Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

A safari to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is absolutely breathe taking where you get to experience life in the wild as you enjoy the beautiful scenes and seeing a variety of species found within her boundaries. It is located in the south western part of Uganda and part of the Virunga conservation region.

Mgahinga is also considered to be the smallest national park in Uganda covering an area of 33.7 square kilometers but its size hasn’t limited it to be one of the safari destinations that you have include on your travel bucket list simply because of a variety of fun-packed activities you will find here. The park was fully established in 1991 with an aim of protecting and conserving the endangered mountain gorillas that had long been poached and their habitats encroached by local tribes found within and outside the park.

Found within the park are the three dormant volcanoes of Mount Gahinga, Mount Sabinyo and Mount Muhavura. These mountains are part of the Virunga ranges of mountains like the mount Bisoke, Nyirangongo, Karisimbi, Mikeno and other.

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is composed of different vegetation types that range from bamboo forests, savannah grasslands, semi-alpine vegetation, montane forests, woodlands, afro-montane forests, swamps and tropical forests. These vegetation types have largely contributed to the rainfall received by the park.

What to see in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

Majority of tourists visit Mgahinga Gorilla National Park because of the fact that its home to the great mountain gorillas, but apart from that there other wildlife species you will be able to spot while on your safari to this particular area. Over 76 mammal species reside here and they include, elephants, spotted hyenas, black and white Columbus monkeys, velvet monkeys, mangabeys, golden monkeys, leopards, patas monkeys, red-tailed monkeys, buffaloes, bushbabies among others.

There over 186 species of birds that can be found here and they include fiscal shrike, crowned hornbill, Rwenzori turaco, White-naped Raven, White Starred Robin, Western Green Tinker bird, Wax Bills, Thrush and Cinnamon Bracken Warbler, Striped breasted Tit, Streaky Seedeater, Stray seedeater and many others.

Other things to see include the butterflies, amphibians, reptiles like snakes, Lake Mutanda and many more.

Activities to do while in Mgahinga National Park

There various things to do while in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and they include;

Gorilla Trekking

This is the highlight of your trip while in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. It is this place and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park both found in Uganda that you can find mountain gorillas. Other places include volcanoes national park in Rwanda and Virunga national park in DRC. Mgahinga is known to host about 300 individuals of gorillas that are free to cross from Uganda, Rwanda and DRC.

Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga follows the same criteria as that of Bwindi where you are required to wake up early in the morning hours, take breakfast and head to the park head quarters for briefing on the guidelines to follow before going into the dense jungles in search for these endangered species. Briefing usually lasts about 30 mins and after that you will be led into the jungle by well-trained rangers who will lead you to a specific gorilla family – the Nyakagezi gorilla group is the only habituated group found within the Mgahinga National Park and comprises of 5 silverbacks, 2 adult females and the three young gorillas. Gorilla tracking usually lasts between 2hrs and 3hrs depending on the location of the gorilla family.

Gorillas in Mgahinga gorilla national park

While in the jungle before spotting the gorillas, you will be able to see several wildlife species like birds, butterflies, primates, insects and many more. Just make sure you have your camera close to keep the memories.

On spotting mountain gorillas, you will be allowed to spend an hour and 7- meters away from gorillas observing, taking pictures of these species and after that, you will be led back to the park headquarters where you will be picked back to your hotel of residence.

Like gorilla trekking in Bwindi, in Mgahinga its also challenging, rough and require some form of physical and mental strength. You advised not to be part of the team that will head into the jungle if you’re feeling unwell.

To go for this particular activity, one has to obtain a gorilla trekking permit issued by the Uganda wildlife authority and it does cost $700. At Vizuri Africa safaris we’ll help you obtain this permit but at a cheaper because of the administrative costs involved while acquiring it like transport to the UWA offices.

Golden monkey tracking

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park also gives visitors an exciting and memorable opportunity to see the endangered golden monkeys. There’s no any other place in Uganda where you’ll get to see these species apart from Mgahinga. They can also be found in volcanoes national park located in Rwanda.

Golden monkeys are small creatures with a bright orange-gold body, cheeks and tail, with black limbs, crown and tail-end with an adult weighing 20 pounds.

Golden monkeys in mgahinga gorilla national park

Just like gorilla trekking, golden monkey tracking starts early in the morning at 8am with briefing. The activity usually takes between 1hr to 3hrs depending on the location of these species. Once briefing is done, you’ll be led into the jungle with the help of a well-trained guide.

Unlike gorilla trekking, this activity is not challenging because golden monkeys spend most of their time in the lower areas of the park. on spotting them, you will be given up to 1hr to observe and study their habits while capturing them with your camera to keep the memories. There’s provision for those interested in spending more time with these species in the wild but that does come at an extra. Permits to go for golden monkey tracking cost $100 and are purchased from Uganda wildlife authority.

Mountain climbing

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park does consist of three extinct volcanoes and a hike to one of the summits is very rewarding but does require some level of fitness and determination.

Mountain Sabinyo which stands at 3669 meters above sea level is the oldest among all the volcanoes and a hike to its summit will take you up to 8hrs depending on your hiking speed. Hiking to the top involves passing through the dense rainforest made up of afro-montane vegetation, steep ridges, rocks and you will be to see some wildlife creatures like the forest elephants, duikers, golden monkeys and several bird species. While at the summit, you will be in three different countries at the same time that is Uganda, Rwanda and Congo.

