Tropical rain forests are diminishing quickly due to deforestation from most of the human activities. On the southern bank of the Nile, south of Murchison falls national park is one of Uganda’s largest forest reserves - Budongo Forest Reserve. The forest is ecologically rich and an important forest in East Africa best known for its Mahogany trees.
Set on the spectacular Albertine escarpment, the forest hosts 9 primate species which are part of the 24 mammal species here. These include 3 habituated communities of chimpanzees in which only one is open for tracking, monkeys, 270 butterflies, 130 months, 360 bird species, and 465 trees. It is a research center for most foresters (forestry practitioners). It has been studied by researchers, the likes of W.J. Eggeling and A.J. Plumptre.
The altitude of the forest is between 1110m and 1590m and is 435km2 in size and stretches to several strips of riverine forest about 100km. The forest is near Masindi town and to its west are Butiaba and Biso fishing villages along with Lake Albert.
A conservation Field Station was found in 1990 by Professor Vernon Reynolds, by then it was Budongo Forest Project after the professor had studied chimpanzees at the Forest. Since the inception of the conservation field station at the forest, research and conservation have ensured sustainable management and use of the forest of which tourism is among.
Budongo Forest Reserve is the quintessential tropical rainforest, managed by National Forestry Authority (NFA). Its valleys resounding with bird songs, calls of monkeys, and chimpanzees.
Activities in Budongo Forest Reserve
Budongo Forest Reserve may not be an ideal Uganda Chimpanzee trekking destination when compared to its counterparts Kibale Forest National Park and Kalinzu Forest reserve but it has 9 primate species (4 less than the species present at Kibale Forest). This makes it worth a try. Chimpanzee trekking is popular and the forest reserve hosts 600-700 chimpanzees. There are three habituated chimpanzee communities Sonso, Waibira, and Kaniyo-Pabidi communities that are open. The first two (Sonso and Waibira) are open for research and the latter is open to tourism/tracking. This is managed by Budongo Eco Lodge and was habituated by the Jane Goodall Institute.
There are other groups/communities that are in the forest but are not habituated though not studied. Therefore visitors can visit the forest track the chimpanzees and other primates. The sessions are done in the morning and afternoon and during the low seasons of November to February and March to June, visitors can engage in the Chimpanzee Habituation Experience. Other primates here include the Black and white colobus monkeys, Red Tailed Monkeys, blue monkey, olive baboon, Potto, forest Galago, among others. It has other rarities like the tree pangolin, elephant shrew, forest giant squirrel, among others.
Budongo Forest Reserve is a forest of great interest to avians. With a record list of 360 birds, some (60 species) overlap from western and central Africa. The best area in the forest for birding here is the “Royal Mile” at Busingiro but also Kaniyo-Pabidi is excellent. The forest also attracts species from the Guinea-Congo forest biome. There are species found only here in East Africa, the Puvel’s Illadopsis and the Yellow-footed Flycatcher. The forest specials include African dwarf kingfisher, Ituri batis, Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Lemon-bellied crombec, Brown twin spot, Grey-headed sunbird, crowned eagle, and White-spotted fluff tail, Plain Greenbul, among others.
Budongo Forest Reserve has a trail system of 115km all throughout the forest that is well developed and maintained. This enables visitors to walk through the forest as they go on their different activities led by guides. Walks last from an hour to four with views of different primates, plants, old trees, among others.
Where to stay in Budongo Forest
Budongo Eco Lodge
This is nestled in Budongo Forest Reserve and is under the management of Uganda Lodges. It has comfortable eco-cabins, dorm rooms, a visitor’s center, and a restaurant. This is the most convenient lodge for visitors to Budongo Forest.
Sambiya River Lodge
This serves mostly visitors to Murchison Falls National park but is on the southern bank of River Nile. It is about 30 minutes’ drive from Budongo Forest and 15 from the top of the falls. If you are visiting Murchison Falls National park and have an activity at Budongo Forest, an overnight here is convenient.
Getting to the park
Budongo forest is usually visited or from Murchison Falls National Park. The forest reserve is 300km from the capital Kampala about a four hours’ drive. From the southwest, it is 280km from Fort Portal and visitors can also fly to Pakuba Airfield from Kajansi Airfield or Entebbe International Airport and drive a short distance to the forest reserve.