The famous Bwindi impenetrable forest national park has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 1994. The 331 sq km park lies at the edge of the Albertine rift valley in southwestern Uganda. This tropical forest is one of the oldest on earth and believed to have survived the ice age about 25000 years ago. Bwindi has the highest levels of biological diversity.
It is home to 400 gorillas which is half of world’s mountain gorillas. There are also 120 mammals, 10 species of primates including chimpanzee, 364 birds of which 32 are Albertine rift endemics, 220 butterflies, 400 species of trees, over 1000 plants and many reptiles and amphibians. In addition to diverse wildlife, deep in the middle of the tropical forest there are refreshing streams and several waterfalls. If you’ve never been to Bwindi, you’re missing out and here are the reasons.
Mountain gorilla trekking
Gorilla trekking offers an opportunity for visitors to see mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Of the estimated 400 gorillas that live in Bwindi, 14 gorilla families have been habituated for tourists to trek at different sections of the park including Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga and Nkuringo. If you book your gorilla permit in advance, you’ve a guarantee to see gorillas and visitors can choose their favorite trekking area at the time of booking. Even though time to spend with gorillas is limited to one hour, trekking is amazing because all the gorilla families have unique behavior and features.
Permits can be booked online any time of the year but you are advised to use a tour operator considering where to stay and transportation to the park. Uganda gorilla permits costs $600 during the peak seasons December to February and June to September. If that seems expensive, you can enjoy discounted gorilla permit price which is always reduced from $ 600 to $450. That means visitors are advised to plan their gorilla trekking safaris during low/rainy seasons in April/May and October/November.
Participate in Gorilla Habituation Experience
Do you ever want to know how gorillas are trained to get accustomed to human beings? Then consider planning your habituation safari experience to Bwindi impenetrable forest national park. Note, however, habituation experience is only available in Uganda so Bwindi forest is the only destination option to visit. Unlike gorilla trekking where you spend one hour with gorillas, with habituation experience tourists can spend up to four hours observing semi-habituated gorillas. Only 4 tourists can participate in habituating gorillas, so book your habituation permit early with a tour operator or online with Uganda Wildlife Authority.
Habituation experience involves going with researchers and trackers into the forest. You identify and count gorilla nests and follow the trails. Note that gorillas tend to shy away when humans approach since they’re still wild. As your four hours countdown begins, trackers will try to imitate their behavior by chewing on vegetation, walking on knuckles and use of vocalizations. The process takes on daily and may take 2-3 years until the gorillas can no longer perceive human presence as a non threat to their lives.
Relaxing off at Lake Bunyonyi and Lake Mutanda
When tourists return from gorilla trekking, most of them are exhausted and one may need to relax. Lake Bunyonyi and Mutanda are just few kilometers from Bwindi gorilla trekking sectors. If you have time never miss to spend a night there and enjoy beautiful scenery, water based activities such as swimming, snorkeling, canoeing, hiking, boat cruises to islands, village walks, biking and birding. Along the shores of Lake Bunyonyi and Mutanda, you can find a range of accommodations such as low-cost home stay with a traditional touch, campsites budget and luxury lodges as well as craft shops.
Bwindi impenetrable forest national park was voted number one birding destination in Africa by Africa bird club in 2012. Indeed, the park offers excellent bird watching experience with 364 birds including 23 Albertine rift endemics. Ruhija Rwamunyonyi peak and Mubwindi swamp south of Bwindi is highly recommended for birders because most of the endemic species like African green broad bill, strange weaver can be spotted there. Buhoma area’s Ivi trail is great to spot rare birds like short tailed warbler, Archers robin chat, Chapin’s flycatcher, red throated Alethe among others.
Unforgettable cultural encounters
After your gorilla trek in the afternoon, a village walk around Bwindi is a wonderful way to discover the culture of the surrounding Bakiga and Bafumbira communities including the indigenous BaTwa hunter gathers. The cultural trails in Buhoma, Nkuringo, Rubuguri walk, Buniga forest nature walk, Nyundo community eco-trail are educational, exciting, entertaining and fun that you ever imagined trekking the mountain gorillas could be. Along these trails, you also find unique experiences such as dance performances, local food preparation, local handcraft making, banana beer brewing, and traditional healing all showcasing typical Ugandan traditional lifestyle. Poverty is the biggest problem and people need alternative resources and income to for their lives. Hence money generated from gorilla trekking has been used for both conservation and community development. This has been critical in saving mountain gorillas from poaching and encroachment. With that in mind, gorilla trekking is a wildlife conservation safari. It will not only give you a once in a life time experience by observing gorillas in their natural habitat but also a piece of mind that you’re having a positive impact on their lives.
Resources: For information about Bwindi check