Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park: Spanning over a radius of 33.7 square kilometers, Mgahinga Gorilla national park is the smallest conservation area in Uganda. It is located in Kisoro district bordering with Volcanoes national park in Rwanda and Virunga national park in Democratic Republic of Congo. The national park mainly dominated by afro montane, Montane forest, bamboo, Montane woodlands.
Mgahinga gorilla national park in Uganda was gazetted as a protected area in 1991 mainly to protect the endangered mountain gorillas which are the most visited attractions in Uganda. It lies at an altitude of 2227metres to 4127 meters above the sea level.
The national park is home to about 76 mammals including the bush pigs, forest buffaloes, black fronted duikers, giant forest hogs, elephants, bushbucks, golden cats, side striped jackals, porcupines, primate like the endangered mountain gorillas, golden monkeys, bird species like the yellow vented bulbul, fire finch, Rwenzori batis, double collared sunbird, blue headed coucal, black kite, speckled mousebird among others.
Mgahinga gorilla national park also hosts three out of the eight volcanic mountains and they include mount Muhavura which is 4127metres, mount Gahinga which is 3474metres and mount Sabyinyo which is 3669metres above the sea level.
Activities in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga Gorilla national park is the major activity offered by the national park. It involves visitors moving to the dense tropical rainforests in search of the habituated gorilla families and once found spend one hour with them in their natural habitat.
The national park is a home of two habituated gorilla families namely Nyakagezi gorilla family which was the first gorilla family to be habituated in Mgahinga forest; and the Hirwa gorilla family which migrated from Volcanoes national park in Rwanda.
Trekking of the mountain gorillas in the park starts in the morning with a briefing at Ntebeko park headquarters. The briefing is done by the park guide who will be informing you about the rules, regulations and expectations during trekking. After the briefing you will be grouped into 8 people and allocated a gorilla group to trek. Grouping of individuals is however done according to age, personal preferences and physical fitness therefore visitors who are not physically fit are advised to communicate to the guides so that they are allocated a gorilla family that is easy to trek.
Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga Gorilla national park starts at around 8:00am with a park guide who is well conversant with the mountain gorillas and trails in the park. During trekking you might be lucky and spot some animals like the bush pigs, buffaloes, elephants among others.
Trekking of the gorillas in the park takes about 30 minutes to 6 hours and when the gorillas have been found, you will be able to spend one hour with them in their natural habitat learning about their lifestyle, habits, behaviors, taking photos and recording the moments.
Visitors who want to participate in the incredible gorilla trekking activity are required to have a valid gorilla trekking permit which costs $700 per person for foreign non-residents, $600 per person for foreign residents and UGX 250,000 per person for East African citizens.
Golden monkey trekking
Mgahinga gorilla national park is the only destination in Uganda that harbors the golden monkeys which makes it unique from other national parks in the country. Golden monkey trekking is the second best done activity in the park and it starts with a briefing at the park headquarters where after you will be grouped into 6 people to trek each habituated golden monkey family. Trekking of the golden monkeys needs visitors to be physically fit in that you will be trekking in steep slopes and takes about 30 minutes to 4 hours depending on the location of the monkeys because they like to move from one are to another in search of food. Once the golden monkeys have been found you will be allowed to spend one hour with them in their natural environment as you watch them playing around in the trees, feeding on stems, buds, learn about their behaviors, take photos and record videos.
Mgahinga gorilla national park harbors three of the eight Virunga volcanoes which include
Mount Muhavura: The word “Muhavura” means guide and the volcanic mountain stands at an elevation of 4127 meters above the sea level. hiking mount Muhavura takes around 8 hours round trip covering about 12km and during hiking you will pass through small shrubs, grasses and also able to view some bird and animal species. When you reach the summit of the mountain you will have great views of the Rwenzori mountain peaks, Virunga volcanoes, Bwindi forest, Lake Edward in Queen Elizabeth national park among others.
