Welcome to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park Uganda. Here you will find current reliable, expert, and trust-able information about Mgahina National Park.
You will know where Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is located, how to get there, attractions, activities, gorilla trekking information/advice, accommodation, when to visit the park for gorilla trekking safaris, and what to wear.
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A Brief About Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
- Mgahinga National Park, is found in Bufumbira County of Kisoro District on the extreme corner of Southwestern Uganda along the border region of Uganda, DR Congo, and Rwanda.
- It is adjoining Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park is also home to Mountain gorillas. These enormous great apes which can be 2 meters tall and weigh up to 220 kilograms, survive in this tiny 33.7km2 Uganda safari
- Apart from Uganda gorilla trekking tours, the park offers you an opportunity to track the rare and beautiful Golden monkeys.
- Forest elephants, forest buffaloes, giant forest hogs, bushpigs, bushbucks, golden cats, side-striped jackals, black-fronted duikers, and South African porcupines are also among the 76 animal species recorded here although they are not easy to see.
- Among over 180 bird species recorded in Mgahinga National Park are 14 Albertine Rift Endemics including Rwenzori Turaco, Rwenzori Batis, Dusky Crimsonwing, and regal sunbird.
- Another good reason to visit Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is the stirring setting provided by the 3 Virunga Volcanoes: Mount Sabinyo at 3,645m, Mount Gahinga at 3474m, and Mount Muhavura at 4,127m.
- Mgahinga is a great hiking destination with difficult but fun climbs through the strange afro-alpine moorland at high elevations.
- Mgahinga Gorilla National Park has a huge cultural significance, in particular for the indigenous Batwa pygmies. This tribe of hunter-gatherers was the forest’s “first people”, and their ancient knowledge of its secrets remains unrivaled.
How Big is/What Is The Size Of Mgahinga National Park?
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is the smallest of the 10 national parks in Uganda. The park covers an area of about 34km², on the slopes of the Muhavura, Gahinga, and Sabinyo mountains.
It is part of the 434km² transboundary Virunga Conservation Area which also includes Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Virunga National Park in DR Congo.
Where Is Mgahinga National Park Located In Uganda?
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is found in Bufumbira County of Kisoro District on the extreme corner of Southwestern Uganda along the border region of Uganda, DR Congo, and Rwanda.
The park is about 14 kilometers by road south of the town of Kisoro. Mgahinga has also located about 510 km by road from Kampala through Kabale town and Kisoro town.
History When Was the Park Established?
Mountain gorilla conservation on the Virungas dates back to 1925 when the Belgians gazetted the portion of the range in present-day Congo and Rwanda as a national park.
The British administration declared the Ugandan section a game sanctuary in 1930. Mgahinga was upgraded to national park status in 1991.
What Does Mgahinga Mean?
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park derives its name from Mount Gahinga which is one of the three mountain peaks in the park. “Gahinga” is a local word that means piles of volcanic stones cleared from farmland at the foot of the volcanoes.
Attractions in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
There are a variety of things to see in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park including;
1. Mountain gorillas in Mgahinga National Park
For travelers on Uganda gorilla tours, Mgahinga is best known as an alternative destination to Bwindi for gorilla trekking tours.
The park shares its 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.
The other habitat for mountain gorillas is in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda with a population of 459 Gorillas.
Mgahinga National Park’s abundant green vegetation provides suitable habitats for these endangered apes. Gorillas in Mgahinga live in families (groups) that comprise several individuals.
There is one habituated gorilla family in Mgahinga called the Nyakagezi Gorilla Family, described below.
2. Golden Monkeys In Mgahinga National Park
Amidst the fascinating experience of Uganda gorilla trekking in Mgahinga National Park, visitors on a Uganda tour to Mgahinga will also have a chance of encountering the golden monkeys.
The golden monkey is a very rare monkey species found only in the Bamboo Forests of the Virunga Volcanoes – nowhere else in the world and holds a conservation status of endangered.
