Bwindi, an ancient rainforest in western Uganda is one of the best places to visit in 2023 as listed by the CNN. This protected area features steep mountains covered by misty dense and typical rainforests that are believed to have survived the last Ice Age.
The impenetrable forest is one of the forests that are located not far away from the Equator. According to Exeter University, most of the Savannahs in Africa were caused by the impact of the ice age on the tropical forests of Africa. It was mainly those places that are not far away from the Equator that survived the ice age.
With such a history, Bwindi forest is one of the most ancient ecosystems in the whole world. Only a few researchers have had the opportunity to study this forest but it has mainly been in regard to the survival of the endangered mountain gorillas
In 1991 this ancient forest was upgraded to the status of a national park in Uganda, Three years later, Bwindi was officially designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. The park attained the UNESCO Heritage status considering its biodiversity.
Within the misty ever green forest; there are hundreds of mammals including the endangered mountain gorillas that are only found in three countries in the world; Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Mountain gorilla population in bwindi forest
The Bwindi forest is the leading destination where you can encounter the endangered mountain gorillas in the wild. With at least more than 459; the forest has the highest concentration of mountain gorillas in the whole world.
About 20 fully habituated Bwindi gorilla families are open for tourist visits. This is about half of the population of the mountain gorillas found in Bwindi. There rest of the population is 100% wild and can only be encountered during scientific research.
Location of Bwindi Forest
The world-famous Bwindi Impenetrable National Park lies in the Southwestern side of Uganda, on the Uganda border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. The park spans a forested area of 331 square kilometers.
Bwindi Forest’s Elevation
The forest’s elevation range between 1190 to 2607m with the highest point of the park in Rwamunyonyi located in the Ruhija sector while the lowest point is the Northern sector- Buhoma.
There are a number of activities carried out in Bwindi forest which can partly be attributed to its elevation optimally tuned for the survival of a number of endangered wildlife species such the mountain gorillas. Bwindi is divided into four sectors for conservation and tourism purposes.
All the four sectors of the Bwindi Park are perfect to visit for gorilla tourism. These are, Buhoma sector; consisting of 4 habituated groups, 9 families in Rushaga sector, 4 families in Ruhija and about 3 families in Nkuringo sectors.
Tracking the mountain gorillas is done by visitors with valid permits and a single permit can be secured at US$700 per person (for all foreign non-residents) and foreign residents US$600. The day trek through the park starts at 8:00 am after a briefing from the park trailhead.
Besides mountain gorilla tracking, Bwindi Forest boasts of its incredible trails each providing tourists on a nature walk something distinct. The advantage about hiking or guided nature walks in the tropical rain forest is that visitor get deeper into the park while uncovering its hidden treasures.
Even though the tour guides will also lead you through the familiar trails such Rushura hill trek, Ivy river walk, Muzubijiro loop trail, Habinyanja trail, Buhoma-Nkuringo trail, and others; this opportunity still offers a great opportunity to learn more about this ancient ecosystem.
The floral & wildlife of Bwindi Forest
Bwindi supports plenty of flora and fauna. The park features more than 200 species of trees, 104 ferns and 10 endemic floral species; 202 butterfly species (these include 8 endemic Albertine species especially cream-banded swallowtail, African giant swallowtail and more).
About 350 bird species thrive within the forest and include a significant population of Albertine endemic species. These include regal sunbird, African wood owl, Archer’s robin chat, great blue turacos, red-throated alethe, Chapin’s flycatchers, African green broadbill, Turner’s eremomela, Doherty’s bush shrikes, standard winged nightjars, chestnut-throated apalis, montane oriole, Kivu ground thrush, short-tailed warblers and more.
The unique wild animal species include 120 species of mammals (including 10 primate species; red-tailed monkeys, vervet monkeys, black and white colobus monkeys, chimpanzees, the giant forest hogs, African olden cat, side-striped jackals, forest elephants, and more.
Bwindi Forest: The Birding Haven of Uganda
Bwindi offers special bird sightings, especially for endemic species. The possible birds to be identified in the park include the African green broadbill, African wood owl, handsome francolin, short-tailed warblers, regal sunbird, Archer’s robin chat, standard winged nightjars, Kivu ground thrush, Grauer’s rush warblers, black breasted barbet, bar-tailed trogon, collared apalis, fine-banded woodpeckers, Chapin’s flycatchers, blue turacos, Doherty’s bush shrike and others.
Other than normal gorilla trekking, gorilla habituation offers tourists yet a remarkable opportunity to encounter the massive mountain gorillas. This is a unique primate adventure so far conducted only in the Rushaga region within the southern part of the park.
With gorilla habituation, visitors explore semi-habituated families and the whole idea about it is introducing mountain gorillas to human presence so that they get used to before they are opened officially for gorilla trekking.
The habituation process lasts for 2-3 hours although some gorilla groups take shorter period. If this is the kind of experience that you are looking up to, then you need to secure valid gorilla habituation permits, each costing US$1500 per person.
Human Life In and Around This Ancient Forest
Aside from primate trekking, there is also an incredible chance to encounter the communities that have spent a lifetime in this ancient forest. Due to the conservation efforts, these people are adopting new lifestyles.
A guided community walk would grant you insights into the life of the Batwa community, and Bakiga communities whose history and heritage is perfectly intertwined with this ancient forest.
Where to stay
At Bwindi National Park, there are different accommodation choices across the four sectors; Ruhija, Nkuringo, Rushaga and Buhoma.
The lodges to book in or near Buhoma sector include Buhoma Community Haven Lodge, Buhoma Lodge, Bwindi Guesthouse, Buhoma Community Rest Camp and more.
The Nkuringo region is comprised of Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge, Gorilla Heights Lodge, Chameleon Hill Lodge, Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge, Four Gorillas Lodge and others.
Safari Lodges near the Ruhija region include Ruhija Safari Lodge, Bakiga Lodge, Ruhija Community Rest Camp, and more.