Bwindi Forest

Overview

Bwindi is the most important forest reserve in Uganda. This swath of steep mountains covered in thick, steamy jungle is just as magnificent as it sounds. The 32,092 ha (320 sq km) World Heritage-listed Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is one of Africa’s most ancient habitats, even surviving the last Ice Age as most of the continent's other forests disappeared. Most prominent about the park is its 500 inhabitants, the mountain gorillas.

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is one of Uganda’s most important rainforests and is home to over 500 mountain gorillas, and 19 habituated gorilla groups available for the gorilla trekking experience.

Located in a mountainous area in southwest Uganda (near the border with Rwanda in the south), Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is commonly known for its famous inhabitants, the mountain gorillas. But this 331 square kilometers of tropical forest spread over a series of steep ridges and valleys is one of the largest areas in East Africa, which still has Afromontane lowland forest extending to well within the montane forest belt.

Waged on the eastern edge of the Albertine Rift Valley and believed to be a Pleistocene refugium, the property is a biodiversity hot-spot with possibly the most significant number of tree species for its altitude in East Africa according to UNESCO. It is also host to a rich fauna, including several endemic butterflies and one of the richest mammalian assemblages in Africa.

Home to almost half of the world’s mountain gorilla population, the property represents a conservation frontline as an isolated forest of outstanding biological richness surrounded by an agricultural landscape supporting one of the highest rural population densities in tropical Africa. Community benefits arising from gorilla trekking tourism and other ecotourism may be the only hope for the future conservation of this unique site.

As names go, there’s hardly a more evocative Africa destination than The Impenetrable Forest of Bwindi. This swath of steep mountains covered in the thick, steamy jungle is just as magnificent as it sounds. The 32,092 ha (320 sq km) UNESCO World Heritage-listed Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is one of Africa’s most ancient habitats, even surviving the last Ice Age as most of the continent’s other forests disappeared.

Bwindi Impenetrable NP

  • UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • From 1,160 to 2,706 m in altitude
  • Over 471 Mountain Gorillas
  • Over 120 mammal species
  • Over 200 Tree Species
  • 346 Forest Bird Species (22 endemics)
  • 202 Butterfly Species
  • Found in Uganda, East Africa
  • 20 Habituated Gorilla Groups
Mountain Gorillas

How Important is Bwindi?

Bwindi is the most important area in Uganda for bird species due to its exceptional diversity, including many Albertine Rift endemics. Due to its diverse habitats ranging from 1,160 to 2,706 meters in altitude, various bird species find Bwindi habitable.

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is located at the intersection of the Albertine, Congo Basin, and Eastern Africa ecological zones, and its potential role as a Pleistocene refugium, Bwindi is the most crucial area in Uganda for species due to an exceptional diversity that includes many Albertine Rift endemics.

Scientists believe that the Bwindi Forest is a mere remnant of a vast forest that once covered much of western Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The property has the highest diversity of tree species (over 200 species including 10 endemics) and ferns (some 104 species) in East Africa, and maybe the most important forest in Africa for montane forest butterflies with 202 species (84% of the country’s total), including eight Albertine endemics.

Bwindi Forest is very significant as a home to almost half of the population (about 471 gorillas, according to the last Bwindi-Sarambwe census) of the critically endangered mountain gorilla. With over 347 species of forest birds recorded in the Park, at least 70 out of 78 montane forest bird species occurring in the Albertine Rift region are found in the Bwindi forest, and 22 of the 36 endemics.

Overall, Bwindi hosts numerous globally threatened species, including high-profile mammals such as mountain gorilla, chimpanzee, L’Hoest’s monkey, and African forest elephant; birds such as African green broadbill, Grauer’s swamp warbler, Turner’s Eremomela, Chapin’s flycatcher, and Shelley’s crimson-wing; and butterflies such as African giant swallowtail and Cream-banded swallowtail.

Gorilla trekking

Bwindi’s Mountain Gorillas

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is home to more than half (over 500) of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas, who feed on roots, leaves and fruits from the park’s many tree and fern species.

As their name implies, mountain gorillas live in forests high in the mountains, at elevations of 8,000 to 13,000 feet. They have thicker fur, and more of it, compared to other great apes. The fur helps them to survive in a habitat where temperatures often drop below freezing. But as humans have moved more and more into the gorillas’ territory, the gorillas have been pushed farther up into the mountains for longer periods, forcing them to endure dangerous and sometimes deadly conditions.

What might have been a bleak outlook for the subspecies just a couple of decades ago has brightened in recent years due to conservation efforts.

Despite the ongoing civil conflict, poaching, and an encroaching human population, both populations of mountain gorillas have increased in numbers. Despite years of civil unrest in the region where mountain gorillas live, conservation efforts have found success. Findings show the gorilla population in the Bwindi has grown to 471 mountain gorillas (2019) which puts the total global wild gorilla population over 1,067 individuals.

