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Home » Uganda National Parks » Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. It lies in the south western part of Uganda covering an area of 321 Sq. Km at an altitude of 1,160 – 2,607 Km above sea level.

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, covers 32,092 ha, and is one of the largest areas in East Africa which still has Afromontane lowland forest extending to well within the montane forest belt.

Located on the eastern edge of the Albertine Rift Valley and believed to be a Pleistocene refugium, the property is a biodiversity hotspot with possibly the greatest number of tree species for its altitude in East Africa.

It is also host to a rich fauna including a number of 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.

Bwindi is the most diverse forest in East Africa for tree species (more than 163) and ferns (more than 104), as well as other taxa.

A further 16 species have only a very restricted distribution in south-west Uganda, and one species, Lovoa swynnertonii , is globally threatened.

The forest gets the name ‘impenetrable’ from the dense cover of herbs, vines and shrubs inhabiting the valley floor.

Bwindi has one of the richest fauna communities in East Africa, including over 214 species of forest bird, 7 species of diurnal primate, 120 species of mammals and 202 species of butterfly.

Highly significant is the presence of almost half of the world’s population of mountain gorillas. Bwindi is also an important locality for the conservation of Afromontane fauna, in particular those endemic to the mountains of the western rift valley.

Overall, Bwindi contains nine globally threatened species: mountain gorilla, common chimpanzee, l’Hoest’s monkey Cercopithecus l’hoesti, endangered species of African elephant, African green broadbill, Grauer’s rush warbler, Chaplin’s flycatcher, African giant swallowtail and cream-banded swallowtail. Buffalo were poached to extinction in the late 1960s, as were leopard more recently.

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park  Uganda Gorilla Safari in Bwindi Forest Uganda Tour Activities

In 1932, what are now the northern and southern sectors of the forest were gazetted as Kasatora and Kayonza Crown Forest Reserves respectively, covering a total area of 20,700ha.

Later, in 1948, the two reserves were combined and extended into the Impenetrable Central Crown Forest Reserve covering 29,800ha (Forest Act, 1947, amended 1964).

Two local forest reserves were then incorporated into the central reserve in 1961, increasing the gazetted area to 32,080ha.

In the same year, the entire reserve was gazetted an animal sanctuary (Game Preservation and Control Act, 1959, amended 1964) in an effort to grant additional protection for the mountain gorillas.

Bwindi was finally upgraded to a national park in 1991 (Statutory Instrument No.3, 1992, National Parks Act, 19521, along with the creation of two other mountain national parks in Uganda: Rwenzori Mountains and Mgahinga Gorilla.

This final change was accompanied by incorporation of the 1, OOO ha Mbwa tract. Bwindi is characterized by steep hills and narrow valleys with a general incline from the north and west to the south-western corner.

The park constitutes an important water catchment area serving the surrounding densely populated agricultural land and is one of the few large expanses of forest in East Africa where lowland and montane vegetation communities meet.

Three major tributaries of the lshasha River drain into Lake Edward to the north, and the Ndego, Kanyamwabo and Shongi rivers flow southwards towards Lake Mutanda.

In geological terms, the area is associated with up warping of the western rift valley and its underlying rocks are phyllites and shales, with some quartz, quartzite and granite outcrops.

The soils are mainly humic red loams. Due to the steepness of the slopes, the soils are very susceptible to erosion in areas where trees are cleared.

Combined with its probable role as a Pleistocene refuge, the forest hosts an extremely high biodiversity. No archaeological sites are known inside the park, although the wider Kigeti region may have been occupied from as early as 37,000 years ago.

The earliest evidence of forest clearance dates back 4,800 years, most likely due to the presence of the Batwa (hunter-gatherer) people manipulating vegetation with fire. This is the earliest evidence for cultivation anywhere in tropical Africa.

Approximately 100 years ago, a large number of people migrated from Rwanda, former Zaire and the southern edge of the forest to the area north of the forest.