Mount Gahinga happens to be the smallest among the three volcanoes. This mountain stands at a height of 3474 meters above sea level and hiking to the summit will take you upto 6hrs depending on your hiking speed. Upon reaching the summit, you will get to see the crater lake occupied by swamp.

At 4127 meters above sea level, Mount Muhavura is highest among the volcanoes found in Mgahinga national park. a hike to the summit takes longer compared to the others and that’s upto 10hrs still depending on your speed. During the hike you will pass through dense rainforests made up afro-montane vegetation and upon reaching the summit, you get to enjoy scenic views of lake Edward, Queen Elizabeth National Park, the Rwenzori mountains and more.

There’s provision to hike all the three volcanoes and that can be done in three days but does some physical and mental fitness. Remember to pack some drinking water, food, a sleeping bag and a tent that is if you’re to spend a night at any of the mountain summits. The activity will only cost you upto $10.

Bird watching

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is one the perfect birding destinations in Uganda. The park hosts over 115 species of birds that can be found in the forests, mountains, bamboo belt, the gorge trail and more.

birds in Mgahinga gorilla national parks

Birding in Mgahinga is an all-year success however the best time to go for this particular activity is between the months of April – mid may. There’s also a chance to see migratory birds during the months of the November – April. Bird species that can be seen in the park include the Rwenzori batis, Grey-capped Warbler, Paradise Fly-catcher, blue headed sunbird, Montane double collared sunbird, White-necked raven, Yellow-Vented Bulbul, crowned crane, black kite, Wax Bill, Rwenzori Nightjar, handsome francolin, olive thrush, Western Green Tinker bird, Striped breasted Tit, Streaky Seedeater, Blue-headed Coucal, Rufous chested swallow, Malachite Sunbird, Stone Chat, crowned hornbill, Grauer’s swamp warbler, Pin-tailed Whydah, Cape Robin-chat, brown crowned Tchagra and many more others.

Nature walks

Mgahinga is the smallest national park but with so much to offer to travelers and part of this can be seen while on a nature walk within the park boundaries. These walking trails include forests, lakes, mountain slopes, swamps, rivers and more.

One of the trails along the slopes of mount Sabinyo does give you an opportunity to get close to where  Uganda, Rwanda and DRC’s borders meet. The walk here usually takes about 5hrs and its absolutely rewarding as you will be able to see several wildlife species including the golden monkey. The gorge is also another perfect spot for birding while in Mgahinga national park. species you can see here include; Wax Bill, Rwenzori Nightjar, handsome francolin, olive thrush, Western Green Tinker bird, Striped breasted Tit, Streaky Seedeater, Blue-headed Coucal, Rufous chested swallow, Malachite Sunbird and more others.

While on this trail, you also be able to see the caldera on the Gisozi hill. Once here you will be stunned by the beautiful views of the Virunga ranges and Bwindi impenetrable national park.

The Batwa trail

Your safari in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is incomplete if you don’t get to see the Batwa tribe or the pygmies who initially settled in the park before it was garzeted into a game reserve in 1991.  This group or tribe was resettled in the outskirts of the park and its where they still live today.

Batwa tribe in Mgahinga Gorilla national park

The Batwa trail offers you a chance to learn, observe this particular tribe how they associate and their culture as well.  This trail is led by the Batwa themselves who are well versed with their culture. During the trail, the Batwa guides will take you through some of the skills like hunting, lighting fire, honey harvesting, among others. The guides will also take you to the caves that acted as meeting grounds for their leaders and storage of food. You will get the opportunity to be entertained by a group of Batwa dancers. This particular trail will cost you $80 which goes directly to the Batwa community, entertainers, guides and will also be used to contribute to school fees for the Batwa children.

Best time to visit Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

Tourism in Mgahinga is an all-year-round success however the best time to visit the park is during the dry season which takes place between the months of June – September and December – February. During this time, the park receives less amount of rainfall and the trails within the park are less slippery and dry compared to the wet season which takes place between the months of march- May and October to November.

You can also opt to visit Mgahinga during the wet season because it’s this time that the park is less crowded and most of the hotels in this area offer discounts during such a time of the year.

Accommodation in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

Accommodation options available in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park range from luxury, mid-range and budget.  If you’re going for activities like gorilla trekking that do require to wake up early in the morning hours, it’s advisable to book a hotel close to the park headquarters. Lodges here include;

Chameleon lodge is among the few luxurious lodges in the park. others are mount Gahinga lodge, mount Gahinga rest camp, clouds mountain gorilla lodge, Lake mutanda campsite, Traveler’s nest hotel among others.

How to get to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

Mgahinga is situated 14k from the town of Kisoro. The park can be best accessed using a chartered airplane from either Entebbe or Kajjansi airstrip and it lasts for about 90 minutes.

You can as well access the park by road via the Entebbe/Kampala – Mbarara – Kisoro highway and it will take you 10hrs to complete this journey. Its also a 5hr drive from Lake Mburo National Park situated along the Masaka – Mbarara highway.

Whether you are coming to Uganda for the first time or seasonal visitor, a safari to any of her destinations is very rewarding on top of the friendly people.