Bwindi Impenetrable Forest was set up in 1942, and in 1994 it was acknowledged as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The word “Bwindi” literally means “impenetrable” and this is because it is covered with scrambled vegetation draped over steep and slippery valleys. Amidst this uninviting landscape at Bwindi you will find Mountain Gorillas, and this is the principle reason tourists want to visit this region of Uganda. But how exactly do you get here?!
If you’ve made it all the way to Uganda for the primary purpose of gorilla trekking, you will probably have done your research on Kampala, which will probably be your point of entry (via Entebbe International Airport). Smart-asses may also have crossed the Ugandan border over Lake Victoria from Tanzania or Kenya. Kampala as a city, however, is meant to be for transit (or business) rather than pure tourism, so travellers should perhaps spend a night in a hotel and then begin your arduous journey to see the gorillas.
There is no road transport that can take you all the way from Kampala into Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Your destination should be the nondescript town of Butogota, which is around 17km outside the Forest itself. From here, you will need to hop in a taxi for the rest of the journey.
Several bus companies operate daily on these routes and they include: Post Bus, Gateway Bus Services, Horizon Buses and Bismarkan Bus Company. Bismarkan seems to be most reliable of the lot – that said, remember by African standards that may not be saying much! Whichever bus company you choose to travel with, you should be extra careful with your luggage as thieves are a notorious problem on public transport in Uganda. Despite these risks, though, you should have an air-conditioned bus with fairly good seats and at just 50,000 Uganda Shillings (£10) for the one way trip, you can’t really ask for too much more, can you?!
The bus journey from Kampala to Butogota takes anything between 8-12 hours, and while the roads for the most part are surprisingly good for African standards, there may be occasions such as flooded roads and epic potholes – so prepare yourself in advance! What you may find surprising is that at various times of the journey, the bus will stop at the side of the road and street food vendors will hop on selling their wares, whether it be a bowl of bananas or pastries/cakes of some sort. This makes the journey even longer, and it would be better if there were not as many stops enroute to our final destination, however I guess the vendors are just trying to make a living. It must be said though, that with so many stops on the side of the road, it makes your stored luggage down below all the more vulnerable…
Although the journey to Bwindi is most common from Kampala, some people also base themselves in the town of Kabale south of the Forest, or at Queen Elizabeth National Park to the north. Butogota, however, is the main access point to the Forest itself, regardless of where you are staying or which direction you have travelled from. At Butogota, it is not recommended to spend a night, as there is nothing to see, so a taxi or motorcycle taxi (4×4 in rainy season) is required to make the final trip into the dense jungle so your gorilla trekking can begin in earnest. Typically, you can expect to pay 3,000 Ugandan Shillings for the taxi trip to the Forest entrance.
The first step is to know which part of the Forest you will be visiting so that you establish which direction your taxi must drive. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest has two sections: the southern section and the northern section. Gorilla families that can be trekked from the south include the Nkuringo gorilla family, Nshongi, Kahungye, Mishaya, Bweza, and Busingye gorilla groups in Rushaga. Gorilla families that can be trekked from the north are Rushegura Gorilla Group, Habinyanja, and Mubare gorilla families.
It may cost USD$600 to obtain a gorilla trekking permit in Uganda, but the apes found here in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest are Mountain Gorillas, who are not present in any zoo anywhere in the world (because they cannot survive in captivity), so it is a fantastic opportunity for travellers adventurous enough to make the journey from Kampala!