Safari Guide To Buhoma Sector, A Town In The North Of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Where Gorilla Tourism Started in Uganda.
Buhoma sector, located in the northern section of the park, is one of the four sectors on the borders of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, where tourists start daily gorilla trekking excursions to see mountain gorillas in their natural cradle. It’s also the first trailhead Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) ever established, attracting enormous numbers of tourists that have turned the small village trading center into a vibrant town.
Mountain Gorillas exist in two isolated subpopulations in East-Central Africa, surrounded by a human matrix of cultivated highlands and village settlements. The southern subpopulation resides in the Virunga Mountains, approximately 451 km² that straddles the DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda borders. Each of these countries manages designated protected areas in this tri-national habitat: Virunga National Park, Volcanoes National Park, and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, respectively.
About 25 km to the north, the second subpopulation occupies Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in southwestern Uganda and the contiguous Sarambwe Nature Reserve (SNR, 9.8 km²) in DRC. UWA, the managing body, divided the 331 sq km Bwindi Impenetrable National Park into four sections based on the location of habituated gorilla families to provide tourists easy access to visit them. The fours sections include Ruhija, Rushaga, Nkuringo, and Buhoma Sectors.
When Bwindi was gazetted as a conservation park in 1991, the Uganda Wildlife Authority strategically set up the park’s headquarters at a small Buhoma village to network conservation services all over Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Today, all park activities in this park section, including gorilla trekking, start at Buhoma trailhead, where activity briefing occurs before entering the UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site.
Buhoma sector is the first trailhead to open gorilla trekking in Uganda back in 1993 with one gorilla family, which heralded a new era for this little previously unknown trading center. Gorilla tourism created all kinds of jobs for the communities around the misty jungles. It attracted infrastructure investors to change the face of Buhoma from a trading center to Uganda’s premier gorilla town.
Today, the Buhoma sector boasts of some of the most exquisite wilderness safari retreats in the country, and even mountain gorillas like to walk out of their cold jungle to taste the luxurious plants in Buhoma’s tastefully decorated camps and gaze at the smiley visitors that flock in from all corners of the world with weird toys.
In this post, we’re taking you through all you need to know about visiting the Buhoma sector as a tourist, the mountain gorillas in this section of the park, how to get there and see them, where to stay, and everything else that’s interesting enough to book a Uganda gorilla safari.
Buhoma Safari Guide
- Gorilla Trekking in Buhoma Sector
- Gorilla Groups in Buhoma Sector
- Where To Stay in Buhoma
- What Else, Other Activities in Buhoma
- How To Get To Buhoma
Gorilla Trekking in Buhoma Sector
The Buhoma Sector is the most popular trailhead for gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, offering treks to 32 tourists (in groups of 8) per day. Gorilla trekking in the Buhoma sector occurs at a lower altitude (as low as 1,400 meters) than in the other three sectors of Bwindi. So, trekking gorillas in Buhoma is moderately easier.
The availability of good tourism infrastructures like a range of lodging types and alternative activities to do after gorilla trekking makes Buhoma sector a favored trailhead for gorilla trekking in the Bwindi jungles.
In 1993, the Buhoma sector paved way for gorilla tourism in Uganda, availing the first gorilla family, Mubare Gorilla Group, after a three-year habituation process.
The Sector opened when gorilla tourism in the Virunga Mountains had suffered a massive blow due to civil wars in Rwanda and the DRC. Yet, tourists were taking a rising interest in the mountain primates. The flow of visitors to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park soon contributed to improved tourism infrastructure around Buhoma.
The introduction of gorilla trekking in the Buhoma Sector after 1993 created jobs like patrolling guards, tracking, rangers, trekking guides, researchers, lodging service providers, and cultural entertainers, which in time trickled into creating one of the most vibrant gorilla towns around the protected reserve. Today Buhoma shines with the most developed infrastructure attracting more tourists than the other three sectors in Bwindi that opened about a decade later.
Four gorilla trekking excursion groups at Buhoma Sector set off at 08:00, spreading into the Bwindi jungle to find the four habituated gorilla families that live around the sector. UWA lead guide, after the briefing at the trailhead, assigns each group, one gorilla family. Each trekking group must have not more than eight tourists, and at least two rangers, and a lead tracker guide.
