On the eastern edge of the Albertine Rift Valley lies the evocative Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, a swathe of undulating mountains and hills, covered in a thick tropical rainforest that is home to over half the world’s population of Mountain Gorillas. This rich rainforest is also home to 120 species of mammals, and over 350 species of birds, making this one of Uganda’s only UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
With fewer than 1,000 Mountain Gorillas left in the wild, it is truly a privilege to spend time with them and watch them in their natural habitat. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest contains around 400 mountain gorillas (half of the total population), in 20 families. Only 9 of these families are habituated to human beings, and the park authorities give out 72 permits per day (8 visitors per group) to visit these families.
The families are visited from 4 main areas – Buhoma, Ruhija, Nkuringo and Rushaga. Treks are variable, depending of where the gorilla family is on that day. Some treks may be relatively easy and short, while at other times, they can be strenuous treks through the jungle. Once you reach the gorilla family, you are allowed to spend an hour with them, before embarking on the return trek.
Because of the limited number of permits, it is highly recommended to book the permits well in advance to avoid disappointment. It is also recommended to select lodging close to the area of your trek, to avoid long car rides to reach the trailheads.
- Buhoma is in the northern side of the park, and is home to the park headquarters. There are three gorilla families in this area – Rushegura, Mubare and Habinyanja. Our recommended lodges here are Buhoma Lodge, Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp and Volcanoes Bwindi Lodge.
- In the northeast of the park is Ruhija, about an hour and a half drive from Buhoma. Here there are two habituated families – Oruzogo and Bitikura. There is no recommended accommodation in this area, so guests would stay in the Buhoma area.
- Nkuringo is in the southwest of the park, and is home to only one family – Nkuringo. Our recommended accommodation in this area is Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge.
- Rushaga is located in the southeast of the park, around an hour’s dirve from Nkuringo, and this area is home to three habituated families – Nshongi, Mishaya and Kahungye. There is no recommended accommodation in this area, so guests would stay in the Nkuringo area.
GORILLA HABITUATION EXPERIENCE
Unique to Bwindi, the Gorilla Habituation Experience is the process by which wild gorillas get used to the presence of humans. This is a lengthy process, taking a number of years. Two mountain gorilla families are currently undergoing habituations, and a maximum of eight visitors (4 per group) per day are allowed to visit them. Aside from being able to spend more time with them (4 hours as opposed to one), the experience allows the chance to learn about the process by which gorillas are habituated, and affords greater insight into their lives.
The two families in the Gorilla Habituation, Bikyingi and Bushaho are located in the Rushaga area of the park. There is no recommended accommodation in this area, so guests would stay in the Nkuringo area.
Five different forest trails offer the opportunity to experience the tranquility of the forest, and search for smaller primates and birds.
- The Waterfall Trail is a 3-hour trek from Buhoma, leading into the forest along an abandoned road. The trail crosses the Muyanga River several times before reaching a 33m high waterfall, where you can cool off from the trek.
- The Muyanga River Trail takes around 30 minutes, and lies outside the national park. This short trail follows the Bizenga River to its confluence with the Muyanga before returning to Buhoma Road.
- The Mazubijiro Loop Trail and Rushara Hill Trail both take around 3 hours and offer good views across the Virunga Mountains.
- The Ivo River Walk is the longest trail, taking around 8 hours. It leads to the southern boundary of the park to the Ivo River and offers good chances to see primates, birds and immerse yourself into the forest.
BUHOMA-NKURINGO FOREST TREK
A great way to experience the mountain gorillas of Bwindi is to spend two treks with them, one in Buhoma in the north of the park and one in Nkuringo on the southern side of the park, staying at two different lodges. Driving from Buhoma to Nkuringo takes 7-8 hours. An excellent alternative to this is to hike through the rainforest, a 6-7 hour trail that passes through rivers, streams, and over the hilly mountains, taking in the sights and sounds of the forest along the way.