Uganda’s countryside is scenic, lush and hilly, and scattered with expansive blue lakes, misty rainforests and steep, terraced slopes. On the western border, where Uganda meets Congo, is the majestic Rwenzori mountain range where you can summit the snow-capped Margherita Peak, whilst marveling that you are straddling the equator and scattered across the country are 10 national parks, each with their own unique character and wildlife.
ucked away in the corner of the south west is Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park – best known as home to the endangered mountain gorillas – and a gorilla safari trek to see them is an emotional and unforgettable experience. Beyond the gentle giants of Bwindi, however, there are plenty of other reasons to prolong a stay in Bwindi, most notably, by paying a visit to the park’s ‘Keepers of the Forest’ – the Batwa. This pygmy tribe has a rich cultural heritage, dating back 4,000 years and it is possible to discover more about how these primeval forest dwellers live and upkeep their traditions.
The Batwa Development Program (BDP) is an organisation run by the Batwa themselves, which focuses on improving the lives of all Batwa people through education, health, land acquisition and income generation programmes. BDP owns land where the pygmies practice and preserve their ancient traditions, dance and tell stories. And share them. Inspiring Batwa elders lead tours that reveal their use of medicinal plants, their hunting/gathering customs, and their use of tools, which remarkably, remain pre-stone age. Sharpened sticks are used for digging and cutting and arrow tips are just fire-hardened sharpened wood. You might even be able to try your own hand at using a bow and arrow. This hands-on experience will open the door into another ancient world.
Another extension to a gorilla safari is to undertake the Nkuringo Walking Safari – a series of guided walks and trails from one end of the forest to the other. For the hardy, highlights of the multi-day trips include: extraordinary views of the Virunga Volcanoes, excursions in dugout canoes across pristine lakes and past stunning waterfalls, visits to rural homesteads, trekking through banana plantations, glades of eucalyptus and papaya, as well as numerous primate sightings. All of the guides are from the region and will introduce you to the rural fabric of Uganda and the local people, as well as demonstrating the use of some common medicinal plants such as acucia ‘omwitanjoka’ – a cure for poisoning!
On any sojourn into the forest, it’s worth looking out for the 113 species of mammal including duiker and bush pigs, 324 tree species, over 200 species of butterfly, and innumerable birds – in fact, Bwindi is a renowned site for bird watchers.
So, if you’re booking a gorilla safari in Bwindi, consider extending your stay to enjoy a spectacular day or two of discovery and enchantment with your bush-men-turned-tour-guides, and learn about the otherworldliness that still exists deep in the jungle. And don’t forget to look out for forest elephants whilst you’re at it…