Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
The mist-covered hills of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest are home to one of the planet’s most biologically diverse rainforests. Much as result of many species that took refuge here during glaciations of the Pleistocene epoch. Around 400 plant, 350 bird, 200 butterfly, 10 primate species survive in this small park. It includes a population of around 340 critically endangered mountain gorillas.
Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest measures 330 km sq. some 25,000 years old (one of the few “refugia” that survived the last ice age). The lowland forest is home to 340 gorillas in 15 troops; gorillas are tracked from Buhoma in the north and Nkuringo in the south; 350 birds including 23 Albertine Rift endemics; 200 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.
The annual average temperature is 7-20 degrees C. Usually cold in the early morning and at night with the coolest period during 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.
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. Anybody wishing to travel between June and October (regular holiday season) should definitely try booking both a year in advance.
It’s not all about gorillas… 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:
- 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.
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.
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The largest of the primates and rarest of the 3 gorilla subspecies. These critically endangered giants of which only around 700 remain are restricted to small pockets of moist forests in the mountains and volcanoes along the borders of south west Uganda, north west Rwanda and eastern DRC. The habituated mountain gorilla groups of Rwanda and Uganda are the most rewarding.
These bearded mountain monkeys are amongst the most attractive of all primates with a brilliant white ruff framing deeply set orange eyes within a delicate black face. These cheeky crop raiders are found in small groups dominated by females with a single adult male. The male is around twice the size of the females, generally loud and proud and easily recognised by his bright blue scrotum.
The ancient forests of Bwindi provide habitats for 347 bird species including 7 IUCN red data listed bird species plus 24 of the total 25 Albertine Rift endemics found in Uganda. The Buhoma Waterfall Trail, the bamboo-zone and the Mubwindi Swamp trail found in Ruhija are especially rewarding. It’s not unusual to check off over 100 different species with a local guide between gorilla treks.