Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Photo © berner256

Travel Guide Africa Uganda Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

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Introduction

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is the prime spot in Uganda to go on a trekking to see the Mountain Gorillas. The park is located in the southwestern corner of the country and apart from gorillas offers a wide range of monkey, birds, butterflies and other wildlife to view upclose. A gorilla permit is expensive though, around US$600, and as this is the most favorite spot in Africa to go on a trekking, the permits sell out quickly, especially by tour groups who buy them well in advance. As an independent traveller, you might be more lucky in Rwanda to get a permit within several days, although prices over there are even higher at US$1,500. Another option is to opt for a permit in the low season months of April, May and November. Prices are 'just' US$350 during those months. The disadvantage of course is there is a lot more rain, though November is not as bad as April/May.

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Geography

Kabale town to the southeast is the nearest main town to the park, 29 kilometres away by road. The park is composed of two blocks of forest that are connected by a corridor of forest. The shape of the park is a legacy of previous conservation management, when the original two forest blocks were protected in 1932. There is agricultural land where there were previously trees directly outside the park's borders. Cultivation in this area is intense.

The park's underlying geology consists of Precambrian shale phyllite, quartz, quartzite, schist, and granite. The park is at the edge of the Western Rift Valley in the highest parts of the Kigezi Highlands, which were created by up-warping of the Western Rift Valley. Its topography is very rugged, with narrow valleys intersected by rivers and steep hills. Elevations in the park range from 1,190 to 2,607 metres above sea level, and 60 percent of the park has an elevation of over 2,000 metres. The highest elevation is Rwamunyonyi Hill at the eastern edge of the park. The lowest part of the park is at its most northern tip.

The forest is an important water catchment area. With a generally impermeable underlying geology where water mostly flows through large fault structures, water infiltration and aquifers are limited. Much of the park's rainfall forms streams, and the forest has a dense network of streams. The forest is the source of many rivers that flow to the north, west, and south. Major rivers that rise in the park include the Ivi, Munyaga, Ihihizo, Ishasha, and Ntengyere rivers, which flow into Lake Edward. Other rivers flow into Lakes Mutanda and Bunyonyi.[7]:8 Bwindi supplies water to local agricultural areas.

Bwindi has a tropical climate. Annual mean temperature ranges from a minimum of 7 to 15 °C to a maximum of 20 to 27 °C. Its annual rainfall ranges from 1,400 to 1,900 millimetres. Peak rainfall occurs from March to April and from September to November. The park's forest plays an important role in regulating the surrounding area's environment and climate. High amounts of evapotranspiration from the forest's vegetation increases the precipitation that the region outside the park receives. They also lessen soil erosion, which is a serious problem in south-western Uganda. They lessen flooding and ensure that streams continue to flow in the dry season.

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Sights and Activities

Gorilla tracking

Gorilla tracking of course is the main activity here. It is expensive, but it is worth it. There are several different groups of gorilla's, with group H being the largest. Inform yourself which of the groups are normally quite close to the camp and which more far away. For the groups close to the camp is it normally quite easy to get permits, the further away ones are more popular due to the nice walk through the rain forest. Tracking can take from anywhere between 15 minutes to a full day, depending on where the gorillas are. They move often and far - one group of tourists can be back at the UWA camp within two hours on one day, while they next day, tracking the same group of gorillas can keep you walking until night falls. There is no way to say how easy or difficult it will be - elderly people should carefully consider how fit they are and how long they are willing to hike and climb: paths can be so steep you have to hold on to bushes and grass to prevent you from slipping, and climbing a hill can require hands and feet. There are no 'exits' while trekking, no shortcuts back home. Beware that refunds are only given in extraordinary circumstances (no gorillas seen, which is unusual), and are only partial refunds.

Registration for tracking starts at 8:30am, briefing is at 9:00am. The trackers leave before that, and will communicate with your guides to let them know if and where they have found the gorillas. After getting there, you will have a maximum of 1 hour near the gorillas. You can get up to several meters of them, but you can be instructed to move further away should the gorillas get restless. Considering the terrain, it is not always possible to get this close, so bring a camera with a zoomlens, and remember the use of flash is not allowed. While in the rainforest, you are also asked to keep your voices down.

Should you be ill or have a cold, do remember that you may be refused participation. Since gorillas are genetically so close to humans, they are susceptible to many of the same diseases. As there are only about 700 mountain gorillas left in the world, their safety comes first.

Hiking in the area

Walk from Buhoma to Nkoringo (5 hours walk, through Bwindi forest, guide required, and permits). Walk from Nkoringo to Lake Mutanda (3 hours walk)(one lodge to stay on the lake) (dug out canoe with boatman needed to cross the lake, 3 hours, gorgeous scenery, check the weather isn't stormy) to Kisoro (one hour from lakeside). No guide required for the walk from Nkoringo to Kisoro, plenty of people around to ask the way, porters available in Nkoringo village.

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Opening Hours

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Cost

As of June 2014 all gorilla tracking costs US $600 for a non-resident - though worth it as it is an unbelievable experience. Please note that the UWA accepts only cash for payment. This may require some planning, as the amount is more than you can normally withdraw from an ATM. Barclays Bank in Kampala will do cash advances. Reservations may need to be made long in advance during the peak season, but could be available the day before during the rainy season, or if you're lucky and there was a cancellation.

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Getting There and Around

Getting into Bwindi Impenetrable National Park requires a permit - the best place to get that is from the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). They have an office in Kampala, on Kiira Road. Tour operators can also make reservations, but you only pay on arrival. There is no point in going to Bwindi without a permit, as you will be refused entrance.

The best way to get there is to get a bus from Kampala - the daily Post Bus takes about 8 hours from Kampala to Kabale, a nearby city with several hotels and hostels. From there you can arrange private transportation, for which you have to reserve another day of travel - leave early in the morning; you'll need to get transportation to Butogota, and from there to Buhoma, where hotels are available only a short walk from the starting point of the UWA gorilla tracking.

There is also a bus that goes straight from Kampala to Butogota, which is only a short ride from Buhoma. It leaves early in the morning (around 6:00am), and may leave earlier than expected if it is full. Bus schedules and prices are not published, and different bus companies compete for your business, so find someone you trust to guide you to the appropriate bus terminal (there are several). For the return trip, there is also a bus from Butogota to Kampala. Some buses depart in the morning, and others are overnight, departing in the evening.

You can also fly from Entebbe. Aerolink, fly twice daily into Kisoro and Kihihi.

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Eat/Drink

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Sleep

  • The Gorilla Resort, Buhoma, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (next to the park) - This Intimate exclusive high end safari camp with a breath-taking view of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is located at Buhoma - Bwindi Impenetrable Gorilla National Park on a Mountain side. The camp has been constructed and built to the highest standards whilst retaining sympathy with the local surroundings. US $375 per person per night

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This is version 3. Last edited at 9:17 on Jul 20, 17 by Utrecht. 8 articles link to this page.

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