At that time, the area north of the forest was only sparsely populated. For most of these people, their journey involved a long walk through the densely overgrown forest.

Legend has it that a family was attempting to cross the forest and came across a large swamp. The spirits of the swamp saw the daughter; a beautiful young maiden named Nnyinamukari.

The spirits demanded that the family give them the maiden in return for safe passage across the swamp. The family was in a dilemma and sat on the edge of the swamp for two days, not knowing what to do.

Finally they decided it was impossible for them to return home, so they threw Nnyinamukari into the swamp and crossed safely to the other side.

The legend about the sacrificed maiden spread throughout the area and people became terrified of the forest, particularly the swamp.

People called the place Mubwindi bwa Nnyinamukari. Bwindi means a muddy, swampy place full of darkness.

The surrounding communities have referred to the forest and the swamp as Bwindi and Mubwindi respectively ever since.

When the forest became a National Park, Bwindi became its official name. It is believed that this legend has helped preserve the mountain gorillas’ peaceful habitat.

Mountain gorillas are descendants of ancestral monkeys and apes found in Africa and Arabia during the start of the oligocene epoch (34-24 million years ago).

The fossil record provides evidence of the hominoid primates (apes) found in east Africa about 18–22 million years ago. The fossil record of the area where mountain gorillas live is particularly poor and so its evolutionary history is not clear.

It was about 9 million years ago that the group of primates that were to evolve into gorillas split from their common ancestor with humans and chimps; this is when the genus Gorilla emerged.

It is not certain what this early relative of the gorilla was, but it is traced back to the early ape Proconsul africanus.

Mountain gorillas have been isolated from eastern lowland gorillas for about 400,000 years and these two taxa separated from their western counterparts approximately 2 million years ago.

There has been considerable and as yet unresolved debate over the classification of mountain gorillas. The genus was first referenced as Troglodytes in 1847, but renamed to Gorilla in 1852.

It was not until 1967 that the taxonomist Colin Groves proposed that all gorillas be regarded as one species (Gorilla gorilla) with three sub-species Gorilla gorilla gorilla (western lowland gorilla), Gorilla gorilla graueri (lowland gorillas found west of the Virungas) and Gorilla gorilla beringei (mountain gorillas including, Gorilla beringei found in the Virungas and Bwindi).

In 2003 after a review they were divided into two species (Gorilla gorilla and Gorilla beringei) by The World Conservation Union (IUCN)

The gorilla is a shy and, for much of the time, inoffensive, leaf-eating vegetarian— a far cry from the fearsome, aggressive creature depicted in films and comic books.

Only when provoked or threatened does it rise to an erect position and beat its cupped hands against its chest in an attempt to intimidate intruders of its territory.

They are the largest and most powerful of the apes. Adult males reach an average height of 1.7 m (6 ft.) and weigh from 140 to 275 kg.

Females are about 40 to 50% smaller. Both males and females are tremendously powerful, possessing the ability to tear branches from bushes and uproot small trees.

They spend their days quietly, either in a leisurely search for food, or resting in the warm sun. Gorillas are native to the equatorial regions of Africa.

The mountain gorillas are the largest primate group which consists of two subspecies of Eastern gorillas. One population is found in the Mgahinga, in south-west Uganda, Volcanoes in north-west Rwanda Virunga in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and Virunga volcanic mountains Central Africa, National Parks and the another one is found in Bwindi National Park which means Uganda accommodates two of the gorilla species.

Mountain Gorillas fur are thicker and longer compared to other great apes which helps them to survive and stay in colder temperatures.

They can be identified by their nose print which is unique for every individual. They have dark brown eyes with male weighing 195kg and 150cm in height and female weighing 100kg and 130cm in height.

Mountain gorillas live in troops with a leader called silverback. Silverback like other male defends the group from the enemies’ even if it means losing his life.

