Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park lies in southwestern Uganda on the edge of the Albertine Rift Valley. The park was gazetted as a National Park in 1991 and was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. The park size is 321km² and its altitude is 1,160-2,607m above sea level, Bwindi meaning Impenetrable is a source to five major rivers that flow into Lake Edward. Bwindi Impenetrable is covered in a misty hilly rainforest with a series of steep ridges and valleys believed to be 25,000 years old and contains about 400 plant species. And famously the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest protects about 400 mountain gorillas—estimated to be half of the World’s population, with a number of habituated groups for tracking. The Mubare was the first group to become available for tracking in April 1993. And now Nine groups have been habituated for tourism, and one for research.
The Bwindi Forest region also harbors more 120 mammals, including primate species like Chimpanzees and Baboons, forest Elephants, and Antelopes. And about 350 bird species are sheltered here, also 23 Albertine Rift Valley endemics.
The neighboring trading centers of Buhoma and Nkuringo both have luxury and budget lodges, bandas, and campsites for budget travelers, restaurants, craft shops, and guiding services are also available. And opportunities to discover the locals Bakiga and Batwa pygmies through their cultural performances, workshops, and cultural trails.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, hanging out with the mountain gorillas is one of the most thrilling wildlife encounters in the World, and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is a prime place to see them. There are theoretically 96 daily permits that cost US$700 (including park entry) and are booked through the UWA offices in Kampala. And you must be over the age of 15 years to go gorilla trekking.
Trips start from the park office nearest to the group you are going to track at 8:30 am, but you have to report to the park headquarters by 7:45 am. If you are basing in Kisoro or Kabale and plan on leaving early in the morning, be mindful that the rainy seasons present potential delays, like landslides and getting stack in the thick mud.
With the help of the trackers, chances of finding the gorillas are mostly guaranteed. But the mountainous and thickly forested terrain can present hikers with a challenge that’s if the gorillas are a distance away. Most times the path is steep and slippery, and it can take between 30 minutes to eight hours to reach them, so you need to be in good reasonable shape. If you feel like it’s a struggle it’s better you hire a porter who can carry your day pack and lend you a hand getting up and down the hills. Walking sticks are too a good idea, and are regularly provided by UWA.
If you can’t afford the gorilla tracking, Bwindi is a rewarding park to visit just for a chance to explore the lush virgin rain forest. Several three to four-hour nature walks operated by Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) penetrating the Impenetrable Forest around Buhoma. The walks begin around 9 am and 2:15 pm.
Buhoma Village Tourist Walk
This village walk is offered by Buhoma Community Rest Camp, the popular three- to four- hour walks head to the surrounding countryside to visit local healers, watch a Twa song-and-dance show and witness the none-too-appetizing production of banana wine and gin (the bananas are foot mashed).
Bwindi is surrounded by lodges, and these, span nearly all price ranges, though with gorilla permits normally costing a sum, there’s unsurprisingly a focus on luxury accommodation. There are four major concentrations of lodges around the park, these are; Buhoma, Nkuringo, Rushaga, and Ruhija. The distance between them is significant so it’s essential to book gorilla permits before lodging so both coincide.
Rushaga Gorilla Camp
This budget and midrange option hits a rare price point for Bwindi and proves both comfort and economy. Safari tents with decks are lovely, but the budget row cabins aren’t bad, with balconies looking out on the forest. There’s also a nice campfire place with scenic views. It’s operated by Bunyonyi Overland Resort.
Ruhija Gorilla Friends Resort
One of Bwindi’s best-value options for budget travelers, here you can pitch a tent, use one of theirs, go for a room or best of it all-the tented rooms with panoramic views. The rooms are clean, hot water and friendly service. It’s partnering with a Canadian development fund with proceeds going to the local community.
Buhoma Community Rest Camp
Next to the park headquarters, this rustic but pleasant camp is Bwindi’s most popular budget option, looking out directly to lush forest. Bandas and safari tents are spaced out on a hill heading down to the valley, and the best ones are at the bottom, and this puts you right at the jungle; gorillas at times even pass by here.
Some of the profits go towards funding the community-development projects.
Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge
A beautiful setting with views looking towards the misty Virungas, the Nkuringo Gorilla Camp is an excellent pick for Nkuringo. The comfort of the rooms and cottages mix safari-chic with a detailed boutique. Little touches like the turnover service, fabulous bathrobes, and bottles of hot water go a long way.
They have very nice food, served in the restaurant lightened by paraffin lanterns with a bucketful of glowing coals providing warmth. It’s a short walk from Nkuringo Trailhead.