Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is only 33 sq. km of size, located in the southwestern corner of Uganda bordering Rwanda and Congo,14 km from Kisoro town in Bufumbira County about 540 km from Kampala-the capital city of Uganda and this national park was gazetted in 1991.
This Park covers the northern slopes of the three northern most Virunga Volcanoes namely; the Mt. Gahinga (3,474 m), Mt. Sabyinyo (3,645 m) and Mt. Muhavura (4,127 m). The park is bordered by the Republic of Rwanda in the south and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the west, each of these countries protects its own share of the Virunga area and these parks together form the ‘Virunga Conservation Area’ which totals to 434-sq. km of which Mgahinga is 33.7 sq. km, just 8% of the Virunga conservation area
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park experiences two wet rainy seasons; February – May and September- December of each year. The maximum amount of rainfall it receives in a year is 250mm-October and Minimum is 10mm –July, in that if you’re coming to trek the mountain gorillas in Mgahinga, you need to carry with you the gum boots, rain coats umbrella because the weather keeps changing around the Mgahinga area.
Despite being the smallest in Uganda, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is one of Nungi Safaris destination in Uganda, very important to the country for it is one of the only two parks in Uganda that are habitat for about half of the world`s endangered Mountain gorillas hence a Uganda Gorilla safaris destination as well as a great African Wildlife safari spot. Due to a large variety of wildlife in Mgahinga gorilla national park such as buffaloes, elephants, bush bucks, the threatened golden monkeys and so many other animals, the park’s main attraction is one habituated gorilla group, although this group sometimes crosses the border to Rwanda, which means Mgahinga is not a reliable spot for viewing gorillas but it can give you a chance to cross to Rwanda or Congo without applying for any visa which makes the Mgahinga gorilla the best park to trek a gorilla because it gives one a chance to be in the tree countries of Uganda, Rwanda, and Congo at the same time since you’re on top of the peak
This park consists of the partly forested slopes of three extinct volcanoes, that is to say the cones of the Virunga volcanoes dominate the landscape when viewed from a distance and front view as you approach the premises. As you reach the park, a 15 minutes’ walk up the viewpoint from Ntebeko Gate can get one a great overview of the area. Mgahinga Park is of a great biological importance because it is one of those mountains that provided a refuge for mountain plants and animals that moved up or down the slopes as climate became warmer or cooler throughout the climatic changes of the ice ages. The Virunga are home to a large variety of wildlife, including about half of the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas. Mgahinga gorilla national park experiences a cool climate that supports the growth of Afro-montane vegetation and the abundant type of Vegetation is the bamboo, a delicacy to the Mountain gorilla. The Lobelia among the other types of vegetation and different types of flowers in the park
When you visit Mgahinga gorilla national park, you will encounter the different people in Kisoro or Kabale which is dominantly inhibited by the Bufumbira, Batwa, Bakiga and other tribes and the major ethnic groups of people in Kisoro District are the Bufumbira who occupy most of Kisoro area and are majorly cultivators/farmers, which will give you an opportunity to practice some farming with the local people an activity which makes you feel the life of a local mufumbira and also the locals will take you through the process of growing sweet potatoes and Irish potatoes since it’s their one of the staple foods they eat in Kisoro and this experience with the locals makes Mgahinga national park number one to Bwindi forest national park.
Kisoro District is found in the southwestern corner of Uganda, where it borders with Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It covers an area of approximately 701.4 square kilometers (270.8 sq. mi). About 3.88% of the district is covered by open water. Another 2.95% is covered by wetlands and national forest reserves (Mgahinga national park) cover another 0.96%. The District is mountainous and hilly and raises an average of 1,980 metres (6,500 ft.) above sea level. Due to the delicate nature of the environment and the pressure of a rapidly increasing population, the natural environment in Kisoro District is under severe threat of degradation since most of its population is farmers and cultivates.
In addition to the Bufumbira, you will be able to encounter the Batwa (Pygmies) who once lived in caves and fed on wildlife form the minority group in the area. The Batwa community demonstrates a number of skills like hunting techniques, gathering, and point out medicinal plants and demonstrates how to make bamboo cups which all this has attracted many tourists to this community in love to learn the Batwa culture and ancient way of living life. Guests are also invited to the sacred Garama Cave, once a refuge for the Batwa and also you will be able to have more time with the Batwa people who are believed to be the shortest people in Uganda because they lived in the mountains which make them too short for life, more so with the Batwa community they will teach you on how to make the local bamboo cups which is the most beautiful experience you do not have to miss while at Mgahinga
WHAT TO DO AT MGAHINGA NATIONAL PARK/ ACTVITIES/ ATRACTIONS
This is the most thrilling tourist activity in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and this park has only one gorilla group of Nyakagezi which is a habituated gorilla in this park and it consists of 9 members; 2 silver backs, 3 adult females, 2 juveniles and 2 infants.