Feeding and Affiliation

The gorillas feed on fresh vegetation like leaves, pith, shoots, fruits and others. They rarely take water because of the nature of food they eat that is watery and moist.

They have well-coordinated and divided time for their daily activities. Mostly in the morning is when they look for food.

They used they rest time at midday to reinforce and establish relationship among the group thus gorilla tracking safaris is best done in the morning as they will be out looking for food to eat.

Aggression and Fear

The mountain gorillas are very aggressive when they see an outsider or an enemy entering their group. When two silverbacks meet, they fight to near death inflicting deep wounds on one another however aggression in the group is minimal.

The gorillas also live in fear for animals. They fear worms, chameleons, crocodiles and other reptiles.
Gorilla tracking Safaris in bwindi National is an opportunity to track the closest relatives of man and chimpanzees in the world.

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is divided in to five regions, side or section of interest to tourists. Gorilla tracking safaris can be down in only four areas of interest and they can be explained as below.

Buhoma Sector

Buhoma sector is located to the northwestern part of the Park facing the dark and hilly forests of the Park. This sector contains three Gorilla groups which can be tracked from here.

Mubare Gorilla Family: Gorilla tracking safaris at Buhoma region makes you meet the first and oldest group of Gorillas to be habituated in 1998.

There were 12 family members in the group with a dominant silverback called Ruhondeza and later added up to 18 members but due to different circumstances like death, moving into new groups, the group lost many of its family members thus remaining with only 5 members however other 4 members joint them and making it adorable to track is gorillas. The sector is now a priority to many tourists and tour operators.

The Habinyanja Family: Gorilla trekking safaris at Buhoma also gives tourists the chance to track the Habinyanja gorilla family.

This group was habituated in 1997 and in 1999 it was the first group to be visited by tourists. The name Habinyanja means body of water from the word Nyanja. It was referring to a swamp in the park were this group was first sighted.

The group comprises of 18 members with 2 silverbacks. This is because other members divided from the group and formed Rushegura group.

However this two groups cross cover each other and now the stay together and peacefully. The cause of their division was the commotion and fighting among the members for power.

Rushegura Group: Gorilla tracking safaris at Buhoma enriches tourists experience while tracking the Rushegura group of gorillas.

This gorilla group was habituated in 2000 and later opened in 2002 for tourism. The group is a section from the Habinyanja group who divided because of conflict within the group.

It comprise of 19 members including 1 silverback. This gorilla group is very active within Buhoma and covers a broad territory and sometime crossing to the local village of Batwa. Sometimes they move to UWA park-office, Bwindi waterfall and even Buhoma camp.

Nkuringo Sector: Nkurigo sector is found on the southern side of the park and became the park’s second tracking trailhead in 2004.

There is only one gorilla family in this section. The word Nkrungo means ‘’round hill” in Rukiga language. This is the hill were this gorilla group was first sighted.

Nkuringo Family: Gorilla trekking safaris to Nkuringo sector makes tourists to encounter with this adventures gorillas.

The gorilla family has 19 members with 2 silverbacks. These gorillas are habituated because they cross to the local communities’ gardens and thus feeding on their crops like sweet potatoes, and bananas.

Opening up this gorilla family was seen as a way of protecting them from local communities since they will benefit directly from them.

Rushaga Sector

This section is found in southeast of the park. It was opened for gorilla tracking safaris in 2009. And the sector has three family groups which can be tracked form this point.

The Shongi trailhead descends in to the depths of the forests. The gorillas in this group includes

Mishaya Gorilla Family: Gorilla tracking safaris offers tourists the choice to visit Rushaga and track Mishaya Gorilla group.

This group came about when silverback Mishaya broke away from Nshongi gorilla family with about 8 members in 2010.

The group split up due to quarrel and disagreement among the family members. Like in any relationships, they gorillas fight for power and women and Silverback Mishaya is known as a strong fighter since he is the only male with female in his group.

