Bwindi Impenetrable National Park: All You Need To Know

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

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Discover Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

The 321 km2 Bwindi Impenetrable National Park – the home of gorilla trekking in Uganda – has been declared a World Heritage Site because of its incredibly diverse eco-system. The fern-rich, vine-covered canopies of this ancient rainforest jungle shelters half of the world’s population of endangered mountain gorillas – plus unbelievable number of birds, monkeys and butterflies.

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is the ultimate place to visit in Africa if you want to see gorillas in their natural habitat. Tourists from all over the world flock to this beautiful area of Uganda to walk with the gentle giants.

Expert local guides take them into the heart of this “Impenetrable Forest” in search of habituated gorilla families, where upon they spend a magical hour with them.

The success rate of finding gorillas in Bwindi on a daily basis is around 99%! And such is the positive impact of these conservation-driven gorilla trekking safaris that the mountain gorilla population is currently increasing.


Bwindi Impenetrable National Park can be reached by road or air. The park is located near the towns of Kisoro and Kabale in southwestern Uganda, approximately 500 km from Kampala/Entebbe.

Road Trip To Bwindi

If you are planning a road trip to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, the journey takes approximately 8 to 9 hours from Kampala or Entebbe. The drive to and from Kampala may be long but very interesting for those who are adventurous and love nature. You would be traveling past several small towns, rural villages, and regions of the country with stops to important landmarks like the Uganda equator line or even stop to buy fruits and local artifacts.

You might also stop for a day at Lake Mburo National Park, rest and relax before departing. Lake Mburo National park is popular for spotting Leopards, Zebras, Giraffes, Buffalos, hippos, and antelopes like Impala, topis, waterbucks, bushbucks, during night and day game drives. The towns of Kabale and Kisoro have amazing scenery with green vegetation, forests, swamps, rivers, lakes.

If you are already in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Bwindi is very easy to reach by a 4 to 5-hour drive south. You can drive through Ishasha on this route to see the famous tree-climbing lions before arriving in Buhoma region of Bwindi National Park. If you are travelling from Kibale Forest National Park, the home of chimpanzee trekking, the drive takes about 6 to 7 hours.

Getting To Bwindi By Air

Travelling by air is the fastest way to reach Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, and there are a number of flights each day. Most visitors arrive in Uganda at Entebbe International Airport (EBB), which is roughly 46 kilometers from the capital city of Kampala.

From here, and from Kampala’s Kajjansi Airfield, there are many domestic flights connecting to Bwindi. It is also possible to book chartered or scheduled flights to Kihihi Airstrip or Kisoro Airstrip near Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The total flight times are generally around 2 hours, which are then followed by a short drive of approximately 1.5-2 hours. Read More about Uganda Fly-in Safaris.

Visiting Bwindi From Kigali

In order to avoid the long driving distance from Kampala/Entebbe to Bwindi or an expensive flight transfer, there is a shorter route from Kigali Rwanda to Bwindi. This route takes approximately 3 to 4 hours. You get to the experience the emerald green hills of Rwanda – “the Land of a Thousand Hills” and Uganda – “the Pearl of Africa” on a spectacular drive from Kigali city to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The winding roads meander through verdant rainforests, skirting hilltops and dipping into quite rural villages in the valley before arriving at Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.

Our Sample Bwindi Gorilla Trekking Tours

Landscape AND Scenery

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is situated on the edge of Africa’s Great Rift Valley and with altitudes ranging from 1,160 to 2,607 meters. To the north lies Queen Elizabeth National Park (known for its famous tree-climbing Lions), to the south the Virunga Volcanoes of Rwanda (Volcanoes National Park).

This 330 km² (32,000 hectares) UNESCO world heritage site rainforest is one of Africa’s oldest and most beautiful ecosystems. Precipitous slopes descend to deep valleys cut into the landscape by tumbling, mountainous streams and the air is filled with the clamorous calls of forest birds unseen in the canopy.