Gorilla tracking is a very strong and vigorous activity that can take a full day, so you will be required to carry with you enough drinking water and some food to eat while on the search of this only gorilla group, and your guide will take you through the gorilla trails or the empire because all the gorilla guides have habituated them for more than two years which makes them more experienced, to track the gorilla since they know the ecology, movements and general behavior of the gorilla
NOTE: The success of seeing a gorilla is not a guarantee since they are wild animals which stay in the jungle because thus they do not have a fixed time or spot to be waiting for you to see since they are also believed to be nomads. However, there are high chances of seeing them since your guide can use the trails of these gorillas because our guides know gorillas intimately since they habituate them for more than two years with them in the forest hence they will take you to the area where they last saw them. Our guide will also update you about how long the hike for the search for a gorilla will take and also feel free to tell your guide to slow down if at all you feel you want to take a breath. While on this break, you will be able to see different birds, flowers, and the vegetation on the slopes of the Mgahinga Mountain
Cautions and rules about Gorilla tracking
- Avoid pointing or waiving your arms- this can scare away the gorillas.
- The weather is unpredictable and it can change any time. Please carry rain coats, sunscreen, a hut and sun glasses
- When taking photos, ensure that your flash is off because it can threaten gorillas.
- You are advised to carry water and food because this activity is lengthy and tiresome especially to first time trackers
- Once tracked, ensure that you keep 5minutes distance from the Gorillas
- It is advisable that you put on jungle shoes best for steep muddy slopes
- You may carry binoculars, these help you to see far features and creatures in details
- Do not eat near the gorilla
- Your safety is our concern so follow what your guide is telling you
- Carry small money to tip the porters who will help carry you bags
- Do not litter or leave the rubbish behind because it cause harm to the environment and the gorilla
- Wear long pants and long sleeves shirts
- Please Move slowly and Keep your voice low/better if silent for better tracking
Gorilla tracking has the high season and the low seasons
- High season: January, February, March, June, to July, August September & December in that the prices of the gorilla permit are on the high demand and the cheapest it can go is $600 or even more and your advisable to book you permit 4 months earlier since you need to be included on the list of visitors by the Uganda wildlife authority management since one group of the gorilla is allowed to only 8 people for one hour with the gorilla group , so book your permit as early as possible with Nungi safaris or directly from the Uganda wildlife authority though it turns out to be more expensive when you try to do it yourself , that’s why Nungi safaris will do that for you and the round trip at averagely lower cost.
- Low season: April, May, October & November; during this season , the permit of the gorilla can be a bit lower since it’s a low season but still all the rules remain the same , though one can still visit Mgahinga gorilla national park throughout the year from January-January depending on what date you want to take the most amazing experiences of tracking a gorilla though we can’t fail to tell you that June, July, December and February are the best months with the best weather to visit Mgahinga national park because these months can give you the best time and amazing experience in Uganda and you can’t fail to book with us your gorilla trip to Mgahinga which will give you a chance to be in 3 countries at the same time of Rwanda, Congo and Uganda
Although Gorillas are strong and powerful, they are also generally gentle, & shy like any human being since they say man came from those beautiful creatures which make them to act like us in some behaviors. The gorillas live in groups of 2-40 individuals, and the average is about 11, the groups are led by a dominant male like in any family set up of human, a man is always a leader of the family thus the silver back is always the chief leader and protector of the group. More about silver backs, they are known for making decision for the rest of the gorillas in the group like where to go, sleep, rest and when and also these chief leaders in the group do the part of protecting the family from other rival silverbacks and human predators. Gorillas are also known to be a humble mammal because they don’t seek trouble from anyone but they will always aggressively defend themselves if its family is being threatened by anything and they always rotate within 10 to 15 square miles, feeding and resting throughout the day. These apes are also Gorillas are nomadic since they can build new nests each day which are out of bent brunches in the tree or on the ground.
Similar to Bwindi Gorillas, Mgahinga gorilla group have a strong attachments to its members of their group and even when groups meet and mix up, they subsequently part, each of them remaining with its respective unit or group. Gorillas have a slow reproduction rate which makes these species a threat to extinction and that’s why the Uganda wildlife authority is putting up much rules to protect Mgahinga national parking from encroachers. A female gorilla can give birth of 2-6 offspring’s within 40-50 years life time of a Gorilla and always the gorillas start giving birth at the age of 10 years and a male always reaches its sexual maturity between 10-12 years.
