BWINDI IMPENETRABLE NATIONAL PARK
Undoubtedly the highlight of any visit to Uganda and one of the greatest wildlife experiences found anywhere in the world is coming face to face with the gorillas. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is home to about 600 mountain gorillas, which is over half of the world's remaining. An interaction with these primates is guaranteed to be an immensely moving experience as you will be able to recognise the emotions on the faces of one of mankind's closest relatives.
Advantages of tracking in Uganda over Rwanda
- Gorillas permits are cheaper in Uganda (US$700) than Rwanda (US$1500).
- Accommodation in Bwindi in Uganda is a lot more varied than accommodation in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, which has a strong focus on the high-end luxury market.
- The terrain is generally easier and more open in Rwanda.
- Fly-in safaris to Bwindi in Uganda are easily organised.
- There are approaches of variable ease in Uganda, some of the harder walks are stunning in themselves.
- Uganda is a larger country with a wider range of activities to combine with gorilla encounters. In seven days it is possible to combine chimpanzee tracking in Kibale, a safari in Queen Victoria National Park, and gorilla tracking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park.
For those on a tight schedule, it is best to fly by light aircraft to the Buhoma gorilla tracking area of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park from Entebbe, as it is otherwise a two-day day drive. Or, if you only want to track the gorillas and not combine the tracking with other areas in Uganda, then you can also fly into Kigali in Rwanda and we organise a road transfer from there to the southern Bwindi areas for you. The drive will take between 3-4 hours.
The different tracking areas
There are 4 areas in Bwindi from where you can track the currently 19 habituated gorilla families, which currently range in size from 8-23 individuals. Our favourite area is Buhoma in the north-west of the park, which is currently home to 4 families and has a wide range of good lodge choices, plus it is very closely located to the UWA. The area is also best to connect to other areas like Queen Elizabeth National Park and Kibale further north. Rushaga in the north-east has another 8 families, but no accommodation that we like to use. You can also track the Rushaga families from Buhoma though, the transfer between the 2 areas takes about 1 1/2 hours. In the southern part of Bwindi there are Nkuringo in the west with 3 families and Ruhija in the east with the remaining 4 families. Both southern areas have a few nice accommodation options and the families on the south can be tracked from both southern areas.
Tracking gorillas is a highly regulated activity with a strict code of behaviour in order to not disturb the primates. Gorilla tracking brings a lot of revenue to the Uganda Wildlife Authority that manages the park and uses the money for conserving, economically developing, and sustainably managing Bwindi National Park.
As the name suggests, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is a demanding landscape and can be a difficult one to hike through. The steep hills and dense tropical foliage mean that you need to be in a reasonable level of fitness to find the gorillas. It can take anything between 1-6 hours to find them. But, the rangers take the level of fitness (or not) of clients into consideration when deciding who goes to which family. Access ranges from finding them five minutes from the briefing area to half a day trekking through steep, dense forest without any paths, which is a great trip in itself. The guides are excellent at sending the right people to look for the right gorilla families, including people with severely reduced mobility. The journey is well worth it and will take you past tea plantations and local villages before you start penetrating the forest. The park is also home to many other species of animals and beautiful birds that you might encounter on the way, you may spot black-and-white colobus, red-tailed monkey, vervet monkey, and L’Hoest’s monkey and some of the over 350 different bird species.
Other activities in the area include waterfall walks and other nature hikes, birding, village visits, canoeing and more.
WHERE TO STAY
From our visit to Bwindi, we have first-hand knowledge of the lodges and below you can find the ones we most commonly use, ordered from low key to deluxe. Open, close, then open each tab again to display the images of each lodge fully.
buhoma community haven lodge - buhoma
engagi lodge - buhoma
chameleon Hill lodge - rushaga
nkuringo bwindi gorilla lodge - nkuringo
gorilla safari lodge - rushaga
mahogany springs lodge - buhoma
clouds mountain gorilla lodge - nkuringo
buhoma lodge - buhoma
volcanoes bwindi lodge - buhoma