The Bwindi National Park, comprising an area of 331km2, is located in southwest Uganda and is part of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. With 60% of the area having an elevation of over 2,000m, the national park boasts impressive hills and deep valleys. There are also a number of rivers meandering through the park, including the Ivi, Munyaga, Ihihizo, Ishasha and Ntengyere, which flow into Lake Edward and become a main water source supporting the varied wildlife that live here.
In 1932, two sections of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest were specifically cornered off and named the Crown Forest Reserves. These sections were later combined and extended in 1942, covering an area of 298km2. In 1964, this area was officially considered an animal sanctuary, which specifically provided protection for the mountain gorillas that lived within the forest. It wasn’t until 1991 that the reserve received its official name of the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. At this time, the park had reached its full size of 331km2.
The national park was established to ensure the protection of the unique flora and fauna of the Impenetrable Forest. Due to the area being designated as an animal sanctuary, the Batwa pygmy people were forcibly evicted from this part of the forest and were no longer allowed to access resources within the national park. Instead, they were encouraged to live in the surrounding areas of the forest that were not designated as a sanctuary. In 1993, gorilla trekking became available to tourists and the Bwindi National Park was soon a popular holiday destination. A year later, in 1994, the national park was celebrated as a World Heritage Site and has since been at the forefront in protecting mountain gorillas and their habitat.
Boasting some of the most diverse fauna in East Africa, the Bwindi National Park is home to more than 120 mammal species, such as elephants, jackals and civets, 350 bird species, including swallowtails and broadbills, and 200 butterfly species. The Bwindi’s main attraction, though, is its population of 340 mountain gorillas who live deep within the Impenetrable Forest. As well as gorillas, there are many other primates to spot, including chimpanzees, colobus monkeys, and red-tailed monkeys.
The gorillas in the Impenetrable Forest can be tracked at any time of year, but bad weather during the wet season means that it’s best to visit during the dry season if you want to track these gentle giants safely.
During the dry season, the trails within the Impenetrable Forest are drier and safer to traverse. As well as this, the gorillas are easier to track. However, you can expect tourism to be high during this time, so the trekking trips you take part in are likely to be busy and there may be a lot of competition for accommodation.
The wet season is exceptionally wet at the Bwindi National Park, with drizzle sometimes occurring for days on end. Due to the poor weather and flooding, access roads can often be closed and walking trails will be slippery. However, if you’re willing to brave the rain, you’ll get the chance to spot migratory birds that visit the area at this time of year. You should still be able to track the gorillas during this time, but it’s advisable to check in advance in case specific trails are closed due to the rain.
The Bwindi National Park has much to offer its intrepid visitors. To many, keeping your eyes peeled for mountain gorillas while trekking through the dense forest far away from civilisation is wildly captivating, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Another adventurous attraction is walking a waterfall trail. There are mist-shrouded forest paths leading you to spectacular waterfalls dotted around the park, and along the way, you will encounter exotic flora from delicate wild orchids to verdant ferns, as well as fauna including butterflies, birds and cheeky monkeys.
To inject some culture into your safari holiday, visit a Batwa village. There, you can learn more about their unique way of life and experience the cultural traditions of Uganda’s oldest tribe.