At Kigezi highlands (Africa’s version of Switzerland) in the southwest of Uganda, there lies one of the most exciting wildlife parks in the country- Bwindi Impenetrable national park. Bwindi Impenetrable national park is a UNESCO world heritage site because it harbours so many rare flora and fauna which can not be found elsewhere. The park occupies a surface area of 331km²; covered with tropical rainforests, lowland and montane forests. Within the thick forests, there are hidden and unique natural treasure that lure thousands of tourists to the park. These natural treasures include; about 459 mountain gorillas, 348 bird species most of them being endemic to the albert rift, over 163 tree species, different species of small primates like chimpanzees, red tailed monkeys, L’hoest monkeys, colobus monkeys. Big mammals are also present, namely; the forest elephants, giant forest hogs, golden cats, stripped jackals and civets.
Albeit Bwindi impenetrable national park having a wide range of flora and fauna, what makes it an ideal place to visit are the mountain gorillas and the unique bird species like African green broadbill, African harrier hawker, crowned hornbill and so many more. The forest was voted one of the best bird watching destinations in Africa in 2010.
The mountain gorillas are the top tourist attractions in the forest. The mountain gorillas are subspecies of gorillas, regarded as endangered species by International Union of Conservation for Nature (IUCN). These animals are likely to get extinct in the forthcoming ages if not protected. The mountain gorillas have a marginal total population of about 1006 individuals in the whole world and Bwindi holds almost a half of the total population (459 individuals which comprise of 50 gorilla families and 13 lone gorillas). However, out of the 50 gorilla families in Bwindi, there are only 20 habituated gorilla families. In other words, there are only 20 gorilla families that can be trekked by tourists.
From 1940s-1980s, the world saw a decline in the population of mountain gorillas due to the instabilities (civil wars) that occurred in their natural habitats. They declined down to about 300 individuals and this created a great concern among nature conservationists. And the first person to take the course of protecting the mountain gorillas was Diana Fossey in the 1960s. Her work was acknowledged, encouraged and picked up by the governments of countries where mountain gorillas are found and other conservation organizations. These came up with a strategy of protecting the mountain gorillas using tourism as a tool hence introducing the gorilla trekking activity. Bwindi impenetrable national park was the first gorilla natural habitat to be open for gorilla trekking in 1991.
Since the park had so many wildlife species to enjoy other than mountain gorillas, other activities like nature walks, birding watching, hiking and community walks were added to the bucket list to make Bwindi impenetrable Park such a formidable tourism destination in Africa.
Tourims Activities at Bwindi Impenetrable national park
Gorilla tracking: This is the main tourism activity in the park, it pulls thousands and thousands of travellers to visit Bwindi. It is an adventurous activity that brings people close to one of their closest relatives (the mountain gorillas). An interaction with the mountain gorillas is a memorable and lifetime experience.
The Gorilla trekking experience starts when the visitor arrives at the park headquarter and the time for arrival is 7:30pm. At arrival the visitor is taken through briefing of what to do and expect while trekking the gorillas. Verification of the gorilla permits and allocations of the visitor to the gorilla family to track is done respectively. In a group of 8 people, the gorilla/park patron leads the trackers into the deep forests of Bwindi to search for the gorillas. The trackers under the guidance of the patron, trek on steep and sloppy trails bumping into different natural features like valleys and water streams and falls and wildlife species like monkeys, reptiles, butterflies and tree species. This is encountered with little attention as the main goal is to find the mountain gorillas. The trackers trek for about 2-6hours because of the nomadic nature of the gorillas that keep moving from one place to another looking for food and better shelter.
