The very mention of Africa evokes thrill amongst wildlife enthusiasts. The landlocked African country of Uganda is house to quite a few national parks. Amongst these, Bwindi Impenetrable National Forest of the Kanungu District is located in southwest Uganda. Situated on the edge of the Albertine Rift, the forest attains an elevation ranging between 1,160 and 2607 metres. The reserved forest contains about 400 different species of plants and dates back to at least 25,000 back. One of Uganda’s oldest and most biologically diverse rainforests, Bwindi blanket the expansive hillside in a pall of dreamy mist. This sphere of sheer biological diversity hosts 120 species of mammals and approximately 350 species of birds.
Tourism to Bwindi focuses on Gorilla tracking at two locations, Buhoma and recently established location at Nkuringo. More than half of the World’s mountain Gorilla population is resident in Bwindi. An estimated 320 individuals living in 15 troops. The bamboo and thick ground cover of ferns, vines, and other plant growth severely hinder navigation on foot. Also known as the "Place of Darkness", the forest is on the edge of the western arm of the Great Rift Valley, only a few kilometres from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) border and about 25 kilometres (16 mi) north of the Virunga Mountains. The neighbouring towns of Buhoma and Nkuringo both have an impressive array of luxury lodges, rustic bandas and budget campsites, as well as restaurants, craft stalls and guiding services. Opportunities abound to discover the local Bakiga and Batwa Pygmy cultures through performances, workshops and village walks.
WHAT TO SEE
In 1991, the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park was established, adjacent to the conflict-torn Uganda, Rwanda, and Democratic Republic of Congo border region. The forest has been recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as a World Heritage Site for its biological significance. It is one of the most biologically diverse areas on Earth, where half the world's population of the highly endangered mountain gorillas live in its jungles.
In the Runyakitara language, ‘Bwindi’ denotes ‘impenetrable’. The extensive strands of bamboo standing tall amongst the larger forest hardwood is believed to have contributed towards the nomenclature of the forest.
What to see
Bwindi National Park harbours at least 120 mammal species more than any national park in Uganda. The list consists mainly of small mammals such as Rodents and Bats, to over 11 types of primates including the healthy chimpanzee population, Red-tailed and blue monkey, black and white colobus monkeys and Olive Baboon.
A total of 350 bird species have been recorded in Bwindi. Of particular interest to birders are 23 species endemic to the Albertine Rift, and at least 14 species recorded nowhere else in Uganda, among them the African green broadbill, white-tailed blue flycatcher, brown necked parrot and frazers eagle owl. In addition to its extensive bird checklist, Bwindi is also home to at least 200 butterfly species, including eight Albertine Rift Endemics.
Things to do
Gorilla Tracking is the major tourist activity in Bwindi. There are four gorilla groups in Bwindi available daily for tourists. Mubare Group (10 gorillas, 1 silverback) was opened for tourism in 1993, Habinyanja group (18 gorillas, 1 Silverback) opened I July 1998, Rushegura group (10 gorillas, 1 Silverback) was opened in July 2004, while Nkuringo group (19 gorillas, 2 silverbacks) was opened for tourism in April 2004.
Five different trails, ranging from 30 minutes to eight hours lead from Buhoma offering the opportunity to enjoy the diversity of the forest and several different monkey species. Over 190 species of different birds have been spotted in the reserved area of Bwindi.
The different trails include:-
The Munyanga River trail, which lies outside the national park, is ideal for a short walk. Birds and primates can be spotted on the forest’s edge.
The waterfall trail offers a close inspection of the forest with a profusion of tree ferns, orchids and Bwindi’s colorful array of butterflies. This trail which leads to 3 delight crystal waterfalls, paints the archetypical picture of the quintessential rainforest
Muzubijiro Loop Trail offers mesmerising views of Bwindi Forest, Western Rift Valley and the Virungas.
The Rushura Trail takes about 3 hours and offers good views across the western rift valley floor. To the west, Congo’s Parc Nationale des Virungas provides a spectacular backdrop and on clear days one can spot Lake Edward and the Rwenzori Mountains.
Ivo River Trail is the longest trail in the park and will demand an entire day. It is ideal for bird watchers.
Buhoma Village Tourist Walk; A recent introduction is a three-hour stroll through Buhoma and its margins to see the customs and practices of the Bakiga and Batwa people. The tour focuses on varied activities such as farming, brewing local beer, dispensing traditional medicines and concludes with dance performances by members of the Batwa community.
Visitors with their own 4 -wheel drive transport should consider crossing the rugged centre of the park through Ruhija. This transect affords the visitor with Uganda’s finest vistas of deep virgin forests. One can spot duikers, primates and both forest and grassland bird species. In Ruhija, visitors can take the three-hour hike to the Mubwindi swamp or take a stroll into the Bamboo zone.
The Bamboo Trail; The Bamboo trail offers 14 vegetation types and is one of the areas of highest diversity in the park. The top of this trail surprises the travellers with enchanting panoramic views encompassing L. Bunyonyi and Mafuga forest.
The evening's witness captivating cultural performances by the local people, mainly women. The proceeds from this performance goes towards improving the electrification of the local scape.
How to Reach
If visited as part of a Ugandan tour, Bwindi can be reached from Queen Elizabeth NP (two to three hours), or from Lake Mburo NP (four to six hours). If approaching directly from Entebbe or Kampala, the trip by road will take about six to eight hours. During the rainy season, travel by 4WD vehicle is necessary. Bwindi can also be reached by scheduled or chartered flight.
Entebbe International Airport is where most visitors enter the country. It is about 46km from the capital city of Kampala. It is possible to fly by a domestic carrier from Entebbe or Kampala (Kajjansi Airfield) to Kihihi or Kisoro near Bwindi. Chartered flights to Bwindi can also be availed.
Depart from Kampala at daybreak and proceed to the Southwestern part of the country, via Kampala-Masaka Road.
Proceed to Bwindi Impenetrable National Forest through the savannah grasslands, passing by herds of ankole cattle and banana plantations. Reach Bwindi park in the evening and enter through Buhoma Gate.
Indulge in an early morning game drive, followed by gorilla tracking in the jungle.
Embark on a trek through one of the trails, depending on your physical abilities and enthusiasm.
After breakfast, drive out of Bwindi. Head back to Kampala with an optional stopover at Mbara.
Driving across the picturesque countryside, reach Kampala in the evening.