Bwindi; Uganda’s Top Responsible Tourism Destination

Oct 4, 2021 4:00 PM ET

Responsible tourism has for a long time been one of the main motivations for some of the Africa tourism enthusiasts. For the case of Uganda, there are a number of places that can be highlighted for responsible tourism. Think of Sipi falls which is typically a community initiative, Kara Tunga among others. 

With Kara-Tunga on the page and Sipi falls, it would be very easy to overlook Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga gorilla national park. But there is no place that has been diversely impacted by tourism like Bwindi impenetrable national park, an ancient home to almost half of the world’s remnant population of the mountain gorillas. Talk of missionary hospitals courtesy of gorilla tourism in Bwindi, and clinics that have grown into hospitals; Bwindi is worth being modeled.

Of course, we cannot say that everything in Bwindi is heading in the desired direction but there is something worth appreciating. In 2003, just after 12 years of the existence of Bwindi impenetrable national park, the Batwa people were gifted with a clinic in Buhoma sector by Scott and Carol Kellermann. The clinic that started under a tree 17 years ago is now having 112 beds and it is one of the largest hospitals in western Uganda. It provides both health care and educational services.

It would be easy to overlook this but there are not many communities in Uganda that actually have a hospital with more than 100 beds courtesy of responsible tourism. With gorilla trekking on the scene, many people have stepped out to offer support thus the growth of what was once a mere clinic into a hospital. Some of these have been just gorilla trekking enthusiasts who upon learning of such community initiatives didn’t hesitate to give a hand that has been the betterment of health care in Bwindi area.

Community centered businesses are also another unique item that stands out about Bwindi making it an ultimate responsible tourism destination in Uganda. With community driven lodges such as Buhoma Community Rest Camp and Buhoma Haven Lodge; you cannot ask for more after seeing that your visit directly impacts the well being of the people around Bwindi impenetrable forest national park.

Although there are many foreign owned lodges, with a proper inquiry with a respected tour operator, a recommendation for different community owned lodges is simply a click away.  Lives continue changing immensely beyond what you can see in some of the remote areas that fit the category of Bwindi’s locality. 

With gorilla trekking as the main icon, mountain biking and the Batwa trails are some of over the top activities to consider along gorilla trekking. The Batwa wilderness experience along with mountain biking are activities that directly enrich the people of Bwindi. Although every gorilla permit has a certain percentage that goes back to the community, its impact is not so much felt compared to when someone participates in either mountain biking or the Batwa cultural encounters.

Bwindi impenetrable national park has for a long time been known for gorilla trekking which some people complain about because of the high permit fees. But once you put on the lenses of responsible tourism, you come to appreciate every beat of your gorilla safari in Uganda. From community inspired lodges to conserving of the endangered mountain gorillas and their habitat, Bwindi impenetrable forest national park stands out as a responsible tourism destination in Uganda.

What is missing is Bwindi’s Responsible Tourism?

It should be noted that not everyone that lives in the Bwindi locality is directly connected to an organized group. There are still people who are trying to earn a living through hunting. In 2020; a young man who was trying to make ends meet during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown ended up killing “Rafiki”, the silverback gorilla of the Nkuringo family in southern Bwindi. Though he claimed that he killed the gorilla during self defense, it was found out that humans still enter the gorilla sanctuary for wild meat! This highlights a larger problem that hunting is still a problem in Uganda’s national parks.

But before we make a case out of poaching, it should be noted that more needs to be done to ensure that these potential poachers earn a better living. If only there is a special direct fee that goes to households that have land around the park, I believe it would help a great deal. Someone will argue that there is already a percentage that goes back to the community, but if you spoke to households, you will be surprised that the individual benefit has not yet been achieved. However much schools have been put in place and hospitals, the individual direct benefit should be looked into also. 

How Can You Be Part Of Bwindi Community Initiatives?

First of all identify the field you wish to support. For instance; schools, hospitals, elderly, PWDs among other interest groups. Once you have identified your special interest group, reach out to the organization that specializes in helping your special interest group to either volunteer or contribute financially. 

Alternatively, look out for a tour operator that supports communities in that area. You can ask for their annual report for their previous contributions so that you can be sure you are dealing with a tour operator who values responsible and sustainable tourism. By booking a trip with such a tour operator, you are sure that regardless of how big their quote is; in the end it will be benefiting thousands of people.

Lastingly, if you are not ready to go through all the above hustle, just consider going gorilla trekking in Bwindi, do a community tour, and buy some of the crafts in the community. You will be making an immense contribution beyond your expectation. But above all be a responsible tourist too.

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