Situated in southwestern Uganda, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is one of the four protected areas in the world where mountain gorilla trekking is conducted. It was gazetted in 1991 and it covers an area of only 34 square kilometers making it the smallest national park in Uganda. Sitting high in the clouds, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is a world known national park that was created to protect the endangered mountain gorillas. Though this is Uganda’s smallest national park, it is one of the most scenic destinations in Uganda, the Pearl of Africa.
Mgahinga National Park is the second option for mountain gorilla trekking in Uganda. It is also famous to offer refuge to the rare golden monkeys. The park also features 3 extinct volcanoes that make up the Virunga Mountain ranges. They include Mount Gahinga which stands at 3474 meters, Mount Muhavura at 4127 meters and Mount Sabyinyo at 3669 meters.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park offers refuge to over 80 mountain gorillas. For lifetime experiences in the park, only one gorilla group has been habituated for visitors to track every day. Nyakagezi gorilla group is the only one group that is tracked by visitors on safari to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. The family consists of ten (10) members with one silverback. The troop is headed by a dominant silverback Mark who is famous for its migratory behavior across the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, for sometime the group has settled and can be tracked in Mgahinga National Park. Around May 2013 the group received a newborn baby. Permits for trekking this gorilla family can be booked at Uganda Wildlife Authority offices in Mgahinga National Park located within Kisoro Town.
Mgahinga National Park is situated 15 kilometers by road south of Kisoro district and about 55 kilometers west of Kabale. The park straddles within Bufumbira County, Kisoro district southwestern Uganda. To reach to Mgahinga National Park, you need to hire a four by four safari vehicle. The park is 540 kilometers away from Kampala city centre which takes about 9 to 10 hours drive. If you are in Queen Elizabeth National Park, it can be reached within 4 hours’ drive or from Lake Mburo National Park for 5 to 7 hours’ drive. Alternatively, you can take direct flights from Entebbe International Airport or Kajjansi Airstrip to Kisoro airfield and then connect to Mgahinga.
Things to See
Mgahinga National Park boasts of roughly 39 mammal and 79 bird species. Animals including the elephants, leopards, buffalos and warthogs/bush pig are once in a while seen at the park. However, the mainly notable and prevalent inhabitants of the park are the Mountain Gorillas.
Besides mountain gorillas, the park also comes with other attractions. There over 76 mammal species which include big forest hogs, leopards, forest elephants, blue monkeys, black and white colobus monkeys, the golden monkeys and many more as well as over 115 distinct bird species for instance the whydah, ibis, fire finch stonechat, the yellow vented bulbul, speckled mouse bird, Red throated alethe, Archer’s robin chat, Barred long tailed cuckoo, dusky long tailed cuckoo, the Rwenzori Turaco, Equatorial Akalat, grey capped warbler, Kivu ground Thrush, Banded Prinia, and waxbills and many more.
The park also features the Garama cave which is frequently visited while on Batwa encounters. These caves are a few remarkable historical sites where the Batwa pygmies once lived and fought against their neighbors. This means that Mgahinga National Park isn’t only for mountain gorilla trekking but also for birding, hiking and cultural safaris and many more exciting adventures. The cave stretches up to 342 meters long and 14 meters deep. The site has been occupied by bats but a visit to it rewards with amazing cultural traditions, norms and lifestyles of the Batwa who lived in the forest for over 500000 years and left it without any foot print.
Birds in Mgahinga
With about 115 bird species, Mgahinga National Park is one of Uganda’s most significant birding sites. The birds to identify in this park include among others the black kit, white necked raven, paradise flycatcher, double collared sunbird, ibis, whydah, Ruwenzori nightjar, Ruwenzori turaco, dusky crimson wing, Kivu ground thrush, yellow vented bulbul, waxbills among others.
Things to Do
Gorilla Tracking in Mgahninga National Park
Gorilla Tracking is the most important amazing tourist activity in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. The habituated gorilla in this park is called the Nyakagezi, which consists of 9 members, 2 silverbacks, 3 adult females, 2 juveniles and 2 infants. Gorilla trekking is a rigorous experience that can last a day long. The track guide takes you through the gorilla’s world, explaining at length the genetic and behavioral aspects of the gorillas. Important to note, while you have a very good opportunity of seeing gorillas, succeeding on this is not definite. They are wild animals with no permanent schedule, and finding them requires the skill and experience of the guides.
