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Attractions/Things to see
There are a variety of things to see in Mgahinga Park including, but it is majorly known for Mountain Gorillas (gorilla tracking) and Golden Monkeys. It is the only park where you can find both of these primates.
1. Mountain Gorillas
For travelers on Uganda gorilla tours, Mgahinga is the only alternative destination to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park for gorilla trekking in Uganda.
The park shares its endangered mountain gorillas population with the adjoining Parc National des Volcans in Rwanda and the Parc National des Virungas in Congo which are all found in the Virunga massif.
The most recent mountain gorilla census conducted in 2018 revealed a world population of 1063 mountain gorillas with 604 gorillas living in the Virunga mountains, in the south western corner of Uganda.
There is only one group (one habituated gorilla family) in Mgahinga called the Nyakagezi Gorilla Family, described below.
2. Golden Monkeys
Amidst the fascinating experience of Uganda gorilla walking in Mgahinga Forest, visitors on a Uganda tour to Mgahinga will also have a chance of encountering the golden monkeys.
Endangered Golden monkeys are very rare monkey species found only in the Bamboo Forests of the Virunga Volcanoes – (nowhere else in the world) and they hold a conservation status of endangered species of Apes/Primates.
3. Other Forest Animals
Besides gorillas and golden monkeys, there are about 76 animal species in Mgahinga Forest, although they are not easy to see in the wild forest vegetation and they include;
- Forest elephant
- Forest buffaloe
- Giant Forest Hog
- Golden Cat
- Side-striped Jackal
- Black-fronted duiker
- South African porcupine
Mgahinga National Park is blessed with unique bird fauna. A checklist of over 184 bird species can be spotted during a Uganda birding safari in Mgahinga. These include several species endemic to the East Congo Montane region.
Notable bird species in this Park include;
- African olive pigeon
- Alpine swift
- Archer’s robin-chat
- Blue-headed coucal
- Dusky Crimsonwing
- Kivu ground thrush
- Moorland chat
- Olive Woodpecker
- Ruwenzori batis
- Ruwenzori nightjar
- Ruwenzori turaco
- Scarlet-tufted malachite sunbird
While on your Uganda safaris in Mgahinga National Park, you will experience six different types of vegetation. At the lower slopes, grows wild herbs and shrubs.
The main montane forest tree species grow up to an altitude of 3,200m (10,500ft). Ground cover is composed of grasses, mosses, lichen, and liverwort.
Above the Montane forest belt lies the bamboo zone that stretches from the western boundary of Mount Sabinyo and below it on Gahinga Mountain.
Bamboo is mostly found between 1,800m and 3,300m (5,900–10,800ft) and grows to 3–4m (10–13ft) on average. This zone is known to support mountain gorillas and golden monkeys.
Generally, Mgahinga experiences a climate that supports the subalpine zone. This zone is divided into two; the moorland zone and the Afro-montane belt. The Afro-Alpine belt is characterized by giant Senecio and Lobelia species.
6. Virunga Volcanoes
The Virunga Volcanoes are a chain of eight volcanoes that dot the borders of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda.
Three of the conical peaks are in Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
These three conical extinct mountains are the most spectacular features that can be seen by travelers on a Uganda safari tour in Mgahinga, and these include;
Mount Muhavura (4,127m) H3
This is the highest of the peaks in the park. The name Muhavura means to guide, and the Batwa used to look for its high peak to help orient themselves in the forest. Muhavura has a crystal clear crater lake about 36m wide at its summit.
The top commands panoramic views far into Uganda, Rwanda, and along the length of the Virunga chain.
Mount Sabyinyo (3,669m)
Sabyinyo means old man’s teeth, a reference to its jagged summit that is dissected by deep gorges and ravines. The countries that share the Virungas (Uganda, Rwanda, and DR. Congo) meet on the highest of Sabyinyo’s stumpy peaks.
The mountain is located northeast of Lake Kivu in Rwanda and west of Lake Bunyonyi in Uganda.
Mount Gahinga (3,474m)
This is the smallest of the three volcanoes/Virunga Ranges and one of the extinct volcanoes. The word Gahinga comes from the local Rufumbira dialect meaning “a small pile of stones”.
Mount Gahinga has a swampy caldera on its peak believed to be as wide as 180 meters. The vegetation across the mountain can be described as afro-montane with bamboo composing the main vegetation.
Like Muhabura and Sabyinyo, the bamboo forests on Mount Gahinga are a habitat for the endangered mountain gorillas that live within the park.
