Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is part of the Virunga Conservation Area from where gorilla trekking in Africa takes place. Located in the south-western part of Uganda in the district of Kisoro, the park is the smallest in Uganda with a size of only 33 square kilometers. Though small, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is the most scenic and it sits at an altitude that ranges between 2227 meters to 4127 meters above sea level. The park is bordered by the Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda in the south and Virunga National Park of the Congo in the west, all of which make the Virunga Massifs. The park was gazzetted in 1991 solely for the conservation of the mountain gorillas.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park has three extinct volcanoes of Mount Gahinga which has an elevation of 3474 meters, Mount Sabinyo at an elevation of 3645 meters and Mount Muhabura with an elevation of 4,127 meters. These volcanoes have thick forest cover which greatly influences the climatic conditions of the area. The park is home to a number of flora and fauna, but the most unique and sought after are the endangered mountain gorillas and the golden monkeys. The birdlife in Mgahinga is also worth a birder’s notice with a number of the Albertine endemics.
There are not so many travelers visiting Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, thus making it possible for the park to be explored and discovered without much disturbance. If serenity, peace, and quiet is what you are in for then visiting Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is what you should consider. Below are some of the activities that one ca take part in while at the park;
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is one of the four parks in the world that inhabit the endangered mountain gorillas. There are about 80 gorillas in Mgahinga but with only one habituated gorilla family that travelers can track. The Nyakagezi gorilla family was the only group available for tracking in Mgahinga up until sometime in 2019 when the Hirwa gorilla family from Rwanda migrated to Uganda. For the period of time, it will be in Uganda, the family will be tracked from Mgahinga. This gorilla family’s migration brought an increase in the number of trackers that can take part in gorilla trekking in Mgahinga gorilla national park from 8 to 16 per day.
To be able to do gorilla trekking in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, travelers need to purchase gorilla permits that are issued by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) at a cost of $7b00 for foreign non-residents, $600 for foreign residents and ugx250,000 for East African citizens. Tour operators can also book for you these gorilla permits from the UWA offices in Kampala. Gorilla trekking is only for persons that are 15 years and above and only 8 travelers can visit a gorilla family per day.
Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga starts as early as 7 am with a brief by the rangers at the park headquarters of Ntebeko. At 8 am, the trek starts with travelers hiking deep into the forest to find these gentle creatures. The trek can take anything between 2-4 hours depending on the location of the gorillas. Travelers are allowed only one hour with the gorillas.
Golden monkey tracking
Golden monkey tracking in Uganda is only done in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. There is a troop of about 40-60 golden monkeys that are habituated in Mgahinga that travelers can track. these golden monkeys that live in bamboo forest cover have swift movements that though beautiful and good for photos, one has to be very good at it to capture some really amazing shots. Golden monkey tracking just like gorilla trekking starts early in the morning with a brief and travelers are allowed only one hour with the monkeys. A golden monkey tracking permit is required for one to take part in this activity and they can be got from the Uganda Wildlife visitor Centre in the park or have a tour operator purchase them for you. The permit costs $60 only and East African residents only pay ugx40,000.
The park has about 180 bird species that roam around with a number of the Albertine Rift endemics. There are a number of birding trails that are well developed for travelers to follow. With a bird guide and your binoculars plus refreshments, birders should be able to see more than 100 birds a day if they are keen. Endemics like the handsome spurfowl, dusky crimson-wig, red-throated alethe, Kivu ground thrush, Rwenzori turaco, collared apalis, Archer’s ground robin among so many others and a number of other bird species are all that you will be able to see.
With three inactive volcanoes that have elevations worth climbing, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is indeed a place to be. Mountain climbing can be done in any of the three volcanoes of Sabinyo, Gahinga, and Muhabura. The fact that these volcanoes are shared by Uganda Rwanda and the Congo, hiking them, especially Sabinyo that is often hiked by many, gives a traveler a chance to be in three different countries at the same time. The hikes also give wonderful views.
With thick and bamboo forests, lakes, rivers and so many animals and birds, a nature walk in the park is a must-do activity. Taking nature walks are a great way to explore the park and given not so many visit, be sure to have tranquility and undivided attention of your guide who will help you discover Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
Batwa cultural experience
The Batwa cultural experience in Mgahinga is the best one any traveler can have. These former inhabitants of the park shared it with the mountain gorillas and all those animals take travelers through their life back then before they got evicted from there. The Batwa cultural tails will have travelers learning and reliving the way of life of the Batwa, say hunting skills, wild honey gathering, how they made fire from sticks, their medicines from even the most unlikely plants among others. The experience often climaxes with music and dance by the Batwa. The revenues from the Batwa cultural trail experience go to the funding of the education of the Batwa children.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park can be visited anytime throughout the year. The dry season period of June -September, and December-February are the most encouraged as rains seldom rain then. Given the park is a tropical rainforest and with mountains, rains fall anytime and so travelers are advised to pack appropriately.
The park can be accessed by both road and air and by road, travelers drive for 9-10 hours from Kampala or Entebbe through the Kampala- Kabale- Kisoro route. Chartered flights are also available from Entebbe to Kisoro and it is from here that travelers are transported by road on a 14km drive to Ntebeko. The park can also be reached if travelers fly direct to Kigali International Airport and then transfer to Mgahinga through the Cyanika border in a 2-4 hours’ drive.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is a little gem in the south that is waiting to be explored. Be among the few that have to experience this. The accommodation facilities are great and fit all budgets. Reach out to your trusted tour operator to help you plan your trip to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.