Situated to the South-western part of Uganda is the spectacular Bwindi National Park, a home of the critically endangered mountain gorillas. This Park was gazetted in 1991 and covers an area of 33,100 hectares. Bwindi Impenetrable forest is a jungle that has always lived up to its name. The beauty of the natural forest, the mountainous landscape and the interesting wildlife species have made the forest valuable as silver and gold. This mountainous forest offers a favorable habitat for half of the world’s remaining mountain gorilla’s population.
There are 14 habituated gorilla groups in Bwindi National Park whereby eleven (11) of them are open for gorilla trekking, one (1) for research purposes and two (2) for the Gorilla Habituation Experience. The Gorilla groups are found in the four sectors of Bwindi and they include Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga and Nkuringo.
Tracking mountain gorillas is unique in each of these sectors because of their varying terrains. Some of the sectors are very hilly compared to others that are not very steep. Some of the sectors have more accommodation facilities while others have few. The choice on where to track gorillas varies from individual to individual.
This sector is located on the northern-western side of Bwindi and it was the pioneer sector to be developed for gorilla tourism, whereby the first group of tourists visited the sector in 1993 making it the most popular of all the sectors. Meaning the first habituated gorilla group (Mubare) was in this sector but currently there are three gorilla groups in this area. The subsequent gorilla groups of Habinyanja (habituated in 1997) and Rushegura (habituated in 2000) made Buhoma a stronger sector for gorilla safaris. Up to date this sector ranks number one in the minds of tour operators when they think of gorilla tourism in Bwindi National Park. The Park headquarters are located in this area.
Much as there are only three groups in this sector, it is the most popular and the most visited sector. The question of why Buhoma is preferred by tourists and tour operators lies in different parameters. There are numerous lodging facilities (most accommodation facilities) that offer the dazzling views of the forest and are occasionally visited by gorilla groups. They range from Budget to Luxury such as Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp (luxury), Buhoma Community Rest Camp (low budget), Buhoma Lodge (Luxury), Lake Kitandara Bwindi Camp (Mid-range), Silverback Lodge (Luxury), CTPH Gorilla Conservation Camp (low budget), Engagi Lodge (luxury), Mahogany Springs Camp (luxury), Gorilla Resort (luxury), Bwindi View Bandas (low budget) and Gorilla Resort (luxury) among others that make Buhoma the top priority for gorilla trekking.
Interestingly most of these facilities are not far away from the Park Headquarters. Tour operators prefer booking tourists in accommodation facilities that are not far away from the Park headquarters so that tourists can easily be transferred for gorilla trekking..
Also besides gorilla trekking, other activities that tourists can engage in exist and they include Cultural/village walks of the Bakiga and the Batwa, best opportunities for Birding to watch the Albertine Rift endemics such as Handsome francolin and Short-tailed Warbler among others, village bike rides and mountain biking organized by Buhoma Community Rest Camp under the “Ride for a woman” initiative, nature walks and hiking (with 6 well maintained hiking trails to the waterfalls (3), for primate encounters, birding and forest walks).
It is less challenging to connect to Buhoma than the other areas. Several routes can be used to access this sector. The easiest route being from Kampala-Ntungamo-Rukungiri-Kihihi-Buhoma. Other routes include Kampala-Kabale-Kanungu-Buhoma, Kampala-Kabale-Ruhija-Buhoma. Tourists from Queen Elizabeth National Park can easily connect to Buhoma through Ishasha sector (of Queen Elizabeth) via Kihihi to Buhoma. It is also easy to connect with other sectors (2 hours to connect from Ruhija to Buhoma). Even when you fail to get accommodation in Ruhija, you can still stay in Buhoma.
This sector has the lowest elevation (of 1,350m above sea level) compared to the others. This makes it the less arduous to track gorillas. Buhoma sector is also near to other National Parks especially Queen Elizabeth, Kibale and Rwenzori National Parks. Tourists can track gorillas and still engage in game drives by connecting to Queen Elizabeth through the Ishasha sector.
Several community, conservation and volunteer projects exist in Buhoma, reason being it was the first sector to be opened for tourism. They include Bwindi Hospital (for volunteers), Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH) and Human-Gorilla Conflict Organization (HUGO) for conservationists and volunteers.
On the Eastern side of Bwindi is Ruhija, the home to Bitukura, Kyaguriro (gorilla group for research purposes) and Oruzogo group. A total of 16 gorilla permits are sold for this sector per day. This sector stands at an elevation of 2,350m above sea level (1000m higher than Buhoma).Ruhija has Uganda’s highest hiking trail with Rwamunyonyi Peak (highest peak in the Park) being at 2,607m above sea level. Other than Rushaga sector, Ruhija is another sector in Bwindi National Park where Elephants reside. This sector can be accessed from the Southern and the Northern routes.
