Visit BWINDI IMPENETRABLE NATIONAL PARK

In the South Western edges of Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo lies the thick, dense and dark impenetrable rainforest of Bwindi which means “a place full of darkness” in the Runyakitara language. Bwindi Impenetrable forest national park is one of Africa’s oldest rainforests at more than 25,000 years old and it’s a plant kingdom blooming with over 324 tree species, 1000 plant species such as ferns and 10 unique tree species known to only grow and thrive in this region. The abundant vegetation cover has supported the survival of 120 animal species, 350 species and a mixture of 200 different butterfly species within the ecosystem.

Uganda is blessed to have two destinations sheltering the endangered mountain gorilla species, Bwindi Impenetrable forest and Mgahinga National Park. Mountain gorillas prefer living in high altitude areas surrounded by lush vegetation and tall trees and there’s no perfect place and comfortable place in the country other than these two areas. Bwindi has the largest population and almost half of the global population of gorillas in the world with about 600 of the about 1000 total population distributed within the Virunga mountain ranges in Rwanda and Congo plus Mgahinga in Uganda. There are 18 habituated Gorilla groups available for gorilla trekking in the forest, the gorilla trekking adventures commenced in 1994 when the first gorilla family was visited. The park was declared as a UNESCO world heritage site to conserve the rich nature and ecosystem in it.

Besides encountering the Mountain gorillas, you will come across other primate species like chimpanzees living within the trees as they feed on fruits, nuts and insects, colobus monkeys like the white and black plus the red tailed monkeys that can be heard at a distance when soon approaching them. Elephants which are the largest mammals in the park can also been seen in the park.

The park was first declared as a forest reserve in 1932 and later an animal sanctuary in 1942 to conserve the mountain gorillas and finally became a national park in 1991. The Batwa people were the initial and early inhabitants of the park before they were evicted due to conservation efforts. The park is like their ancestral home and they still have a deep connection with it and hence decided to settle at its borders, visitors who visit the park have the opportunity to interact with these people and learn about how they used to survive in the forest. The park has undergone a number of hurdles like poaching and deforestation that disrupt its ecosystem.

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Activities to enjoy in Bwindi

This is the major attraction in the park that attracts a number of tourists, the forest is a natural habitant to the endangered mountain gorilla specie and gorilla trekking is an activity that involves visitors hiking to the destinations where the gorillas are currently living, so you find them in their comfort zone. Gorilla trekking is carried out by groups of 8 which is the maximum number and visitors should be 15 years and above due to the rules put in place, tourists also need to acquire a gorilla trekking permit which costs $700 per person.

The trek starts with a short briefing about the gorillas and getting to know about your designated gorilla family, after your hike starts and it might take between 1-4 hours before you eventually meet the gorillas but this depends on how deep the gorilla family is in the park, once you locate them, you are given an hour to study and observe their behavior such as how protective the silverback and how it commands authority and the adult females looking after the young ones. The habituated gorillas are gentle and calm unless if they feel attacked such as when you make eye contact with them. However the whole experience is an interesting adventure you ought not to miss.

This is a more engaging experience that takes you behind the curtains on how the gorillas are prepared and trained to behave once they come into contact with humans. During this experience, you get to hike to the gorillas just like in gorilla trekking but this time round you spend more time observing the primates like for some 4 good hours, the activity currently happens in the Rushaga sector and only 4 permit are available daily. Gorillas take two years and even more to fully get used to human presence and this depends on how wild and aggressive they are. This activity is more expensive as it costs $1500 compared to gorilla trekking.

The Batwa people lived in the forests for thousands of years and refer to it as their ancestral home, however due to the need to conserve the park, they were forced to leave the park and now stay in the neighboring areas. The community people are eager to teach tourists who visit them about their rich culture through dance, acting, songs and storytelling.

You can also visit their sacred sites in the forests believed to be where their gods are. They also display some of their art crafts that you can buy to support their livelihoods or donate to the different causes like supporting the children’s education or women groups.

The park is located within the Albertine region and hence has over 23 species of birds that are endemic to that area such as the African green broadbill, handsome francolin, yellow eyed black flycatcher, regal sunbird, rusty faced woodland warbler, Kivu Ground Thrus, Short tailed Warbler, Bar tailed Trogon and the Rwenzori turaco, others are the Grauer’s swamp warbler and blue headed sunbird. These are just a few beautiful bird species you will see and hear singing in the woods.

