Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Other than Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, the other place to find endangered mountain gorillas is the Mgahinga gorilla national park, found in southwestern part of Uganda 10km south of Kisoro district in Bufumbira county. This is the smallest of all Uganda’s national parks. Mgahinga National Park is part of the Virunga Mountain ranges and is bordered by Virunga National Park in DRC and Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.
At first it was established as game sanctuary by the British administration in 1930, but in 1991 it was upgraded to a national park. The park sits high on the slopes of Mountain Muhabura, Gahinga and Sabyinyo at the height of 2,227m to 4,127m making which are partly forested with Afro Montane, Montane Forest, bamboo, and Montane woodlands. The huge cones of Virunga Mountain ranges dominate the landscape of Mgahinga national park which offers a spectacular view of the park.
Mgahinga National Park is home to mountain gorillas, and golden monkeys but also non-primates including about 76 mammal species including bush pigs, forest buffaloes and elephants among others. Different bird species can also be found in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park adding to the flora found there.
Accessing Mgahinga National Park.
Mgahinga National Park can be accessed both via road and air. By road, it goes through Kisoro district which may take up to 10 hours to drive from the capital Kampala. From Kisoro town, you proceed to Ntebeko park headquarters. By air transport, one can use a scheduled flight from either Entebbe international airport or Kajjansi airstrip to Kisoro Airstrip and the flight takes 1hr 15 minutes, and it’s from there that you connect to the park headquarters. The park can also be accessed through Kigali, connecting through Cyanika border in Kisoro.
Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
Mgahinga National Park is well known for gorilla trekking and a home to only one habituated gorilla family, Nyakagezi gorilla group. Nyakagezi gorilla group used to be nomadic in nature and could cross into Rwanda and Congo until it settled here permanently. It consists of a lead silverback Bugingo, the two silverback sons - Mark and Mafia, blackbucks Rukundo and Ndungutse plus two females - Nshuti and Nyirwamiza who have young ones. This group is a joy to watch as they normally play and pose in the trees hanging in the park.
Eight gorilla trekking permits are available per day in Mgahinga gorilla national park since there is only Nyakagezi group. A gorilla trekking permit goes for 700 dollars for foreigners.
Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga National Park starts at dawn of daybreak around 0700hrs or 0800hrs at Ntebeko park headquarters. Tourists are first briefed by the guides who take them through the rules and regulations, and expectations during the trek among others. The trek is done in groups and may last for 30 mins to 6 hours depending on the direction taken by the gorillas.
Golden monkey trekking in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
Other than gorilla trekking, there is also an opportunity for tourists to go golden monkey trekking as the park is also a habitat for these endangered creatures. There is as well an opportunity for golden monkey habituation experience.
A visit to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, provides an opportunity for cultural experience with the local people (Batwa). There is the Batwa trail experience where a walk through the local communities is conducted by local Batwa guides who give an insight into their traditional forest life and culture. Through this trail, tourists support the Batwa communities by buying souvenirs and locally made crafts, they are also entertained through traditional dances, songs, drama and stories.
Mountain climbing is also another common activity along the nearby Virunga Mountain ranges and covers the slopes of Muhabura, Gahinga, and Sabyinyo mountains. To note, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is home to over 180 bird species and so bird watching is a common activity here. Birding is normally done during the nature walks where bird trails are followed, and tourists can take spectacular photos of them.
Other activities include scenic viewing at the park gate where a viewing platform was installed 800m high, and nature walks among others.
When to visit?
Visiting Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is most suitable during dry spells as it’s a bit challenging during wet seasons. Hikers should be well prepared with jungle boots, long trousers, and sleeves, rain jackets as the weather keeps changing, snacks and drinking water. Hikers can as well hire porters to assist them with their luggage.