From ancient hardwood trees interspersed with bamboo thickets to delicate fern fronds, dangling vines and vicious nettles, the word “Bwindi” literally translates to “impenetrable” in the local Runyakitara language of Uganda.

About Mountain Gorillas In Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

The mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) are a subspecies of the critically endangered eastern gorilla, and there are just over 1,060 remaining on Earth today.

Approximately half of the world’s population is found in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (the remainder is found in the volcanic Virunga Mountains that span the borders of southern Uganda (Mgahinga Gorilla National Park), Rwanda (Volcanoes National Park) and DR Congo (Virunga National Park).

They are found nowhere else on earth. Once on the verge of extinction, their survival is one of Africa’s greatest conservation success stories. George Schaller, a renowned mammologist was the first to research gorillas in 1950s.

But it was Dian Fossey who brought their plight to international attention, studying them for 18 years in Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda. She lived with the gorillas in the forest, raised funds for rangers and protected the gorillas despite extreme danger from poachers, culminating in her unsolved murder that happened in 1985.

At that time, Dian Fossey had estimated that just 250 mountain gorillas survived, under threat from extensive poaching, habitat loss,  and the crossfire of civil wars   In Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, to fund conservation efforts, so-called gorilla tourism started in 1993, when the Mubare Gorilla Family became the first family to be fully habituated to human presence.

Read More: The Mountain Gorilla Facts You Need To Know

Bwindi gorilla families – by region

Today, Bwindi National Park is home of about 50 gorilla families and 22 of them have been habituated – trained gently over 2-3 years to become used to the presence of humans – while the remaining 38 families are completely wild and cannot be approached. Every habituated gorilla family of Bwindi comes with its dynamics, characters, and stories, and the rangers have kept track of it all.

Gorilla families of Bwindi reside in the 4 different sectors of the park, named after the surrounding villages. These include Buhoma, Ruhija, Nkuringo and Rushaga. Each of these sectors act as is a self-standing gorilla trekking destination, has its own set of accommodation options, a variety of tourist attractions, and it is reached by a different approach from other locations.

1. Buhoma Sector (Northern Bwindi)

Buhoma is the most visited region of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. It is also the largest of the four gorilla trekking sectors of the park and has the highest density of luxury Bwindi safari lodges and camps.

As the first area of the park to open to guests, this is where Bwindi gorilla trekking tours first started, when the Mubare gorilla family was habituated in 1992. Here, you can also explore the neighbouring communities, bird watch, or take a hike on some of the most spectacular forest trails on the continent. And aside from Mubare, 5 other habituated gorilla families including:

  • Habinyanja Gorilla Family
  • Rushegura Gorilla Family
  • Katwe Gorilla Family
  • Muyambi Gorilla Family
  • Binyiindo Gorilla Family

2. Ruhija Sector (Eastern Bwindi)

Ruhija Sector is less-visited than Buhoma region. This sector is popular with bird watchers and avid hikers who for the summit of Rwamunyonyi Peak (“the hill of many birds”) – the park’s highest point which offers extraordinary views. As the name suggests, the forests around Rwamunyonyi offer amazing birding in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

Many lodges and tour guides also offer trips into the surrounding areas to meet some Batwa people – the park’s original inhabitants. On offer are demonstrations of the use of medicinal plants found in the forest and other ancient survival skills practiced by their people for thousands of years. Though forest elephant sightings in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest are infrequent, Ruhija provide the best chance of spotting one of these elusive grey ghosts.

Ruhija Sector is home to four habituated gorilla families including:

  • Mukiza Gorilla Family
  • Oruzogo (Kasumali) Gorilla Family
  • Kyaguliro Gorilla Family
  • Bitukura Gorilla Family

3. Rushaga Sector (Southern Bwindi)

The Rushaga region of Bwindi is famed for its gorilla trekking and the gorilla habituation experience – where tourists spend up to 4 hours with the group rather than the standard 1 hour. The Rushaga sector includes Lake Mutanda, so visitors can set out on a boat cruise for an entirely different perspective of the spectacular scenery.

