Amy Scarth from Big Beyond reveals how to get more from the home of Uganda's mountain gorillas for less
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is infamous for its mountain gorilla population and attracts intrepid travellers from all over the world to see them in the wild. As well as offering the chance to meet these huge and incredible primates, Amy Scarth reveals how much more there is to Bwindi and suggests where you should explore and why you should perhaps stay around a little longer.
The majority of travellers traditionally visit Buhoma or Ruhija in the north of the national park for gorilla tracking. Head to Southern Bwindi for a rich natural and cultural experience that’s a little more off the beaten path.
Campaigned for by the local community, new gorilla families were successfully habituated this year opening up more opportunities for tourists to track gorillas in the beautiful southern sector and more opportunities for the local people to welcome visitors and benefit from tourism. Unusually, the Uganda Wildlife Authority have reduced the price of the permits for Bwindi during April and May 2013 from $500 to $340. Grab that opportunity!
Stay longer, explore and don’t just follow the tourist trail. If you like hiking or even a gentle stroll, just outside south-west Bwindi is a walker's paradise for all levels. Head to Rubuguri and ask the locals how to walk to Nyuru – that means ‘heaven‘ in the local Rukiga language.
You’ll walk through little villages and then up a pretty challenging hill to a peaceful spot, where on a clear day you have a 360 degree spectacle, including sweeping views of Bwindi in one direction, the unique patchwork of farms across millions of rolling green hills, the entire Virguna volcano chain consisting of seven volcanoes spanning Rwanda, Uganda and Congo, plus gaze at Lake Mutanda in the Rift Valley. Take a picnic, chill out and soak up the incredible scenery in this stunning and remote corner of the world.
In Rubuguri ask to see a passionate local youth group called Okatengatenga perform. You’ll get the chance to see the interesting traditional dances from all over Uganda – they’re really excellent and most likely preferred over the typical performances posh lodges put on for their guests.
Okatengatenga are often hired to perform in Kampala, are very popular among the local community too and definitely worth hunting out for some good quality entertainment. After they perform head to the basic but fun Akaanya Pubin Rubuguri for a game of pool with the locals – it’s particularly good on a Friday, which is market day and the little town is buzzing.
It takes almost an entire day to drive from Mgahinga National Park and Southern Bwindi to north Bwindi or Queen Elizabeth National Park because the road passes around the edge. Take a short cut and ask your tour operator to meet you on the other side with your bags! Head to Nkiringo (longer four hour walk) or Nteko (shorter two and a half hour walk) and walk to Buhoma.
You’ll need to pay the park entry fee ($30) and tip the rangers (porters available if you need them). Walking in this direction is more down hill and fine even for moderate levels of fitness. It offers a more relaxing walk in the rainforest than tracking, where you’ll cross a bridge over the River Ive into Bwindi to soak up the forest atmosphere at a leisurely pace.
From Buhoma you can then drive to Ishaha in south Queen Elizabeth (it takes about two hours) to check out the infamous tree climbing lions. Drive from Ishaha through Queen Elizabeth towards Fort Portal and on from there… it’s incredible to see rainforest, great lakes, savannah and the snow capped Rwenzori mountains, all in the space of a few hours. A rich and diverse corner of Africa.
Bwindi’s park gate at Rushaga, where the excellent Nshongi gorilla group is tracked from, also opens up opportunities to see the forest elephants. Remember, there’s also a lot of other amazing wildlife to see in Bwindi besides gorillas. If you like your birds, you can spot the endemic Great Blue Turaco or purple breasted sunbird, red colobus monkeys, rhinoceros chameleons and lots more. There’s also a waterfall accessed from here where you could easily spend the day.
Amy Scarth is founder and director of Big Beyond. She is passionate about inspiring different types of people to travel the world in ways that enrich their skills, knowledge and experience, whilst simultaneously inspiring rural African communities to learn from the visitors they meet, become more self-sustaining and to conserve the remaining wildlife in some of the most fragile parts of the world.
Amy will be appearing at the Telegraph Adventure Travel Show, Olympia, London.
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