7. Batwa Pygmy People
Visitors could be attracted to Mgahinga to see the gorillas of Uganda, but there’s another reason to visit this Park in the south western part of Uganda and that is to see the Batwa Pygmy people.
These last remaining members of the endangered Batwa pygmy tribe that once flourished in the forest today live on the edges of Mount Mgahinga.
Who are the Batwa People? The Batwa pygmies are hunter-gatherer people who lived in Mgahinga and the neighboring rain forests for thousands of years.
They lived in a typical hunter-gatherer culture; the men used simple spears or bows and arrows to catch birds, monkeys, small antelopes, and bush pigs, while the women foraged for wild honey, fruits, and berries.
They relied entirely on the rainforest for their existence, living in grass huts and dressing in the skins of the animals they killed.
8. Garama Cave
The Garama cave is one of the key Uganda tourist attractions that should not be missed while on your tours in Uganda’s Mgahinga National park.
These caves used to be a home for the Batwa who had lived there for many years until they were recently resettled. The 342 m-long Garama Cave lies beneath a plateau northern edge of the park, 3km from Ntebeko gate.
It is set in the former farmland zone but in earlier times, the cave lay in the forest when it was occupied periodically by Batwa who used it as a council chamber and a retreat after raiding their neighbors.
Today the cave provides an atmospheric performance of Batwa music at the end of the Batwa Trail.
Tourist Activities/Things to do
They are several activities to do in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. The top things to do in Mgahinga National Park include;
All Mgahinga Gorilla National Park activities can be arranged at the visitor’s Centre at Netebeko Gate or the UWA office in Kisoro.
Most activities start at Ntebeko Gate, though the hike to Muhabura Peak starts at Muhabura Gate, and the gorilla treks might start from either gate depending on the expected location of the habituated gorilla family.
1. Mountain Gorilla Trekking
Gorilla Walking in Uganda’s Mgahinga National Park is one of the most popular Uganda safari activities. The park has one habituated gorilla group called Nyakagezi, which can be tracked by tourists.
Nyakagezi gorilla family consists of 5 silverbacks, 2 adult females, and three youngsters. Eight permits are available daily to trek this gorilla family.
The high proportion of Silverbacks in this gorilla family makes gorilla walking in Mgahinga very impressive.
Registration and briefing for gorilla tracking in Mgahinga commence at Ntebeko at 07.45. Tracking starts at 08.30 and can take 3 to 8 hours depending on the location of the gorilla family.
Once gorillas are found, you are allowed only one hour with them, studying their behavior, and taking photographs, and videos.
Best Time To Go
The best time to visit Uganda and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is in June, July, August, and September then December, January, and February.
During this period, gorilla tracking is easier because it is a dry season and the habitat remains relatively drier thus making it simpler for visitors to hike through the dense jungles and steep slopes to search for the gentle mysterious giants.
Uganda Gorilla Permits for Mgahinga Gorilla Park
You must have a Uganda gorilla trekking permit to trek gorillas in Mgahinga and there are only 6 permits available for this park.
Although you can book the permit on your own from UWA, the most convenient method is to use a reliable Uganda tour operator.
How Many Gorilla Trekking Permits are Available in Mgahinga Daily?
Eight gorilla permits are issued per gorilla group per day, (currently 6 during this COVID-19 period). Rwanda has 12 habituated gorillas families for trekking.
How Much Does A Gorilla Trek In Mgahinga Cost?
To trek gorillas in Uganda, you must have a gorilla permit– issued by Uganda Wildlife Authority.
A Uganda gorilla permit for gorilla trekking cost US$700.
The rate includes a guide fee, park entrance fees for the day, and community development contribution, but excludes accommodation fees.
How Do I Book A Gorilla Trek In Mgahinga?
It is strongly recommended to book your gorilla safari through a Uganda tour operator who is a member of the Association of Uganda Tour Operators (AUTO).
During your search for tour operators in Uganda, you will find out that there are 200 plus tour and travel companies in Uganda.
The best Uganda gorilla trekking companies are those that have permanent offices and members of AUTO.
Permits should be booked in advance.
When Should I book a Gorilla Permit?
With only 96 permits (72 during this Coronavirus period) available each day in Rwanda, it is highly recommended to book in advance. Gorilla permits in Uganda are in high demand.
It is highly recommended to book your permit at least 4-5 months in advance, especially during the peak seasons of December to January and July to August to avoid last-minute inconveniences.
Is Gorilla trekking worth the money?
Trekking and seeing Gorillas in Uganda is worth it and very memorable a African safari in Uganda. Gorillas are endangered yet the second primate species related to man, and they only live in the mountains of Africa a trek to see them is very worth your money, time, and adventure.