The trackers and guides have lent a hand in habituating the gorilla groups and are on familiar terms with them closely. They will take you to the spot where they left the gorillas the day before. Prior to departure for trekking, the guides tell you how long the walk may take. As you are walking, be open to ask the guides to un-hurry if they are going too speedy and if you need a rest to do so briefly. Feel at ease to stop and stare at birds or flowers, the guide will make sure that you don’t get left behind. The trekking exercise can be tedious; therefore it is good to have physical fitness.
In conclusion, Mgahinga gorilla national park offers the second option in Uganda for visitors to track mountain gorillas. It is regarded as the smallest of all the ten national parks in the country but its abundant biodiversity is something not to be missed while on Uganda safari.
With all the 3 magical volcanoes that are confined within this park, hikers are never left out. The 3 Virunga Mountain ranges that straddle within this park include Mount Muhabura which literally denotes the guide and stretches up to 4127 meters. Hiking through this scenic volcano can take you about 8 hours. On a hike, come across small shrubs, grasses and rock ground in addition to magical views over the peaks of Mount Rwenzori, Virunga Mountains, Bwindi forest and others. In case of long hikes, you are advised to spend a night at the base camp and you need water, tent, food and sleeping gear.
Mount Gahinga is where this volcano derived its name and denotes to a pile of lava stones heaps around which cultivation is carried out. Hiking this volcano may last you six hours through bamboo forest and rewards hikers with amazing views. The other is Sabyinyo volcano which denotes old man’s teeth and climbing it takes you about eight hours and for those who may wish to embark on a little more challenging hike this is the best place for you. On top of this volcano, you have opportunity to have clear view over Uganda, Rwanda and the DR Congo.
Plan Your Trip
How to Reach Mgahinga National Park:
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is placed 540 kilometres Kampala, the Capital City of Uganda, which is an 8-hour long journey through Kabale to Kisoro district. Once in Kisoro Town, you can voluntarily hike to the park if you are strong enough or hire a cab to the park gate.
If you want to stage a camp, there is more than enough space at the park gate and Mt. Gahinga Rest Camp for ‘Do it Yourself Camping’, besides that, there is also superb traditional Bandas managed by the local community. Kisoro Town is just 14 kms to the gate of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and offers a variety of accommodation facilities like the basic Camp-site and luxurious full board hotels which include:
1. Traveler’s Rest
2. Mgahinga Safari Lodge,
3. Mt. Gahinga Rest Camp
4. Virunga Hotel,
5. Sky Blue
6. Rugigana Campsite
7. Mubano Hotel
8. Community Camp ground with ample space for ‘ Do it you Self-Camping
Gorilla Trekking in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga National Park begins at Ntebeko entrance gate at around 8:00am in the morning. The treks take from 30 minutes to 5 hours depending on the visitor speed and location of the gorilla group. Visitors are always accompanied by a park guide who will be explaining more about the apes and other attractions to visitors in the park. While with the ape, you are advised to keep a distance of 8 meters away from them. Given the nature of this adventure, visitors are required to come with waterproof hiking boots, long sleeved shirts/T-shirts, gardening gloves, bottle of drinking water, snacks, first aid kit, hat, sun screen, camera without flash lights and if it has you are advised to turn it off while taking photos of the mountain gorillas, rain jacket or poncho, walking stick which can be got at the park headquarters, insect repellents, toiletries, day pack and many others.
Best Time to Visit
For lifetime experiences, you can visit Mgahinga National Park for gorilla trekking from June to September or December to February. These are the two dry seasons suitable for gorilla trekking in the park since the habitat remains dry and becomes easier for visitors to track through the thick forest and the steep slopes of the park. However, you can also visit during the wet season. The advantage with the rainy season, there is a lot of food for gorillas to feed on compared to dry season. Most of these creatures are kept within the foothills of the park.