Mgahinga National Park is one Uganda’s smallest National Parks where gorilla trekking is done and attracts quite a number of travelers to come and enjoy the activity. Gorilla trekking is a major activity that is carried out in Mgahinga national park where visitors are involved in trekking in the bamboo vegetation in search of the endangered mountain gorillas in their nature forests. Mgahinga national park is situated in Kisoro district Bufumbira county in the southwestern part of Uganda, bordered by the Volcanoes national park in Rwanda to the south and Virunga National Park in Democratic Republic of Congo to the west. It is one of the small parks in Uganda that lies between 33.7 square kilometers and between the altitudes of 2227meters and 4127meters. The park covers the northern slopes of the three Northern Virunga volcanoes including Mount Muhavura which is 4127 meters high and has a crater late on top, Mount Gahinga which is 3474 meters high and has a beautiful swamp on top and Mount Sabinyo which is 3645meters high which gives you an experience of being in three countries of Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo at the same time.
Mgahinga national park was gazetted in 1991 mainly to conserve and protect the endangered mountain gorillas, the name Gahinga was derived from the Kinyarwanda word Gahinga which means (a pile of volcanic lava stone heaps where cultivation is carried out).
Mgahinga national park is a habitat of 39 mammals including the endangered mountain Gorillas, Golden monkeys, Buffaloes, Elephants, Giant forest hogs, Bushbucks, Leopards, Spotted hyenas, Black fronted duikers among others, 115 bird species and many more.
The park experiences two rainy seasons between March to May and October to November where October is the wettest month with 250mm of rain and two dry seasons between December to February and June to September with July as the driest month with 10mm of rain hence favoring different vegetations including bamboo which covers the most parts of the park, subalpine, moorland and Afro-montane vegetation which make visibility of the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat better and easy hence great destination for gorilla trekking compared to Bwindi which has tropical rainforests which make gorilla viewing difficult.
Gorilla trekking in Africa is commonly conducted in Bwindi national park and Volcanoes national park because these parks habit the biggest number of habituated gorilla families compared to Mgahinga national park which harbors about 100 mountain gorillas with one habituated gorilla family that is available for gorilla trekking on a daily basis to a maximum number of eight people per day.
Nyakagezi is the habituated gorilla family in Mgahinga national park which is composed of over 10 members and is dominated by Mark who overthrew his father Bugingo and during his leadership he is assisted by Mafia and Mathew which makes a total of 4 silverbacks, 2 female adults namely Nyiramwiza and Nshuti, 2 infants namely Rukundo and Indugutse and 2 juveniles namely Nkanda and Furaha. Bugingo is the retired and oldest silverback in the family and is believed to be 54 years old and is still in the family which is rare but interesting because after the old silverback is overthrown, it is banished from the group and either seek refuge from other groups or dies in isolation.
Nyakagezi family was named after a place called Nyakagezi in Mgahinga which is believed to have a lot of splendid and good looking vegetation where they feed on hence attracting the gorilla group to always spend time there. In the past Nyakagezi family used to cross the borders to volcanoes national park and Virunga national park which made tracking difficult because visitors were afraid of buying a gorilla trekking permit and not seeing the gorilla family but presently Nyakagezi family has settled in Mgahinga national park and is always available for trekking on a daily basis.
Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga national park starts in the morning after breakfast at around 8 am at Ntebeko gate entrance where you first go for a briefing about the expectations and trekking takes about one to four hours, trekking is easy and enjoyed by visitors who don’t like hiking for long hours in the jungle because the gorilla family lives in areas with low altitude and they like to live in a small home range while feeding, relaxing, nesting and it’s the only park with no crowds during gorilla trekking because there is only one habituated family.
How to get to Mgahinga for Gorilla Trekking
Mgahinga national park can be accessed by both road and air transport mode. By Road you drive on a tarmac road from Kampala through Mbarara, kabala, Kisoro and then to Ntebeko park headquarters which is about 540km and takes eight to ten hours and by Air you can use local scheduled flights like eagle air, Aerolink from Entebbe airport to Kisoro airstrip which operates daily and the flight takes about one hour to Kisoro airstrip where you will connect to the park headquarters by road. The air flights should be booked in advance and this can be done through a tour operator like Achieve Global Safaris.
