Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is the second safari park in Uganda where mountain gorillas live, the other being Bwindi impenetrable forest national park. It’s the smallest park in Uganda covering an area of 33.7 sq km located in southwestern Uganda about 15 km from Kisoro town and 482 sq km from Kampala city.
The park was first declared a game reserve in 1930 and gazzetted in 1991 mainly to protect mountain gorillas and other wildlife. It forms part of the 434 sq km greater Virunga Conservation Area, a chain of 8 volcanoes which is a home to some 300 mountain gorillas including those in the neighboring Volcanoes national park Rwanda and Virunga national park in Democratic Republic of Congo.
Besides being small, it’s most biologically diverse and scenic having been awarded the “Best Trip” in 2012 by National Geographic and we consent. The park is not only a wildlife hot spot but also features a cultural heritage importance.
It’s a home to the BaTwa pygmies the elders of civilization and the shortest people on planet earth.
Before their eviction from the forest in 1991, the BaTwa were warrior hunters and fruit gathers and lived in the forest for centuries. Tourists are guaranteed an authentic cultural experience on an interesting cultural trail to Garama ancient caves with BaTwa guides unraveling their concealed secrets of life in the forest.
The Virunga Volcanoes and mountain gorilla trekking
The most magnificent features of the park are the 3 moderate altitude dormant volcanoes (between 2,227 to 4,127 meters above sea level). They include Mt. Gahinga (3,474 m) Mt. Muhabura (4,127 m) and Mt. Sabinyo 3,645m) where one can stand in 3 countries at the same time.
A visit to Mgahinga is worth it, the volcanoes offer great hiking opportunities as well as panoramic views of the virunga conservation area.
Volcano hiking will show you how the park is remote and pristine. All volcanoes can be climbed in one but long and tiresome day. Hiking starts from Ntebeko, main visitor center and hikers do not need to book in advance.
Mountain gorillas are the main tourist attractions in the park and tourists can plan with a trusted tour operator for their gorilla trekking safaris conducted all year round. However, the best time to trek gorillas is during a dry season in December to February and June to September
Gorilla safaris in Mgahinga commence from Ntebeko visitor center and entry gate daily at 08:00am. The Uganda wildlife authority guides lead tourists through the forest, along the way explaining the gorilla’s social and ecological behavior.
Therefore, considering the strict time to begin gorilla trekking, it’s advisable for trekkers to stay in lodges or hotels not far away from Ntebeko entry gate to be on time for your trekking experience. If you are interested in knowing more information about gorillas and or other activities, visit the Uganda Wildlife Authority office in Kisoro town.
For instance the road trips from Kisoro town about 15 km to the park are dirt and bumpy due to volcanic rocks hence it’s wise to wake up early and also use 4WD safari vehicles. Though, Mgahinga Park may not be famous as Bwindi because there is only 1 habituated gorilla family (Nyakagezi) which is very nomadic but accessible on guided trek with Uganda Wildlife Authority guides.
Vegetation and other Wildlife in the park
Mgahinga gorilla national park’s volcano slopes contain varied ecosystems ranging from the montane woodlands, tropical forests and bamboo, moorland and tree heathers to the rare afromontane vegetation. Hence the park is ever wet and covered by mist; visitors need to prepare for damp weather conditions.
It experiences two seasons, the dry season from December to February and June to September while the wet season runs from March to April and September to November. Temperatures range from 15° Celsius during day to less tha10 ° Celsius at night.
Besides the endangered mountain gorillas, the park’s ecosystem is also a home to a variety of wildlife. The notable being the IUCN red listed Golden Monkey which is endemic to Virungas massifs. Golden monkeys stay in the bamboo slopes and can be visited through golden monkey tracking with UWA guides.
Other wildlife includes 79 species of birds including Albertine rift and Eastern Congo forest endemics such as the regal sunbird and Rwenzori Turaco. Hence birding is one of the park’s tourist activities taking birder to Rugezi swamp and between the volcanoes.
About 39 species of mammals have been recorded, though speculations say the mammal species living in the park are twice the recorded figure. Some of the mammals in the park include forest elephants, golden cat, leopards, blue monkeys, buffalo, black fronted duikers and stripe sided jackals, bush backs among others.
Though the experience of trekking gorillas in bamboo is rewarding and memorable, but the most heartfelt moment on your safari to this park is undoubtedly the experience with BaTwa, oldest people on planet earth.
All tourism activities including gorilla trekking, golden monkey tracking, nature walks, hiking start from Ntebeko visitor center. There are several accommodations ranging from high end to budget in and outside the park.
How to get t the park
There are several straight forward ways to get to the park. From Kampala via kabale and kisoro towns, the road drive takes 8-10 hour covering 524 km passing through scenic views of terraced rolling hills of kigezi region. The roads from Kisoro town to the Ntebeko the park headquarters are a bit rough and need 4WD vehicle.
Another optional route diverts from Kabale town via the shores of island strewn Lake Bunyonyi to Muko where you proceed on a 14 km dirt road to Ntebeko visitor center in the park. Visitors can spare time to visit Lake Bunyonyo for swimming, boat cruise, suns set canoeing, traditional food and birding.
Flights to Mgahinga gorilla national park can be arranged from Entebbe to Kisoro airstrip and then drive for 14 km to your accommodation.