Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is 34 sq km and is the smallest park in Uganda. It is an alternative destination to Bwindi for mountain gorilla tracking in Uganda.
The park derives its name from ‘Gahinga’ a Kinyarwanda word for a pile of volcanic lava stone heaps around which cultivation is done. It protects the Ugandan part of the Virunga Mountains which is a habitat for about 300 gorillas located in the Virunga range.
It has 3 main peaks, Mount Muhavura which means guide and has a small carter about 36m wide at its summit. Mount Gahinga means a pile of volcanic lava stone and has a swamp-filled carter about 180m wide.
Mount Sabinyo which means old man’s teeth and is eroded with deep gorges. The park offers some of the most memorable scenic viewing experiences as you get to set foot in 3 countries Uganda, DRC, and Rwanda.
The park is at an altitude of between 2227m and 4127m and it’s home to not only the Mountain Gorillas but also the Golden Monkey. Within the park are 76 mammal species including the golden monkey, black and white colobus, and mountain gorillas among others.
115 bird species are recorded, 12 of which are endemic to the Albert Rift Region including the Kivu ground thrush. The park is famously known for gorilla trekking and has one family called Nyakagezi.
Mgahinga National Park came as 3rd most photographed travel destination in the world in 2019 after a survey by Huawei via Facebook. This park is managed and operated by Uganda Wildlife Authority
Top things to do in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
The Nyakagezi Gorilla Family has got about 10 individuals with 3 silverbacks though the park has got about 100 gorillas. The gorilla treks take 1 hour to up to 8 hours depending on your fitness levels as well as how far the gorilla moved the previous day.
All treks start with an 8:00 AM briefing followed by a journey into the forest led by a UWA ranger guide. A maximum of 8 tourists are allowed to visit a mountain gorilla group each day and they get a full hour.
Golden Monkey Tracking and Habituation Experience
The dominant primate endemic to the Albertine Rift can only be viewed in Mgahinga Uganda and Rwanda. Mgahinga is where gold meets silver and this is indeed seen in how silverbacks and golden monkeys share a close range of habitat.
Watch the golden monkey community habituated as they go about their daily activities. Watch them swing between the bamboo reeds while feeding, playing, and grooming their young. The activity takes about 4 hours per session during which you are allowed the opportunity to view and take photos of the primates.
Batwa Cultural Forest Trail.
This cultural walk experience gives one a chance to learn more about the traditional Batwa Forest Culture and their way of life which included hunting, gathering honey, making clothes out of barkcloth, and using medicinal herbs.
You get to visit the Garama Cave (342 meters long)where Batwa Songs and Music is performed. The Batwa Development Program (BDP) was established in the Bwindi region in 2008 under the guidance of Dr. Scott and Carol Kellermann to help the Batwa help themselves.
The BDP’s vision is that the Batwa will emerge from a life of poverty with an improved and sustainable status of life.
Guided Forest walks
Nature walks with ranger guides in Mgahinga Park lead to Rugezi Swamp for a glimpse of giant forest hog and offers chances of spotting bird species like Rwenzori Turaco, and Rwenzori Batis among others, and great views of the Virunga ranges.
Sabyinyo Gorge nature walk leads through the park’s incredible vegetation and landscape and proceeds to the most stunning waterfalls.
In the gorges between Mt. Gahinga and Mt. Sabinyo, there are about 185 bird species recorded. Mgahinga Park is a birding hotspot with at least 12 Albertine endemics including the Blue-headed Sunbird, Regal Sunbird, Rwenzori batis, Handsome francolin, and Rwenzori Turaco.
Birding can be done all year round in the park; the best time is April to Mid-May, and October to November. There are migratory birds in the park between November to April.