Bird watching is mostly done very early in the morning when their melodious voices lighten up the dark forest and late afternoon when they are retiring to their nests. There’s always a guide to accompany you such that they are able to help you identify the birds and tell you more about whatever species you sight among the 350 species available. Bird watching can be done through nature walks.

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is a large rainforests divided into four sectors, Rushaga, Buhoma, Nkuringo and Ruhija. There are several trails that pass through distinct vegetation and plant life, each sector is different and unique like Buhoma is raised area at 1500 meters and popular among tourists, it offers beautiful scenery of the forest, Virunga mountains and the communities, Rushaga is the newest and has diverse scenery rivers and swamps, Nkuringo sector is has views of the forest’s tall trees, lakes and volcanoes and Ruhija which is located at the highest point of the park at 2,100 meters is the coldest and most challenging to hike to due to the steep slopes, its high altitude offers a different vegetation type and scenery of the forest area and volcanoes nearby. Tourists can select any of the four sectors to visit depending on where they are staying and how fit they are or what interests they are looking forward to meet.

HOW TO GET THERE?

There are two ways on how to access Bwindi, either by road or air transport, a ride from Kampala to Bwindi takes about 8 hours or 10 maximum depending on the traffic. You can use any of these routes once you reach western Uganda, Kabale to Kanungu and connect to Buhoma or Ntungamo to Rukungiri and then Buhoma. By air you can land on any of the airstrips like Kihiihi or Kisoro. The flights take 1-2 hours only and you they cost between $285-400$ per person.

SAFARI ACTIVITIES IN UGANDA

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

After reading about the mountain gorillas, meet them physically and watch the silverback protect its family, mothers nurse and youngsters play. Half of the total population of the mountain Gorillas call Bwindi impenetrable national park and Mgahinga Gorilla national park home.

Mountain Gorillas are only found in the pearl of Africa, around the vast Virunga chain of mountains which spans through Uganda, Rwanda and the DR Congo. All trekkers must be 15 years and above, with a valid Gorilla trekking permit which can only be used once-the date of the activity.

Gorilla trekking permits are purchased from Uganda wildlife Authority, or through a licensed tour agency and costs 700Usd for foreign non-residents, 250,000ugx for East African residents and 600$ for foreign residents. 

Chimpanzee trekking in Uganda

Chimpanzees trekking is done in Kyambura gorge, Kibale national park, Kalinzu forest and Budongo forest. This is one of the must-do safari activities in Uganda, and thus one of the best for holiday goers. Get to experience the silence of the jungle, know what the forest has, and encounter other forest inhabitants.

The Gorilla trekking experience is done in the morning and afternoon hours, taking about 1-4 hours on foot. It is open for only persons aged 16 years and above in groups of not more than 8 persons. One can combine chimpanzee trekking with other activities like game viewing, boat cruise, hiking, birding and more. At Kibale forest National Park, you will visit Isunga community for the top of world hike and coffee experience.

Game drives and camping safaris

Akagera national park is the only place where game drives are done in Rwanda. The park is located in the eastern part of Rwanda, with a wide range of flora and fauna, cool weather, and classic lodging options.

Game viewing in Akagera National Park is rated as one of the best in the continent, and offers high chances of encountering among others; the African elephants, cape Buffaloes, lions, leopards, Rhinoceros, forest genet, zebras, wild dogs and more. There are birds, plants and more to explore during your stay in the park. Game drive is best in the morning and late evening hours.

Boat cruises

Boat cruise experiences in Murchison falls national park, Lake Victoria, Lake Mburo, Bunyonyi and Kazinga channel are quite unmatched. The best way to explore water, and uncover the aquatic world. Get closer to Nile crocodiles, hippos, kingfisher, water duck, shoebill stock and more, the papyrus swamps, and cool water breeze. This experience takes about 1-3 hours, in either morning or afternoon hours.

Bird watching tours.

Uganda is a host to 10% of total bird species in the world. Birds are found across the country, in the swamps, lake shores, mountains, river shores, and forests. For bird enthusiasts, you get to learn of these birds by name, and character.

Take time to capture numerous photos of the many species notably; Turacos, eagles, Kori bustards, shoe bill stock, cranes, francolins, Albertine owlets, kivu ground thrush, Rwenzori Turacos, regal sunbirds, mountain masked Apalis, Red-billed quale, western nicator eagles, African Jacana, eastern black korhaans, lover birds, guinea fowls and more.

Hiking and Mountaineering activities.