Newborn gorillas are weak and tiny, weighing about 4 pounds and like any other creature or humans the movements are awkward though their growth is twice as fast as compared to that of young human babies. The young gorilla suckles for one year and within 4 months the infant gorilla can be able to sit upright to support its own movements and its independent at the age of four
Since a gorilla is a huge and big animal which makes eat a lot of food? However, these large and strong mountain gorillas are primarily vegetarian which makes them to eat a variety of plant species of over 100 species with the favorite including wild celery, bamboo, thistles, stinging nettles, bedstraw and fruits which gives sufficient moisture to the Gorillas which makes them not a fun of drinking water like any other mammal
Note: You are not supposed to give a gorilla your food or drinks
The primary threat to a mountain gorilla is forest clearance and degradation from the surrounding communities because of the increasing population which causes pressure on the land to practice agriculture and settlement, as the region’s growing human population struggles to secure agricultural and settlement land. Though this has been solved when Rwanda, Uganda and Congo, came up with an idea of regional conservation program underlining the importance of maintaining the virgin forest watershed and the need to habituate some groups of gorillas for tourist visits has helped to ease encroachment. The African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), in collaboration with Fauna and Flora International and World Wide Fund for Nature, established the International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP) to safeguard the last remaining mountain gorillas and their habitat as well. Conservation is mainly done through Strengthening gorilla habitat protection through regional collaboration, researching and working with local communities to develop livelihood strategies that are inline to conservation objectives.
Though the coalition has been a great success, there is need for support from all stake holders since less than 800 mountain gorillas remain in the wild
Leopards and humans are the only known enemies to mountain Gorillas in Mgahinga national park though it is believed that Crocodiles are potentially dangerous to lowland gorillas especially in the West Africa countries and at Mgahinga the gorillas are hunted down by poachers for meat and also when they raid peoples crops. Poachers have also destroyed the entire family groups in their attempts to capture infant gorillas to take them in zoos, but others are killed to sell their heads and hands as trophies
How to get a Gorilla Trekking permit to Mgahinga
Within Uganda, Gorilla trekking is conducted in Mgahinga National Park or Bwindi national park. In Uganda, every gorilla permit goes for US$600 while from May to April 2016 they will go for less. We strongly encourage you to book your gorilla permit with us; the most prominent mistake is to book a gorilla family which is far away from your choice of accommodation! The routes to Bwindi and its various regions are often tricky; this is a remote area. If you would like to do the gorilla trek on your own so as to save costs, you might end up incurring more. Safari guides have been trained to help you with this, that’s why Nungi safaris will be waiting to do the booking for you and all round trips because most travelers intending to trek gorillas have found this process to be tiring and they have opted to the quicker less tiring option of reserving their trekking permits through a local agents. These tour operators normally add an extra fee of US$60 to US$100 for each permit. These gorilla tour companies won’t charge you for purchasing a gorilla permit in case you are going to use their other tour services such as transfers however if you simply want only a permit from them then they will put an extra charge of up to US$100 per gorilla permit they book, since they need to make calls, pick the permit, deliver it to you and other administrative costs that’s why you need that to pay that extra fee
The process is more like the above, although the tour agencies normally speed up the reservation so you will be able to confirm your gorilla permit faster than it would have taken for you when you try to do it for your self
Procedures of getting the gorilla permit
- You inform the tour agent about dates for your tour and specify the date for trekking the gorillas in Mgahinga or Bwindi national park
- They will inform you if your preferred dates are available for trekking and also temporarily book them.
- They will send you our bank details so that you can transfer the money for the gorilla permits or even pay by credit card.
- They will send you an acknowledgement email for the money transfer. Please remember to instruct your bank to deduct the bank charges for the transaction from your account. They don’t ask for any extra money for the gorilla permit if you are reserving the rest of your tour through them. Any additional costs will be for services like telephone calls and transport that will be incurred when acquiring the permit
- You will send a copy of your passport availing the details which will be used to register for your permit. Normally they need just your full names, nationality and the passport number for us to fully enter your particulars in the system
- Your names will be registered and then we acquire the gorilla permit. On receiving the payment they will buy the gorilla permit but then having this permit doesn’t 100% guarantee you seeing the gorillas although chances of seeing them are about 98% though our guide will always trace the trails to at least make sure you see the gorilla
Which company to use for Gorilla trekking and where?
