A magnificent verdant swathe across the steep ridges of the Albertine Rift Valley, this ancient rainforest – one of the few in Africa to have flourished throughout the last Ice Age – is home to roughly half of the world’s endangered mountain gorillas and the safest place to track these magnificent giants. Looking deep into the expressive brown eyes of these gentle giants is surely the most exciting and poignant wildlife encounter that Africa has to offer – but we should not let it distract from Bwindi’s broader biodiversity, a result of its immense antiquity and an altitude span from 1,160 to 2,607m.
Explore Bwindi Forest
Bwindi impenetrable national Park is one of the world greatest mountain gorilla homes in Africa and still the choice destination for gorilla tracking safaris in the world. The diversity of primates and other forest habitats attracts hundreds of visitors a year across the world.
Mountain Gorilla population
Did you know Bwindi national park has the highest concentration of the remaining mountain gorilla’s? Though the gorillas also live in Rwanda and Congo but Uganda has half of the total estimated number of 880 mountain gorillas living in Bwindi forest and one habituated family in Mgahinga National Park. Actually Bwindi forest should be your gorilla safari tour park and who knows what you will encounter both during the trek and after when chilling at your lodge of residence. It’s amazing when you chose a lodge close to the park rain forest.
There is More to See
The national park has 90 mammal species, including 11 primates, of which the black-and-white colobus, with its lovely flowing white tail, is prominent. The forest birding ranks with the best in Uganda, with 23 highly localized Albertine Rift endemics present.
Even after a thousand years, the Batwa forest people will never transform to modern culture hence being one of the most amazing tourist attraction that takes deep to the land of true local Africans. They lived and still lice in the forest and the ancient tradition is their life treasure. Never miss it out during your safari to Bwindi forest.
Things to Do
Bwindi national park has the most exciting wildlife encounter in the world “Gorilla trekking”and it’s the park main tourist activity. However, there is much more than gorilla trekking since the vast rain forest is a habitat for many animals, insects, birds and people. Bird watching, forest walk, waterfall hikes, cultural tours, community excursions and volunteerism are the other tour activities that tourists enjoy during their gorilla safari tours in Uganda.
Gorilla tracking is the most popular activity in Bwindi, with four gorilla groups. It can be challenging to hike along the dense forests searching for the gorillas therefore physical fitness is a must. In the end, the pay off is indescribable.
Butterflies, Birds, mammals, wildlife, primates, and reptiles are the many forest habitats you will encounter during the search of the beautiful endangered mountain gorillas the main attraction of Bwindi forest national Park. Great numbers of habituated gorilla families is all you find here though only eight people are allowed to meet one habituated gorilla family per day. Many have baby gorillas and looking at how mother gorillas care for the little ones and other family members its pure proof that love reigns even among the wildlife creatures.
Nature Walks & Hike
The park also offers fantastic nature trails through the picturesque features the forest is endowed with. The Muyaga river trail is an ideal short walk for visitors with little time to spare. The 30 minute nature walk leads to the beautiful falls of the Muyaga River. Here one can see birds and primates of the forest edge, and learn about the flora and fauna.
The 3 hour popular waterfall trail provides an attractive feature of the forest with a provision of tree ferns, epiphytic ferns, orchids and Bwindi’s colorful array of butterflies.
This trail which leads to 3 delightful crystal clear waterfalls typifies your impression of a tropical rainforest.
The Rushura trail commands expansive views across the Western rift valley floor. To the West, Congo’s Parc Nationale des Virungas provides a spectacular backdrop and on clear days, Lake Edward and the Rwenzori mountains are visible.
The 5.2 km Muzabajiro loop trail offers breath-taking views of Bwindi Forest, Western Rift Valley, and the Virungas. One the way, you can witness hundreds of pre-historic tree ferns. The top of this trail is a great place for a picnic lunch.
For a cultural experience, the Buhoma Village Tourist Walk is ideal. The walk introduces you to a number of interesting sites such as a typical rural homestead, a visit to the local traditional healer, a banana brewing demonstration and many more. Also cultural dances and story telling can be enjoyed.
