Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Uganda Gorilla trekking safari
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda which was established in 1991 covers a geographical surface of 33.7km2 making the smallest national Park in Uganda.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is the second habitat that contains the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas and it is the only national park in Uganda with counts of the rare and endangered golden monkeys which only thrive in the Virunga massif in the whole world.
Mgahinga National Park has one gorilla family called Nyakagyezi that has been habituated for gorilla trekking encounter while on Uganda gorilla safaris.
The park was initially a home of the Batwa people one of the last groups of the short people that are listed as threatened.
They inhabited the forest and depended on wild roots, wild honey, wild fruits and they constructed houses using climbing trees, branches and leaves and they had their center Garama cave where their King lived and it was also the center of their festivities.
Mgahinga National Park has three volcanic peaks of the eight volcanoes that form the greater Virunga massif.
These include; Muhabura, Gahinga and Sabyinyo. It is located in Bufumbira County in the district of Kisoro and it 14km from Kisoro town the nearest town and 519km south west of Kampala, Uganda’s capital city.
Attractions in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mountain Gorillas in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mgahinga national park is the second park in Uganda that contains the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas after Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
It has got one gorilla family called Nyakagyezi and it is fully habituated for gorilla tracking encounter. The rich fertile volcanic soils have facilitated the growth of dense undergrowth and forested land which in turn ensures food availability of the mountain gorillas.
The gorilla family has 10 members including 1 silverback named Mark. Initially, the gorilla family had the habit of crossing to Democratic Republic of Congo but has since November, 2012 settled on Ugandan side.
Local People/ Cultures Around Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
The local people Bafumbira and Batwa populate the area practicing cultivation. They have lived in this area for years while the Batwa have been forest people who were evicted to pave way for conservation and thus resettled on the park margins where they thrive up to today.
These people have got interesting traditions, customs, handicrafts and performances that would impress you if encountered on Uganda safaris.
Scenery Around Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mgahinga National Park has three volcanic peaks out of the eight volcanoes that form the greater Virunga massif.
Mount Muhabura which is the highest standing at 4127m is translated as a guide that was used for giving directions in the pre-colonial Africa since its cone was still glowing.
The Gahinga Volcano stands in the middle and is the shortest of all with 3474m and is translated as the pile of stones while Mount Sabyinyo which stands at 3669m is the second highest and has series of rugged peaks that were affected by the denudation forces.
These three volcanoes offer great scenic views and combine to give the area of south western Uganda a commendable definition.
Birds in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mgahinga National Park contain 115 bird species among which include; Rwenzori Turaco, Handsome Francolin, Dusky Turtle Dove, White-starred Robin, Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo, Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoo, Archer’s Robin-Chat, Equatorial Akalat, Red-throated Alethe, Banded Prinia, Kivu Ground Thrush, Chestnut-throated Apalis, Collared Apalis, Grauer’s Warbler, White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher, Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher, Mountain Masked Apalis, Rwenzori Batis, Blue-headed Sunbird, Strip-breasted Tit, Mackinnon’s Fiscal, Lagden’s Bush Shrike, Regal Sunbird, Montane Oriole, Strange Weaver, Doherty’s Bush-shrike, Dusky Crimsonwing and Shelley’s Crimsonwing among other species of birds.
Wildlife in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Besides Mountain gorillas which are critically endangered worldwide, Mgahinga National Park has counts of the rare and endangered golden monkeys that do not exist anywhere else in Uganda.
In addition, the park contains other wildlife species like; golden cats, side-stripped jackals, giant forest hog, giant forest hogs, buffaloes, bush pigs, elephants among other wildlife. This other wildlife is rarely encountered while on safari in Uganda.
Vegetation in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
The park is also marked by impressive vegetation that appears in layers in respect to changes in altitude.
The lower slopes of the forest The lower layers are covered by grass and bush that is regenerating after encroachment by the locals; this is followed by layers of montane woodland, Bamboo zone, montane forest and the Ericaceous zone that contain giant tree heathers.
The Alpine zone is dotted with giant forms of Lobelia and groundsel like in any other altitudinal areas in East Africa that are above 3,000m.