These beautiful creatures live in large groups of up to 62 individuals and are quite playful and fascinating to watch.
The group is led by a dominant male and ultimately the commander-in-chief. Female golden monkeys look more golden and absolutely gorgeous with faces scribbled with natural innocence.
Masters of foraging in the bamboo and the unspoiled highland vegetation, golden monkeys are skilled climbers and can swing from branch to branch with ultimate ease.
3. Other Forest Animals In Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Besides gorillas and golden monkeys, there are about 76 animal species in Mgahinga National Park, although they are not easy to see in the wild forest vegetation and they include;
- Forest elephants
- Forest buffaloes
- Giant Forest Hogs
- Golden Cats
- Side-striped Jackals
- Black-fronted duikers
- South African porcupines
4. Birds In Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
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
5. Vegetation in Mgahinga Park Forest
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.
Given that in the 1980s, there was an encroachment on the park by the locals who live adjacent to the park, the tilled gardens have now grown into shrubs and grasslands.
It is the favored habitat of many small mammals that hide from their predators and search for food in the undergrowth.
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 In Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
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)
the smallest of the Virunga 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 as180 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.
There are several other species of animals and birds that form part of the Mount Gahinga ecosystem. The golden monkeys are notable for these.
7. Batwa Pygmy People At Mgahinga National Park
Visitors could be attracted to Mgahinga to see the gorillas of Uganda, but there’s another reason to travel to Uganda’s Mgahinga National Park; 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 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 In Mgahinga National Park
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.
Activities in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
They are several activities to do in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. 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. Gorilla Trekking In Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Gorilla trekking 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 trekking in Mgahinga very impressive.
The mountain gorilla group at Mgahinga can be visited under strict supervision.
The availability of vegetation, such as bamboo shoots, affects the movement of the gorillas, and locating them requires experienced guides who will be able to pick up their tracks and locate them in the park.
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 to 1 hour with them, studying their behavior, and taking photographs, and videos.
Best Time To Go/Visit Mgahinga Park
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.
Nyakagezi Gorilla family’s territory lies between the Ntebeko and Muhabura entrance gates, do check a day in advance which trailed with be used the next morning.
What To Pack For A Gorilla Trek In Mgahinga Uganda?
- Cameras and extra batteries
- Energy giving snacks
- Insect repellent; especially for mosquitoes and other biting insects
- Sun Blocker cream
- Sunglasses: These help with protection from direct sunshine.
- Extra shocks for hiking
- Long-sleeved shirts/t-shirts
- Long trousers: Jeans are mostly recommended
- Rain jacket/Rain poncho
- Waterproof Hiking boots and long shocks
- Strong gardening gloves to support selves on branches or vines.
- Headband & Hat
- A warm sweater; can be worn in the early mornings and on cool nights
- Avoid wearing bright colors
Mountain Gorilla Trekking Rules In Mgahinga Park
Before You Visit The Gorillas
- The minimum age for tracking in Uganda is 15 years. In case you have traveled with children below the age of 15, they will also be provided with an activity.
- The maximum number of visitors is 8 persons per gorilla group.
- Gorillas are susceptible to many human diseases, and it has long been feared by researchers that one ill visitor might infect a gorilla; resulting in the possible death of the whole troop should no immunity exist.
For this reason, visitors who know they are harboring a potentially airborne infection such as flu or a cold should not trek gorillas (the permit fee will be refunded.
- Wash your hands with a hand sanitizer of 60% alcohol or soap and water before you head out for a gorilla trek.
On The Way To The Gorillas
- Please always speak in a low voice in the forest so that you do not disrupt the peace of the gorillas.
- Don’t throw away garbage in the forest.
- Follow your guide through the trekking trails and stick to the group for your safety.
- Human waste should be buried 30cm deep.