Mountain gorilla movements are unpredictable, so there’s no telling precisely how long it can take to find the gorilla family, but most trekkers take approximately 30 mins to 4 hours. After trekking through Bwindi Forest’s steep slopes and finding the gorilla family, tourists can spend only one hour with the mountain gorillas at a 32 ft (10 meters) safe distance to avoid spreading human disease.
The one hour spent in the presence of human’s closest cousins, in the middle of the jungle and all its natural amenities, is widely held by all trekkers as one of life’s most precious moments.
Gorilla Groups in Buhoma Sector
Buhoma Sector has four (4) human-habituated gorilla family groups available for gorilla trekking (2021) to all tourists above fifteen. The gorilla groups include
Since only eight tourists are allowed to trek each gorilla family per day, Buhoma offers only 32 gorilla permits per day. The section does not provide habituation Experiences.
Mubare Gorilla Family
Mubare Gorilla Family has 6 Members (1 Silverbacks, 3 Adult females, 2 Infants) — updated Dec 2019
The Mubare gorilla family is the first gorilla group to be habituated and availed for tourism in Uganda. The first time a tourist trekked gorillas in Bwindi, on October 13, 1993, they visited the Mubare gorilla group in Buhoma Sector. The name “Mubare” is adopted from the gorgeous Mubare hills around Buhoma, where researchers first sighted the troop.
The lead Silverback “Ruhondeza,” when the group was availed for tourism, was an excellent character around visitors, paving the way to gorilla trekking in Uganda. He had a dramatic tenure leaving his leadership prematurely to live a solitary life (in a nearby human village) until he died of old age at fifty in June 2012. He left Mubare family leadership in the hands of his surviving oldest son Silverback, “Kanyonyi.”
Not long after, in November 2017, a formerly solitary Silverback “Maraya” violently attached Mubare troop and killed “Kanyonyi” lead silverback taking over troop leadership. Kanyonyi had sustained injuries from an accidental fall from a high tree which left him too weak to defend his family.
Most group members who couldn’t stand Maraya’s harsh leadership emigrated, and a couple of infants fell victim to his wrath. Infanticide is a common practice among gorillas, especially when unrelated leaders violently takeover group leadership.
Silverback Maraya currently heads the Mubare gorilla family with 6 individuals, including Maraya, 3 Adult females, and 2 Infants. The group is uniquely known for Single male leadership and strong male intolerance to intra-male competition.
The group’s historical leader (Ruhondeza) was well known for practicing ‘infanticide’ to eliminate the would-be future competitors until aging kicked in. In his older age, some mothers evaded his wrath leading to the survival of only two of his sons: Kanyonyi and Muyambi.
Ruhondeza is decently buried near the UWA main building in Buhoma, and tourists can visit his grave after gorilla trekking.
The Mubare gorilla family is one of the simpler gorilla groups to trek in the Buhoma sector. The troop periodically lives closer to Buhoma park headquarters. However, occasionally trekkers have to labor hours of trekking to find the elusive troop. Gorilla trekking excursions frequently start from the head office —great for trekkers that want to avoid the long trekking hours.
Habiyanja Gorilla Group
Habinyanja Gorilla Group has 18 Members (1 Silverbacks, 4 Adult females, 4 Blackbacks, 4 Sub-adult females, 3 Juveniles, and 1 Infant) — updated Dec 2019
Habinyanja gorilla family is the second group available for gorilla trekking (1999) in the Buhoma sector of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. It is currently (2021) under the leadership of dominant Silverback Makara.
The name “Habinyanja” means ‘near the swamps’ in the local Rukiga dialect. The name is adopted from the swamp ponds in Bwindi, where researchers first sighted the gorilla troop.
The group initially had 30 members under the powerful leadership of ‘Mugurusi.’ However, in February 2002, it split into two to form another troop called the Rushegura group in Buhoma Sector. The group currently has 18 individuals, including; 1 Silverbacks, 4 Blackbacks, 4 Adult females, 4 Sub-adults, 3 Juveniles, and 1 Infant.
Habinyanja group is uniquely known for ranging further and colonizing new areas away from its initially known home range areas beyond the Buhoma sector. It is also of the most odious gorilla groups to trek.
Rushegura Gorilla Group
Rushegura Gorilla Group has 15 Members (1 Silverbacks, 6 Adult females, 3 Blackbacks, 1 Sub-adult female, 3 Juveniles, 1 Infant) — updated Dec 2019
Rushegura gorilla family was fissioned from the parent Habiyanja family in February 2002 under Silverback Mwirima’s leadership. The troop is currently under the strong leadership of dominant Silverback “Kabukojo.”