The Rushaga region of Bwindi is famed for its gorilla trekking and the gorilla habituation experience – where tourists spend up to 4 hours with the group rather than the standard 1 hour. The Rushaga sector also includes Lake Mutanda, so visitors can set out on a boat cruise for an entirely different perspective of the spectacular scenery.  

It is home to multiple habituated gorilla families in the region, including:

  • Mishaya Gorilla Family
  • Kutu Gorilla Family
  • Bweza Gorilla Family
  • Posho Gorilla Family
  • Mucunguzi Gorilla Family
  • Shongi Gorilla Family
  • Bikyingi Gorilla Family
  • Busingye Gorilla Family
  • Kahungye Gorilla Family – the largest of all the Bwindi gorilla families

4. Nkuringo Sector (Western Bwindi)

The Nkuringo sector is the most scenic area to visit in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The dramatic topography and break-taking views of the volcanic Virunga Mountains do come at a physical cost; this particular region is better suited to more physically active visitors. Nkuringo is home to three habituated gorilla families, including:

  • Nkuringo Gorilla Family
  • Bushaho Gorilla Family
  • Christmas Gorilla Family

Gorilla Trekking In Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

Every morning, rangers at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park set out at dawn to track down and monitor the gorilla families. By the time guests have stirred and downed their first cup of coffee, many gorilla families have already been located. The gorilla trekking activity starts Park Headquarters of each sector, where guests are allocated their gorilla family and guide before being briefed on essential rules that help protect both gorillas and people.

Sharing about 98% of our DNA, gorillas are extremely vulnerable to human infections (a common cold could kill them); thus you’re requested not to trek if you are ill.

Only 8 visitors are permitted to trek a gorilla family, staying for just 1 hour with them. Also, rules state that guests should never proceed to within 7 m of these giant apes, but sometimes the gorillas cross this threshold and get within a few centimeters of you. However, always resist the temptation to touch them. While usually calm, they can easily be frightened by flash photography, loud voices or sudden movements.

Some gorilla families are just a short hike from the headquarters but others can take as long as 7 hours to reach. Bwindi is called the Impenetrable Forest for good reason: a dense jungle, it makes hiking a challenge, with tangled vines and vegetation sprawled across steep muddy terrain.

For about 10 to 15 US$, you can hire a local porter to carry your bags and help you negotiate the tough, slippery trails (they are worth every cent). The reward of seeing the gorillas more than makes up for the effort of reaching them – being with these incredible gentle giants is a truly moving experience.

Mesmerizing to watch, your permitted hour flies by as they carry on their daily business of eating, sleeping, grooming, and playing, usually paying little attention to onlookers. Youngsters chase each other, swing in trees, and laugh and squeal just like children. Mums dote on babies, suckling and cradling them, and big daddy silverback watches over them all.

Read More: Trekking Gorillas In Uganda – A Complete Guide

Gorilla Habituation Experience

Gorillas are not always so gentle in the presence of people: it takes time and effort to achieve this relaxed attitude in a process known as gorilla habituation. An amazing gorilla habituation experience in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest allows you to participate in this process by tracking a semi-habituated family of gorillas.

During gorilla habituation, trackers visit wild gorilla family every day for approximately 2 to 3 years, gradually getting closer and spending more time with them. In the semi-habituated stage, gorillas are familiar with trackers but not strangers, hence, this gorilla habituation experience help them get used to seeing different people.

In gorilla trekking, trackers have already located your gorillas and they lead you right to them. Instead, this 4-hour experience begins from where the gorillas were last seen the previous evening.

You hike with the trackers, learning the tell-tale signs that finally lead to the gorillas’ nests, such as knuckle prints in the mud, twisted and broken vegetation and discarded food. Each night, gorillas construct new nests for sleeping before moving on looking for food: what they leave behind is vital for checking their health and population.

At the nests, the habituation team collects samples of hair and dung before continuing their search. It is only when you find the gorillas that the real challenge starts. The purpose of habituation is to follow the family and remain in their vision as they move, gradually getting closer to reach that magical 7-meter cut-off point.

