Bwindi Impenetrable National Forest is a rainforest found in the south-west region Uganda on the edge of the Rift Valley. It has an altitude of 1,160 to 2,607 m above sea level.
The forest protects approximately 400 mountain gorillas, which are half of all mountain gorillas in the world. Some of the mountain gorillas are completely wild, while others are habituated and those are the ones that you’re able to encounter.
I can just say, being able to see the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat is one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had in my entire life. To see them play, eat, sleep and jump is incredible and a once in a lifetime opportunity.
So, now I have made a complete guide that you can use for planning your trip to Bwindi Impenetrable National Forest in Uganda.
MOUNTAIN GORILLA TREKKING
The mountain gorilla trekking usually starts early morning. First, there is a briefing for all people participating. Afterwards, all people are separated into different groups consisting of 6-8 people. All people are put into groups with other people who are more or less equally fit. This means that the young and fit people will usually take a much more advantaged route, while others might only have to walk straight for a few kilometers. The jungle is located on mountains, so there is a high chance that if they think you’re fit enough, you will be walking straight up and down a mountain for hours.
At the briefing, they will tell you that there is no guarantee of seeing the gorillas. You might be lucky, but there is always a chance that you won’t see them. Some groups, unfortunately, have not been able to find them.
At the same time, you also get to know that you won’t know when you’re back again. Sometimes, it is easy to find the gorillas and they might be found after just one hour. Some people, however, have been unlucky and have been searching for 8-9 hours until they finally found them. Going on this tour can be physically demanding, and even though you are fit, there is a high chance that this walk is completely different than your usual at-home workout session.
Once you find the mountain gorillas, you need to keep minimum 5 meters distance (15 feet). It is allowed to take pictures and videos, but I would definitely recommend to also just enjoy watching them in real life – especially now that you’ve paid so much to finally see them.
The mountain gorilla encounter lasts approximately one hour. The gorillas are habituated which means they are used to us people being in their presence. But after all, they’re still wild animals and after one hour they tend to want to be alone again.
In Bwindi, there are different gorilla families that you can encounter. Some families are larger with kids and others are smaller, but they are all special in their own way.
When getting back again from trekking, you receive a certificate stating which gorilla family you met together with your name and date on.
RULES FOR TREKKING
Prior to the trekking, there will be a briefing for everyone. It is important that all people in the group follow the rules to ensure that everyone has great experience including the mountain gorillas. The locals are super strict and will follow each step you take to make sure everything is under control.
To go mountain gorilla trekking, you have to be at least 15 years old. It is not allowed to be ill as some human illnesses can be transmitted to the mountain gorillas.
To see the mountain gorillas, it is required to obtain a gorilla permit. The prices vary in each country being cheaper in DR-Congo but far more expensive in Rwanda. For the rest of 2019, the price for a gorilla permit in Uganda will be 600 USD. In Rwanda they have doubled their price two years ago, which means that if you choose to see the mountain gorillas there, the price for a gorilla permit is 1,500 USD. In DR-Congo the price would be 400 USD, but Uganda has the reputation of being more safe, so I’d always recommend to do it there.
There are several reasons for the increase of price each year. One thing is that it becomes more and more popular to visit the mountain gorillas, so to limit the amount of tourists they have needed to increase the price. But more than that, all the money goes directly to support the rainforest, gorillas and employees which all require a lot of maintenance.
The gorilla permit allows you to go on a one-day gorilla trekking. You are not guaranteed to see the mountain gorillas. If you don’t see them, you will have some of the price refunded. You are able to get the permit through a tour operator.
There is only a limited amount of gorilla permits, so it needs to be ordered well in advance. As soon as you know that you’d like to go, you should apply for the gorilla permit.
WHEN TO GO
The park is open all year long for tourists. However, the best months to visit are between June to August and then from December to February. This is due to the dry season and the trails being less slippery but more dry. During these months it is also sunnier. Besides just visiting Bwindi, most other national parks are recommended to visit during these months for the same reasons.
Should it happen that you only have time during the low season, you will still be able to find the mountain gorillas. Just remember to bring the right footwear.
HOW TO GET THERE
The roads in Uganda tend to be bumpy most of the time. Unless you’re used to driving on the African roads, I would suggest to book a tour and have a local drive you. They know the roads and have probably been in this area many times before. It takes a very long day of slow driving going from Kampala to Bwindi. Google Maps says 9 hours, where 12 hours might be more realistic.
WHAT TO WEAR
It is a great idea to wear long sleeves, pants and socks. During the trek in the jungle, little ants will be everywhere and bite you if they get the chance. Even being fully covered up, they sometimes manage to still get through your clothes. So even though it is humid and there is a high temperature, you will thank yourself for this.
It is not allowed to eat close to the mountain gorillas, so there is no need to pack a large backpack with snacks etc. A large bottle of water will be everything you need. However, food for after the trek for lunch is recommended as you don’t know when you will be back again.
WHERE TO STAY
There are several lodges around Bwindi Impenetrable National Forest. However, I can only recommend the one place that I stayed at, which is located right next to the Bunyonyi Lake.
The place is called Lake Bunyonyi Overland Resort. Here there are different accommodation offers.
Some people choose to go tenting, which is the ultimate budget option.
However, staying in a lodge isn’t super expensive either, so if you’re looking for more privacy, I’d definitely recommend doing this.
When it comes to shower options, I would say that both tenting and private accommodation has the same quality bathroom. If you’re staying in your own lodge, you will always need to turn on a switch for hot water in the shower. But almost every time you turn on the water you will experience a little electrical shock. This is quite normal in Uganda, so just be careful.
Mountain gorilla trekking is not everything in Bwindi. There are several other activities to do as well once your’e there.
You will be able to find more than 350 different species in the rainforest. If you’re lucky, you will be able to find Uganda’s national bird – the grey crowned cane.
Walk to the forest trail
This is a more adventurous tour, where you’ll get to see some of the most beautiful waterfalls. You might even get to see the black and white colobus monkeys.
Ankole long-horned cows
These cows, also called watusi, wear enormous cream-colored horns and are perfect photo material.
There are three volcanoes, also called the ‘islands in the sky’ make a great impression, where Muhavura is having a height of 4,127 m, Gahinga 3,474 m and Sabyinyo 3,669 m.
Here you can visit the little Pygmy village on a hill top, take the boat around and go from hill top to hill top or just stay in a lodge and enjoy the view. There are 29 little islands in the lake, and the lake is one of the safest lakes in Uganda for canoeing and swimming. Bring a book and a camera to fully enjoy the area.
This was everything I had for you this time. If you have booked your trip through a tour operator, they most likely have everything planned for you, so there is no need to worry at all. Just enjoy watching the life of the mountain gorillas and remember to be present instead of just looking through a camera lens!