Mgahinga Gorilla National Park: Mgahinga Gorilla national park covers only 33.7 sq.km and this makes it Uganda’s smallest national park. It is home to about 80 mountain gorillas and is jointly recognized with Bwindi Impenetrable national park as the only two destinations in Uganda where gorilla trekking takes place. The park is located in the far southwestern corner of Uganda, adjoining Rwanda’s Volcanoes national park and DRC’s Virunga national park.

Mountain gorillas are one of the most sought and impressive wildlife attractions in the world today. From their majestic nature to their human-like behaviors, watching mountain gorillas face to face is an incredible experience. Mgahinga Gorilla national park apparently has one fully habituated gorilla family which is available for trekking throughout the year.

Sitting at an altitude between 2,227m and 4,127m, Mgahinga Gorilla national park offers great adventures on mountains Sabinyo, Gahinga and Muhabura.

Brief history of Mgahinga Gorilla national park

The park was initially a settlement ground and a crop field. In the 1930s, it was declared a game reserve by the British administration and later on in 1991, the government of Uganda officially established it as a recognized national park.

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park takes its name from “Gahinga”, a Kinyarwanda word that means “pile of volcanic stones”. This was because of the volcanic stones cleared from the farmlands at the foot of the Virunga volcanoes.

Attractions in Mgahinga national park

The park is one of its kind with some of the most interesting attractions. They include;

  • The endangered mountain gorillas
  • The rare golden monkeys
  • Virunga volcanoes
  • The Batwa people
  • Birds

Things to do in Mgahinga Gorilla national park

Gorilla trekking

Being the only alternative to Bwindi for gorilla trekking in Uganda, Mgahinga Gorilla national park welcomes tourists for this activity all year round. It currently has one habituated gorilla family known as Nyakagezi. The gorilla park is an interesting place to track these apes if you want to combine gorilla trekking with some bit of tough hiking. Due to the somewhat challenging terrain, trekkers require a minimum level of fitness.

Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga starts at Ntebeko in the morning at 8am, with a briefing to give visitors the guidelines while in the forest. Just like in another gorilla parks, the duration for gorilla trekking is unknown and it depends on where and how far the gorillas have moved.

The hike through Mgahinga national park offers a chance to come across other wildlife such as monkeys, buffalo and forest elephants.

Golden monkey tracking

Mgahinga Gorilla national park is the only nature reserve where you can see golden monkeys in Uganda. This is another impressive species of primates worth looking out for while on an African safari. Mgahinga Gorilla National park has a group of habituated golden monkeys which can be tracked any time of the year. The experience of golden monkey tracking is less strenuous compared to gorilla trekking because monkeys can stay in the same location for about 3 days unlike gorillas. This makes it possible to spot them in the same locality several times.

They are commonly spotted in the bamboo forest section of the forest. Pleasantly, they show off their unique mobility skills of jumping from one branch to another.

A golden monkey permit in Mgahinga national park costs US$ 60 for foreign nonresidents, US$ 50 for foreign residents and UGX 40,000 for East African Citizens.

Mountain climbing/Volcanoe hiking

Mgahinga Gorilla national park protects the freestanding Virunga ranges found at the border of Rwanda, DR Congo and Uganda. While in this region, you will have their views anytime of the day. Each of the conical volcanoes is named according to a local translation; Muhavura means guide, it was used as a guide in movement for the locals due to its height. Sabinyo means “old man’s teeth” for its peak is in the shape of an old man’s teeth while Gahinga means “a pile of volcanic stones”.

Hiking to the peak of Mt. Muhavura takes about 8 hours and it rewards you with views of the rest of the Virunga volcanoes, Bwindi forest, the Rwenzori ranges, Lake Edward and other scenic views of the country’s landscape. The 14km trail on Mt. Sabinyo takes you through mushy vegetation and you are therefore advised to wear appropriate clothes and boots to avoid their effect. While at the peak of Sabinyo after about 8 hours of hiking, you are geographically in three countries at the same time- Uganda, Rwanda and the DR Congo. The approximately 6 hours hike to the top of Mt. Gahinga takes you through the bamboo forest and via a swamp towards the top of the mountain.

Cultural encounters

Mgahinga is one of the few destinations in Uganda and East Africa where you can get an authentic treat of a cultural experience. Just before the Batwa were evicted from the forest in the 1990, they lived there as hunters and gatherers alongside carrying on their day to day African kind of life.

Years after eviction, Uganda Wildlife Authority thought it wise and considered that they take part in guiding tourists around the forest since they are the former inhabitants and therefore have firsthand information about this place.

Expert Batwa guides lead tourists on the Batwa trail experience through the forest and to the Garama caves where they learn about how they helped them survive the Bantu invasion. The trek gives a clear description of the former forest life of these pygmies including the enjoyments they had. An alternative for the trail experience is a brief visit to their community for a cultural entertainment plus listen stories and history.

 

Bird watching  

With more than 180 bird species, Mgahinga offers incredible bird watching experiences. Tourists walk along with a ranger guide through the gorge trail between Mt. Gahinga and Sabinyo connecting to the bamboo and montane sections of the forest.  The birding tour gives a chance of spotting the Rwenzori turaco which is one of the specials of the park. Other birds species include the Dusky turtle dove, Kivu-ground Thrush, Olive Thrush, Cape Robin-chat, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Blue-headed Sunbird, Regal sunbird, Rwenzori Batis, Bronze Sunbird, African paradise fly catcher, black kite, cape robin-chat, pin-tailed whydah, Rwenzori nightjar, Archer’s robin-chat, scarlet-tufted malachite sunbird, Olive Pigeon, Brown Woodland Warbler and Striped breasted Tit among others.

Best time for bird watching in Mgahinga Gorilla national park is April to Mid to May and October to November. Migratory birds are present in the park from November to April.

Accommodations in Mgahinga national park

  • Chameleon Hill lodge
  • Lake Mutanda Resort
  • Gahinga Gorilla lodge
  • Mucha Hotel Kisoro
  • Traveler’s Rest Hotel Kisoro
  • Kisoro Tourist Hotel
  • Mgahinga Rest Camp

Accessing Mgahinga gorilla national park

By road

Mgahinga Gorilla National park can be accessed in about 12 hours covering approximately 510km from Kampala by road. This road trip takes you westwards through major towns of Masaka, Mbarara and Kabale.

Alternatively, you can fly in to Rwanda and then drive northwards to Mgahinga national park. The journey takes 5-6 hours from Kigali international airport to Mgahinga national park, Kisoro.

By air

If you don’t want to sit for long hours when transferring from Kampala to Kisoro, you can opt for a fly in gorilla safari. Domestic flights are operated daily from Entebbe International Airport or Kajjansi airfield.

Domestic airlines conduct scheduled and chartered flights connecting to different wildlife destinations including Queen Elizabeth national park, Kidepo Valley national park, Bwindi Impenetrable national park and Semuliki national park. You can book for your fly in gorilla safari in advance

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