A self-drive safari to see mountain gorillas in Bwindi National Park is remarkably one best way one can adventure through this particular part of Uganda. This East African state boasts of its exceptional beauty and Sir Winston Churchill described it as the pearl of Africa. It is endowed with off-the beaten landscape and diverse attractions some of which include mountain gorillas and 10 magnificent national parks where most of the safaris are always conducted. In Uganda, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is one of the 4 exceptional national parks in the world where mountain gorillas are trekked. This park is located suitably in southwestern Uganda along the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This forested park covers about 331 square kilometers featuring mainly the montane and lowland forests. A side from mountain gorillas, there are also other incredible wildlife species worth exploring in this park and they include over 120 mammal species, 350 bird species, 27 frogs, 220 butterflies, 1000 flowering plant species, 163 tree species as well as 104 ferns.
For visitors on self-drive in Uganda to see gorillas in this park, note that treks usually kick start early in the morning at the park headquarters of which Bwindi comprises of 4 main trailheads; Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga and Nkuringo and depending on where your permit directs you to, you join other visitors at a respective sector for morning briefing by one of the park officials. Later, you hit the jungles after you have been assigned to your habituated gorilla family to track. While in the wild searching for these creatures, you are advised to observe the set measures at all times. Treks in Bwindi National Park take you through thick greenish vegetation with unique plants, steep slopes and also via scenic waterfalls. It is a strenuous experience but very rewarding.
Where to trek gorillas in Bwindi National Park
There are 4 main sectors where treks always start and they include Buhoma which features the first ever group to be opened for visitors to track. For visitor experiences, the available habituated gorilla families include Mubare, Habinyanja, Rushegura and Katwe. For overnight stay, the notable lodges include Silverback lodge, mahogany springs, Bwindi Volcano Lodge, Gorilla Forest Camp, Engagi Lodge, Buhoma Lodge, Buhoma community rest camp, gorilla resort and others. Nkuringo sector is comprised of habituated families like Nkuringo group and Christmas. This sector lies in the high elevation. This area is usually considered to offer challenging experiences. The available accommodation options include Nkuringo gorilla camp.
Ruhija comes with habituated groups like Bitukura, Kyaguliro and Oruzogo while Rushaga area features groups such as Busingye, Kahungye, Nshongi, Bweza and Mishaya. The available accommodation options in this sector include Bwindi Jungle Lodge, Gorilla safari camp, chameleon hill lodge, gorilla haven lodge and others.
While on the trail to trek mountain gorillas in Bwindi National Park, you have to follow the set rules and regulations which include among others; only an hour of magical encounter, only 8 visitors are allowed to track only 1 habituated family, a distance of 7 meters must be observed at all times away from gorillas, no flashlight cameras are allowed while taking photos of these large apes, no tracking gorillas when you are sick/feeling ill, keep your voices low and many more..
Getting to Bwindi national park
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is situated in the extreme southwestern part of Uganda and to reach here, you need 9-10 hours to drive from Kampala or Entebbe. For visitors on self-drive tour, this park is accessible both by road and by air. By road, there are many routes that take you here and most of them converge around Butogota approximately 108 kilometers from Kabale Town to Buhoma sector through Ruhija about 3 hours’ drive. For those of you who are will travel from Kampala, you will drive up to Buhoma along a finest road linking up to Kabale-Ntungamo approximately 60 km.
In Mbarara Town or drive from Ntungamo and take the right side 45 km to Rukungiri and then Kambuga to Kanungu where you will finally come to Butogota-17 km to Buhoma sector. From Kampala to Bwindi National Park, it is about 550 kilometers’ drive. If you pass via Kasese/Fort Portal-there are two (2) routes-one which leads you through Katunguru, Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park that also rewards you with excellent views of the rare tree climbing lions and then you come to Kihihi approximately 3-5 hours’ drive. The other route takes you via Mbarara then to Ishaka about 33 km to Kagambe through Kabale road at a junction with Ntungamo to Rukungiri route then you arrive to Buhoma area. By air, you can take a direct flight from Entebbe airport or Kajjansi airfield and you land into Kisoro airstrip where you can connect by car.
When to go to see Bwindi gorillas
A trip to Bwindi National Park to see mountain gorillas can be done at any time of the year. However, it is important that you take note of the dry and wet season-the dry season starts from June to September and December to February and this is normally considered as the best for gorilla trekking. The wet season is equally ideal and starts from March to May then from October to November. The challenge with this season is that it is characterized by heavy rainfall and the ground remains slippery and muddy.
Packing list for visitors on self-drive safari to see Bwindi gorillas
The key items that shouldn’t miss in your packing list include waterproof hiking boots, garden gloves, rain jacket or poncho, long sleeved shirt/blouse/t-shirt/trousers/long pants, energy giving snacks and bottled water, cameras and additional batteries, long socks, day pack, insect repellents, anti-malarial tablets, first aid kit, hat, sun glasses, pair of binoculars, walking stick and this can be got at the park headquarters/lodge, money belt, toiletries and many others.
In conclusion, a self-drive safari to see mountain gorillas in Bwindi is remarkably an adventure of its own. With the above information, we believe that you will have a well-planned gorilla self-drive tour.