The name “Rushegura” is adopted from a tree species called “Ebishegura,” abundantly available in the Buhoma area where the fission of the Habiyanja family happened.
Rushegura group is popular, with tourists and locals, for foraging closer to Buhoma Sector park headquarters and visiting local community gardens around its home range areas. Its surprise visits into tourists’ lodging fascinate visitors, leaving them with unforgettable memories of beautiful encounters with the jungle giants.
It usually takes trekkers a short walking distance to start trekking the Rushegura gorilla family. However, that’s not guaranteed every day because gorilla movements in the free-range jungle are unpredictable. Sometimes visitors have to drive fifteen minutes, then start trekking into the wilderness to find the group. Nonetheless, Rushegura is the best group for seniors and the less physically enabled to trek in Buhoma Sector.
Rushegura gorilla group currently (2019) has 15 members, including; 1 Silverback, 3 Blackbacks, 6 Adult females, 1 Sub-adult, 3 Juveniles, and 1 Infant.
Katwe Gorilla Family
Katwe Gorilla Family has 8 Members (1 Silverbacks, 2 Adult females, 2 Blackbacks, 3 Sub-adult females) — updated Sept 2020
The fourth and latest habituated gorilla group in Buhoma Sector is the Katwe gorilla family. It is headed by the dominant Silverback “Mahaane.”
UWA started closely monitoring the Katwe group in January 2018 following Mubare lead silverback Kanyonyi’s death in November 2017. Kanyonyi’s death disintegrated the group members to unknown locations.
When researchers discovered that some fully habituated members of the Mubare gorilla family (see above), for example, adult females “Kashundwe” and “Malaika” joined the Katwe group, UWA began the group’s habituation process to maintain continuous close monitoring of the habituated individuals and their new mates in the Katwe group.
The name “Katwe” is adopted from the topo-name of the hilltop, where researchers started the group’s habituation process in January 2018.
Katwe gorilla family group currently (2021) has eight (8) members, including; 1 Silverback, 2 Blackbacks, 2 Adult females, 2 Sub-adults, and one infant.
Where To Stay in Buhoma
Buhoma Sector has the widest accommodation selection compared to the other three Bwindi sectors. All types of visitors have a good choice of staying, including some of the best luxury wilderness retreats, moderately priced lodges, camps, and budget hostels.
Most places to stay in Buhoma are spread over the park entrance and within four square kilometers. Buhoma is the only sector to have a camp built within the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park boundary, Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp.
All the luxury accommodation facilities listed here are a walking distance of the Buhoma Sector trailhead and offer all-inclusive (full board) pricing. They all have the most spectacular views of the Bwindi steamy canopy that will teleport you into African jungle enchantment, especially in the misty mornings and sunsets.
These are the best lodges and camps for a romantic or exclusive getaway gorilla trekking safari in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
- Gorilla Forest Camp — from $415 pp/n
- Buhoma Lodge — from $380 pp/n
- Mahogany Springs Lodge — from $300 pp/n
- Bwindi Lodge — from $800 pp/n
- Silverback Lodge — from $280 pp/n
Mid-range accommodation Buhoma offers comfortable and warm jungle lodging with moderate pricing. Prices include meals and lodge amenities.
- Engagi Lodge — from $235 pp/n
- Gorilla Safari Lodge — $250 pp/n
- Lake Kitandara Camp — from $200
- Haven Community Lodge — from $201 pp/n
Budget accommodation in Bwindi primarily offers only breakfast with just a good enough bed to rest for your gorilla trekking excursion. Usually, the bathroom is shared and has no complimentary amenities. The best of the bunch here is Ride 4 A Woman with private ensuite rooms.
- Ride 4 A Woman — $70 pp/b&b
- Bwindi View Bandas — $80 pp/b&b
- Eco Marvel Gorilla resort — $80 pp/b&b
- Gorilla Friends Lodge — $30 pp
What Else, Other Activities in Buhoma
After gorilla trekking in Buhoma, there’s more other interesting stuff to keep a traveler busy like nature hiking, forest walks, cultural visits, biking, and birding, among the many. Most of these activities are offered by premier lodges and camps in Buhoma. Let’s take a look at some things to keep you busy around Buhoma.
Mountain Biking Trails
Mountain biking tours in the Buhoma sector start at 08:00 and follow an 8 mi (13 km) well-maintained trail from the park headquarters to the Ivy River through the pristine Bwindi jungle.