But unlike fully habituated gorilla families who mooch around patiently during your permitted hour, these apes move fast to feed, racing through dense rainforest, storming up and down slippery slopes and crawling on knuckles through bushes, with you and the tracker team in hot pursuit.

This adventure is not for the unfit or the faint hearted. While all gorillas are wild, some are wilder than others, and these semi-habituated ones have an air of unpredictability about them.

The likelihood of is a silverback charging is there, but it’s usually a warning and not an attack – your trackers will have briefed you to remain calm, crouch down and avert your eyes. It is easier said than done…When they are still, you stay still, imitating their behaviour to make them feel at ease.

 You crouch down when they do, mimic them by picking up grass pretending to eat it, and talk to them in gorilla-language, a series of vocalizations that have specific meanings. It is utterly spine-tingling to hear to have a gorilla reply to your low throaty rumbling, which signifies contentment.

More Animals In Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Besides Mountains Gorillas that have made the area famous, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is also home to another 9 primate species. There are tool-wielding chimpanzees in Bwindi Forest. Still, at this stage, none are habituated to human presence, so sightings are rare.

Other species of primates in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park include black-and-white colobus, Ugandan red colobus, red-tailed and blue monkeys, mangabeys, Olive baboons, Vervet, and vulnerable L’Hoest’s monkeys. In addition to the smaller primates that swing in the treetops, other Uganda animals roam the forest paths of Bwindi, including forest elephants, giant forest hogs, duikers, bush pigs, golden cats, jackals, civets and numerous other small mammals.

Birds In Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Uganda is one of the most exceptional destinations for birding in Africa and home to 50% of Africa’s total bird species, with a count of about 1,097 species. The ecosystem of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest alone provides an opportunity to see over 350 species, including 23 of the 24 Albertine Rift endemics. It is arguably the best forest birding spot on the continent.

While forest birding can be mainly challenging, the chance to explore silvan trails and happen upon tumbling waterfalls, all the while listening and scanning for a flutter of movement, has all the makings of a birdwatching treasure hunt.

Short-tailed warblers, Chapin’s Flycatcher, Doherty’s Bushshrike, handsome francolin, Jameson’s antpecker, green tinkerbird and, of course, the spectacular Turacos are all rewards for a day’s birding in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. There may even have a chance to become the first person to take a photo of Shelley’s crimsonwing in the wild.

As mentioned, Ruhija highlands offer particularly diverse birding, and here keen birders can search the Mubwindi Swamp trail for the mysterious African green broadbill (Grauer’s broadbill). For a more thorough description of Bwindi Forest’s avian delights read Best Places to See Birds of Uganda.

Butterflies In Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

As if the colourful flashes of blue-headed sunbirds and black bee-eaters were not dazzling enough, Bwindi’s 310 montane butterfly species put on their own display, adding to the other-worldly feeling of the dappled green light.

Batwa Pygmies Cultural Experience

The Batwa Pygmy People lived in the Bwindi Forest for centuries. They’re one of oldest indigenous tribes in Africa still in existence. These people have a truly unique relationship with the rainforests of Uganda – and believe in a legend passed down generations that their god Nagasan trusted them with the responsibility of being the “Caretakers of the Forests”.

Unfortunately, they were forcefully evicted from Bwindi Impenetrable Forest when it was gazetted to protect the critically endangered mountain gorillas. Hunter gatherers by tradition who completely depended on the forest for survival; the Batwa had no skills and means to adjust to contemporary life outside the forest.

They suffered horribly and fell prey to early exploitative cultural tourism. This is, thankfully, is changing, and tourism now holds the key to the survival of these fascinating people and their ancient culture. Batwa Development Program has designed responsible tourism encounters that enable the Batwa people to you to the forest.

You will be immersed in how they survived as hunter-gatherers in the forest and witness first-hand their symbiotic relationship with nature. You will learn about what they ate, how they hunted, the plants and herbs they used, as well as how they danced, sang and socialized. You’ll also listen to their fascinating stories and legends and test their bow and arrow skills.