There are a number of tour operators around but the many also fake ones are many that’s why you need to travel with Nungi safaris for all the Gorilla tracking safaris in Uganda and Rwanda
Mt. Sabyinyo; (366m); free visa to Congo, Rwanda and Uganda at the same time
While in the search of the gorilla group, you will be able to do the hiking of Sabyinyo Mountain which literally means ‘an Old man’s teeth’ in the local kifumbira dilect, this mountain has an eroded Mt. Sabyinyo crown which offers you the 3 challenging peaks to adventurous climbers.. And you don’t have to miss out this spectacular experience of climbing up to this mountain which will take you up a ridge along the eastern side of the climb to the first peak. If you want to continue, the climb to the second peak ,it involves walking along a ridge with breath-taking drops into Rwanda and Uganda`s gorges, a life time memorable dual hiking safari experience one can only achieve here in the world!. So my advice as Nungi Safaris is that you should go for this second hike which will introduce you to the steepest third peak that has several ladders and mush scrambling, while climbing this peak I can guarantee you free water to wash and freshen up since you’re going to make your hands dirty as you find yourself to the top of to this peak which will guarantee you a free visa to put your feet in the three countries; Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda at the same time! Which makes Mt. Sabyinyo hike as one of the most favored by hikers? Yet an exclusive experience to only this destination. This hike takes about eight hours to cover the 14km stretch round trip and also makes Mgahinga the favorite national park to track a gorilla because you will have to experience such wonderful moments at the park
Mt. Gahinga; (3474m)
This Mt`s name (Gahinga) literally means a pile of small stones according to the native people of the Bufumbira community which are visible in the garden fields of the locals as you head to the Mgahinga national park
Mount Gahinga is reasonably bigger than the average ‘Gahinga’ but her proximity to Mount Muhavura makes her look small. This trek takes you about six hours round trip goes through a good sample of a pure Bamboo forest which will give you chance to taste the bamboo vegetation of the park and also see other things like flowers. Mt. Gahinga had a Crater Lake on top some time back but this has changed into a Lush swamp because of the effects of climatic changes which made the water levels of the lake to lower down though this swamp can give you a chance to see some bird species, aquatic life and the swampy vegetation, which makes this 8Km swamp an attractions to Gahinga because of the activities one can engage in like birding
Mt. Muhavura; (4127m) (as called by natives literally meaning ‘The Guide’)
Since hiking is the most adventurous activity, this mountain is seen from all over Kisoro and it acts as a guide because it shows or let you know that you have reached your destination so, if you want to go to Mgahinga by yourself, this mountain should be your guide because you spot it as you enter Kisoro. Much of the climb traverses a rocky surface covered by short grasses and small shrubs This typical cone-shaped Mountain provides some of the best views in the country so it’s advisable to charge your cameras and phones because you can’t miss the best photo shoots at the best view point in the country where you will be getting all the clear view of the sky and Kisoro town. More so at this point you will be rewarded with the view of the Virunga volcanoes, Lake Edward in queen Elizabeth National Park, Bwindi and the Rwenzori Mountain peaks. This 12km hike takes approximately 8 hours all rounds. Hikers are advised to camp at the Muhavura base camp a night before, the site has no facilities so one needs a tent, personal water, food and sleeping equipment which can give you enough warmth.
- CAVE EXPLORATION
This is also one of the adventurous activity which you will be able to engage in while at Mgahinga gorilla national park , this cave is 342m long and 14m deep. This caves are that historical because long time ago the Batwa who were commonly known as worriers used to live in these caves and used them as their sacred places and shelter. The Batwa are also commonly known as pygmies who are believed to have come from Congo during the early days and came stayed in the mountains of Mgahinga, so when you visit these caves the Batwa local guide will take you around as he is narrating to you how life was in these caves and also these people are known to be great gatherer, hunters, and also artists in that they will take you on how to make the bamboo cups as you move these former homes of the Batwa which are now inhabited by bats and cob webs since these people were removed from the forests since the government wanted to civilize them and please don’t hesitate to give the Batwa guide some tip if you have because its channeled in the buying of books and school materials for the young people since the government and other NGOS want to make them civilized which will enrich them with knowledge about tourism hence reducing on the encroachment in the National park.
