Bwindi lies in south-western Uganda, about 530km from Kampala. The park can be reached by road from several directions.
This route passes the park’s southerly Ishasha sector, providing the chance of a stopover to search for the famous tree-climbing lions. Bwindi is 60km from Mweya and 64km from Ishasha.
This route follows a tarmac highway to Kabale (141km) and takes 5-6 hours. The next section, which follows winding murram roads for 120km, passes through Kanungu and Kanyantorogo and takes 4-5 hrs. a 4WD vehicle is required.
This, the quickest and most direct route from Kampala, follows turmac roads to Rukungiri (390km) followed by 82km on murram roads to Buhoma.
The Kabale-Ruhinji-Buhoma segment on this route is 95km on a murram road and takes 3-4 hours. The Ruhija section is in poor condition and should only be attempted with a 4WD vehicle. The public does not frequently use this road.
The drive takes 4 hours on a mountainous murram road. Most visitors overnight in Kisoro (80km from Kable) before proceeding to Nkuringo. The road from Kisro is a winding 35km that takes 1-1.5 hours. A 4WD vehicle is recommended for both approaches to Nkuringo.
A bus runs from Kampala to Butogola from which a taxi can be hired for the last 17km to Buhoma. There is no public transport to Nkuringo but vehicles can be hired in Kisoro.
Travelers can fly from Entebbe or Kampala (Kajjansi airfield) to the modern tarmac airstrip at Kisoro. Visitors to Buhoma can charter planes to the grass Kayonza airstrip.
Bwindi supports a tremendous biodiversity as a result of two factors. Firstly, its slopes extend over a broad altitudinal range of 1447m to create habitats ranging from lowland forest at 1160m to rare Afromontane vegetation above 2600m. secondly, it is extremely old. When most of Africa’s forests disappeared during the arid conditions of the last ice age (12,000-18,000 years ago), Bwindi was one of a few ‘refugia’ that persisted.
Consequently, while most of today’s forests are no more than 12,000 years old, Bwindi’s vegetation has been weaving itself inot tangles over at least 25,000 years, in the process accumulating a lengthy species list. This includes 310 species of butterfly, 51 reptiles, 200 trees, 88 moths and exceptional 120 types of mammal including 10 primates. The latter include chimpanzee, L’Hoest’s, red tailed and blue monkey, black and white colobus, baboon, and Bwindi’s most famous resident, the mountain gorilla.
Bwindi is a prime destination for birdwatchers. Its 350 species include seven which are IUCN red data listed and 90% of all Albertine rift endermics, species which are difficult or impossible to see in any other part of East Africa. An experienced bird watcher can easily identify up to 100 species in a day.
The local people neighbouring the park are mostly Bakiga and Bafumbira. Small communities of Batwa (Pygmies) are also present. The Bwindi area supports one of the highest rural population densities in Uganda with 350 people/km2.
Bwindi’s busiest tourism site is Buhoma on the northen edge of the forest. It is the trailhead for tracking three gorilla groups and a wide range of accommodation is available. Though gorilla tracking is the main attraction, a range of other walks provide more relaxed opportunities to spot birds and monkeys while exploring one of Uganda’s loveliest rainforest. These walks can be arranged to depart in the morning at 09.00 and in the afternoon at 14.15.
The local community operates a village walk which takes up to three hours. This immerses visitors in village life. Sites visited include a typical homestead, the traditional healer and a banana beer brewery. Local dance groups also perform traditional dance and music in the evening by arrangement. Proceeds from these events are used for community development projects.
As the crow flies, Buhoma is just 10km from Bwindi’s second gorilla tracking location at Nkuringo on the southern edge of the forest. However this distance is covered by the Impenetrable Forest and the lovely walk between the two sites takes at least four hours. The Nkuringo trailhead lies on the isolated Nteko Ridge which enjoys grandstand views across Bwindi forest to the north and towards the Virunga volcanoes in the south.
Gorilla tracking is the primary activity at Nkurigo. Visitors should be fit as the park boundary lies in a steep valley 600m below the road. This provides good exercise before and after tracking gorillas.
Villagers at Nkuringo operate a community walk that visits a traditional healer, rural homestead, blacksmith, and brewers.
Visitors with their own vehicles should consider crossing the centre of the park from Buhoma park headquarters through Ruhija (a 4WD is essential). This ridge-top route offers vistas into deep valley containing undisturbed rainforest. Watch out for duiker, primates and both forest and grassland bird species. At Ruhija, birders should take the three-hour hike to visit the Mubwindi swamp. Visitors may also climb through the bamboo zone to find Afromontane vegetation and panoramic views towards Lake Bunyonyi and Mafuga Forest.
Gorilla tracking is a captivating and unforgettable experience which more than repays the effort needed to reach Bwindi and to trek through the forest. Bwindi has four habituated gorilla groups that are tracked by tourists. Three of these are in the vicity of Buhoma and one at Nkuringo.
Gorilla tracking is Uganda’s most sought after tourism activity. You should book well in advance to ensure that permits for your requested dates are available.
Gorilla tracking can be challenging and you need to be reasonably fit. Registration and briefing at the park offices at Buhoma and Nkuringo commences at 07.45. tracking starts at 08.30 and can lst from a few hours to the whole day depending on where the gorillas are in the forest.
To protect the gorillas and visitors, the following rules must be adhered to.
The impenetrable Forest Reserve was gazette in 1942, upgraded to the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in 1992 and recognized as a world Heritage Site in 1994. In the local Lukiga language, Bwindi actually means ‘Impenetrable’. This double warning is apt, for Bwindi is all about impenetrable; 32km2 of tangled vegetation draped over a deeply fissured landscape of steep, slippery valleys and high, draughty ridges. But id the terrain is far from easy to negotiate, it is well worth the effort. A trek through this, one of Africa’s most ancient rainforest, in search of the endangered mountain gorilla, ranks among the world’s premier wildlife encounters.
Bwindi can be cold especially in the morning and at night. The annual average temperature range is 7oC – 20oC with the coldest period being June and July. Warm clothing is required, plus wet weather gear since Bwindi receives up to 2390mm of rain/year. This is concentrated during two wet seasons, short rains in March-May and heavy rains in September-November. Instead of short tropical deluges, rain in Bwindi often falls as long hours of soft drizzle.
A range of accommodation caters for both up-market and budget visitors. It is advisable to book well in advance.
Up-market and moderate locations
A self-catering guesthouse can be booked through Uganda Wildlife Authority Headquarters in Kampala.