Gorilla Trekking in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is one of the unique activities that travelers all over the world seek to experience. Being the smallest national park in Uganda with a size of 33 square kilometers only does not cease to make Mgahinga Gorilla National park the most amazingly scenic national park in the country. Tucked away in the south-western part of Uganda in the district of Kisoro, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park has an elevation of 4127 meters above sea level and is bordered by the Congo and Rwanda. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is part of the Virunga Conservation Area that also has Virunga National Park of the Congo and Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. The park consists of three extinct volcanoes that make the park all the more beautiful, say, Mount Gahinga, Muhabura, and Sabinyo.
Mgahinga gorilla national park can be accessed by both road and air. By road, travelers get transported on an 8-9 hours’ drive from Kampala or Entebbe filled with great views and a number of stops for relaxing. This drive is a good way of getting to know the countryside and the locals who travelers will see along the way. Chartered flights are also available from Entebbe or Kampala to Kisoro but require prior booking. Aerolink and a number of other planes are available. From Kisoro, travelers are transported by road to their accommodation facilities. Mgahinga can also be reached faster from Rwanda- travelers get to fly into Kigali international airport and then transported through the Cyanika border in a 3-hour drive.
Given the high altitude and thick vegetation of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, it is home to about 80 endangered mountain gorillas that have people from all walks of life visiting the park. Much as Mgahinga Gorilla National park is not much mentioned when gorilla trekking in Uganda is mentioned, the park offers a wonderful experience just like Bwindi Impenetrable National Park that most often overshadows it in this regard. Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is possible with the availability of one habituated gorilla group that travelers can trek.
The Nyakagezi gorilla group is the only habituated group in the park. This means that only 8 travelers per day can track gorillas in Mgahinga. As of late 2019, the Hirwa gorilla group migrated from Rwanda to Uganda, thus raising the number of gorilla permits available per day in the park as travelers can track it from Uganda. Given the limited number of permits available, travelers are required to book for the way in advance from the Uganda Wildlife Authority or from Ntebeko the park headquarters. Travelers can alternatively have a trusted tour operator purchase the gorilla permits on their behalf and they find them when they do arrive into the country. Gorilla permits cost $700 for foreign non-residents, $600 for foreign residents and ugx250,000 for East African citizens.
Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park starts very early in the morning with a briefing by the park rangers at the park headquarters of Ntebeko. During the brief, travelers are told of what they should expect during the trek and given rules and guidelines that they are encouraged to follow for their own safety and conservation of the mountain gorillas. Travelers are then placed in groups of 8 and then allocated gorilla groups. The trek itself starts at 8am and can take any time between 2-4hours or more depending on the location of the gorillas. Upon encountering the gorillas, travelers are allowed only one hour with them during which time they can take pictures and videos of the apes as they feed, play with each other and also the groom. Below are some of the rules that travelers are expected to follow;
- Gorilla trekking is for persons that are 15 years and above
- Do not embark on a gorilla trek if you are sick, volunteer to stay back and you’ll be rescheduled to another date
- Do not make noise during the trek and when in the presence of the gorillas
- Maintain a 7-meter distance from the gorillas
- Stay in your group, and do not surround the gorillas
- Do not run or scream should a gorilla charge at you. Stay calm and bow your head in a submissive manner
- Do not stare at the gorillas. Looking them straight in the eyes is a threat to them and they can charge
- Do not litter the park, carry with you all your rubbish until you find a dustbin
- Do not use flash cameras
- Do not eat, drink or smoke near the gorillas. Eating should be done at least 200 meters away
- Do not touch the gorillas
- Should you require to use the toilet while still in the forest, dig a hole of at least 30cm deep and then make sure to bury it well after. A machete can be borrowed from the park rangers
Below are some of the essentials travelers are advised to carry for a successful gorilla trekking in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park safari;
- Hiking boots that are comfortable and preferably waterproof to keep your feet dry when you have to cross small rivers, water puddles or when it decides to rain.
- Long safari trousers
- Long-sleeved shirts
- Garden gloves for a good grip on the hiking stick
- Waterproof jackets or rain jackets
- Waterproof backpack to safe-keep your important items for example camera, phone and the like
- Insect repellent creams
- Camera for photography
- Energy giving snacks and water for refreshment
Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga gorilla national park takes place throughout the year. The dry months of June-September and December-February are the most recommended as the roads are less slippery then. It should, however, be noted that the rains fall at any time even if it is the dry season. Travelers are encouraged to pack appropriate clothing. Get in touch with your trusted tour operator to help you plan a gorilla trekking safari to Mgahinga gorilla national park. You can opt to include golden monkey tracking or have a nature walk included on your itinerary.