Nshongi Gorilla Family: Gorilla trekking safaris gives tourists the opportunity to track the Nshongi gorilla family. Nshongi was the introduced in 2009 and was the largest group to have habituated about 36 members with 4 silverbacks.

This gorilla group was very strange in a way that the silverback heading them was not yet old and the three silverbacks lived in unity without any attempt to grab leadership.

In July 2010, the group divided and were only 26 members remaining forming the present Mishaya gorilla group.

The family divided again in 2013 and was reduced to 18members forming the Bweza family consisting of 10 individuals.

Kahungye Gorilla Family: Uganda safaris provide tourists with the chance to visit the Kahunge gorilla family that was habituated in 2011.

This gorilla family had some misunderstandings and managed to split up giving a new group called Busingye meaning peace.

Busingye Gorilla Family: Gorilla tracking in Uganda is an opportunity to track down the Busingye gorilla family who split from the Kahungye family.

This gorilla family consists of 9 members including 1 silverback. Silverback Busingye surprising decided to split the group in June 2012 and created his own family. Silverback Busingye likes showing off his power and fights to grab female to add to his group.

Bweza Gorilla Family: Uganda safari offer tourists the opportunity to track the Bweza gorilla family who consist of 9 members including 1 silverback.

The Bweza gorilla family broke up from the Mishaya group who had broken form Nshongi family the largest group ever habituated in Bwindi National Park. The Bweza group was opened for tracking in 2012

Ruhija Sector

This section is found on the eastern side on top of a hill at 2,345m. This sector is Uganda’s highest tracking trail and one of the only two areas in the park were elephants reside. This sector has the following gorilla families.

Bitukura Gorilla Family: Gorilla tracking safaris to Ruhija sector offers surprises to tourists engage in tracking the Bitukura gorilla family.

This family comprises of 14 members including 4 silverback. Bitukura gorilla family named after a river where the gorilla family was sighted is was habituated in 2007 and opened for tourism in 2008.

The family was originally having 24 members but has been reduced to only 14 members due to conflict, fighting in the group which made some members to leave the group and thus were welcomed by other gorilla families.

This gorilla family share close bond and often have get- together and looks happily due to arrival of their new member.

Oruzogo Gorilla Family: Gorilla trekking safaris in Uganda is advantageous has it offers tourists the chance to track the Oruzogo gorilla family having 23 members including 1 silverbacks called Tibiritwata.

The gorilla family was opened for visitors’ access in 2011. This is one of the preferred gorilla groups by tourists because of their playful and energetic adolescents. The only factor which can limit tourists from tracking in this sector is the limited lodging especially budget ones.

Nyundo Sector

This sector sits on the border of DR Congo. It is the only sector where gorilla tracking safaris are not done.

However the sector offers wonderful guided hikes along the hills summits and rivers to discover glorious views, waterfalls and traditional lifestyle and folklore of the Kigezi.

Bwindi Impenetrable national park was voted the best birding site in Africa by Africa Bird Club which means the best safari destination for birding.

The national park accommodates about 350 species of birds including 23 Albertine Rift Endemics and 13 species only found in Uganda.

These species include the Rwenzori turaco, African broadbill, Dwarf honey guide, Striped breasted tit, yellow footed flycatcher, short tailed warbler kivu ground thrush, Archers ground thrush, Yellow footed flycatcher, dusky twin spot, Handsome francolin, and Rwenzori batis among others.

Birding in Bwindi is Best in March and September because during those months the rain is less and the roads and trails will not be in bad condition.

Birding in Bwindi is done in all the 5 regions of the Park but the main tracking trails are the Buhoma waterfall trail in Buhoma region and along the bamboo zone and Mubwindi Swamp trail in Ruhija region. Interest tourists can spot over 100 bird species in a day.

Nature walks in Bwindi four fantastic hiking trails. All of these trails provide opportunities to see and learn different primate species.

The also offer site of spotting different bird species, butterflies, tress species among others. Uganda safaris offer tourists an excellent understanding of nature and diverse experience while on Nature walk in Bwindi National Park.