Tourist Activities in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Gorilla Tracking in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
The gorilla trekking activity is only carried out in Mgahinga National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in the whole of Uganda.
This makes Mgahinga very significant considering the revenue that is generated from gorilla safaris. Mgahinga national Park has one gorilla family called Nyakagyezi and has been fully habituated for trekking.
The encounter with this gorilla family commences as early as 8am with briefing from the UWA park rangers or the park warden at the park headquarters Ntebeko or at Muhabura side if the gorillas are on the side of Muhabura.
The encounter involves hiking the volcanoes, traversing the jungle, encountering wild animals and amazing flora before coming into direct contact with the world’s critically endangered Mountain gorillas.
The gorilla trekking activity tends to last between 2 -8 hours including one full hour of direct encounter with gorillas.
Birding in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
With 115 bird species, Mgahinga National Park provides impressive birding encounters. The birding is done along the gorge trail which is between the Gahinga and Sabyinyo with opportunities of encountering; Bronze sunbird, Dusky turtle dove, Olive Thrush, Kivu ground Thrush, Regal sunbird and Cape Robin-chat exist.
The trail takes 3-4 hours. The Bambo belt offers sights of Rwenzori Turaco. In the north of the park, there lies buffalo wall which offers birding encounters starting from 17:00 – 18:00.
Booking a guide in advance is recommended. Birds like Ibis, speckled mouse bird and fire finch can be spotted.
Cultural Encounters in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Formerly, the Batwa forest people lived in the forests of Mgahinga National Park and depended on the forest for survival in terms of food, medicine, shelter among others.
Their eviction from the forest did not erase their heritage from the forest and the Batwa trail has been designed traversing the park with the Batwa themselves as the guides taking Uganda safari undertakers through their traditions, their modes of survival including wild honey harvesting, edible wild fruits and roots, their architectural modes and finally their King’s palace at Garama cave where women sing songs of remembrance commemorating their good times in the forest. The Batwa trail takes 6 -7 hours though there is also a shorter trail that lasts about 2 – 3 hours.
Mountain Hiking in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
With three volcanoes in the par, Volcano climbing cannot be avoided on Uganda safari. Mt. Sabinyo (3,669m) stretches for 14km and lasts about eight hours with a steep climb over the ridge to the top after which you traverse its series of peaks.
Mount Gahinga (3,474m) takes six hours round trip since it the shortest of the three volcanoes. Mt. Muhavura (4,127m) is the highest stretching for 12km round trip and takes about eight hours with its summit offering impressive views of Bwindi Impenetrable forest and the peaks of Rwenzori Mountains.
Nature Walks in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mgahinga National Park can also be explored on foot. The walks through the Sabyinyo gorge offer a rich encounter with nature including birds such as the Rwenzori Turaco.
The trek takes 4 hours passing through the Rugezi swamp where a range of birds can also be encountered.
There is also the Congo border walk offering encounter with different vegetation zones and sights of calderas on Gisozi hill, Bunagana and Kisoro towns not forgetting the scenic Lake Mutanda across the valley.
Golden Monkey tracking in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park:
The golden monkeys thrive along the Bamboo forest and they only exist in the Virunga massif in the whole world thus making the encounter with them in Mgahinga rewarding while on Uganda safari.
The golden monkey tracking tend to last about four hours including 1 hour direct encounter with them and the activity costs $50.
Accommodation in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Lodging in Kisoro town and nearby areas caters for all kinds of tourists either Luxury/upmarket, mid-range or budget/basic
Volcanoes Mount Gahinga Safari Lodge
Volcanoes Mount Gahinga Lodge is situated at the edge of Mgahinga National Park thus offering a close connection to this gorilla trekking destination of Mgahinga.
It has a warming open fireplace, massage room, delicious three course meals and blissful views of the mighty volcanic peaks, qualifying it worth of stay while on Uganda safari.
Mount Gahinga Lodge has eight attractive bandas that sit at the foot of the Virunga Volcanoes. All bandas have their own patio seating area, as well as private bathrooms with composting toilets and bush showers, which are filled with hot water upon request.
