Your Guide to Visiting Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
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A spec of black amidst the green foliage. It is stirring! Your guide points up in the tree where a gorilla is minding its own business as if they aren’t even bothered by the humans.
Witnessing mountain gorillas in their natural habitat is the reason why most travelers visit Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. It is an experience that will stay with you for a lifetime.
But planning a gorilla trekking safari in Bwindi can be quite challenging. That’s why, here, we’ve compiled the information you need to go on a safari in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Where is Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Located at 1,160m-2,607m (3,805ft-8,553ft) above sea level, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park lies in southwestern Uganda on the edge of the Rift Valley. To the west, the park is bordered by the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Spanning over 321sq km / 124 sq mi, its hillsides are covered by one of the oldest and most biologically diverse rainforests in Uganda.
How to Get to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
If you book a gorilla trekking safari, you are likely to fly into Entebbe or Kampala.
Entebbe International Airport (EBB) is where most visitors to the country land. If traveling by land it can take 6-8 hours to reach Bwindi. But there are domestic carriers that fly from Entebbe or Kampala into Kihihi or Kisoro near Bwindi.
Before you book your flights, check with the organizer whether they offer airport transfer and into which airport you should fly.
If you visit the park as part of a tour, Bwindi can be reached from Queen Elizabeth National Park in 2-3 hours by land.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Forest Park Fees
There are no vehicle entrance fees for Bwindi.
In order to enter the park, you need either a gorilla trekking permit or to pay for a guided nature walk.
You should know that if you decide to pay for a gorilla trekking permit, you’ll help the conservation efforts!
Just know that these permits need to be booked in advance, especially if you plan to travel during the high travel season. There are only 100 permits issued per day.
Thankfully, you can request the permit when you book your gorilla trekking safari. Share with the organizer your preferred dates and they will check the availability and send you an invoice. Personal details – such as the name and passport number – also need to be sent to the Uganda Wildlife Authority to print and issue your gorilla permits.
Best Time to Visit Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
While Bwindi is open for gorilla trekking all year round, it’s best to plan your trip from June to August and December to February. While it can rain any time of the year, these months have less rainfall, the trails are drier, and less slippery. This is also when your chances of seeing the gorillas are higher.
The high travel season in Bwindi is from June to September so make sure to book your gorilla trekking permits well in advance.
Kindly note that during the low season - March to May, October, and November – some lodges and camps are closed. That’s when the rain is at its highest and the forest trails are hard to use.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park History
The name Bwindi derives from the local phase “mubwindi bwa nyinamuraki”, which most likely referred to the Mubwindi swamp, located in the south east part of the park.
The story goes that a family migrating from Kisoro found themselves standing at the southern end of a seemingly impenetrable swamp. The parents asked the swamp spirits for guidance and they were told that in order to cross they had to sacrifice their most beautiful daughter. After two days of deliberation, they decided they should pass through the swamp, so they threw the girl into the water.
When the news about the sacrifice spread, people began to avoid the swap and called it “mubwindi bwa nyinamuraki” – dark place of nyinamuraki.
In 1932, two blocks of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest were designated as Crown Forest Reserves. Later, in 1964, it was turned into an animal sanctuary to protect the mountain gorillas.
In 1991, it was designated as a national park and declared a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site in 1994.
Going on a Safari in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Photo credit: Kawira Safaris Ltd
The reason why travelers come to Bwindi is to see the magnificent mountain gorillas. Being able to witness these impressive animals in their natural habitat is an experience you’ll never forget.
Besides gorilla trekking, you can also go on a nature walk in the park.
If you want to see other animals on your trip in Uganda, consider combining gorilla trekking in Bwindi with visiting other national parks in Uganda, specifically Queen Elizabeth National Park or Murchison Falls National Park.
Do you want to go on a gorilla trekking safari and don’t know how to start planning? Read our article about mountain gorilla trekking in Uganda!
Wildlife in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Photo credit: GoExplore Safaris
The main attraction of Bwindi is its mountain gorilla population (of about 400 individuals). More than 100 of them are habituated, which means they are used to humans.
But the park is home to more than 120 mammal species, the second most of any park after Queen Elizabeth National Park.
While the elephants live here, they are rearly seen. You’ve got more chances to spot the rare l'Hoest monkey and black-and-white colobus. Chimpanzees live in the park, but they are not habituated so they are hard to see.
There are also antelopes living in the park and you could be lucky enough to spot the bushbuck and the duiker.
Where to Stay in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Photo credit: Rumara Safaris (SMC) Ltd.
Throughout the park and in the nearby towns, there are safari camps available, as well as lodges, and guest houses catering for all budgets.
There are restaurants available, as well as bars and dining areas, and come with gorgeous views of the forest.
You can book guided nature walks directly with the guide from the camps and lodges.
What Should I Pack?
When planning a gorilla trekking safari in Bwindi, it’s important to know that rainfall can occur at any time of the year. With that in mind, here’s what you should pack for your trip to Bwindi:
- Lightweight hiking boots (for trekking in the forest)
- Garden gloves (for protecting your hands when you hold onto the plants)
- Lightweight rain jacket
- Long-sleeve blouse and long trousers (to avoid insects)
- Camera and lenses plus protective rain gear
- Hat, sunglasses, binoculars
- Insect repellent
- Over the counter medicine such as ibuprofen, antihistamines, motion sickness pills, and Imodium
- Water bottle.
Visa Policies to Enter Uganda
Most travelers to Uganda – including UK and US nationals - must have a visa, which can be obtained before travel from the embassies and consulates or upon arrival at the ports of entry. A single-entry visa costs 50 USD.
Check with the embassy in your country whether you need a visa or not. Some European nationals don’t need it.
All travelers must have a valid Yellow Fever Immunization card.
Cash Withdrawals and Cards Use Within Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
The local currency is Ugandan shilling, though most tours operators and upscale hotels use US Dollars.
There are many ATMs – even in remote places – but try to always carry cash with you. Big banks accept international cards.
The most useful currency you can carry is the US Dollar, especially in small towns. Euros and Pounds Sterling are also accepted.
While credit cards are accepted at better hotels in larger cities, it is recommended to avoid using a credit card in Uganda. That’s mostly because of the high fees associated with the transactions (5 to 8% surcharge).
Should you decide to use any card in Uganda, make sure to inform your bank before travel to avoid any potential freezes.
Ready to explore the enchanting Bwindi Impenetrable National Park? Book a primate trekking safari and get a chance to see these magnificent creatures!