2. Golden Monkey Tracking In Mgahinga Park
In addition to the Uganda gorilla safari experience, Mgahinga is the only park that offers the traveler a safari in Uganda and a chance to track the rare golden monkeys. These furry, comical monkeys live high up in bamboo forests.
Like gorillas, golden monkeys are habituated, meaning that they will not shy away when humans approach.
When tourists encounter the golden monkey family, they are given only one hour to spend with them (to take photographs and observe their behavior).
Best Time For Golden Monkey Tracking
This is particularly rewarding during April, May, October, and November when you can count on finding the monkeys foraging in the bamboo zone, and they often come done to the grown to pull out fresh shoots.
In the dry season, food tends to be scarcer and the monkeys are sometimes more difficult to find as they roam further afield to feed on the fruits of different trees.
However the monkeys are very habituated, and once located, you can expect to get within a few meters of them.
3. Volcano Climbing, Hiking and Nature Walks
Guided mountain climbing/volcano hiking to each f the three volcanic peaks in Mgahinga Park leaves on-demand daily from 07:00 to 07:30.
The most popular climb strenuous ascent from Ntebeko Gate to Mount Sabinyo, a volcano hiking stretch that culminates in 3 challenging ladder climb up rock faces that will sorely test anyone with a poor head for heights.
Before summiting at the three-way border with Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Less vertiginously challenging but far more of an uphill slog, the hike to the park’s highest point.
The 4,127-meter Mount Muhabura Peak involves a 1,793 meters altitudinal climb from the trailhead at Muhabura Gate, which means that hikers may well feel mild altitudinal-related symptoms near the peak.
The open moorland that characterizes Muhabura offers great views in all directions, including the peaks of Mt. Rwenzori, other Virunga volcanoes, Bwindi Forest, and Lake Edward in Queen Elizabeth National Park, and many more things.
4. Birding In Mgahinga
Mgahinga National Park Uganda is of particular interest to birders interested in bird watching in search of Albertine Rift Endemics and other localized forest species.
This half-day nature trail in this park ascends from Ntebeko Gate through an area of regenerating forest where you might see bushbuck or buffalo, along with mountain buzzard, mountain greenbul, Chubb’s cisticola, and various waxbills and finches.
It continues into a spectacular stand of atmospheric bamboo forest inhabited by golden monkeys (that are unhabituated, so you are far less likely to see them) as well as handsome francolin and Kivu ground thrush.
It then follows a small stream through the lushly forested Sabinyo Gorge to a maximum altitude of around 2,900 meters, crossing several rickety ladders and bridges en route.
Bird watching in the evergreen forest in the gorge rewards you with views of the Rwenzori turaco, and it also harbors such localized birds as the western green tinkerbird, olive woodpecker, African hill babbler, yellow mountain warbler, dusky turtle dove, and blue headed sunbird.
5. The Batwa Trail Experience/Batwa Pygyms Community Visit/Tour
This Trail in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park introduces visitors on Uganda tours to the first people of the Forest “the Batwa People.”
Organized by Uganda Wildlife Authority, the Batwa trail is led by a local Twa (Batwa) guide, who explains how they used to live in the forest before being forcibly evicted when it became a national park.
During the Batwa community tour experience, you will learn about the Batwa hunter-gatherer lifestyle.
How To Get To There?
Mgahinga is about 482 kilometers of distance covered from Kampala and about 494 kilometers from Entebbe International Airport; the most commonly used route passes through Kabale and Kisoro.
An attractive, alternative route leaves the main road at Kabale and follows the shoreline of the superbly scenic Lake Bunyonyi to rejoin the Kabale-Kisoro main road at its halfway point at Muko.
By Domestic Flights;
Domestic flights between parks will most likely be booked by your Uganda tour operator as part of your Uganda safari package. Aerolink offers daily morning flights to Kisoro.
Is Mgahinga Gorilla Park Safe To Visit?
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park Uganda is a safe and secure place to visit. No activity in Mgahinga Gorilla Park without the escort of armed UWA Rangers.
Behind the scenes, the Ugandan Army patrols the park. Add to that equation, local Police, and the Uganda Tourism Police force, and you have a park that protects you.
The UWA Rangers are highly trained professionals that are security-minded, yet friendly, most informative, and fluent in English. Uganda is the Best English Speaking Country in Africa.
Park Entrance Fees
Entrance and Gorilla Walking Fee for Foreigners and Non-Residents is 1500 (USD) & 5,550,000(UGX) For Ugandans and East Africans.