This area is also ideal for birding because it is the only place where you will find the African Green Broadbill in the whole of Bwindi (can be seen during a 3 hour trail to Mubwindi Swamp). The Bamboo trail is a remarkable 6 hour trail that leads to Rwamunyoni Peak (at 2,607m).Other activities involve local community walks and walking trails to the waterfalls. This amazing sector is also popular for interesting primate species especially the Black and White Colobus monkeys and it is easier to connect to Rwanda through Katuna and Chanika border compared to Buhoma.
Because of only two groups available for gorilla trekking, Ruhija is always less congested (offering a more authentic ecotourism experience) but also not well developed compared to Buhoma. There are less lodging facilities in this area, so most tour operators book tourists in Buhoma but if you want to have more sleep you will have to stay in Ruhija. This is because Ruhija is two (2) hours away from Buhoma but can be problematic during rainy seasons where you might take more time due to the muddy roads. The Lodging facilities in this sector are just sprouting and also range from Low budget to Up-market facilities such as Cuckooland Tented lodge (mid-range), Ruhija Gorilla Mist Camp (mid-range), Ruhija Gorilla Safari Lodge (Up-market), Ruhija Gorilla Resort (mid-range) and Ruhija Gorilla Friends Resort and Campsite (budget).
Several routes can be used to access this sector and they include Kampala-Kabale-Ruhija, Kampala-Ntungamo-Rukungiri-Kihihi-Butogota-Ruhija.you will need 4WDs because the roads can be dusty during dry seasons and muddy during rainy seasons. For tourists who prefer to fly, there are no scheduled flights to Ruhija but instead to Kihihi on Buhoma side then drive for two hours to Ruhija.
Rushaga sector is located in the Southern part of Bwindi and is considered the “World’s capital city of mountain gorillas” because it is rich with mountain gorilla groups. This sector is a home to six (6) gorilla groups where by 5 of them (Bweza, Mishaya, Nshongi, Kahungye and Busingye) are available for gorilla trekking while one (1) i.e. Bikingi can be visited for the Gorilla Habituation experience. This makes Rushaga one of the two famous sectors for the remarkable Gorilla Habituation Experience (GHE).There are also other unhabituated gorilla groups in this sector. However, Rushaga is the least developed sector for tourism and few lodging facilities exist (ranging from unsophisticated budget options to luxury options.
Interestingly, the “Friend a Gorilla” campaign with attendances from various celebrities is also a famous initiative in the Nshongi group.
Rushaga is considered one of the most strenuous areas for gorilla trekking but that is the reason for this place being more adventurous for gorilla trekking safaris. Besides the many gorilla groups, there are several hiking trails through the forest, to the waterfalls and tourists can participate in village walks (to Bakiga and the Batwa tribes)
Though they are few, pleasant lodging facilities are available in Rushaga sector and they include Gorilla Safari Lodge (Luxury), Nshongi Camp (budget), and Gorilla Valley Lodge. The advantage is that these facilities are near the Southern Park headquarters and the briefing Camp.
Located on the Southern part of Bwindi is Nkuringo sector, where the Headquarters of the Southern sector of Bwindi is situated and is the home of two (2) gorilla groups that is Nkuringo group (for gorilla trekking ) and Bishaho group (for the Gorilla Habituation Experience)
Nkuringo was established in 2004 making it Bwindi’s second gorilla tacking trailhead.
Tracking Nkuringo group is so strenuous and needs someone to be physically fit with enough stamina and energy. It is considered the toughest to track of all the gorilla groups in Bwindi and even Uganda generally but very adventurous. The home to this group lies at 600m below the trailhead on Nteko ridge. Being at the ridge top provides a spectacular view of Bwindi Impenetrable forest to the north and the amazing views of Virunga Volcanoes in the South.
Besides gorilla trekking in Bwindi, don’t miss to explore the village walks to the Bakiga community and get entertained with their energetic cultural dance performances and get the chance to taste their locally brewed sorghum beer, cultural encounters such as Nkuringo Cultural Center) and the unforgettable chance to participate in the Gorilla Habituation Experience.
Several eminent and charming accommodation facilities exist and they include Nkuringo Gorilla Camp (mid-range), Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge (luxury), Chameleon Hill Lodge (luxury), and Nkuringo Safari Lodge
In conclusion, with several sectors that exist in Bwindi National Park tourists can choose from what sector to track gorilla from. These sectors have different conditions whereby some are steeper and more challenging for gorilla tracking than others, some have more gorilla groups than others while others have more lodging facilities to choose from. You can make your choice depending on your individual desires but in the end will attain a memorable experience.