Bwindi is a bird watchers haven. It holds 346 species of birds and contains 90% of all Albertine rift endemics, difficult or impossible to see in any other part of East Africa, and seven on the World Conservation Union-IUCN red data listed species. One can identify up to 100 species a day!
The crossing to the rugged centre of the park through Ruhinja affords one to see Uganda’s finest vistas of deep undisturbed forests. Duikers, primates and both forest and grassland bird species can be seen. At Ruhinja, visitors especially birders can take the three-hour scenary packed hike to the Mubwindi swamp, and also to the bamboo zone.
The bamboo trail offers 14 vegetation types and is one of the areas of highest specie diversity in the park. At the top of this trail, one can witness panoramic views encompassing L. Bunyonyi and Mafuga forest.
When to Visit Bwindi
It’s a year round destination for gorilla tracking and every time is good for gorilla viewing in the forest. Make sure you arrive to the park a day before your trek with all the trip essentials settled especially the gorilla permit which is agate pass into the forest to see mountain gorillas.
Gorilla Families in Bwindi Forest
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest gazette in 1994 as a world heritage site by UNESCO, contains 20 habituated families that can be visited on a gorilla safari. One of these groups is reserved for the gorilla habituation experience in the Rushaga Sector. At present permits are available for visitors looking to primate watching safaris in Uganda and bookings are handled at the Uganda Wildlife Authority Offices at Kamwokya in Kampala. These groups are accessed from four separate Park Gates on different sides of the forest Bwindi forest gorilla habinyanja family
Buhoma area is the main Park Headquarters, on the northwestern side of this ancient forest. This is where the first gorilla groups were habituated back in the 1990’s and is home to the majority of the park’s accommodation units. Guests who book these lodges have access to three habituated gorilla groups, one in the immediate vicinity and the other two requiring a drive of up to an hour to the trailheads. When permits run low it is also possible to access the gorillas of the Ruhija area to the northeast, although it is about an hour and a half drive to the trailhead there.
Recommended lodges in this area include Buhoma Lodge and Mahogany Springs.
Family group 1: Rushegura
The number one group visited out of Buhoma to the west of the forest, with treks usually starting out on foot from the park headquarters. The group was formed in 2002 when an ambitious silverback named Mwirima separated from the Habinyanja group with seven other family members. The group has thrived since under his leadership and now has 19 members. With so many adult females, the group has great reproductive potential and mating is regularly observed.
The group tends to range across a broad territory, sometimes visiting Batwa village, Bwindi waterfall and Buhoma Camp.
There is a decent guest presentation on this family in the video section.
In April 2010 an adult female gave birth in the grounds of one of the lodges and the infant soon grew into the curious and amusing juvenile that can be seen on the “Dancing gorilla” segment on the video section.
Family group 2: Mubare
Also visited out of Buhoma, this groups was the very first to be habituated, having been to visitors in April 1993. Originally having 18 members, the group has declined to just five animals, largely due to members moving to other groups or loss of life during fights. However the underlying cause of this decline is though to be that Ruhondeza was a particularly domaneering alpha, who had a tendency to kill up and coming black backs, rather than grooming a successor.
The year 2009 was particularly tough for the group, with the loss of three members. When an adult female died of a fractured skull, she left a tiny infant. The rest of the group tried to nurture the little one, but it was later found dead on Ruhondeza’s bed. It had not been weaned and had been unable to feed.
As the group declined to just four members, Ruhondeza was eventually squeezed out and took refuge in a neighboring community forest. The local people took a liking to him and did not chase him out. When he was found dead of natural causes, he was given a ceremonial burial at UWA Headquarters, where the grave of the great silverback can still be seen. His successor, Kanyonyi, has already managed to bring in three new members from other groups and the family looks set for a return.
The small size of the group means that permits for this group tend to be considered rather less preferable. The group also seems to have undergone a permanent shift in territory further away from Park Headquarters, which means that treks can be quite long, sometimes up to eight hours.
Family group 3: Habinyanja
Also visited out of Buhoma, this group is usually to be found to the north of the forest, about an hour drive to the trailhead. This is the group which is featured in the main slideshow. Habituation started in 1997 and permits were made available from 1999.
