Gorilla Trekking in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Gorilla Trekking in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is top activity done in the park as travelers get a chance to explore the endangered gorilla species. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is Uganda’s smallest national park with a size of 33 square kilometers but with an altitude of 4,127m above sea level. Located in Kisoro in the South-western part of Uganda, the park is bordered by Congo and Rwanda and it has 3 extinct volcanoes of Mount Sabinyo, Mount Muhavura, and Mount Gahinga, sharing the Virunga conservation area.
Although the park is located in Uganda, it is much easier to access it from Rwanda just like Bwindi Impenetrable National Park where the scenic drive to Mgahinga from Kigali takes about a three hours’ drive through the Kyanika border unlike the over 8 hours’ drive from Kampala City. The park can, however, be reached faster by air using charter flights to near-by Kisoro from Entebbe airport.
Mgahinga gorilla national park is one of the four places in the whole world where mountain gorilla trekking can be done from, apart from Bwindi Impenetrable National park, Virunga National park, and Volcanoes national park. Much as trekking mountain gorillas is not talked about a lot for the fact that it is overshadowed by Bwindi Impenetrable National Park which tourists flock, the park is a real gem. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park rewards travelers with both experiential and adventurous travel experiences.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park has a total gorilla population of 80. There is however only one habituated gorilla group open for tracking to tourists- the Nyakagyezi gorilla family. In the recent past, this gorilla family used to move to Rwanda and Congo but have settled in Uganda for the past 3 years or so. The Nyakagyezi gorilla family has over 10 members with 4 silverbacks.
Having only one habituated group means there are only 8 gorilla permits available per day, travelers are advised to book their permits months in advance from the Uganda Wildlife Authority offices in Kampala or from the park headquarters in Ntebeko. Alternatively, you can have your tour operator of choice purchase it for you. The gorilla trekking permits cost is the same as for Bwindi, that is, $700 for foreign non-residents, $600 for foreign residents and UGX 250,000 for the East African citizens.
As of November 2019, the Hirwa Gorilla Family moved from Rwanda to Uganda’s Mgahinga national park. This gorilla family is being tracked from Uganda at the Ugandan set price, not the price that they were originally tracked at in Rwanda. The revenue collected from this gorilla group is shared by the two countries. The length of stay of the Hirwa group in Mgahinga is not known but until they go back to their home, they can be tracked from Uganda.
Trekking gorillas from Mgahinga is less hectic because the park has bamboo forests and has less thick vegetation compared to Bwindi, and given that the park attracts fewer tourists to track the gorillas (only 8 permits per day) the experience is great due to the fewer numbers in the park.
When to visit Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
The park can be visited all throughout the year. The dry months of June to September and from mid-December to February are the advisable months to visit not only because the rains are less likely to fall and disrupt or make the activities gorilla trekking harder, but also the forest paths are not overgrown with vegetation.
Trekking gorillas in Mgahinga begins in the morning with a brief at the park entrance-Ntebeko gate at about 8 am. Trekkers are briefed about the rules and regulations for gorilla trekking thereafter they embark on their trek which oftentimes takes between 2-4hours. The trek is shorter in Mgahinga than in Bwindi because the Nyakagyezi gorilla family lives and feeds in a smaller range which is easier to find. The trek can, however, take longer if the gorillas move further say towards one of the three volcanoes in the park making navigation through the mountain slopes hectic thus a slow pace. Once you meet the gorillas, you are allowed only one hour with the gorillas in which time you can take pictures, videos or simply enjoy their presence undisturbed.
Just like what you are advised to carry while on any gorilla trekking safari in the region, it is equally important to carry the following to have a successful safari to Mgahinga;
- Hiking boots
- Long-sleeved shirts
- Waterproof hat
- Waterproof backpack to safeguard your important items like the camera
- Garden gloves to keep your hands from plant pricks and reactions from some vegetation
- Camera for the pictures
- Waterproof jacket to shield one from the rains
- Energy giving snacks and enough water
- Insect repellent creams
When on a gorilla trekking safari in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, the following rules and guidelines must be followed to have a successful and memorable gorilla trekking experience;
- Keep a 7 meters’ distance away from the mountain gorillas
- Keep within your group and with your guides and ranger
- Noise is not allowed, whisper if you really need to speak
- Avoid direct eye contact with the gorillas, this threatens them.
- Keep calm when a mountain gorilla charges. Follow whatever instructions your guide/ranger instructs you to do.
- Do not throw rubbish in the park. Carry back all that you came with.
- Should you need to use the toilet while in the forest, please ask the guides to dig a hole of at least 30cm deep and after use, please make sure you cover the hole properly.
- Do not eat near the mountain gorillas. Eating should be done at least 200 meters away.
- Do not touch the gorillas.
- Persons below 15 years are not allowed to trek
- Unhealthy tourists with contagious diseases must not trek the gorillas. Kindly volunteer not to proceed if you fall sick on the day of the trek.
Conclusively, visit Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and be rewarded with a phenomenal experience. You can solely do a gorilla trekking safari or include other wildlife safaris say to see the big five, or maybe do an all through Mgahinga safari and include golden monkey trekking-Mgahinga is where gold meets silver after all.