It’s tough to describe the feeling of disbelief as you watch a wild gorilla happily devour the plant that, only five minutes prior, burned your skin due to slight contact with its unforgiving leaf. The stinging nettle plant is just one of the reasons for the area’s intimidating name, the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
Located in the mountains of Uganda, this dense tangle of trees is home to many species, including about half of the world’s population of endangered mountain gorillas. It’s estimated that fewer than 1050 mountain gorillas exist in the world. Catching a glimpse of these rare, beasts in their natural habitat is an awe-inspiring experience.
There are several gorilla families that roam freely and peacefully around Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. This is to the credit of organizations like the Mgahinga and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Conservation Trust (MBIFCT), Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), Gorilla Doctors and more. These organizations hire trained gorilla trackers to spend their days finding and staying with the gorilla families. In this way, the trackers are able to study the gorillas’ behavior, condition them to see humans as a non-threat, and protect them from poachers.
Visitors have the opportunity to hike and explore the forest to spend some quality time with these smelly but beautiful creatures. Although the battle with the thick brush can last for several grueling hours, there’s no experience quite like this one. Walking and grunting among the gorillas is well worth the exhausting trek.
All the profits from a gorilla trek go into further research and conservation efforts. Not only will you find yourself standing a few feet away from a wild gorilla, but you will witness the beauty that lives within the Ugandan villages surrounding them. And don’t worry, although the stinging nettle will inevitably get you, the forest is also home to the plant that contains the remedy.
Know Before You Go
Bwindi is the most popular place to trek for gorillas in Uganda. The park is located in the Southwestern part of the country and is one of the most diverse national parks in East Africa.
The permit to see gorillas costs US$700 per person and it permits visitors for gorilla watching for up to one hour. A four hour experience with the mountain gorillas costs US$1500.
Bwindi is divided into four regions: Buhoma region, Ruhija region, Rushaga region, and Nkuringo region. Gorilla permits are issued within one of these four areas for tourists. Within each region is a family or several that have been habituated to humans.
To avoid rain, the best time to visit the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Reserve is during the "cold" season in June through July. It is highly recommended to book your visit with a licensed gorilla trekking tour to ensure safety.
The forest reserve is accessible by either airplane or car. For drivers, Bwindi is a two to three-hour drive from Kampala or can be reached via a daily bus service from Kampala to Butogota by way of Rukungiri and Kihiihi. By air, Bwindi is served by three airfields. Travelers can fly in from Kampala or Entebbe.