Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park lies in the south western part of the country on the edge of the Rift Valley, before the park became a national park it had two blocks of Bwindi Impenetrable Forests were designated as Crown Forest reserve in 1932 which stretched to an area of about 298km2 in 1964, it turned into an animal sanctuary so as to protect the endangered mountain gorillas. Then in 1991, the Forest Reserve, Mgahinga Gorilla Reserve and Rwenzori Mountain Reserve were designated as a national park and this impenetrable forest was named Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
In 1993 due to the many existence of a half of the worlds mountain gorillas , the management of the park was changed and Uganda wildlife authority took over the management and bought a piece of land of approximately 4km2 from the Batwa people who were the keepers of the forest. The locals around the forest called it “Mubwindi bwa nyinamuraki.
The forest has a swamp in the southern part of the forest; one time there was a family that wanted to cross but could not because the swamp seemed Impenetrable due to the thick vegetations. So they had to request for permission from the spirits thereafter they were able to cross the swamp safely, Some Ugandan people still believe that the forest is headed by spirits. The park was gazetted as a National Park in 1991 and declared as a UNESCO and natural heritage site in the year 1994.
The park is located in south western part of Uganda, it covers 321km2 , The Park is situated within the districts of Kanungu. And it’s nearest town being Kanungu or Kihihi. Its neighboring towns are Buhoma, and Nkuringo and both these towns have impressive array of luxury lodges, rustic bandas and budget campsites and there are restaurants and also crafts shops. The local people around the park are the B Bakiga, Bafumbira and the minor Batwa. The park is approximately 321km from Kampala through Mbarara town which is about 5-6 hours.
The topography of the park is rugged with narrow valleys that are intersected by rivers and steep hills. The forest is a water catchment region with underlying geology where water flows through large fault structures; Much of the park’s rainfall forms streams and the forest has s dense network of streams. The park’s vegetation is moist and evergreen with a dense growth of herbs, vines and shrubs.
The park has numerous vegetation types that are categorized into medium altitude, moist and ever green and high altitude forests with a dense growth of herbs, vines and shrubs, and over 50%of park is occupied by mixed forest which is concentrated around altitudes that are characterized by the canopy from plant species like Red stinkwood, Newtonia, Symphonia globulifera to mention but a few. The forest has a variety of vegetation types that are worth visiting as they offer unique biodiversity.
Attractions in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park
- Mountain gorillas, the park has approximately 400 mountain gorillas which is roughly half of the world’s population and these gorillas have several habituated groups or families that can be tracked by tourists and these include; Mubare family, Habinyanja family, Bitukura family, Mishaya family, Nshongi family, Nkuringo family, Oruzongo family to mention but a few.
- Birds, the park has one of the oldest forests in Uganda which means it is the ideal habitat for a variety of bird species, the park has 23 of the Albertine endemic species and some of these endemics include; the short tailed warbler, blue headed sunbird to mention but a few and some of the common birds one can see around are the common bulbuls, African blue and white flycaturers, red headed bluebill to mention but a few. Birding takes place along the main trail, Buhoma water fall trail, along the Bamboo zone, and Mubwindi swamp in Ruhija.
- Wildlife, the park is home to approximately 120 mammals and among these includes several primates like the chimpanzees, monkeys, baboons among others, elephants, antelopes among other species.
- Cultural experience, the village walks are usually about three hours and begins with the craft shops where different artifacts are produced like fabrics, beeswax, baskets, among others. The neighboring Batwa community performes for the tourists in singing, dancing which talk about their former life in the forest and this introduces you to a unique local culture, you will also be able to meet their traditional healer who uses medicinal plants for treatment.
- Butterflies, the park has approximately 220 butterfly species and among these about three are endemic to the Albert Rift Valley. Butterflies are found in the deep in the forest.
Activities in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
There are different activities that can be carried out while in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and these include;
- Gorilla Tracking and habituation, this activity or experience usually takes place in the southern part of the forest and it usually takes about four hours this activity was introduced to cater for tourists who have little time but would want to spend more time with the mountain gorillas. It is the most selling and done activity in the park it makes people come from all over the world to come and see the surviving mountain gorillas in the world.
- Bird watching, the park being one of the ancient forests in Uganda, this implies that it has a variety of habitats for birds hence the perfect habitat; the forest is recorded to have about 350 different bird species with about 23 endemic species.
- Hike through the forest, the hike through the forest can be a one day activity or longer than that a hike from the north of the forest to the south called Nkuringo where you can spent an overnight and continue to the scenic Lake Mutanda and paddle across a wooden dugout and continue to Kisoro town. This is the most popular trail however there are trails and nature walks in the forest from easy to moderate which can take about a full day, hiking in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest has to be done with a guide.
- Batwa cultural experience, these people were the first inhabitants of the forest a thousand years ago before the bantu these had an ecological foot print on the forest but lived in harmony with nature they were fruit gathers and hunters you can visit the Batwa outside the Bwindi impenetrable forest and have an experience with them where you get learn about their traditional ways of hunting and gathering. This experience can be done in the areas of Buhoma.
Accommodations in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
Accommodations in this park are all found outside the park and the accommodations range from luxury, midrange and budget which means that all classes are catered for these are as follows below;
LUXURY: Ichumbi Lodge, Bwindi Clouds, Chameleon Hill Lodge, Crested Crane Bwindi Hotel to mention but a few.
MIDRANGE: Bwindi Jungle Lodge Gifted of Nature Lodge, Engagi Lodge, Bakiga Lodge, Gorilla Safari Lodge among others.
BUDGET LODGES: Broad bill Forest Camp, Buhoma Community Bandas, Bwindi Backpackers, Bwindi Guest House to mention but a few
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park can be accessed by both road and air. The park can be accessed through Queen Elizabeth National Park to north which is about 2-3 hours drive, from Kabale to the south which is 1-2 hours or from Kampala through Mbarara which is approximately 6-8 hours. All the roads meet at Butogota which is 17km from the Buhoma entrance gate and a 4WD vehicle is advisable especially during the rainy season. The park can also be accessed by using air transport; travelers can fly from Entebbe or Kajjansi airfield in Kampala to the modern tarmac airstrip in Kisoro district. But also planes can be chartered to land on the Kayonza grass or the savannah airstrip the park has is served by the three airfields at kayonza, Kihihi in the northern sector and Nyakabanda in Kisosro for those that are going to track gorillas in the southern sector especially those that want to track these gorilla families, Nkuringo, Nshongi and Mishaya