Gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, located in southwestern Uganda, is arguably the best place to see mountain gorillas. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the park’s thick canopy makes it “impenetrable” because sunlight cannot penetrate the ground. Bwindi has 19 habituated gorilla groups, which is the highest number in a single gorilla park. Getting to Gorilla trekking locations in Bwindi can be done either by road or air, depending on the type of your travel package and preference.
Mountain gorillas can be found in four national parks: Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Virunga National Park in DR Congo, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda. Uganda is home to half of the remaining population of mountain gorillas, and Bwindi alone is home to about 550 gorillas, according to the last census.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is divided into four major sectors: Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga, and Nkuringo, each with its own habituated gorilla families that travelers can trek during their gorilla safaris in Bwindi. Here is all you need to know about Getting to Gorilla trekking locations in Bwindi for gorilla trekking safaris.
Getting to Bwindi Forest
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is home to over 100 species of mammals, including gorillas, elephants, and antelopes, as well as over 350 species of birds and other wildlife.
Getting to Gorilla trekking locations in Bwindi: To access the park, visitors have two options: by air or by road. If you choose to fly, you can take a flight from Kajjansi/Entebbe airport, which will take you directly to the park in just about 2 hours. On the other hand, if you prefer to travel by road, you can take a journey from Kampala. The journey by road from Kampala
to Bwindi takes about 8 hours, but it’s a great way to see the countryside and experience this charming pearl of Africa.
Alternatively, some travelers choose to arrive through Kigali in Rwanda, which is about 4 hours away from Bwindi. This option is great for those who want to avoid the long journey by road from Kampala and experience the beautiful landscapes of Rwanda and Uganda.
Gorilla Permits in Bwindi
A permit to see gorillas in Bwindi costs $700, which is less than the $1500 charged in Rwanda. Congo gorilla permits are the cheapest at $400, but instability in DR Congo has slowed the growth of gorilla tourism. It’s important to note that the price of a gorilla permit doesn’t include expenses for accommodation, visas, transport, food, and flights. The overall cost of a gorilla tour can range from $1150 to $5000. The cost of gorilla trekking in Bwindi also depends on the number of days and category of accommodation one is interested in.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Park is not just about the gorillas. Visitors can also visit the Batwa Pygmy community, take forest walks, spot birds, and view other primates like chimpanzees.
It’s important to note that Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is divided into four main sectors: Rushaga, Nkuringo, Buhoma, and Ruhija. Rushaga and Buhoma have more gorilla families than other sectors, making them more popular for gorilla tracking. Visitors interested in a gorilla habituation experience can do so from Rushaga.
While a gorilla trekking permit costs $700, a gorilla habituation permit costs $1500. Only four permits are issued for the gorilla habituation experience each day, but over 170 gorilla permits are available daily for normal trekking.
Best time for gorilla trekking in Bwindi
Gorilla watching in Bwindi can be done throughout the year, but the best time to visit gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is during the dry/peak season. The peak season falls in the dry months of December to February and June to August. The wet season is from March to May and October to November. Tracking gorillas during the rainy season can be more challenging due to lush vegetation and muddy trails. However, visitors should not be discouraged from booking tours during the rainy season, as it attracts discounts for gorilla permits and there are fewer crowds in the park, allowing visitors more valuable time with the gorillas. It’s essential to note that Bwindi is a rainforest, so one should expect rain at any time, regardless of the season.
Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi – The Actual trekking experience in Bwindi
Gorilla trekking in Bwindi Forest starts with a briefing at the park headquarters at around 7:30 am. Visitors should sleep early the night before and wake up by 5 am to have breakfast before starting the journey to the park office. After the briefing at the park office, trekkers are divided into smaller groups of 8. Each group tracks a particular gorilla family. Some gorilla families live near the park offices, while others are found further away. The park guides, armed rangers, and porters accompany each group. The guides are experienced, knowledgeable and well-trained. While leading tourists to the gorillas, they share information about the gorilla family and other animals found in the forest.
The time taken to track gorillas in Bwindi depends on the group one is assigned to. It can take anywhere between 30 minutes to 5 hours to locate some group. A team of trackers usually go ahead of the group to identify the location of the gorilla family. They then inform the lead guide by radio call of the exact location of the gorilla family. These advanced trackers know where the gorilla group built their last sleeping nests and will head in that direction.
Once you spot the family, you will be allowed only one hour with them – so that they don’t start getting uncomfortable. Watching gorillas can be an emotional event as they behave like humans and share about 98 percent of our DNA. Take your time to observe their behavior and different personalities while taking some great photos for your memories. Follow the rules and regulations for gorilla tracking, such as not smoking or eating within sight of the primates. Do not run away when a gorilla charges at you – lie down with your heads down as a sign of submission.
Other activities in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Park
Visiting the Batwa Pygmies
Visiting the Batwa Pygmies is an opportunity to learn about the original people who lived in the Bwindi forest for thousands of years. Unfortunately, they have been evicted from the forest and forced to resettle outside the park. During your visit, you can participate in some of their cultural activities and watch traditional dance performances while listening to stories about how they used to hunt and gather fruits in the forest.
Primate Watching: Bwindi forest is home to both Mountain gorillas and chimpanzees, making it one of the few forests in the world where you can see both primates. While on a gorilla tour, you may also come across baboons and chimpanzees. Additionally, smaller primates such as Blue Monkeys, Red-Tailed Monkeys, L’ Hoests Monkeys, Ververt monkeys, Bush babies, and Colobus Monkeys can be sighted in Bwindi.
Apart from gorilla tracking, Bwindi impenetrable forest National Park offers the chance to spot other wild animals such as Forest elephants, Leopards, Bats, Jackals, Forest Duikers, and Giant Forest Hogs.
Birding enthusiasts will find Bwindi forest to be one of the best birding destinations in Africa, with over 330 bird species to spot.
In addition to exploring the forest and its wildlife, there are also other activities to enjoy, such as the Buniga Forest walk, village walks, visiting homes of locals, and buying local handicrafts.