Along the Ivy cycling trail, one may catch sight of some of the magnificent Bwindi forest inhabitants like bushbuck, black-and-white colobus, chimpanzee, forest elephant, and red-tailed monkey.
Buhoma Community Rest Camp organizes the six to seven-hour round trip under the “Ride for a Woman“ community development initiative. Well-maintained mountain bikes are available with an expert guide and ranger from UWA offices for your security inside the protected jungle.
The 2-hour village trail is an alternative biking trail to the Ivy trail. It passes through local villages, visits a local crafts center, a school, and Batwa tribes village, then back to Ride 4 A Woman campus. The village trail is great to learn about the cultures and community life of the local people that live around the Buhoma Sector.
Nature Walking Trails
Ivy River Trail
Nature walks start at the park headquarter in Buhoma and take the 8 mi (13 km) Ivy River trail to the Ivy river and back. The trail follows a seemingly paved road that was abandoned in the ’80s for unexplained reasons. The trail is approximately an 8-hour walk.
The path is averagely flat with no significant uneven terrain. You will encounter some famous forest inhabitants like primates, various bird species, and hundreds of butterfly species.
The trail continues uphill from the Ivy river to Nteko and then Nkuringo Sector. It’s what locals use between Nkuringo and Buhoma villages. Nkuringo Walking safaris, a premier active safaris operator in Uganda, operates the Ivy trail with a professional birder and guide.
Kashasha River Trail
A much odious nature walking trail famous for bird watching and hiking enthusiasts is the Kashahsa River trail. It is a 10-hour challenge branching off in the middle of the Ivy trail to descend downhill to the Kashasha River. It’s also very famous with tourists heading to Nkuringo Sector and shorter if they’re not heading back to Buhoma.
Bwindi is an ideal home for various birds, with 350 species recorded, including 23 endemics (90% of all Albertine Rift endemics) such as the Short-tailed Warbler and Blue-headed Sunbird well as seven IUCN red data listed species. A nature walk on one of these Bwindi trails could reveal over 150 unique bird species.
Other enriching nature walking trails around Buhoma Sector include:
Muzubijiro loop trail—offers stunning views of the Bwindi forest canopy, the Virunga Mountains range, and the Western Rift Valley stretch.
Rushura trail— takes about 3 hours with distant views of Lake Edward, Lake George, the Rwenzori Mountains range, and the Virunga Mountain Range.
Munyanga waterfall trail—nature enthusiasts can embark on a 3-hour discovery journey, traversing through the unique UNESCO World Heritage Site, along a winding trail framed by exotic, emerald vegetation to reveal the sparkling Munyaga Waterfall spectacle.
Lazily hiking through evergreen and montane marshes that intertwine across the lush forest floor, the Munyanga trail leads you to enchanting forest falls, booming out a thunderous roar of pristine river water crushing against crying rocks. With the exquisite verdant terrain, this waterfall is truly a sight to behold. Prolific with birds, the cacophony of chatter, and the cascading falls is a magnificent sound.
Waterfall trail—very popular with Buhoma visitors, the waterfall trail leads to three beautiful waterfalls, Ruizi, Muzabajirro, and Rushura, some of the most serene spots in the entire Bwindi jungle.
Bird Watching in Buhoma
Buhoma Sector offers a fantastic birdwatching foray through the ancient Bwindi Impenetrable rainforest, known for the best montane-forest birdwatching in Africa. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is home to 350 species, of which 14 exist nowhere else in the country. Birders will be delighted ticking off their list on a 3-4 hour birding excursion hosted by an expert guide.
When strolling along the Buhoma Waterfall Trail, Ivy River Trail, Kashasha River Trail, or any of the Water Trails, look out for the White-tailed Ant Thrush and dapper francolin, the splendid Black Bee-eater, Yellow-eyed Black and African Sooty Flycatchers along the green bamboo zone.
Gaze up at the treetops and keep your binoculars handy to spot the Short-tailed Warbler and Blue-headed Sunbird as well as the African Green Broadbill and Shelley’s Crimsonwing.
Batwa Cultural Trail
The Batwa people are a small hunter-gather tribe that lived in the Bwindi Forest wild for thousands of years before it was gazetted into a National Park. If your senses get tickled by cultural encounters, a full-day adventure hike through the forest to a Batwa settlement will get your adrenaline wormed up.
