Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is located in extreme south-western Uganda. Covering an area of 33.7 sq. km, this is the smallest National Park in Uganda at the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda borders. Covering an area of 33.7 sq. km, this is the smallest National Park in Uganda at the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda borders. The Park sits high in the clouds at an altitude between 2,227m and 4,127m latitude -1.33 to -1.38 South and longitude 29.60 to 29.70 above sea level.
In 1930, Mgahinga Park was declared an Animal Sanctuary to protect the endangered mountain gorillas. And later, in 1964 promoted to the status of a game reserve. Unfortunately, by the late 1980’s the area severely encroached, then in 1991, the game reserve was upgraded and gazetted into a National Park after persuading the encroaching families to leave.
Mgahinga’s most exciting features are its three conical extinct volcanoes, part of the spectacular Virunga ranges that lie along the border region of Uganda, Congo, and Rwanda. Mgahinga forms part of the much larger Virunga Conservation Area, including Virunga gorilla and Volcanoes National parks in these countries. The volcanoes’ slopes comprise numerous biologically diverse ecosystems, and their peaks offer an outstanding backdrop to this gorgeous scenery.
Mgahinga harbors a large population of gorillas beringei beringei, which it shares with the neighboring parks in Rwanda and Congo. In addition, 39 mammal species in the Park, namely; the leopard, buffalo, forest elephant, and the rarely spotted bushpig. The 76 notable bird species including; the black kite, crowned crane, and others in the Park.
Golden monkeys are another rare species in the Virungas; tracking and the habituation experience are some of the most common ways you can see these fantastic creatures in the Virugas. All the above species can be are present in the Mgahinga woodland vegetation ecosystem.
In addition to the above, the Park also has a vast cultural implication to the indigenous Batwa pygmies, who were the first people to live in caves deep into the forest. They used to survive on hunting and fruit gathering; however, their secrets remain unrivaled.
Activities in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga is the most exciting and memorable activity. Tracking the mountain gorilla on foot in the thick jungle is an experience of a lifetime.
Mountain gorillas live in small patriarchal families comprising several individuals. Each family is led by a Silverback who is usually the strongest and dominant male in the family. The silverback is always in charge of protecting the family against any intrusion. It determines the daily routine of the group by leading the subordinates to different parts, looking for fresh plant leaves and new places for building nests for the night.
Since they are mobile animals tracking gorillas could last a few minutes to a couple of hours, usually lasting half the day, including the one hour you spend with them once you find them. Trained and experienced ranger guides lead a small group of tourists (8 tourists) to trek a gorilla group. The trek follows the unmarked trails, which makes the activity an unusual experience in the jungle.
Mgahinga National Park has one habituated gorilla group, the Nyakagezi Family, which has about ten individuals, including three silverbacks as per the 2019 census results. Statics keep on changing as the animals reproduce and due to other factors.
The daily gorilla trekking activity starts with registration and briefing at 7:45 am at Ntebeko park headquarters and then heads into the forest at 8:30 am. During the trek, tourists are allowed to be in the presence of mountain gorillas for strictly one hour once they find them, which is more than enough for a one-on-one, face-to-face experience with gorillas and taking photographs and video recording.
The best time for gorilla trekking in Mgahinga is June, July, August, September, December, January, and February. The Park is dry during these months, and the inhabitants are relatively drier, thus making it more straightforward for the visitors to hike through the dense jungles and steep slopes.
However, March, April, May, October, and November is relatively good season but characterized by heavy rains making the trails muddy and slippery, making it challenging to search for these apes. Gorilla tracking rates and habituation experience fees as per
UWA 2020-2022 tariff costs are as below;
|Foreign Non-Residents||Foreign Residents||EAC (SHS)|
The above rates include the guide fees, park entrance fees for the day, and community contribution. Gorilla trekking in Uganda is a highly demanded tourism product. In the high season, the permits can be very scarce due to the high number of orders. So you should book in advance to ensure that permits for your requested dates are available. At least three months or more would be a reasonable period for securing the permits.
Nature walks and Hiking
Nature walks in Mgahinga go hand in hand with Hiking because the Park’s terrain is hilly, and Hiking is part of exploring the reserve. There are several places in Uganda where Hiking is done. If you are planning for a hike, Mgahinga is one of the few you shouldn’t miss due to its uniqueness. There are three volcanoes in Mgahinga that a visitor can access; therefore, the choice depends on your fitness.
Mount Gahinga Climb
Mount Gahinga is 3,474m high, and it takes about 6 hours to ascend and descend the summit. You will be able to find a crater filled with a swamp and giant lobelia, and the lucky ones will be able to see the golden monkeys walking through the bamboo forest.
Mount Sabinyo Hike
Climbing Mount Sabinyo is another 3,669m hiking challenge in Mgahinga National Park. The hike takes about 8 hours to the summit with very rewarding landscape views and wild encounters. Golden monkeys, small antelopes like the duiker, and various mountain forest dwellers could cross your path hiking Sabinyo. Birders should look out for the rare Rwenzori Turaco.
Climbing Mount Muhavura
Mount Muhavura is the highest peak of the Virunga volcanoes on the Ugandan side. It lies at 4,127m and is quite challenging compared to the other Volcanos. When you reach the top, you will have a beautiful view of the Virunga volcanoes, a distinct view of lake Edward, the great Bwindi Impenetrable forest, and the Rwenzori peaks. Hikers to Muhabura need to spend at least a night on the mountain before descending the following day.
