Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda is a special, almost mystical place. Home to almost half the world’s remaining population of mountain gorillas, Bwindi also hosts 10 other types of primates, at least 120 species of mammals, hundreds of types of butterflies and nearly 350 bird species. That doesn’t include the myriad types of vegetation and smaller creatures such as frogs and geckos.
Bwindi is considered to be one of the most biologically diverse forests in Africa due to its ancient roots; it is over 25,000 years old. It is a rain forest with an annual rainfall of over 4 feet (!) and it varies in altitude from roughly 3,800 to 8,500 feet, which is something to keep in mind if you plan to visit the gorillas.
The main reason tourists visit is to have an encounter with the mountain gorilla population. There are two main areas with a number of modern, well-equipped lodges from where trekking takes place – Nkuringo and Buhoma (the park headquarters). Permits to track the gorillas are limited, are for a specific gorilla group only, and typically must be secured months in advance. The trekking itself can take just a few hours or could take all day, depending on the proximity of the gorilla family you are assigned to visit, the terrain you must cover and how easily your ranger can locate them.
The trekking itself can be quite physical. It is recommended that you wear long pants, long sleeves, carry work/garden gloves and use plenty of sun protection. These recommendations are to protect skin from rough vegetation, and while Bwindi is a rain forest, you can be assured that there are blazing, sunny days, so sunscreen can be critical.
Visiting the gorillas is amazing. It can be a family quietly sitting and relaxing after a morning on the move, or a group moving through the forest, eating and foraging, which may make your trek a bit more active! Juvenile gorillas might chase each other among the tree tops, or annoy their parents with antics designed to do just that; it can look eerily familiar. Whatever experience a trekker has with the gorillas, it’s bound to be one that is remembered for a lifetime.
While gorillas are the main attraction in Bwindi, there are opportunities for beautiful mountain hikes up steep, volcanic peaks, golden monkey trekking, nature walks and visits to the local Batwa communities. For birders there are a few statistics of note; 23 endemics of the Albertine Rift bird species have been recorded here, including the green African broadbill and Frazer’s eagle owl. Additionally, fourteen of those endemic species are seen in no other area in the whole of Africa. Pack your binoculars!
Bwindi is one of Uganda’s undisputed gems. The rain forest is beautiful, mysterious and teeming with life, and there is something here for every nature lover. Spending an hour with a mountain gorilla family is a rare privilege and one of the most special and profound natural experiences on Earth.Photos © Gretchen Healey