The Batwa Cultural Tour not only produce direct money for the Batwa Guides, but also help raise awareness and generate further income for the general assistance of the wider community.

Read More: Batwa Cultural Experience – Meet the Ancient Batwa Tribe

Bwindi Community Village Walk

Around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, you can also do a community walk through the surrounding local villages surrounding to learn about typical African rural life in Uganda. The village walking tour, you can visit traditional homes, local orphanage or school, community hospital, banana brewing demonstration, tea and coffee plantations, local markets, fish farm, women basket weavers, and even meeting traditional medicinal healers.

Read More: Things To Do In Bwindi Before Or After Gorilla Trekking

Frequently Asked Questions

1. When Is The Best Time Visit Bwindi Impenetrable National Park?

You can visit Bwindi Impenetrable National Park at any time of the year. People commonly come to Uganda for Bwindi gorilla trekking safaris, and sightings are pretty much guaranteed throughout the year.

However, June to August and December to February which are the dry season months offer the best condition gorilla trekking conditions. In the wet season months, the trails tend to be more slippery and harder to hike. As gorilla trekking in Bwindi is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it could be disappointing if it rained on the day.

But, the park guides will go out of their way to make the encounter special, whatever the weather. If it rains so hard, they may decide to wait somewhere for the weather to improve before approaching the mountain gorillas.

2. How Long Is The Drive To Bwindi Impenetrable National Park?

Coming straight from Kampala or Entebbe, the driving time is 8 to 9 hours. However, the quickest and easiest way to get to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is by scheduled flight from Entebbe International Airport, but many people opt for Uganda safari tours by road.

You can also approach Bwindi National Park from Queen Elizabeth National Park or Kibale Forest National Park with the drive taking 3 to 5 hours. Alternatively, you can access Bwindi from Lake Mburo National Park; the drive takes about four to 6 hours.

3. How Much Does It Cost For A Bwindi Gorilla Trekking Tour?

The Bwindi gorilla trekking permit price is currently US$700 for a foreign nonresident, US$600 for a foreign resident, and UGX 250,000. Although this might seem expensive, it is a bargain compared to what the same activity costs in Rwanda (US$1500), which is the other popular country where these gentle giants can be observed in their natural habitat.

The price for a three-day road trip from Entebbe/Kampala, including a Bwindi gorilla trek, accommodation and transport, starts at around US$1250. A similar three-day fly-in gorilla safari starts at about US$2600.

Three days is the minimum time required to travel from Entebbe or Kampala to Bwindi to trek for gorillas. However, I would, recommend spending more time in Uganda as there a variety of other things to see and do. The price for 5 Day Uganda Safari including gorilla and chimpanzee trekking start at around US$1600 and 7 days Uganda tours (including gorilla trekking) start at around  US$2000.”

A unique activity offered in Bwindi Impenetrable National park only is the Gorilla Habituation Experience. One semi-habituated gorilla family can be trekked by a limited group of 4 visitors daily, who can stay for 4 hours with gorillas. Viewing is less easy because these gorillas prefer to keep their distance since they are not yet fully habituated. This special adventure cost US$1500.

4. How Much Time Do I Get With The Gorillas in Bwindi?

You get to spend one hour with the gorillas. Gorilla trekking in Bwindi is a morning activity and it can take any time from 2 to 7 hours to find the mountain gorillas.

Once your group gets close to the gorillas, you’ll regroup and leave some of your belongings with the trackers who will stay behind. You then get in close for the actual seeing of the gorillas. The guide will facilitate viewing during that time by getting you in good positions to take photos and by moving you around the family of gorillas to try to see different members of the family, including the Silverback.

5. Are Mountain Gorillas Aggressive?

Mountain gorillas are often referred to as gentle giants. They are not at all aggressive. The only reason you can approached closely on foot is because they lack aggression. If they were aggressive, their massive size would make them too dangerous to be close to. However, males especially Silverbacks may sometimes show aggression to other male gorillas and they can at times fight.