After some long walk, the trackers finally meet the gorillas in their locale of the day. The gorillas are usually found doing their daily routine of feeding and the young ones playing around. At the sight of their visitors, the gorillas stop for a while and the silverback bulges out of the many to show protection to its members. This alpha male looks at the trackers keenly to ascertain whether they aren’t danger. After the check out, the silverback gives a heads-up to other gorillas to be hospitable to their visitors as they mean no harm. At this point, the trackers are supposed to keep still until the patron advises to start the interaction with the gorillas. What normally takes place in the interaction with the gorillas, the trackers observe the gorillas feed, communicate amongst themselves and play around. One of the highlight of the day is when the young ones break the 7 metre social distance gap rule between the gorillas and trackers, these little ones come closer with intentions of playing with the trackers. More to the highlights are the real and candid pictures and videos taken of the gorillas while going about their business.
After one hour of interaction with the gorillas, the trackers lead out of Bwindi forest. The trackers at the completion of gorilla trekking experience, they are given gorilla trekking certificates as a way of showing gratitude of supporting the conservation project.
For one to track the gorillas in Bwindi, one must acquire a gorilla permit from Uganda Wildlife Authority or indirectly through the local tour operator. The permit rate is 700$ per individual.
Essential info about Gorilla trekking
Gorilla trekking is carried out throughout the year unless there is a pandemic like COvid-19 that broke out in 2020 or any other uncontrollable calamity, the activity may be halted. The gorillas are readily available in Bwindi impenetrable national park and the chance of seeing them in the wild on the trail is 98%. Record has it that all the past visitors have met the gorillas. Though gorilla trekking is open throughout the year, many tour operators advise their clients to go gorilla trekking in the dry months of January-Mid march, June-October and December. This is because of the easiness and convenience availed by the dry weather, the roads leading to the park are passable, the trails in the forest are dry and walkable. More to that, the skies are bright hence making the watching and picture capturing of the gorillas clear.
Clients are advised to book the gorilla permits in advance due to the high demand of them which makes their availability scarce at times. Gorilla permits are issued at first come first serve principle therefore a client must book and buy at the earlier time possible.
It is recommendable for a client to book with the local tour operators to organise and arrange all the gorilla tour items on the client’s behalf. It makes the trip hassle free and less daunting for the client. The tour operator also advises the client nitty-gritties of the gorilla trekking experience in that he/she knows what to expect and what to do on the trip.
Extra Adventures in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Park
Bwindi impenetrable national park is a such a natural wonder with loads of wildlife species and physical features other than the mountain gorillas. It is a natural tourism destination beyond gorilla trekking and below we are going to look at other tourism activities carried out in the park:
Batwa Pygmies visit: The Batwa are the indigenous race of people to have lived within the Bwindi forest area. The Batwa are marginalised people because of their short stature and raw way of living. These people have stuck to their traditional and cultural ethos. They live a primitive kind of life. The Batwa are fruit gatherers and hunt for a living. They use herbs for medication. Their music, dance and dance give the visitors so much fun while touring around their communities. A visit to their communities is a such a revealing experience.
Primates tracking: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park has some species of small primates in its perch and these include red-tailed monkeys, vevert monkeys, blue monkeys, colobus and bush babies. Bwindi is not the best place to watch other primates in the wild but primate trekking as an additional activity to the gorilla trekking tour is noteworthy.
Game viewing. There are some regular forest mammals in Bwindi impenetrable park. On an expedition around the forest, animals like forest hugs, duikers, jackals, bats African forest elephants and leopards are sighted.
Birding: In 2010, Bwindi was voted as one of the top ten birding destinations in Africa. This iconic eco forest has over 330 bird species and 23 species endemic to the Albertine rift. Birds like crowned hornbill, African harrier hawk, African green pigeon and giant kingfisher are spotted on the birding trail.
Nature walks: This is one of the most interesting and exciting tourism activities in the park. Bwindi impenetrable national park has a wealth of eye catching natural features to encounter up-close for example the waterfalls, streams and rivers, the valleys, the scenic hills. wildlife species are also sighted on the nature walk for example forest mammals, reptiles, bats, butterflies and different types of monkeys.