When You Are With Gorillas
- Once in the forest, trekkers should not approach the gorillas more closely than 10 meters. This rule is often contravened by curious younger stars and sometimes adults approaching their human visitors. You will need to calmly and slowly move back to regain the 10-meter distance.
- It is forbidden to eat, smoke, urinate or defecate in the vicinity of the gorilla family.
- Turn away if you need to cough or sneeze and cover your mouth
- Flash photography is forbidden
- Please always stay in a group during the visits.
- Speak in a low voice; you are free to ask the guide question.
- Don’t touch the gorillas, they are wild animals.
- You will be given one hour to stay with gorillas after encountering them.
Uganda Gorilla Trekking Permit for Mgahinga Gorilla Park
You must have a Uganda gorilla trekking permit to trek gorillas in Mgahinga National Gorilla.
The gorilla permits are obtainable from the Rwanda Tourism Board offices in Kigali or Ruhengeri which is near the park.
You can book your Rwanda gorilla permit either online or via a reputable tour operator.
Although you can book the permit on your own, the most convenient method is to use a reliable Rwanda tour operator.
Most Rwanda tour operators include a gorilla permit as part of the overall cost of a Rwanda gorilla safari.
How Many Gorilla Trekking Permits are Available in Mgahinga Daily?
Eight permits gorilla trekking 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 trekking 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 permit 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.
However, some of these companies are ‘Briefcase companies’. A fraction of those is officially recognized partners in the marketing and sale of gorilla permits.
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 Mgahinga 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 trekking 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.
Once your permit is secured, you can then go ahead and organize your transport and overnight accommodation.
2. Golden Monkey Tracking In Mgahinga Park
In addition Uganda gorilla trekking experience, Mgahinga 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.
Also, tracking golden monkeys is very similar to tracking gorillas, but the trek itself is not quite as challenging. Seeing these beautiful primates bantering about is a sight to behold and most enjoyable for the visitors to the park.
When tourists encounter the golden monkey family, they are given 1 hour to spend with them (to take photographs and observe their behaviour).
Gorilla Monkey Tracking Permit Fees
- US60 – Foreign nonresident
- US60 – Foreign Resident visitors
- UGX40,000—East African Citizens
Best Time For Golden Monkey Tracking In Mgahinga
Tracking 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 In Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Guided day hikes to each f the three volcanic peaks in Mgahinga National Park leave on-demand daily from 07:00 to 07:30.
The most popular climb strenuous ascent from Ntebeko Gate to Mount Sabinyo, a hike 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, though unless you are lucky this will be reduced by haze by the time you reach the top.
4. Birding In Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Of particular interest to birders in search of Albertine Rift Endemics and other localized forest species, this half-day nature trail 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.
The evergreen forest in the gorge is very reliable for the sensational Rwenzori turaco, and it also harbors such localized birds as the western green tinkerbird, olive woodpecker, African hill babbler, and yellow mountain warbler.
5. The Batwa Trail Experience In Mgahinga National Park
The Batwa Trail in Mgahinga Gorilla 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 trail experience, you will learn about the Batwa hunter-gatherer lifestyle.
How To Get To Mgahinga National Park?
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is about 510 kilometers from Kampala; the most commonly used route passes through Kabale and Kisoro. The 434 kilometers journey from Kampala to Kabale can be completed in 8 hours on good tarmac.
It is then a further 76 kilometers to Kisoro town on a mountainous tarmac road with steep ascents and descents.
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 is a safe and secure place to visit. No activity in Mgahinga Gorilla Park without the escort of armed Uganda Wildlife Authority 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.
Best Time Of The Year To Visit Mgahinga Gorilla Park
You can visit the Mgahinga National Park 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 are ideal for Gorilla Trekking, 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.
Where To Stay/Accommodation In Mgahinga Park?
There is no accommodation within this national park 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−Luxury
- Travellers Rest Hotel−Midrange
- Mutanda Lake Resort−Midrange
- Amajambere Iwacu Community Camp−Budget