Bwindi Impenetrable Forest! The name alone is enough to conjure up exotic images, and with gorillas, chimpanzees, other primates and a host of fascinating bird species, this is a safari destination for those looking for something different and is number 6 on my list of Top Ten African wildlife safari destinations.
Where: Located in south-western Uganda, close to the border with both Rwanda and the Congo, with whom Uganda shares the last habitats of the endangered mountain gorillas. A one and half hour light aircraft flight from Entebbe, or a nine hour drive from Kampala. Alternatively Bwindi can be reached from Rwanda’s capital Kigali by road around four hours drive plus the border crossing.
Why: Gorillas! The endangered mountain gorillas are the big draw of which almost half the world’s population live in Bwindi, with a number of habituated families allowing the fantastic and unique experience of sitting just 7 metres from a family of wild gorillas in their natural habitat for one hour. Bwindi does though, have much more to offer, with a number of other primates regularly seen including red-tailed monkeys, L’Hoescht monkey, black and white colobus and grey-cheeked mangabeys. Walking in the forest is fascinating and a number of waterfalls can be viewed in some areas. In total Bwindi has 120 species of mammals and a bird list of 348 species making it a hotspot as a birding destination – even the most avowed non-birder is impressed by the Great Blue Turaco!
When: Gorilla viewing in Bwindi is year round, but avoiding the rainy seasons of March and April and mid-September to November is advisable. As Bwindi is a mountainous area at around 6 to 8000 ft above sea level, rain is possible at any time of the year.
Where: The Buhoma area of Bwindi is the most visited with most gorilla permits available, whilst the Nkuringo area to the south is harder to get to, but is reached via very beautiful scenery, the ‘The Little Switzerland of Africa’, and has astonishing views over the volcanoes of Rwanda and the Congo.
How long: If you can afford the permits, allow time for two days of gorilla trekking to see two different families, you’ll enjoy both days and will give you the chance to watch these great apes more closely. If you have time, and are looking for something unusual, it’s possible to arrange to walk with a ranger from the Nkuringo area to Buhoma. With 2 nights and a gorilla trek in each area, and a fabulous 5 hour walk in between, this will give you a real view of Bwindi!
What to do: Gorilla trekking involves an early start and can take from half an hour to up to eight hours walking – if you find yourself on a longer day, you won’t have much time for much else! If you find the gorillas quickly, walks to waterfalls and village visits on the edge of the Bwindi Forest are possible. The park rangers try to put clients in the right group, maximum of eight, depending on their walking ability and fitness, but there are no guarantees you won’t have a long walk – the gorillas move!
My View: Viewing the mountain gorillas is undoubtedly one of the great wildlife experiences. There is nothing like it, and combined with the stunning scenery and wonderfully friendly people of Uganda, it makes for a great destination which can fairly easily be turned into a longer safari taking in Queen Elizabeth National Park, with its elephant and lion and the relatively easily seen chimps and other wildlife of Kibale Forest.
For more information on Bwindi and Uganda’s other safari destinations visit: www.journeyintoafrica.com
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Next on the Top Ten – Kenya’s Samburu Reserves.