When to visit Mgahinga for Gorilla Trekking
Mgahinga national park can be visited anytime throughout the year for gorilla trekking but the best time for gorilla trekking is during the dry months which is the peak season between June to September and December to February when forest has thick and short vegetation for easy visibility, when there are less rains and trekking is easy because the grounds are not wet, muddy and you will also combine gorilla trekking with other activities like hiking, golden monkey tracking, mountain climbing among others.
How much is Mgahinga Gorilla Trekking Permit
Just like Bwindi national park, a single gorilla trekking permit in Mgahinga national park costs $ 600 for foreign nonresidents, $500 for foreign residents and UGX 250,000 for East African citizens but the prices were increased by $100 for foreign nonresidents and foreign residents effective 1st July 2020. The gorilla trekking permits are also obtained by booking directly through Uganda Wildlife Authority head offices in Kampala, Uganda Wildlife Authority offices in Kisoro the park head office or through Achieve Global Safaris tour company which will book and acquire the gorilla trekking permit for you and plan for the whole safari for example a 3 days Mgahinga gorilla trekking tour and also organize other activities apart from gorilla trekking in Mgahinga and other destinations. You are advised to book the gorilla trekking permit three months in advance since there are only eight permits available for each day.
What to pack for Mgahinga Gorilla Trekking
When going for gorilla trekking activity in Mgahinga national park you are advised to pack different items including cameras which are used to capture the moments with during one hour with the gorillas, take photos and videos, long sleeved shirts and trousers which are used during trekking to keep you warm and protect your legs and arms from thorny plants, tree branches, insects like safari ants among others, hiking boots which will prevent you from steeping in mud and keep your feet dry, garden gloves which will protect you from tree branches, thorny plants in case you want to fall due to slippery grounds, insect repellent to protect you from insects like safari ants, tsetse flies, warm sweater to keep you warm in the morning, evening and at night especially during the rainy season, waterproof rain jacket which is used to protect you from rains in the jungle because it can rain anytime, waterproof backpack which is used to carry your trekking equipments and protect them from rain, packed lunch from the lodge and enough drinking water because trekking in Mgahinga national park takes around one to four hours or even more depending on where the gorillas were spotted by the game rangers before going for the actual trekking with the visitors hence snacks are supposed to give you energy in case you trek for long hours.
Other activities done in Mgahinga National Park
Apart from gorilla trekking experience, Mgahinga national park is a unique destination which offers adventurous experiences to visitors on a safari including Golden monkey tracking which is an interesting activity in Mgahinga national park where to hike through the bamboo forest in search of the golden monkey habituation family group which has about six members, this gives you a great experience in that Mgahinga is the only national park in Uganda where gorillas live with golden monkeys hence that is why its referred to as the only national park where gold meets silver.
Mountain hiking on Mount Gahinga which is the smallest hike through the bamboo forest and on top you will be able to find a swamp and stone piles in some gardens, Mount Muhavura where you hike through the shrubs, rock grounds, grasses and on top you will be able to see Mount Rwenzori peaks, Virunga volcanoes, Bwindi forest and lake Edward in Queen Elizabeth national park and Mount Sabinyo which is the most challenging among the three Virunga volcanoes where you hike through the mushy vegetation and on top you will be standing in three countries Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo at ago.
Bird watching which is carried out in the gorge trail through the bamboo forest between Sabinyo, Gahinga and in the montane forest where you will view bird species like Rwenzori Turaco, Bronze Sunbird, Rwenzori Batis, Handsome francolin, Olive pigeon among others. Community tours like the Batwa experience and nature walks are other activities done in Mgahinga national park which give you lifetime experiences on your safari.
Where to stay during Mgahinga Gorilla Trekking
Mgahinga national park has various luxury, midrange and budget accommodations where visitors on a safari can stay in Kisoro, Ntebeko and Lake Mutanda which include Volcanoes Mount Gahinga, Amajambere Iwacu camp, Lake Mutanda Chameleon hill lodge, Kisoro travelers rest hotel, River Mucha hotel among others which offer comfortable beds, quality services, meals, drinks among others hence making visitors to relax and feel at home while on the safari in Africa.
Mgahinga gorilla trekking offers magical gorilla trekking experience to the visitors in that they will trek gorillas easily with less crowds and also combine it with golden monkey tracking to gain exciting experiences as you watch both the endangered mountain gorillas and the endangered golden monkeys in their natural habitats.