Nestled in the south west corner of Uganda is a world where the trees have grown uninterrupted for generations, the forest floor has seldom felt the touch of a human’s foot and the animals have been free to live in total isolation from the world of man beyond the forest’s borders. The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is not just a forest, but one of the most important conservation areas in the world for the critically endangered mountain gorilla. But what is there to do in the area when you’re not trekking through the thick forest for those elusive gorillas in the mist?
The People and the Culture
The first thing you will notice upon landing in Uganda is the friendliness of its people and this only increases as you get further away from the big cities. The road into Bwindi winds through forested hills and when you come across a village the excitement is palpable. Children run along the road waving and screaming Mzungu (meaning European) at the many tour vehicles that pass through. Upon arrival in Bwindi it’s possible to learn about the local Batwa people who have lived off the land for centuries. There is a 2 hour experience or a full day cultural immersion available to see how this remarkable group live in the area.
The Buhoma community village walk allows visitors to see the village just outside the forest and includes highlights such as meeting a traditional healer and visiting the banana brewery. While you’re in the area a visit to the Bwindi Community Hospital, opened in 2003, is recommended in order to see the great work they’re doing for the growing community and to see how you can help them improve, to further benefit the local people. Alternatively you can just spend a day walking through the village and listening to their various stores if you want a more unstructured experience.
On your way out of the area why not stop in the Kihihi region near the airstrip for Deo’s Model Homestead Tour, where you will learn about how the people live in the region and protect their crops from marauding elephants (with a clever use of trenches dug around their farmlands) or take part in Agartha’s Taste of Uganda Tour where you can try traditional Ugandan food and see how the women of the community cook for their families using local ingredients and techniques.
Focusing on the Feathered Residents of the Area
In the morning you will hear the forest come alive with the sound of music as birds start chirping in the treetops. Across Bwindi Impenetrable Forest there are over 350 species of birds and at least 14 Albertine Rift Endemics that are found nowhere else in Uganda. A specialised guide can take you for a walk through the edge of the forest to try spot some of the colourful plumage the native birds possess or you can simply wake up early with a pair of binoculars and see some of the species on offer by yourself. A highlight for many birdwatchers is the African green broadbill, Grauer’s warbler and short tailed warbler which are only found in the Albertine Rift.
Chimpanzees Swinging Through the Trees and the Forest Walk
Our closest living relative is often overshadowed by the mountain gorillas of Bwindi, but for the traveller with a little bit more time on their hands there are forest walks available. Unfortunately specific chimpanzee tracking is not offered, but many a client have seen chimpanzees on the edge of the forest or along the trails to the Muyanga Waterfall. Keep an eye out for movement in the trees and you may just be lucky enough to spot a chimpanzee as you explore the lush forest.
While on your forest walk look out for the L’Hoest monkeys with their white beards, the extremely shy giant forest hog, the clawless otter and yellow backed duiker and many others animals among the park’s 120 mammal species. Exploring the rivers you may see some of the park’s 27 amphibian species or (for those with very good eyes) one of the species of chameleons which inhabit the area. Bwindi has an extremely high level of endemic species and spotting some of these creatures should be on every keen nature lover’s to-do list. A day spent in the forest is a highlight for anyone lucky enough to visit the area and can be organized with your tour operator before travel or at the lodge you’re staying at.
Butterflies Fluttering in the Breeze
The forest is abuzz with the sounds of birds and various insects, but it is the population of butterflies in Bwindi which truly astounds people. Over 200 species of butterfly can be seen in Bwindi and many a lepidopterist (butterfly enthusiast) has made Bwindi a must-visit destination in order to see some of these colourful insects that inhabit the forest.
Gorillas in the Mist
Would a trip to Bwindi be complete without a glimpse of a massive silverback mountain gorilla? Of course not. Bwindi is one of only two National Parks in Uganda that has a population of mountain gorillas and is a critical conservation area for the species. A gorilla permit allows travellers to see the gorillas for a maximum of an hour from 7 metres or more away. It is truly one of the most interesting and exciting experiences that you can have in Africa or indeed the world.
One of only two lodges within the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, Buhoma Lodge is truly an exceptional base from where you can explore the area. Part owned by Wild Frontiers, the lodge is built from local products and has a focus on being green. The elevated central lounge overlooks the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and each of the private cabins blend into the forest around them. It is the perfect place to stay while trekking for gorillas and exploring the village and forest. Take advantage of our 2017 low season deal running in April, May and June by getting your 4th night in Buhoma Lodge or the nearby Ishasha Wilderness Camp for FREE. You can see the deal here and a glimpse into the lodge here.