Look out for the beautiful Rwenzori Turaco among other Albertine Endemics in the park. Other bird species include the Greater Double collard Sunbird, Shelly’s Dusky Crimsonwing, Archer’s Robin-Chat, Olive Pigeon, Black-headed waxbill, Western Green Tinkerbird, Malachite Sunbird, Cape Robin, White-starred Robin, Brown Woodland Warbler, Striped breasted Tit, Malachite, and Scarlet-tufted Sunbird.
Volcano / Mountain Climbing
The park has 3 dominant volcanic peaks offering an amazing scenery of DR Congo, The Virunga, The Rwenzoris, the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, and Lake Edward. These are Mt. Muhavura or Muhabura (4,127 m), Mt. Gahinga (3,474 m), and Mt. Sabyinyo (3,645 m).
There are 5 vegetation zones that can be covered during the hikes. The least demanding is Mt. Gahinga which offers great chances of viewing forest birds in the bamboo zone, duikers, and bushbucks.
The Mt. Sabinyo takes 6-7 hours passing through montane forest and moorland and the most challenging hike to Mt. Muhavura is close to 9 hours offering great chances of viewing giant lobelias. The hiking trails are allocated ranger guides to accompany you.
Where to stay in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mount Gahinga Lodge
Mount Gahinga Lodge is built with rock detailing and set amid the lush greenery of beautifully landscaped gardens and offers breathtaking views. The lodge features 8 chalets each with a deep covered porch and conical papyrus roof. The chalets have hardwood floors, small indoor and outdoor seating areas, and a wooden chest at the foot of the bed. Other facilities include a cozy lounge, which has a fireplace and windows all around, and an open verandah with views of volcanic cones in Mgahinga Park. The lodge also has a spa, where massage facilities are made available to the guests.
Lake Mulehe Safari Lodge
The lodge has 12 en-suite cottages that sit among an untapped wilderness with luxuriant views of the awe-inspiring sunrise and radiant sunset. The cottages are spacious and private balconies with great views of Lake Mulehe and Virunga Ranges. Other facilities include a main lounge area, a restaurant and bar area, a spa, a gym, a sauna, a campfire, and a gift shop.
Travelers Rest Hotel.
Back in the 1960’s Travellers Rest Hotel was a base of expeditions from where Dian Fossey, George Schaller, Raymond Dart, and Bernhard Grzimek, together with several other travelers. The Hotel consists of 12 en-suite rooms, tastefully decorated with a unique selection of Congo art. The spacious rooms overlook a well-groomed courtyard and have the magical Virunga volcanoes as a backdrop. Other facilities include a restaurant and bar area, a terrace, and the lounge with its big fireplace.
The Best time to visit Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mgahinga Gorilla National has two seasons both dry and wet seasons. The dry season is in the month between December to March and June to August. The nature trails are not slippery and it makes hiking and gorilla trekking easily accessible.
The wet/green season is in the month of April to May and September to November. During these months the park is mostly wet due to heavy rains making it difficult to navigate the park trails and animal sightings are few.
However, these months are ideal for other migratory birds. The scenery is lush and green for photographic scenery.
How to get to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
The drive from Kampala to Kisoro, the closest town to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is about 9 hours via Kabale. A 4WD vehicle is highly recommended.
There are several options for flights from daily scheduled to chartered flights out of Entebbe International Airport and Kisoro Airstrip operated by Aerolink and Fly Uganda. The scheduled domestic flights last about 45 mins – 1 hour. From here, tourists will transfer over murram road to arrive at the park.
Best Time to Visit
Mgahinga is open for gorilla tracking the whole year, but the best time is during the drier seasons from June to August and December to January.
|Best time to go:||June to August and December to January (Tracking gorillas is easier because the trails are drier)|
|High Season:||June to September (Gorilla tracking permits need to be booked well in advance at all times of the year)|
|Low Season:||March, April, May, October, and November (Some lodges and camps shut down)|
|Best Weather:||June to August and December to January (Lesser rainfall)|
|Worst Weather:||March to May and September to November (Higher rainfall, forest trails might be slick and challenging)|
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