Bwindi Impentrable Forest the Gorilla Trekking park lies in Southwestern Uganda on the edge of the rift valley. It's mist-covered hillsides are blanketed by one of Uganda's oldest rainforests, which dates back over 25,000 years and contains almost 400 species of plants. It covers an area 330 square kilometers, it includes lowland forest with rare afromontane vegetation on the peaks, (it is one of the few refugia that survived the last ice age), home to 320 gorillas. This biologically diverse region also provides shelter to a further 120 mammals, including several primate species such as baboons and chimpanzees, as well as elephant and antelopes. There are over 350 species of birds hosted in this forest, including 23 Albertine Rift endemics. Gorillas are tracked from Buhoma and Ruhija in the north and Nkuringo and Nshongi in the south.
The annual average temperature is 7 - 20 degrees centigrade. The area is usually cold in the early morning and at night, the coolest time of the year is generally June and July. Bwindi has a short rain from March to May and heavy rains in September and November. June to August are usually driest but expect some rain at any time of the year, it is advisable to bring wet weather gear with you.
General Notes - Gorilla Tracking
Gorilla Tracking in Bwindi
The two main areas in Africa where the Mountain Gorillas are found are Bwindi and Virunga. The biggest constraints to Gorilla tracking are the gorilla permits availability and accommodation. In Uganda gorilla permits are sold up to 2 years in advance. Any body travelling between June and October (high season) should definitely try booking a year in advance. June to August are the driest months, theoretically, easiest treks, March to May the wettest, therefore usually hardest Gorilla treks.
The relationship between gorilla permits and accommodation availability makes it important for the gorilla safaris to be planned well in advance.
Bwindi - Buhoma (North)
40 gorilla permits per day.
Accommodation in this area include Gorilla Forest camp under Sanctuary retreats, Mahogany Springs, Engagi Lodge, Buhoma Lodge, Silverback Lodge, Gorilla Resort, Lake Kitandara Tented camp and there are a few basic places available.
The success for Gorilla sightings is as good as 100% here.
The habituated gorilla groups are as follows:
The Mubare group - this was the very first group to be habituated in Buhoma.
The Mubare Group
Mubare group is the first group of Gorillas to be habituated in Buhoma in 1998. It was first sighted by trackers around the Mubare Hills that are found deep in Bwindi Forest and this where the name is derived from. The group consists of 7 members including 1 silver back, 2 black backs, 3 adult females, 2 juveniles and 1 infant.
The Habinyanja group was first sighted near a two pond swamp in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. The name Habinyanja comes from the root of the Rukiga (local language) word for body of water "Nyanja". The Habinyanja group consists of 15 members including 2 silver backs, 2 black backs, 5 adult females, 2 juveniles and 3 infants. Trekking this group started in 1999. This is one of the popular groups in Buhoma.
Rushegura is a name of a place where the seperation of this group from a larger family of Habinyanja took place in 2002. The break-away was led by a strong massive silverback desirious to form his own family, taking away with him seven members. Rushegura group now consists of 1 silver back, 1 black back, 5 adult females, 6 juveniles and 5 infants. The Rushegura family is a calm family, they are usually not far from Buhoma village and sometimes even wonder through the gardens of the lodges.
The Bitukura group of gorillas is named after a river swamp that bears the same name. As it happens the family was first sighted near the river which also is part of its homing range. Bitukura consists of 12 members including 4 silverbacks, 2 black backs, 3 adult females, 1 juvenile and 2 infants. Trekking this group started in 2008.
Accommodation for this group can be at the Ruhija Lodge or at Buhoma but if you stay in Buhoma you need an early start about 5:00am in order to get to the Gorilla trekking point in time.
Oruzogo is the newest gorilla family. It is situated between Buhoma and Ruhija and is led by a dominant silverback. The group consists of 16 individuals including the recently born babies. The family opened for tracking in 2011.
