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Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is 330 km square; 1160-2607m ASL; includes lowland forest with rare Afromontane vegetation on the peaks; forest is very old at around 25,000 years (this was one of the few “refugia” that survived the last ice age; home to 320 gorillas in 15 troops; gorillas are tracked from Buhoma in the north and Nkuringo in the south (see our gorilla safaris); 350 birds including 23 Albertine Rift endemics; 310 butterfly species; 120 mammals including 11 primates; 200 tree species; around 30 forest elephants in the south; Bwindi area has the densest human population in Uganda with around 350 people/square km.

Bwindi Seasons
The annual average temperature is 7-20 degrees C. The area is usually cold in the early morning and at night; the coolest time of year is generally June and July. Bwindi has a short rain from March to May and heavy rains in September to November. June to August is usually driest but expect soft rain at any time of year and bring wet weather gear.

General notes - Gorilla Tracking
The two main areas in Africa where the Mountain Gorillas are found are Bwindi and Virunga. The biggest constraints to tracking are permit availability and suitable accommodation.

In Uganda permit quotas are part released 2 years in advance then the balance released a year in advance. Anybody wishing to travel between June and October (regular holiday season) should definitely try booking a year in advance.

June to August are the driest months, theoretically easiest treks; March to May the wettest, therefore usually the hardest treks.

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is 330 km square in south-western Uganda, very ancient and dense forest and has about 320 individuals including the 4 habituated groups.

The “Virungas” are about 450 km square and is an ecologically homogenous area covering three contiguous National Parks in Uganda, Rwanda and DRC called the Virunga Trinational Conservation Area. This combined area has about 386 individuals including 5 habituated groups in Rwanda and 4 habituated groups in DRC.

The parks are:

  • Mgahinga National Park in Uganda (gorillas have moved to Rwanda)
  • Parc National des Volcans (PNV) in Rwanda
  • Parc des Virunga in DRC

Gorilla Permits and accommodation

The relationship between permits and accommodation availability makes it important for gorilla safaris to be planned well in advance. For example in Buhoma there are only 24 permits available and 64 “decent” bednights available per day - so 24 permits are available for 32 people staying (each person takes a night before and after).

If you add permit demand from the 2 budget campsites and other little establishments then the bottle neck is clear to understand. It’s compounded by the fact that some people stay for 3 or 4 nights. So matching permits and accommodation with the rest of an itinerary can be an absolute mission if not planned well in advance.

Bwindi - Buhoma
24 permits per day; estimated 320 individuals in 15 troops in total in Bwindi; 3 habituated groups (Mubare, Habinyanja A and Habinyanja B). Buhoma accommodation includes Buhoma Homestead (Wild Frontiers), Gorilla Forest Camp (Sanctuary), Volcanoes Bwindi Lodge (Volcanoes), Mantana Tented Camp. Alternate “camping” and “backpacker” standard accommodation is available but should be used as last resort. The success rate for gorilla sightings is as good as 100% here.

Bwindi - Nkuringo
8 permits per day; new group, arduous trek, contentious link between new Clouds Gorilla Lodge (Jonathan Wright) and the availability of permits (watch this space). The Nkuringo trek is regarded as the toughest tracking route anywhere and clients must be fit.

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
The one gorilla family has moved off to the Rwandan side of the border therefore no permits are available in this area at present.

Virunga National Park (DRC)

8 permits per day from Djombe (8km inside DRC from Uganda), and “probably” 24 permits available from a second base 45 km further into the park.

Volcanoes National Park (Rwanda)
Up to 40 permits issued daily, 8 for each of the five habituated groups depending on their location; 3 of the groups are regarded as “resident”, 2 of the groups cross into Uganda and/or DRC.

Other activities around Bwindi
Walking Trails
Bwindi has 5 different walking trails – good for birds (190 recorded in the Buhoma area), looking for other forest dwellers (monkeys to butterflies) and simply enjoying the scenery. All except the Muyanga River Trail require a UWA guide costing around $10 for a day’s trail. Walks last anything from 30 minutes to 8 hours.

Muyunga River Trail – follows the Bizenga River in the valley directly below Buhoma. No guide required, very easy going. Good for birding in the early morning or late afternoon.

Waterfall Trail – a 3 hour walk through pristine rainforest as it ascends the Munyaga River to the waterfalls. Good for orchids, ferns, trees and birds.

Rushura Hill Trail
– a 3 hour hill trail with good views across the western plains to Lake Edward and on a clear day views of the Rwenzoris in the north.

Muzabajiro Loop – a 3 hour trail that climbs up Rukubira Hill offering good views over the Bwindi Forest across the Western Rift Valley to the Virunga volcanoes.

Ivo River Walk – an 8 hour trail leading to the Ivo River near Nkuringo on the southern edge of the forest – especially good for birds.

Buhoma Community Trail
This is a 3 hour trail with the possibility of visiting the local school, the Batwa community and learning about village life. A local banana beer brewery and traditional healer are good value.

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