The four trails for Nature walks

Muyanga waterfall trail: Safari from this trail starts from Buhoma along the River Ivi-Nkuringo trail and culminates in the sensational sight of the falls plummeting 33 meters.

Rushura Hill trail: Safari on this trail passes through one forest which is shared by two countries. This trail also gives tourists a clear view of the conical peaks of the Virunga Volcanoes, Lake Edward and the Rwenzori Mountains on a clear day.

Muzubijiro Loop trail: This is a 6km walk around a hill. During this walk, tourists will encounter with different primates species and bird species and above all enjoy the beautiful view of the Virungas and Western Rift Valley.

The Ive River trail:  Safari on this trail takes 14km and about 7 hours. This trial leads tourists to a place called Mukempunu meaning a place of pigs. This is where wild pigs can be found in the park.

The Buhoma-Nkuriongo Trail: Safari on this trail takes 3-4 hours. This trail crosses through the park thus connecting the two villages (Buhoma and Nkuriongo). It also provides an impressive view of the misty hillsides as tourists ascend the hills towards Nkuriongo. While using this trail, tourists can leave their luggage with the driver who will meet them at the other side of the trail.

The Habinyanja (Railegh) trail: Safaris in Uganda offer tourists opportunity to enjoy nature walks on this beautiful trail. Using this trail takes 4-6 hours.

This rail leads you across the Munyaga River which takes in a fairly steep ascent of the Habigorogororo and Riyoyi Ridge overlooking Buhoma River.

While using this trail, you will come across the legendry “African corner” named after a part of rock representing a map of Africa.

Birders on this trail should watch out for African Black Duck, Black Bee eater and Pel’s Fishing Owl among others.

Uganda safaris offer tourists one of the exciting activity to engage in. culture is part of Attractions found in Bwindi National Park.

The local communities surrounding Bwindi National Park enriches tourists’ experience through displaying their work of art and ways of life to tourists. The cultural encounters can be down in different area as explained below.

Buhoma community tour: Buhoma is one of the dramatic sites for your cultural tour. The place overlooks the imposing hillsides of Bwindi Impenetrable forest.

Touring in this village takes 3 hours where tourists will be in position to visit the handcraft shop which includes handmade artifacts, visiting the Batwa community where they will perform dances and songs about their former life in the forest, visiting the traditional healer among others.

Nkruringo  community conservation and development foundation: This place is good for those who want both cultural experience and beautiful scenery.

The journey starts with to Nicholas the blacksmith rewinding time to the Stone Age period with the sound of sheepskin bellows spewing air into a charcoal-fired furnace, where red hot metal and hammer is hoot out to tools. Form knives to Machetes.

You continue to Sesiila where she will welcome you in her home. There, you will see series of traditional huts housing a millet-grinding stone, cooking pots and apparatus for distilling local Waragi (local beer). You will have as many visits to different homes as possible.

Nkuringo Cultural Centre (NCC): Tourists can choose to spend their evening after gorilla tracking safari to visit the Nkuringo Cultural Centre and enjoy the beautiful African arts, choosing form Traditional weaving, African cooking or even dancing and drumming which is available.

Tourists can also choose to have a guided walk through the village and meet the local residents during the day.

Nyundo Community Eco-Trails: This trail was developed by the local community as a sustainable alternative to Agriculture, poaching, logging in order to get money.

The residents of Nyundo witnessed the changes in climate. The cultivated crops on the hillside bordering the Park but to their notice, erosion change the rain pattern and ultimately their crops began to fail.

This made them to allow trees to grow back, and now the trees, the rain and the mist have returned.

Rubuguri Village Walk (NCC): The village walks take you through a swamp to a small homestead where you will have the opportunity to meet the residents and learn about their ways of living and also participating in craft demonstration. You will also have the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful Dynamic Kiga dance.

Getting There