Bwindi - South Groups
The Nkuringo family is derived from a Rukiga word "round hill" and was launched in 2004. One of the most important reasons for for this group's habituation is because of the problems they created for the local communities by destroying crops and other products. By opening up the gorilla family for visitors the community could directly benefit from tourism and it formed a protection for the Mountain gorillas as well. The family was led by the silverback Nkuringo who died in 2008, leaving behind 2 silverbacks in the group. In November 2008, the Nkuringo group expanded thanks to the special delivery of Gorilla twins, one of the twins unfortunately died at age one and half.
Rushaga Groups - South Bwindi
Nshongi Gorilla Group
Nshongi was the largest group ever habituated and was officially launched in 2009. It was named after a river Nshongi, close to the place where the gorillas were first seen. Although most gorilla families usually consist of 25 members with one or 2 silverbacks, this family was a rare exception. Another remarkable fact is that the Gorilla group is led by the silverback who is not even the oldest in the group. In 2010 though the group was split in to two.
This is the splinter group from Nshongi. Is comprises of 12 individuals led by the silverback Mishaya. Mishaya is th only adult male in the group and is known for being a fighter. There are 4 adult females, 4 juveniles and 3 infants.
Kahungye is one of the new family groups found in the southern sector of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. This group was presented for trekking in 2011. Kahungye derives it's name from a hill with the same name which is the same range of this gorilla family. The group has 27 individuals and led by a silverback named "Gwigi" which means door in the local language.
Originally, the Nshongi family was the largest gorilla group ever habituated. However, in July 2010 Silverback Mishaya decided to start his own family. Two years later also Bweza, another silverback preferred to separate himself from the rest of the group. Initially, the UWA rangers suspected that they would get back together again, but when it appeared that the split was infinitive, this ‘new’ group opened for tourism in December 2012.
Busingye Gorilla Family
In the same period, in the same sector, but another gorilla family experienced a breakaway as well. It was Silverback Busingye who decided to split from the Kahungye group in June 2012 and create his own family. Busingye means ‘peace’ which is quite surprising since this ambitious silverback is known for his legendary fights with other gorilla groups. He likes showing his power and whenever encountering a wild family he mercilessly grabs a female to add to his own family.
This group of gorillas is dedicated to research and it is found in the Ruhija area of Bwindi.
Mgahinga Gorilla group - Nyakagezi
Nyakagezi Gorilla Family
Mgahinga National Park only hosts one gorilla family known as the Nyakagezi Group. The group is led by Mark, the dominant silverback, who likes travelling and keeps on crossing borders between Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. Lately it seems they are trying to regain their Ugandan citizenship again as they have been back in Mgahinga National Park since November 2012 and may are likely to stay for a while. Even more good news came in May 2013 when a new baby was born, increasing the group to 10 members.
Other Activities Around Bwindi Impentrable Forest
Bwindi has five different walking trails - good for birds (190 recorded in the Buhoma area) while on the look out for other forest dwellers like monkeys and butterflies and simply enjoying the beautiful scenery. All except the Munyanga Trail require a UWA tour guide
The Munyanga Trail - follows the Bizenga River in the valley directly below Buhoma. Good for birding.
Waterfall Trail - a 3 hour walk through pristine rainforest as it ascends the Munyanga River to the waterfalls. Good for orchids, ferns, trees and birds.
Rushura Hill Trail - a 3 hour hill trail with good views accross the western plains to Lake Edward and on 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 accross the Western Rift Valley to the Virunga Volcanoes.
Ivi River Walk - an 8 hour trail leading to the Ivi River near Nkuringo on the southern edge of the forest - especially good for birds.
Cultural Trails - Explore the cultures of the local Bakiga and Batwa communities with village walks, visiting blacksmiths, craft shops and vibrant dances
Cycling / Mountain Biking - Follows a well maintained trail from the park headquarters at Buhoma to the Ivi River. Along the 13 km ride you may see wildlife such as the bushbucks, black-and-white colobus monkeys and red tailed monkeys. The round trip is for about 7 hours.
The journey from Bwindi and Entebbe / Kampala is a very long drive that takes approximately 10 hours. Somewhat half way between is Lake Mburo National Park which is traditionally been seen as the overnight stop break for this drive.
Many visitors stay just a single night in Lake Mburo, which is not enough time to explore this park as it indeed has a lot to offer. It is a perfect place to wind up or wind down before or after the safari.