- Scenic Viewing Platform:
Mgahinga national park is one of the top most parks which gives a good scenic viewing point because of the existence of this special point which is about 800M from the Park gate .Once you’re on top of this view, you will be rewarded with a good view of the Park and the surrounding environment and you will also have a clear view to Rwanda, lake Edward and the beautiful queen Elizabeth national park and the best thing about this activity it is free and doesn`t require a guide which will cut your cost of the trip. Another exciting element about this point is that we are not allowed to give all the details about this spot because one who reaches the top gets to read and know the information from the display panels which are on top of the hill. Lastly you will be able to take the best shots with your friends while make the Virunga mountains your backgrounds , you cannot miss such a wonderful experience because words cannot say it all but you need to visit the national park and you will be my witness.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is also one of the birding spots in Uganda blessed with 79 unique bird species that have been recorded within the park; these include several species endemic to the East Congo Montane region.
Over 295 species have been recorded in the Virunga Conservation Area as a whole and are endemic to the Albertine Rift Afro-montane region representing 59% of the region`s total of known endemic species.
Please contact the Park Management for a guide who will take you around and tell you all about these birds. Ensure to carry binoculars for the best view!!! Of these birds and also you can record the sounds with your phone because it is the moment of being in the wild listening to the whispers of the birds!!!! More so, Mgahinga gorilla national is one of the most adventurous national park in Uganda with the most exciting activities though it is regarded as one of the smallest because it’s known for free birding along the edge of the park and you will be able to see the beautiful birds and also listen to the beautiful melodies made by these birds and your guide will be able to identifying these birds for you by sound or when you see them, don’t hesitate to ask him because your guide is the best and this activity is done only in the evening for the free birding but you will have to book with your guide at around 10am in the morning for him to fix you in the day today activities. You have a choice to go for a long walk or simply relax in the campground. If one takes the long buffalo walk toward the Congo you get to a wetland area where you have a splendid view of a wide range of birds such as Fire Finch, Stonechat, Grey Capped Warbler, Ibis, Whydah, Speckled Mouse bird, Waxbills, and Yellow-Vented Bulbul. Do it at your own pace-relaxed and your guide can show you the best spots to see these birds.
- Border Trail:
This is a 5 hours hike which covers 10km distance. It takes you first toward Sabyinyo and climbs up the base of Sabyinyo for a while through fine montane forest before turning towards the Congo side without applying for a visa. Along the trail you will get a great view of Mt. Sabinyo’s gorge and peaks which gives you a clear view of these gorges and Sabyinyo. When you get to the Congo side you get back along the international border, you can take a breath at this site to take some photos with your group. The route back to the Park Head Quarters is a great section for birding with a wide range of bird species so for birders this is a chance to see some birds at no cost because they will be along the trail as you go back to the headquarters of the park. There are two rest huts along the way that are good places for taking a break while on this route you will be able to spot some animals like the golden monkeys and elephants, more so you will be eating your snack at this resting point which makes Mgahinga the best national park no matter how small it is!
- By road:
From Kampala; it’s an 8 hours’ drive via Kabale to Kisoro town using 4wd cars as recommended because the roads can become slippery when it rains and for those without private transport, you can contact Nungi Safaris to organize your ground travel or one can take the daily bus transport services that set off at 0700 hours. From Kisoro town, you hike or take a special hire vehicle to the park gate, but it is advisable to use Nungi safaris to plan your trip because you don’t have to hustle while on the trip , just contact us and we will give you the best of your trip
- By Air: One can fly to Kisoro; Flight arrangements can be made with Eagle Air. This company has flights on Mondays and Fridays from Entebbe to Kisoro, so arrangements can be made to book your ticket and also organize for the ground transportation while in Kisoro, meaning you will need to book in advance with eagle air in order for you to be put on the flight , then us we will be waiting for you to do the ground transportation as you go to encounter the Gorilla
WHERE TO STAY/ ACCOMODATION
Kisoro town has a wide range of accommodation facilities ranging from the basic Camp-sites (for the ‘go camping tourists’) to the luxurious full board hotels and the choice about the accommodation in Mgahinga depends on one’s budget
List of accommodation places in Mgahinga
- Mutanda lake resort
- Travellers rest hotel
- Virunga hotel camp
- Country side guest house Kisoro
- Amajambere lwacu camp
- Volcanoes mount Gahinga safari lodge
- Bunyonyi overland resort
- Bird nest at Bunyonyi resort
- Rugigana camp site
- Mgahinga safari lodge
- Sky blue hotel
More so, about the accommodation places and this can be mostly for budget travellers, there is a community camping site with ample parking space and its managed by the local community and also at this place you will do the self-camping, so you will be required to carry your own tent or some extra money to hire the tent at an affordable price