So, Bwindi Forest is the best place in the world to see mountain gorillas up close. Having a look at these critically endangered creatures up close is an unforgettable experience. You wouldn’t want to miss it.

A few gorilla permits are issued at a hefty price ($700/$400) to help protect the endangered gorilla groups. So make sure you book your gorilla permit months way before your planned trip date to get a chance to view these cousins.

Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable NP

Gorilla Trekking

Trekking the jungle floor to see a gorilla family

Gorilla trekking is a hike excursion into the deep jungles of Uganda’s rainforests, escorted by park rangers and a guide who leads you through a trail to a family of mountain gorillas. The rangers are armed with AK47s for your security. With the help of a machete, the guide chops your way through the jungle thickets. When found, you’re allowed to spend 60 minutes in the presence of the gorilla group.

Spending those precious moments with mountain gorillas is one of the most thrilling wildlife encounters in the world, a genuine once-in-a-lifetime experience, and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is a prime place to see them. A Permit to see the gorillas in Uganda currently costs USD 700/$400 pp (2021)—including park entry—and can be booked through the UWA office in advance. Note that trekkers must be over 15 years of age to track the gorillas.

Gorilla trekking excursions leave from the park office, nearest the group you’ll be tracking, at 8.30 am daily. UWA requires that you report to the park headquarters by 7.45 am for briefing before the trek. If you are based in Kisoro or Kabale and plan on leaving early in the morning, be mindful that the rainy season presents potential delays, such as landslides or getting trapped in thick mud.

With the help of trackers, chances of finding the gorillas are almost guaranteed. But mountainous and heavily forested terrain can present hikers with quite a challenge if the gorillas are a fair distance away. The path is often steep and slippery, and it can take anywhere from 30 minutes to five hours to reach them, so you’ll need to be in reasonable shape. If you think you’re going to struggle, it’s strongly advised you hire a porter (US$15) who can carry your day pack and lend a hand getting up and down the hill. Walking sticks are also a perfect idea and are sometimes provided by UWA.

Once you find the gorillas, you will have a maximum of 60 minutes near the gorillas. You can get up to 10 meters from them, but the ranger may instruct you to move further away should the gorillas get restless.

Considering the terrain, it is not always possible to get this close, so bring a camera with a zoom lens, and remember that flash is not allowed. While in the rainforest, you should keep your voices down. UWA will stop anyone from participating, should they be ill or have a cold. Since gorillas are genetically so close to humans, they are susceptible to many human diseases.

Jungle Experiences in Bwindi

Take a look at these recommended Bwindi gorilla tours. If they don’t fit your style, talk to our consultants to help you customise one that brings out the best in your exploration style. We care that you have an experience more real than your dreams.

Bwindi Gorilla Permits

Bwindi gorilla permits cost $700 pp by UWA

The famous gorilla trekking activity in Bwindi Impenetrable, which must usually be booked well in advance through the UWA headquarters in Kampala, costs US$700 for non-residents, $600 for foreign residents, and UGX 250,000 east African citizens (2021). Discounted gorilla permits (that end June 2021) cost USD $400/$300/UGX150,000 for non-residents, foreign residents, or East African citizens.

The Gorilla Habituation Experience in Rushaga and Nkuringo sectors costs US$1,500 pp for four hours, 4 people per gorilla group per day.

The gorilla permit scarcity increases as demand for them exceeds supply for most of the year in Bwindi. During the ‘low seasons’ of April to May and October to November (the rainiest months not advised to visit Bwindi), you may be able to confirm a space a week or two in advance of your trip.

During the rest of the year, it’s not unheard of for permits to be booked up months in advance.

If nothing is available that fits your schedule, check with your safari company to hook you up with one. It’s no problem to buy an already booked one, even when someone else’s name is on them.

Cancellations and no-shows are rare, but you can get on the list at the park office: it’s first-come, first-served. If you haven’t prearranged a gorilla permit, this should be your number-one priority upon arrival in Kampala.

Faqs, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Bwindi Forest Sectors

Points of entry or trailheads into the jungle & accommodation places

Buhoma Sector

Nestled in the northwest corner of the park, Buhoma currently has 5 habituated gorilla groups, 40 gorilla permits per day. Buhoma gorilla groups include Muyambi (newest, 6 members), Katwe (8 members), Rushegura (18 members), Mubare (9), and Habinyanza (14).

As the first section of the park to open for gorilla tracking, Buhoma is by far the most developed in terms of tourist infrastructure. The Buhoma sector issues more gorilla permits than the other three sectors, and it’s the most popular, with many Lodges competing for business. Gorillas are probably the most accessible here, too, sometimes as little as a 30-minute trek away. And sometimes, the gorillas come of the jungle and walk through guest camps.