Over the years there has been much opportunity to witness the various power struggles and other social dramas within the group. Back in 1999 this was a very large family group of around 30 individuals, led by an ageing patriarch named Mukurusi. When he died, the family was led for some years by two of his sons, Rwansigazi and Mwirima, but on 14 February 2002 the group split, with the half that followed Rwansigazi retaining the group name. The group led by Mwirima became the Rushegura group described above.
The settlement of Ruhija is the location for a Park Gate to the northeast of the reserve. This is the point of access for two habituated groups, plus the one group reserved for research only. These families have been habituated relatively recently compared with those at Buhoma, but are very rewarding to visit.
There is very little in the way of good quality lodges in this area, so the majority of visitors stay in the Buhoma area above and drive for an hour and a half to trek from this gate.
Family group A: Kyagurilo
This family is reserved for research only, with the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology being heavily involved. It is usually located on the northeast border to the west of Ruhija and consists of 18 individuals. The group was habituated in 1999.
The village of Nkuringo is situated on the southwest side of the forest and provides access to one family of gorillas. Trekking from here is notoriously tough because of the steep inclines immediately between the Park Gate and the forest itself. But the area is a lot less busy than the Buhoma area and in some ways scenically even more attractive.
The outstanding lodge option here is the very high-end Clouds Gorilla Lodge, with Nkuringo Gorilla Camp providing a much simpler and lower cost option.
Family group 6: Nkuringo
Habituation started with this group in 1996 and permits became available from April 2004. The family inhabits the Kashasha river valley below the Nteko Ridge. It has long since had the habit of living along the periphery of the forest and raiding into the surrounding agricultural land for food, devastating banana plantations and feeding on eucalyptus and yam. The gorillas had to be regularly chased back into the forest by the Human Gorilla Conflict Force.
In an attempt to resolve this crisis, in 2010 the International Gorilla Conservation Programme purchased a strip of land measuring 12km by 350m around the periphery of this section of the park. Their idea is to create a buffer zone of crops which are not attractive to gorillas, which essentially seems to mean that they are going to create an enormous tea plantation. But the solution appears to be flawed as they gorillas have been found ranging up to 1km outside the forest, into the areas where the farmers have been relocated.
In 2008 the group consisted of 18 individuals. The silverback after which the group takes its name died on 27 April 2008. At the end of 2012 the group consisted of 16 animals
The Rushaga trailhead is to the southeast of the forest and is the base for three relatively recently habituated groups of gorillas. Accommodation in this area is pretty thin, with Nshongi Gorilla Lodge and Wagtail Safari Camp being the main options. But it is also possible to stay in the Nkiringo area lodges, from where it is about an hour by road.
Family group 7: Nshongi
This family is visited from lodges in the Nshongi area to the southeast of the forest. First contacted by members of the Uganda Wildlife Authority in 2007, the group was very quickly habituated to the presence of humans and permits were first issued from April 2009. This is one of the largest groups, with around 24 animals, led by an alpha male also named Nshongi, who unusually is not the oldest of the silverbacks.
Family members are listed in the next group.
Family group 8: Mishaya
In 2010 the Nshongi group split, with the subordinate silverback Mishaya separating off with females and infants to create his own group of 13 individuals. Mishaya has the reputation of being something of a brawler.
Family group 9: Kahungye
Permits for the Kahungye group became available from July 2011, after a successful habituation program was completed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority. The group is named after Kahungye hill, which lies within their usual territory. There are 27 individuals, of which three are silverbacks. The group is thought to have split in two, the splinter faction being referred to as the Busingye family.
Packing for a Gorilla Safari
The time for your trek doesn’t matter but after reserving all your trip essentials, carry or bring right trekking gears especially the comfortable trekking shoes, rain jacket and sweaters, long sleeved clothes, insect repellant, cotton long socks, sun cream, gorilla permit, valid passport, lunch boxes, drinking water, walking stick that you can hire at the park as well as a local porter to easy your trek in the forest. Many lodges and campsites at the park have these trekking gears and always hired by travelers who travel light but ready to track gorillas in the forest. Whatever time you head out to Bwindi forest, be sure to have an unforgettable experience.