see mountain gorillas and elephants, monkey species and then enjoy the most rewarding hike through the impenetrable forest.