In a Batwa pygmy home, you’ll observe how the ancient tribal women prepare, cook, and serve a traditional meal—living in an abundantly rich forest for thousands of years curved out some medical experts that you’ll engage and learn about the medicinal properties of ancients forest flora.
A cultural visit becomes stale when there’s no entertainment. Fortunately for you, the little forest keepers know how to sing, jump and dance. After a warm welcome from the village chief, you’ll listen to ancient legends as were told ages ago. Lively music performances will transport you into a special connection with the African forest people.
You’ll learn about the Batwa’s fascinating forest life, from religion to foraging and hunting techniques, and interact face-to-face with old tribesmen, women, and children.
Foraging under the primeval jungle canopy and gathering plants for both food and medicinal purposes, the Batwa pygmy people have a symbiotic relationship with the mountain rainforest wild. The Batwa Cultural Trail is an incredible opportunity to experience the African forest through their eyes.
How To Get To Buhoma
Buhoma Sector is located in the northern part of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, in southwestern Uganda at the Edge of the Albertine Rift. A few Kilometers from the DRC Congo border in the west and about 65 km (40 mi) from Queen Elizabeth National Park. Buhoma’s map coordinates are 0°59’16.5″S 29°36’56.3″E.
Entebbe – Mbarara – Ntungamo – Rukungiri – Kihihi Route
The Entebbe, Mbarara, Ntugamo, Kihihi route is about 292 mi (471 km), a 9-hour drive with the last almost 89 mi (144 km) to Buhoma on a dirt road. You will definitely need a 4×4 truck during the rainy seasons. However, this is the most preferred and quickest route to Buhoma.
Entebbe – Kabale – Kanungu – Buhoma Route
The Entebbe, Kabale, Kanungu, Buhoma route is a 331 mi (533 km) rides from the International Airport that takes about 10 hours to drive. 74 mi (120 km) of the route from Kabale to Buhoma is on a dirt road for a 3-hour drive.
Entebbe – Kabale – Ruhija – Buhoma Route
An alternative route to Kanungu is the Kabale-Ruhija-Buhoma route that is longer than all the other three routes. 346 mi (558 km) from Entebbe, approximately 11 hours drive, and about 74 mi (120 km) on a dirt road from Kabale-Kisoro road to Buhoma Sector.
Kasese – Ishasha Sector (QENP) – Buhoma Route
Buhoma is about 42 mi (68 km) from Ishasha Sector (Queen Elizabeth Nationa Park) and about 81 mi (131 km) drive from Kazinga Channel. It takes about 4 hours to cross QENP to Buhoma on a paved dirt road. This road is for 4×4 cars only.
Kigali – Buhoma Route
Coming from Kigali through Gatuna-Kabale or Cyanika-Kisoro is a simpler route compared to Entebbe – Buhoma route. It’s about a 6-hour drive for approximately 142 mi (230 km) either way. However, the two borders are unpredictable and could close anytime. Make sure you talk to your Uganda safari operator before you chose this route.
Transport To Buhoma
Public transportation is readily available between Entebbe and any big town before Buhoma, like Kabale, Kisoro, Nutugamo, and Kihihi. Public transport is on remote roads to Buhoma will be challenging for any budget traveler or backpacker. One may need to hire a ‘special hire taxi,’ ‘Boda boda’ bike, or hitch with the occasionally available shared taxi from these towns. A bus ridge to any of these towns costs about $20.
Hiring a 4×4 Safari Car
There are many travel companies in Entebbe and Kampala hiring self-drive and managed 4×4 safari cars to Buhoma. A self-drive 4×4 vehicle costs about $80 – $200 per day, and one with a driver/guide costs $150 – $300 per day.
The nearest access airstrip to Buhoma Sector is Kihihi Airstrip, up north about 27 mi (44 km) by dirt road from Buhoma. It’s about one hour’s drive, and flights from Entebbe to Kihihi take just about the same time. Aerolink operates scheduled and chartered flights between Entebbe and Kihihi.
The other flight commercial flights access is through Kisoro Airstrip, south of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Kisoro Town. Charted and scheduled flights between Entebbe and Kisro take about an hour, and the drive from Kisoro is about 4 hours for 74 mi (120km).
A scheduled flight between Kihihi or Kisoro Airstrips and Entebbe costs about $180 per person on a small plane. Your booked lodge will most probably be able to pick you from the airstrip, inclusive of your room fee, if not for a transfer fee of $50 – $100.
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