Golden Monkey Trekking Fee For Foreigners and Non-Residents is 100 (USD) & 370,000 (UGX) For Ugandans and East Africans.
Batwa Forest and Cultural Trail Fee For Foreigners Non-Residents is 80 (USD) & 50,000 (UGX) For Ugandans and East Africans.
Batwa community Tour Fee For Foreigners and Non-Residents is 40 (USD) & 40,000 (UGX) For Ugandans and East Africans
Best Time Of The Year To Visit Mgahinga Gorilla Park
You can visit the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park Uganda on safari in Uganda at any time. Though you are in tropical Africa, the weather is ideal for Gorilla or Golden Monkey Trekking, Volcano Climbs, Hikes, and the Batwa Trail.
The average is around 25 degrees Celsius. Nighttime temperatures get down to 10 degrees Celsius if you are staying at the Mount Gahinga Lodge.
The months of January through March, late June through early October, and mid-December to the end of the month is ideal for Gorilla Tracking, Climbing, and Hiking in Mgahinga Gorilla Park.
April, October through early December, is ideal for those that want a lower price at luxury Lodges such as Mount Gahinga Lodge.
Lodges & Hotels Where To Stay/Accommodation In Mgahinga Park?
There are no accommodation facilities within Mgahinga Gorilla National Park Uganda and overnight camping in the forest is forbidden.
However, there are several lodges catering to all budgets situated within a few kilometers close to the park.
Some of the best lodges in this park per category include:
Mount Gahinga Lodge: This a luxury lodge built with volcanic rocks, owned by Volcanoes Safaris, located near the park headquarters with amazing views of the three extinct volcanoes. The hotel offers twin/double or single self-contained luxury bandas with a fireplace and they serve international and local delicious dishes.
Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge: It is a luxury lodge with eight grass thatched rooms/cottages made of Volcanic stones/rocks. It has twin/double and single rooms beautifully set up with a fireplace with great views of the Virunga ranges
Nkuringo Safari Lodge: This is one of the latest luxury lodges built in Nkuringo with the finest of rooms overlooking all the Virunga Ranges
Chameleon Hill Lodge: This luxury lodge overlooks the beautiful Lake Mutanda, painted with rich colors, private balconies, and a beautiful compound with great views of the 7 volcanoes/Virunga ranges.
Mucha Hotel Kisoro: It is a midrange lodge located about six kilometers from Kisoro town along the Mucha River. It is comprised of 10 en-suite single, double, and twin rooms with amazing views of green surroundings and beautiful flora plus the Virunga Volcanoes.
Travelers’ Rest Hotel –Kisoro: This is a midrange facility with 11 furnished rooms ranging from single, double, twin, suite, and triple rooms. It is one of the oldest hotels in Kisoro and Uganda, located in Kisoro a few kilometers from Mgahinga Park headquarters. It has a restaurant, internet, laundry services, and gardens.
Mutanda Lake Resort: It is a budget facility with clean and spacious tented self-contained rooms each with a verandah, built on the shores of Lake Mutanda located between Nkuringo Region and Kisoro. This Lodge has amazing sightings of the volcanoes and the beautiful Lake Mutanda.
Bwindi Jungle Lodge: It is a midrange facility built near Lake Mulehe offering accommodation to visitors going to both Mgahinga & Bwindi.
Traveler’s Nest Hotel: This is among the oldest hotels in Uganda found on the outskirts of Kisoro Town, with spectacular views of the mountains in Mgahinga. Traveler’s Nest Hotel has large spacious and comfortable rooms with a fireplace.
Virunga Hotel: This is a budget facility built behind the park offices. It offers self-contained rooms with showers and clean interiors. The Hotel has a bar, a restaurant, and a large parking space.
Mount Gahinga Rest Camp: It is located near the boundary between Uganda, Rwanda, and Congo and it has nine rooms (bandas), three tents each with a private balcony. The lodge was built at the foot of the three volcanoes with wonderful views of Lake Mutanda and the Volcanoes and it is powered by solar panels. Visitors can also pitch their own tents in designated areas.
Amajambere Iwacu Community Camp: This is a budget lodge offering beautiful bandas and dormitories built next to the park gate. It is run by the community around the camp and offers stunning views of the forests and the three volcanoes. The dormitories have shared bathrooms but some rooms are self-contained rooms.
Lake Mutanda Campsite: This campsite is suitable for those who love nature and wish to experience the African wilderness in a true natural setting. With great views of Lake Mutanda and volcanoes in the park, this campsite offers affordable accommodation in an amazing environment.