Golden Monkey Tracking
Mgahinga National Park offers visitors a chance to track the golden monkeys, an endangered and endemic species to this region. The Golden Monkeys share their home with the world’s famous mountain gorillas and other mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds.
The tracking activity starts at around 7:30 am after a briefing, and the actual trek begins at 8:00 am. Golden monkey trekking isn’t so strenuous as tracking mountain gorillas because the monkeys live in lower areas, and the tracking usually lasts for not more than 3 hours.
When you encounter a golden monkey family, you are given an hour to spend with them, there is no maximum number to track each group, and the age limit is 12 years.
The fees for golden monkey tracking as per UWA 2020-2022 are as follows,
These fees exclude the entrance fees.
Mgahinga is one of the best birdwatching havens in the Pearl of Africa. Mgahinga’s birds live in different zones like the buffalo wall, forest, wetlands, and bamboo belt. The three to four-hour Gorge Trail between Gahinga and Sabinyo can provide a spectacular sighting of the Dusky turtle dove, Bronze Sunbird, Cape Robin-chat, Kivu-Ground Thrush, Olive Thrush, Brown-crowned chakra, Regal Sunbird, Blue-headed Sunbird, Rwenzori Batis, Black-headed Waxbill, and Streaky Seedeater.
Along the Uganda-Congo border and on level ground, the Chubb’s Cisticola, Red-faced Woodland Warbler, Banded Prinia, and Doherty’s Bush-shrike are vocal yet inconspicuous inhabitants of the tangled vegetation at the edge of the forest.
One of the most rewarding experiences in the Mgahinga National park is the Batwa trail. Where you get a chance to meet “people of the forest.” On meeting them, you obviously notice the forest in their lives and eyes. It’s an incredible experience because of the exciting activities they showcase, including hunting skills, honey harvesting skills, demonstration of making bamboo cups visit to the pharmacy, and the walk to the sacred Ngarama cave where they used to live before being relocated and settled outside the forest. With this activity, you will be supporting a community and improving their standard of living.
Mgahinga’s slopes are protected with successions of different altitudinal bands of vegetation. The lowest zone is covered with grass and bush, followed by intact montane woodland, and lastly, the bamboo zone has three extinct conical volcanoes. You can never find these give stunning views of the area anywhere else.
When to visit Mgahinga
The park records temperatures around 15oC during the day and 10oC at night. It has two dry seasons: February and May-August, with June and July receiving the least rainfall. It makes it the best time to track gorillas since the paths aren’t muddy, making the accessibility and penetration into the forest easy. And its wettest months are March – April, and September- November. During these months, the Park is covered by fog, and the air is always moist. However, these conditions offer better views because when the rain stops, the fog lifts. The Park is open throughout the year, and gorilla tracking takes place all year round.
How To Get To Mgahinga
The Park lies in the south-western corner of Uganda, in Kisoro, bordering Rwanda and Congo. The Park can be accessed from Kampala or Entebbe via Kabale to Kisoro, about 540 km and approximately 9 hours’ drive.
We can arrange charter flights from Entebbe to Kisoro airstrip near the Park, which takes about an hour. Then you transfer by road to the Park.
Aerolink Uganda offers daily scheduled flights from Entebbe in the morning, departing at 07 00.
The main entrance to the Park for visitors is the Ntebeko gate, and it’s accessible from Kisoro town. There is proper signage to the park headquarters. However, when traveling with Valiant Safaris driver guides, you do not need to worry about this as our experienced personnel will get you to the right place at the right time!
Accommodation in Mgahinga National Park
Planning a safari to Mgahiga National Park can never be complete without accommodation during mesmerizing experiences of a lifetime in the Park. The comfort you need to relax as you spend a night is part of the remarkable memories you will carry with you about the experience in Mgahinga National Park. We have a lot of options from budget to luxurious facilities you can choose from, some within the Park while others are in the neighboring town of Kisoro;
- Mount Gahinga Lodge – The lodge is a luxury facility in Mgahinga by the Volcanoes, lying close to the park entrance. Volcanoes Gahinga Lodge features a living area fully equipped with a warm central fireplace, outside terrace, and a luxurious sunroom that connects the living area, completing the tranquil and open style. Each Banda at this lodge is well renovated, thus providing the simplest luxury facilities within site. All rooms have fireplaces, en-suite bathroom, showers, lavatory et al. You can access the bandas through a brief walk via extensive gardens, a restaurant and bar, outdoor sitting area, laundry area, and solar energy primary source of power used.
- Mucha Lodge Kisoro is a mid-range accommodation facility located 3 miles from Lake Mutanda in Kisoro. Mucha Lodge is a boutique hotel with ten nicely furnished rooms for a comfortable stay featuring en-suite bedrooms with single, double, and twin beds.
- Traveler’s Hotel Kisoro is one of the oldest hotels in Uganda. It offers mid-range accommodation for travelers. Travelers hotel is located in the heart of Kisoro town, just 10 km from the Park. The hotel consists of 12 en-suite rooms designed with a selection of Congolese artifacts, fully furnished single, double, twin, or triple beds.
- Amajambere lwacu Community Camp lies outside the Park, about 12 kilometers from the main gate, southwest of Kisoro town. It features two dormitories, 3 Banda’s, and space for tents outside.
- Kisoro Tourist Hotel is situated in Kisoro town at a distance of 7km from Lake Mutanda and offers ideal accommodation to budget travelers. The hotel consists of 16 rooms: standard rooms for single occupancy, standard double rooms, and twin rooms; they are equipped with a range of facilities to ensure your relaxed stay in comfort.
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