Mgahinga National Park is Uganda’s smallest but most scenic national parks. Mgahinga National Park covers an area of 33 square kilometers and sits on a high altitude of 4,127m. The park is found in Kisoro district in the Southwestern corner of Uganda bordering Congo and Rwanda. The park was founded in 1991 to help protect the endangered mountain gorillas. Mgahinga Gorilla Park is known as one of the only four places in the world where gorilla trekking can be done – The others are the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Virunga National Park in DR Congo and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.
The scenery in and around the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is stunning with three extinct volcanoes Mount Sabinyo, Mount Muhavura and Mount Gahinga all having their slopes in the park. The forests provide shelter and sufficient food for the mountain gorillas and other park animals. Although the park is located in Uganda, it is much easier to access it from Rwanda in a journey that takes about three hours from Kigali through the border Kyanika. The park can also be reached by air and road from Kampala. The road journey from Kampala takes about 8 hours while using a chartered plane from Entebbe takes only one hour.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park has a total population of 80 mountain gorillas, but only one gorilla group is habituated and open to tourists – the Nyakagyezi family. The group used to move to Rwanda and Congo but have now settled in Uganda for more than three years. Gorilla safaris to Mgahinga are great because the park attracts fewer crowds. Having one habituated gorilla group means only 8 gorilla permits can be sold in a day. Visitors are advised to book their permits weeks in advance from the Uganda Wildlife Authority offices in Kampala or the Park Headquarters in Ntebeko. A Uganda gorilla permit costs $700 and Habituation at $1500.
Though gorilla tours are carried out throughout the year, some travelers always ask about the best time to visit the apes. However, the best time to visit gorillas in Mgahinga is during the dry seasons of December to February and June to October. During the dry season the forest paths are not overgrown with vegetation and are less muddy. Tracking gorillas in Mgahinga begins with early morning briefing at the only park entrance – the Ntebeko gate. Tourists are briefed about rules and regulations for gorilla tracking.
The average length of gorilla tracking in Mgahinga is less than at Bwindi impenetrable forest National Park because the Nyakagyezi family lives and feeds in a smaller range which is easier to find. However, tracking the gorillas can be challenging depending on the location of the family on a specific day. If they move towards one of the three volcanoes found in the park, navigating through the mountain slopes can become tiring. If you are unfit, you might want to read about gorilla trekking for elders. You will be allowed only one hour with the gorilla family. Use the one hour to take photos and observe the group dynamics.
Other Tourism Activities in Mgahinga gorilla national park
Golden Monkey Trekking
When you reach Mgahinga, you will do gorilla trekking and golden monkey trekking. This makes the primate trekking of golden monkey simple and an active adventure. The activity lasts 4 hours per session and within this time you will take pictures with the primates and later you go back to your camp and lodge. 6 members of golden monkey family are habituated and during the habituation process, they learn to bond with human presence in their sanctuary. You can hike through the bamboo forest and meet the golden monkey. Do not forget to carry with yourself binoculars for spontaneous birding, camera to take photos for remembrance of your memorable golden monkey adventure. Gloves, hiking gear, hiking boots, a long sleeved shirt and a rain poncho and the journey will be interesting.
Volcano Hiking or Mountain climbing
Volcanoes are found in the landscape of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and you can’t miss out this. There are 3 volcanoes and they make part of the Virunga ranges located in DRC, Rwanda and Uganda. Every name given to these mountains has a literal meaning. Sabinyo means old man’s teeth, Muhavura means a guide and Gahinga means a pile of stones. Mt Muhavura is the tallest of these three mountains and when at its peak you will watch Virunga. Mount Sabinyo is a path to Rwanda, DRC and Uganda. The path to Sabinyo is occupied with mushy vegetation and the comfortable way to pass through this zone is by dressing in waterproof hiking boots. To climb Mt Gahinga requires hiking through a bamboo forest. These 3 mountains need one to be climbed each day to reach their summits and this can be done when you’re in good physical shape.
Gorilla Trekking Tours
This is one of the major tourism activities done in Mgahinga. The park is famously known as a home of world’s endangered mountain gorillas. In this park, you can’t miss out gorilla trekking activity. The gorilla trekking begins at 8am and it only lasts for 2-4 hours. Duration depends on where gorillas are located and it is because they move far looking for food. There are few rules and regulations that you should have in mind before you breakoff for gorilla trekking and they will be provided at the briefing time and these are some of the guidelines. Do not come for the adventure when you are suffering cold or other infectious diseases because gorillas too can catch human diseases therefore first wait and recover, then you may continue your trip. You should burry the wastes 30cm deep. Trekkers are supposed to be 15 years of age and a flash photography should not be used. 8 people are only allowed to do the gorilla trekking in the park. On your trek you will have a chance of meeting gorillas but it is not a must you will see them.
Batwa Trail Experience
Mgahinga gorilla national park was a home of the Batwa or African Pygmies before being set as a national park and they were hunter gatherers. They were ejected from the park and there are some of them who stay around the park and they participate by acting as tourism guides and porters. They are given a tip for their guide services. A batwa trail gives you knowledge about the activity and they will take you through their transition and history over time. There is a sacred piece of Batwa known as Garama Cave and is good start to know about the history of the Batwa.
Birding for Albertine Rift Endemics
The park has almost 180 bird species that Mgahinga Gorilla National Park host. Birding is done through the year. You will also enjoy a lot of endemic Albertine rift in the George trail. You will see many bird species like Rwenzori Turaco, Dusky Turtle Dove, Cape Robin-chat, White Starred Robin, Brown-crowned Tanagra, Handsome Francolin, Bronze Sunbird, Black-headed Waxbill and Streaky Seedeater, Kivu Ground Thrush and Cinnamon Bracken Warbler, Greater Double collard Sunbird, Rwenzori Batis, Shelly’s Dusky Crimsonwing, Archer’s Robin Chat, Olive Pigeon, and Black headed waxbill, White-starred Robin, Cape Robin, Western Green Tinker bird, Malachite Sunbird, Brown Woodland Warbler, Striped breasted Tit, Malachite and Scarlet-tufted Sunbirds. You should carry packed lunch.
Hiking and Nature Walks in Mgahinga
Hiking at the foothills of Virunga Volcanoes gives travelers an opportunity to watch Rugezi swamp, forest birds, bamboo forest, wild vegetation and also viewing the surrounding agriculture villages and lakes.
Hiking through the forest towards the heart Sabinyo Gorge gives good birding chances and also an opportunity to see Rwenzori Turaco. The hiking takes 4 hours and goes through the Rugezi swamp where keen birders watch most birds from.
The walk to Congo border goes through various vegetation zones. Hikers view calderas on height of the Gisozi hill, you will also see Bunagana and Kisoro town and also the lake Mutanda.
Accommodation during gorilla trekking in Mgahinga
Finding accommodation while in Mgahinga isn’t a problem. The problem is choosing the right one from the different lodges, hotels and campsites offering budget, midrange and luxury options in Kisoro, Ntebeko and near Lake Mutanda.
Mount Gahinga Safari lodge, Amajambere Iwacu camp, Chameleon Hill Lodge, Traveler’s Nest Hotel, Nkuringo Safari Lodge, Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge, Mount Gahinga Rest Camp, Mount Gahinga Lodge.