These fights for dominance typically result in a male departing the family or a family splitting up, but rarely a fight can result in death. A gorilla may occasionally mock charge guests, but this has never led to actual injury. Before heading off for the gorilla trekking adventure, you’ll get a full briefing, including what to do in case a mountain gorilla approaches you or shows any sign of aggression.

You’ll be totally safe if you follow the instructions of your guide.

6. Are Bwindi Hiking Trails In Good Condition?

The mountains gorillas of Bwindi move around freely and they do not stick to any trails. So, your trekking guide will take you on the area in Bwindi forest to get you in the general vicinity of a gorilla family first.

When you get closer, you will possibly have to leave the trail and follow the guide and trackers while they make their way through forest undergrowth. They will try to find the easiest way through for you and they’ll use machetes to clear branches along the way.

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is aptly named and vegetation tends to be very thick. Even the actual trails can be quite overgrown. In addition, the trails might be slippery when it rains. It is advised that you hire a porter who will not only carry your bag but also assist you along the trek.

7. Are Gorilla Sightings Guaranteed In Bwindi?

Mountain Gorillas roam freely through their territory and it can be tricky to find them sometimes. During the briefing you will be given by the head ranger before you begin any Bwindi gorilla trekking tour, you are rightly warned that sightings are not guaranteed.

But, in recent years, the success rate has been 100%, so you can assume you’ll get to see the mountain gorillas. The only reason some people don’t succeed is if they are not physically up to it and decide to turn back.  

8. What Fitness Is Required For Gorilla Trekking Bwindi?

You will need to be reasonably fit for gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. If you are in good health and you are used to hiking, trekking, or walking, you should not have any problems though.

As a last resort, you can book a ‘gorilla chair,’ where a team of strong local men literally carry you on your chair through Bwindi to the mountain gorillas. However fit you are, it is always important to come suitably prepared. Bwindi National Park sees high levels of rainfall throughout the year. So, you need waterproof clothing and good hiking shoes.

Strong gardening gloves are not essential, but you are advised to come with them to protect your hands from stinging nettles and when supporting yourself on branches. A good walking stick always helps on the slippery slopes. You might be offered a wooden stick at the park. Also porters are available at the trail head.

9. What Are The Best Bwindi Lodges?

There are many Uganda safari lodges and camps in or near Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. When you are choosing where to stay in Bwindi, it is important to understand there are four different sectors in the park: Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga and Nkuringo as discussed above. These four sectors act as destinations from which the trekking to different gorilla families commences. When booking a gorilla trekking permit for Bwindi, you book for a specific sector.

It makes sense to select accommodation at the sector you will be departing from. This is because the drive from one sector to another is long and the gorilla trek starts early in the morning. Keeping location in mind, there are many good lodges to choose from, including:

  • Buhoma Lodge
  • Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp
  • Volcanoes Bwindi Lodge
  • Mahogany Springs
  • Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge
  • Chameleon Hill Lodge
  • Mutanda Lake Resort
  • Gorilla Mist Camp
  • Agandi-Uganda Eco-Lodge
  • Ichumbi Gorilla Lodge
  • Trekker’s Tarven Cottages

10. Can I Add Bwindi Gorilla Trekking To A Safari?

It is very easy to add your Bwindi gorilla trekking tour in Uganda to a general Kenya safari or Tanzania safari.

A short flight from Kenya or Tanzania gets you to Entebbe, a leafy town on the shore of Lake Victoria – Africa’s largest lake in Uganda. From here drive or fly to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

While gorilla trekking fits into the East African safaris, you can also slot it into a Uganda safari holiday. The highlights of best safari tours in Uganda packages include Bwindi for gorilla trekking, Kibale National Park for chimpanzee trekking and Queen Elizabeth National Park for a classic wildlife safari in the savannah and the possibility to see tree-climbing lions.

Also Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary to track wild white rhinos on foot and Murchison Falls National Park for a boat trip on the Nile and more general wildlife game viewing.