Nature walk and hiking are some of the best safari activities done in your holiday. It is an activity where everything is within your presence, notably; the birds, plants, water and more. It is a much practical way of uncovering Mother Nature and doing physical exercise.

Spend a few nights above the ground, by hiking to the summit of Mount. Rwenzori; one of the tallest mountains in the continent of Africa. Other destinations include; Mountain Elgon which offers a scenic view of the magnificent caldera, coffee plantations and more.

Other activities in Uganda include; City tours, cultural tours, night life, and religious tour.

F.A.Q.

There is no standard price for Uganda, Rwanda or Congo gorilla permit –each country has its rates. In Uganda, the charges vary depending on the visitor category. The foreign non-residents are charged USD 700 to have their gorilla permits booked, USD 600 for foreign residents and Ugandans (East Africa citizens) pay shs. 250,000 per person. To have a gorilla permit secured/booked, you need USD 1500 for Rwanda and this is most ideal for luxury/high-end travelers interested in visiting the endangered mountain gorillas.

When booking a gorilla permit, it is also a good thing to have a destination of your desire in mind. The key places to consider a must-visit on gorilla tour include Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park –these are gorilla trekking destinations for tourists on a tour in Uganda. In Rwanda, Volcanoes National Park is where you can locate habituated mountain gorilla families and crossing the D.R. Congo, you can explore Virunga National Park.

It is a good thing to also understand when best to book your gorilla permits to avoid having issues on actual date of gorilla trekking. Considering our experience, we always recommend our clients to have their permits booked early enough at least 2-4 months. This can save you from last minute stress, especially if you plan to travel during the dry season also considered to be the peak season. The peak months of the year fall around June, July, August to September, and December, January to February.

Gorilla permits are among the relevant documents visitors must have to be allowed to track gorillas in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Not any gorilla permit should be presented on actual gorilla trekking adventure but a valid one. Booking gorilla permits is part of making the entire gorilla trip complete and should be done early enough before the actual visit to see mountain gorillas or eastern lowland gorillas.

To have your gorilla permit booked, there is a process one should undergo through and is generally tedious. Considering your tight schedule back home, you may wonder how easier you can have your permit booked in advance to avoid last minute stress.

The easiest way to secure your gorilla permit in Uganda or Rwanda is by dealing with a recognized tour operator/company on the ground. This is where our reservation team comes in. As part of your gorilla safari requirement, our team being on ground will ensure that your permit is booked early enough and everything else that is needed for gorilla trekking is put together.

The beauty about dealing with local safari company such as ours is that we have knowledge on the different gorilla groups and surrounding communities plus various accommodation facilities for your night stay. This is in addition to making the entire gorilla permit booking process easier on behalf of our clients.

There is also an option of booking the permit directly through the reservation team of respective park authorities. But the challenge is that you must undergo through the long process to have your permit booked and this may not favor you depending on your schedule. Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) is an organ in charge not only for conservation of wildlife in the Pearl of Africa but also sets prices for tourism activities in the parks including gorilla permits. In Rwanda, you can contact Rwanda Tourism Board/Rwanda Development Board to have your permit booked.

The East African tourist visa is a joint visa that permits one to travel to specific countries within East Africa, namely Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda only. A joint tourist visa can be used several times for various purposes as long as it’s not overdue. 

Tourists should therefore find it important to always remember that the tourist visa lasts for only 90 days.  Processing the tourist visa takes a maximum period of two working days. It is also important to note that the tourist visa prohibits employment.

The process of applying for a tourist visa has been made easier since it can be done with the help of a tour operator or by the individual themselves online through the Ministry of Internal Affairs immigration portal. Visitors are required to log in to the portal, go ahead and accept the terms and conditions for the tourist visa, select the Visa / permit type, the subcategory and category, complete the application form and upload the required documents. 

A reference number will be generated and sent to you through your email, submit it and proceed to payment. It’s important to note that the payment can be made using Visa cards.  An approval letter will be sent to your email after the above process.

Report at the immigration office or border post for the biometric capture with all the necessary documents, receipt of payment, approval letter and your passport. Visitors should regard it as important to enter through the home country issuing the visa.

The East African tourist visa costs a fee of $100 only, meaning that it can be obtained by all travelers ranging from the budget to luxurious ones.

  • Persons aged 15 years and above are allowed to trek gorillas.
  • Avoid sneezing in the presence of gorillas.
  • Always stay away from gorillas by observing distance
  • Do not try to feed gorillas
  • Do not chew in the presence of gorillas
  • Do not take photos with flash light on.