Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is in Western Uganda and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, covering 32,092 ha, is one of the largest areas in East Africa which still has Afromontane lowland forest extending to well within the montane forest belt. Located on the eastern edge of the Albertine Rift Valley and believed to be a Pleistocene refugium, the property is a biodiversity hotspot with possibly the greatest number of tree species for its altitude in East Africa.
It is also host to a rich fauna including a number of endemic butterflies and one of the richest mammalian assemblages in Africa. Home to almost half of the world’s mountain gorilla population, the property represents a conservation frontline as an isolated forest of outstanding biological richness surrounded by an agricultural landscape supporting one of the highest rural population densities in tropical Africa. Community benefits arising from the mountain gorilla and other ecotourism may be the only hope for the future conservation of this unique site.
The climate varies – Uganda is wet most of the year, with dry periods from June to August. It can be a scorching 30 °C, or a chilly 9 °C, depending on the weather. If you go gorilla tracking, be sure to bring a sweater, at least 2.5 liters of water, long-sleeved t-shirt/trousers, a hat, rain-clothing and decent hiking boots.
The tracking takes you through the dense rainforest, where you go up and down steep hills, often with no visible path. If it rains, it will be extremely muddy; if it’s dry and the sun is out, you will need a lot of water. Bring insect repellent for the mosquitoes, and consult your doctor for vaccinations and malaria pills for surrounding regions. There is no risk of malaria in Buhoma, Nkoringo and Bwindi Forest: due to the altitude there are no mosquitoes.
Yes, 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 the 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 partially.
Registration for tracking starts at 8:30AM, briefing is at 9. 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 within 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 zoom lens, 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.