Bwindi Impenetrable NP is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is the best place in Uganda to track mountain gorillas. The park protects around 40% of the world’s mountain gorilla population and has several habituated groups. The forest is also a bird-watcher’s paradise with 350 species recorded, including many Albertine Rift endemics.
The main attraction in Bwindi is its mountain gorillas. Of its population of approximately 400 individuals, more than a hundred are habituated. Bwindi has more than 120 mammal species, but most of these are small forest creatures. An elephant is present, although they are rarely seen. More regularly encountered are bushbuck and several types of duikers.
Bwindi contains a huge number of threatened species and is therefore considered a hotspot in conservation. Butterflies are something of a specialty, with an impressive list of 220 species, of which three only occur in the park. Bwindi is home to ten primate species including the rare l’Hoest’s monkey and black-and-white colobus. Chimpanzees are present but not habituated and therefore rarely seen.
Rainfall is the main factor to consider when deciding the best time for gorilla trekking. Heavy rains result in slippery and challenging hiking trails. It can rain at any time of the year, but June to August and December to January have less rain and are therefore considered the best time to go. The park stays open throughout the year.
Bwindi should be on every birder’s itinerary. The park offers some of the best montane-forest (mountain-forest) bird watching in Africa. There are an estimated 350 bird species, with 14 not recorded anywhere else in Uganda. There are 23 birds unique to the Albertine Rift (which is 90% of all Albertine Rift endemics) including Neumann’s warbler and blue-headed sunbird. Migratory birds are present from November to April.
The birdlife in Bwindi is good year-round, but at its best in March and September. June and July have the least rain while March to mid-May has the most. Heavy rains might interfere with your bird-watching time. The main nesting season is in May and June, with food being abundant from late May through September. Migratory birds, though not a significant part of Bwindi’s attraction to birders, are present from November to April.
Bwindi is open for gorilla trekking all year long, but the best times to go are from June to August and December to February. At these times, the forest trails are drier and therefore less slippery. Also, your chance of a dry gorilla viewing experience is higher during these months. This might result in a better experience and photography will be easier.
Bwindi has a wet, yet mild, climate. Temperatures remain consistent year-long due to its short distance from the equator. Daytime temperatures of around 23°C/73°F are usual, with a significant drop at night to around 11°C/52°F. Bwindi receives a lot of rain throughout the year. The months of June and July receive the least rain. From March to May and October to November the rainfall is highest. Waterproof clothing and hiking shoes are essential.
Dry seasons – June to August and December to February
June, July & August – June and July are the driest months, but it can still rain. By August the rains start to increase. The average temperatures range from 23°C/73°F in the afternoon to 11°C/52°F in the morning. It gets even colder at higher altitudes.
December, January & February – A short drier spell, but rainfall can occur at any time. The rains slow by December and increase in February. Daytime temperatures average around 24°C/75°F, with morning temperatures around 11°C/64°F.
Wet seasons – March to May and September to November
March, April & May – Rainfall increases and usual peaks in April. Navigating the road to Bwindi can become difficult, so a 4×4 is essential. The forest trails become slippery and more difficult to hike. Daytime temperatures average around 23°C/73°F, with morning temperatures around 12°C/54°F.
September, October & November – These months are wetter, with October and November experiencing high rainfall. Sometimes it drizzles continuously for days. Daytime temperatures are around 23°C/73°F. Forest trails can become slippery after rains.
There are four discrete trailheads for gorilla trekking in Bwindi. These are Buhoma and Ruhija in the north, and Rushaga and Nkuringo in the south. They are several hours apart by road. I visited as part of a Ugandan tour, Buhoma, the main gorilla trekking trailhead, can be reached from Queen Elizabeth NP in two to three hours (from the Ishasha sector) or five to six hours (from more northerly sectors). It is five to seven hours by road from Lake Mburo NP to the various trailheads. If coming straight from Entebbe or Kampala, the trip by road will take about eight to ten hours. During the rainy season, travel by 4WD vehicle is necessary for some trailheads. Bwindi can also be reached by a scheduled or chartered flight. Kihihi is the closest airport to the Buhoma and Ruhija trailheads, Kisoro for the more southerly Rushaga and Nkuringo.
Entebbe International Airport (EBB) is where most visitors enter the country. It is about 46km/29mi from the capital city of Kampala. It is possible to fly by a domestic carrier from Entebbe or Kampala (Kajjansi Airfield) to Kihihi or Kisoro near Bwindi. Chartered flights to Bwindi can also be booked.
In our opinion, Bwindi is comparable to most parks and reserves, in that you can visit it safely. The list of people whom you will encounter includes a staff of parks, camps, and tour operators, as well as other tourists such as yourself.
It is advised that you take measures against malaria, as well as have certain vaccinations, which your local doctor or travel clinic can administer. You can protect yourself from malaria risk by using a mosquito repellent (those containing DEET are most effective), covering up in the evening and by taking antimalarial medication.
There is always potential for danger when you are close to wildlife, but these risks can be limited greatly by following your guide’s safety instructions and by being aware of the ‘Gorilla Trekking Safety
Gorilla trekking is considered very safe. Dangerous incidents are virtually unheard of. Visitors are taken to habituated gorilla troops by experienced park rangers. These gorillas see people every day and they’ve learned that people are no threat to them. They mostly ignore humans although young gorillas might sometimes show some curiosity.
Mountain gorillas are, in essence, gentle giants. They show little aggression toward each other and their overall vibe is very peaceful.
Always follow your guide’s instructions and guidelines.
Stay together as a group with your guide.
Always keep the recommended distance (at least 7m / 23 ft). Wait for your guide’s instruction if a gorilla approaches you.
In the rare occasion of a gorilla charging, crouch down slowly, look down and wait for further instruction from your guide.
Never look a gorilla in the eyes.
Don’t make any quick movements and keep your voice down.
Never block the path of gorillas when they are walking.
Don’t use a flash when photographing.
Gorillas are susceptible to human diseases. Never visit if you are ill and turn away if you need to cough.
If you need to go to the toilet, dig a hole in the ground and cover it up.
Never take food or drink close to gorillas. You can leave your daypack behind with the trackers when you approach the animals.
Cover your arms and legs to avoid nettle stings and use insect repellent to protect against mosquitoes (those containing DEET are most effective).
Wear a hat, use sunscreen, and drink plenty of water.
Wear sturdy walking shoes, waterproof clothing, and bring a waterproof bag for your camera and other belongings.