Variable accommodation options sprout all over Buhoma Sector. From luxury forest lodges within trailhead walking distance to budget camps and sleazy lodging dotted around the sector, you can’t fail to get where to sleep.

For a Luxury stay in Buhoma, we recommend Buhoma Lodge, Sanctuary Retreats & Mahogany Springs, and Budget: Buhoma Rest Camp and Ride for a Woman.

Nkuringo Sector

Nkuringo Sector is home to 3 habituated gorilla groups, with 24 permits available per day in Nkuringo.

Nkuringo trailhead gorilla groups include Nkuringo (13 members), Bushaho (8 members), and Christmas (9 members). The fourth gorilla group, Bikingi (15 members), is still under habituation but available for the Habituation Experience of 4 hours, 4 trekkers per day for a permit price of US$1,500 pp.

Nkuringo sector is regarded as the most entertaining, most relaxed gorilla groups and most challenging to trek part of Bwindi Forest. It’s a preferred choice by seasoned hikers that want the challenge the terrain presents and those that want to see more of the primeval jungle. Nkuringo is spectacularly set in the southwest of Bwindi on a ridge opposite the wall of green that is Bwindi. You can see Lake Edward, the Rwenzoris, all of the Virungas, and even Nyiragongo active Volcano from various spots. And for a 30 minutes drive from Nkuringo, you can access Rushaga Sector.

For Luxury, Nkuringo Gorilla Lodge and Clouds Mountain provide the most excellent stay at the full board.

Rushaga Sector

Rushaga sector is in the southwestern section of Bwindi with 6 habituated gorilla groups and 2 semi-habituated gorilla families available for habituation experience. Therefore, Rushaga issues 48 gorilla permits and 8 habituation permits per day.

The six habituated gorilla families in Rushaga include Nshongi (9 members), Mishaya (12 members), Kahungye (17 members), Busingye (9 members), Mucunguzi (12 members), and Bweza (12 members). 48 permits are available per day plus 4 habituation permits.

Rushaga trailhead is about a 30-minutes drive from Nkuringo trailhead, where there’s the best luxury accommodation.

Rushaga sector doesn’t have great accommodation options, but trekkers can board in Nkuringo. Visitors book into Nteko Nkuringo and get to Rushaga in time for the trek.

Ruhija Sector

In the northeast of the park, Ruhija has 3 habituated gorilla groups: Bitukura (13 members), Oruzogo (17 members), and Kyaguriri (20 members). 24 permits per day are available in Ruhija.

Ruhija sector’s location with Buhoma to the north and Kabale in the south gives it easy access to both sides of the park. You can easily connect to Queen Elizabeth from Ruhija, making it a favorite choice among trekking. But because it has the least amount of permits, suitable accommodation may be hard to find in this place.

There’s a good range of accommodation sprouting up here, but otherwise, it’s also accessible from Kabale or Buhoma, a two-hour drive in either direction.

Hiking Trails in Bwindi

Hiking, Nature Walks, Birding and Treks Across Bwindi

Even if you can’t afford gorilla tracking, Bwindi is a rewarding park to visit just for a chance to explore the lush virgin rainforest. Several 3 to 4 hour hikes run by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) penetrate the Impenetrable Forest around Buhoma. The walks begin at 9am and 2.15pm and cost US$30 per person (not including your park entry fee).

The Waterfall Trail leads to a magnificent 33m waterfall on the Munyaga River, but just as impressive is the rich forest ecosystems it passes through. This is the best trail for spotting both orchids and primates. Weather permitting, the Muzabijiro Loop Trail and Rushura Hill Trail offer excellent views south to the Virunga volcanoes and the Western Rift Valley in the DRC. The latter, which is a more difficult climb, also serves up views of Lake Edward and, on an exceptionally clear day, the Rwenzoris.

A longer but much easier trek is along the River Ivi Trail, which follows the path of a planned-but-never-built road between Buhoma and Nkuringo. It’s 14km through the forest and then another 6km uphill along a road to Nkuringo village; you might be able to hitch this last part. If you’re moving between Nkuringo and Bihoma, this is the most rewarding way to go. It is also the best bird-watching trail in the forest.

For seasoned hikers, start from Kisoro town and take the 18km trek to Lake mutanda (this can be shortened to 10 with some driving) passing through primitive communities with children dashing out hellos and cheering like it’s July parade—then when you reach Lake Mutanda, take a 2.5 hour paddle (life jackets provided) in a dugout canoe across to Mutanda Lake Resort. From here it’s another 4km on foot to Kisoro or hitch 36km (1 hour) to Nkuringo Sector.

Jungle Experiences in Bwindi

Take a look at these recommended Bwindi gorilla tours. If they don’t fit your style, talk to our consultants to help you customise one that brings out the best in your exploration style. We care that you have an experience more real than your dreams.