Lighting is solar powered thus environmentally conscious. The lodge has a bar and restaurant, fire place, laundry service, outdoor sitting area a sun room overlooking the Volcanoes and sola power.
Amajambere Iwacu Camp
This is a budget accommodation establishment positioned at the entrance of Mgahinga National Park 14km south of Kisoro town.
Accommodation is offered in five (5) bandas, dormitories and a campsite. The Camp features dining facilities, well stocked canteen that serves eats and drinks and a restaurant.
Kisoro Travelers’ Rest Hotel
Positioned in Kisoro town about 14km from Mgahinga National Park, Kisoro Travelers’ rest is a good mid-range establishment to spend an overnight in while on Uganda safaris.
It was previously a favorite of Dian Fossey in 1960s and 1970s while she was carrying out her research about mountain gorillas in the Virunga Volcanoes which later formed the ground for gorilla tracking safaris in the region.
Accommodation is offered in singe, twin, triple, double and a suite. All rooms feature private bath rooms with hot water.
Besides that, Travelers’ rest has a restaurant, lounge with a fire place, large meeting table and bar, internet connectivity, messages, gift shop, laundry, enclosed garden and wide selection of Congolese masks.
Kisoro Tourist Hotel
Kisoro Tourist Hotel is the most pleasant and comfortable hotel at a budget tariff price. It offers first class accommodations with self-contained rooms.
Enjoy the warm atmosphere of the lounge and the authentic fireplace. After your activities in the surrounding area, relax with a massage, sauna or steam bath.
All rooms have fireplace, TV – Cable/Satellite, Local Stations, Fans, Hot water, Private Bathroom thus suitable for your stay while on Safari to Uganda.
The hotel has got on site restaurant, conference facilities, internet connectivity, bar, gift shop, fitness center, laundry and library.
Quick facts about Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
A Silver back Gorilla in Mgahinga National Park
How to Get to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mgahinga National Park can be connected to from the following points;
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park can be connected to by Air travel.
Scheduled flights from Entebbe to Nyakabande Airfield in Kisoro are operated by aero link. Other charter services can be got from Kajjansi Airstrip or Entebbe Airport to Nyakabande Airstrip in Kisoro.
You can also use public means to transfer to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park by boarding public buses from Kampala Bus Park to Kisoro town after which you can get a private taxi or a boda-boda to connect to the park for the remaining 14km.
By air: From Entebbe International airport, Aerolink Uganda 121 has 1 flight daily to Kisoro airstrip at 12:45 – 13:55 all week for about 1h 10m then a road drive 0f about 15.5km in 46min via Kabale-Kisoro road.
Road distances: There various routes for your mountain gorilla trekking /tracking safaris to Uganda at Mgahinga National Park;
From Kampala the fastest route is Kampala-Kabale-Mbarara road 495km about 9h 5min.
Kampala-Mubende -Mbarara road 649km about 11h 34min.
From Kisoro town, Mgahinga National Park is 13.3km about 43min via Kabale-Kisoro road.
Kisoro-Cyanika road is 14.5km about 44min.
From Kigali, Mgahinga gorilla national park is 141km via Ruhondo road if you decided to land in Kigali, Rwanda.
Kigali-Katuna road is 187km about 4h 33min.
From Congo in Virunga national park, Mgahinga National Park Uganda is 357km via Ntungamo-Katunguru road about 7h 48min.
From Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (the bigger home of mountain gorillas), Mgahinga National Park is 44.7km via Kabale -Kisoro road about 1h 57 road drive.
Best Uganda safari/tour/visit time to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Uganda safari time to Mgahinga National Park is best during the months of December-February and June-September when the rains are low and the trails are less slippery.
The dominants of the park are also out to feed and relax in the warm weather compared to during heavy rains.
Quick facts about Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Location Kisoro District, Uganda
Coordinates 01°22′S 29°39′E
Area 33.7 square kilometres (13.0 sq mi)
Virunga volcanoes, Golden monkeys, Red tailed monkeys, Golden cats, side-stripped jackals, giant forest hog, giant forest hogs, buffaloes, bush pigs, elephants.