Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is located in Kisoro in the south western region of Uganda. It is one of the three national parks that make part of the wider Virunga conservation area, and it is as well the smallest of them all. Mgahinga was upgraded from a game reserve to a national park in 1991 solely for the purpose of protecting the mountain gorillas that were frequently conflicting with the humans living within and around the park. The park is the very smallest national park in Uganda with only 34 square kilometers but with an altitude range of 2000 -4127 meters above sea level.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park consists of 3 extinct volcanoes of Mount Muhavura of 4,127m, Mount Gahinga of 3,474m and Mount Sabinyo of 3,645m. from far away, the huge cones of the Virunga volcanoes dominate the landscape and they beckon you as you approach. When at the park, you can get great views of the area by walking up the viewpoint which is just 15 minutes from the Ntebeko gate. The mountains with the thick forest cover influence climatic conditions in the park thereby bringing frequent rains and cool breezes all throughout the year thereby providing refuge to mountain plants and animals which moved up and down the slopes depending on if the climate was cooler or warmer at a time. The park is home to a large variety of wildlife says bird species, bushbucks, bushbabies, blue monkeys, mangabeys, vervet monkeys, golden monkeys among many others, not forgetting the mountain gorillas. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is in fact usually referred to as the place where gold meets silver due to the presence of both mountain gorillas and golden monkeys.
Since Mgahinga Gorilla National Park has fewer crowds, the park can be discovered in peace and quiet thereby making it one of the best parks to visit if tranquility is what one is looking for. There are various activities that can be done while in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, and most of them do not need to be booked in advance. Some of the activities that travelers can take part in while at the park include the following;
There are about 80 mountain gorillas in Mgahinga gorilla national park. Since they are in very high altitude areas, these mountain gorillas have fuzzier coats than those in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. There is only one habituated gorilla group in Mgahinga called the Nyakagyezi gorilla group that tourists can track. There has been a migration of the Hirwa gorilla family from Rwanda to Uganda’s Mgahinga gorilla national park in 2019, the length of its stay is not however known but it is also open to tracking in Mgahinga thereby raising the number of gorilla trekking permits available per day to track gorillas in this park.
Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga starts very early in the morning with a brief and then the start of the trek at around 8:00am while being led by rangers to where the gorillas are. During the trek, be on the lookout for other wild animals in the park including the birds and forest cover that your rangers will keep drawing to your attention. The trek can take up to 3 hours or more depending on the location of the gorillas and you are allowed only an hour with the gorillas once you encounter them. There are essential items you need to carry to have a successful gorilla safari as well as rules and regulations to be followed while at it. A gorilla trekking permit is at $700, $600 and UGX250,000 for foreign non-residents, foreign residents and East African citizens respective. You are advised to book in advance since they sell out very fast, you may do so at the UWA offices in Kampala or through a trusted tour operator.
Golden monkey tracking
Golden monkeys are subspecies of blue monkeys and they are endemic to the Albertine rift and the Virunga ranges. Golden monkeys are small in size with an adult weighing about 10kgs only. They spend much of their time on trees feeding off bamboo shoots or insects. They live in groups that can be as large as 80. Habituated monkeys open to tourists to track are only in Uganda and Rwanda and the activity can take between 30 minutes to 3 hours and only an hour with them once encountered. A golden monkey tracking permit is only $60.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is one of Uganda’s birding areas with over 110 bird species found in the caves, forest area, lakes and mountains of the park. The activity can best be done in the months of April, May, October and November. Among the ones you must look forward to seeing include the Rwenzori Batis, Olive Thrush, Rwenzori Nightjar, Stone Chat, White starred Robin among many others.
The park’s pristine forests, lakes, rivers and much more offer great trails where one can hike through thick forest cover. The trails often last up to 5 hours. The trail leading to the Sabinyo gorge is however strenuous as it leads to steep areas which are however beautiful to watchmaking the trail worthwhile.
The three active volcanoes in the park offer great hiking experiences. These volcanic mountains of Sabinyo, Muhavura and Gahinga sit at the borders of Uganda, Congo and Rwanda. Mount Sabinyo is the most hiked and reaching its summit gives an opportunity to hikers to stand in all the three countries of Uganda, Rwanda and the Congo.
The Batwa Trail in Mgahinga
This is an interesting a people who co-existed with the animals in the park for such a long time until they were evicted. They were previously hunters and gatherers who highly depended on the forest for their everything. They were resettled in areas around the park which they have really failed to adapt to. The Batwa cultural trail gives travelers a chance to encounter a typical indigenous African tribe. During the trial, you will be taken through the way of life that the Batwa people lived, you will be doing activities like honey harvesting and they will demonstrate how they lived as hunters, warriors and gatherers, and knowledge of medicinal plants and different fruits will be shared. The trail also leads to the Ngarama cave where the leaders lived and war meetings were made. Songs and dances by the Batwa with messages of their life before and their sadness of the loss of their home will be performed in the community. The Batwa trail costs $80 only which is distributed between the Batwa entertainers and guides with the community fund that helps to educate the Batwa children.
How to get to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
The park is 510km from Kampala and can be accessed by both air and road. By road, it is about 9-10 hours from Kampala. The Kampala-Kabale-Kisoro route is the most used and it is 14km to Ntebeko from here. By air, chartered flights from Entebbe to Kisoro airfield are available. Prior booking is required though. Aerolink, Air Uganda and others are all available to provide these services.
Much as Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is overshadowed by Bwindi Forest, the park is worth a visit. Much ca be done while in the park and the ambiance is just fit for relaxing far from the city and the tourist crowds that are in other parks. Take time to plan a gorilla trekking safari to Mgahinga and you will not regret ever doing it.