Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, famous for gorilla trekking safaris, is a UNESCO World Heritage site occupying 331 sqkm. It is famous for its rare species which include mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei). Bwindi is a diverse natural forest area with a continuum of habitats ranging from 1190 meters to 2560 meters above sea level. The park lies within the Kigezi Highlands that were formed through up-warping of the western rift valley (“Albertine Rift” see below). The landscape is extremely rugged, with steep ridges and narrow valleys, and a general incline from the high deeply dissected south and southeast to the lower north and northwest.  The only level areas within the park are the Mubwindi swamp (approximately 1sqkm) and Ngoto swamp (approximately 0.1sqkm).

Bwindi was managed as a productive forest reserve from 1932.  In 1991, the forest gained National park status with the official name of ‘Bwindi Impenetrable National Park’. It is managed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) as part of the Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Area (BMCA). BMCA comprises Bwindi Impenetrable and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park (the Ugandan portion of the Virunga Mountains). BMCA is part of the Greater Virunga Landscape, which includes south western Uganda, eastern Democratic of Congo (DRC) and north western Rwanda.

Bwindi lies within a densely populated rural landscape with as many as 500 people/km2 in some areas. The steep slopes immediately surrounding the park are heavily cultivated and thus forest cover stops abruptly at the park boundary. The majority of the families belong to Bantu people such as Bakiga and Bafumbira and a few to the Batwa “pygmy” people. 

Local communities are allowed to collect specific forest products from designated areas of the park called ‘Multiple Use Zones’. These products include weaving materials, medicinal plants and honey. Tourism is a major source of income to park authorities and provides employment to local people.

Site Description
ITFC is located at Ruhija (01o02’46S and 29o46'20” E) on the edge of Bwindi at 2346 meters above sea level. The station’s facilities include office space, library, internet, meeting rooms, a students’ dormitory and 5 houses to accommodate staff and visitors.

The climate in Bwindi is equatorial with two rainfall peaks from March to May and September to November. Heavy mists often form in early mornings and after rainfall. Summary data from different weather stations around Bwindi are given in table 1 below.  The highest temperatures occur at the lowest altitudes and visa-versa and annual rainfall tends to vary between one and two meters. 

Mean Annual Rainfall (mm), Maximum and Minimum Temperature (oC) for Bwindi

bwindi graph.png

What To Expect On A Gorilla Safari

There is no doubt that a gorilla safari is a humbling experience, which happen once in lifetime. The credibility of a gorilla trek in Africa is proved by millions of travelers who flock gorilla destinations every day to have a face-to-face encounter with the gentle and incredible mountain gorillas in their natural habitat.  While planning to go for a gorilla safari, expect a variety of things along the way, during and after the incomparable thrilling adventure.   A gorilla safari in Africa can only be done in three countries of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo meaning that a traveler who intends to see gorillas must travel to any one of the three countries. In the course of a safari, various happenstances take place, which you should be ready for. To ensure a smooth flow of your gorilla safari experience, we offer you a highlight of things you should expect from the start to the end of the trekking session.

On the day of trekking, you will have an early morning breakfast and transfer from the hotel/lodge to the headquarters of the respective national park for a simple briefing at as early as 7:00am. You will be introduced to the dos and don’ts to ensure safety while with the endangered species. Still there, you will be joined in groups of eight people and then allocated a particular gorilla family. All responsible government bodies in gorilla destinations legally allow 8 people as a maximum number of travelers to interact with each gorilla family. These bodies are the Uganda wildlife  (UWA), Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and the Institute of Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) in Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC respectively. 

You must carry a valid gorilla permit along with other travel documents such as passports for clarification.  The permit comes along with the receipt bearing the names of the trekker and the sector of the national park either Buhoma, Rushaga, Ruhija and Buhoma for the case of Bwinidi impenetrable forest national park.  Without a permit, no one is allowed to trek gorillas and is valid for an hour.  Due to high demand for gorilla permits, travelers are always reminded to book for the permits at least 6 months before the actual date so as to avoid disappointments at the last hour.

Gorilla Trekking Packing list

You must pack essential things for your safety in the jungle and a peaceful trekking experience. We bring you important things that you must include on your packing list, all which make your trekking experience a walk away despite its strenuous nature. These things include hiking boots, gardening gloves, hats, sunglasses, drinking water, walking sticks and energy giving snacks.  These things help trekkers in one way or the other hence ensuring a successful and memorable trekking experience.  The hiking boots help to easily walk in muddy and slippery grounds, the gardening gloves protect against thorny bushes and stinging nestles. Similarly, a long sleeved shirt and long pants, which prevent hurt and bites by ground insects.  Due to the unpredictable weather conditions in the forest, rain jackets and sweaters are highly recommended in case of rain showers. Sun glasses and hut are more so required for protection against direct sun and droplets. Walking sticks are also helpful as they provide support in case of falling.

Hiking in the wild

After briefing, your group of 8 trekkers will follow into the dense jungle following various trails in search of the allocated gorilla family.  There is no actual time to spend in the jungle but varies from as early as 30 minutes or else extends to a couple of hours depending on how far or near the group is.  However despite the unpredictable time, trekkers are 99% assured of meeting the gorillas at the end of the trek. Gorilla trekking is not a walkway venture but rather a tiresome adventure that require physical fitness. No one knows the actual time to spend in the forest but you are greatly assured of meeting the gorillas. Expect to spend between 30 minutes to several hours depending on the location and movements of gorillas. Just like their name, mountain gorillas live in mountainous regions with steep slopes, which make it quite tiresome to trek. Expect muddy, slippery and wet grounds in the rainy seasons and early mornings.

An encounter with gorillas in Africa

This is a magical hour of interacting with the gorilla family.  Trekkers here are required to keep a low tone as they accurately take photographs not forgetting to avoid a direct look in the eyes of the gorillas. A dominant silverback gorilla is the head and determines the movements of the entire family.  Female adults nurse the young ones and the juveniles entertain the family, which make a stay with them so amazing.  The human like characters of gorillas make them amazing animals to spend time with but at a distance of seven meters a way from the gorillas.  More still, trekkers are advised to turn back their faces when sneezing or coughing to avoid the transmission of diseases to the endangered gorillas. Trekkers are reminded to avoid looking direct into the eyes of the gorillas to avoid them charging. In case approached by the gorillas, trekkers are told to keep calm, and quite and let them pass. Running way or shouting may disrupt the gorillas hence causing them behave wildly despite them being habituated.

Awarding of the trekking certificates

After an hour with the gorillas, you descend back to the starting point and receive your trekking certificates marking the end of the trek.

Conclusively therefore, come and enjoy your encounter with endangered mountain gorillas rewarding you with an experience that happens once in a lifetime.

Picture Gallery