Mount Gahinga: The Volcanic Mountain stands at an elevation of 3474metres above the sea level and the word “Gahinga” means a pile of stones in the garden fields. Hiking mount Gahinga takes about 6 hours round trip and on top of the mountain you will have a spectacular view of the Crater Lake.
Mount Sabyinyo: The word “Sabyinyo” means old man’s teeth and this volcanic mountain stands at an elevation of 3669metres above the sea level. During hiking you will follow a steep ridge to the summit where you will be standing in three countries which include Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo.
This is a thrilling activity where you get an opportunity to explore the park on food as you experience the quiet environment, breath fresh air, listen to sounds of birds, view beautiful scenery, landscape, vegetation types, plant species, primates, animals among others. There are various nature walk trail in the part which start from Ntebeko park headquarters such as the Sabyinyo gorge trail, the Rugezi swamp trail, Garama cave trail which is 4km from Ntebeko and leads you to Garama cave which acted as a hiding place for the Batwa and a council chamber. Nature walks in Mgahinga national park take about 2 to 3 hours and offers visitors memorable lifetime experiences.
Mgahinga gorilla national park in Uganda hosts over 180 bird species including forest birds, migratory birds and about 12 species endemic to the Albertine rift. Birding in the park is done during the nature walk where you follow various trails and during birding you should look out for bird species like Kivu ground thrush, blue headed coucal, African olive pigeon, Rwenzori batis, Rwenzori Turaco, olive woodpecker, double collared sunbird, speckled mouse bird, black kite, gray capped warbler, dusky crimson wing, Rwenzori nightjar among others.
Cultural Encounters/ Community Tours in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
Cultural encounters or Community tours in Mgahinga national park offer visitors the chance to interact with the local and indigenous tribes like the Batwa, which reside within the national park. During such cultural encounters, visitors get to learn a lot about the culture, history and daily lifestyles of the local people. Also, visitors are entertained by performances from the locals and told folk stories.
Visitors who wish to go on a cultural encounter in Mgahinga national park will have to embark on the Batwa Trail. Visitors get to visit the Batwa people, who are also known as pygmies. The Batwa have inhabited the forests of Mgahinga national park for centuries, and are well known hunters, gatherers and fierce warriors. Most of these people were evicted from the national park when it was first established. Despite this, they are still hired as local guides, taking visitors through guided nature walks in the dense forests of the park.
Accommodation in Mgahinga gorilla national park.
There are various accommodation facilities available for visitors staying in Mgahinga gorilla national park. These range from luxury, midrange and budget. Lodges in the park include Mount Gahinga Lodge, Mucha Lodge, Lake Chahafi Resort, Travellers Rest Hotel, Musanze Caves Hotel, Muhabura Motel, Mgahinga Rest Camp, Virunga Hotel, Mgahinga Community Camp, Kisoro Tourist Hotel, Heritage Guest House, and Nkuringo Safari Lodge among others.
Best Time to visit Mgahinga gorilla national park.
Mgahinga Gorilla national park in Uganda can be visited anytime throughout the year. However, the best time to visit the park is during the dry season in the months of June to September and December to February. During the dry season there is less rainfall in the park therefore access roads, gorilla trekking and nature walk trails will be passable compared to the rainy season when the trails are muddy and slippery.
Visitors who want to visit during the dry season are advised to book a gorilla trekking permit 3 to 6 months in advance because the permits are competitive and get sold out quickly.
How to get to Mgahinga National Park.
Mgahinga Gorilla national park is located about 15 kilometers south of Kisoro town, and about 55 kilometers west of Kabale district. Visitors can also access the park from Kampala city, which is located approximately 494km using the Kabale- Mbarara road. Visitors travelling from Kampala will have to drive for about 8½ hours to reach the national park.
The national park can also be accessed from Kigali City in Rwanda via the Cyanika border in Kisoro. Travelling to the park by road from Kigali will take about 3-4 hours and about 1½ hours from Volcanoes National Park.